Desire's Hostage

By: Emma Prince

Viking Lore, Book Three

Chapter One

808 A.D.


Alaric’s twin sister Madrena leaned out past her ship’s wooden sides, waving furiously at the docks.

Eirik waved back with one hand, the other wrapped protectively around his wife. Laurel held little Thorin in her arms as she, too, waved.

Even from this distance, Alaric could see that tears shimmered in Laurel’s dark eyes. He could only imagine the barrage of emotions she was experiencing as she watched her friends set sail for her former homeland.

“We shall see each other again soon!” Alaric shouted over the ever-increasing span of water. He intentionally spoke in Laurel’s native tongue despite the fact that she’d quickly learned the Northland language upon arrival in Dalgaard.

Laurel grinned widely. “Aye, I know we will!” she called back in her language.

Even before he’d learned that it would be vital to him, Alaric had asked Laurel to teach him her language. Though Alaric had only been charged with leading this voyage since last fall, he’d sensed long ago that a knowledge of the lands to the west would serve him well. That mist-shrouded, green terrain had called to him ever since he’d first laid eyes on it two summers ago. By some whisper of the gods, he knew his fate lay there.

Eirik and Laurel, along with the other villagers from Dalgaard who’d gathered to see the voyagers off, shrank to specks as Alaric and Madrena’s longships drew farther out into the fjord. Still, Alaric let his eyes linger on Dalgaard as it faded.


Would he ever see Dalgaard again? Would he ever see Laurel, Eirik, and their son Thorin, whom he thought of as a nephew, again?

He always spoke confidently in front of his crew and even shielded Laurel from the worst of his fears. But when he and Eirik talked quietly within Dalgaard’s longhouse through the long, dark nights of winter and into the spring, they spoke the truth.

Alaric and his crew might never return, for this voyage bristled with dangers of every manner.

Aegir the sea god could frown on them at any point during the sennight-long voyage. They could be sunk, or blown so far off course as to never see land again. And if they did somehow manage to make it to those mysterious lands to the west, battle, disease, or simple starvation could await them.

But he could not let his dark thoughts rule him. The time of his death may be in the hands of the gods, but his fate was his own to make. Yet the new weight of responsibility sat heavy on his shoulders—there was more at stake than his own glory in the eyes of the gods.

At last, Alaric turned his back on the village. The breeze barreling down the length of the fjord whipped his hair around his head. He glanced to his left and found Madrena’s longship skimming past his. Even over the roar of the wind, he could hear her urging on her rowers.

“A race, then?” he shouted over the expanse of water separating their longships.

Madrena snapped her ice-blonde head to him. Her pale gray eyes sparked.

“To the mouth of the fjord!” she called back.

“And the prize?”

She chuckled, but the sound was snatched by the wind. He knew his sister well, though.

“Honor before the gods, of course,” she yelled.

But Alaric didn’t need reminders about honor from Madrena. He was the leader of this voyage. Its success or failure rode on him.

He nodded, but before he could explain Madrena’s game to his crew, his sister’s ship darted forward.

“To the mouth!” Alaric barked to the men already plying their oars with a good deal of effort. He didn’t have to say more, for his men could see for themselves that Madrena was pulling away. A spark of competitiveness instantly ignited within the longship. Alaric’s men threw their weight against their oars, shouting encouragement to each other.

Without hesitating, Alaric took up a seat on his sea chest and snatched an unmanned oar. With practiced ease, he fell into rhythm with the others as they pulled against the dark fjord waters.

It felt good to have the oar’s wood under his hands.

This was something he could control.

His strength, plied against that of Aegir the sea god’s.

His will against the fates that swirled unknowably.

His determination against the mysteries held in the lands to the west.

Alaric’s longship surged alongside Madrena’s. Even as she redoubled her urgings to her crew, they fell behind, spent from their initial burst. As the arching dragon prow on Alaric’s ship plowed into the open waters of the North Sea, he let his triumphant laugh drift on the wind to Madrena.

His sister scowled fiercely, crossing her arms over her chest. Alaric’s crew slumped in victorious satisfaction as Madrena’s ship glided alongside it.

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