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Today I picked one of my own titles to share for a change: the last book of the Sons of Alba series is out!

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Son of Courage follows the story of Ealasaid’s son, Uilleam (from Daughters of Alba, book 3: Daughter of Spirit) as he discovers his Viking heritage and follows his Calling to share the gospel.

In the land that would one day be called Scotland, the sons of three sisters find their place in the world …
Heir to his mother’s prophetic gift, Uilleam’s visions send him to meet his father’s Viking people, reveal his mother’s difficult past among them, and spur him across the sea as a missionary.
Kara hungers for more than the old ways of her ancestors, and Uilleam’s new God seems everything she has searched for.
But when the new faith meets opposition in the Viking land, Uilleam and Kara will need all their courage to persevere.
 

The new story is currently available as an ebook for kindle, and will soon be released as an omnibus edition with part 1 and 2 of Sons of Alba.  If you read it and like it, please feel free to post a review. 🙂

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In this last excerpt from Sons of Alba, book 3: Son of Courage, