This dazzling debut brings the Dark Ages to light and illuminates one Saxon noblewoman's romance with a Viking warrior and her struggle to find her path in a changing and dangerous world
869. For eighteen years, Avelynn, the beautiful and secretly pagan daughter of the Ealdorman of Somerset, has lived in an environment of love, acceptance, and equality. Somerset has flourished under twenty years of peace. But with whispers of war threatening their security, Avelynn's father makes an uncompromising decision that changes her life forever.
Forced into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status, Avelynn's perception of independence is shattered. With marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik The Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.
In a year of uncertainty that sees Avelynn discover hidden powers, stumble into a passionate love affair with Alrik, and lead men into battle, Avelynn must walk a fine line as her deceptions mount and Demas' tactics to possess her become more desperate and increasingly brutal.
Avelynn and Alrik are caught in the throes of fate as they struggle to find the way back to themselves and onwards to each other.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
MARISSA CAMPBELL is the co-author of the award-winning self-help book Life: Living in Fulfillment Every Day. She is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society and an ERYT Hatha Yoga instructor and studio owner of Pure Intention Yoga. Campbell lives in Ontario, Canada.
Read an Excerpt
By Marissa Campbell
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Marissa Campbell
All rights reserved.
Sigberht gripped the hilt of his sword, and my heart quickened.
"Cut off his hand, lord," he said.
The boy's face waxed ashen, his hands kneading the front of his threadbare tunic. Only eleven summers old, he should have been out chasing chickens or helping his mother collect firewood for the coming winter.
Council was held once a year, and petitioners had been coming and going all day long, pleading their cases to my father, the Earl of Somerset. Sigberht, my father's reeve, was on hand to marshal out punishment. Almost everyone from the village was present, spectators and claimants alike crammed into my father's timber hall.
I had been silent, beyond the occasional grumble of dissent, and duly recorded each case and its judgment, but this last quarrel broke my tolerance. I put down my quill and rose, the hem of my dress brushing the freshly laid rushes underfoot.
I turned an appeal to my father. "The boy is merely a puppet."
My father sat in the lord's chair high upon the raised dais, his eyes hooded beneath waves of honey-blond hair, his face unreadable.
Sigberht stormed forward. "Surely Avelynn would be better suited to the weaving shed," he hissed. "Council is no place for a woman."
I scowled at him. "Apparently, nor is it a place for justice or common sense."
"Peace, you two." My father's tone was light, but the warning loomed heavy between us.
Sigberht's grip tightened on his sword. "The law is clear. Let me cut off the boy's hand."
"If anyone should be punished, it should be the tanner, not his son," I said.
"Your daughter needs a tighter leash, lord," someone yelled from the back of the hall, and was rewarded with a round of laughter.
Slaves scurried about with clay pitchers filled with mead, and the drink flowed into waiting bone horns. The central hearth, a long, narrow trough dug into the packed-dirt floor, burned bright, filling the hall with smoke and heat. A hole cut into the roof allowed some of the smoke to escape. The rest hovered over the crowd, filling the spaces between the large beams overhead. There were no windows, and shadows were deep. Pinpricks of light flickered from oil lamps suspended from the ceiling, and iron candle trees, scattered about the large open hall, sputtered in the constant drafts.
The tanner, his tunic smeared and reeking of dung — the perfume of his trade — addressed my father. "I swear my innocence."
"And who supports your claim?" Sigberht's grip on his sword never loosened.
A round, squat man stepped clear of the press, wringing a wool cap in his hands. "I stand up for my brother and his son, lord."
"You are a farmer?" my father asked.
"Yes, my lord."
I frowned. Judgment was made based on personal worth. The more status you held, the more influence your word carried. Though the farmer was a freeman, his oath would not carry much weight.
Eager to strike down the tanner's weak defenses, my father's master of arms approached the dais. Taller and thicker than most men, Wulfric looked like a bear. His shaggy mane and beard were blacker than pitch, and his eyes were hard and implacable. "Both my brother and I have seen your bastard lead your pigs into my keep." He spat at the tanner's feet. "The dog has been doing this all year, my lord. His pigs have grown fat off my land."
Wulfric and his brother, Leofric, were both warriors in my father's household guard. In a game of power and oaths, Wulfric had just won.
