Aven Norgaard understands courage. Orphaned within an Irish workhouse, then widowed at just nineteen, she voyaged to America where she was wooed and wed by Thor Norgaard, a Deaf man in rural Appalachia. That the Lord saw her along the winding journey and that Aven now carries Thor’s child are blessings beyond measure. Yet while Thor holds her heart, it is his younger brother and rival who haunts her memories. Haakon—whose selfish choices shattered her trust in him.
Having fled the Norgaard orchard after a terrible mistake, Haakon sails on the North Atlantic ice trade, where his soul is plagued with regrets that distance cannot heal. Not even the beautiful Norwegian woman he’s pursued can ease the torment. When the winds bear him home after four years away, Haakon finds the family on the brink of tragedy. A decades-old feud with the neighboring farm has wrenched them into the fiercest confrontation on Blackbird Mountain since the Civil War. Haakon’s cunning and strength hold the power to seal many fates, including Thor’s—which is already imperiled due to a grave illness brought to him at the first prick of warfare.
Now Haakon faces the hardest choice of his life. One that shapes a battlefield where pride must be broken enough to be restored, and where a prodigal son may finally know the healing peace of surrender and the boundless gift of forgiveness. And when it comes to the woman he left behind in Norway, he just might discover that while his heart belongs to a daughter of the north, she’s been awaiting him on shores more distant than the land he’s fighting for.
This inspirational historical romance can be read as a standalone but is best enjoyed as a follow-up to The Sons of Blackbird Mountain by Christy Award–winning author Joanne Bischof. Book length: approximately 109,000 words. Includes a reading group guide and a note from the author.
“Bischof’s effortless prose and emotionally driven scenes captivate the reader from beginning to end. Characters so real you begin to believe they are. The Norgaard brothers and their families will steal your heart. Beautifully eloquent, this grace-filled tale is one not to be missed.” —Catherine West, author of Where Hope Begins
“Laced with lyrical prose, Daughters of Northern Shores is a story of redemption that gripped me from its first moments. I savored every gorgeous detail, and the characters continue to live with me even now. Bischof is a master at enfolding readers in her story world and bringing them along in a journey of the heart.” —Lindsay Harrel, author of The Secrets of Paper and Ink
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March 9, 1895 Blackbird Mountain, Virginia
BUILT OF BOAR DS AS BROAD AS A MAN'S BACK, the cidery had stood at the edge of this wooded farm for as many years as Thor Norgaard. That was thirty-two among knowing souls, but to others it meant countless summers and winters that this massive building had endured winds and rains on the northernmost reach of Blackbird Mountain. Much like the Norwegian men who had worked the press and jarred the drink. First Da. Then the three sons who had followed.
Yet gone from within these walls was the sweet aroma of fermenting drink. In its stead were apple butters, pie fillings, and vinegars. Another side of the business that could be dated back to Thor. So long as he'd been sober — four years and counting — the Norgaard family operation of making liquor had ground to a halt.
Straddling the highest peak of the cidery roof, Thor rammed a metal scraper beneath a sun-rotted shingle. It snapped loose, and with gloved hands he pitched it toward the ground. Just below, Jorgan gathered up the shards and tossed them into the bed of the wagon that three months ago had been parked aside the train station — the day Thor and Jorgan had vowed to keep a closer watch on everything in their domain.
Thor tossed down two more broken shingles. He would have aimed better toward his older brother, but it took all his effort to rip and balance. Knees clutched to the peak, he shoved the metal tool down and broke off another old shingle. The splintered fragments slid down the backside of the roof and hit the dirt.
Just beyond the nearest trees, Thor's wife and sister-in-law kept the children busy at play near the spring. He glimpsed them through the budding branches, ensuring they were safe. Behind him rose the house that was as massive as the cidery.
Finished with this section of roof, Thor crammed the handle of the tool under the back waistband of his pants. He brushed dust from his beard, ignoring all that covered the upper half of his winter underwear. The air was heavy with warming light and drying land, so he'd already shoved back the sleeves and unfastened the buttons at the top of his chest. A mild spring day that made for easier work.
Needing a swig of water, he released a sharp whistle, one he felt in the roof of his mouth instead of hearing.
