Viking Queen of Dublin

2024 Young Or Golden Writer
Manuscript Type
Logline or Premise
When a privileged Norse girl is kidnapped and enslaved by Saxons, she must use her wits both to escape and to secure her destiny as the Viking Queen of Dublin.
First 10 Pages



Norse Longphort, Munster, Ireland, 858 A.D.

Sneaking to the river in the thin morning light, guilt sucking at my skin like leeches, I hike my pinafore, kick off my useless clogs, and squelch barefoot through the mud, its rotted-earth stench thick in my nostrils. Beyond the trees dotting the riverbank, morning mist snakes in tendrils around my father’s fleet of Norse longships as they clonk against each other. The elms lining the path to Suri’s cave swish and sway in a moaning east wind, and because I’m looking up, avoiding whipping branches, my foot catches on a tangled root. I lurch forward, and my hem drops into a puddle. Damn Frigg’s tits. I stomp on, properly irritated by how much my mother will snap a finger-wagging lecture at my dirty gown, her words cutting the air like scissor blades, snipping away any small bond between us.

In the tree shadows ahead, a dark-haired man ducks from Suri’s cave. Yrsla the Bitter, one of my father’s oathmen, hurries towards me, his long, elegant face tipped skyward, muttering. His bitterness is shrouded in mystery, much like my mother's aversion to me. Yet, there are whispers that he's heartbroken and seeking solace from Freyja, the goddess of love.

Nearing, he gives me a watery smile. ‘Little Aud.’ His voice is soft.

I scoff. I’ll be fourteen-winters soon, and already I reach his shoulders. ‘Hello, Yrsla. Are you unwell? You’re as white as Maisel’s pasties before they’re cooked.’

He sniffs delicately. ‘I’m fine.’ Gone is his usual bitterly twisted charm. Suri, our vǫlva—a seer and healer—must have given him bad news.

‘Father wants you in the practise yard, and don’t tell my mother I’m here.’ If she finds out how often I visit Suri and bans me, I’ll spit chickens.

Yrsla nods and as we pass, Suri calls from inside her cave. ‘Come, Aud. I must speak with you.’

I wish I could do that—see people without seeing them. Unsettled by her serious tone, hoping she doesn’t have bad news for me, I rinse my feet in the pail of water beside the entrance. When I’m done, I pass beneath a line of animal skulls and am met by the heady almond scent of meadowsweet and … lilac. Fear ripples across my skin.

A bunch of lilacs hang from a closet. I don’t know why the purple blooms affect me, but I know I mustn’t show my fear to Suri. She’s taught me fear is weakness, yet it’s one thing to know it and another to control it.

I force myself to move, to step forward. ‘Good day, Suri.’ Stepping around her seer’s chair carved with Freyja’s cats, I pick up her long silver wand that lies beside a harvest of creamy white meadowsweet on the wooden bench—the flowers of Eir, the goddess of healing, Suri calls them. ‘You’ve been out on the marshes without me. Are we brewing feverbreak today?’

As though sensing my discord, she frowns at me through a thick band of red, painted from temple to temple across her slanted Sámi eyes. ‘No. If the sun deigns to show itself, we’ll dry the flowers to grind into pain powder.’ Amber beads dangling from her woven headband tinkle as she stirs a small cauldron over the hearth in the centre of the jagged-roofed cave. My stomach growls at the smell of venison stew. ‘It thins the blood, so must be used sparingly, or a person can bleed to death.’

Replacing her wand, I store the knowledge, wishing I could write it in a book. Our Christian priest, Brother Tiran, is teaching me to write, but parchment is expensive and hard to come by, so we use bark.

‘May I have some stew? I missed the midday meal since Mother put me to churning butter in the dairy.’ Marriage skills, she calls it. Tedium skills, I say. I rub my thumb across the throbbing, dried lump where a stinging blister on my palm popped when the butter stiffened, blood oozing along the paddle handle. My mother never bloodies her hands with anything she can task a thrall to do.

She nods as a gust of babbling dun wind rattles the skulls hanging across the entrance. At once, Suri is alert. ‘Come.’

Grabbing my arm, she ushers me outside to the riverbank. Worrying her visions and the signs she sees will say I’m not fit to become a vǫlva and must marry, a sticky fear slides over me, made worse by the knowledge of how powerless I am, how I’ve never had a vision, and that’s the one thing I must do to become a vǫlva.

The mud squishes between my toes, the water lapping greedily at my muddied hem as, in the swirling river, two swans disappear between the rushes on the far side. A pair of eagles flying north screech above us.

‘Are they—’

Suri holds up her hand. ‘Wait.’ I wanted to say signs, signs I can’t yet decipher. A white stork flies so low the flap of its wings lifts the hair around my face. She whispers, ‘Two queens lost and made by darkness, the third a daughter hidden.’

A mosquito whines in my ear and I swat it against my cheek.

She sweeps away its corpse and stares at her bloodied fingertip. ‘With blood, she will bring you home on a wild underwind.’

