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Rough and ReadyRough and Ready

Berkley Publishing
December 2006
ISBN-10: 0425213021
ISBN-13: 978-0425213025

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Chapter One 

Wanna take a little road trip, buddy?...

Navy Lieutenant Torolf Magnusson put his face in his hands and counted silently to ten.  Only then, did he look up at five  of his teammates from Force Squad, 8th Platoon, SEAL Team Twelve and say, "Get lost!"

"Not a chance!" his best friend, Petty Officer Justin "Cage"  LeBlanc, said with a laugh.  LeBlanc was a Cajun from Southern Louisiana and the biggest thorn in this sailor's ass when he wanted to be.  Like now.

Torolf, who was known as Max to his friends, resumed packing.  His sea bag sat on the bed in his apartment in Coronado, California, home of the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base, as well as BUD/S training ground for the Navy's elite special forces unit.  He would soon hitch a ride on a military transport to Germany and from there take a commercial flight to Norway.

His buddies surrounded him in his bedroom, trying to change his mind about leaving.  Not just Cage, but also Lt. (jg) Zach "Pretty Boy" Floyd, an ex‑race car driver.  And Chief Petty Officer Sylvester "Sly" Sims, a big black dude from Harlem; he  hated terrorists with a passion and channeled that zeal through SEAL operations as a munitions expert.  There was also Lt. (jg) Jacob Mendoza, JAM, ex-Jesuit priest; and Ensign Merrill "Geek" Good, a young computer prodigy.  Geek was a Smee, or subject matter expert, although he had seen some active duty.  He was the only ring knocker among them, being a Naval Academy grad.

Cage shoved the duffel bag to the side and lay down on the bed, bent-kneed, arms crossed under his head, smiling up at Torolf with exaggerated innocence.  Hah!  Cage hadn't been innocent since he'd fast roped down his mother's umbilical cord  and out of the womb thirty years ago.  Right now, Cage was laughing his ass off, playing self-appointed spokesman for this buttinsky bunch who nodded...or every blinkin' thing he said.  Even simple stuff, like, "Where you goin', Max?  Really?"

"Norway.  I've told you that a dozen times."


"Family honor."

"I whacked a guy for family honor one time," Sly said.  Everyone looked at Sly, but the one-time inner city gang member didn't elaborate.  He rarely did.

Cage resumed his grilling, "When will ya come back?"

"Don't know."

"Will ya come back?"

"Don't know."

"Any danger?"

"Oh, yeah!"

"The odds?"

"Against me?  I don't know.  Hundred to one, maybe, on a good day."

"The perps?"

"Greedy, vicious invaders."

"Mon Dieu, that defines any terrorist cell in the third world."

"One in particular who would make Osama and Saddam seem like kindergartners."

Cage frowned.  "Who the hell would wanta invade Norway?"

Torolf refused to answer and continued packing.

There was a communal rolling of eyes at his evasiveness.

"Well, that settles it."  It was Pretty Boy speaking now.  "We'll all go with you."  While he spoke, Pretty Boy flipped  through Torolf's little black book which sat next to his wallet on the bureau.  Torolf grabbed it from him with a snort of disgust.  Pretty Boy--who was...well, pretty, according to women from two hemispheres--got enough action already.  In fact, he'd once bragged that he could wear a sign around his neck proclaiming, "1,000 Satisfied Customers."  Then Pretty Boy's words sunk in.

Oh, great!  That's just what I need.  A herd of Navy SEALs riding my tail.  "You...will...not!  I do not one, let alone five  oversized, overaged babysitters."

"That's debatable," JAM interjected.  The Hispanic guy was checking out Torolf's books on a nearby shelf.  Torolf read everything from Clive Cussler to his sister Kirstin's romance novels.  JAM, on the other hand, probably had a dozen versions of the Bible.

"Not babysitters, precisely," Cage elaborated.  "Ya caint serve the gumbo 'less ever'one's at the table."  He loved to quote his Cajun grandmother's hokey bayou sayings.

"What the hell does that mean?"