Jorgan looked up and shaded his eyes from the sun.
Using three fingers to form a W, Thor tapped them to his lips in the hand sign for water.
Jorgan retrieved a jar from the wagon seat and started up the ladder. His shirt was as sweat stained as Thor's own, and while his hair was a lighter brown, it hung tied back in the same rough knot, the cords cut from the rawhide of the elk Thor had downed that autumn. The meat was all cured or canned and stored in the springhouse thanks to the hard work of their wives as well as Ida, the aged freedwoman and faithful housekeeper who had raised Thor and his brothers since birth. Though her wrinkled, dark skin shone in stark contrast to their own, she'd been as a mother to them. A woman they'd defend with as strong a zeal as the others.
Thor sidestepped to the lower portion of the roof, bent down, and gripped the metal lid on the water. His side had bothered him of late, and although he reached gingerly, a pain lanced through his middle. He winced and pressed a firm grip to the spot, but the pressure did little to help as he fumbled the jar. Jorgan steadied it, and as Thor braced against the throbbing to reach for the jar again, Jorgan eyed him with confusion. If he sensed Thor's discomfort, he didn't let on. Thor tried to improve the situation with a lopsided smile before gulping water down.
Having gutted enough wild game to know where a liver was, Thor rubbed the tender spot that had troubled him the last few weeks and that, as of right now, was a dish cloth wrung tight. The same kind of pain Da had suffered before Thor and his brothers dug his grave and marked it with a cross. One Thor might have seen from the cidery roof had he searched westward for the family plot. But he kept his focus diverted from that place, and when fear tramped through him, he shot out a slow breath and capped the lid on the water. This was no time to lose his calm. As it was, anxiety already stole his sleep. As fierce as this growing ache was a bewilderment, because unlike Da, Thor had sobered from an addiction to hard drink. He'd restored his health as best he could, so why was this spot bothering him now? Jorgan tapped him for his attention, and Thor watched his brother's mouth move amid a beard streaked in silver. "Let's switch places. You come on down."
Thor shook his head, understanding an act of kindness when he saw one. It lived in a person's eyes more than any words expressed. Something he wouldn't have learned had he been born with ears that were for more than decoration.
Thor clambered back to the peak, glad his brother couldn't see his grimace as he settled again. Jorgan returned to the ground, where he gathered more shingles. The man never probed too deep, but he was always there — sure and steady. An older brother who was as temperate and honest a leader as they came. As for their younger brother ...
Thor made it a point to think of Haakon as little as possible.
It was for the best that the runt was gone, but every so often the missing of Haakon hung around this farm like a blanket of memories and regret that would never be shed. It tried to drape itself around Thor now as he worked atop the building where he and Haakon had played as children and worked side by side as men. Determined not to let the past rear its head, Thor rammed his tool down and snapped off another worn shingle.
He had better things to do than think about Haakon. If he gave in, he'd only recall what Haakon had done to Aven. How he'd tried to force himself on her in a way no woman deserved. She had been Thor's bride-to-be four years ago, but Thor would have defended her whether her heart had been his or not.
At a flash of color in the distance, Thor viewed the lane where the women strolled with the children in tow, all damp and happy from the spring — a bit of fun with warmer days on the rise. More important, near enough to the homestead that the women were within hollering distance. Something Thor and Jorgan had insisted upon since that winter's day when the doctor from the train depot had declared the Sorrels' return. No one had seen hide nor hair of the Klansmen yet, but it didn't mean they weren't around.
When the women wished to venture off, they agreed not to go so far that Thor and Jorgan couldn't come to their aid. While Thor wouldn't be able to hear them call, no one kept a better ear out for the family than Jorgan. And for Thor ... Well, there was a reason he'd stationed himself up on the ridgeline of the roof.
Aven waved as she crossed the yard with the others. Her copper-colored braid was as noticeable as the swimming ensemble she wore of boy's knickers and an old shirt. The belt she used to cinch around her waist had been abandoned now that her belly swelled full with child. Her bare ankles and feet were nearly as fair as the snow that had melted from the yard just weeks back. Thor smiled at the sight of his Irish bride and unborn babe.
