Testosterone made her do it...
She had no one to blame but herself.
Joy Nelson, a seemingly intelligent woman with a
master's degree in psychology, about to start a
doctorate program at Yale, had made some dumb choices in
her life, mostly because she had spent way too much of
her twenty-six years competing with her three older
brothers, or doing incredibly stupid things after being
egged on by The Three Muska-dopes, as she'd called them.
But this one beat the cake.
And it broke her heart thinking about why she'd done it.
Here she was in mud up to her eyeballs on San Clemente
Island, one grueling year into her training program to
become a female Navy Seal. And doesn't that fall
into the category of "What was I thinking?"
all began when she was about twelve years old and well
on her way to her eventual five-foot-ten, towering over
all her classmates. What girl in the throes of puberty
wants to have boys looking up at her, making tall
jokes? Not to mention three older jock brothers, Matt,
Jerry, and Tom, who were not shy about their
observations, even when they had gone on to be an Air
Force pilot, Wall Street hot shot broker, and NFL
football player, respectively.
Also, it hadn't helped that she had curly, red hair.
Bright curly, red hair. Think Orphan Annie but not
dare you" had been a common refrain around their house.
And "I double-dog dare you" had been the worst challenge
of all to a little girl trying to keep up with three
dare you to climb that tree," her oldest brother Matt
had challenged her. "The one outside the principal's
The jerks had even taken pictures of that incident and
loved to bring them out on the most embarrassing
occasions. Her hanging from the limb, Barbie underpants
exposed, with Mister Clemmons yelling up at her.
dare you to try this hair toner," Jerry had suggested
one day. "My girlfriend says it will give you gold
Her hair had turned green. There were photos of that
"If you want to lose your butt," Tom had suggested.
Who knew I even had a butt then? "Why not try
competitive weight lifting...you know, body building? I
double-dog dare you."
She did, and in the process gained some manly shoulders
and lost most of her breasts. No kidding! No boobs.
But she still had a butt.
They were still laughing over that one.
Well, two of them were.
While her brothers had excelled in sports from
elementary school through college, she'd felt compelled
to do the same. Therefore, she'd been an All-American
tennis player, softball pitcher, basketball forward, and
marathon runner. For every trophy they won, she earned
two. She didn't have to be a psychologist to understand
the subliminal dynamic that had been going on there.
Despite all the teasing, and competition, they had been
the best brothers in the world. In fact, they pretty
much raised her, even before their dad, an Army lifer,
died when she was eighteen. Their mother had passed
years earlier of cancer when Joy had been only eight.
Matt especially had been her anchor, filling in when
their father had been away on duty billets around the
world. Matt had been the one who'd explained
menstruation to her and purchased her first pads. He'd
been the one whose shoulder she cried on after being
dumped by her first boyfriend. He'd been the one who
told her about birth control and warned her about fast
boys and their smooth lines, from experience, no doubt.
He was the one she called first with good news, or bad.
But she was getting ahead of herself.
Fast forward to her twenty-fifth year and the day which
changed her life forever. And, yes, it was related to
brother, where art thou?...
She was an intern at The Meadows, a psychiatric clinic
in rural Pennsylvania, about to finish up her last group
therapy session of the day. With her master's thesis
completed and approved at nearby Penn State, she would
be moving to New Haven in two weeks for doctoral studies
The group today was one labeled "Self Esteem: Only You
Can Determine Your Worth." Although the facility
included adults and children as young as five, on both
an in-patient and out-patient basis, those here today
were all young teenagers...three girls and one boy.
"So, Cindy, tell us how you've done this week."
Cindy, a fifteen-year-old recovering anorexic, replied,
"I gained two pounds."
"Well, that's good news." Joy applauded, encouraging
the others to follow suit. "But you don't appear
"I'm getting fat." Cindy sank down into her folding
chair as only a teenager could and pressed out her lower
only she could see herself as others did. Little more
than a skeleton.
"What's your total weight, honey?"
Cindy's gaunt face bloomed pink. Reluctantly, she
admitted, "Ninety eight pounds." When she'd been
admitted two months ago, she'd been dying at an alarming
"You know you can't be discharged until you're up to a
hundred and ten? You're five-foot-seven, for goodness
sake. Even at that weight, you'll still be slim."
