Usually, Susan and I post the cover and description of a book when we announce that the preorder is live. This time, we’re going to do things a little bit differently, and reveal the cover and description now, as we announce the release date and offer a teaser.
Since we’re changing (sub) genres, it seems appropriate to change things up a bit just in general.
God’s Eye is the first book in The Northwomen Sagas, a historical romance series set in a Viking era. I call it the “Northwomen Sagas” rather than use the more common word, “Northmen,” because I think of this series as about Viking women and the men who love them, instead of the other way around.
Writing these strong, physical women and men and the world they live in has been great fun. We hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as we’re enjoying writing them. At this point, we’re planning the series to be four books.
The relevant dates for God’s Eye:
Preorder begins: 16 March 2016
Release date: 2 April 2016
Here’s the Goodreads page for the book.
Loneliness is all that Brenna has ever known. She doesn’t expect that she will ever even know true companionship, let alone love. People say she was born with the mark of Odin, but Brenna feels it as a curse rather than a blessing. Those who would tell her she is favored by the Allfather are too afraid to look on her; she is apart from her people. Yet she has learned the power of her difference, and turned it to her advantage. She is a shieldmaiden, with a legendary reputation for her valor as well as for her godly gift.
Vali is a giant among his people, well-liked and respected. He is of the Úlfhéðnar, a berserker, one of Odin’s own elite warriors, and one of the fiercest and bravest warriors to wield an axe or spear. He is the Storm-Wolf; his strength and ferocity are his gifts from the Allfather.
Fortune threw the two warriors together when they were but children. Fate brings them together again as warriors when two jarls ally for a raid into Estland. Again and again, Vali seeks Brenna out. He sees her; he sees the woman behind the whispers. More than that, he will not look away.
Vali has not forgotten the debt he owes Brenna from their very first meeting, and in seeking his opportunity to repay her, he finds a lonely, beautiful woman whose quiet strength captures his heart.
But the sagas do not sing of warriors who live quiet lives, or of love that does not know trial and tribulation.
Favored by the gods they may be, but that does not protect Brenna and Vali from the simple and devastating hardships of their lives. Their reputations cannot help them. It is their love that must become their legend.
And, last but not least, Chapter 1, to whet your appetite:
Brenna shrieked and leapt forward, over the body of the Estlander who’d just fallen to her sword. The ground all around her was littered with bodies. The liquid heat that always filled her joints and muscles in a fight throbbed and surged. She had known that frantic fire since before she’d ever picked up shield or sword, and she had come to know it as bloodlust. Battle rage.
The raiding party had landed too close to the site of an earlier raid and had had to move inland to find spoils worth taking. The Estlanders, broken and weary as they were from fighting the raiders and losing, again and again, were yet putting up a vigorous fight. They’d had time to prepare during the raiders’ inland trek. But they were villagers, with not enough warriors to combat the seasoned party. Only a few were left on their feet, and the dirt had gone muddy with the blood of their dead.
“SHIELD WALL! SHIELD WALL!”
Brenna heard the call and abandoned her charge, turning instead toward Calder, the raid leader, and running to take her place with her fellows. As she ran, she saw a second wave of resistance charging into the village. Reinforcements—soldiers, dressed all alike, so they were from a nearby lord. Men who were trained, who were fresh, who had not been fighting nonstop while the sun moved through the sky toward midday. With that quick, running glance, Brenna knew that there were considerably more fresh soldiers than there were wearying raiders.
That a lord would send his men in such quantity against their war band told Brenna that they had trekked close to the seat of his power. In her experience, lords considered the villages on the edges of their territories expendable—distractions that kept the raiders occupied and away from the true treasure. She had wanted to trek inland for some time, but Jarl Åke and his sons preferred the easy pillage of the shores.
Brenna had never argued otherwise. She avoided attention to every extent she could, preferring to let her sword and shield speak for her.
