Legendary shield maiden Sayrid Avildottar will marry no man unless he first defeats her in combat. And in powerful sea-king Hrolf Eymundsson she has finally met her match.
Hrolf may have won her landsand her bodybut can Sayrid welcome a stranger to her bed? The world of fighting is all she knows! With a husband intent on seducing his new bride, perhaps, just this once, Sayrid will discover that surrender can bring the greatest pleasure of all
"Maintains the myth while adding sexual tension, nonstop action and spice." RT Book Reviews on The Viking's Captive Princess
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
AD 830north-east Sweden
Sayrid Avildottar stood in the ice-cold pond, fish spear raised, her eyes on a particularly large sea trout.
She and trout were old adversaries. Fishing helped to hone her eye and her hand when she was at home as well as providing food for the table. And out here in the pond, no one ever complained that she was far too tall, too clumsy or too unwomanly. Not that anyone did much these days. She'd proved her worth with five seasons of profitable sea voyages.
It was amazing how quickly people fell silent when you had gold in your purse, a reputation as a canny trader and a sword by your side that you knew how to use.
The jaarl would surely relent and allow her to lead a felag further east where fortunes truly could be made, instead of always trading with Birka and having to pay tribute to the various sea kings who prowled the sea lanes. And after that, she would never need to go on a voyage again. She would be able to stay at home and make sure her lands were safe. It would give her half-brother, Regin, time to become the capable warrior that she knew he could be and give her half-sister time to choose the warrior she married, instead of being forced into an unwise alliance with a man who had little respect for her.
She simply had to work out a way to make the jaarl see it was in his best interest.
The trout spun round and started back towards her, making its final bid for freedom. Sayrid balanced on her toes, waiting for that precise heartbeat when her spear would be most effective.
'Sayrid! Sayrid!' Her half-brother's voice resounded about the pond at the very instant she was about to thrust the spear.
The spear fell harmlessly into the pond and the fish flashed away.
'This had better be good, Regin,' Sayrid called back, retrieving the spear and vowing that next time the old trout would not get away so lightly. 'You've cost me a fish supper.'
'Blodvin has sent an urgent message about the marriage.'
'What can be important about that?' Sayrid peered into the water, trying to spot the trout again. 'The bride price was sworn last jul-tide. It was more than it should have been, but dewy eyes, honeyed curls and a sizeable portion of land come at a price.'
Svear custom dictated that before any marriage could take place, the groom paid a bride price to his intended's family to show that he was capable of supporting her and any children in the appropriate manner. In return her family paid a dowry which he could use during his lifetime, but which reverted to the woman and her children at his death or after a divorce. The amount exchanged usually cancelled each other out.
'Sayrid. Is that all you can think abouthow much gold my marriage will cost this family? It is my future happiness at stake here.'
Sayrid rested her elbow on top of the spear. Gods save her from her family. Ever since her younger brother, Regin, had fallen for Blodvin, he'd changed and become more apt than normal to stare off into space.
'I'll forgive you supper, but stop panicking. Come the next Storting you'll be married. Even Ingvar Floki-son the Bloodaxe would not dare cross our family, not after the bride price has been agreed. That's all I'm saying ' She detected a slight movement in the water. 'Now if you don't mind, I have a bone to pick with this trout.'
'Sayrid, look at me instead of dismissing me. Please.'
Sayrid turned around and winced at Regin's tragic expression. Thankfully their father was no longer there to mock.
'Regin, what is wrong?' she asked in a far gentler tone. There was little point in rehearsing her old arguments against a match with Blodvin. Regin had made up his mind and his stubborn streak rivalled her own. It was why they had been able to face their father down years ago when he had tried to use his fists on their sister, Auda, when she could barely walk. 'What new demand has Bloodaxe made? Whatever it is, I'll deliver it. You know me and my ways. I always hate being disturbed when I'm fishing.'
'She is marrying someone else.'
Sayrid froze. 'Who? Who thinks they can cross this family without retribution?'
'Hrolf Eymundsson. Her father doesn't dare refuse him as he is a sea king with half a dozen ships under his command.' Regin clutched his hair with both his hands. 'I can't lose her, Sayrid.'
'What?' Sayrid stood up straighter. 'Whose idea of a joke is this? Hrolf Eymundsson isn't here. The jaarl would have informed me. He would have requested my help in defending our village.'
'Hrolf and our jaarl exchanged peace rings at Birka. They are allied against Lavrans and his Viken raiders.'