Sigberht withdrew his sword from its scabbard and grabbed the child's arm, hauling him toward the door.
The boy's eyes, as wide as a snared fawn's, pleaded with the cold, impassive stare of his father. He was trying to be brave, but a stray tear charted a wayward path through the grime on his cheek.
"Wait." I rushed forward. "I offer an alternative."
The hard set of my father's jaw warned of his abating patience.
"The boy will be twelve summers old, of age to hold a sword on his next birth day. Let Wulfric claim two swine instead, one for each of the boy's hands."
"I've only the five swine, lord. The boy will live with one hand," the tanner pleaded.
"What say you, Wulfric?" my father asked.
"That's fair compensation, lord."
"Done." My father waved them both away, ignoring the tanner's protests, and beckoned me closer.
I trudged the remaining few steps between us and stopped at his side. His head turned, but his eyes remained fixed on the crowded room. "The next word you speak, Avelynn, will see you bent over that bench, my belt your justice for all present to see. Am I understood?"
I nodded and sat back down, picking up my quill, my palms sweaty. After that small victory, I was not inclined to push my father further.
Sigberht addressed the crowd. "Demas of Wareham, nephew of the late Bishop Ealhstan, step forward and state your business."
Bishop Ealhstan had been an arrogant, dour little man, constantly voicing bleak Christian rhetoric. I never did have much patience for him or his litanies. I studied his nephew with curious interest.
He was tall and lean, not a strand of sleek black hair out of place, and his complexion was darker than any of the men in the village. He looked almost Saracen, exotic. His tunic and trousers were made from light brown wool, simple and unadorned, but he wore a purple cloak attached at his shoulder by a magnificent gold brooch. He made his way to the dais.
"Lord Eanwulf," he said, bowing to my father. "I've come to ask for your daughter's hand in marriage."
My quill floated to the floor.
* * *
I stomped over to a barrel of strong fruit wine, pried the lid off the cask, grabbed a cup, and ladled myself a good measure.
My father sat on a bench nestled up to the central hearth, his gray-blue eyes regarding me. "You are seventeen and unmarried, Avelynn. It is time you were wed." He straightened the front of his tunic. "Demas of Wareham comes from a respectable and wealthy family. He is a good match for you, and he has offered a generous bride price."
Ten generations ago, when the Goddess ruled the land, a woman was free to choose her mate, even casting him aside if the whim overtook her. But when the Christian church grappled England to her knees, a woman's rights began to vanish. I could own land, and my oath was respected, but decisions such as marriage were at the sole discretion of my father.
I walked back to the fire. Half a dozen small cakes of bread were browning nicely in the raked coals at the far end of the long, narrow pit. The comforting scent infused the air of my small wattle-and-daub cottage. My stomach growled.
"When you married Mother, did her interests affect you? Or could you have sat idly by and seen her married off to someone else just because he was wealthy or respectable? Or because he bribed you with a fat purse?"
"Mind your tongue, child." He grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet. "You are not too old to be brought to heel."
I barely came to the middle of his chest, but that didn't stop me from testing him.
"God help me, Avelynn, you are as stubborn as your mother." And just like that, with the invocation of her specter into the room, he softened and let go of my arm. "Every day you look more like her."
I didn't think so. Where her hair had been dark and curly, mine resembled my father's locks, though mine trailed to the backs of my knees. I did have her icy-blue eyes and full lips, which were obstinately set at the moment.
"It is for her sake that I do not blister your ass." He dropped his hand from his leather belt.
"But I only want what she had. I want love and a man who will respect and honor me. Why is that not good enough for me? Why do you want me to be unhappy?"
"I do not want you to be unhappy."
"Then why do you insist on pushing me into the arms of a stranger?"
"I have given you leave for more than four years to make a choice. You have refused every suitor's attention. What father has given a daughter so much? You have been greatly spoilt, and I have been interminably patient. But your time is up."
"I will marry only when I'm in love. You cannot tell me who to love."
"You are right, Avelynn. I cannot tell you who to love, but on the other matter you are gravely mistaken, for I can tell you who and when you will marry. And I have decided to accept Demas's suit." He opened the door and stepped outside. "Demas will call later this afternoon. And you, my daughter, will be agreeable and charming."
I stood there frozen, rooted to the ground.