She locked in with the others just as a volley of arrows flew into the sky and then thundered down onto their heavy alder shields. Then another volley rained down. An arrow slammed into Brenna’s shield and made her arm sing. And then the new warriors charged, trying to break through the wall.
At the command, Brenna dug into her crouch and locked her shoulder. The impact of the mass of men falling on them at once was great, but the wall was not moved. Unshielded berserkers, men who fought with no protection but their weapons and their inner fire, leapt up and brought their axes down on the bodies of the men trying to breach the shield wall.
A space was opened in the wall, and another shieldmaiden slammed her axe into the face of a soldier who’d lost his helm.
They closed the wall over his dead body, and the berserkers leapt up again, slamming brutal blows down on the soldiers, breaking pointed swords with mighty axes.
Again, Calder, Jarl Åke’s eldest son, shouted, “OPEN!” just as the soldiers surged. At least ten soldiers fell into the breach and were surrounded by raiders as Calder shouted and the wall closed again. Brenna came face to face with a soldier no older than she. She saw terror in his eyes—and shock that he faced a woman.
And then she shoved her sword up, into the soft meat under his chin, and his eyes died with the rest of him.
When the odds were more balanced, the shield wall came apart, and raiders and remaining soldiers fought freely. Brenna yanked the arrow from her shield as she leapt backward, clear of the scrum. It was to a shieldmaiden’s benefit to let her foe see she was a woman; whenever they fought across the sea, there was always the surprise that caused a missed step, some hesitation, something that gave her the upper hand.
Her own people expected women to fight. These savages kept their women weak and helpless, using them like little more than broodmares.
One of the soldiers surged toward her as she jumped away, bringing his sword forward with skill and intent. He barely blinked when he saw her face, and she barely managed to block the sword aimed at her neck. She did, though, throwing her shield up, and the force of her block surprised him. Using the half-second of his surprise, she slammed her bare head into him, catching his chin and mouth. His teeth opened her forehead, and her vision ran red with her own blood. As he reeled, she stepped out, bringing her longsword around in the way her father had taught her years before, and slashed the soldier across his back.
Unlike the villagers they’d been fighting, the soldiers wore mail, and her blow injured this one, but not mortally. He fell, and she raised her sword for the killing blow—
—and was knocked to her knees, her breath gone, by a blunt blow at her back. She spun on her knees, forcing air into her lungs, through the pain, and tried to bring her sword up, but there were two soldiers on her now, and one of them blocked her while the other hit her again, in the head this time, with his iron shield.
Her vision fragmented into shards, and she fell back, unable to make her body move. Her shield fell from a hand that had gone slack. With the sense she had left, she prepared to meet the gods in Valhalla.
At her first chance, she would ask Odin if indeed she had been given the eye that he had sacrificed for wisdom, and, if so, why. Because she had not, in all her twenty-one years, felt a power worthy of such a gift.
She had, however, felt its burden every day of her life.
And then a great roar split the air, and both soldiers fell dead, toppling over to their sides like felled trees. In the space they had left stood a bare-chested giant. A fellow raider. A berserker, soaked in blood, a bearded axe in his hands, dripping gore.
She didn’t know him by name; he was not of her clan. The jarl she served had allied with another for this raiding season, and they had all converged on the day they’d embarked. This man raided for the other jarl.
He turned and killed another soldier who had advanced on them, then leaned down, holding out a massive, blood-drenched hand. She took it and let him pull her up, closing her eyes until the world stopped spinning.
When she opened them again, he was staring down at her with bright blue eyes, and the world around them had gone quiet. She looked around—the soldiers and villagers were dead or captured. The air stank of blood and offal. The man she’d wounded moaned, struggling to his knees; she drove her sword into his back and ended his struggles.
The berserker had not released her hand, and Brenna turned back and found him yet staring down at her. His face was bathed with blood, it dripped thickly from his beard, and his blue eyes glowed in that dark mask. She pulled her arm, but he seemed unwilling to let her go.