"I'll look like a pig," she disagreed.
"Remember my promise. If you get up to one hundred and
two before I leave in two weeks, I'll bring a make-up
consultant in here to show you just how beautiful you
are. I've seen her case of samples. Wow!"
Her face brightened. Was there ever a teenage girl who
didn't love make-up?
think you look good," Andy Barlow said from Cindy's
other side. They were sitting in a small circle in her
Cindy flashed him a glare of disgust.
Which of course embarrassed Andy, who was one screwed-up
sixteen-year-old. The product of sexual and physical
abuse from a young age, he was addicted to cocaine and
into tattoos covering most of his body.
"Cindy! You know better than that," Joy chided.
"I'm sorry," Cindy told Andy.
But, of course, the damage was done. Andy got up
abruptly, knocking over his chair, and rushed from the
"I'm sorry," Cindy repeated to the rest of them, tears
brimming in her eyes.
Joy brought the other two girls into the discussion
then. Alicia, a high school sophomore who continued to
blame herself for being gang-raped at a party, and
Larise who was failing academically in senior high,
despite having a very high I.Q., no doubt due to some
undisclosed home issues. She'd been caught cutting
herself on more than one occasion.
Joy was concluding the counseling session when she
glanced up and saw two of her brothers standing in the
"Jerry? Tom? What's up? You told me you couldn't make
it for graduation."
After the girls left the room, giggling at the sight of
the good-looking visitors, they came in, shutting the
door behind them, each giving her a big hug and a kiss.
She smiled, not having seen them in person for months.
Her brothers did not smile back.
"What? What's happened?" Fear suddenly riddled her
body. Light-headed, she leaned against a chair. "It's
Matt, isn't it?"
Jerry nodded and tried to take her hand.
She shoved the hand away.
"Tell me. Is he dead?" Oh, God! Please don't let
him be dead.
"No," Tom said. "He's not dead."
But he said it in a way that was not hopeful.
sob escaped her throat before she even knew the
details. She knew, she just knew it was going to
"His plane was shot down over Afghanistan. Chuck Wiley,
his co-pilot, died on impact. Matt was taken prisoner.
He..." Jerry's voice broke, and his hazel eyes misted
over with tears. She couldn't remember the last time
she'd seen any of her brothers cry.
Tom was in just as bad shape, she soon realized.
"The pictures...Al-Quaida has him, and Al-Jazeera is
showing pictures. Oh, honey, they're bad." Jerry
opened his arms and she went into them.
She didn't ask for details. Her imagination was
"They want us in D.C....in case there's news," Tom told
her a short time later. "We already went to your
apartment and packed a bag for you."
Later that night they got the news. Captain Matthew
Nelson was dead.
Immediately Joy, screaming hysterically, was given a
sedative which knocked her out. Just before she
surrendered to unconsciousness, she wondered how she
was ever going to face a world without her big brother.
the middle of the night, she awakened, disoriented. She
was in one of the two bedrooms in their hotel suite.
Her brothers must be asleep, finally. She'd heard
conversations and doors opening and closing for hours as
she'd awakened, then went back to sleep, over and over
throughout the day and evening.
Groggily, she made her way to the bathroom where she
rinsed out her mouth and took two Aspirin. Slowly, she
walked into the living room, which was empty.
if drawn by a magnet, she made her way to a laptop
sitting on the coffee table. Logging on, she came to
the main news page of AOL. And there it was, an
announcement of Matt's death. A team of Navy SEALs had
apparently gone in to rescue him, but they'd been too
The picture she saw broke her heart. Amidst a handful
of armed men, crouched in a firing position...Navy
SEALs, she assumed...was one particular SEAL carrying
her brother. He wore a BDU uniform, and his face was
cammied up, but through the black paint could be seen a
single tear track stemming from haunted blue eyes.
She would never forget that poignant image.
And it would change her life forever.
I double-dog dare you...
For the next two months, Joy succumbed to a mind-numbing
grief, giving up her slot at Yale, rarely leaving her
bed before noon. And she became obsessed with the
picture of the Navy SEAL carrying her brother.
a psychologist, she recognized all the signals. The
grieving process was taking over her life.