"All fer one and one fer all."  Cage grinned.  "Hey, you guys were there for me and my Maw Maw during Katrina and Rita."  Maw Maw was Cajun for grandmother.  "Me, how could I do any less...even if ya've lost yer friggin' mind, cher?"

"Norway?" Sly said, frowning.  "It's cold there, isn't it?"

"Damn cold."

Sly leaned against the open door frame and groaned.  "Couldn't you pick somewhere like Miami, or the Bahamas?"  Sly was six-foot-four inches of lean, ebony muscle.  A handsome guy with his shaved head and a soul patch on his chin, he had at one time modeled tighty whities for GQ.  Sly teased, like the rest of them, but his eyes were dead...had been since his brother died on 9/11 and he'd vowed to kill "every motherfucker terrorist in the world."  His exact words, repeated often.

"I have no choice.  Norway is where I come from."

"For chrissake, he's gonna start the Viking bullshit again."  JAM might have trained for the priesthood at one time, but he used the language of a sinner.

"Guess I'll have to pack my long johns," Sly said with an loud sigh of resignation.

"You guys are not going with me," Torolf insisted.

No one listened.

"Those Scandinavian women are supposed to be hot."  This from Pretty Boy who considered himself the world's expert on women.  "Whoo-hoo!  What do I see here?"  He waved a long accordion strip of condoms that he'd picked up out of Torolf's duffel bag.  "Planning a marathon, are you, good buddy?  You plannin' to keep all those hot Norse mamas to yourself?"

Torolf grabbed for the condoms and stuffed them back in his bag.  "Listen, this is serious business for me.  It's something I've got to do.  By myself."

"Do tell," Cage said, serious himself now.

Torolf inhaled and exhaled, then decided to tell them the truth.  Not that they would believe him.  "I need to travel back to the eleventh century Norselands to put an end to Steinolf, the worst tango in the world."  Tango was a SEAL word for terrorist or bad guy.  "He stole my family lands and tortured my sister Madrene."  Jeesh, that sounds ludicrous even to my own ears.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Sly said.  "Did you say eleventh century?"

"I did."

"Isn't that when William the Conqueror hit the British scene?"  It was Geek speaking for the first time.  He'd been sitting at the desk fiddling with Torolf's laptop, updating some virus software.

     "Early eleventh century," Torolf said.  "William the Conqueror came about fifty years later."

His friends couldn't have regarded him more incredulously if he'd grown propellers and called himself a Blackhawk.

"You're gonna time-travel?  Cool!" Geek commented.

Cool?  Does that mean he accepts time-travel?  I must be dreaming.

The other SEALs turned to look at Geek, shocked.  The message was clear: Geek had an I.Q. of about a gazillion, and if he could accept time-travel, well, holy shit, maybe the rest of them could accept it, too.  Scary thought, that.

"You believe in time-travel?" Sly asked Geek.

Tell them "no."  Please, tell them "no."

"Not really."


"Well, not today, but I think it might be possible in the future."

That is just great!

Geek then went on to spout some crap about time wrinkles in the stratosphere and research going on at some half-baked inter-terrestrial institute in D.C.  Apparently time-travelers and aliens were put in the same category.

"Have you been to see Dr. Goldstein this rotation?" Pretty Boy asked Torolf.

"Yes, I have."  Hell, he wouldn't believe it either if he were in their shoes.

  Dr. Goldstein was the base psychiatrist.  All SEALs were required to get psychiatric counseling after every live op in which kills were involved.  There was a fear that they would go off the deep end if they couldn't reconcile the taking of human life, even if it was the vilest of tangos.  After this recent stint in Afghanistan, his platoon--a combined effort of SEALs, Rangers and other special forces units--had all gotten in their share of killing Al-Quaida suicide bombers and shit-for-brains extremists.

Plus, one of their team members had committed suicide after returning to the home base at Coronado, which resulted in their required one-month liberties.  None of them knew the guy very well, but still, what affected one of them affected them all.

They would start a new rotation next month, this time in  Tikrit where the goal was to make a surgical strike, taking out some of the remaining hardcore Baathists, remnants of Saddam's old regime.  These were the nut cases responsible for the car bombs being smuggled over the Iraqi-Syrian border.

