Jealousy of a Viking

Book Award Sub-Category
2024 Young Or Golden Writer
Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
Helgha falls in love with Erik but he must marry within his class. Helgha is jealous of his wife and plots to prevent her having children. She is accused of witchcraft and flees with her two sons. They go to a Christian village but she falls in love with the theign. It all starts again with jealousy.
First 10 Pages

The sun slowly sank towards the horizon making the shadows of the trees creep like hands reaching out to seize the girl digging up the roots of wild garlic.

Helgha stood and noticed the dimming light. Daylight fades faster in the autumn. She should hurry home before darkness fell. The forest was not a safe place in the dark. A pack of wolves roamed close by, and there was always the danger of bandits.

Stretching, Helgha heard a blackbird scrabbling in the leaves under a small bush. A squirrel chattered at her from high in the tree above, angry at her presence. No untoward sounds penetrated the air.

Then she heard the swishing sound of footsteps in the dead leaves that had fallen from the trees. She whirled round, her ash blonde hair whipping her face.

Helgha knew no one from her village would come from that direction. This path led deeper into the forest, and all the villagers would be at home by now. Could it be a bandit? Strangers were to be wary of.

Concentrating, she heard a voice muttering, but the words were unclear. Who was this person speaking to? Did it mean more than one person approached? She looked at the shadows of the trees. They had lengthened further. They would help to hide her, but it meant her walk back to the village would be in near darkness.

A man leading his horse appeared from around a bend in the road. He murmured to the animal, who limped as if it had hurt its leg. Seeing the stranger, Hegha backed towards the bushes at the edge of the track. She hoped to make herself invisible, but his eyes turned towards her, the movement giving her away.

“Hey,” he called. “Can you help me? I’m lost.”

Helgha backed further into the bushes looking for somewhere to run. Perhaps the narrow animal track behind her would lead her to a wider one where she could make her escape. The man called again.

“Stop, please. I won’t hurt you, I promise. I only want to find a way out of this endless forest and back on the road to Jorvik.”

Helgha stopped. She could not go any further. A large bramble bush prickled her back, its thorns penetrating the woollen cloak she wore.

The man dropped the horse’s reins and walked towards where he saw Helgha before she pressed into the bushes.

“I understand why you’re afraid. I know strangers can be scary.” He smiled, making his grey eyes light up. “My name’s Erik.” He stopped walking and continued. “I’m assuming there’s a farm or a village ahead and that’s where you’ve come from.”

Helgha stepped out from the bramble bush. She had to wrest her cloak free from the wicked thorns trying to pull her back. The man had seen her, so it was no use pretending she was not there. Anyway, she could go no further.

“My home is a few minutes away.”

“Will you help me find a way out of the forest?”

Helgha looked at the man. He was tall and had light brown hair, a beard and a long moustache as did most of the Danish men. His clothes looked of a good quality and an expensive brooch pinned his cloak. She felt an unaccustomed feeling in her stomach, as if a hundred butterflies had taken flight. He was about eighteen years old. A few years older than herself.

He’s not a beggar, nor even a poor man. and he’s got a friendly face. A handsome face. And he’s lost.

Deciding she ought to help him, she nodded in answer to his question and began walking along the road, beckoning Erik to follow her.

He pulled his horse forward, and it shook its head as if in denial before beginning to follow.

Helgha walked over and patted the animal talking gently to it.

“She’s hurt.”

“Yes, she tripped over something. I hope she’s not done too much damage to her leg. She’s a good horse.’

Helgha smiled at her companion.

“Father will have a look at her when we get home. Have you walked far?”

“It seems like hundreds of miles,” Erik replied, “but it’s probably only a few.”

“How did you come to be lost?”

“A group of us went out hunting, then Stjarna tripped. The others went on and I started back towards Jorvik. We had ridden into a part of the forest we didn’t know. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.”

“You must have done. We’re almost a day’s journey from Jorvik.”

“No wonder I felt I’d walked for weeks. I must have gone in completely the wrong direction.”

They continued to walk along the forest road that wound between tall trees, mainly oaks, with bramble and bracken growing beneath the canopies. The leaves had begun to turn a yellow-gold and many had dropped to form a carpet beneath their feet. They swished like the sound of waves invading the beaches as their feet and hooves passed through them.

