path of flattened grass. She got up and ran to the top of the hill, and over the crest, shouting out in surprise as she saw the little fire.
A man stood up from beside it. He was small, squat and dark with a broad-bladed knife in his hands.
‘ Chakhlyk? Volkodlak. Lycos? Lupus? ’ She recognised the last two words. Wolf. He came forward, the big knife raised.
She thought of that terrible dream, and of the man who had tried to protect her, who had been a wolf, and also of the thing in her visions, that had said that it loved her. The thoughts never settled to make any sense, but perhaps it was her sensitivity that let her see the connection between the stout little man in front of her and the tall wolfman who had fallen fighting for her. Whatever, she was at his mercy.
She said in Latin, ‘I am Lady Aelis of the Franks, line of Robert the Strong, sister to Count Eudes. I am pursued by Normans and will offer great reward for any that help me.’
The man gave a smile big as a tear in a sheet.
‘You?’ he said. ‘Lady, I was sent on a delegation to meet you here.’
‘By whom?’ She put her hand to her hair, trying to cover it.
There were noises from back down the hill – barking and the cries of men.
‘Prince Helgi of the Rus.’
‘Then, in honour of your prince, can you preserve me? I can’t outrun them. Can you hide me?’ said Aelis.
He stepped towards her and put the knife up to her throat.
‘I am not afraid to die,’ she said.
‘Well, I hope there won’t be any need for that,’ he said. ‘With your permission, lady?’ And then he cut off a huge hank of her hair.
5 Voices in the Dark
The battle in the church had ended. The Vikings had driven the Franks outside and slammed shut the door but now they were trapped. From within, the confessor could hear the Franks assembling in the street, hear their excited cries.
‘They’re inside! They’re inside! We have them.’
The words of the psalm came into his head unbidden, but he would not say them out loud.
‘Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.’
That was in him, to call up the god of the Old Testament, the powerful, protecting, avenging god. Instead, he thanked the Lord for his trial and prayed that the heathens might come to Christ’s peace before they died. God’s will, he thought, was all-encompassing and to complain or show weakness before life’s trials was to rail against Him. If things were so, it was because He wished them to be so.
Around him the Vikings were talking. He knew enough of their language from previous sieges and from more peaceful meetings to understand them. The confessor’s ability with languages was remarkable. Norse had come to him as easily as if he had been raised speaking it.
‘We’re stuck in here.’
The confessor could hear the Norsemen pacing around.
‘How many dead?’
‘Of us, none, I think. No one here anyway that I can see. Has anyone got a candle or some reeds?’
‘Sigfrid’s men? How did they do in the fight?’
‘Four. Well, I think it’s four, it’s difficult to tell in here.’
‘It can’t be four. Only four followed us in.’
‘I know. Doesn’t say much for the skills of the king’s warriors, does it?’
‘One of them had a decent sword, though.’
‘You can’t have that, Ofaeti. If his kin see you with it there’ll be trouble.’
‘You’re right. For them.’
Ofaeti. The confessor recognised it as a nickname. ‘Fatty’ was the nearest translation.
‘You’ll have to give it back. I can hardly see in here. Are you not wearing any trousers or shoes?’
‘I’m not, no.’
‘Thank Thor it’s dark, then. Why not?’
‘I was just about to treat one of the camp ladies to the benefit of my expertise when Crow-Arse went up the wall. I didn’t think you’d appreciate it if I stopped to get my finery on before I followed you.’
‘She stole your