Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale

BOOK: Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale
6.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub






Beast   Breath   Bound

for Patrick Hill

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020

This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2007 by Donna Jo Napoli

Map of Europe by Elena Furrow

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

Book design by Michael McCartney

The text for this book is set in Adobe Jenson.

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition

2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Napoli, Donna Jo, 1948—

Hush : an Irish princess’ tale / Donna Jo Napoli.—1st ed.

p.   cm.

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Melkorka, an Irish princess, is kidnapped by Russian slave traders and not only learns how to survive but to challenge some of the brutality of her captors, who are fascinated by her apparent muteness and the possibility that she is enchanted.

ISBN: 9780689861765

eISBN-13: 978-1-439-10761-4

eSBN: 9781439107614

[1. Slavery—Fiction. 2. Mutism, elective—Fiction. 3. Seafaring life—Fiction. 4. Princesses—Fiction. 5. Conduct of life—Fiction. 6. Middle Ages—Fiction. 7. Ireland—History—To 1172—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.N15Hus 2007 ♦ [Fic]-dc22 ♦ 2007002676


Thanks to Eva, Robert, and Barry Furrow, Sascha Agran, Stefan Brink, Anna Cohen, Neil Cavanaugh, Eric Eisenberg, Maeve Hannon, Sheila Hannon, David Harrison, Patrick Hill, Nick Kane, Samara Leist, Michael McCartney, Moses Nakamura, Helen North, Ginee Seo, Valerie Shea, Richard Tchen, and Alison Velea.

Thanks go to the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin and to the Trinity College Library at Dublin, as well as to the librarians at Swarthmore College who helped me collect the materials for researching this time and place.

And a special and multiple thank-you to my indefatigable and ever-encouraging editor, Jordan Brown.


In the Old Norse language spoken in the 900s the letter Þ / þ is pronounced like the

The letter Ð / ð is pronounced like the

The letter Æ / œ is pronounced like the



“Mel, hurry up!” Brigid calls, splashing through puddles, heedless of the mud that has come up through the wooden-plank paving of the road. She is eight, which accounts for much of her bad behavior, but not all. “Please, Mel” She takes my hand and hangs on it, like she did when she was smaller. “There’s so much to see in Dublin.”

“And what will it be worth if Mother scolds you afterward for mud on the hem of your tunic and cloak?”

“A scolding is small price for such pleasure.”

“Oh, Brigid, that’s a new cloak, and it’s beautiful” Indeed, the woad herb makes wool a stunning blue. I point. “Look, the fringes on the border are already mucked up.”

“Well, then, it’s too late, isn’t it? I might as well run now. Besides, Mel, this is the first time we’ve been here. And we wouldn’t even have come now if you hadn’t begged Father. And Father wouldn’t have agreed if it wasn’t your birthday.” She’s out of breath from fast talk, but glowing with the logic of it. Mother always says Brigid can outreason
us all. “And after so long squished in the chariot. And the smelly lodgings in the Kingdom of Meath midway. And then more bumpy time before dawn today. All that to get here. With the cursèd rain the whole way. Well, we’re free now, and the sun is shining and we should play.”

I can’t help but agree, though her remarks about cursed rain call for a response. “Rainfall is Eire land’s most important blessing, Brigid.” I tuck her hand over my arm as we walk. “We may not have much farming land, but we’ve got rivers and lakes, which make good fishing and good trading.”

“Don’t quote Father to me.”

“You had better learn to quote him to yourself, then. And until you do, you had better listen to me.”

“You’re boring to listen to. Nuada is far better.”

Nuada is our brother. He’s thirteen—two years younger than me—but when the three of us get together for storytelling, it’s Nuada who speaks. His voice is so sweet, cows give more milk when he sings. I’ve seen it.

“Be that as it may, you can’t run through the mud.” My voice scolds. “Someone will treat you poorly. You look like a wild child instead of a princess.”

“Ah, that’s it!” She laughs. “You want men to stare at you in your new cloak. You don’t care about what I look like for myself.”

“Don’t be absurd. This is a Norse town. I don’t care what the Norsemen think of me .” I put my hand on top of hers and squeeze harder than I should. “You know very well I will marry Irish royalty from a kingdom much closer to our own Downpatrick .”

“Then don’t you worry about anyone treating me poorly. If they dare to, I’ll shout who I am. No one bothers princesses. No one, no one. Not even Norsemen who have gone crazy … the ones they call Vikings.” As she says that last word, she yanks herself free and jumps in front of me. Her hands become claws, her lips curl back from her teeth, her brow furrows, her nose wrinkles, her eyes squint fiercely.

That’s the monster face Nuada makes when he tells us stories of Viking raids. I can’t help but flinch. Vikings are no joking matter.

Brigid laughs and spins on her heel. She races ahead again. And with an excited cry of “Arrah!” she now turns a corner, out of sight.

I look around. No one seems to have paid attention to our little fight except two women slaves carrying raw wool in big baskets, and they hardly matter. When I give them a reproving glance, they quickly look down and duck into the spinner’s shop.

I smooth my cloak. Brigid’s right; I do love it. Red,
from madder, with a plaited border. My tunic is new too. Linen, spun from flax, not ordinary nettle. My maid-servant Delaney dyed it yellow from the weld plant.

Father gasped when I first put it on. He says colors play tricks. He fears them. But women know how to control the tricks. Mother’s teaching me. That’s why I picked the weld myself rather than sending a slave boy to the field. And that’s why I urinated on my new tunic myself. My own urine not only holds the color fast, but ensures that the spirit in the color obeys me.

Brigid doesn’t obey me, though, but she won’t go far. The first new thing she sees will stop her. New things fascinate her.

And practically everything about this heathen town is new, which is why I begged Father to take me here for my birthday. Our small town bores me. The Kingdom of Downpatrick has only three thousand people, including those in the surrounding hills and valleys. And that’s even counting slaves. But Dublin has that many living within the town walls, and the stench from their cooking and smoke and dampness pervades every shop-lined street. So many shops. Leather workers, shoemakers, bone workers, comb makers, every kind of craftsman and tradesman work within three spades of one another.

It amazes even Mother. She didn’t want to come at first, her fear of Vikings is so strong. But once she saw the stores, she bustled about with a smile. She ordered gloves for Father, and she’s now back at the toolmaker’s, ordering a set of iron knives.

I’m going to buy something too. My new cloak needs the perfect brooch to secure it at the breast. Silver would stand out against red better than bronze or iron. I duck into the silversmith’s.

He greets me with words I don’t understand. Norse, undoubtedly. I stiffen a little. Why doesn’t he have an Irish servant? Or if no one’s willing to work for him, why not a slave? Heathens don’t have priests badgering them about giving up slavery—they can have as many as they want with impunity. And they do, according to Father. They take slaves from all over the world. Father says you can hear a dozen languages spoken among the Norsemen’s slaves. If this Norseman had an Irish slave, the lad could speak Gaelic to Irish customers. The Norse language is ugly.

Father speaks Norse, of course. He says Irish kings should these days. No town is safe from invasions by Vikings, and being able to talk with the enemy is essential. He says any man would rather get wealthy off you than kill you—so if you can bargain, good can happen.

I speak only Gaelic. That’s enough for a woman, even a princess. The silversmith wears a short purple tunic over trousers. Cúchulainn, the great hero of our Ulster tales, wore a purple mantle. Does this silversmith fancy himself to be as handsome as Cúchulainn? I’m almost embarrassed for him.

BOOK: Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale
6.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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