17 October 2013

Excerpt Thursday: The Circle of Ceridwen by Octavia Randolph

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Octavia Randolph whose novel, THE CIRCLE OF CERIDWEN, is set in 9th century England during the Viking incursions of the Anglo-Saxon countryside. Join us on Sunday, when the author will offer a free copy of The Circle of Ceridwen to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb:

Saxon against Viking.  Christian against heathen. The clash of sword and spear in war-torn 9th century England.  A courageous young women risking all to live - and love.  Enter the Circle of Ceridwen...

The year 871.  Of seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, five have fallen to the invading Vikings.  Across this war-torn landscape travels fifteen-year-old Ceridwen, now thrust into the lives of the conquerors. Her divided loyalties spur her to summon all her courage - a courage that will be sorely tested as she defies both Saxon and Dane and undertakes an extraordinary adventure to save a man she has never met.

Book One in The Circle of Ceridwen Trilogy

**An Excerpt from The Circle of Ceridwen**

In this excerpt from Chapter Nine, Ceridwen is travelling with her new friend Ælfwyn, her maid Burginde , and some thegns (warriors of Ælfwyn’s father’s)to the fortress of Four Stones, where Ælfwyn  will wed the Danish jarl, Yrling. Here they are met on the road by the band of Danes who will escort them to their new home.

At midday we stopped by the first of many small lakes, and after we had rested, the thegns went to the second waggon and opened it.  They brought out three helmets, of iron covered over with bright brass so that they glinted; and these they put on, and mounted their horses, and we went off.  This was the first time I had seen them wear their helmets, and as I watched the lead thegn with his spear across his saddle and his sword sheath uncovered by his cloak, I knew that they thought at any time to be met by the Danes we sought.

In the waggon we three began to prepare ourselves as well.  Burginde straightened up the baskets, and put away into chests stray things we had been using.  I unfolded my leathern satchel, and placed into it those things of mine which I had out, as if I was going away.  

Ælfwyn shifted from bench to bench; looked out the flap, back at the contents of the waggon, and then outside again.  Then she spoke.  "They may not come for days."

To which Burginde answered, never stopping her work, "And they may come in an hour."

Ælfwyn spoke again.  "What if they come by dark, when we are asleep?"

"They will not spring upon us," replied Burginde.  "They value their lives."

There was little else we could do to prepare, but speaking of the coming meeting and doing the slight tasks we could was enough.  We sat together in the waggon, looking out at the thegn before us, watching his watchfulness.

That afternoon the land began to rise again, and the Cæsar's Road began to show more ruts.  Then the land went down, and there was marsh of rushes and willow and hazel.  And the wind now came from the North, and tho' the Sun was still bright, it grew cold, and we closed the flap up against the damp wind.

At one point we heard the splash of water as the oxen plodded through it, and Burginde pulled open the flap and we saw the road was nearly fallen away into the marsh.  She closed the flap and grumbled, and wondered aloud where we would find dry land to make our camp, for it was drawing on to dusk.  We piled more charcoals into the brazier, and Ælfwyn and I put on our mantles against the cold.

We sat together in silence on one of the benches, warming our hands at the brazier's glow.  Then the waggon stopped again, but instead of hearing Osred coaxing the oxen, we heard no voices.  Burginde moved to open the flap, but Ælfwyn stopped her with an upraised hand.  We sat, listening with intent, and heard at first nothing but the dripping of marsh water off the bottom of the waggon, and the flapping of the oxen's ears as they shook their heads.

Then we heard the voice of the chief thegn, loud and calm.  "Come forward, and show yourselves."

Burginde moved once more to the flap, but again Ælfwyn stopped her, and held a finger to her lips, bidding her be quiet.  I feared the pounding in my heart must surely be heard by all outside, and felt my eyes starting in my head.

We heard then some movement of horses and jingling of bridles that told us more horsemen stood before us in the road.

The thegn spoke again.  "Toki, you have found what you search for.  This is the tribute of Ælfsige to Yrling."

Again we heard the movement of horses, as if they turned before us on the sodden road, but heard no other man.

The thegn spoke again, impatience growing in his words.  "I know it is you, Toki, by your helmet; for I regarded it well when I saw you with Yrling."  The thegn paused, and then went on.  "Perchance I am wrong.  Perchance the great Toki has after all fallen in some squabble amongst his brethren and his better now wears his helmet."

At last we heard an answer, in a broad, flat voice with a strange flute-like tone, but in the tongue of our people: "Toki's better does not live."  And these words were full of contempt.

Toki spoke again.  "You will yield up your swords and spears until you reach Four Stones and are ready to leave again."

Now the thegn's voice was full of wrath.  "We will yield our weapons to no one.  Will you, Toki, break so soon the Peace that your jarl has made?"

There was more speech amongst the Danes, and movement of horses, and jingling of bridle bits.

Finally Toki spoke again to the thegn.  "We will proceed then to Four Stones," he began, and his voice was free of anger and almost light.  "First we will look in these waggons to be sure that the tribute you bear is not that of more Saxon thegns."

Then we in the waggon knew we would have to show ourselves to these men, and the thought made my throat dry, tho' the thegns of Ælfsige be around us.

We heard a horse move nearer, and Toki's voice call out, "Let us see first what is in this waggon."

And at these words - I think for fear that he would open the tarpaulin flap himself and look in - Burginde grasped the flap ends and thrust out her face to the horseman.

"Ah!" came Toki's voice.  "The bride of Yrling."  Then he spoke to the Danes, and there was much laughter amongst them.

Burginde was sputtering in anger, but she still held the flap closed tight about her face so we could not see out, or they, in.

Toki spoke again.  "Perhaps not.  Perhaps this waggon carries another Lady."

As one gesture Ælfwyn and I pulled our hoods up over our heads, as if they could in some slight way shelter us from the gaze of this man that was waiting outside.

We heard the thegn's voice.  "Lady, show yourself so we may cut short this sport and be on our way."

Ælfwyn drew a breath and clasped my hand, but said in a firm voice, "Burginde, open the flap."

Burginde drew back her face, then stood and pulled open the flap as far as it would allow.  The day was fading fast, and the horsemen before us were silhouetted against the failing light.  There were four Danes, the one closest mounted on a large grey horse of great worth.  He wore a ring tunic such as the thegns wore, but across his chest was a baldric and sheath of magnificence, for the belt itself was worked all over in bronze bosses, and the sword hilt gleamed with gold.  On his head he wore a helmet of iron, covered over with thin copper or gold foil, polished very bright, so that in the setting Sun it fairly flamed.

He looked down at us, and then pulled off his helmet and held it under his arm, and his long yellow hair fell down in two braids upon his shoulders.  We saw that he was young, and had a face that bore no scar; and I thought him very handsome, but very cold; for his eyes were bright with greed, and his lip twisted in a smile that was filled with scorn.

His gaze moved from Ælfwyn to me, and back again, and though she cast down her eyes at his glare, I felt anger, and would be as brazen as he, and kept my eyes fixed upon him, look tho' he might.

He spoke at last.  "You Saxons are generous.  You bring two brides to Yrling, of equal beauty." 

The Circle of Ceridwen Book Trailer

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