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December 2011, Avon Books
ISBN-10: 0062019236
ISBN-13: 978-0062019233
October 2004, Leisure Books
ISBN: 0843951591


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(They are the most elite warriors in the world.  Hard-bodied, loyal, strong fighters, great lovers.  Are you thinking Vikings?  Or Navy SEALs?  How about a combination of both?  What if a tenth century Viking man got sidetracked on the way to Valhalla and landed, instead, in the middle of a modern-day Navy SEALs training program?  You don't have to believe in time-travel...just miracles.)

Die-Hard, Die-Soft...Whatever!...Dead is Dead...

Ragnor shot straight up in the air from the water, like a dolphin, took a huge gulp of air, then felt himself being shoved back under by a heavy hand.  He'd always prided himself on being leather-lunged, but this was ridiculous.

Apparently he hadn't died after all...not yet.  And neither had his Saxon enemy whose hand was pressed down on top of his head. 

Enough is enough!  Drawing on some inner energy and the will to that he knew life was a possibility...he shoved the hand aside, kicked the man in the groin, then swam swiftly to the surface.  To his surprise, there were other heads bobbing to the surface around him, but they were swimming to a nearby yellow boat, and a measly boat it was, too.  Bigger than a small fishing boat but smaller than even the smallest longship.  And it wasn't even made of wood.  In fact, there were several similar boats a short distance away and men swimming about them, too.

"What the hell was that about down there?" a man yelled in his face as he came to the surface, too.  It was not the Saxon warrior he'd been struggling with when he'd almost drowned, although his short brown hair had a reddish tint, too.  It must be another Saxon warrior.  This man, a thunderous expression on his angry face, yelled out to what must be his comrades, "This jerkoff just kicked me in the nuts, deliberately."  Then he blinked at him, as if in sudden recognition.  "Magnusson, you dumb sonofabitch, what are you doing here?  I thought you were gone."  A vein in his forehead looked as if it might pop.

Well, of course he had kicked him deliberately.  The man had been trying to drown him.  As for being gone, he'd thought so, too.  But how did the man know his name?  He shrugged, guessing that his wordfame must have spread, even to the Saxon lands.

Immediately, he was surrounded by a half dozen men.  The leader--the one who'd been down there with him--pointed sharply to the left and bellowed right in his face, "Get your ass out of the water.  Pronto!  I have a few things to say to you, Ensign  Magnusson."

End-sign?  Is that a vile name in the Saxon language?  Hmmm, I thought I was proficient in the English tongue, but mayhap not.  This fellow speaks with an odd accent.

Ragnor had a few things to say to him, too, but then he noticed the direction of the Saxon's pointing.  It was a shoreline.  How could that be?  When he'd gone down, his ship had been in the high seas?  Could it have drifted during the battle?

Frowning with confusion, he swam towards shore.  Meanwhile, other men crawled into the yellow boat which they rowed along beside him.  Some of them stared at him in compassion.  The other boats and swimmers stayed where they were.

It was a considerable distance, but he was a good swimmer, and besides, being alive gave a man the stamina to go on even under the worst of situations.  And he suspected this was going to be a worst type situation.

"A-ten-hut!" his attacker screamed as he and some of the men in the boat shuffled onto the sandy beach.  At the shouted order, seven of the men stood stock still with their hands at their sides, staring straight ahead.  He figured he should do the same.

When in enemy territory, it was best to blend in and not call attention to oneself...though kicking that man in his male parts certainly must make Ragnor stand out.

"Why are you still here?" the leader asked, coming up to stand in front of him, practically nose to nose.

Well, I know I should be dead, but what a question?   "Because the gods wanted me to stay," he offered tentatively.

"Don't give me any of your wiseass answers.  And you know the proper way to address me, ensign.  Yes, Master Chief, sir."

Ah, as I suspected, he is the chieftain.  "It was not--"  He stopped when he saw the glower on the leader's face.  Apparently, he hadn't really expected a response.