Academically, she was well acquainted with all the
counseling steps necessary for her to begin healing, but
emotionally she was still not ready. Her brothers were
probably just as grief-stricken, but they were back to
work and managing to handle the stress. At least on the
"What are you two doing here...again?" she asked when
there was a knock on the door late one night."
"We're here to intervene...I mean, we're gonna do an
intervention," Tom said.
"Whew!" She waved a hand in front of her face. "Just
how much booze did you consume before coming up with
this lame idea."
"It's a kickass idea," Jerry disagreed, blowing a equal
waft of liquor breath her way.
Turns out their goofball version of an intervention
involved Vodka Stingers, photo albums, and Matt's hokey
collection of Country music CDs.
want to meet him," she told her brothers when they came
to her apartment to perform their own
"Who?" Jerry slurred.
"That SEAL," she replied, taking out a computer print
out of the TV photo.
Toby Keith was belting out "How Do You Like Me Now?"
while Jerry and Tom studied the picture.
"Remember how Matt used to sing along with that song?"
Tom reminded them.
"That, and `Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy'," Jerry added.
"Yoo hoo! Earth to bozos," Joy said, waving the picture
in front of her brothers. "I want to meet him."
don't know, squirt," Jerry said. That's what her
brothers had always called her. Some oxymoron! "The
SEALs don't like any publicity."
She shrugged. "I need to ask him some questions...and
to thank him."
"It's not necessary. He was already given some medal,"
don't care. You want me to straighten out? Fine. Set
up a meeting so I can meet the guy, dammit." She turned
to Tom. "You know people who know people, Mr. Important
Football Player. You can do it. I dare you."
Tom said something Important Football Players should
not, a clear sign to Joy that she had won this
Anchors Away, my dear, or some such nonsense...
One week later, she, Jerry and Tom were sitting in
Commander MacLean's office at the Naval Special Warfare
training command center in Coronado, California.
Apparently some high mucky muck in the Navy was a
football fan, and Tom was one of his favorite players.
The admiral had pulled some strings.
"This is highly irregular," the commander was continuing
to argue, even after he'd sent for Lt. Luke Avenil,
better known as Slick. Joy had learned on one of her
Internet searches that all of the SEALs had nicknames,
some more colorful than others, like Whiz, Shark, Easy,
or Spider. "SEALs operate as teams," the commander
continued to complain. "No individual is responsible
for the success or failure of a mission."
know that. It's just that I need to put a face and a
voice to my brother's rescuer," she started to explain.
"With all due respect, ma'am, there was no rescue, just
She bristled. "His body wasn't left behind. As far as
I'm concerned, that's a rescue. In any case, I was
saying, I need to meet the man who carried my brother
out of that hellhole. It will give me some closure."
"No offense, Ms. Nelson, but giving civilians closure,
or any other psychobabble, is not my responsibility."
There was a sharp rap on the door.
"Enter," the commander snapped.
came a good looking, dark-haired man in his mid to late
thirties, wearing a camouflage uniform and heavy lace-up
boots, his Navy SEAL trident pin, known as a Budweiser,
gleaming on his shirt, along with a bunch of stripes and
badges that probably had some significance. His dark
hair was cut military short in a style known as a high
and tight, and he was very buff. He stood at attention
until "At ease!" was barked out by his superior officer.
"Lt. Avenil, these folks have asked to meet with you.
Jerry and Tom Nelson, and their sister, Joy Nelson," the
Lt. Avenil shook hands with her brothers, his eyes
flickering for a second at seeing the famous Tom
Nelson. While they were standing, she remained seated
in front of the desk.
"The young man you rescued in Afghanistan was their
Lt. Avenil's eyes connected with hers. The same haunted
blue eyes she recognized from the picture. She couldn't
help herself. She rose, walked over, and hugged him,
whispering against his ear, "Thank you."
She could tell by the stiffness of his body, as well as
his flushed face, that her gratitude embarrassed her.
But then his arms wrapped around her waist, his hands
giving a quick soothing caress of her back, as if to
show he understood.
"It's my job," Lt. Avenil said.
