The Pirate Bride

Avon Books
November 26, 2013
ISBN-10: 0062210440
ISBN-13: 9780062210449

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When he was bad, he was very bad. When he was good, he was still bad...

Thork Tykirsson sat in a bustling tavern in the trading town of Hedeby, brooding.

He’d tupped the ale barrel. A mere once.

He’d done another type of tupping. Once.

He’d engaged in an alehouse brawl. Once.

He’d told a ribald joke. Once.

He’d tossed dice for a vast amount of coins. Once.


His virtuous behavior—Bloody hell! Who ever heard of a virtuous Viking?—followed on his having quit pirating a year ago when that evil Saxon King Edgar had finally gone to his eternal reward. Everyone knew that Vikings were pirates of a sort. Not him anymore.

He could go a-Viking, he supposed. A respectable occupation that he enjoyed on occasion. He freely admitted to having plundered a monastery or two for gold chalices or silver-chased crucifixes. How many chalices does one church need anyhow? You could say Vikings did the priests a favor, helping them avoid the sin of greed. And the hated Saxons deserved everything a-Viking Norsemen sent their way. Same went for those arrogant Scots and the foppish men of Frankland. But, truth to tell, he had more than enough treasure.

The most appalling thing was that Thork was actually considering marriage, something he’d avoided with distaste for years. In fact, he had already made a preliminary offer to Jarl Ingolf Bersson for his daughter Berla. He planned to set sail in the morning for the Norselands and his father’s estate at Dragonstead, where he had not been nigh onto five years now. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he would return to Hedeby before winter when a final betrothal agreement could be made. That should please his father.

But married? Me? I will become just like every other man I know who succumbs to marital pressure. Wed locked and land locked. No doubt I will soon have baby drool on my best tunic, doing my wife’s bidding like a giant lapdog.

“Bor-ing...I have become bor-ing,” Thork exclaimed aloud with horror. “I was once deemed the wildest Viking to ride a longship, a wordfame I worked good and well to earn, and now...” He shuddered. “...I am becoming a weak-sapped, sorry excuse for a Norseman, and I have not even wed yet. What will become of me?”

“Methinks you are being too hard on yourself,” said Bolthor, once a fierce warrior, now an aging skald noted for his big heart and bad poems. “Your father will be proud of you. That counts for more than a bit of boredom.”

And that was the heart of the problem: his estrangement from his sire, Tykir Thorksson, and his determination to restore himself in the old man’s good favor. At just the thought of his father, Thork instinctively tugged on the silver thunderbolt earring that hung from one of his ears. It had belonged to his father, and his father’s father before him. There had been many a time in the past ten years when his father would have liked to take it back...if he could catch him.

Just then, there was a commotion at the door.

“The crew is missing,” Alrek, the clumsiest Viking alive, said breathlessly as he rushed into the alehouse and tripped on some object hidden in the rushes, almost landing in Thork’s lap. His blond hair, sun-bleached to almost white, stood up in unruly spikes, and his green eyes were huge with worry.

“What crew?” Thork asked.

“Your crew.”

Thork crossed his eyes with impatience. “The crew of which ship?” He’d brought three longships here to the trading town of Hedeby to sell the amber he’d harvested in the Baltics these many months. And wasn’t that respectable occupation yet another sign of dullness growing in him like a blister on a Saxon’s arse?

“Oh.” Alrek blushed. “Swift Serpent.”

Thork’s smallest, but one of his favorite vessels. “Are you saying all of the Serpent’s seamen are missing?” That would mean about sixty rowers.

“Good gods, nay!” Alrek was momentarily distracted by the serving maid who smiled at him as she poured ale into the horn he lifted off the loop on his belt, making sure Alrek got a good look at her mostly exposed bosoms. Alrek blinked several times...with amazement, no doubt. It was a voluptuous view, although the maid’s hand shook nervously as she also refilled his and Bolthor’s horns, as well. Odd that a tavern maid, dressed to entice, would be so nervous.

But that was neither here nor there.

Alrek shook his head to clear it and turned his attention back to Thork. “Only a half-dozen.”