Now, the chieftain was gaping at his arm rings.  "I thought I told you on the first day of BUD/S to ditch those friggin' bracelets.  Have you got a death wish?"

"Nay, I can honestly say I do not have a death wish," he said, then added, "chieftain, sir.  And as for these," he tapped the gold, etched arm rings on each of his upper arms, "I never take them off.  Good luck, they are."

The chieftain said a well-known Saxon word that sounded liked luck, but was not.

"Well, boys, since Magnusson here is such a glutton for punishment, and since he thinks it's A-okay to defy doctor's orders, to join an op uninvited, to wear jewelry for chrissake, to strike an instructor, and to mock the Master Chief by calling him Chieftain, why don't you all give me one hundred push-ups, followed by a five-mile run.  One for all and all for one, right?"

I understand now.  This chieftain wants to establish his authority by having us refer to him as master, as well as chieftain.  I can do that, if it saves my life.  But, really, I call no man my master.

"Yes, Master Chief, sir!" the seven men surrounding him said as one, then shot him dirty looks before dropping to the ground, legs straight, arms braced, and began lowering and raising their stiffened frames, never quite touching the ground.  He dropped down, too.  After a few clumsy attempts, he got the rhythm and kept up with his fellow prisoners...if that was what they were.

What a silly way to punish prisoners!  I saw Ivan Split-Nose sever body parts of prisoners one time, piece by piece, just to amuse himself.  And torture!  Whoo-ee, the Saxons have nothing on the Arabs in that regard.

Soon they were done with the absurd "push-ups," but did they stand still and relax?  Nay.  The chieftain and some of what must be his assistant leaders yelled, "Fall in," and the lackwitted prisoners began to run in the sand.  Apparently running was a punishment, too.  Pfff!  Wait till he told Svein Forkbeard about this.  The Saxons would be an easier target in future once he gave him that information.  "Not to worry, Svein ol' man, if they capture you, they will punish you with running.  Ha, ha, ha!"

"Get your ass in gear, Magnusson," the leader shouted, "or do you want to do a few extra miles?"

How would I know?  I do not even know what miles are.  But he was a quick learner and he said, "Yea, master chieftain, sir," which did nothing to soften the chieftain's glower, and soon caught up with his fellow prisoners.  They all, himself included, wore boots and garments similar to loin cloths except bigger, with short legs.  That's all.  Barechested and barelegged.  As he ran alongside the men, he noticed something else about his new comrades.  They were all bald.

He thought he heard the leader mutter something to one of his aides, something that sounded like, "What's with that `yea' business?" and the response he got was, "You know Magnusson and that spacey Viking talk of his."  But then they ran up ahead, leaving a space between them and the prisoners.

"What caused all of you to go bald?" he asked one man running in tandem next to him on the right...a tall man with muscles aplenty.  In truth, they all had muscles aplenty, just like him.  "Do they feed you so poorly here?  I have heard that scurvy will do that to men betimes."

"Cut the Viking crap, Magnusson," the man said, staring straight ahead.  "You'll get us all in trouble...more trouble than you already caused.  Kicking our team leader in the balls...have you lost your bleepin' mind?"

"Mayhap," Ragnor said.  "By the by, you talk funny."

"By the by, asshole, you're the one who talks funny," he said with a snort of disgust.  "Mayhap!  Jeesh!"

Ragnor decided not to take offense at the asshole remark...for now.  "But back to your baldness...I hate to tell you, but you all look ridiculous with those shiny pates.  Like bloody monks with tonsured heads.  Holy Thor, I will eat grass afore I let my appearance go like that."

"He must have hit his head harder than anyone thought," another prisoner running in front of him commented, loud enough for him to hear but low enough that their captors up front could not.

"I've got news for you, Viking," still another prisoner said, "your head's been shaved the same as the rest of us."

That news drew Ragnor up short.  Impossible!  Still, he raised a hand to his head...his bristly head.  He roared with outrage then.  "I will kill the man who did this to me."  How dare they cut my hair?  I am not an overly vain man, but I had very nice hair.  Somebody is going to pay for this.

