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September 2011, Avon Books
ISBN-10: 0062019147
ISBN-13: 978-0062019141
July 2000, LoveSpell
ISBN 0505523876


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Summertime in the Norse lands, 998 A.D.

Jorund Ericsson stared blankly at the huge grave mound. It was large enough to hold a longship and all the personal belongings necessary for the occupant to lead a good life in the afterworld.

A year and more he had been gone to the Eastlands, fighting the wars of the Emperor of Miklegard. A lifelong warrior-for-hire, he had been part of the elite Varangian Guard, made up of hand-picked Vikings from many nations. On the journey home, he had idled time away by standing under the banner of the Norse King Olaf Tryggvason, who was on the offensive again in Britain, spreading sword-dew in his wake like a bloody wave. For Olaf, who happened to be his paternal uncle, this represented but a brief respite from the ongoing territorial struggles with the Danish king, Sven Forkbeard.

Some said fighting was a Viking way of life. 'Twas true.

With no apologies, Jorund acknowledged being lord of the swordplay...a mercenary, but not without principles; he stood only with those chieftains whose goals and standards he shared. Following this lifepath, he saw death as a constant companion and had long since lost count of the bodies that had fallen under his sword, or those of his comrades who now resided in Valhalla.

Still, he had never expected to find this upon his return to his homeland.

With distress, his eyes darted here and there about the grave site, soon catching on the burial stone whose sticklike runic symbols spelled out:

"Here lies Inga Sigrundottir,
Wife of Karl Jorund Ericsson of Vestfold,
Daughter of Jarl Anlaf of Lade.
She lived but twenty and three winters.
Died she in the great famine,
In the year nine ninety-seven."

Jorund choked back a gasp. There had been no great love betwixt him and Inga these six years since their forced marriage. Nonetheless, grief and great shame overwhelmed him at her death eight months past. A man protected those under his shield, lest he be a nithing, a man devoid of honor. He should have been here to safeguard her well-being, whether from the dangers of man or nature.

But then, his gaze moved to the left and the two small conjoined grave markers which read:

"Greta and Girta Ingadottir,
First-born twins,
Beloved daughters.
They lived but five years.
May Freyja hold them to her eternal bosom."

Jorund dropped to his knees and put his face in his hands. He was not an emotional man. Once, amidst the din of battle, he'd cleft a man to the teeth with his battle-axe and ne'er felt a moment of remorse. He could not remember the last time he had yielded to the woman-weakness of crying...mayhap as a child when one of his brothers had hurt him in roughplay...but tears welled in his eyes now.

The thought of Inga lying in the cold earth brought him regret that one so young should journey from this earth before her time. Regret...that was all. He was the one who had suffered most from Inga's renowned machinations which had led him reluctantly to her marriage bed, but he bore her no ill will. She had not been a bad woman at heart.

Thoughts of his daughters, on the other hand, brought fierce pain to his chest and constriction to his throat. He had not wanted marriage. He had not even wanted children, but, oh, when he'd held them for the first time, bloody and blue of wrinkled skin, after they emerged from their mother's womb...well, suffice it to say that he'd loved them on first sight. Seed of his loins, they had been, but so much more than that.

The last time he'd seen his girls, they'd not yet celebrated the fourth anniversary of their birthing day. His longship had been pulling up anchor in the fjord in front of his vast homestead. Inga had been standing at the bank, along with his father and mother, Jarl Eric and Lady Asgar, his brothers, Rolf the Shipbuilder and Magnus of the Big Ears, and the family retainers. Greta and Girta had come dancing down the hillside at the last moment, their blonde braids swishing back and forth, their hiked-up gunnas wrinkled and dirty from some youthling game or another. And they had been giggling. Odd that he should recall that now. But then, he reminded himself, was there a sound more heart-touching in the whole world than that of a giggling child...even to a hardened warrior, such as himself?

"Don't forget to bring me ribands, father," Greta had called out to if she hadn't reminded him enough times the night before amidst sticky kisses and little girl hugs. "All the colors of the rainbow...please." That last word she'd added on seeing her mother frown down at her for lack of politeness. Inga, daughter of a high jarl of Lade in northeast Norway, had placed great importance on courtly manners.

"And silk slippers from a harem," Girta had added gaily, ducking as her mother reached out to swat her with an open palm for her impertinence.