“Only a half-dozen,” Thork repeated. “Alrek, the men are no doubt off somewhere wenching, or they are too drukkinn to walk back yet.”

“But you told everyone to be on board by midnight so that we could set sail at dawn,” Alrek persisted.

Bolthor jerked with surprise as the serving maid trailed a fingertip over his shoulders as she walked away. Not many women approached the old man, who had seen more than fifty winters, when there were younger, more comely men about. Not to mention the black eye patch over his one eyeless socket, due to an injury in the Battle of Ripon many years past. But then Bolthor said, “Alrek, Alrek, Alrek. When will you learn? A Viking man does not take well to orders, especially when bedsport is available.”

Thork agreed. “The men will be there in good time, or left behind to find their own way home.”

Alrek shook his head vigorously, causing ale to slosh over the lip of his horn. “Nay. Something is amiss, I tell you. There are strange people about Hedeby this night.”

“There are always strange people in Hedeby,” Bolthor remarked. “Why, I recall the time there was an archer from Ireland who could shoot three arrows at one time. Or the man who could touch his eyebrows with his tongue. And then there was—“

“Not that kind of strange. These men I see skulking about...they are small in stature and curved in the wrong places. Like those two over there staring at us.”

Thork and Bolthor both turned to see the two men leaning against the wall, wooden cups in their hands. They were, indeed, shorter than average, and they had hips like a woman, if the tunics that covered them down to their knees over tight braies were any indication.

“By the runes! They must be sodomites,” Bolthor declared.

“Sodomites?” Thork exclaimed.

“Yea. Sodomites are men who prefer men to women.”

“I know what a sodomite is. One of my best friends was...never mind!” Thork said, waving a hand dismissively. “Alrek, surely you are not saying there are vast numbers of man-lovers about this night, waiting to prey on innocent seamen. As far as I know, they seek like-minded males.”

“They are not all like those two. Some are taller. Some wider. But they are shifty-eyed and move in a sly manner. And there were a goodly number near Swift Serpent.”

Alrek ever was fanciful, and a worrier, besides. But Thork did not want to offend the man. No need to worry. Bolthor was launching into one of his awful poems. And Thork did not want to offend him, either, though betimes it was the only way to stop his poetic musings.

“Men are as different as night and day.

The gods molded them like clay.

But there is one part that is prized most.

The one of which they are most likely to boast.

Like homing pigeons those bloody things are

Seeking out whate’er nest is close by.”

Bolthor is getting worse, instead of better, I swear. “Well, best we get back to the ship ourselves. In truth, I am beginning to feel a bit shaky,” Thork confessed, downing the rest of his ale, and attaching the horn to his belt.

Bolthor did likewise, swaying on his feet as he stood. Being the giant he was, no one wanted to be near when he fell; so, Thork took him by the elbow and steered him toward the door. He noticed with seeming irrelevance that the two “sodomites” were gone.

Alrek followed behind them, muttering something about the bitter aftertaste in his mouth from the ale.

Most of the stalls were closed for the night as they made their way slowly along the raised board walkways that criss-crossed the well-ordered market town. Thork had erected his own stall earlier that day and sold all the amber he’d brought to market, saving one large, pale yellow stone with a tiny bumblebee inside to gift his mother, Lady Alinor.

Ahead he could see the palisaded harbor with the earthen ramparts that rose over Hedeby in a half-circle. They approached one of two gates in the wall that regulated traffic in and out of the city. Hedeby was situated at the crossroads of Slien Fjord and the Baltic Sea, from whence they’d come after harvesting the amber. In the daytime, it was a bustling center for commerce because of its strategic position linking trade routes of eastern empires with the west...the Norselands, Frankland, and Britain.

As they turned a corner, Bolthor lurched for a hitching post outside a stable, bent over, and began to heave the contents of his stomach over the side into a muddy trench. Thork leaned against the railing for support, his knees suddenly feeling weak as butter. Alrek had both hands on his stomach and was groaning at the pain.