"So, Max, have ya time-traveled before?"  Cage was gazing at him with a mixture of pity and concern.

"I have."

That surprised the crap out of all of them, including Geek, who turned to give him his full attention.  "How?" Geek wanted to know.

"You guys can't repeat any of this," Torolf said.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," they agreed, but he could tell that they all thought he was fast turning into a fruitcake.

He eyed the window of his first floor unit.  If they bring in a strait jacket, I'm outta here.  "When I was sixteen years old, in the year 1010 A.D., my father, myself, and eight of my brothers and sisters boarded a longship and went to Iceland.  We left behind at Norstead, my family's estates, my brother Ragnor and my sister Madrene, both of whom you've met.  While in Iceland, or Greenland, or wherever the hell we ended up, a strange storm overtook us, and we saw a vision where this elderly woman was praying.  When we woke up, we were still in our longship, but we had landed in modern day California.  Ragnor and Madrene came here later, at different times."

A stunned silence met his words. 

Well, he might as well finish off this lunatic tale.  "If it was only that Steinolf stole our property...if it was only that he'd been vicious in the family could probably let it go.  But that bastard did some things to Madrene that can't be forgiven or forgotten.  Even today, her body is covered with scars from the bastard's whip."

"Why you?" Pretty Boy asked.  "I mean, you have a big family.  Did ya draw straws or somethin'?"

"I'm the oldest adult male in the family with no wife or kids.  So, it's up to me."  He shrugged.

More silence.

Finally, Cage coughed and said, "So, do ya have a time machine or somethin'?"

He had to laugh at the question and gave Cage a noogie on his long-haired fool head.  "No, you dipwad!"

"Do you expect to do it on the high a boat?" Geek asked.  "Like before?  And reverse the time-travel?"

"Logical conclusion, but no.  I've tried that.  Lots of time in a boat off the California coast.  I even tried it in Iceland one time.  But nothing happens.  Now I'm going back to Norway.  I'll stand on the same spot where Norstead was once located.  Hopefully, something will happen."

"You know you've gone bonkers, don't you?"  Sly regarded him with amusement.

He probably expected him to say something like, "Gotcha!"  And admit he'd been joking.  I wish!  "Maybe.  But I've gotta try."

"You honest-to-God believe in time-travel?" Pretty Boy wanted to know.

"Well, no.  But I do believe in miracles.  I figure God, or one of the gods...probably Loki, the jester...destined this for my family."

"Aaah, miracles!  That I can understand."  JAM was nodding his head in acceptance, which was remarkable to Torolf.  He didn't think anyone would believe him.

"This sounds really interesting.  I'm in," Geek said.  "When do we leave for Norway?"

"Me, too," each of the others said.

"No, no, no!" he said as emphatically as he could.

"All fer one and one fer all," Cage reminded him.  And he wasn't teasing, either.

"You can't do this," he tried one last time.  "I know you have liberty for a couple weeks.  We all do before we go OUTCONUS again.  But, man, what if we can't come back?  What if we get stuck in the past?  Do you want to have a UA on your record?"

"Shiiit!  If we're lost in the eleventh century, I don't think an unauthorized absence is gonna matter all that much," Pretty Boy pointed out.

He decided to try a different argument.  "Do you have any idea how primitive it was then?  No electricity.  No running water or flush toilets.  No cars or planes.  No computers.  No condoms."

His five teammates looked at each other, then at him.  They didn't believe him.  Still, Cage spoke for them all when he said, "We're willing to risk that...for you.  Do y'all agree?"

The response was a resounding, "Hoo-yah!"  And Pretty Boy added, "Make sure we buy a shitload of rubbers to take with us.  Make mine super size."

"The only super size on you is your big head," Sly told Pretty Boy.

So it was that a team of six Navy SEALs decided to go back in time to the eleventh century Norselands.  They would never be the same.


You could say she was a Dark Age feminist...

Brunhilda Berdottir was the last living child of Styrr Hardhead and Bera the Weeper, a deceased high jarl of Hordaland  and his lady wife.  Though she would never be recognized as such in her present condition.