'I heard about that.' Sayrid scowled. If she had been there, she'd have counselled against it. Once a marauding sea king, always one. But she had been in Ribe with the Danes, seeing whether that market was any better than Birka, and the jaarl had followed his instincts. She had to hope that Hrolf the Sea-Rider would honour his pledges and deal with the threat from Lavrans. However, she suspected given time he'd prove the same as every other sea king she'd encounteredan oaf with an overinflated opinion of his self-worth and an insatiable desire for gold, leading to demands for more tribute. The jaarl had been less than pleased when she had voiced her opinion on the subject.
'Hrolf arrived for a visit to cement the alliance two weeks ago.' Her brother gave her a sharp look. 'I thought you saw the jaarl when you returned.'
'We spoke of other things.' Sayrid concentrated on keeping her face blank. There was no need for Regin to know how badly the interview had gone and how she'd stormed out. 'What does this alliance have to do with Blodvin?'
'Eymundsson spotted Blodvin as soon as he stepped foot on our shores and made an offer that day. Her father wants the better match.'
'Better match indeed! The dirty scoundrel! We have already paid part of the bride price!' Sayrid gave vent to her anger and frustration at being kept in the dark about the sea king's visit and threw the spear with all her might. It stuck deep in the mud, quivering. 'No one cheats Ironfist's children.'
'Because of you, not me.' Her brother plucked the spear out of the mud and held it out to her. 'I'm the one she is supposed to marry. I'm not even head of the household. You hold that title by being a shield maiden.'
'An agreement is an agreement.' Sayrid crossed her arms and silently willed her brother not to cry any more. 'Blodvin chose you above all her other suitors.'
'Hrolf Eymundsson is another proposition altogether. You know his reputation as well as I. He came from nothing in a few years to commanding ships and a horde of Byzantium gold.'
'Fortune's wheel can turn sour just as quickly,' she said. 'Maybe his time has passed and yours is about to begin.'
Regin hung his head. 'You know what I'm like in personal combat.'
'That is all in your mind. Because of what happened when you were ten.' Sayrid climbed out of the pond. 'There is very little to wonder why your opponent won. He was a full-blooded warrior and you a mere boy. Far should never have forced you.'
Her father had a lot to answer for. He had been too quick with his fists and tongue, taking particular pleasure in tormenting her younger brother. He had only stopped when she had stood up to him, waving a sword in his face and threatening to use it. He'd retaliated by beating her until her back was bloody, but he had left Regin alone.
It wasn't his fists she had feared, but his cruel tongue. The worst was when he had proclaimed that any man could have her and all his property as her dowry without paying the customary bride price if they could defeat her in combat.
What a start to her career as a shield maiden it had been! Fighting off a fat drunken imbecile while everyone laughed. The jeers had turned to respectful silence when she met the next contestant, a respected but elderly warrior and disarmed him as well, followed by a young warrior. After that, the challenges had dried up.
'But Far said'
'Far said a lot of stupid things,' Sayrid couldn't help but reply. 'Now he is dead from drinking far too much ale. He can't hurt you again. Ever.'
'But but ' Her brother swallowed nervously.
'Our family prospers. Didn't Jaarl Kettil say how pleased he is with the amount of gold we brought back from our latest trading voyage?' Sayrid attempted a bright smile. 'You contributed to it.'
Regin shrugged. 'I'm still not a great warrior like Far wanted. Kettil will eventually demand a seasoned warrior, one who can lead felags and hold this land, not just a shield maiden.'
'You've other talents,' Sayrid said before Regin listed his perceived failings as a warrior or Kettil's stubborn refusal to allow her to lead a felag to the East. 'You acquitted yourself well in Tensberg. You saved the lodestone from being washed overboard on that wave.'
He gave a sad smile. 'That was pure luck and we'd never have been near those rocks if I'd paid attention.'
'You're skilled at languages.'
Regin's nostrils flared slightly, reminding Sayrid of a high-strung horse who was about to refuse to get on board ship. 'Hrolf will challenge with the sword, not with verses of poetry.'
Sayrid stared at her brother. Where had his backbone gone? If he loved Blodvin as he claimed, he should be willing to fight for her. 'Panicking never solves anything. You're seventeen now, not an untried lad attending his first assembly. Every man has a weakness. Study him, find it and exploit it if you want the woman.'
'Blodvin thinks she might be pregnant.'
Sayrid froze. 'Yours?'
Regin went pink about his ears and he gave a slow nod. 'Three months ago at the summer festival. It was the only time, I swear it, but she was so sweet in my arms.'
'Blodvin's father is a snake and not to be trusted, which is why you should have exercised restraint,' she said between gritted teeth before Regin could give her the intimate details. 'Wait, I said. Wait until you were safely married because of the possibilities of complications. Did I have to spell out what those complications were?'
