Following his father's murder, Eirik Ivarson plunges into a maelstrom of brutal warfare. As outsiders threaten his homeland and all he holds dear, Eirik vows to maintain his focus and avenge the jarl's death. In his quest for revenge, he will leave everything behind, all he knows, and all he loves.
Asa Sigrundsdottir, a spirited shieldmaiden with warm brown eyes, is wary of the golden-haired warrior discovered half-frozen in a storm. It is clear Eirik is a man of valor, bestowed with the gift of reading runes and destined for greatness. And despite the shadows in her past, he chooses her to help him on his journey. But when their bond is tested, it will take the strength of a hero to keep their love alive . . .
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Lord of the Runes
By Sabrina Jarema
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Sabrina Jarema
All rights reserved.
Village of Haardvik] Hardangerfjorden, Hordaland, Norway Late fall, 850 AD
She stood before him like a flame-haired Valkyrie — strong, proud, a warrior.
Not as she had been in life.
Eirik Ivarson had seen his dead wife in his dreams before, but in them, she was always as he remembered her — gentle and too weak to survive their brutal world. Her soft blue eyes would gaze at him with reproach like she blamed him for her death, sending her to dwell forever with the goddess Frigga. She'd been right.
But this dream was different and as he struggled to cling to it, she spoke.
"Why do you sleep, husband, while your kinsmen die?" Her eyes darkened into a deep brown as though she was sullied by passing so close to the earth. The vision turned as crimson as the blood that had gushed from her and carried her away from their life together. A scream split his sleep apart.
He tore himself awake and reached for his sword before he even opened his eyes. At least he was still dressed, having fallen across his bed well after midnight, passed out before he'd hit the furs. Head spinning with the mead he'd drunk, he staggered to the door of his small chamber.
Another cry cleared his thoughts. He eased open the door and took in the state of his father's main hall. An unfamiliar warrior, an outcast from the looks of him, stood over two cowering serving girls. Another servant lay in his own pooling blood beside them. The attacker raised his sword and the women shrieked again.
Yelling to divert the man's attention, Eirik bounded across the room. He swung his blade as the invader turned. They clashed, flesh to flesh, iron to iron. Eirik's momentum smashed them into the wall and the outcast's head cracked against it. Dazed, he paused for an instant. It was all Eirik needed.
Using his forearm, he struck the upper edge of the intruder's shield into his face. His nose shattered. Eirik pushed the shield aside and whipped his blade across the man's neck. Blood arced down his body as the attacker fell.
He knelt beside the fallen servant. "What has happened?"
"Outcasts invaded us at dawn." The older girl tried to rise, but her knees buckled. "Even now, they fight outside. This one hacked his way in, though we locked the doors as the mistress bade us."
As he helped her to her feet, the sounds of the battle he'd slept through because of his drunken stupor came to him from beyond the damaged front doors. His blood rose again. But he couldn't just rush outside and join the fighting. He had to know what he faced. "Where's my father? My mother and sister?"
"Jarl Ivar fights. And the thrall, Nuallen, took the mistress and your sister to try to escape to safety."
He gave a quick nod. "May the gods will it so. Find shelter for yourselves." He ran to the entrance before they could answer. Stepping outside, he entered a world of war.
The attackers outnumbered them several to one. His father's warriors engaged them with bravery, but too many of the valiant men lay dead in the yard. Livestock ran free and two of the outbuildings burned. Villagers screamed and tried to hide, but many were already cut down.
While he'd lain insensible from his celebrations, his people had been dying. His family, his everything. He swallowed his shame. This was not the time.
The familiar stench of fear and bodies in their death throes seared his nostrils. He breathed deep of it to fortify himself. Confidence welled up in him. Now he was in the world of warfare he had chosen three years ago, the world he'd left behind when he'd returned here.
He ran through the yard, searching for his father. Three of the attackers fell to his assault as he went. A shield lay on the ground and he grabbed it as a man rushed toward him. Their blades met in a burst of sparks. The other man staggered back under Eirik's superior power, crying out. Most of them had to be outcasts, with little more than the element of surprise on their side. They were no match for him. Eirik hit his opponent's blade, driving him back farther until the invader stumbled and nearly fell. Using the delay, he swept the battleground for an instant with his gaze.
