Read an Excerpt
Mystery of the Silver Coins
By Lois Walfrid Johnson
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2003 Lois Walfrid Johnson
All right reserved.
In the silence of night Briana O'Toole's deep brown eyes peered into the darkness. As she waited for exactly the right moment, the wind off the Norwegian Sea caught her flyaway hair. On the Viking ship around her other prisoners slept, but Bree kept watch. This might be her one hope of escape.
A few hours earlier, Vikings had drawn their longship onto a beach on the west coast of Norway. Now the two men standing guard on one side of the ship began talking to guards on the other side. And still Bree waited.
On that September night late in the tenth century, time grew long. Then came the moment Bree hoped for. When a black cloud moved above the ship, the heavens opened, and rain poured down upon them.
At the far end of the ship the four guards took refuge under the sail spread out like a tent. Without making a sound, Bree woke her young friend Lil.
"Shhh! Don't speak!" Bree whispered close to her ear. "It's time to go."
Silently they dropped their bundles from the ship. As they climbed over the side, the full force of the storm struck them. Wind and rain slashed at Bree's face as she snatched up the bundles she had prepared. Giving one to Lil, Bree took the rest herself and started across the beach.
Pounding rain covered the sound of their feet on the small stones near the shore. In the dark of the storm no moon betrayed them. No stars gave them light. Staying as far as possible from other ships in the harbor, Bree headed for a line of trees behind a cluster of houses.
When they reached the trees, Bree pulled Lil into the shadows and stopped to listen. In that instant a dog barked.
Lil gasped. Reaching out, Bree touched her arm in warning. As still as the stones of the land they stood.
The bark came from a house close to the shore. In spite of the rain, Bree could see the dark outline of the back of the house. If the dog startled the guards on Mikkel's ship-if the guards found prisoners missing-if they went to find Mikkel-
If, if, if. All of them held the threat of danger. And all of them centered on Mikkel.
Only one year older than Bree, the fourteen-year-old led the band of Vikings that had captured the two girls. When the raiders plundered a monastery in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland, they carried off rich treasure. From the surrounding countryside they took captives for ransom or slavery.
Again the dog barked. If the guards knew something was wrong, they would bring Mikkel back to the ship. As his prisoners, Bree and Lil were now slaves. That is, unless they escaped.
The next time the dog barked, it sounded closer. As though in reply, a second dog barked, then a third.
Lil shivered in fear. "Can we climb a tree?" she whispered.
Bree looked up. The lowest branches were far above them. Even if she lifted Lil on her shoulders, the younger girl wouldn't be able to reach.
As the pounding rain changed to a soft mist, a dog rounded the corner of the house. Even in the dark, Bree could see its white hair. Head to the ground, it sniffed its way along the side wall.
Moments later another dog joined the first. Yipping between themselves, they moved back and forth, close to where Bree and Lil had walked.
Bree held her breath. Did the rain wash away our scent?
Kneeling down behind a tree, Bree opened one of her bundles. Deep inside was the small hoard of food she had hidden away. If the dogs found them, she needed to be ready.
Her hands cold with fear, Bree touched the pieces of flatbread. If she gave them to the dogs, she and Lil would have no food. Filled with dread, Bree started to pray.
In ever-widening circles the dogs moved out, their noses to the ground. Then a third dog joined the first two. How many are there? An entire pack?
Yipping and barking, the dogs came closer and closer to where Bree and Lil hid.
"Don't let them see you're afraid," Bree whispered. But her own heart thumped. Were Viking dogs as fierce as their owners?
Once again she touched the food inside her bundle. At the same time she felt it was hopeless. How could she ever make friends by giving the dogs a few pieces of flat-bread?
As the minutes stretched long, Bree heard a woman call to the dogs. Holding a candle, she, too, came around the corner of the house. With her hand cupping the flame, she protected it from wind and rain. When the light reflected in her face, Bree saw flaming red hair.
For an instant the woman glanced toward the line of trees behind her house. Then a small boy followed her into the backyard. "What's wrong, Mamma?" he asked.
"Nothing." The woman's voice carried clearly, as though she purposely spoke louder than needed. But the dogs kept sniffing the ground. Though they hadn't found a trail, they drew closer and closer to Bree and Lil.
