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THE SWORD OF SAINT ISIDORES

Circa 926 AD: The English King Athelstan gifts a jewelled sword to the Norwegian King Harald Fairhair, and sets in place a series of events that will shape the future of Norway
The sword is believed to carry a curse and it affects the lives of all who come into its possession. Alphonso, a monk with a tortured soul and Theresa, a beautiful Asturian woman, are both enslaved by Vikings and crave for their homeland.
Rota
, the daughter of a sorceress, runs wild in the woods, half crazed with visions of violence. Wilhelm, a soldier of fortune surrounded by sacrificial worship of the Norse Gods, secretly clings to his Christian beliefs. Ragnarr, the Viking son of Hauk the Red, reveres the sword and plans to take it with him to the new land – the Lake District of England.

In Store Price: $AU32.95 
Online Price:   $AU31.95

ISBN: 978-1-921240-57-7
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 357
Genre: Fiction

Cover design: Tracey Kay
Artwork: Clive Dalkins

 

 

 

Author: David Thomas Kay
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2007
Language: English

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Author biography

David Thomas Kay was born 1937 in Barrow-in-Furness on the fringe of the English Lake District, and resided for many years on Walney Island – depicted as Whale Nei in the novel. He sailed as a junior engineer in the Merchant Navy for three years, and arrived in Australia from England in 1964 after travelling overland to India with three friends in an old renovated ambulance.  

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.

PROLOGUE

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.

The 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 bank.

Amongst 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. 

I

‘A 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

And many a mailed spearman stout, from the West countries round about, English and Scots, a foreign host, and swordsmen from the far French coast.’

.......Hornklofe

Ominous 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?

The 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.

‘Njord! stille havet! Frey! retur solen!’

The 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.

Njord’s 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.

Fair-haired 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.

Wilhelm 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.

The 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 life.

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