She had a broken arm, a blackened eye and bruises from head to toe.  Still she trudged on, wearing only a rough gown under an  over-tunic and thin, deer-skin ankle boots, fur side inward, these two days and more along a remote, snow-covered mountain trail, hoping to find her grandsire's hunting lodge.

But then she slipped, her feet went out from under her, and her rump hit the ground with a resounding thump.  Her stop caused the five females who followed behind her to fall as well in a rippling effect.

At first, they all stared at each other.  Then one of them giggled.  Soon they were all laughing.  Not that there was any humor to their predicament, but the old sages were right when they said that betimes 'twas better to laugh than cry.

With her were five other females, ranging in age from twelve to thirty, all of them equally battered, some having been raped as well, repeatedly.  The one thing they all had in common was the brutal, maggot-hearted Steinolf, who had invaded farmstead and estates across northwestern Norselands in a wave of bloody attacks these past two years.  Her family's own Amberstead--named for her father's trading in the prized stones from the Baltic--had suffered the latest of his raids.  Hilda could not bear to think of her last image of her father lying in a pool of blood outside the bailey, his body having been dealt the horrible "Blood Eagle," a Viking punishment that involved hacking all the ribs away from the back bone down to loins, then pulling out the lungs as an offering to Odin.

In truth, there had been so much sword dew from him and his loyal retainers that it ran like a stream down to the fjord.  Thank the gods, her mother and older brothers, Arnsten and Ketil, had passed to the Other World many years ago.

Actually, there were more than the five of them traveling this remote trail.  There was also Bjorn, Dotta, Edla and Stigandr.  Bjorn was a huge ram; Dotta and Edla, his favorite ewes...all three brought along for this journey at the insistence of her maid, Inge.  Hilda and the women had all slept cuddled up against the animals for warmth as they slept yestereve.

Stig was, of course, her father's hunting dog.  A more contrary, lustsome beast there never was.  He would obey no one, not even  Hilda, now that her father was gone.

Fortunately, once Stig understood that sheep would not stand still for his carnal efforts, all four animals had behaved well.  And Inge--bless her soul--had trailed behind with the animals, picking up their droppings with a wood paddle and sack so that their enemy would not be able to trace their path.  Hilda had drawn the line when Frida, her cook, wanted to bring squawky chickens, but Hilda suspected the stubborn woman had breeding eggs nestled in the swath of wool wrapped around her waist.

Hilda patted her chest where a heart-shaped amber pendant on a thin chain lay...a last gift from her father, who had been a far-famed trader, dealing with Baltic amber, but also bringing to her from the far-flung trading towns of Birka, Hedeby and Novgorod finger and arm rings, gold and silver linked belts, silk samite fabrics from Byzantium, a polished brass looking mirror, and a red cloak lined with gray fox fur.  It had taken great effort on her part to keep the pendant hidden from Steinolf's men when she would have been better off taking a cloak or sharp knife.

Odd what people consider necessities! 

"Are we almost there, m'lady?" Inge asked as Hilda stood and dusted snow flakes off her gunna and wool mantle.  They were near a bend in Freyjafjord that they had been following since midday.  The others began to rise as well.  Meanwhile, the sheep foraged in the snow to nibble at the undergrowth, and Stig licked her hands, seeking some morsel of food or bone.

She ignored Stig, having nothing to offer and pressed her lips together to stop their shivering.  "I've not been here for a dozen years...since my eleventh winter...but my grandsire always said Deer Haven was only a half day's journey from Freyja's Elbow, a bend in the fjord near the ancient lintel tree.    

Inge's weary eyes followed Hilda's gaze to the gnarled tree as wide as three mead barrels with bare branches resembling beastly arms.

"Let us rest here a moment," Hilda suggested.

"A fire?" Inge inquired hopefully.

Hilda shook her head.  "Steinolf's men may follow us...if not now, eventually.  I doubt me there is any imminent danger, but we must be within the safety of Deer Haven's walls, drawbridge down when...if...they discover our whereabouts."

"What could they do to us that they have not already done?" Inge remarked with a shudder.