Without moving the woman stared at the trees, as though seeing between them. In the light of the candle Bree saw her look toward the place where she and Lil hid.
"What's wrong, Mamma?" the boy asked again.
"Everything is all right," she told him, then called the dogs. With a last yip they went to her.
Reaching down, the woman took the boy's hand. "Come," she said. "Back to bed with you."
With the three dogs trailing behind, the woman walked toward the front of the house. Just before passing out of sight, she turned. Again she looked straight toward where Bree and Lil hid.
Weak with relief, Bree stood there, hardly able to believe they had been spared. Retying her bundle, she slung it over her shoulder. With a second bundle under her other arm, she was ready to move on. But Bree forced herself to wait.
As the rain started again, pounding down upon the earth, the spreading branches of oak and birch trees sheltered them from the worst of the storm. From farther away came the crash of waves washing against the shore. But Bree knew that without the light of moon or stars she could lose her direction. She could even walk in a circle back to Mikkel's ship.
In stillness unbroken by dogs or people, Bree thought about the lay of the land. In the last light of day she had looked up to the mountains surrounding the Norwegian harbor. Farther inland, beyond the peninsula where Mikkel's ship was drawn up on shore, the ground slanted gradually upward, then rose in steep slopes.
Now Bree decided that if she and Lil headed that way, then kept walking uphill, they wouldn't lose their sense of direction. Though they didn't know where they were going, they would be moving away from Mikkel and his ship.
"Stay as close to me as you can," Bree whispered in Lil's ear.
At first the ground was flat and open, then it changed so gradually that Bree needed to keep thinking about the slope beneath her feet. Dodging low branches, she made her way between trees. Dawn, Bree reminded herself. By dawn they had to be hidden away. When the sun rose, Mikkel would discover that they were missing.
Already, the young Viking had the broad shoulders and strong body of a boy used to hard work. Lured by the riches that pilgrims brought to the monastery near Bree's home, Mikkel had gone ahead of his men to explore the Wicklow Mountains. When Bree first saw him, she thought he was Tully, a friend of her family. Then, while crossing a river, Mikkel fell and hit his head on a stone.
Bree still felt that moment of terror. Without knowing who he was, she had saved Mikkel's life. Soon after, he led his band of Vikings into the peaceful Irish countryside. Vikings took Bree, Lil, and other prisoners away on their ship.
On their dragon. In the voyage between Ireland and Norway Bree often looked up at the fierce dragon head at the bow of their ship. She had not grown used to its snarling mouth. She knew only that the longship took her away from her family forever. That is, unless Bree escaped, and Lil with her.
Escape they would. Bree would make sure of that.
Though eight years old, Lil's small, thin body made her seem younger. While she had dark blue eyes and black hair, Bree's hair was reddish blond and her eyes deep brown. When morning came, the color of their eyes and hair would add to their danger.
As the ground grew steeper, Bree realized that Lil was panting hard. In spite of their need to hurry, Bree stopped. "We'll rest a minute," she said. "Take long, deep breaths"
When they moved on, Bree took Lil's bundle and set a good pace. Her wet clothing clung to her, but Bree's thoughts raced ahead of her feet. Dawn, she told herself again. By dawn at the latest, Mikkel and his men would begin looking for them. And Mikkel would search until he found them.
One thought kept coming back to Bree. Where can we hide?
The ground rose sharply upward now. As thick clouds broke apart, the rain stopped, giving enough light so that Bree didn't stumble over rocks. At first she climbed straight up, finding a way wherever she could. Before long, she realized that Lil still struggled to keep up with her.
In spite of her need to hurry, Bree slowed down. With all her heart she wanted to get as far as possible from Mikkel and the harbor. At home Bree was used to climbing the mountain behind her family's farm. But now a knot of fear clutched her stomach. That fear went beyond barking dogs and Mikkel coming after them. Not only did Bree hold her own life in her hands, she needed to take care of Lil.
For more than a week Bree had thought of nothing but escape. They had managed to get away, but now Bree wondered, Where on this mountain can we be safe?
Inside, Bree felt a knot of fear. As it moved up into her chest, she felt overwhelmed. In the midst of her panic she started to pray. "Oh, God, please help me. I'm so scared. I can't do this without You."
Moments later, like a whisper on the night wind, Bree heard it. Don't be afraid. I am with you.