"Next fall, whether you like it or not, you will be married."
The door slammed shut. The veil of bravado drained from my body, and my legs became two limp strands of seaweed. I staggered backward and collapsed onto the nearest bench.
Dear gods, how had this happened? One moment I had proven myself equal to the men at council, even swaying my father's vote. The next, I was as insignificant as an ant underfoot. I stared at the door's weathered planks. Demas wasn't even a Saxon name.
There was a soft rap at the door. I sat up straight and wiped away all evidence of tears with the backs of my hands.
As old and wizened as the wrinkled oak trees he so admired, Bertram was my father's chamberlain, and my most noble tutor. He took one look at my face and nodded, as if affirming something, and then sat on the bench beside me.
"How?" I asked, looking up into his gentle blue eyes. "How could he do this to me?"
"His actions are not meant to be cruel. The Vikings have marched into East Anglia. He only wants you safe."
"Safe." I huffed. England was divided into several powerful kingdoms, each land ruled by its own king, governed by its own laws. Our village, Wedmore, was nestled deep in the heart of the Somerset Levels, on the western coast of Wessex — seven days' ride from East Anglia. "I'm protected here, now. He would never let anyone harm me. Who else could offer me such security?"
"Your father lost your mother, Avelynn, and there was nothing he could do — he couldn't save her, couldn't protect her, and he cannot bear to lose you, too. Your father would see you safely away from Somerset."
"So he wishes to see me shipped off to be someone else's responsibility, someone else's problem?" I started pacing the floor but stopped and stared at the bread. Forgotten, the bottoms had turned to charcoal. I grabbed my iron tongs and retrieved them from further destruction. "My mother died in childbirth. No man can protect against that."
"As far as your father is concerned, it was his seed that made the stillborn child grow in her belly. And therefore, in his mind, it was his fault — he was the cause of her death."
I gaped at him.
He nodded. "A man's pride is a haughty and pretentious thing. While only the gods and Goddess know each man, woman, and child's time and circumstances of death, when it comes to someone he loves, a man will inevitably blame himself for not being able to prevent it."
"But that makes absolutely no sense."
"When it comes to love, pet, very little makes sense."
I sat down and leaned against the wall. My head hit the wooden post with a soft thump. The smoke from the fire swirled and threaded up through the small hole in the roof until it escaped into the ether beyond.
Was the Goddess watching me? "What am I to do, then?" I said, looking beyond the rising smoke. I wasn't sure who I was asking, the Goddess or Bertram.
"Your only choice is to give Demas a chance. Perhaps he will ignite something within you that you have been searching for."
"Perhaps he will ignite a child inside me and kill me, too. Did my father ever think of that?" I knew Bertram had more sense than to answer my challenge. And in the end, what good would it have accomplished? Bertram wasn't the one I was angry at. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right, pet. These things have a way of working themselves out. You'll see." He gave my shoulder a reassuring squeeze and left.
I prayed Bertram was right, but what if he wasn't? I consoled myself with the knowledge that, at the very least, I had until the end of summer to try to change my circumstances. A marriage feast lasted several days. Despite my father's apparent urgency to see me married, he would never hold a wedding feast now, especially with the memory of last year's scarcity still fresh in everyone's mind. A week of feasting for hundreds of people would completely deplete our winter stores. He would wait until the crops and game were plentiful and the weather fine for travel before shuffling me off to Demas. I had time.
I turned to the small window. There was a lot of shouting outside, and the sound of approaching horses thundered through the courtyard. I leaned over the table and opened the shutters. People streamed through the gate. My brother, Edward, ran toward my cottage, his young face flushed.
He burst through the door. "Avelynn, Avelynn, the Vikings are coming!" He ran to me and pulled on my dress.
The last time Vikings had been seen in Somerset was more than twenty years ago, well before we were born. I looked at him for a moment. He was only nine and had a vivid imagination, but as I turned and watched everyone rushing for the hall, my heart quickened. I grabbed my cloak and let him lead me into the throngs of villagers.CHAPTER 2
My father and the king's brother, Alfred, walked toward the great fire in the center of the hall and stopped. The light from the blaze cast their shadows back to the door, where they were followed directly by their greatest warriors, leaving a trail of reverence and dominion in their wake. Behind the men, several young women entered. I caught sight of Ealhswith's brilliant smile and coppery hair and waved. She weaved her way through the press of people.