It did not occur to her that he wanted her as a woman; no man ever had. Her eye and its supposed origin held them all at bay, even the men acclaimed for their brash courage. None would take the risk that they might be ensorcelled.
But the berserker wanted something.
“Thank you,” she said, deciding it must have been that. She pulled her arm again, and this time he let her go, so it must indeed have been thanks he was after. Her hand freed, she wiped the blood from her face and bent down to claim her shield.
“You are Brenna God’s-Eye,” he answered. As if she didn’t know.
She nodded and walked away from him. There were spoils to collect.
They made camp deep in the woods, and Calder sent out a party to scout for the lord’s hall. Though they had killed most of the villagers, Calder had ordered several of the women, three young men, and one of the soldiers be held captive: the soldier for information, and the young men for labor. And the women to service the raiders.
Raiders after a battle were a wild lot. Brenna understood the fiery need for violent release that didn’t simply end when the targets ran out. She felt it, too. Other shieldmaidens might mate with a comrade, if that was their wont. It wasn’t possible for Brenna, and she didn’t know if she would have partaken even had it been. The rutting she saw was brutal and vile, even among comrades, and it stirred her not at all.
As the men fell upon the new slave women, Brenna stood and walked into the woods, her sword and her shield on her back. She closed her mind to the screams and wails behind her and walked until she heard them no more.
The women were captives. They were slaves, with no rights to any possession, not even of their own bodies. She understood the ways and laws of her people.
But she hated it. Killing in a raid, she understood. She had killed women and men both. She had killed priests and shopkeepers, soldiers and farmers, rich and poor. The violence of a raid fed something in her that was always hungry.
Plundering villages, she also understood. Such were the spoils of victory.
But she had once been a slave. She could understand killing another human being, but she would never understand treating one as anything less than a human being. Ways and laws be damned.
Keeping her eyes and ears sharp for trouble, she followed the stream they’d camped next to until the water began to burble noisily and then rush. She preferred busy water to still; she could not see her reflection in water rushing past. She always seemed to get caught in the reflection of still water, and she hated it.
She had had occasions to look into a glass; she had done so only once. What she had seen had upset her too much ever to look again.
Not because her eye was so terrible, but because it wasn’t.
All she had seen, peering into the glass, was a girl. A blonde girl with long, wild hair trained into thick braids. A girl with one clear blue eye and one eye that was more than that. She had seen brown and green and blue and even yellow in her right eye. The brown seemed to cross through the center and radiate out in lines across the bottom, like the roots of a tree.
She understood why people said what they did.
But it was just an eye. The head it was in was the head of a girl. A shieldmaiden making her name, but no more nor less than that.
And yet, she was alone and would always be, because everyone else saw Yggdrasil in her eye. They saw the world tree. They saw the world, and they said it was Odin’s eye she bore.
It would have been easier to bear if it had frightened her, too.
So she stayed away from her reflection and let herself imagine it was much more terrible than it really was.
It was a waterfall she had heard—just a small one, about as tall as two men, but the water rushed over the top with force. She approached the bank just downstream and prepared to wash her face and hands.
Then she noticed a shadow in the fall and realized that she was not alone. She brought her hand to the hilt of her sword and froze, and scanned the area for others.
But for the body in the waterfall, she seemed to be alone. Her hand still on her sword, she searched the area more closely and saw, on the bank just at the waterfall, soaking in the spray, the leather boots and bearded axe of a raider.
A friend, then. Or at least an ally. Brenna relaxed and moved downriver again, leaving space for privacy. He was no threat to her.
As she washed, stretching out on the grass and pushing her face and then her head into the chill current, she took a long draught of the fresh water. She could feel the fire leaching from her sinews, bringing her calm. A sharp sting reminded her that she had cut her forehead on a soldier’s mouth. It was her only injury, and for that she counted herself fortunate. Five raiders had gone to Valhalla in the fighting with the soldiers.
She pulled back, throwing her head to clear the water from her face, and then sat up, cross-legged, setting her sword and shield at her side.