After that, the commander excused himself and allowed
them time to visit more casually. They all sat down,
and the men pulled their chairs closer to her.
told them everything about the mission, from the moment
they were called up, which he referred to as "boots off
the ground," and on their way to the "insertion point"
in the Middle East. They "put down" a half dozens
"tangos" to get into the stronghold...tango was the Navy
SEAL term for terrorist...but her brother had been dead
on their arrival. Lt. Avenil was able to tell them that
Matt had been clutching a cross on a gold chain.
Joy choked up again. She'd given him that as a gift
Before they left, she asked Lt. Avenil, "Why do you do
seemed taken aback by her question, but then he replied,
"There are a lot of bad people in the world, and if I
can eliminate even one of them, then I've made a
lot of men signed up after 9/11, didn't they?" Jerry
Lt. Avenil nodded. "There were SEALs before 9/11, of
course, but the need is greater today because..."
"...because terrorism is growing," Tom finished for him.
"Bigtime," Lt. Avenil agreed.
wish there was something I could do to make up for
Matt's life." She laughed, then kidded, "Too bad the
SEALs don't take women."
"The SEALs don't, but the WEALS do," Commander MacLean
inserted as he re-entered the office, then went on to
explain that Women on Earth, Air, Land, and Sea was a
female version of SEALs. "There have always been female
military attached to the SEAL teams, but now they work
with SEALs as equal partners."
don't know...women soldiers?" Jerry said.
She punched him in the arm. Jerry enjoyed goading her
feminist leanings, and he had old-fashioned protective
emotions about the female species.
"For a long time the military, all branches, resisted
having women soldiers. A lot of them still, do. Myself
included," Commander MacLean admitted. "Researchers
tell us that a woman of twenty has the lung power of a
man of fifty. And they're not as strong, generally
speaking. But mostly it's a nightmare trying to manage
a sexy young sailorette in a base full of horny men."
Tom and Jerry chuckled.
"But they're here, right?" she argued. "Women in the
"Yep, and they've proven most of the naysayers wrong."
"Yourself included?" she inquired sweetly.
"Definitely." His somber face relaxed into a grin.
"You'd have to meet my wife Madrene to know why that was
a politic answer."
"C'mon. I'll take you to the grinder where one of the
WEALS classes is working out today," Lt. Avenil
offered. "BUD/S, the latest SEAL training class, is
just about finished."
They gave their thanks and said good-bye to the
"BUD/S?" Tom asked as they followed Lt. Avenil down the
"Basic Underwater Demolition/Seals," the lieutenant
explained as they exited the building. "In the old
days, SEALs were primarily in the water; in fact, they
called them frogmen, or webfoot warriors. They're
everywhere today, though...air, land, sea, but they kept
The grinder was an asphalt area surrounded by several
low buildings, almost like the exercise yard of a
penitentiary. In the distance could be seen huge gray
Navy warships lined near the Naval Amphibious Base at
the other end of Coronado. To one side was the cold
blue Pacific Ocean which shimmered under the early
morning sun, which would be relentless by afternoon.
She could also see the red-tiled roof of the famous
Hotel Del Coronado where she and her brother would be
having lunch before heading back home.
After spending a half hour watching two dozen women
getting the most incredible workout on everything from
climbing a high cargo net to gazillions of sit-ups,
Jerry remarked to Lt. Avenil, "These women look
especially fit. Are they, like, super dooper athletes?
You know, wonder women with supersonic parts?"
Lt. Avenil laughed. "Nah. They have to be in good
shape, of course. SEAL candidates do, too. But the
program will hone them into the types of bodies they
need. And, no, that doesn't mean muscle-bound masculine
females. Don't tell anyone I said so, but some of them
are pretty hot."
Her brothers looking at her in a funny way.
She recognized the look.
"Oh, no!" she exclaimed.
dare you," Jerry said.
double dog dare you," Tom added. "Think of all the
Ha, ha, ha.
"And, really, I bet there would be tons of opportunities
for you to use your psychology skills." Tom was on a
roll, or so he thought.
"The commander's sister is a Navy doctor assigned to the
teams here in Coronado," Lt. Avenil added.
"A Navy SEAL psychologist...I mean, Navy WEALS
psychologist. Wow!" Tom batted his sinfully long dark
lashes at her. "Wouldn't that be weally great?"
"You could psychobabble the enemy to death."
"Tom, you are so not funny."