Helgha sniffed the air. A familiar scent reached her nose. This time of year fungi grew in abundance and people used them to flavour their stews

“Wait a moment,” she said, and rushed off towards a fallen tree trunk where she picked some mushrooms from its bark.

“These are good to eat. Mother will be pleased to have them.”

She continued walking, looking back to see if he followed her.

After a little while, the ground began to rise and the forest thinned. Soon the trees stopped altogether. Ahead they saw a cleared area round the top of the little hill. Fields surrounded the village with partially harvested crops growing in them.

As they climbed to the top of the hill a palisade with an open gate appeared This was Helgha’s home. A large longhouse stood in the centre of the village surrounded by smaller ones in the same style. All the houses had thatched roofs and were built of wattle and daub.

“Tie your horse here, Erik, then come into the house.” Helgha pointed to a post next to the palisade.The Dane did as she bade him and followed her into the large longhouse.

The pair entered through a door set in the middle of one of the longer sides of the building. Compared to outside, the house was dark, but their eyes soon became accustomed. A fire pit lay in the centre of the single room. Smoke curled up towards holes cut in the thatched roof. These holes allowed light to enter as well as smoke from the fire to escape. Three boys, all younger than Helgha, sat on a bench running along one side of the house. They were playing some sort of game. A similar bench ran along the other side where three women sat spinning, and weaving.

One end of the longhouse was closed off. Animals shifted around in that space, and occasionally there came the lowing of a cow. At the other end wooden wall closed off another room. A pot stood over the fire and a woman with ash blonde hair very similar to Helgha’s stood stirring it.

The woman straightened and rubbed her back, then she smiled at Helgha and said, “You’re back. Who’s this you’ve brought home?”

“This is Erik. I met him as I started for home. He got lost. He was with a hunting party out from Jorvik and his horse threw him and he became separated from the rest. He was trying to find the road back to Jorvik when he saw me.”

As they talked, the door opened to admit a tall man with light brown hair. He walked over to the fire and warmed his hands. “It’s getting cold in the evenings.” He commented, then he noticed Erik. “Who’s this?”

Erik stepped forward and introduced himself. He told the man how he became lost in the forest and how Helgha had rescued him.

“So, my daughter found another stray. This one’s a bit bigger than most.” He laughed and put his arm round Helgha to give her a hug. “She has a kind heart and always finds something that needs looking after.” He turned to the girl. “You’d better go and see to that little fawn you brought home. He’ll need to go back to the forest soon.”

Helgha turned and, with a look at Erik, setting all the butterflies off in her stomach again, dragged her feet through the door.

Helgha’s father was big and had the look of a warrior. He had a full and bushy beard and twinkling blue eyes that he now turned towards Erik.

“I’ll show you the road to Jorvik tomorrow,” Helgha heard him say as she left for the pen where her fawn lived. “It’s going dark now. Stable your horse with the other animals. Over there.” He pointed to the room that held some cattle and pigs.

Erik thanked him and brought his horse into the stable end of the house, through another door. Helgha’s father noticed the animal’s limp and followed.

“Let me have a look at your animal. She seems to have hurt herself.”

He knelt down and ran his hand down the leg. The mare shifted as he touched a sore spot.

“ I don’t think there’s anything to worry about,” he said. “It’s a bit bruised that’s all. Rabbit hole. was it?”

“Yes. I didn’t see properly. I was too busy getting up and looking where my friends had gone. Then I noticed she was limping, so I couldn’t chase after them.”

Although it was not very near the fire, the stable end of the house was warm due to the presence of the animals. When he had made his horse comfortable, Erik returned to the main part of the house.

Helgha’s father said, “If you’re staying here tonight, I should introduce you to the family.” He laughed. A loud and cheery sound. “I’m Biorn. My wife is Aedelflaed. Helgha you know. Boys, come here,” he called to the three sitting in the shadows. “This is Hartvigg. He’s seen eleven summers. Then there’s Laeff. He’s seen nine summers. Little Sighmund five. Helgha has fifteen, or is it sixteen?. I forget sometimes.”