Aaah, what difference does it make?  I am alive, thank the gods!  And hair grows out...I hope.  There are worse things in life than a bald no head. 

Another question nagged at him.  When did they cut my hair?

And remove my armor and replace it with these small clothes and leather boots?

And where are all my seamen and soldiers?  Dead?  All of them?  Am I the only prisoner taken in that battle?

He continued to run, pondering these sorry events.  Every once in a while the chieftain or one of his cohorts ordered them to run into the surf and get wet, then roll around in the sand, before resuming their running.  Strange people!

Looking sideways to the left, he noticed a tall, slim man with brown skin.  "Are you a Moor?" he asked, trying to be friendly.

The brown man gave him a disbelieving look before returning to stare ahead.  "Did you just call me a moron?  You really are a dickhead.  The only reason I'm not gonna beat the crap out of you is that you probably have a concussion."

Ragnor frowned.  "You say me wrong.  I did not say more-on, I said Moor...ah, I see.  More-on must be a derogatory word in your language.  My apologies if I gave offense.  I meant Nubian."

"," the brown man sputtered.

"And as to that other.  Nay, I am not a dickhead, I am a Viking."

There were snickers all around then, followed by a remark from the brown man, "Dumb shit!"

"So, are you a Moor, Sly?" another prisoner asked the brown man.

"More or less," the brown man, whose name must be Sly, answered with a chuckle.

"I knew a man named Sly at one time...Sigurd the Sly."

Sly just ignored him.

"You know, there are eight of us prisoners.  We could easily overtake those four enemy up front," Ragnor advised.  In truth, he could take all four of them himself, but he did not want to appear boastful.

This time all his fellow prisoners turned to look at him and as one they repeated Sly's assessment of him, "Dumb shit!"

"But--" Ragnor started.

"Just shut up," the brown man said.

"Petty Officer Simms," the enemy leader called back, having turned, continuing to run backwards, "do I hear you engaging in conversation with Ensign "I've Lost My Mind" Magnusson?  Perhaps you would like to help us pick up the pace with a jody call?"

The brown man, presumably named Simms as well as Sly, surprised him by beginning to chant out a sort of song, which the other prisoners repeated back to him:

"I don't know but I been told."

"I don't know but I been told."

"Navy SEALs are good as gold."

"Navy SEALs are good as gold."

"But we ain't SEALs yet, nosirree."

"But we aint't SEALs yet, nosirree."

"Three more months and we are free."

"Three more months and we are free."

"Till that time we toe the line."

"Till that time we toe the line."

"We got pain, but we don't whine."

"We got pain, but we don't whine."

"Sound off, one two..."

"Sound off, one two..."

"...three, four."

"...three, four."

There was silence then except for the rhythmic pounding of boots on sand...until he asked Sly, "You all want to be turned into animals?"  Ragnor did not really believe in all that fantasy nonsense, but many Vikings did.  Dragons, trolls, magic and such.  Still, he was beginning to wonder if he really was dead and had landed in one of the other worlds many Norsemen believed in...not Asgard, like the Christian heaven, or Nifhelm, like the Christian hell, but someplace in between where humans might be turned into animals.

"Huh?" Sly said.

"Seals?  Your song...and a very fine song it was, too...spoke of wanting to become seals.  Which is a mistake.  I have met more than a few of those slimy animals in my time, and they do not lead a pleasant life.  It behooves you to reconsider, believe you me."

Sly gave him another of his disbelieving looks and said, "Suck my dick."

Ragnor was smarter than the average Norseman, especially when it came to languages, and he did not need an interpreter to tell him what dick meant.  Sly's slur was comparable to Dar the Dangerous's favorite saying, "Lick my manroot."  But he decided not to take offense and answered with dry humor, "Thank you, but, nay, I do not think I will partake of that pleasure."

Laughter surrounded him then, even from Sly.  And one man in back of him remarked, "You are in rare form today, Max."

