Authors: Sandra Hill
The Viking’s Captive
This book is dedicated with much fondness and respect to Alicia Condon, who had been my editor for seventeen novels and two anthologies.
We have both moved on, but the fact remains: Alicia is an editor extraordinaire. Better yet, she shared my sense of humor. The only idea she ever nixed was my wanting to make one of the Three Wise Men a romance novel hero. I’m still hoping to slip that one by some editor someday.
Alicia made my books better. What else could any author want?
Seafarer, may the sweet
Songs of the god of verse
Drench your mind, and may your
Men’s lips be stilled by art.
For in the far and rich
Fields of Norway the seeds
My song sows will ripen,
so men may taste its fruit.
Circa tenth century
Reader, may the sweet words of my muse
Drench your mind, and may you stand in awe
Of my books. For in the far and rich fields
Of my imaginations, the seeds of ever more
stories do ripen, so that all of you may
taste of its fruit.
A shameless play on Egils’s words
he way they were …
It was alms day in the market town, and hundreds of people, many of them children, crowded the minster steps, screaming and pushing for the loaves of dark bread to be handed out by the clerics.
Among the poor who lined up for their weekly pittance of food were seven-year-old Adam and his four-year-old sister, Adela.
“Don’t be afeared, Adela,” Adam said. “No one can hurt ye … leastways, not whilst I’m here to protect ye.”
Adela stared up at him adoringly, her thumb planted firmly in her mouth, as it always was. Despite her being covered with filth from bare feet to lice-infested head, as he was, too, Adam thought she was more comely than a harem princess … not that he’d ever seen a harem princess, but he’d heard sailors speak of such as they strolled the city. Adela was the only family he had since their mother had died a year past and left the two of them to roam the wharfside streets on their own. Adela meant more to him than anything. He promised himself in that instant that someday he would replace her threadbare garments with jewel-studded silks. And
she would take a bath sometimes, too. Most of all, he would always, always be there to protect her.
“Now, ye mus’ stand right here, Adela, whilst I try to get us some bread. Do ye promise not to move?”
“Yea, Adam.” She nodded her head up and down, eyes wide with fright as she watched him make his way craftily to the front of the mob, pinching a buttock here, darting between legs there, finally pulling a small loaf out of the priest’s fingers just as he was about to hand it to an old woman in rags.
“Come back, ye bloody toad,” the woman screeched, to no avail. Many in the crowd turned to watch his progress, some trying to snatch his precious booty. But there was no way he would give up his hard-won food. He shoved it down the front of his dirty tunic and ran for his life toward his sister.
Reaching Adela, Adam quickly broke the loaf in half, and the two of them gobbled the moldy bread ravenously. It was the first they’d eaten in a day or more, but more important, the food was safer in their stomachs than in their little hands where those larger than they would think nothing of killing them for the crumbs.
While his mind had wandered, a lady had hunkered down on her haunches in front of Adela. She was a tall lady, but not so big as the man who stood behind her … the size of a warhorse, he was, and mean, would be Adam’s guess, by the scowl on his face. Both of them had pale blond hair, which probably meant they were Vikings … not surprising, since this was the Norse capital of Britain. The place was flooded with the bloody sea pirates.
“What’s your name, little girl?” The woman reached out to brush some lank strands of hair off Adela’s face as she spoke.
Although the woman looked harmless enough, there
were evil folks lurking about the city, and Adela recoiled. “Adam,” she whimpered, reaching for him with one hand, while the thumb of the other shot immediately into her mouth.
“Why do ye want to know?” Adam demanded, narrowing his eyes and putting his hands belligerently on his hips.
“You two shouldn’t be out on the streets like this. Where are your parents?”
“Did they … die?”
“Yea, our mother died. What matters it to you?”
The lady inhaled sharply. “When was that?”
“A year! And who do you live with now? Your father?”
“Rain, we have lingered here overlong,” the blond man interrupted, taking her arm.
Rain, he had called her. What an odd name.