There. His father stood in the midst of the melée. On the ground, the bodies of his warriors surrounded him. They had guarded him to their deaths, but now the jarl struggled alone against two men. They came at him, one from the front and one from the back, toying with him. Eirik's heart swelled with molten rage. He had to get to him. Ivar was sick. Weak.
Eirik struck his opponent's shield again. His sword fragmented. He thrust the blade's jagged end under the shield, into the man's thigh. Hooking his hand under the lower edge of the shield, he yanked it toward himself, pivoting it on the outcast's hand. The upper edge tore into his opponent's throat, dropping him. Eirik leaped over the body, roaring to his father to disengage, to break off. But the noise of battle drowned out his voice.
Weaponless, and using only the shield, he battered his way through the tumult, yelling. The crush of men impeded him and desperation clenched his gut.
The outcast behind Ivar hefted his axe and threw it at the jarl's unprotected back. The blade hit hard and deep. Eirik skidded to a stop. The chaos around him receded into a pinpoint centered on his father.
The jarl stood for a moment, looking around himself as though he wished to remember his land while he was in Valhalla. Then his gaze fell on Eirik and he straightened. He smiled, holding out the ancestral sword, Star Slayer, like an offering to him. Then his eyes rolled back and he drifted down, still clutching the weapon. He lay still.
"Father!" Eirik's voice was high and thin, as it had been when he was a young boy calling for his sire in the night after a terrible dream. But this was no nightmare from which to awaken. Grief, sharp as a dagger, plunged into him and twisted. His breath came hard, his eyes filling.
"Hakon, how much silver do I get for killing a jarl?" The outcast grinned down at Ivar's blood-drenched body.
The silver-haired coward who had distracted Ivar from the front moved off, laughing, stalking other prey.
The clash of blades behind Eirik jarred him from the shock of his father's death. He spun.
One of his father's warriors fought a marauder. While Eirik had stood useless and staring, the man had shielded him from an attack. The warrior dispatched the outcast with a quick strike of his blade to the gut, and turned to Eirik, raising his dripping sword in a salute.
"Jarl." He offered the weapon to Eirik, hilt first. Eirik drew a deep breath at the title, then took it with a nod of thanks. Lifting an axe from his belt, the warrior moved off to intercept another attacker.
Jarl. He was the jarl now. These men were no longer his father's men, but his. So many of them lay around Ivar's body, having given their lives for him. But they had failed. And so had he.
The bastard who had attacked Ivar from behind rushed to the body, put his foot on the jarl's back, and pulled his axe blade free. It came out, covered in bone and flesh. He focused on the fine blade still gripped in the fallen jarl's hand. With a smirk, he slid the axe into his belt and reached down for it.
Pain shot through Eirik, as though he himself had been struck. He surged through the battle, toward his father's body, screaming his rage. He flipped the sword in his hand and threw it, point first, at the whoreson. The marauder raised his shield to deflect it, but the impact knocked him off his feet. He rolled away and came up, pulling the axe from his belt.
Eirik reached his father and pried the sword from his hand, keeping an eye on the outcast. Ivar had no further need of the weapon. Already the Valkyries circled and soon he would feast with Odin. Star Slayer, the sword of their ancestors, the symbol of the jarl and of all they were, was his now.
He tamped down the agony that threatened to release his fury. This adversary was a fighter, and Eirik needed his wits about him to do battle.
His eyes cool and assessing, the coward hefted his axe and threw it. It hit Eirik's raised shield. His father's blood spattered over his face. The metallic smell tightened his muscles. As he lowered the shield, he shook the axe free. The man unsheathed his sword and came at him. Eirik met his blade with his own, the shock of it driving his breath from him. He slammed his shield into the man, knocking him back. He followed with a blow from his sword. The outlaw answered in kind.
Eirik's thirst for revenge gave him strength. He drove his father's killer backwards toward the fjord cliff with blows from his sword and his shield. As they neared the edge, the man glanced back and his eyes opened wide in realization. Eirik threw away his shield and, gripping his sword with both hands, struck the man's shield with the pommel. The damaged wood fractured.