'Blodvin expects me to face down Hrolf and claim her and the babe.' A nervous tic began in Regin's right eye as it always did when he contemplated fighting.
'Or I'm not the warrior she thought I was. She wants me to do it when they marry.'
'Marching into a wedding and snatching the bride will cause a major feud, assuming you even get out alive. I forbid it.' Sayrid concentrated on breathing. That woman would get her brother killed or, worse, start a feud which lasted generations. 'Why wait until I was fishing to tell me?'
Regin hung his head. His blond curls fell forward, hiding his face. Unlike Sayrid, who took after their tall, strong father, Regin took after his mother and was far shorter. Their father used to say he'd been doubly cursedhis eldest daughter was taller than most men and his only son prettier than most women.
'The message arrived this morning.' The sunlight streamed on Regin, giving him a halo of golden curls. 'Blodvin makes me feel like I have the strength of ten men.'
'Blodvin can send the child here when it is time. I would never turn one of your children away.' She held out her hands and willed her brother to take them. She knew her words were harsh, but the last thing she wanted was for her brother to be declared outlaw or worse over a flighty woman. 'In time, you will see that this was the best course. The Norns will have a different woman in mind for you.'
Regin turned his head away. 'There won't be other women for me. I love Blodvin with all my heart.'
'So speak all lovers until they meet the next woman.' She waited for Regin's sheepish smile.
His eyes burnt with a bright flame. 'It's only because you've never been in love that you make jokes.'
'Me in love? Gods forbid. I have a household to run and hungry mouths to feed.' Love was something that happened to women who didn't tower over all the men and who knew how to dance prettily and pour the drink with the right amount of simpering deference. Her father's scorn for once had held a ring of truth.
'Some day, Sayrid, you will know what it is like to have your heart ripped out.'
'I'm a shield maiden. First and foremost. I won't marry unless the man can defeat me in combat. The jaarl agreed to my pledge.' Sayrid made a practice throw of her fishing spear. She'd turned her father's cruel jest around and had made it a virtue. 'Don't distract me with discussions about my future. What do you intend to do, if you won't challenge Hrolf for the fair Blodvin's hand? Sail east?'
The pleading expression on Regin's face became truly heartbreaking. 'This is also an insult to the family. Bloodaxe will say he broke the agreement because.'
'Because I am unnatural and lead this house with my sword arm. Should I be sticking to my spinning and weaving, and wringing my hands when we lose everything to some arrogant sea king who sails into the harbour demanding tribute?' Sayrid finished before Regin had a chance to say the words. 'Because I am talented at the arts of war instead of those of love?'
'Going Viking isn't what women do.' Regin coughed. 'You have to admit my mother had a point.'
White-hot anger flashed through Sayrid. She had rejoiced the day her stepmother had remarried and moved more than a week's march to the south, taking her poisonous tongue with her. 'Funny how that excuse springs so readily to people's lips. They like to forget the trade and wealth our ships bring.'
Regin drew a line with his foot. 'Her father disapproves of you, but I don't. That is not what I was going to say. He will claim it is because I delayed the marriage and he worried about the agreed price being paid. If we had done as he wanted, I would have married at jul.'
'His wool sacks were light and I won't pay good gold for less than the full measure. A man who will cheat on such things, will cheat on his daughter's dowry.' Sayrid put her hands on Regin's shoulders and looked down at his watering eyes. 'We delayed the marriage because Bloodaxe had difficulties with the dowry and Blodvin wanted to have her dress properly embroidered. Not because of anything we did wrong. The jaarl knows the truth.' She paused. 'It is something to unsettle you so that we will accept a lower dowry.'
Regin slammed his fists together. 'I will marry Blodvin with or without your help or die trying.'
Sayrid pretended to fiddle with the fishing spear. 'After I've forbidden it?'
Her brother's face took on his stubborn look. 'I'll go anyway.'
'I won't rescue you.'
His face fell. 'Maybe this time I won't need rescuing.'
A brief laugh escaped her throat. 'Regin! Think!'
'I love her, Say. I can't stand aside and let her be married to someone like Hrolf Eymundsson.'
Sayrid mentally said goodbye to a quiet few weeks fishing and planning how to be put in charge of a felag. 'If it means that much to you, then we will see if Blodvin needs rescuing. But if the lady wishes to be married to Hrolf Eymundsson, we leave her there and walk away. Agreed?'
Instantly, her brother's face became wreathed in smiles. 'I knew you'd do it. I told Auda you'd help.'
'And, Regin, this is the last time.'
Most Helpful Customer Reviews