“Just a moment, Selik,” the lady insisted.
“Remember the woman in childbirth,” Selik reminded her.
“Oh, I forgot,” she said, shooting a look of apology at another man standing beside the Norseman. It was Uhtred, a resident of Jorvik that Adam had seen about on occasion. His wife was big—
—with child these days. She was nowhere around now. No doubt she was off somewhere in a pile of straw, popping out her latest bratling.
The lady Rain was addressing Adam again. “Who did you say was taking care of you?”
He raised his head defiantly and snarled, “I take care of me sister and meself.”
“I just want to help—”
“Hah! Just like Aslam—”
“The slave trader?” Selik asked with surprise.
“Yea, the slave trader. Keeps tryin’ to ketch us, he does. But I be too fast fer the fat old codsucker. Says he knows of a sultan in a faraway land that wants ter have us fer his very own children, to give us a home and good food, but I know what he wants. Yea, I know.”
“What?” Rain exclaimed, even as Selik said a foul word behind her.
“He wants to bugger us both, he does, to stick his cock up our arses,” he declared with a streetwise explicitness that he hoped would shock the lady into going away. He spat at her feet, grabbed Adela’s hand, and disappeared into the crowd.
“I only wanted to help you,” she called after them.
Those words rang in Adam’s ears, false as they must be, and he slowed his pace. For some reason he could not explain, he decided to follow the blond giants hurrying to keep pace with Uhtred, whose wife was apparently unable to pop out their latest babe with her usual ease.
At one point, when he drew close to them in the crowded sector of Coppergate where all the tradesmen had their stalls, he overheard Rain complain to Selik, “We should have stayed and helped them.”
“You’re out of your bloody mind. I want no children of my own, and for certain I will not care for anyone else’s bothersome brood. Get that through your thick head.”
“But, Selik, did you see that little girl’s eyes when she looked back at us over her shoulder? They were pleading for help.”
“You see and hear only what you want, wench. Did you hear the coarse-mouthed, filthy pup? He wants no help, and I daresay the tough little whelp could survive on a battlefield, let alone the streets of a market city.”
It took Adam a few moments to realize that the “coarse-mouthed, filthy pup” Selik referred to was him. He growled and would have pounced forward and taken a bite out of the man’s leg, but Adela held him back. She did, indeed, have a pleading look in her blue eyes.
“Please, please,” Uhtred was begging, pulling on Rain’s sleeve. “My wife is dying, and you stand here prattling about worthless street children.”
Rain turned on Uhtred with anger. “And what makes you think your unborn child is worth more than those two precious children?”
Precious? Who? Us?
In that instant, Adam’s heart felt as if it were growing and growing. He could love this woman, he decided … like a mother. Then he shook his head fiercely to rid his brain of the witless notion.
A dream was born …
Hours later, Adam stood peering through a wide crack in Uhtred’s miserable hut. Adela was asleep in the lap of Selik, who sat under a nearby tree, his long legs stretched forward and crossed at the ankles. How that had come about, Adam wasn’t quite sure, but he did know that there was no way he was leaving Uhtred’s home, despite Selik’s harsh reprimands that birthing was no sight for a little boyling. If Selik called him a “little boyling” one more time, Adam vowed he would give him a famous Anglo-Saxon gesture. But he’d best be ready to run when he did, with Adela in hand and not cuddled in the Viking’s lap.
The thing that enthralled Adam was what Rain was doing inside the hut. She was a healer, apparently. Not just a midwife, as some old crones were, but an actual trained physician. Amazed, he watched as she turned the babe inside the woman’s womb with her hands shoved inside, made a small cut in the place between her
woman-folds, then helped to ease the babe out when it was ready.
Adam was only seven years old. He was not given to religious turns, having given up already on the God his mother had prayed to … or was it God who had given up on him and Adela? But somehow, Adam came to an insight way beyond his years. It was his destiny to protect Adela, of course, but he had another destiny, too. He was going to become a doctor. Yes, he was.