Authors: Kelli Wilkins
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Viking, #Paranormal, #Historical Romance
Medallion Media Group
To my wonderful husband, Robert, for all his support and faith in my writing over the years. And to Inky, my constant companion, devoted writing partner, and muse.
Published 2012 by Medallion Press, Inc.
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is a registered trademark of Medallion Press, Inc.
Copyright © 2012 by Kelli A. Wilkins
Cover design by James Tampa
Edited by Emily Steele
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the
author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
I’ve always been surrounded by books, so it seemed like a natural progression for me to start writing my own stories at a young age. Along the way, I’ve received encouragement, feedback, and excellent advice from some great people. Thanks to my parents and my brother for having lots of books around the house and for giving me endless story ideas. To my high school English teacher, Susan Podgorski, for reading my very first stories. To Pat Marinelli and John Torre, great writing teachers and mentors, thanks for your feedback on my writings. To Carla Chadick for publishing my very first romance and kicking open the door for more. And to Deborah Bailey, friend, coach, and critique partner, for her invaluable advice, feedback, and insight. Special thanks to everyone at Medallion Press for their hard work in transforming my manuscript into the novel you’re holding.
Stronsay, Orkney Islands, Scotland
“Ye filthy bastards dare call yourselves men of God? Unhand me!” Odaria kicked and fought the men dragging her away from the village.
Brennan slapped her across the face. “Quiet, witch, or I shall tear out your tongue.”
She stopped struggling and glared at Brennan. That blow hadn’t hurt her. If anything, it merely sparked her fury. “Do as you will, but you shan’t be rid of me so easy.”
Odaria dug her bare feet into the soft earth as Brennan and Malcolm forced her up the side of a small hill. A cool breeze billowed her thin chemise like a sail behind her. She shivered and gazed into the clear midnight sky. Twinkling silver stars surrounded the three-quarter moon. Would this be the last peaceful image she’d ever see?
Her thoughts faded as they reached the top of the rise. She looked at the beach and gasped. Everyone from the village stood in a circle around a bonfire. The flickering firelight cast evil shadows across their faces. A two-foot-high wooden platform with a tall crossbeam was positioned near the roaring flames.
She cringed, and Malcolm shoved her forward. “Take your punishment, witch.”
“Nay. Set me free.” To her surprise, her voice sounded weak and shaky. She wiggled her hands and tried to loosen the rope binding her wrists in front of her. They truly weren’t going to burn her alive, were they?
“Hold her fast,” Brennan ordered. “She’ll not cast spells upon us again.”
“Me spells would best be used to put your head on a pike!”
Brennan wrapped his hand around her throat and squeezed hard, cutting off her air. “Mind your words, witch, for they shall be some of your last.” He motioned for Malcolm to step aside, then faced the group of villagers before him.
“Faithful followers, you have gathered here tonight to witness the purging of evil from our God-fearing, peaceful village. After tonight, the witch shall plague us no more with her spells and devil worship. No longer shall we fear her wrath as we sleep.”
Odaria glanced at the pile of dried grass and brush stacked around the wooden platform. One spark would set the pyre ablaze. She stared across the crowd and scanned the firelit faces, looking for a compassionate soul. There was none.
How could they do this to her? She had known these people since she was a child, and now they were about to burn her for a crime she hadn’t commited. She’d done nothing to warrant this. They should be punishing the redheaded devil, Brennan, not her. But the villagers would never dare question him, no matter what he ordered them to do. He was their leader, and he was obeyed.
“The devil’s harlot shall be sent back to the pit of hell from whence she came. Our Lord God commands …”
She bowed her head as Brennan preached on. How could she get free? Fighting her way out of this mess was hopeless. She felt as weak as a newborn kitten. For the past fortnight, Brennan had held her prisoner. He’d starved and beaten her, compelling her to confess to a crime he had committed. With each lash of the whip, she’d cursed him to a dire fate.
The wind blew in off the sea, tousling her black hair around her face. She breathed deep, filling her lungs with a mix of salty sea air and smoke from the fire. A tingling sensation washed over her. She raised her head and looked at Brennan. Nay. It was
hopeless. As long as she could summon her powers, she still had a chance.