Fay walked beside Aven with eleven-month-old Bjørn on her hip and three-year-old Sigurd skipping along. Dressed in a bathing costume that Aven had given her, Fay's white-blonde hair was as light as Bjørn's curls. The babe clung to his mother, chubby legs showing from beneath his soggy nightshirt. Energetic Sigurd held tight to Aven's hand, skipping beside his aunt beneath a clear, blue sky. He appeared to be laughing, and it must have been loud because the chickens startled in their coop with the same liveliness.
Below, Jorgan stood as unmoving as the pines, watching his family with pride. Thor didn't blame him. If he had young sons such as Bjørn and Sigurd, the same contentment would be hard to contain. He felt it even now — but it was of an unknowing anticipation. Due to be born later in the summer, boy or girl, it mattered not to him. He only wanted to hold and know the life Aven had made with him and that the Lord had seen fit to bless them with. A life they had longed for during years of uncertainty, made more heartrending by Aven's tears and his own silent longing that he'd tried not to burden her with.
And now, even though the babe could be born Deaf as he had been, Aven only asserted that she would love the child with all her might, as she loved him.
With Aven heading inside, Thor descended the ladder. He tugged off his gloves and followed Jorgan across the yard. Soil crumbled fertile beneath their boots, land that just asked to be tilled and planted, but they farmed little. His orchards — now that was another matter. Of the 327 acres that spread before them, a third sustained apple trees. Several varieties already budded with unfurled blossoms across acreage that was not only Thor's haven and sanctuary but the family's livelihood.
In place of the hard cider that had supported the family for decades was now fresh, unfermented drink that they sold around the county each fall. That which couldn't be distributed in short fashion was crafted into jams and jellies by the women who teased that their innocent concoctions made more than the liquor ever had. But Thor kept the ledgers and knew they spoke in jest. His liquor had been fine, and he and his brothers had lived like kings. But although the money box didn't hold the surplus it once had, he and Jorgan were richer than they'd ever been as bachelors.
In a flash, three-year-old Sigurd darted nearer, pinning his tiny form around Thor's leg. Thor caught the boy up and locked the child in a playful hold while Sigurd squirmed and giggled. Thor felt the vibrations from the scrawny chest against his forearm. Small hands pulled at the very place, but Thor's strength was no match for his captive. He hefted his nephew over his shoulder like a sack of grain and toted him toward the house. Sigurd was laughing so hard Thor worried he couldn't breathe, so he set him right side up on the porch. The boy pleaded for him to do it again, but Bjørn lunged from his mother's arms. Thor caught the pudgy babe and, resting him in the crook of his arm, nuzzled a creamy shoulder like a hungry bear.
There was that same sensation again — the unmistakable feel of a child's laughter. Except this time it was smaller and squishier.
Feeling a chuckle rise in his own chest, Thor handed Bjørn over to Jorgan. The moment he did, pain squeezed his side. He regretted every drop of liquor he'd ever drunk as the spot throbbed. If he could do it all over again — starting with his first indulgence at twelve — he would. He would tell that boy from long ago to put the pint of cider down, vowing that liquor wouldn't drown out despair. It would worsen it, because not only had he spent nearly two decades enslaved to the bottle, he now faced down a whole new agony.
As his side unclenched, Thor knew he'd have to mind the roughhousing. With Jorgan observing him, Thor gave a final pat to his nephew's diapered bottom and strode into the kitchen. Ida was there, seated at the table in the center of the snug space where she sorted the latest arrival of mail from town. Nearly seventy, the housekeeper was slight of frame, but scrappy enough to have raised him and his brothers from boyhood.
With the mail sitting beside her plate of half-eaten spice cake, Thor rifled through the envelopes, searching for a response to his letter for the Bureau of Research and Resource for the Deaf and Dumb. Instead, he unearthed only bills and a few new orders for their cider products.
Ida offered a smile of assurance. "Somethin'll come soon." She squeezed his hand in her knobby one, driving home that hope.
Thor nodded his gratitude and stepped into the great room feeling a heaviness that this wait brought. While he didn't know what he'd receive from the bureau, he had penned a letter to its return address, requesting it to be forwarded to Dr. Kent. Inside had been an apology for his abrupt demeanor along with a request for any additional information the doctor could recall about the Sorrel men that day.
