Thomas Kay was born 1937 in Barrow-in-Furness on the fringe of the English Lake
District, and resided for many years on
A naturalised Australian, David is married with two children. The family have been resident on the Gold Coast since 1979. On retiring, he took an interest in genealogy and traced his ancestors back to the seventeenth century in the English Lake District. This led to a fascination with the district’s Norse influence in dialect and place names, and David’s ongoing research has been the basis of his first novel.
Asturias, Northern Spain, Circa 926 AD
The eagle left its forest haunt and soared high above the trees. Gliding majestically he slowly quartered the open countryside hunting for prey. Below the eagle, rich pastureland tapered gently upwards towards the base of harsh, grey mountains – the source of many streams that bled from the valleys of the slopes to form slow-flowing rivers that curved with the lie of the land. The cool, clear waters meandered northwards, feeding the cultivated soil before merging with the incoming sea. As the summer sky paled, an evening breeze drew heat from the day and an air of peace and tranquillity settled over Saint Isidores.
monastery’s surrounding fields displayed trees heavy with fruit. Rows of leafy
vines held ripened clusters of grapes and their scents mingled to sweeten the
evening air. A stone humpback bridge spanned the river where it narrowed and
linked the fields to the forest of poplars and oaks that lined the opposite
the river stones, a green snake the length of a man’s full height reared and
prepared to strike venom into its cornered lizard prey. The eagle’s head
instinctively flicked sideways. Hovering gracefully in the wind, his sharp, dark
eyes focused on the prey and long, broad wings tipped as the hunter veered
abruptly into a gliding fall. The disappearing sun could no longer warn the
eagle’s prey of a threatening shadow and the snake hissed loudly as it sensed
the danger too late. The predator’s strong talons circled the cold body,
tightening their grip before the snake could strike back and then expertly
finished the kill.
Brown eyes watched the feast from the safety of a burrow. Floppy ears stood alert and nostrils twitched nervously as her whiskers bristled with fear. The rabbit’s white fur breast was pounding as her body gasped for air, recovering from the instinctive run from danger. Close by, a predator of a different species lay secreted in the undergrowth, waiting restlessly, threatening the environment.
gallant sight it was to see, their fleet sweep o’er the dark-blue sea. Its
crew of udal men of war, whose snow-white targets shone from far
many a mailed spearman stout, from the West countries round about, English and
Scots, a foreign host, and swordsmen from the far French coast.’
dark clouds burst simultaneously, unleashing their loads into the howling wind.
Sheets of cold heavy rain sprayed across the swell of the ocean as powerful
waves lifted the fragile, creaking ship towards the heavens. The torrential rain
punctured holes in the flesh of the sea with the force of a sheet of arrows
piercing an advancing foe. Hail rattled and ricocheted from the ship’s timbers
as its crew sheltered beneath the longboat’s lowered sail, their clothes
already saturated and battered flat against their skin. The storm had arrived
swiftly in the night, totally unexpected, and the Viking fleet had been
dispersed. This was the wrong season for a gale of such power. Why were the Gods
displeased and displaying such great anger?
wheels of Thor’s chariot thundered above them and his hammer, Mjollnir,
fractured the heavens, striking a jagged flash of brightness throughout the
hostile dark sky. The lonely Viking seahorse rode low in the water, limping from
its heavily loaded booty and the ravages of the fierce storm. The Knarr trading
ship sank lower, and its crew began to throw heavy livestock into the sea. Their
sacrifice would help lighten the boat and hopefully satisfy their sea God, Njord.
They called out openly to their God to still the sea and for his son, Frey, to
return the sun.
stille havet! Frey! retur solen!’
Vikings clung to their rowing benches as they bailed water, waiting desperately
for their God’s anger to pass. Soon after the last sheep had been cast to the
sea, the Vikings’ prayers were answered and they straightened as one to stand
in awe of the overwhelming silence.
anger had been brief. Calm waters surrounded the ship, almost as suddenly as the
arrival and departure of the storm. Their sacrifice had been accepted and had
soothed the sea God’s anger. The rain eased and as they voiced thanks to Frey,
the Lord of Sun and Rain, they heard the sound of Thor’s chariot wheels
rolling onwards, thundering into the distance. Waves flattened as the wind
decreased and an eerie silence settled over the ocean. The only sound to be
heard was the rhythmical slapping of seawater against the ship’s sides. Then
came the cry of seagulls announcing the beginning of dawn. Above the far
coastline, the sun’s rays coloured pale clouds as they filtered across a break
in the sky. The crew emerged to watch the now distant black clouds buffeting
against each other, fighting for space, swirling angrily as they drifted away
towards the eastern coastline. The storm moved quickly onwards to at first
darken, and then illuminate the far horizon, displaying its power to all that
lay in its path. The clouds carried away with them the sound of rolling thunder
and its diminishing threat towards the sea invaders, but the eye of the storm
had left fatal damage in its wake. During the dark of night, the Knarr trading
vessel had been blown from its anchorage and separated from its companion ships.
The ship was now taking more water than the crew could bail, and floating,
vulnerable to the elements. The sky was still overcast and the swell subsiding,
but as one storm diminished, another gathered force. The crew’s chain of
buckets came to a sudden halt and the sinking ship became the least of their
concerns as their attention was drawn towards an even greater danger. Four
pirating longboats were circling – Drakkar ships manned by a motley crew of
Danes, Scots, English and Normans. They were treasure hunters, housecarls, and
soldiers of fortune. Some were working their bondage, others earning reward for
their war skills. They sailed out from their base on the river Ouse under the
banner of Sihtric, the Viking king of York. The pirates seasonally scoured the
North Sea, scavenging, choosing their victims as a wolf seeks out weak prey.
