Rebecca Hazell's The Grip of God, the first novel in an epic historical trilogy, is available on amazon.com and its affiliates and by special order through your local bookstore. The subsequent two novels in the trilogy are scheduled for publication later this year. The saga’s heroine, Sofia, is a young princess of Kievan Rus. Clear eyed and intelligent, she recounts her capture in battle and life of slavery to a young army captain in the Mongol hordes that are flooding Europe. Not only is her life shattered, it is haunted by a prophecy that catalyzes bitter rivalries in her new master's powerful family. She must learn to survive in a world of total war, always seeking the love she once took for granted.
“Kateryna?” I called softly. There was no answer. I crawled out of my furs to waken her. She was gone. Thinking to crawl to my tent flap, I threw my cloak over my shoulders and shakily drew my eating knife from its sheath, but another unearthly shriek threw me flat as something tore through the tent. When I dared to look up, small holes on either wall gleamed like little gray stars. I inched forward to lift the bottom of the flap a little, but at first all I could see was a boot sole. I lifted the flap a little higher.
A corpse lay on its back, open eyes glittering in the moonlight, knees bent and boots before my face, its beard obscuring its features. A stick jutted out of its throat—no, an arrow. I dropped the tent flap back down, gulped air, stared at those holes. Where was Oleg? He shouldn’t leave me alone—Good God, this must be a bandit attack and he must be with his warriors fighting it off! But then Kateryna should not be out there. More shouts, screams cut short. Why didn’t Alexander come for me? Should I go or stay?
It suddenly grew quiet. Oleg’s warriors must be chasing the attackers from our camp. Nonetheless, I hesitated for an eternity, afraid to pass that corpse in case its angry ghost fastened on me. I began to feel both foolish and cowardly. By now Alexander should have come to make sure I was safe—
Dear God, had something happened to him? I awkwardly pulled on my boots, fastened my cloak, and slowly drew aside the tent flap.
At first the light from the half-moon transformed the meadow into glowing silver and deep black shapes, lending an eerie beauty to the camp. But then I truly saw. It was as if a tempest had struck: bodies scattered everywhere with arrows thrusting up from most of them, tents askew, goods spilled. Strange men with torches were moving among the fallen, bending over each in turn. A terrible stench struck my nose, a mixture of that dead man’s bad smell, loosed bowels, sweat, and blood. I looked down at the corpse.
It was Oleg.
Just beyond him lay Kateryna, her arms flung out, a knife in her hand, blood still oozing from a slash across her breast onto the pelt that lay under her like a funeral bed.
“No!” I cried. The world went black.
An iron hand gripped my arm, twisted me around, and pulled me upright. My head cleared, and a stranger stood before me, so like yesterday’s dead man that for a moment I thought it was his ghost. But this man was very much alive. His slanting eyes glinted down at me, his high cheekbones seemed carved of stone. A pointed, plumed helmet covered his head, animal tails dangling absurdly from its sides; metal-plated leather armor covered his clothing. Worst, though, was that foul odor of stale sweat, dirt, and of blood, old and fresh. Not even a peasant stank like that. He grinned at me.
I swung my little knife, but the man-beast knocked it out of my hand with a humorless laugh. Others like him came up, and they all began barking in some hideous dog speech. One of them squatted by Oleg and Kateryna, slit their throats, cut an ear off each as if carving meat for supper, and stowed his bloody relics in a bulging bag.
I’d have fainted again, but the man-beast wrenched me upright into painful clarity as he lifted his sword, smirking. With cunning born of terror, I twisted from his grip and fled. He shouted; within moments a pack of those dogs was so close behind me that I could almost feel their breath on my neck. Rabbit-like, I bounded one way and another, jumping over corpses and dodging felled tents, slipping right past one man, to his dismay and the hoots of his companions, but they rapidly encircled and then closed in on me until I had nowhere to go. I was panting with fear and frustration, and they were laughing!
The circle parted. The warrior who had first found me stepped into it, followed by another with a torch. He glared at me as he marched up, wicked sword in hand, reached out and gripped my arm so hard it nearly broke off, shook me like a rag, forced me onto my knees, yanked my hair up, and raised his sword once again. I closed my eyes, waiting for the sword to strike.
The blow never came.
Rebecca Hazell is an award winning artist, author and educator. She has written, illustrated and published four non-fiction children’s books, created best selling educational filmstrips, designed educational craft kits for children and even created award winning needlepoint canvases.