"A harem, indeed!" Inga had snorted missishly, but then she hadn't been able to help herself and grinned at the child's outrageousness. Girta had been known for her saucy tongue.

Jorund smiled to himself at the sweet memory, even as a strangled cry escaped his closed air passages.

"My son."

Jorund jerked upright as he felt a palm on his shoulder. Standing, he turned to see his father.

"I need your help, Jorund. Yours and that of your brother, Magnus."

"This is not the time," he choked out, waving a hand to indicate the burial mound.

"There is no better time," his father said wearily. "There is naught you can do for Inga and the girls now. Nay, do not scowl at me. 'Tis true."

Suddenly, Jorund noticed how much his father had aged in the time he'd been gone. Was it the famine and all the human losses? Or something else? He furrowed his brow in question.

"Your brother, Geirolf, is missing and feared dead."

"Oh, father! He's probably just delayed on one of his voyages." Rolf was a shipbuilder who often tested his vessels on extended journeys afore selling them to high-placed nobles from many lands.

"Not this time," his father insisted. "Whilst you were gone, I sent him on a quest that would hopefully end the famine here in Norway, but then his dragonship sunk after a violent sea battle with that misbegotten cur, Storr Grimmson. His body was never found." He paused, then added, "I need to be sure, one way or another."

"You think Rolf may still be alive?" he inquired, suddenly alert, though still stunned by this latest news.

"Some seamen from Storr's crew told us, under torture, that Geirolf was last seen in the waters...alive." His father shrugged with uncertainty. "You and Magnus must travel to Iceland and mayhap even beyond that to Greenland...the region where Geirolf was last seen alive."

"Iceland!" he exclaimed. This was no small favor his father beseeched of him. "No!"


"Nei şığir nei," he practically shouted. Then, more softly, "No is no."

His father merely stared at him, making him feel like a child again...a selfish child.

Jorund was torn. Should he stay here in Vestfold and suffer a Christian-like penance for his failing of Inga and his daughters? Or should he leave his homeland to help his father, and perhaps expiate his guilt?

"I beg of you, my son. Put aside your sorrow for now and grant me this boon. 'Twas I who sent Geirolf into harm's way. The guilt is weighing me down so I can scarce think or speak."

Jorund knew exactly how his father felt. Soon he nodded.

This was a mission he could not refuse.



Autumn, 998 A.D., beyond Iceland

"Look, Jorund, look! There she blows...again. Hmmm. Mayhap that is the fair Thora's way of blowing kisses at you. Dost think--"

"Magnus," Jorund Ericsson warned his brother with a disgusted shake of his head. "I have heard more than enough of your nonsense today. I suggest you go take a seat at one of the oarlocks and row off some of your excess vigor."

He was standing at the rail of his longship, Fierce Warrior, honing the blade of his favorite sword, Blood-letter. Magnus was standing next to him, honing his tongue. Unless Magnus had a plow in his hands, or a mead horn in his mouth, or a wench in his braies, he tended to think it was his mission in life to bedevil him. It was no exaggeration to say that Magnus had an opinion on every bloody topic in the world.

"Now, now, do not be overmodest, little brother," Magnus advised, puffing his chest out, which was a sure sign he was about to expound at length...on some triviality. His long, blond hair was pulled off his face with a leather thong tied at the nape, which drew attention to his uncommonly large ears. For years, Magnus had claimed that his large ears were a sign of other...well, attributes involving largeness, but Jorund could hardly credit that.

And what did he call me? Little? In truth, he and Magnus were of the same immense height, though Magnus was bullish in stature, being a farmsteader by trade, whilst he carried the leaner-muscled body of a fighting man. And they were a mere nine months apart in age. So little hardly applied. For the love of Odin! What importance is there in whether my brother deems me big or little? My mind must be melting in this unseasonably hot sun. And that is another wouldn't think the sun would be so hot in Iceland. Perchance we have strayed farther than--

"One and all can see that the fair Thora has developed a passion for you," Magnus blathered on. "And not just the blowing of kisses. You must admit she has been following you about for a sennight and more. Wagging her tail at you like a Hedeby whore. Besotted she is, for a certainty."

He sliced a glare at his brother. "What makes you think she is blowing kisses?" He knew immediately that it was a mistake to react to any of Magnus's jibes. Still, he blundered on, "Mayhap she is just blowing air."

