Cuthbert’s People, Book 1
The mighty are undone by pride, the bold by folly, and the good by wistfulness.
Elswyth’s mother was a slave, but her father is a thegn, and Drefan, the man she is to marry, is an ealdorman’s son. But though Elswyth is content with the match, and waits only for Drefan to notice that she has come to womanhood, still she finds herself gazing seaward, full of wistful longing.
From the sea come Norse traders, bringing wealth, friendship, and tales of distant lands. But in this year of grace 793 the sea has brought a great Viking raid that has devastated the rich monastery of Lindisfarne. Norse are suddenly not welcome in Northumbria, and when Elswyth spots a Norse ship approaching the beach in her village of Twyford, her father fears a Viking raid.
But the ship brings trouble of a different kind. Leif has visited Twyford many times as a boy, accompanying his father on his voyages. But now he returns in command of his father’s ship and desperate to raise his father’s ransom by selling a cargo of Christian holy books. Elswyth is fascinated by the books and the pictures they contain of warm and distant lands.
But when Drefan arrives, investigating reports of the sighting of a Norse ship, Elswyth must try to keep the peace between Drefan and Leif, and tame the wistfulness of her restless heart.
Wishing to be alone, Elswyth collected her embroidery basket from the hall and made her way up to her clifftop perch to get on with the embroidery for her wedding dress. Slowly, as the hours passed, sun and birdsong, wind and cloud, sea and sky, leeched the anger and the melancholy and the sadness out of her, so that when she heard footsteps coming up the path from the village, she was not immediately vexed at the interruption, but hoped for the company of someone who might provide comfort without enquiry. Her father would have suited her purpose at that moment, but it was not her father’s distinct gait she had heard, and she was about to turn and look when she realized that she recognized the gait already. She turned just as the footsteps ceased, and saw Leif. He froze in his tracks and looked away, clearly surprised to find her here, and unsure whether to continue.
“Your pardon, Lady,” he said.
“Oh, don’t start that again!”
“Your pardon, Elswyth. I will go another way.”
He turned to leave, but she found she could not bear to see him go. Their quarrel, after all, was not really with each other, but with Thor, who seemed to think neither one of them was capable of discretion or restraint.
“Don’t go,” she said. “Come sit down beside me.”
He stood still where he was, a dozen yards away.
“Just to talk,” she said. “You look like you need to talk to someone.”
This seemed to move him, for he came towards her. She made room for him on the rock and he sat down next to her, his hip against hers. He no longer wore the bandage she had used to cover the wound on his head. There was a line of small scabs on his temple, edged by pink and delicate skin. She felt an almost irresistible urge to stroke the wound with gentle fingers.
“The weather is turning,” he said.
“What is it like to ride out a storm at sea?” she asked, “Is it fearful or is it exciting?”
“It is hard work,” he replied.
“You do not fear storms then?”
“We do not seek out storms,” he said. “We do not sail when the weather threatens. But if a storm comes when we are at sea, we ride it out.”
About the Author
G. M. Baker has been a newspaper reporter, managing editor, freelance writer, magazine con-tributor, PhD candidate, seminarian, teacher, desktop publisher, programmer, technical writer, department manager, communications director, non-fiction author, speaker, consult-ant, and grandfather. He has published stories in The Atlantic Advocate, Fantasy Book, New England’s Coastal Journal, Our Family, Storyteller, Solander, and Dappled Things. There was nothing much left to do but become a novelist.
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