Suddenly, Thork felt a hard blow to the back of his head. Even as he fell, he saw that Bolthor and Alrek were following his path to the ground, Bolthor with a loud thud that broke a few planks.

It was then that Thork gazed up woozily to see that they were surrounded by a hird of little men led by the two from the tavern.

They seemed to be discussing him, Bolthor, and Alrek, as if they were goods.

“How are we ever going to get them back to the ship?”

Ship? What ship?

“I forgot. Pirate Lady is at the far, far end of the wharf.”

Pirate Lady? What kind of name is that for a ship? Ah, she must mean Pirate’s Lady. Still, pirate? I do not like the sound of that.

“Drag them, I suppose.”

Do not dare!

“Where’s a horse when you need one? Ha, ha, ha!”

I’ll give you a horse, you misbegotten dwarf of a man! Pirate or not, pirate’s whore or not, when I get up, you will regret your sorry jests.

“Wrap them in ells of sail cloth and lift them up onto yon wagon. If anyone asks, we can say that they are graybeards who died of old age, and we are carrying them to the funeral pyres.”

I am not a graybeard. I am only twenty and eight.

“I get the big one. Think of the bairns I could have with his seed.”

Bairns? How do they expect to carry babes in their wombs if they have no wombs?

“The clumsy one is adorable. Did you notice his dimple?”

What about me? Thork thought, then immediately chastised himself for caring.

“We’ll draw lots when we get back to the island.”

Island? Uh-oh!

Just before he blacked out, totally, Thork realized something important. The men’s voices sounded female. Very female.

Oh, good gods! They were being taken captive. By women!


The women went a-Viking...a different kind of a-Viking...

Medana Elsadottir, best known as Sea Scourge, had never intended to become a pirate. In fact, when she’d left...rather, escaped...her home in Rognvald, land of the Danes, ten years ago, she’d never even heard of female pirates.

And she’d certainly never intended to take other women with her, nor continue to gather recruits to her unlikely hird of sea soldiers. Her followers now numbered an amazing one hundred and ninety-three, including nineteen children, fourteen girls and five boys, ranging from ages one to eight. They lived—women only, except for the boys—on a hidden, mountainous island named Thrudr, or Strength, appropriately named because that’s exactly what each and every one of them had gained with their independence. Their stronghold was accessible by a narrow land mass that connected a smaller, visible island to the hidden cave in Thrudr, but only when the tide was down once a day.

“I could scarce recognize you in that disguise, Medana,” Agnis the Weaver said. “’Tis much better than the last visit when you pretended to be a leper.”

They both laughed at the memory. It had taken Medana days to soak off the false pustules made of mud and sand and tree sap.

On this trip to Hedeby, Medana was dressed as a nun, complete with a simple brown homespun gown and veil over a tightly bound white wimple. The only thing showing that might identify her as the sister of three powerful, greedy Viking chieftains were her thick, dark blonde brows, violet eyes, and bruised-looking, overly-lush mouth, a trait of men and women alike in the line of Bjorn, one of the legendary first kings of early Norseland. But it had been ten years since she was sixteen years old and had last seen her evil siblings; they would scarce recognize the woman she’d become, even without a disguise.

“Being a nun in July was not my best idea. It’s hotter than the depths of Muspell, but I’ll be back on the ship soon and change into my tunic and braies,” Medana remarked as they sat at a table in Agnis’s small house behind the permanent merchant stall they maintained in the market town. The walls were adorned with the products of Agnis’s gift for colored patterns in the cloth she wove on the large loom in the back corner. The room was perfumed with the sweet scent of dried herbs hanging from the ceiling rafters...lavender, verbena, and such.

“We should make a good profit on all the goods you brought this time,” Agnis remarked as she removed the wooden platters from the table. They’d just finished a simple meal of cold slices of roast venison, hard cheese, manchet bread, and weak wine. On the way to the low chest that held a wooden pail of dishwater, she patted the head of her nine-year-old son Egil who was carding wool in the corner.