"Like breaking wind? Now, there's a thought." Magnus grinned. "Mother always told us when we were growing up that females do not break wind, leastways not in public...just old men and bad boys. Hah! I suspect Mother was laughing behind our backs with that mistruth. Either that, or I warrant she was never in close quarters with Fat Helga, the goat herder, after a night of eating gammelost." He tapped his chin with exaggerated pensiveness.

Jorund groaned. When will I ever learn? I can predict what he is going to say now.

"Do females make a habit of trying to attract you with farts?"

I was correct. "What a ridiculous notion!" Jorund snarled, then realized that Magnus was chuckling under his breath. "Aaarrgh!" he said. Carrying on a conversation with Magnus was like talking with one of his dumb cows. His coarseness knew no limits...his earthiness coming, no doubt, from his dealing so much with...well, earth. Not that Jorund was unaccustomed to coarseness, being surrounded as he was on most occasions by soldiers whose every other word was apt to be an expletive of the foulest nature. He'd uttered a few himself.

But, really, his brother had fallen into the most annoying habit of late...teasing him. Holy Thor! Who ever heard of grown men engaging in such youthling games? Life was too serious--and fleeting, as he well knew--not to mention their mission being too important for frivolity. It was probably boredom, or frustration at being lost at sea. Well, not quite lost, just a mite off-course, he was quick to correct, if only in his own mind, since he was the one who'd drawn up the map for this ill-fated journey. But then, distant faring o'er the oceans was more his brother Rolf's area of expertise, not his. That was neither here nor there, though. The important thing was that never again would he allow any of his blood kin to board his longship for a voyage of more than two sennights, let alone two teeth-grinding months, which was how long they'd been gone from Vestfold.

To be fair, none could ever accuse Magnus of being an afternoon farmer. Laziness had never been one of his faults. Truth be told, his brother was at a loss with all this spare time when he would much rather set his hands to plow or flail...honest work of the land.

Ignoring his brother's smirking face, he looked off into the distance where the magnificent killer whale, whom the sailors had named Thora, was indeed performing her ritual dance. 'Twas to her that Magnus had attributed blowing kisses, of all things. Blowing kisses of the wind-in-the-bowels variety, that is.

Just now, her sleek black and white shape leapt into the air with a spectacular flourish, a maneuver that had come to be known amongst seafarers as breaching. Some sailors claimed that breaching was the whale's way of knocking off tiny sea animals that clung to its oily skin, but Jorund leaned toward another theory...that the whales liked to flout their own attributes, like some self-important Norsemen he could name who braided their fine beards with colored beads and took grave risks in battle, thinking themselves invincible.

The whale, at the height of its impressive leap, gave the false appearance of standing on her tail fins on the surface of the water for several long moments. Then she twisted her sleek body into a perfect arc with an agility remarkable for her size and dove back into the salty depths to swim swiftly beneath the waves she had created. If she followed her previous routine, she would be repeating the performance another two or three times, ofttimes varying the act with backflips and floating belly skywards, all accompanied by boisterous squeals and chirps and rapid clicking noises, before swimming off a short distance to watch and follow after their sailing vessel.

And there was no escaping the killer whale, either. They had tried to elude the unwelcome companion by rowing fast with a strong wind at their backs, and still she kept up. Surely, the killer whale must be the fastest animal in all the oceans.

They knew it was a female because of its somewhat smaller size than the male of the species, though this friendly beast was still nigh as big as his dragonship. Well, perhaps that was an overstatement. At the least, she had to be four times his body height from mouth to tail.

And, yes, she was blowing something through the hole in her head. The misty spray was probably just water. He refused to believe it was whale kisses, or whale farts. Besides, it was the wrong end of the whale's body for the latter.

Wasn't it?


There was no question in Jorund's mind...though he would never acknowledge it to his brother...that it was himself the animal had developed an affection for. The whale must have lost its way from its family pod and had been shadowing them for more than fourteen days, coming closer and closer. But that wasn't how Jorund knew that the whale was following him. He knew because the whale was talking to him. Amazing as that sounded, even if only to his own ears, Jorund had taken to communicating with a killer whale. He talked to the whale, in his head. And the whale talked back to him.

Languages of other countries had always come easily to him. And not just Norse and English, the language of the Saxons, which were very similar. He was also fluent in the tongues of Frankland, Byzantium, Baghdad, Rome, and Cordoba. But never had he been known to speak with animals. No one did, that he knew of, except perhaps the gods. And he was no god.