They hunted for homeward-bound Danish longships; Vikings loaded with booty and
foolish or unfortunate enough to be travelling alone. They cast their nets
further when their prey became scarce and often sailed south-west to Brittany or
south from their west-coast base on the Ribble, hoping to cut off returning
Norwegian ships before they could trade their booty in Ireland.
Wilhelm stood tall at the prow of the closing longboat, waiting for the
grappling hooks to draw the ships together. He could well have passed for a
Norseman with his blond hair, steel-blue eyes and a bony, sculptured face. His
body was lean and the muscles on his fore- arms rippled as he unsheathed his
sword and readied to leap aboard. He’d survived a cruel life and was barely
out of his youth, but already carried an air of command about him. Wilhelm would
be one of the first into the fray and knew the Norsemen would fight to the
death, rather than lay down their weapons. He knew they would crave a brave
warrior’s death, ensuring they were chosen by the Valkyrie and taken to Odin,
their God of War. The Knarr’s crew, keepers of their companion ship’s excess
booty, were large in stature but small in numbers. They circled their captain
and prepared for battle as grappling irons locked ships either side of their
vessel. A shower of spears was unleashed before Wilhelm gave the order to board.
He was at the forefront, leading his men across the Knarr’s rowing benches.
Their first assault was driven backwards by a ferocious Norse counter-attack and
the invaders knew the rich booty entrusted to the Knarr ship would not come
cheaply. Many men were lost overboard before the pillagers were able to gain a
foothold on the trader’s deck. Wilhelm ruthlessly cut his way through the
circle of defenders and finally came face to face with the captain. To his
amazement, he found the Norseman surprisingly inept with both sword and shield.
Wilhelm skilfully turned his blade to the flat and struck the captain a
powerful, stunning blow to the side of the head, then continued on, clambering
over the ship’s torn sail, fighting his way towards the stern. Wilhelm thought
killing a waste of good booty and a live prisoner more value than a dead
warrior. He knew the Norse Vikings would never surrender and their combat would
be to the death. It would be his life or theirs and he struggled to comprehend
their belief of the afterlife as they battled ferociously, without fear, craving
for a valiant end. The Knarr’s crew fought long and bravely, and with a fury
brought on by the desperation of being hopelessly outnumbered, but they were all
eventually put to the sword or driven overboard. The Knarr’s crew had chosen a
valiant death and avoided the indignity of being taken to the slave markets.
Rather they had the glory of Valhalla than the shame of York. Wilhelm searched
for the young captain he’d stunned, but the leader of the Knarr ship had been
stirred by the sounds of clashing steel and bravely taken to his sword again.
Wilhelm found him impaled to the mast by a spear, convulsing in the throes of
death, and with one thrust of his blade, ended the young man’s suffering. With
that one merciful stroke of his blade, Wilhelm unwittingly linked his future
with a chain of coincidences that was destined to haunt him in his later years.
The sinking trading ship was stripped of all its valuables and Wilhelm
ascertained that the Viking beliefs were honoured. In respect, their sinking
ship was fired, with all the fallen warriors spread across the deck. Odin, the
God of War, would this day have many fine warriors chosen by the Valkyrie women
and take pride in welcoming them to his great hall at Valhalla. This chosen day,
the Gods had intervened with an unheralded storm and as is the role of nature,
the hunter had become the prey.
stood gazing ahead at the coastline, enjoying the strong breeze swirling around
him. As he watched the sails billowing and the oars being raised, his thoughts
lingered on the Viking ship. He couldn’t help but look back at the sinking,
burning vessel and think of the waste of good men. This was the life he’d
chosen and a burden he had to bear, but his early Christian teachings still
simmered beneath the surface. Wilhelm, like the rest of the crew, lived each day
as it came, with no plans for the future other than survival. The trading ship
had unfortunately been beyond salvage, but King Sihtric would be well pleased
with the silver amongst the booty. The King’s hunger for silver, it was said,
stemmed from his failure to unearth a great hoard of the metal buried deep on
the south bank of the Ribble. Some say Sihtric’s father had fled Dublin with
the treasure, burying it for safekeeping whilst he tested the acceptance of his
presence in York. After his father’s death, only Sihtric knew of the chest’s
location, but before he could regain the silver, great floods had washed away
the markers. Now, whenever his ships sailed down the river, his crews were
ordered to keep an open eye and an ear to the ground. But far from being a
secret, rumours had circulated throughout the surrounding villages and all had
become aware of a buried treasure. Half of the countryside was out searching for
it and the size of the booty had become larger in their estimation as each
summer progressed. Perhaps the silver from the Knarr ship would help pacify
Sihtric’s anger at the loss of Wilhelm’s last command in the bay of shifting
sands. Wilhelm had been sailing on the west coast, north of the Ribble, when his
ship had been driven into the bay on a flood-tide and grounded in the
treacherous sands. Wilhelm would have been hard put to believe his narrow escape
from the fired ship and safe emergence from the swirling floodwaters, could
possibly be of some future use. But his knowledge of the bay and its channels of
sinking sands would be of great advantage to others in his later years.
capture of the Norwegian trading ship was to be Wilhelm’s last conquest at sea
before being taken into bondage in a great North Sea battle. They should never
have ventured so far north and allowed their minds to be totally occupied in the
pursuit of the Danish ship. Their obsession left them vulnerable to Harald’s
fleet, and they became a victim of yet another Viking purge by the Norwegian
King. The direction of Wilhelm’s life was about to be changed forever. When
he’d raided the Knarr ship, he was being drawn into a labyrinth of many
varying paths of life, encircling many of his future acquaintances, tempting
them to change direction and influencing them in their search for a new way of
Click on the cart below to purchase this book:
Prices in Australian Dollars CURRENCY
(c)2007 Zeus Publications All rights reserved.