14 November 2013

Excerpt Thursday: God's Daughter by Heather Gilbert

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Heather Gilbert, whose latest novel, GOD'S DAUGHTER, is set during the Viking Age of exploration and conquest. Join us on Sunday, when the author will offer a free copy of God's Daughter to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb.

One Viking woman. One God. One legendary journey to North America. 

In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a journey to North America. 

But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself--and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart.

Almost five centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their husbands. God's Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga, offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir--daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in North America..

**An Excerpt from God's Daughter**

Hellisvellir, Iceland

The gods only accept what is valuable.
Gudrid repeated this to herself as they hoisted her mother into the tree. Her beautiful mother with the long shining hair, like her own.
Her cousin, Yngvild, touched her hand. Not a word was spoken, from anyone. No one could believe a young mother would die for the required nine-year sacrifice, along with the expected slaves and animals. But the chieftain had ordered it. And the chieftain was her father.
Gudrid's aunt hunched over, sobbing into her sleeves. Uncle Thorgeir did not even look at the tree. He seemed happy to gain more control of her mother’s family farm.
Gudrid clenched her fists on her shift, bunching it so tightly she felt she could rip it apart. She longed to fight the men who would drop the ladder, breaking her mother’s neck. But interrupting a sacrifice to Thor was punishable by death—the immediate death of hanging.
The sprawling, twisted tree loomed like a giant against the gray Icelandic sky, its limbs clutching at the dangling dead animals and people. Gudrid imagined the tree held them back from dropping straight into Helheim. Truly, Mother should go straight to Valhalla for being a willing sacrifice. But only the men who died bravely in battle got to go there, to drink endless mead for eternity.
Her father blew the ram’s horn, and a slave kicked the ladder out. For one second, Father’s eyes glazed over, as if he was far away. Even though he was devoted to Mother, he believed the only way to restore the bounty of the farm, failing since he had charge of it, was to give up the one thing he really cared about.
Mother’s face went slack and lost color. Gudrid was strangely thankful that she did not turn blue, with her eyes bulging, as some of the slaves had. It meant she died quickly, as a perfect sacrifice should.
Gudrid looked around, aware she needed a protector. Even at eleven years old, she understood this. Father had never wanted a girl. Her aunt was too grief-stricken—she would barely be able to care for her own children now, after watching her sister die.
Orm’s sad gaze met her own. He was a neighbor from a nearby farm, on a cliff overlooking the shoreline. His wife, Halldis, was a volva, a seeress who knew magic. Gudrid refused to look at her. She did not want to see the eyes of the woman who had told Father he needed such a significant sacrifice this year.
The last body was hanged, and another volva led a chant with the drum. Since many slaves had been killed, their families began to sing quietly in their own languages. As the words clashed, each group sang louder and louder. It was the only time they sang publicly.
Gudrid felt her insides burning, down to the core, like the volcanoes on this island. Anger and loneliness forced her from her seat. She hated Thor and anything to do with him. She groped for her knife before raising it to her throat. Then she charged straight for her father.
(upper North America)
Circa AD 1000
Chapter One

 Some bulls are just better off dead.
The beast huffs on the other side of the wooden fence. The fence has no permanence, like the rest of the makeshift houses in this camp at Straumsfjord. A stopping place, Finn said, just a place to live until we can search for Vinland. And now we have been here over two years. I hate this empty land as much as I hate this bull.
I grip my seax, its long blade tight against my thigh, and walk toward the bull. Deadly as my knife is, I would be lucky to sink it into the bull's side without being gored or trampled first.
“Get on with you.” Usually my low-toned warning works, at least with the smaller bulls my father gave me. But this bull, his reddish hair dropping out in patches, his horns far too long, paws the ground and bellows.
I hold his gaze, stepping backward on the soft grass. We have two pastures here, and one is far too small. The four cows who survived the winter are crowded into the larger pasture, giving this bull his fill of summer grass in his own pen. Even so, he causes no end of trouble when he can’t be with the cows to breed them.
“Don’t move, Gudrid!” Freydis shouts from a tree on the other side of the fence, her red hair gleaming in the afternoon light.
Freydis acts more like a brother than a sister—always prying into my love life, practicing with knives, and climbing up trees. She knows no better, since her father, Eirik the Red, trained her with swords and bows from the time she could carry them. She’s the only family I have here. Her brother, Thorstein the Red, was my second husband for such a short time. Yet even after his death, I remain part of Eirik's family.
What does Freydis have in mind? If I stand still, the bull might charge me. But I won’t let her risk her own life for mine. She is with child, even though she forgets that fact most of the time.
Surely someone in the longhouse at the foot of the hill can hear this bellowing. Surely someone other than my overly confident sister-in-law will protect me.
The bull plods to the fence and rubs his head on it. Maybe he just needs to scratch. But the top board breaks as he pushes heavily against it.
Freydis inches down the tree, her pale legs sticking out beneath her skirts.
The bull charges. Turf rips and boards splinter close behind me. He’s out of the fence. Freydis gives a distracting warrior shout as I race toward the closest maple and scramble up.

About the Author:
Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Sixteen years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective, as well as ten years spent homeschooling her three children. Heather is the ACFW West Virginia Area Coordinator.

You can find Heather at her website, Heather Day Gilbert--Author, and at her Facebook Author Page, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads. You can find God's Daughter here on Amazon.