‘Who?’ I raise my brows, but she says no more. ‘It’s irritating when you speak cryptically.’ Our feet make sucking noises as we pick our way between the trees. I long to be like her, to understand the hidden things, to have power. ‘Will you speak to Father? Say I’m to be a vǫlva before he finds me a husband.’

‘You must go through a rite to reach your feminine powers. Pleasure brings a small death, spiritual liberation. Power comes from knowing another can liberate your uncontrolled self. The right other. Not all men are skilled. Only then can you truly understand what you are capable of. Are you ready?’ She smiles, keeping some secret behind her lips.

A grey, clinging fear crawls over me, my female life pressing against my skin like an ill-fitting dress. I’m trapped, betrayed because I was born a girl, and I can’t think how to reconcile this new obstacle, this loathsome, unwanted rite. I’ve seen my father’s men take the thralls in the cowshed or the woods when I’ve gone mushroom picking. The girl’s faces showed no pleasure, no power, only endurance. Perhaps there’s power in endurance, but I detest the path to obtain it. Images flash through my mind of men holding a girl down as she screams, the smell of lilac around me. I blink, dismissing the nightmare, and wipe sweaty palms on my pinafore. I don’t want to remember this.

She grabs my shoulder to steady herself amongst the roots, mumbling something in Lapp, maybe invoking one of her strange Sámi gods. ‘Your fear is strong.’

‘It’s nothing.’ I don’t know if it’s a memory or something I’ve conjured. Or is it a vision? I can’t be sure, so I keep my own counsel. ‘I’m not ready yet. Please, give me a little more time.’ Before she can deny me, I ask, ‘Did Yrsla come for medicine? He was pale. Or frightened, though he’s not usually afraid of you like other men.’

‘Yrsla—’ Stilling, she lets go of me. Her pupils dilate until they swallow the colour from her eyes, and the air, thick and heavy, closes in on me. She draws in her breath with such sharpness, my fingernails jab into my palms. ‘Yrsla will die with your hand on the blade.’

My skin prickles with goosebumps, my fear written on my skin for her to see. ‘Why would I kill him?’ Murder. My mind reels, and I clutch at an answer. ‘Is it by accident?’

She shakes her head as if to clear it. ‘There’s mist, and it’s not for me to say the reason and timing of your path. Only the Norns know.’ Her brows knit together.

It’s the only time I’ve ever seen her doubtful, and it gives me hope. ‘Is it Loki playing his tricks?’

‘There are other forces at work.’ The wind turns black and she sniffs deeply, her face darkening as though a shadow is passing over it. I copy her, inhaling the stench of a dead animal on the marsh opposite. This can’t be a good sign. ‘Go, Aud. Tell your father: tonight.’

Her dismissal cuts, but I won’t let her see it, the way her disregard sweeps me this way and that like a leaf come loose from its branch in a changing wind. I will keep my pain close to myself, hug it tight until I smother it. I school my voice to sound distant, unaffected. ‘See you tomorrow.’

Striding away, my muscles sag with powerlessness, my mind swirling in confusion.

There’s a sound that doesn’t fit, like low thunder. Collecting my clogs, I scramble up the bank and stare, slack-jawed, clutching my pendant of the goddess Eir for reassurance. Not too far west, where a hill bears the only road into our defended seaport, a dust cloud brings a dozen riders—one carrying a rowan branch to signal they come in peace. Freshly severed heads bounce on either side of their saddles, blood dripping down their horses’ flanks.


Twice in the last two years, I’ve seen the man leading—a plaited leather-and-gold band around his forehead—when he came to hire my father and his men for war. He’s the High King of Ireland, ruler of countless lesser kings. According to my mother, the Irish can turn from ally to enemy over the slightest trifle. She means the Irish are not to be trusted, yet half my father’s men are married to Irishwomen and I have never had reason to mistrust them.

Twisting the cloth of my pinafore, the wool coarse between my fingers, I baulk at the thought of my father going to war and leaving me with my mother. She grows snappier when my father’s away, her words pecking at me like a bird with a long, sharp beak. Perhaps, when I was a babe, she was sweet and gentle to me like she is to my sister, but I don’t remember such a time.

Hastening between wooden houses, I fret about Yrsla. If his murder isn’t by accident, why would he need killing, and by me? Loki is probably looking down at me right now, laughing his little trickster-face red. If God is all-powerful, he should intervene when the old gods play their games. To hell with the damned Norns. Picturing those three sisters sitting under Yggdrasil, the great tree holding up the world, I imagine them spinning out the yarns of my life and weaving the tales to be told of me in a way that doesn’t involve murder. If only it were that easy. Unease settles itself like a cloak around my shoulders, and beneath it, I’m unravelling, thread by thread.

The honking of waddling geese startles me just in time to give a wide berth to pigs rooting in a pile of rubbish. I’ve seen them turn nasty on a whim, like men with too much ale, and know to avoid both. Women in their yards, oblivious of the heads that have bounced into our longphort, call to me as they drape laundry over bushes, hopeful the clouds will disappear.