Brennan turned to her. “Confess to the murder and soul stealing, witch, and I shall be merciful. If you admit your evil deeds, I shall spare you the agony of being roasted alive.”
She laughed. “Murder? You talk of murder as you stand ready to burn me? I would rather die than confess to
“Throw her in,” yelled a man in the crowd.
Brennan tightened his grip on her upper arm and dragged her to the platform. “Your spirit must be cleansed for what you have done.”
Odaria glanced over her shoulder and saw Darach standing near the top of the hill. They had become close friends and confidants during the past several months. He knew she was innocent of murder, but yet he had done nothing to save her. Why? Did he fear Brennan’s wrath as well?
“Set me loose, and I shall spare you, Darach,” she called out. “You know I’ve done nothing wrong. Tell them. ’Tis your last chance.”
Their gazes locked for a second. Then Darach bowed his head and crossed himself.
“Cowardly bastard,” she muttered.
Brennan shoved her onto the platform and slammed her against the rough wooden post. She winced as a flash of pain shot up her spine. Her back was bruised and burned from weeks of torture.
Darach tossed a rope to Brennan, then strolled down the hill to join the others.
“For your crimes against God, I hereby condemn you to death by fire,” Brennan roared as he wrapped the rope around her torso.
The crowd cheered.
Odaria swallowed hard and squared her shoulders. She took a deep breath, savoring the acrid scent of burning wood and dried grass. Now was not the time to show fear. Now was the time to get angry.
She closed her eyes and recalled everything that had happened in the past month—her mother’s death, the murder of an innocent child, the villagers who had betrayed her, Brennan’s delight in torturing her beneath the church. The images washed over her, feeding her rage.
She snapped her eyes open and glared at the crowd, enjoying the fact that several villagers yelped and jumped back. “You call yourselves God-fearing Christians, and yet you allow this devil to lead you into murder?”
“Deep in your black hearts you know the truth. I have harmed no one.” She had never denied being a witch, but she was not guilty of murdering an innocent
. She spotted a former friend in the crowd and nodded in her direction.
“Isobel, you came to me when you needed healin’ for your sick innards. Why did you not fear me then?”
Isobel’s eyes widened, and she crossed herself three times.
Odaria continued. “And Trevor, you sought me out when your sheep took ill. You begged me to—”
Brennan smacked her across the mouth. Her head struck the post, and she saw a bright flash of light. That was it. She had taken enough.
Her pulse surged, and every muscle in her body tensed. A searing heat flared from deep within her, and her skin broke out in a thin layer of sweat. She felt no fear now, only raging power. She narrowed her green eyes to slits and glared at Brennan.
“I curse you, Brennan, and everyone in this damned village. I condemn all of you to a fate worse than death. You brought this hex upon yourselves. I warned you not to cross me, but you heeded me not. May a dark plague descend upon this village and make every one of your last hours a living hell.”
She grinned as the wind picked up, whipping in from the sea and fanning the bonfire. The red-orange flames sent a shower of sparks high into the night sky. She could hear the roll and crash of the rising ocean waves as they broke along the nearby shoreline.
It was working. Her strength and power were building. She closed her eyes and concentrated. She still might die tonight, but before she did, she would set a curse upon the village to last for generations.
“I invoke the Ancient Ones. Rise up and do my bidding. Destroy this village and all who have betrayed me. Make them suffer as I have suffered. May the wrath of the gods and goddesses serve justice where it’s due.”
An unholy roar broke through the night, followed by high-pitched shouts and screams. It sounded as if the doorway to hell had ripped open and spewed forth its worst demons.
Odaria opened her eyes and saw the people at the outer edge of the fire running away. Giant figures emerged from the shadows and chased after the fleeing villagers. Whoever, or whatever, they were, they moved fast. Within seconds, they cast large nets over the crowd, trapping most of the villagers. The terrified people shrieked and struggled to get free.
Brennan stood next to her on the platform, immobile. His mouth hung open. “By God,” he whispered, “what have you done?”
She smirked and let out a harsh laugh. “Run. Perhaps they shan’t eat you alive when they catch you.”