I embraced her. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you." She looked around. "Your father was receiving us at the stables when the sentry at the gate told us the whole town was buzzing like a hagridden hornet's nest. What's going on?"
I made to reply, but my father's voice filled the hall.
"What's amiss here?" He spoke to no one in particular but to all assembled.
A man stepped forward. He was covered in dried mud and dust, his cloak frayed and his tunic torn. "I have come with news, my lords," he replied, looking at both my father and Alfred.
"And who are you, friend?" my father asked.
"My name is Aelfgar. I was the armor-bearer for King Edmund, of East Anglia. I have come to spread news of his recent murder at the hands of the pagans." A communal gasp of shock echoed throughout the building. I looked anxiously at my father.
My father lifted his hand for silence, and the room hushed. He walked to the dais at the far end of the hall and took his place at the head table, inviting Alfred to sit beside him. He motioned to my brother and me.
Our position as his children granted us the right to sit on a bench just beneath and off to the right of the dais. We made our way through the crowd and sat down.
My father nodded to Aelfgar. "Pray, continue."
Aelfgar straightened his shoulders and projected his voice loud enough to be heard throughout the entire hall. "Almost a fortnight ago, Ivar Ragnarsson marched with his army into East Anglia. King Edmund offered terms, but when word came that Ubbe Ragnarsson had also come with a fleet to attack by sea, there was little reason for the Viking to negotiate."
Like lightning crackling across the sky, a sense of unease buzzed through the crowd. Ubbe and Ivar were two of the most feared Viking kings. I looked at the smoke rising from the hearth. If I tried hard enough, could I scry in the haze a vision of the entire Heathen Army lying in wait in East Anglia?
Aelfgar cleared his throat and spoke louder. "Our king was seized from his hall and dragged behind the pagan's horse to the forest's edge. He was tied to a tree, stripped, beaten, and whipped until his back was flayed open."
Whispers of outrage quivered through the room.
"Ivar then brought forth his best archers. He told them to make their mark anywhere as long as they did not inflict a fatal wound. Our goodly king was entirely covered with arrows, like the bristles of a hedgehog, yet he still lived."
The chorus of discontent grew louder. My father raised his hand in warning. The grumbling subsided.
"And what of King Edmund?" Alfred asked.
The strength of Aelfgar's voice wavered. "He was at length beheaded. Ivar left the body to rot against the tree and rode off with the king's saintly head."
I cringed. To a warrior, to be buried without one's head was to suffer the worst insult.
"Our country is now in the hands of pirates, our farmland seized, our women raped, our children sold into slavery. Our precious monasteries and churches have been burned — all the monks and nuns brutally killed."
A great uproar swept through the hall.
Excerpted from Avelynn by Marissa Campbell. Copyright © 2015 Marissa Campbell. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Avelynn’s father was the Earl Of Somerset. Her hand has been asked for in marriage by Demas. Demas is a vile psychopath. Avelynn is seventeen but doesn’t want to marry Demas. But her father says he has given her four years to choose who she wanted to marry and is still single. Avelynn is a pagan in a Christian land. Her tutor and mentor helps her practice her pagan religion on a deserted beach but a Viking intrudes her protected circle but another Viking Alrik saves her. So even though Alrik is suppose to be the enemy he saved her. Alrik also charms Avelynn like none before him. Avelynn agrees to meet him in secret. I liked the story it was along the lines of Romeo and Juliet but that is fine. But once again all of a sudden Avelynn completely trusts her enemy. I get he saved her but still. Also all of a sudden they are in love I think it was more lust than love. There was a lot of action I enjoyed that. Demas was completely vile hated him. But for the most part i liked Avelynn and Alrik . I also liked all the twists and turns Avelynn went through as she matured throughout this story. She still has some growing up to do but she had already come quite a ways. Alrik was a pretty good character also. I received an ARC of this story for an honest review.
Awesome book! This was a definite "could not put it down" book.
A rollicking tale of fearless warriors, feisty heroines, despicable villains, deception, murder and romance all set in a well researched time period. Ms. Campbell is able to bring 869 A.D. alive for the modern reader with her use of language and colourful descriptors. If you enjoy a good story told well, you are in for a treat.