Where did these voices in his head come from?

When it was late at night and his men asleep, he would stand at the prow of his longship and converse with a killer whale, of all things. Good thing Magnus was unaware of this insanity, or he would really have something to tease him about.

Was he going mad? Were the events of the past year too much for his brain to bear? Or was it the cumulative effect of years and years of bloodshed finally crushing down on him? Stronger men than him had gone berserk.

"How can this be?" he had asked Thora yestereve. It was an indication of his sorry state that he sought advice on his mental condition from an animal.

"Click, click. Squeal, squeal. Click, squeal, click, squeal," the whale had answered him in ever-changing patterns. In other words, "Men question too much. Listen with your heart, speak with your heart, my friend."

"I ask for help, and you give me riddles," he'd wailed silently. "I don't understand." He need not speak aloud for the whale to hear him. Another amazing happenstance.

With its usual clicks and squeals and chirps, the whale had told him, "You will, you will." Then, just before the whale had swum off, she'd added, "Open your heart, man. Only then will there be no barriers of country or animal...or time."

Time? What had time to do with this?

"Jorund, your mind has gone awandering again? Are you all right?"

Jorund blinked and reined in his thoughts. His brother's big paw of a hand was resting on his shoulder with concern.

Am I all right?

Nay, I am not all right.

"I'm fine," he said.

But he was not fine, he soon found out.


"Bld hel!" he and Magnus exclaimed at the same time, then repeated, "Bloody hell!". A number of his sailors, who followed both the Christian and Norse religions, were making the sign of the cross on their broad chests. All of them stared gape-mouthed out to sea.


Thora was using her huge tailfins to whack the far side of the longship.


She must be playing with them...some kind of strange killer whale game...for it was clear she was not employing full force; otherwise, the vessel would have tipped over. Even so, the impact of the powerful tail hitting the wood sides was enough to set the boat to rocking, side to side. A little harder and the wood might splinter.

Jorund tried to listen in the way the whale had taught him. There was a loud, grinding noise in response, almost like a rusty door closing, and he thought he heard her say, "It is time, Viking."

"Time? What time?" Jorund asked.

"Huh?" Magnus tilted his head in question.

Jorund realized that he must have spoken aloud and felt his face heat with embarrassment. Magnus would make great mock of him if he even suspected his brother communicated with an animal.

The whale swam off a short distance and floated atop the water, just watching him with her big, beady eyes. And the groaning noise continued.

"Jorund? Are you all right?" Magnus repeated with concern.

He nodded.

"Something odd is happening here," Magnus contended. "You have not been yourself since learning of Inga's and the girls's deaths."

"I do not want to speak of that," he said icily. "Best we pull anchor and get rid of this pestsome whale. If we cannot move quickly enough to lose her, then we must kill the beast."

He thought he heard a squealy voice in the distance say, "Hah! I would like to see you try."

Closer at hand, Magnus was not about to drop the subject. "Some people think a man must talk of his heart-pain, lest it eat away at his innards...turn him mad with grief."

"Are you implying that I have gone berserk?"

Magnus pursed his lips and tugged at one of his big ears, pensively. "Mayhap. Leastways, a little barmy."

Jorund grunted with disgust.

"Oh, I know you harbored no great affection for Inga, but your daughters... well, 'tis clear they held a special place in your soul."

"Have a caution, Magnus. You go too far," he warned.

But, as always, his brother failed to heed sound advice and blathered on. "I know that I would surely tear out my hair in mourning if I lost my son...or daughter."

"And which son...or daughter...would that be?" Jorund asked with a hint of humor. It was hard to stay angry with his well-meaning brother.

"Any one of my sons...or daughters," Magnus answered, lifting his chin defensively. His brother followed the old custom of more danico and had two wives, in addition to three current mistresses...or was it four? All told, his seed had produced eight sons and five daughters...all with big ears.

Jorund made a tsking sound at his brother, whom he loved dearly, despite his nagging ways and proclivity for excessive mating and breeding.

"I will work out my own problems in my own time and way," he told Magnus. "For now, we must make haste and try to outrun a killer whale." They had anchored offshore in a small cove the night before so that they could draw fresh water from a stream running on a nearby island. There were no human inhabitants that they could see. Still, they had slept aboard ship as a precaution.