"It would be a breeze for you," Jerry promised, barely
able to stifle his smile. "You're in great
shape...except for your butt."
ducked when she tried to whack him a good one.
So, that's how, a year later, she was here on San
Clemente Island with a group of equally braindead WEALS
wannabees. You could say hers was a classic case of
"Private Benjamin" meets "Stripes." At the moment, they
were engaged in survival training. The goal was to
evade the enemy...i.e., Navy Seal instructors with
sadist personalities and testosterone oozing out the yee
haw. Her hiding place was under a slight ledge over an
almost dry stream bed...i.e. mud. The mosquitos were
the size of moth balls, the mud smelled, and she was
pretty sure that was a spider in the long braid she had
tucked under her cap.
Just then, Master Chief Justin LeBlanc, a Cajun Seal
better known as Cage, leaned over the ledge above her
and drawled, "Peek-a-boo, darlin'," just before shooting
her with a big yellow paintball.
A.D., Trelleborg, men will be boys, always...
Brandr Igorsson stood with hundreds of his Jomsviking
comrades-in-arms surveying the ritual initiation of six
men into the brotherhood.
"Keep an eye on my brother Frode," his best friend
Torkel said, his chin raised with pride. "Only sixteen,
but there is no more fearless youthling in all the
"Like you were, Tork?" Brandr grinned. He and Tork had
joined the elite band of far-famed warriors, together,
more than ten years past. In truth, they had been
fighting men for closer to twenty years, since their
selfsame thirteenth birthing day. In more battles than
he could count, they had fought side by side, watching
each other's backs.
"Just like," Tork agreed, humility never being one of
Horns of ale were raised as a wave of shouting erupted
around them...cheers of encouragement and hoots of
ridicule. A large neck-ring of turf had been cut from
the ground in such a way that two of the sides were
still intact. In various places underneath stood sharp
spear heads. Those men about to swear fealty to the
Jomsviking brotherhood were in the process of crawling
from one end to the other beneath the grassy blanket,
their blood mixing with the Trelleborg dirt.
When they had all completed this task, they dropped to
their knees, Frode included, grinning with
self-satisfaction for having survived, despite blood
dripping from their arms and backs, their faces marked
with grass and dirt stains. Egill the Fearless, their
leader, strode toward them with a stern glower on his
bearded face and demanded the oaths of loyalty, not just
to him as chieftain but to their fellow warriors. Each
promised to avenge all other Jomsvikings as a brother.
None must ever give voice to fear. No man could be
absent from Trelleborg for more than three days without
permission. No women could be brought into the
all-male, monastic style garrison. Plunder would be
shared by all in the warrior community.
The fortress, which could house twelve hundred men, sat
on the west coast of Sjaelland, between Kattegat and the
Baltic Sea, atop an enormous circular earthworks, with
high double timbered ramparts filled with earth which
were manned at all times. The stronghold was divided
into quadrants by two roads that criss-crossed, leading
to four openings, with gates which could be dropped in
an instant if they were attacked by foemen. Below lay
the palisaded harbor town where ale and wenches were
available aplenty, for a coin.
Tork picked up a wooden bucket of water and dumped it
over his brother's head.
"Hey!" Frode shook his head like a shaggy dog.
They were better able now to examine the boy's extensive
injuries, which had been Tork's intention. A deep slice
on his shoulder, cutting through the leather tunic and
flesh. Several cuts on his legs and a vicious wound on
Tork touched the latter and said, "This one might need
"Nay." Frode gave his wound an admiring glance, then
grinned. "Methinks it will make a great scar to attract
Laughing, the three of them made for the seaside
youthling chattered the whole time, even though in most
ways he was a man now. That fact was proven when he
teased them, "Let us go down to the village and
celebrate. Mayhap I can find a wench or two to swive,
whilst you two ugly brutes may have my leavings."
Tork reached out to punch his brother, but he ducked and
Tork's fist met only air.
'Twas then that Brandr noticed the longship entering the
harbor far below. Oh, there were dozens and dozens of
longships and knarrs and barges already anchored and
portaged, but none carried this particular flag. A
white bear rampant against a black background edged in
red. It was Brandr's family crest.
they got closer, the hairs stood out on the back of his
neck with every creak of the oarlocks, and he exchanged
a worried look with Tork, both sensing that something
must be amiss.
