Storm of Steel
The Bernicia Chronicles: Book #6
By Matthew Harffy
AD 643. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the sixth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles.
Heading south to lands he once considered his home, Beobrand is plunged into a dark world of piracy and slavery when an old friend enlists his help to recover a kidnapped girl.
Embarking onto the wind-tossed seas, Beobrand pursues his quarry with single-minded tenacity. But the Whale Road is never calm and his journey is beset with storms, betrayal and violence.
As the winds of his wyrd blow him ever further from what he knows, will Beobrand find victory on his quest or has his luck finally abandoned him?
Beobrand had never known such terror and misery before that foul night.
His stomach clenched and heaved, but all he could manage to bring up was a thin string of spittle and bile. He hawked and spat into the leaden, opaque waves that caused the ship to list and roll.
The storm had caught Háligsteorra’s master ill-prepared and too far from the shelter and safety of land and they had been buffeted and blown far out into the North Sea. They had lost sight of their escort as the sky had grown bruised and full of anger. Sharp flickers of lightning had lit the white-fretted waves and the terrified faces of the men who clung to the fragile timbers of the ship as the furious sea crashed over its wales and thwarts. The winds had made the taut ropes thrum and the mast bend, despite the sail having been furled and secured.
To start with, Beobrand had looked to the master, an old, leathery-faced man who exuded confidence and experience, and had believed such a veteran seaman must surely know how to deal with the squall. But, as the wind-lashed, wave-soaking night had dragged on and after one hapless sailor, a young lad that had reminded Beobrand of Tondberct, had been washed overboard, to disappear into the dark ocean without so much as a scream to be heard over the roaring ire of the storm, Beobrand’s faith in the captain had waned. The ship had begun to rapidly fill with water and all of them had bailed out as quickly as they were able. More than once, Beobrand had puked into the hold as he had scooped the chill water out and flung it over the side.
Utta and the other Christ priests and monks lent their own energies to the task of trying to keep the vessel afloat. Utta even led them in prayer to their nailed god. Before he became overcome with sickness, Utta produced a flask of oil that he said had been given to him by Abbot Aidan of Lindisfarena.
“Our Father of the Holy Isle foretold this storm,” Utta said, his face white and his voice tremulous. “He told me to pour this oil upon the troubled waves and all would become calm.”
Everyone paused to watch as he trickled the holy oil over Háligsteorra’s side. But nothing happened. The wind continued to rock the ship terribly and the cold waters still sluiced over the sides.
Coenred smiled at Beobrand, perhaps trying to show he wasn’t scared. But his pallid skin and pinched features told the truth of it. He was fearful for his life and Beobrand thought no less of the monk for it. He had stood in the gut-spilt, stench-filled clamour of shieldwalls and had faced great swordsmen in deadly combat, but he was terrified, sure that this wind-tossed sea would send them all to their doom.
The Christ neither listened to the monks’ supplications nor paid heed to the magical oil. The storm did not abate and they were tossed about on the surface of the sea like a twig thrown into a rushing stream. The skipper wrestled with the steerboard until it came adrift from the frame that attached it to the side of the ship, leaving them adrift, at the mercy of the elements and the gods.
Beobrand pulled a large chunk of hacksilver from his pouch and threw it far out into the darkness. It winked as a flash of distant lightning caught it and then it vanished. He hoped that was a good sign and that the gods of the ocean had accepted his offering. Muttering the words so that none could hear over the raging torment of the night, he offered the gods the silver and the life of the boy who had looked like Tondberct. The boy was already dead, but perhaps his could be a sacrifice that would save his shipmates.
Whether it was Woden and his children, or the Christ god who responded to their desperate pleas, Beobrand knew not, but as the dawn painted the horizon like an iron sword blade, the storm’s vehemence fled. The waves began to lessen in their ferocity and Beobrand believed, for the first time since dusk, that they might actually survive.
“Sails ahoy!” shouted a voice and Beobrand pushed himself up from where he had been leaning over the side of the ship.
Peering into the early morning gloom, Beobrand at first saw nothing but endless foam-flecked waves. But then, as the ship rolled down once more into a gully between two peaks of water, he saw three dark-sailed ships cutting through the water towards them. The sail of the foremost ship was a dark blood red. These were not the vessels that had been escorting them southward.
“Those ships mean us no goodwill,” said the skipper. “They be raiders, or I’m a Waelisc man! The gods alone know how they have ridden out that storm.” He spat over the side. He scanned the horizon in all directions and Beobrand followed his gaze. There was no sign of their escort or land.
Beobrand pushed himself up. Bassus reached out his one arm, his right, and hauled Beobrand to his feet. Bassus looked old, his beard and hair rimed with white, as if salt from the sea had dried there. His face was the colour of week-old hearth ash.
“I hate sailing,” the giant warrior growled, “always have. The sea and the sickness is bad enough, now there are pirates too. Why couldn’t we have ridden? You know where you are with a horse.”
“Yes,” replied Beobrand, pausing to spit once more to clear his mouth of the sour taste of vomit, “for we never get attacked when we are on land, do we, old man?”
“At least on land we can run away.”
Beobrand raised an eyebrow.
“But we never do, do we?”
Bassus appraised him for a moment, before offering him a thin grin.
“True, but if we get knocked down on land, we don’t sink and drown.”
“Then we must do our best not to get knocked down.”
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Storm of Steel
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The Bernicia Chronicles (6 Book Series)
Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria's Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD.
Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.