Even though Agnis resided here in Hedeby and did in fact weave and sell fine wool cloth, she was also Thrudr’s agent, offering all the products produced or harvested on the rough, mountainous island...furs, honey, leather shoes and belts, soapstone pots and candles, wooden bowls and spoons, bone combs and such. A pregnant Agnis had been among the five women with Medana when first she’d fled Stormgard all those years ago. They’d barely survived that first winter. And the next two years had not been very easy, either, as more and more women somehow found their way to their hidden sanctuary. Now, they were independent and self-sufficient, but there were things they needed that they could not grow, catch, make, or steal. Like grains, spices, metal weapons and implements, rope, needles, a bull to serve their milch cows, and vegetables they were unable to grow in their northern region.

“Your visit is short this time,” Agnis said, topping off Medana’s cup of wine.

“Yea, a necessity. Our old bull Magnus died, and two of our cows are about to go into heat. We needed to buy a young bull, which I did, and get it back home to do...his duty.”

Agnis laughed. “The things a woman must do!”

“As for the short visit, believe you me, my women are full of complaints. This is their time for...” she arched her brows meaningfully at Agnis, “ know.”

“Same as the cows,” Agnis jested, laughing, then glanced toward her son to make sure he wasn’t listening. Egil had put aside his carding tools and was playing with a pet cat.


“Why are you not out there enjoying yourself?” Agnis asked, waving her hand to indicate the town.

“That is not my idea of enjoyment,” Medana said, not after the experience that led to her departure from Stormgard. “But I do not begrudge my women their bedsport, even if their time is limited.”

“Hopefully, some of the man seed will take root,” Agnis said.

“Pray Frigg it does.” While they did not have men at Thrudr since they were not willing to trust their lives to the brutish actions of the male species, they still yearned for one thing that only men could provide. And that one thing wasn’t just sex. It was children. After any trip a-Viking, or a-trading, there were always a few women who found themselves breeding. Once, an amazing ten got with child on a trip to Kauptang, no doubt due to their extended stay when their longship took on water and had to be dry docked for repairs. Of course, infant mortality and childbirth fever took a good number of babes and occasionally the mothers, as happened everywhere in the world.

Medana and her crew had gone a-pirating on their way to Hedeby, and their plunder had been exceptionally tradeable. That on top of the goods they’d produced at home and brought to market should mean a good year for the women back at Thrudr. No gnawing on roots and moldy bread as they had the first winter in exile when there had been no meat or stored vegetables for the cook fire.

Medana and Agnis talked long into the evening, dividing the profits of this latest endeavor, discussing plans for the future, and relating news of the people they both knew.

“Is Gregor still pursuing you?” Medana teased.

“Always. The man does not give up.” Agnis grinned. ‘Twas clear to one and all that Agnis had a fondness for the Russian goldsmith who visited the trading center several times a year.

“Mayhap you will give in one of these days?” Medana suggested.

Agnis shrugged. “Mayhap, but then I am enjoying the gifts he brings me.” She lifted the neckline of her gown to show Medana a fine gold chain. “How is Olga doing?”

“She rules the kitchens like a hardened warrior.” Olga was Agnis’ aunt who’d come to them two years past when her husband died.

Agnis shared some stories about her aunt that had them both laughing, but then she turned serious. “Your brother Sigurd was here two sennights ago.” At the look of concern on Medana’s face, Agnis immediately added, “I had Bessie take over the stall for me.” Bessie was the shortened name for Beatrix, a Saxon holder of a nearby pottery shed. “I am certain he did not see me.”

Medana let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding in. She had reason to fear her brothers, even after all these years and what she had done to thwart their plans, but Agnis also had cause to be wary. Sigurd was Egil’s father. If the child of his loins had been a daughter, Sigurd would not care, but a son, now that would be a different matter. Furthermore, he would be angered at Agnis, a thrall, leaving without his permission.

It was late when Medana returned to Pirate Lady, the longship anchored at the far end of the wharf. A guardswoman standing at the rail greeted her with a hearty, “Who goes there?” It was Elida, Thrudr’s Mistress of Threads, who was in charge of all sheep shearing, spinning, weaving, and clothes making. Everyone on the island had a title for the numerous jobs needed for them to subsist: Mistress of Hunt, Fish, and Fowl. Mistress of Farming. Mistress of Animal Care. Mistress of Cooking. Mistress of Laundry. In fact, there were so many titles these days, it had become a matter of jest, especially when someone had to be called Mistress of the Privy.