Aedelflaed shook her head. “Really!” she scolded with a smile at her husband. “She’ll be sixteen in three weeks time. You know that as well as I do.”

“Well she’s fifteen now,” argued her husband, and turned to Erik. “It’s late. You must stay here tonight and tomorrow. Give your horse chance to recover. Then I’ll show you the road to Jorvik. Your friends. Will they be anxious about you?”

Erik laughed. “I expect so, and when they return to Jorvik without me, my father will no doubt punish them before sending them out to find either me or my body.”

When Aedelflaed served the stew, they all sat round eating. Erik’s eyes fell on a shield hanging on the wall opposite him.

“You were a warrior then?” he asked Biorn. “When did you come here?”

“I came with the Great Army. We conquered this area. The Anglo-Saxons were weak fighters. It wasn’t too hard.”

“And you decided to stay?”

“Not straight away. I went back to Denmark. Then I came again. I met Aedelflaed and stayed. The land is good here. Rich and fertile.”

“Many came to settle here,” Erik said. “My own family did. My father also fought with the Great Army and was there when they took Jorvik. He still tells tales of that battle, and how the Anglo-Saxons tried to fight back, and we killed their leader.”

Helgha sat looking at Erik throughout this conversation. She tried to memorise his features. She knew when he left in a couple of days she would not see him again. She thought he was the finest man she had ever seen. He was handsome and tall with the body of a warrior.

He turned to look at her and she blushed. Erik smiled and that made her face heat up even more. The idea that he might know she liked him embarrassed her but why it did she was unsure. She was only a young girl, but she was of marriageable age. Many girls her age were married already.

Her parents would find her a suitable husband, and she would endeavour to be a good wife, but she wanted to remember Erik. She could dream of him at night and imagine his kisses, but only if she could remember exactly how he looked. That was why she had been watching him carefully, remembering how he held his head and threw it back when he laughed. She noted the way he smiled. He loved his horse, too. She saw how he patted it and spoke in a low voice so as not to startle it. Yes, she had enough stored to remember this man who had come so unexpectedly into her life, and just as quickly was going to leave it.

That night as she lay in her bed, she wept in silence for what could not be.

The next day, Erik went to examine his horse’s leg. It seemed less painful when he touched it, but it still made the animal toss her head and snort. He had hoped to be able to leave that day, but he did not want to harm Stjarna, and so he agreed with Biorn to stay one more night.

Helgha watched as Erik tended the animal. She stroked its soft nose and whispered to it as it shifted uncomfortably under Erik’s ministrations. She loved the horse. Its warm smell and brown eyes looking so trustingly at her.

Erik looked up and smiled. “She likes you,” he told her.

“I like her, too. I like all animals, but horses are special.”

Biorn came to speak to Erik. He looked at the horse’s leg and said he did not think Erik should ride her for a few days.

“I need to get back to Jorvik, though,” Erik struggled to stand from his kneeling position next to his horse.

Biorn thought for a moment.

“Well,” he said, scratching his beard, “I could lend you one of mine for a few days until yours is better. I’ll tend her well.”

Helgha could not help the smile that broke out on her face at this. Erik would need to return to get his horse. She would see him again.

Erik rode out later that morning on his borrowed horse and Helgha returned to her tasks, dreaming of his return.

She spent time every day with Erik’s horse. She groomed her and took her apples. Stjarna welcomed the girl with a gentle whicker whenever she came near her. Helgha leaned against her side as she spoke to the animal.

“You are so lucky,” she told the horse. “He’ll come back for you. You’ll be living with him, seeing him every day. When he comes back it’ll be the very last time I’ll ever see him.”

The horse seemed to look at her with sympathy in her brown eyes. Or so Helgha thought as she returned to her tasks.

When Erik returned for his horse, Helgha ran to take her father’s animal and lead it back to the barn. Erik walked with her and smiled down at her.

“How is my horse?”

“She seems to be better,” She did not dare to look at him in case she blushed. She could not let him see her blushes because she would never see him again after today. He had brought her father's horse back and had only come to collect his own and then he would ride away forever.