They soon found out.
was his younger brothers Erland and Arnis, sixteen and
twenty years old. How odd! And they were in
charge of a longship...one of the many family longships,
but this one manned by a shiphird, or sea army, of a
mere thirty men. Even more odd! And a scraggly
band they were, too. Beyond odd! Alarming!
anchoring, then jumping onto the wharf planking, his
brothers hugged him in greeting, then nodded at Tork and
Frode, whom they had met as visitors at Bear's Lair on
many an occasion.
The first thing Erland did was complain to Brandr,
"Frode has become a Jomsviking? You told me I was too
"You are too young." In Brandr's experience,
some males were men at sixteen, whilst others did not
mature 'til much later. Erland was of the latter type.
Arnis thumped his brother on the shoulder, causing
Erland to stumble. "Lackwit! Dost forget why we are
here?" Then he turned to Brandr with a grim expression
on his face. "We bring bad news, Jarl Igorsson."
Jarl? "What? Me?" he nigh squawked. Those
standing hairs on his neck were now waving a warning to
him. There could be only one way that the Odal right of
jarldom would pass to him. Through his father and three
Which was impossible.
had to be.
Arnis put a hand on his arm in sympathy.
"They are all gone."
closed his eyes for a moment, trying to digest what
Arnis was saying. "All?"
Both Erland and Arnis nodded.
"The Sigurdssons came in the night," Erland explained.
"Killed and maimed everyone in sight. Father, his wives
and concubines, your mother, our brothers Vidar, Bjarn
and Sveinn. Our sisters Maeva and Gerda are dead, along
with their babes. Housecarls, cotters, everyone
slaughtered. Arnora and Kelda survived, no doubt
because they were too old to be of any use." Arnora was
Vidar's mother, and Kelda was the longtime cook at
Bear's Lair. "In truth, hardly anyone was spared by the
whoresons, except Liv who was amongst a handful of women
Tork and Frode gasped with horror. A soft cry of pain
escaped Brandr's lips which soon thinned with fury. The
Sigurdssons and Igorssons are done each other great
scathe over the years, but naught like this.
His sister Liv was only thirteen years old. It broke
his heart to think of what horrors the impish girling
must be experiencing at this very moment. Last time he
heard, she had not even had her first monthly flux.
hardened his heart to know of the blood which had been
spilled and all the more blood he would now be compelled
to spill. There would be a virtual flood of sword dew.
"And you two...how did you escape?"
"We were off to Birka, trading furs for winter goods,"
Arnis told him.
Bear's Lair was a remote northerly estate, rocky and
cold, not conducive to farming. But bears abounded,
huge brown creatures, and up near the Arctic region, the
prized white bears. "Two days late, we were," Arnis
continued, his voice raspy with emotion, his blue eyes
glazed in remembrance of the horrors he must have seen.
"Not that our presence would have made a difference. We
learned from the few survivors that Sigurd came with a
hird of two hundred strong."
"How many men are left?" Tork interjected. His good
friend would be returning with him, Brandr knew, without
his asking for help.
"Three dozen able-bodied, another three dozen injured
but will recover, the gods willing, and another dozen
crippled for life."
he exclaimed and spat on the ground. "Raven starver,
that is what Sigurd is. A coward. Less than a nithing."
Tork took Frode by the elbow and led him back toward the
fortress. "Looks like you will be blooded in battle
sooner than expected, brother. Let us see how many
Jomsviking warriors will join us in this good and noble
Brandr would not be surprised if a worthy hird would be
at the ready within the hour to travel back with him to
his estate, or what was left of it.
How could his life have changed so, in a matter of
minutes? This had been a good life for him, a middle
son. He had been contented. Well, no more.
Taking out Flesh Biter, his favorite pattern-welded
broadsword, tears welling in his eyes for the first time
since he was a baby, Brandr stabbed the weapon into the
ground with a roar of fury and proclaimed with a loud
cry to the high heavens, "This I swear afore Thor and
all the gods. We will be avenged!" His throat clogged
for a moment before he repeated hoarsely, "We will
The howl that followed was like that of a crazed wolf.
That was the day Brandr Igorsson turned berserker.
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