Up ahead, Brother Tiran pokes his tonsured head out the door of his low daub-and-wattle chapel, his freckled face beaming when he sees me. My brother, Helgi, was sent to foster with an Irish king, and when he returned home, he brought the priest with him.

‘Can’t stop,’ I say fondly in Gaelic. He can talk the shine off a sword.

‘The day’s blessings, Aud. Where are you off to, with your skirt on fire?’

‘Savages are visiting, and I carry a message from Suri.’

His face falls at the mention of Suri, and he hastily crosses himself. He tolerates her, but I suspect he would be happier if she didn’t exist.

‘Savages?’ he asks as the distance between us shortens. ‘What do you mean, savages?’

‘The High King.’

He swishes his hand at me, laughing. ‘You really are too much, Aud. Savages indeed.’

‘They have heads swinging from their saddles. What would you call them?’

His hand flies to the cross on his chest. ‘Heads? Good Lord!’ There’s a small pleasure in having shocked him. ‘I have a new book from your father,’ he says as I pass him. ‘A rare translation of Dioscorides into Latin.’

I glance over my shoulder. ‘I can’t wait to read what outrageous miracles he performed.’ Brother Tiran’s books often contain unbelievable stories, like the woman who turns into a pillar of salt in the Holy Book of the New Way.

His voice grows faint. ‘It’s a book on medicine. A Materia Medica.’

I nearly go back. A book of medicine. It’ll have to wait until later. Strange that my father bought such a book for Brother Tiran, but since he can only read runes, I'm guessing the merchant told him it was a religious text. Which it practically is for me.

The clang of swords rings in the air, but it’s only my father’s Irish foster sons—princes of kingdoms surrounding us fostered as a treaty of peace—in the practise yard.

From the dairy annexed to the side of our longhouse, my younger sister, Jorunn, emerges, all sunshine and daisies and pale hair swinging. It’s easy to slot people, things, chores, into the loving-half or the hating-half of my mind, but Jorunn holds the unique position of straddling both, and right now, her silver eyes are fear-wide, so she slips easily into the loving-half.

I catch her hand in reassurance. ‘It’s alright. The Irish come in peace.’

The gatekeeper has let them in, and beside the High King, on a black mare, is a dark-haired, dark-eyed Irish woman dressed in black. A thrill shoots through me at the sword hanging at her side. It speaks of things beyond household chores, and a weapon like that could keep a husband out of the bed.

At the front of our timber longhouse—the length of an oak tree and shaped like an overturned ship hull—my pale-haired father leans cross-armed and nonchalant against the writhing beasts carved into the doorframe, his head almost reaching the thatch roof, his men and my brother spread either side of him. My heavily pregnant mother emerges pinch-faced from the door. She is commanding in a blue wool pinafore, the straps pinned by silverwork brooches connected by a string of amber and green glass beads. Spotting me, her brows lift, and she curls her finger to summon me. I squirm as if she were an irritating burr in my slipper.

‘Come.’ I drag Jorunn forward. ‘Mother wants me, and you shouldn’t stay out here alone.’

As the Irish reign in, their horses snorting and puffing great clouds of breath, my father calls out in Gaelic. ‘Lord King, you come here with blood on your hands and the signs of war.’

‘Jarl Ketill the Fair.’ Grinning, the High King gestures to the heads. ‘This is not war, just a little housecleaning.’

I stumble at his words, and Jorunn steadies me. Kings have a different concept of housecleaning than most people. He’s a nightmare in the daytime.

Our movement catches his attention. ‘Your daughters have grown since I was here last.’

Jorunn mutters something, and I bow my head to him. ‘Lord King.’ I twist a lock of hair around and around my fingers like a fool. What does one say to a severed-head-bearing king? I hope your journey wasn’t too murderous. Would you care for light refreshment after such strenuous slaughter?

A corner of his mouth lifts, and for a moment, I imagine he’s heard my thoughts, but he sweeps a hand toward the sword woman. ‘This is my wife, Queen Lann.’

My father bows. ‘My Lady.’ As Jorunn and I sidle behind my father's men towards the door, my mother whispers to him in Norse. He lowers his head. ‘Say nothing. He’s as likely to turn on us.’

My heart hammers with curiosity and fear at this secret dangerous enough that, if spoken, will set the Irish upon us.

When I reach my mother, she hisses, ‘For Frigg’s sake, Aud, you look like a peasant in that filthy gown. Go tell the thralls to set out ale and food for our guests.’ She flicks my ear and I flinch away from her, clenching my teeth against the sting and humiliation.

‘I have a message for Father from Suri.’ At the mention of Suri, my mother’s lips tighten with a jealousy I’ve never unpicked. I whisper ‘tonight’ into my father’s ear as he keeps his eyes on the Irish, grunting in acknowledgement.

He steps forward. ‘I hope you don’t seek to hire me again. We are to be quit of Ireland soon.’

The floor seems to shift as I step inside, and I freeze. I have never felt my lack of importance more. We are to leave Ireland—my home—and my father, the one person I trust above everyone, who has some regard for me, doesn’t think I’m important enough to tell.