Following through, he swung hard, slicing the man's belly open. The outcast tipped backward, silent, his gaze hard and resigned at his own death. At the instant he went over, he grabbed Eirik by the belt and yanked.
They fell together. Eirik tried to twist around, to dive in head first. But he was tangled with the body when they hit the water.
Cold like a thousand knives stabbed him. The water closed over him and crimson darkness surrounded him. His head swam and his blood slowed in his veins. He fought the cold and the ache of smashing into the fjord, though the man's body had hit the water underneath him, saving him from the full impact. He had to stay awake, couldn't succumb to the cloying call of death tugging him deeper. He fought his way clear of the corpse. They'd fallen in a shallower area near the cliff, so he kicked off from the bottom. Bursting into the light, he took a deep breath and looked up at the rock wall above him. The sounds of battle and the smell of smoke drifted down to him. He swore in frustration.
He needed to get to shore before he passed out or froze. The current carried him farther down the fjord. He stroked toward a small inlet where the shoreline wasn't so steep.
The bottom rose under his feet and he stumbled onto the thin strip of land. Shivers racked his body and he fell to his knees. Lying down, he sprawled on his back, gazing up at the mountain towering above him. The battle was too far away for him to hear it. The taunting quiet of the sunny morning was almost painful.
Who were these invaders? Why had they attacked? He had to get back home, to continue the fight. His father was dead and he was jarl now. They were his people and they needed him.
He'd come home from his journeys when he'd heard his father was dying, setting aside the pain of his past to assume the mantle of responsibility as the heir. But many of his father's warriors had dispersed to their homesteads for the winter, never dreaming they would be attacked so late in the year. If he hadn't been too drunk to hear the beginning of the battle, he might have saved his father. He'd failed them all.
If only Thor would give him the strength to continue, to rise up and resume the fight for his home and his people. He touched the gold hammer pendant at his throat. But he could only close his eyes, his body stiffening with cold and pain. His head spun with hatred — at his enemies, the fickleness of the gods, and at his own weakness.
Darkness pulled him under and he closed his hand ... On nothing.
His heart paused. In the waters, when he'd fallen, he had lost his family's ancestral sword.
* * *
Cold. He was so cold. It held him in a tight embrace as though he had descended into Hel itself. Had he died and lost the chance for Valhalla because he no longer held a blade?
He opened his eyes. The mountains still rose overhead, but the sun had moved behind them and he lay in shadow. How had he lost an entire day? His clothes were still damp. He needed to find warmth and shelter before the sun set. The late fall night would be frosty and in his condition, he would likely be dead by morning.
What was happening in the village? He couldn't just walk in there and find out. If the outcasts had won, he would be killed, and no one could go get help.
Groaning, he sat up. He ran his hands through his hair and scooped it back behind his shoulders. When he tried to stand, the stiffness in his muscles made him sink back down again. Cursing, he made another attempt. This time he rose and swayed.
He had no weapon, no fire-starter, no food. Nothing.
Forcing his legs to move, he climbed up the steep side of the mountain so he could look down into the village and see what was happening. He knew these woods as the outcasts did not. He could evade them if need be.
The sun had moved farther down in the sky, and the air had grown cooler by the time he reached the narrow ledge. He sat down, still unsteady, and studied the village.
Strange men roamed the streets. No women or children were about. Two buildings stood smoldering, but the main hall, the granaries, the smith's shop, and the other houses had not been touched. As if the outlaws had planned it that way. This was no complete devastation. It had been calculated to take out the jarl, his warriors, and enough people so they could mount no further defense, yet leave the village itself relatively undamaged.
Eirik's blood ran cold through his heart. They intended to take the village for themselves and overwinter there. Men of their ilk had no homes, and the season of storms and snow was nearly upon them. They needed the shelter, the food, and supplies the place held.
They would be there all winter, along with survivors from the village. But what of his mother and sister? Had they succeeded in escaping? If they were still there, he would have to rescue them first.