After climbing both flights of stairs to the third-floor attic that was his and Aven's bedroom, Thor found his wife toweling her hair. The spring had to be freezing, and while he doubted she meant to get so wet, Bjørn could splash like nothing else. It was no surprise when Aven paced to him and slid her arms beneath his own, pulling herself close to his chest. Thor wrapped her up and, at her shiver, bound his arms tighter. When she settled her forehead against his shoulder, he tipped his head down and kissed her damp hair.
He felt her brush fingertips against his sleeve where engrained into the skin of his upper arm lay a scar that marked their first days of knowing one another. The beginning of this life together. With no way to speak such thoughts, he smoothed a thumb across the back of her neck, pressing the long, wet locks aside. What the doctor had marked on the form was all truth. Oral Failure. Except at times, here with his wife, Thor put voice to the first two letters of her name.
"Av —" He sensed the fragment was scant compared to what she was meant to be called, but he breathed it between them when his tenderness for her overruled even his incapacity with speech. That he'd spoken it now had Aven pulling away enough for him to see that her cheeks were rosier.
Thor smiled. She did as well, and with her needing to dress, he drew the curtains. While once a bunkhouse for him and his younger brother, this room had been refashioned to suit a bride's needs, now housing two mismatched reading chairs beside a stand of shelves laden with books. The family cradle rested beside the bed, and framed pictures sat about thanks to Aven's thoughtful efforts. But four pinholes on the far wall would always remind him of Haakon and the dusty map of the world that had once hung there.
After Haakon's fleeing, Thor had boxed up everything from the far half of this room and stored it away to bring Aven added peace. It had seemed to work, but Thor wasn't certain. Rarely did Aven speak of his younger brother, and she seemed to prefer it that way.
Having discarded all but her damp shift, Aven fetched a dry one from the dresser. As Thor watched her, memories of the past fell away. In their stead lingered the comforting presence of his wife. A chill shuddered her frame, so he fetched a blanket from the foot of the bed and draped it around her and her wet shift, pulling the knitted yarn snug beneath her chin. She smiled and rose onto her tiptoes for a kiss. He rubbed his hands up and down her arms, then touched the firm curve of her stomach. A tiny foot or knee pressed against his palm. Aven's eyes brightened with the sensation, and Thor savored it all. Savored everything God had blessed him with.
But as he did, he was overwhelmed with the need to sit down. Seeming puzzled, Aven watched him settle on the edge of the bed. Thor ran a hand across his forehead and had to work hard not to think of Da's cross on the distant hill or the pain setting up camp in his gut. Of the growing ache in his joints and what seemed like a trace of a fever.
Aven touched his beard, tipping his head up before she spoke. "Are you feeling unwell?" The worry in her eyes deepened.
Need rest better. He'd been working too hard was all. Once the roof was done, he'd slow his pace and be right as rain again. Parched, Thor made his sign again for water, entreating Aven for help. He followed it with the word for eat by pressing closed fingertips to his mouth.
"Of course." With a trace of alarm, she fetched a humble gown from the back of the chair and began to dress.
He'd go down himself, but the thought of two flights of stairs was more than he could handle right now. That frightened him more than he wanted to admit. Thor swallowed a dry taste in his mouth and prayed with all that was in him that this ache was just temporary. And if it wasn't, that God would see fit to help him through.CHAPTER 2
March 10, 1895 Kristiansand, Norway
"HAAAKKOOON NOORGGAAAR R D!"
At the faraway shout from his best friend and fellow seaman, Haakon opened his eyes to find that he wasn't on the ship. He was in a barn. Though the boarded walls creaked in March's winds, there was a pair of goats staring at him from the left while on his right lay the warm, soft form of a Norwegian woman. Mind still foggy about the night before, Haakon turned his head to see young Widow Jönsson blessedly asleep, her blonde hair barely visible above the supple furs she had carried here under starlight.
A situation that would normally conjure pleasurable memories, but this maiden was different because, if he wasn't mistaken ...(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Daughters of Northern Shores"
Copyright © 2019 Joanne Bischof.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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