Turning away, he gave orders to his crew to pull up the anchor and man their seachests. His longship, built by his brother Rolf, was not an overlarge vessel. There were thirty-two oar holes on each side, manned by as many men who sat on their own personal seachests, rather than benches. Next to them were another thirty-two or more seamen, who would relieve them when their arms grew weary from the vigor-draining exercise.

"It won't come up," a seaman soon informed him. "The anchor must have caught in some seaweed when the whale bumped us."

In the meantime, the whale was back to prodding the ship with its tailfins and snout. Enough of this nonsense!

Jorund said a foul word and began to remove his clothing--mantle, tunic, skin boots, braies--knowing he was going to have to dive below and try to loosen the tangled anchor. He could have sworn he heard a high-pitched peal of laughter, but when he glanced about the longship he saw naught but his sailors staring back at him with worry.

"Becalm yourselves, men," he told them. "We will soon be on our way. I am an excellent swimmer and have great wordfame for holding my breath under water. Leather-lunged, my father used to say of me." He was not boasting, merely stating a fact to put them at ease.

Once he was naked, except for his scabbarded sword which was attached to a wide belt at his waist and further secured to his thigh with a leather thong, he dove into the water, which was surprisingly warm near the surface. Though the sea became colder the deeper he went, it should have been frigid near Iceland. He would have to ponder that puzzle later. Even so, 'tis icy enough to shrivel even the grandest cock into a nub, he thought with a shiver.

"And what makes you think yours is so grand?" he heard the whale remark with a whaley laugh.

"Oh, God! You again?" Jorund commented dryly to himself as he sawed with his sword at the seaweed wrapped around the rope and anchor. He soon discovered that there was no way he could disentangle the metal anchor from the grassy tentacles. The more he tossed aside, the more seemed to appear in their place. He would have to cut the rope.

Stealthily, the whale had swum underwater and was watching his endeavors with interest.

For some reason, he felt no fear...just disgust that this animal was causing him so much trouble.

Putting his sword back in the scabbard, he swam to the surface and took several deep gulps of air.

Magnus and all the seamen were staring over the side rail at him. Seabirds were whirling overhead in anticipation of some tasty morsel. It hoped it was not him.

"Is it free?" Magnus asked.

Jorund shook his head, still breathless. When he was able to speak, he informed his brother, "It's that special seal rope that Rolf insists on using. It will take me a little longer." Many ship owners bought the prized seal rope in the markets of Birka and Hedeby. Known for its sturdiness, it was cut in one single strip, like a spiral, from the hide of a seal or walrus. Unfortunately, it made for difficulty in slicing through with a sword.

With one last deep inhale of air, Jorund dove under the briny depths again. As expected, the whale was waiting for him.

This time, as he sawed away with haste, the whale began a new game...butting Jorund's bare arse with its big nose. That's all he needed...a randy she-whale!

Finally, the rope broke free. He sheathed his sword and was about to swim back to the surface when the whale shot forward and took him in her mouth...his head sticking out one side of her mouth and his flailing legs out the other side. He could feel the whale's massive teeth pressing against his stomach and buttocks, but Thora must be holding him with extra gentleness for the teeth did not pierce his skin.

"Un-teeth me, you lackbrain whale."

The only response was a chirping laugh.

He should have been mortally afeared. He was not.

At first, he laughed silently at the great trick. The skalds would be telling this saga forevermore. No doubt there would even be a praise-poem honoring Jorund the Warrior who rode in the cradle of a killer whale's mouth, and lived to tell the tale. Soon his mirth disappeared, however, when he realized that he could not hold his breath much longer and that the whale was swimming at great speed...away from the longship. Once, when the whale came to the surface briefly, Jorund noted with distress that the longship was already far away...way too far for him to swim back. Unless the whale returned him.

But, nay. Thora had other plans.

With a squeal and a chirp-chirp-chirping noise of glee, the whale submerged again, and all of Jorund's silent screams and flailing limbs could not dissuade the whale's plans.

Soon, water rushed into his nostrils and all the orifices of his body. He could no longer hold his breath and took in great swallows of sea water. As his long hair came loose from its queue and swirled about his face, blinding him, a lightheadedness overtook him, which was not altogether unpleasant. And he thought, So I will break the raven's fast thus--by sea, rather than battlefield? So, this is how it ends?

"Not quite," the whale answered. "The fates have other plans for you, Viking."



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