By Paul Bernardi
Publisher: Sharpe Books
Page Length: 240 Pages (paperback)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Hoctune, East Anglia, 1024.
Ulf, son of Lord Bjarke, lies dead - his body ravaged by a sudden sickness that was beyond the skill of any healer.
But Freya - housekeeper to Lord Bjarke and midwife to countless Hoctune women - suspects the hand of Thorgunnr – Ulf’s own stepmother – may be involved; for Ulf stands to inherit his father’s wealth and titles ahead of her own new-born son.
But when Freya confronts her with the truth, Thorgunnr sends her warriors to kill her.
Freya’s husband Sihtric, having survived the infamous battle of Assandun and countless other conflicts, must break his oath to his wife to never pick up his sword again, to fight for Freya’s life.
After narrowly escaping death, Freya and Sihtric seek justice for the slain boy.
Sithric must cross swords with his former shieldwall companion.
A blood price must be paid.
‘A rollicking trip back in time. Blood Price sheds light onto a dark and dangerous age.’
Steven Veerapen, author of the Simon Danforth Mysteries
‘A fast paced, action packed medieval adventure.’
J.A. Ironside, author of The King's Knight series
‘Thurkill’s Revenge, a bravura tale set against the backdrop of the Norman Conquest, presents the exploits of a Saxon bodyguard in cinematic detail.’
Paul Bannister, author of Storm of Arrows
Mary Anne: Welcome to The Coffee Pot Book Club. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Sihtric: My name is Sihtric. I’m not sure how old I am exactly but it can’t be far off fifty winters now. My memory, like many things, seems to fade with time.
Freya: Your hearing – that’s something else that seems to get worse every day. Especially when I ask you to do something for me. How many times have I asked you to fix that door, for example?
Sihtric: And this is my wife, Freya. The love of my life. Without whom I would be nothing.
For many years, I was a warrior in the service of Jarl Bjarke. Fought for him in countless battles in the front rank of the shieldwall. Our shields overlapping, our swords taking their death-toll amongst the ranks of the enemy. Though often wounded, we were never bested.
Assandun! That might be one you’ve heard of. My last battle in fact. A bloody affair that was. Carried on until the sun began to set. Our boys fought themselves to a standstill on the side of that hill, up against Aethelraed’s son, Edmund of the Iron Sides. Though it dragged on for a few weeks, that was the day Knut won the kingdom.
But now I am too old to fight now. My bones creak and my leg hurts where it was once broken. I no longer have the strength to stand for hours, holding my shield in place next to those of my comrades. So now I serve the Jarl as Steward of his village of Hoctune.
Freya: Where you also spend much of your time getting under my feet as well. That is when you’re not off hunting with the Jarl or some other such nonsense. I swear I do most of the work around the place. If it weren’t for me keeping the lord’s hall, managing his kitchen and helping to deliver all the babies, then the whole place would fall apart, I’m sure of it.
Mary Anne: What do you think is your greatest strength?
Sihtric: Honour and loyalty. There’s none that can say I ever shirked my duty to the Jarl. For as long as I have strength to hold Leggbitr in my hand then I will wield her in the service of my lord. I have given him my solemn oath and that can never be broken. Without oaths to bind him, a man is nothing.
Freya: I swear you care more for that sword than you do for me. If you’re not off polishing it then you’re spending hours sharpening it. And all this after I made you promise never to use it in anger again. You should know better at your age, anyway. God knows you can’t sit down without making some god-awful grunting noise, so quite why you keep it, cluttering up our house, I’ll never know.
Mary Anne: Now for some fun questions! Fine dining or a picnic?
Sihtric: That’s a hard question. Can I say both? I like nothing more than to sit under the old oak – the one up in the meadow to the east of Hoctune – on a summer’s day, eating bread, cheese and apples, washed down with a skin of ale. But then, if you’ve not tasted Freya’s fish pie at the lord’s table then you’ve not lived. It’s Jarl Bjarke’s favourite too, and his son, Ulf’s.
[Whispers] I have to say that; what with Freya listening and all. Truth be told, a little more salt would not hurt.
Mary Anne: What is your most embarrassing memory?
Sihtric: I remember it as vividly as if it were yesterday. I was sixteen. Just a beardless boy, in truth. It was my first ever battle, back in the old lands in Scania. Although I had my father and uncle on either side to protect me, I still wet myself in fright. And that was without ever having to land a blow myself for the whole time. I was three or four ranks back from the front, so it was all just a lot of pushing and shoving for me, but I was still petrified, nonetheless.
Freya: You’re not the first and you won’t be the last, husband. You’ve said so yourself many a time. Many poor young boys lose control of their bladders or bowels in battle the first time. Is it not time you put that memory behind you?
Sihtric: Aye, I suppose you’re right, my love. Perhaps it is more the way my brother laughed at me after the enemy were routed. Took one look at the wet patch on my trews and nearly wet himself laughing. And of course, he had to tell the whole village when we got home. All these years later and my cheeks still burn to think of it.
Mary Anne: Describe your perfect day.
Sihtric: There’s no better feeling than heading into the forests in the autumn with my dog, Acwel. For a spot of hunting. All those smells and colours as the land begins to turn from summer to winter.
We usually manage to bag a few brace of rabbits for the pot; though mostly from my snares because I can’t remember the last time Acwel managed to catch one. Every time I think he’s about to succeed, the little tyke disappears down its burrow, leaving the poor hound standing there wondering what happened.
Then, after a fine meal prepared by my wife’s fair hand, it’s off to the tavern to swap stories with some of the other old warriors. What better way to spend the evening than telling tall tales of daring deeds?
Freya: And those tales grow taller with every telling, if you ask me. Though to be honest, your perfect day is also mine. A whole day with you out of my hair? What more could I want?
Though you always manage to spoil it by bringing that damned dog back with the muddiest of paws. Just so I have so scrub the floor all over again.
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx