Authors: Christopher Dinsdale
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Text Â© 2006 Christopher Dinsdale
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior consent of the publisher.
Cover art by Christopher Chuckry
an imprint of
Napoleon & Company
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Napoleon & Company acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for our publishing program.
2nd printing 2007
10 09 08 07Â Â Â Â Â 5 4 3 2
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Dinsdale, Christopher, date-
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Stolen away / Christopher Dinsdale.
ISBN 1-894917-20-0 (pbk.)
10-digit ISBN 978-1-894917-20-9
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 1. IrishâNewfoundland and LabradorâJuvenile
fiction. 2. Beothuk
IndiansâJuvenile fiction.Â Â I.Â Â Title.
PS8607.I58S76 2006Â Â Â Â Â jC813'.6Â Â Â Â Â Â Â C2006-903891-0
For the wonderful women
in my life:
my wife, Amanda,
and my daughters
Sarah, Johanna and Stephanie
I would first like to thank Amanda, my wife, for her continued support during the many hours in which I'm huddled in my basement burrow, spilling my imagination onto the laptop computer. I would also like to thank my family, friends, colleagues and students who, with their enthusiasm for
, encouraged me to continue my writing. I can't put into words how much I appreciate the kind thoughts. Special mention also goes to my Grade Five student, Anna, who thought up the title,
. I would also like to thank Newmarket Public Library for their wonderful collection of reference materials as well as their enthusiastic support for each one of my books. The New Brunswick Museum and the Newfoundland Museum were very helpful in answering the many questions I had regarding the history of the Vikings in North America. I thank those institutions for their time and patience.
This novel is based on ancient Irish legends, Norse sagas and what little we know of the Beothuck people. The storyline itself is straight from my own imagination, therefore the plot and characters (except for Thorfinn Karlseffni, the Viking leader) should not be taken for historical fact.
Enjoy the adventure!
- Christopher Dinsdale
iera ran her calloused fingers over the ancient grooves of the Stone. Cool and rough to the touch, its comforting texture reached into her soul and caressed her hidden anguish. She did not feel the tear that trickled down her cold cheek. Perched upright in the soft meadow earth, the table-sized rock was decorated with intricate patterns of ancient symbols and geometric crosses. The beautiful detail whispered words of comfort, whispers in a language that had not graced her ears since she had been kidnapped a lifetime ago. The Stone never failed to bring her a sense of fleeting tranquillity, even when she was in the gloomiest of moods.
Smiling through the tears, she glanced down at the intricately-carved pendant she was wearing around her neck. Shaped in the traditional Celtic cross, Kiera's only piece of jewellery and her single reminder of her past life, had an uncanny resemblance to the Stone itself, both in style and workmanship. The woven geometric markings of her pendant triggered memories of ghostly images. Warm embraces. Soft music. Laughter. Love. They were so long ago, the memories of her early childhood, that they simply fluttered in and out of her thoughts. She tried to grab hold of them and live within them, if for only a moment, but like the butterflies that zigzagged past her in the breeze, they vanished far too quickly. Sadly, she realized that her memories were becoming as worn as the weathered grooves within the Stone itself.
She shook her head and focused again upon the markings of the Stone. It had been set here, in this meadow, for a reason, placed so its engravings pointed east towards the thundering ocean and the rising face of the sun. Why was it placed here? Could the Stone be some sort of marker? How was it possible that her ancestors had carved this beautiful design in a location that was a world away from her homeland?
As she so often did, she closed her eyes and imagined the small Celtic craft and the brave Irish mariners appearing on the eastern ocean horizon. Using the power of their small single sail, they would ply the waters to return to this windswept meadow and their ancient marker. Coming ashore, the mariners would see her waiting by the Stone, their faces lighting up in recognition of their similar descent. She would run into their arms and they would embrace her, the warmth of their common blood penetrating her cold, oceanblown skin. Then, their mission complete, they would lead her to their boat, and together they would make the long eastward journey home.
Her dreamy thoughts were shattered by a low animal-like moan from a Viking horn, echoing through the afternoon breeze. Jumping to her feet, she glanced at the angle of the sun and realized that she was in trouble. Thorfinn, the village leader, was beckoning everyone to return to the village. She glanced down at the basket by her feet. There were barely enough blueberries to cover the weaved bottom, and it was supposed to be full by now.
Crouching and crawling, Kiera quickly worked her way through grass and wind-bent bushes of the meadow, grabbing any low-lying blueberries within reach as she went. As she made her way awkwardly over the bush-covered rise, the Viking settlement came into view. Nestled in a gentle valley, the low, rectangular mud and thatch buildings, stables and pasture embraced the gentle curve of a meandering river.
Kiera quickly realized why Thorfinn had blown the alert. The river was teeming with splashing people. Every man, woman and child from the settlement was thrashing and stumbling in what looked like a maddened frenzy, lowering baskets and large pieces of cloth into the glistening water and hauling out magnificent fish moments later. As they threw the fish up onto the muddy embankment, several of the men scurried and slipped between the growing number of prized catches. With one swing of an iron rod, they clubbed the life out of their catch, then threw the flaccid bodies onto a growing pile at the edge of the meadow grass. It was the moment the settlers had been waiting for all summer. The salmon run had begun!
Kiera burst into a stumbling sprint. Thankfully, she would not have to worry about her lack of berries today. No one would notice that she had shirked her duties, since the excitement of the returning salmon would consume the thoughts of every villager. Kiera joined in with her own whoops and cheers as she launched herself, boots and all, into the creek. The water was frothing with life as thousands of fish tried to push their way upriver towards their ancestral spawning grounds. She laughed as a larger fish boldly tried to sprint between her leather boots. Pinning the creature with her ankles, she bent down and grabbed the fish through the gills. With one smooth motion, she flung the fish into the air and towards the waiting men on the shore.
“It's about time you showed up.”
A strong hand grabbed her shoulder. Kiera spun around and looked into the squinting, seacragged eyes of her master, Bjorn. His huge body and etched face were fierce, but behind the menacing stare lay a sparkle of kindness in the knowing, blue eyes.
“I was out picking blueberries as Dagmar had asked,” she said, defensively.
“Aye, and I saw your basket on the grass. Spent maybe twenty minutes of your two hours picking, I reckon. Daydreaming at the Stone again?”
Kiera didn't answer. She didn't have to. Her blushing cheeks gave her away once again. They were the bane of her existence.
His stare narrowed. “Well, since you've already had your break, you're not leaving this creek until you've hauled out more salmon than any other man, woman or child of the village. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” she answered, meekly.
As her master ordered, Kiera hauled out fish after fish without a break. The enthusiasm of the moment quickly waned. Even at dusk, when most of the villagers had returned to their homes to prepare for dinner, she stubbornly stayed in the creek until it was dark. She could no longer see the fish, but her other heightened senses could hear the approaching splashing and the movement of water against her legs. More often than not, her fingers would somehow find the slippery scales, then the gills of a salmon.
The sound of joyous feasting began to mingle with the splashing of the fish. The delectable aroma of grilled salmon drifted across the water. Her grumbling stomach urged her to follow the aromatic trail to its source. Kiera, however, willed herself to go on, knowing that she had not been given the permission to quit. Bjorn was not a cruel man, but it was simply not her way. Her master had told her to haul fish, and she would continue do so without question.
It was well into the evening when Bjorn appeared with his hands on his hips by the creek's edge. He had to duck as a rather large fish sailed by his head and landed on the grass behind him.
“I hope that was not intentional,” he said in a half-serious manner.
She looked up, shocked at the voice. “I'm sorry! I didn't see you standing there.”
He chuckled. “I think you've made up for your relaxing afternoon.” He reached out a hand. “Come on.”
Kiera smiled wearily as she took his hand, amazed that her numb legs still obeyed her commands. Kiera's teeth chattered as her boots sloshed towards the glowing sod homes. They paused as Bjorn effortlessly lifted a massive log up from the pile of stacked firewood, then carried it towards the doorway of the largest building and the waiting hearth beyond. Kiera never stopped marvelling at Bjorn's strength. She had once seen him lift a sick cow off the pinned leg of a fellow farmer. The man, she was sure, had strength that could rival a Norse god.
Bjorn and Kiera ducked under the low frame of the doorway. Kiera suppressed the urge to cough as the air suddenly became heavy with smoke and festive bantering. Bjorn threw the massive piece of wood into the crackling hearth, walked past two families feasting on fish, then stopped at a gathering in the far corner of the shelter. Kiera sat down heavily on a wooden stump, shivering. She was immediately attacked from behind by a tiny set of arms and a high-pitched squeal.
“Kiera! Kiera! You're back!”
Kiera reached back, pulled the little assailant over her head, upside down, and flipped the young girl onto her lap. Two huge blue eyes looked up at her with excitement. Bouncing, she waved a half-eaten piece of fish in one hand.
“Isn't it the most wonderful thing you have ever tasted?” she said, in awe. “This is my eleventh piece. Mama said I could have as much as I wanted. I've never had as much as I wanted, unless I'm with you when we're blueberry picking. Oops! I'm sorry, Kiera. I wasn't supposed to say that. Mama, you didn't hear that!”