“You bleed still.”
Brenna jumped and grabbed her sword at the voice so near. Standing a few feet away and behind her was the berserker who’d saved her life. It had been he under the frigid waterfall. He was clean and dripping water, his hair and beard nearly black with wet, and his leather breeches soaked. In one hand was the undyed wool of a rough tunic; in the other, his axe.
Their people were not small people, but this man was nearly a giant. He was tall and broad, muscles like boulders swelling his arms, his chest, his neck, his shoulders. His beard was dark, long, and thick. His head was shorn at the sides, leaving the top to grow long. It had been tightly braided earlier, but now it lay in a loose, wet hank down his back. The skin across his chest and over his shoulders was decorated in elaborate tattoos.
He glanced at her sword hand, gripping the hilt. “I am no threat to you, Brenna God’s-Eye.”
Although she had found a kind of camaraderie among her fellow raiders, people rarely spoke to her one on one, except to give orders, make requests, or negotiate for trade. She spent her winters alone. Brenna didn’t know how to keep company. Not knowing what to say next, she said nothing. She dropped her hand from her sword and turned back to the river, expecting him to walk on.
He did not. Instead, he sat down at her side. “I can make a paste that will stop the blood and make the scar less. The herbs here are not so different from home.”
She was about to protest that the wound was not so bad, when blood dripped from her brow and landed low on her cheek. The river water had opened it again. She wiped the blood away and said nothing.
Undeterred by her reticence, he opened the bundle of his tunic, in which he had a collection of mosses and flowers. Brenna recognized some, but she knew little of healing. She had diligently avoided learning any of that, always fearing that she’d somehow end up the crone in the woods her mother had meant her to be.
He tore pieces of some and then scooped up mud from the bank and mashed it all together, softening it with water. When he turned and brought his hands toward her face, meaning to touch her, Brenna flinched back, and he paused. But he did not drop his hands.
“I mean you no harm. Did I not save your life today?”
He had. With a deep breath for calm, she remained still and let him smooth the paste on her forehead. It was cool and soothing, and she closed her eyes, trying to remember when she’d last been touched so gently. She could not.
“You saved me once,” he said, close enough that she felt the breath of his words on her face.
Brenna opened her eyes and met his. She was sure that she had never raided with him before, and she was sure she had not saved him today. She furrowed the brow that he was tending.
“I think not.”
He smiled. And then he stuck his tongue out at her.
She was about to pull away, offended, when she saw a small nick in the side of his tongue.
The boy in the woods, all those years ago. The first time she’d ever felt the fire of battle rage. That, she remembered, and remembering, she recognized his bright blue eyes.
But he had been like all the others—fearful, even as she gave him aid.
“You were afraid of me.”
His ministrations completed, he sat back, then leaned to the river and washed his hands in the clear water. “I was young and stupid and under the thumb of a stupider man. I’m sorry for that.”
“Why? Everyone is afraid. I am Brenna God’s-Eye.”
“You are. And a magnificent eye it is. Why be afraid of a gift like that? It seems to me a great honor.”
Again, Brenna looked away, turning her attention to the water before them. She didn’t want it to be true. It wasn’t true. She was nothing special, and she didn’t want to be. They said her valor as a shieldmaiden came from her eye. It did not. It came from her heart. She wasn’t magical; she was strong.
But none of that mattered. People believed what they wanted to believe. Brenna sighed. There had been a moment, just a flash, when she’d felt something new with this man. He’d treated her like a person. But he was the same as the rest, even if he no longer feared her.
A small fish jumped out of the current, flipped, and fell back. She had a thought that she would go back to camp for a fishing spear.
“You saved me. More than my tongue. I left that day and never returned, and my life has honor it would never have known had I stayed. I wanted you to know that. I wanted to give you thanks. I am Vali, and I am at your service.”
With that, he stood, picked up his bundle and his axe, and headed back to camp.
©2016 Susan Fanetti