She prayed her words would frighten Brennan off. Truth be told, she had no idea what was happening, but she was clever enough to use it to her advantage. The “demons” she had invoked were busy hunting the villagers. They hadn’t noticed her yet.
Brennan leapt from the platform and ran across the field. “I shall see you burn yet, witch,” he called over his shoulder.
“I think not,” she muttered as she wriggled her way out of the rope. By the grace of the gods, Brennan hadn’t tied it. It was merely coiled tight around her midsection. She freed herself and hopped off the platform.
Her knees buckled, and she glanced around the clearing as she regained her balance. The bonfire blocked most of her view, but she heard the villagers begging for mercy and pleading with their Savior to rescue them from the invaders. She watched as a hulking figure chased Brennan toward the sea. The gods would decide his fate.
Odaria slipped into the shadows and bolted for the village. She had to find a place to hide—fast. She was too vulnerable out here. With each step, her legs wobbled and threatened to collapse beneath her. Using her powers always rendered her weak. She needed food and water to build up her strength.
She dug her bare feet into the damp grass and pressed on. One question whirled through her mind as she ran—what in the name of the gods had she summoned from the sea?
Rothgar stepped around a net and glanced at a weeping woman muttering prayers. He frowned and scanned the shadowy hillside. Everywhere he looked, terrified people cowered in fishing nets.
He sighed and scratched his beard. All in all, capturing the villagers had been far easier than he had expected. Perhaps it had been too easy. The men, eager for a bloody battle, had anticipated charging into the village square with swords raised. Instead, they had netted the unsuspecting villagers in the blink of an eye.
The raging bonfire had drawn them directly to their prey. The orange flames flickered like a beacon in the black night. They had slipped ashore without a sound, surrounded the group, and attacked. But this effortless victory did not feel right to him. Why were the villagers assembled around the fire at this late hour? What had entranced them so that they had not noticed one hundred Norsemen lurking in the shadows?
He broke from his thoughts as Karnik approached him.
“This was easy
,” he answered. He was surprised that Karnik had obeyed his order to keep everyone alive. Karnik’s warriors were notorious for their bloodthirsty behavior. He gazed at the nets holding the villagers. Most of them had stopped struggling to free themselves and were now praying for mercy.
Rothgar shook his head. They did not understand that he
showing them mercy. The nets would hold them yet not harm them. If Karnik had been in charge of the raid, he would have slaughtered everyone on sight.
He walked to the nearest net and bent over a fair-haired man. “This is all from the village?” He said the words slowly, so the man could understand him. Although he spoke their Pict language, it sometimes sounded garbled.
The man spit in his face. “Burn in hell, vile sea scum.”
Rothgar straightened up and wiped his face with the edge of his green tunic.
deserve a taste of Karnik’s rage. He immediately pushed the thought from his mind. No, he needed to keep the villagers alive, at least until he found Orvind. After that, he would have no use for any of them.
Karnik tapped him on a shoulder. “Rothgar?”
?” he growled.
“The men are awaiting your orders. They’re hungry and wish to sate themselves.”
“I’ll wager so,” he muttered, then cleared his throat. Even though he was the leader of this mission, he felt the constant need to reinforce his position over Karnik.
“Find a high place to fasten the nets. I do not want the villagers to escape. Tell your men not to harm them,
any of them
. I need to question them all.” He paused and fingered the silver Hammer of Thor pendant dangling from his neck. Touching the cool metal of the
seemed to give him added strength.
“Then set up camp. Gather supplies. It is past harvest season. The larders should be overflowing. The men may eat and drink their fill.”
, I will tell them.” Karnik hurried off.
His mind wandered as he stared into the raging bonfire. It reminded him of the firelit festivals they held each year to honor Thor. Were the villagers making an offering to their gods? He shook his head. No, these Picts had turned their backs on the Old Ways and now embraced the newer Christ God.
He strolled along the hillside, watching as Karnik’s men carried out their orders. The strange actions of the villagers concerned him. Something didn’t feel right about this raid. Then again, he hadn’t gone
in years. He was too settled for all this commotion. But like it or not, he was a Nordmann with a duty. He would complete his mission for the king, no matter what.