Smiling, Kiera shook her head at her young friend's exuberance and looked over at the tall, blonde woman sitting next to her. Her beautiful hair had been loosely braided and hung almost to her waist. Her shoulders were covered with a wool cloak. Something moved within the cocoon she held against her chest. The soft, smacking sound of a contented nursing baby could be heard above the din of the noisy feast. She smiled, reached out tenderly and caressed Kiera's cheek.
“You're frozen. I hope Bjorn wasn't too hard on you.”
Keira shook her head but grimaced as she tried to wiggle her frozen toes. “No. I deserved it. I should have picked more berries.”
Dagmar looked down at her daughter. “Lorna, get Kiera her dinner.”
Lorna bounced over to the fire and picked up a wooden pallet piled high with salmon and potatoes. She merrily skipped it back to Kiera.
Dagmar nodded at the food. “I saved this for you. Enjoy.”
Kiera pinched a chunk of steaming pink salmon and placed it in her mouth. Her first chew released a flavor so wonderful that her entire body tingled in delight. Meanwhile, Dagmar had separated herself from the infant, who was now slung over her shoulder. After several pats, the baby produced a belch that seemed Impossibly large for such a small person. Dagmar smiled and gently rocked the baby into a deep sleep.
Lorna tugged on Kiera's skirt. “Did you remember?” she asked, batting her long lashes.
Kiera shrugged. “Remember? Was I supposed to remember something?”
“Your surprise! You said you would have a surprise!”
“Oh, yes,” Kiera smiled, winking at Dagmar. “The surprise. I remember now.”
She reached under her wool cape and pulled out a small sack. Lorna gasped in excitement.
“Go ahead. Open it.”
As if it were the most valuable present in the whole world, Lorna carefully pulled apart the top of the pouch and a grin broke across her face.
“I found a small stand of raspberries near the edge of the river. Not enough for a family, but just enough to surprise a very sweet, young girl.”
Lorna turned. “Mama, can I share them with my friends?”
“Go ahead. But it will be bedtime shortly.”
“Thank you, Mama!”
Dagmar reached out to Kiera. “Thank you.”
Together they watched Lorna and her friends chattering excitedly while they sampled the sweet treasure. Kiera took another bite of her salmon and let her eyes drift to the far door and the darkness beyond. “When I'm out there in the meadow, sometimes I'm overwhelmed by the beauty of this land. The flowers. The food. The endless forests. It's like a paradise, when you compare it to what we left behind in Greenland.”
“Yes,” said Dagmar, sighing, “but it is a paradise already claimed.”
Kiera frowned. “The skraelings.”
Dagmar nodded. “Although it has been over two months since their last raid, I fear that we will soon see them again.”
“I understand the concern of the parents regarding the children's safety, but I feel so sorry for Lorna and the others, not being able to run free in these beautiful surroundings. The meadow in full bloom is almost magical. The children should be out there picking flowers, rolling down the hills, playing gamesâ¦”
Kiera's voice drifted away, as misty images of such games floated into her mind from another life, an earlier life, a life of carefree joy and happiness. Her skin once again grew cold. She shook her head in an attempt to clear her thoughts. She was now a member of the Svensson family, a slave but treated more like an eldest daughter. She knew Dagmar and Bjorn cared for her deeply. There was no point in thinking about the past.
Dagmar didn't notice Kiera's longing gaze, looking instead at Lorna in the distance.
“You know that's impossible. We don't know what the skraelings would do to our children should they ever meet or capture one. For their own safety, we must keep them within the village.”
“I understand,” said Kiera, “but it is still a shame.”
Dagmar nodded. “Bjorn understands that, too. That's why the elders are gathering tonight in order to discuss the details of another expedition.”
“An expedition? To where?”
“To the southwest. They are hoping to find another land that is just as fertile as here but without the skraelings, or at least with skraelings that are not as hostile as our northern neighbours.”
Kiera's eyes widened. “Do you mean we'll have to move? Again? We've only been here for two years.”
“It simply is not safe here. The skraelings are becoming bolder and more dangerous with each raid. They are not going to leave us alone until we are gone. We have already lost Gardar and Erik to their arrows and harpoons. We must do something before we lose everything.”
Kiera sighed. After two years of back-breaking work, the village was just starting to feel like a settled community.
“But moving further southwest will take us further away from your homeland.”
Dagmar frowned. “That is true. We will be more isolated than ever. But as you said, these lands are plentiful and much more fertile than Greenland, which would be our only other option if we were to move again.”
The thought of going back to Greenland sent mixed emotions tingling through Kiera. It was a barren wasteland, but it also gave her a ray of hope for the future. It was that much closer to her own homeland of Ireland.
“But what about the Stone?” asked Kiera.