Whatever the circumstances, he had to find help. Even if he could get to his other warriors who had dispersed for the winter, there weren't enough men to fight so many outcasts. He needed numbers, fighters who were seasoned, strong, and fearless. Like those he had just traveled the world with, fighting beside.
Looking to the north, he cracked a dry smile. He had access to hundreds of the best warriors in Norway. It would be a long, dangerous journey to get to them. Because of his failures, the gods were challenging him to redeem himself. He would see this through.
Wincing, he rose and climbed down and to the east, around the flat land where Haardvik was. As he moved, he opened himself to the woods, the air, the sounds of everything around him. He'd done it often enough when he was still young and full of belief in the gods, relying on the ways his mother had passed on to him. She'd taught him to be one with the things beyond what he could see and hear and touch. But then he had put all of that behind him, embracing instead the sharp reality of steel and the calm certainty in his own prowess.
Now, weaponless, he would have to depend on what lay within him, even if he had rejected it long ago. The forest closed in around him, the darkness of the twilight covering him. The spirit of the land had never left his heart. It remembered him.
A twig snapped, too near. He pressed himself against a tree. The sound of horses walking through the leaves came to him and he stilled.
"With that white hair, the little bitch won't be hard to find."
The outcasts spoke of his fair-haired sister. His heart sank. They had seen her, knew of her, and were looking for her. His sword hand fisted. They rode past him, making crude comments while he flattened back against the tree trunk. Holding his breath, he waited until they were gone. It went against everything he was to allow them to live, but he had no weapons. Even though he could kill without them, the sounds would bring others and he would be outnumbered. Stealth, not engagement, was his best course now, for they didn't know he had survived and that would gain him an advantage.
A flash in his mind made him pause. So familiar and sweet. He reached for it and the image of the sacred grove crossed his awareness. Of course she would be there, waiting for him. He moved a short way up the mountain to the clearing where his ancestors had worshipped the gods for centuries.
"Silvi?" He kept his voice low.
His younger sister stepped from the trees, leading a horse. Sacks, blankets, and a sword hung from the saddle. The dark hood of her cloak fell back and her white-blond hair blazed like a beacon. "There you are." She dropped the reins and held out her arms.
Excerpted from Lord of the Runes by Sabrina Jarema. Copyright © 2016 Sabrina Jarema. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Well written and interesting.
Following his father’s murder, Eirik Ivarson plunges into a maelstrom of brutal warfare. As outsiders threaten his homeland and all he holds dear, Eirik vows to maintain his focus and avenge the jarl’s death. In his quest for revenge, he will leave everything behind, all he knows, and all he loves. Asa Sigrundsdottir, a spirited shieldmaiden with warm brown eyes, is wary of the golden-haired warrior discovered half-frozen in a storm. It is clear Eirik is a man of valor, bestowed with the gift of reading runes and destined for greatness. And despite the shadows in her past, he chooses her to help him on his journey. But when their bond is tested, it will take the strength of a hero to keep their love alive . . . Review: I am glad I am getting on this brand new series in the beginning. For this first time Author I think she did an excellent job! The story was exciting and had lots of great elements. I liked that it was set during the time of the Vikings. It starts out very action packed. With Eirik's village being taken over by the Outcasts, his father, the Jarl is killed and his mother and sister are taken hostage with the rest of the village. This sets Eirik on a trek to get to his cousin and bring back help. He ends up in Asa's village where he waits out winter and heals. While he is there his grows close to Asa and her family and village. Asa has been scarred by past events, but has built a shield around herself by bottling her emotions and becoming a strong warrior. I liked the two sides of her, soft and tough. Eirik is a warrior but upstanding, once he meets Asa not once does another catch his eye. I like the mystical aspect of the story in Eirik and his family being rune masters. That Asa and Eirik share this mystical link through the carving of runes on the dragon head. The Outcasts come to Asa's village and the after they are defeated, Eirik goes to his cousin to garner help. Then they all go to rescue Eirik's village. You need to read the book to see what happens. So I got to stop this review it is going on and on....lol But I just touched on the highlights. In my opinion this is an exciting, action-packed romance. This is a very strong start to this series with strong interesting characters and an engaging story line. 4.5Stars *I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.*