Paying the Viking's Price

By: Michelle Styles

Chapter One

Early March 876—North Yorkshire

His land. His and no one else’s, won by his sword arm and given by the grace of his king.

Brand Bjornson knelt down in the dark soil and gathered a handful of sun-warmed dirt. He squeezed it, feeling the richness of the earth between his fingers. After more than a decade of war and fighting, this, this was all he dreamt about—land to put down roots and to create his own piece of paradise on earth.

Finally. Instead of a landless mercenary whose only future was a quick death, he was now a jaarl with a large estate to prove it. Halfdan, once the leader of the felag to conquer Northumbria and now his king, had kept his word and given him worthwhile land, one of the finest estates in all of Northumbria.

Brand gave a wry smile as the rich loam coated his hand. Honouring a long-ago promise was a rare thing in Viking politics where allegiance and alliance shifted on the point of a sword or the jangle of a money bag.

He stood and surveyed the gently rolling hills where the new spring grass had started to push through the dry hassocks of winter. A river meandered. And it was all his as far as the eye could see. He’d fought hard enough for it, from Byzantium to the wilds of Northumbria. He’d earned it and he would be a good overlord. He’d encountered enough poor ones to last a lifetime.

‘Do we burn the empty barns and teach them a lesson?’ Hrearek, his comrade-in-arms and sworn sokman asked, nodding towards where the various ramshackle buildings stood. ‘There are rich pickings here which they are trying to hide from us with their lack of cattle, sheep and horses. Always the same, these Northumbrians. Same tricks and attempts at deception. They think we’re stupid because we don’t worship the same god as they do or have the same customs but I can sniff out stores and gold from ten paces. And this place has them, despite what they claimed.’

‘We’ve come to settle, not to raid. My sword time is over.’ Brand stood and wiped his filthy hand against his trousers. There was more than a faint hint of spring in the chilly March breeze. His face was towards the future, rather than his blood-soaked past. Reborn and renewed, he would remake this land to suit his needs. ‘It is time to plant and grow crops. They will learn it is wise to be on the right side of their overlord. Once they know me, they will be glad to have me as their jaarl.’

‘And you think they will give in like that?’ Hrearek snapped his fingers. ‘This was the heartland of the rebellion. They need to be taught a lesson which they will not soon forget.’

‘They have no choice. The rebels lost. My sword dispatched their leader and saved your life.’ Brand shrugged. War, when it came down to it, was merely a game. Afterwards, the winner had everything. It was the way of the world and the Northumbrians knew it. It was why they’d rebelled rather than accepting that they had lost all of their power when the Norsemen defeated their fathers and brothers in Jorvik ten years ago. ‘Halfdan is their king. Any rebel will be punished and their land taken.’

‘And will you marry? Send back home for the lovely Lady Sigfrieda? You have spoken so much about her.’

Brand looked up in the clear blue sky. Once the thought of winning Sigfrieda’s hand had driven his every move, now he had not thought about her in months. He’d been too busy helping to put down the rebellion and finally winning his land. He struggled to remember her face, beyond the dazzle her golden hair had given in the candlelight, and how regular her features were. She would be the perfect demure wife for him. Together they would breed strong sons.

‘That is the plan.’ He fingered the scar on his neck, remembering how he’d been turned away, bloody and beaten from his father’s house as his father lay dying. Then he’d been known as the bastard son of a cast-off mistress who dared speak his mind. ‘Once I’m settled, I will send word to her father. If fortune favours me, the lovely lady will be here before the autumn makes the passage difficult. I need sons to make sure what I have done is not written on the wind.’

His sokman nodded, accepting the statement at face value. Hrearek was not a friend, but rather a companion-in-arms and didn’t need to know the full history. ‘I’m impressed. You never falter or waver in your schemes. You are an inspiration, Brand Bjornson. I can only hope that fortune will favour me in the same way. By Frieda’s bower, I too would like a woman to open her thighs and bear me sons.’

‘My dream kept me alive on the blackest of days. Now it is time to live it.’ Brand gestured towards where the Anglo-Saxon hall stood, proud and defiant. The occupants were to learn a powerful lesson about who controlled this land.