Bree stopped so suddenly that Lil bumped into her.
I am with you always.
Tears welled up in Bree's eyes. If the Lord was with them, she could go on.
As she and Lil stood there, the last of the clouds moved on and a full moon shone high above the trees. Sifting down between the branches, the moon gave the light they needed. For the first time Bree felt she could see where they were going.
When they set out again, Bree no longer tried to climb straight up the mountain. Instead she walked at an upward slant, turned, and walked back at a higher level. With each step she took, Bree watched and listened.
Born in the mountains of Ireland, she was so used to hearing waterfalls that she nearly missed the ripple of running water. But when she heard it, Bree followed the sound to a narrow stream that fell from one rock ledge to the next.
"You first," Lil whispered, and Bree knelt on the ground. With all the rain the stream was running well. Bree put her hand beneath it, let the water wash over her palm, then drank.
The water was cold, and Bree splashed it over her face. For nearly twenty-four hours she had gone without sleep, but the water brought her alive. As Lil drank deeply, Bree's thoughts hurried on.
"We need a hiding place close by," she whispered.
When they first escaped, the pounding rain had washed away their footprints. But now Bree watched each step that she took. Avoiding soft ground, she stayed on rock, grass, or fallen leaves. Lil followed close behind.
Bree knew exactly what she wanted. A hiding place far enough from the water so that whoever stopped there would not find them. A place that kept them warm and dry. And most of all, a place that hid them.
Searching for such a spot made Bree lonesome for her fourteen-year-old brother, Devin. In the mountains of Ireland they had built a shelter in a cluster of pines. Now Bree tried to find something similar but couldn't. And she and Lil were running out of time.
As the first light of dawn stole across the horizon Bree spotted a boulder a safe distance above the stream of water. An oak tree grew behind and to one side of the large rock. A second oak and a cluster of hazel trees stood nearby.
Bree motioned to Lil. Instead of climbing straight up, they circled around, avoiding soft earth, and keeping to firm ground. Climbing down from above, they stayed on rock ledges and left no footprints.
When they drew close to the boulder, Bree found the hiding place even better than she had hoped. From below she had seen only one large rock. From above, she found rocks around the upper side of a small hollow. The oaks grew close enough to spread their branches like sheltering arms. Bree and Lil climbed the rest of the way down and crawled into their new home.
In the hollow beneath the trees, Lil spread out her reindeer hide blanket. Bree pushed her bundles into spaces between the rocks. Deep beneath the trees, they found a dry spot and stretched out the sealskin tunics they wore over their dresses.
Bree spread her own reindeer hide between Lil and the opening into their hideaway. As Bree snuggled deep beneath her blanket, she remembered she had been up all night.
Yawning, Bree told herself she had to keep watch. Instead, she yawned again and wondered how she could possibly stay awake. She had time for only one prayer. "Father, hide us from their searching eyes."
A moment later, the great distance between Norway and Ireland seemed to be gone, for Bree drifted off to sleep.
When Mikkel woke just after dawn, he pushed his thatch of blond hair out of his blue eyes and looked around. Tall for his age and with skin bronzed by the sun and wind, he felt like what he was-the master of a Viking longship.
Soon after Mikkel turned fourteen, his father had put him in charge of a merchant ship that sailed from Norway to Ireland. Now the good meal Mikkel devoured the night before still filled his insides. The sealskin bag in which he slept had kept him warm and dry. Best of all, he was back in Norway.
Not only had he traded skins and furs in Dublin, he had raided the Irish countryside, stealing precious gems and other treasures. He had even captured valuable prisoners.
Mikkel grinned. This, the first voyage he'd led, had been successful in every way. How could life be better than that?
What's more, he would return home with his sea chest filled with treasure. Chief among them was a bag of silver coins Mikkel had managed to collect.
Collect? Well, that wasn't quite the word. It wasn't what his father would call it, but for now it would do.
At the thought of his father, Mikkel pushed aside his uneasiness. No time for such gloom today. Instead, he gloated. After only one trip, I am wealthy!
Yes, life was good, and soon he would tell all those in his hometown of Aurland how well he had done.
Excerpted from Mystery of the Silver Coins by Lois Walfrid Johnson Copyright © 2003 by Lois Walfrid Johnson. Excerpted by permission.
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