"Skin us alive."  It was a practice Steinolf was rumored to practice on his captured enemies when they did not cooperate.

"For the love of Thor!  We can ill-afford to malinger then," Inge said, and the others nodded in agreement, even twelve-year-old Dagne whose bloody thighs had borne the seed of a dozen or more men afore they had rescued her that first night.  She had not spoken since.  Dagne carried a favorite lute clutched close to her chest.  Hilda wondered if she would ever sing again.

But they had all suffered.

The tip of Astrid's tongue had been sliced off for refusing to take one warrior's manpart into her mouth.  Thereafter, the young girl had been forced to kneel for hours and taste the male sap of innumerable men as punishment, all at the laughing order of Steinolf, the first in line.

Elise, only seventeen, and a thrall, had watched helplessly as her young mother had been dragged to one of the three longboats headed for the market stalls at Hedeby where she, and twenty others, would be sold as slaves.  Their fate could be no worse than those left behind.  Of course, Hilda would now release Elise from her thralldom, and she would no longer have to keep her hair close-cropped as a sign of servitude.

Frida, the oldest of them at twenty and seven, had lain spread-legged on the high table of Amberstead's great hall for a day and a half.  Steinolf had encouraged his men to touch and abuse her naked body, as entertainment.  At one point, when Hilda had been paraded into the hall, she'd seen Frida's breasts and belly covered with grease and spittle.

They were a perverted, cruel bunch, Steinolf's men were, slaking their lust like savage animals.  Although Hilda had been beaten, she had not been raped or mutilated...yet.  Steinolf had been saving her, as the high-born daughter of the estate, for last in hopes of drawing fleeing troops and cotters back to Amberstead.  She could not imagine what atrocity he had planned for her, in light of what he'd done to lesser females in the household.  There had been mention of a randy stallion out in the stable.  That had been when she'd planned her escape.

Hilda looked at each of them in turn and said, "Heed me well.  We have survived.  Keep heart a short while longer.  This I vow, Steinolf will pay for his sins...someday.  But for now, we must find safe harbor, restore our bodies and spirits, and grow strong."

The next morning they arrived at Deer Haven.  Hilda surveyed  it with an eye toward their defense against invaders.

It was a motte and bailey style structure--built in the longhouse style of the Vikings.  It sat on an immense, raised, flat hilltop, steep-sloped on three sides and set against an almost vertical mountain background.  The rustic castle--and, yea, it was a castle to the Norsemen--was surrounded by a wide moat.  The palisade of strong hewn logs was half rotted away.  Many hides of land went with this "estate," but most of it was untillable.  That's why her great-grandsire had abandoned it decades ago.

Much work would be required to restore it to its former impregnable state.  The only entrance was through the fjord, which could be made impassable by damning the stream a short distance back...something her great-grandsire had once done in the old days when this had been his first home...long before the establishment of Amberstead and the use of Deer Haven as a hunting lodge.  The drawbridge was rusted into a permanent open position.  The moat was filled with mud and fallen trees.  The massive, timber and earthworks main longhouse with its wood shake roof was in disrepair but still intact, though the wattle-and-daub huts and outbuildings that surrounded it had long ago lost their thatched roofs.

Despite the condition, Deer Haven was a welcome sight to them all.  "This will do as our new home," Hilda pronounced.  Astrid, Elise and Frida dropped to their knees and said prayers of thanks.  Dagne wept, probably with relief.  But Inge, ever the one to have a sense of humor, chuckled.  "By your leave, m'lady," she said, but without waiting for a response, picked up a sharp rock and carved runic symbols onto a short plank which she propped against the edge of the drawbridge.

It read: "Any man who dares enter here uninvited will leave with a shriveled manpart."

"Well said!"  Hilda clapped her hands in appreciation.

They all laughed then, even Dagne.

We will be all right now, Hilda decided.  If we can see mirth in the midst of our dire circumstance, we have the mettle to survive.  This will be our sanctuary.  In fact, she stepped forth and took the stone from Inge, adding two words.  Later the same plaque would be nailed into the restored fortress, and it would read:


 Any man who dares enter here uninvited
will leave with a shriveled manpart."



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