At first, he thought the man was addressing someone else, then realized that Max must be a shortened name for Magnusson.    He liked it.  And, yea, he was in good form as the man said...but not as good as he'd originally thought.  That he realized when their running punishment went on and on and on.  For at least an hour they ran, up and down the beach.  All of them were aromatic, to say the least.  He had sand in his boots, sand in his small clothes, sand in his mouth and ears.  He'd thought his leg muscles were strong, but apparently not as strong as these fellow prisoners.  His thighs and calves screamed with pain, whilst the other men, including the enemy leaders, just loped along.

When they finally finished, with the leader yelling, "Fall out," then "At Ease," the other men were bending over at the waist, walking in slow circles, and breathing easily.  He, on the other hand, sank to the ground with a thud.  He was panting as loud and heavily as a war horse after a siege.

The chieftain hovered over him within seconds.  "Are you alright, ensign?  Should I call the medic?" 

Well, that is interesting.  Concern from a captor?  And medic, what is that?  Ah!  "Nay, I have no need of a healer.  I was winded, that is all."

"You've been injured.  You had no business coming out here today, sailor."

Of course I was injured.  You would be, too, if you'd engaged in a sea battle, fought off a horde of bloody Saxons, then almost drowned.  He shrugged, and stood.  He and the chieftain were about the same height and build.  "You are wrong.  I had no choice."

"It's your funeral, buddy."  The instructor walked off then, shaking his head as if he were a hopeless case.

Ragnor began to walk with the other prisoners, heading toward the enemy's great hall where presumably they would be fed.

They were crossing a wide exercise field now...not pounded dirt like his exercise fields at Norstead, but rather a hardened mixture, like pitch which had been baked with crushed stone.  Many people bustled about on the roads and walkways before them, many of them dressed in white apparel--white braies, white sherts, even white head coverings.  But, nay, in this sea of white, there were many dressed in matching, light brown garb, as well, and still others in a fabric mixing brown, black and green, which would be almost invisible in a forest, he would think.

Just then, he saw one person who stopped him in his tracks.

"Who is that?" he asked.  His heart began beating wildly with excitement.  It was the woman from his vision...the one who had beckoned him away from the white light.

"You know who that is," Sly told him.  "That's the Master Chief's sister, Lieutenant Alison MacLean.  The doctor."

She is a lewd-tenant?  And a dock-whore.  I like the sound of that.  Lewdness in a woman is always desirable.  She does not appear to be in trouble at the moment.  Where is the fear...and danger...I sensed surrounding her in my vision?

The woman was dressed all in white, like many of the men, right down to wearing men's braies.  She was tall, much taller than the average woman...and slim.  Her hair was short and red.

Her legs were exceedingly long.  Her skin was that flawless peach color with a slight tint of sun coloration and dotted with freckles.  Her eyes were green.  All this he saw in one sweeping glance from her head to her toes.

"She's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen.  Nay, that's not true.  She's the most desirable woman I've ever seen.  Magnificent."

"Huh?" his comrades said.

The woman had just noticed them.  When her eyes connected with his in passing, they returned immediately, then widened with surprise.  Yea, he was a good looking man.  An Arab princess had told him one time that he exuded virility.  Even bald, he would imagine he could turn a female head.  He puffed his chest out and waited for her approach.

Several of his fellow prisoners laughed.  One of them asked, "What's with the interest in the good doctor?"

All the others had opinions, too.

"That must have been some knock on the head."

"The chief is going to make seal soup out of this bozo."

"I'm taking bets she flattens him for looking at her like that."

"I think he's got a hard-on over frickin' G.I. Jane."

"No one has a hard-on after a fifteen-mile run.  His jock strap must be full of sand, just like the rest of us."

"Man oh man, I can't decide whether I should go eat or stay to watch this fiasco unfold."

They all stayed.

But Ragnor did not care about their teasing.  He looked at the woman who strode toward them with fire in her eyes.

"It would seem I have regained my `enthusiasm,'" he murmured to himself.  And for the first time in what seemed like forever, he smiled.

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