With a smile, Medana replied, “’Tis me. Chieftain-ess Medana.” She smiled even wider at the title, which had been assigned to her as a sign of deference.

“Has everyone returned?” Medana asked.

Elida nodded, but she shifted her eyes hither and yon, never quite meeting Medana’s gaze. She was nervous for some reason. Must be because this was the first time she’d been given such responsibility. A talented embroiderer, Elida has requested a chance to prove her worth as an archer in Medana’s personal guard. Already Elida’s small hands were calloused and scratched, and, even with practice, the slim woman couldn’t hit a Saxon boar from three paces. It would take sennights for the ointments of her healer, Liv, to restore Elida’s skin to the point where she could once again handle the fine silk threads. Medana doubted that Elida would be going a-Viking again.

Moving on toward her small quarters, Medana inquired politely of Bergdis, one of her rowers, “Did you find a man to mate with this eve?”

Bergdis, who was Mistress of Buildings and Woodworking back home, rolled her wide shoulders...all of the rowers were well-muscled on their upper bodies to handles the hard exercise required to pull oars...before replying, “Yea, I did. But only once. There was no time for more.”

It must have been an energetic mating because Bergdis’s tunic was lopsided, half on and half off one shoulder, and the two braids that she normally wore to keep her frizzy red hair off her face had come undone. Her thick eyebrows were more grizzly than usual. Pity the man she’d set her eyes on this night.

That was unkind, Medana immediately chastised herself. Bergdis was a good woman who’d overcome huge tragedy in her former life. She deserved every reward that came her way, especially if it was a child, please gods.

Medana shrugged. Her crew knew ahead of time that this visit to Hedeby was destined to be short. If they made good speed, they might go a-Viking on the way home, but they must be careful not to visit those places they’d plundered on the way here. Stealth was an important tactic for female pirates, not having the strength and manpower of their male counterparts.

She noticed that Bergdis seemed nervous, too, rubbing the palms of her hands together. “Is something amiss?” Medana asked.

“Nay. Why would you ask me that? I have done nothing wrong.”

Bergdis’s defensive response startled Medana. “It was only a question. I was not accusing you of anything.”

Just then, there was a pounding noise coming from below in the hold of the longship. Bang, bang, bang! Like a booted foot kicking wood. “What is that?”

“Must be the bull,” both women said.

“I hope it does no damage. Mayhap I should go down and make sure the creature is tied securely. I would not want him hurt. After all, his services are sorely needed. I swear Helga is in as much need of a man as many of you.” Helga was one of their most fertile cows.

Neither of the women smiled at Medana’s jest.

Her rudder master, Solveig, stepped up from behind her and said, “Not to worry. I will take care of the matter. You know I have a way with animals.”

That was the first time Medana had ever heard Solveig had a way with animals, seeing as how she was Mistress of Shipwrighting, but she was not about to argue the point now.

Her chief housecarl, Mistress of Military, Gudron, a huge warrior of a woman who could heft a heavy broadsword with the best of men, handed her a wooden goblet. “Have a drink of ale to toast our voyage home.” Medana noticed that Gudron had crystals twisted in the blonde war braids that framed her square face. No doubt she’d been man hunting this evening, like many of the others.

That was nice of Gudron, even if the ale did taste a bit sour. After taking a few sips, Medana handed the cup back to her. She yawned widely then. The two cups of wine, watered down at that, plus these new sips of ale, shouldn’t be affecting her so. “I am off to bed for a few hours sleep. We set sail at daybreak.’

Whether it was the wine and ale or the sway of the ship or just exhaustion, Medana slept soundly and did not awaken until the ship was already under way. Which was odd. Her crew had always waited for her orders before setting sail in the past.

It was later, when they were already too far out to sea to turn around that Medana learned what the noisesome cargo was that they carried below. And it was no bull.


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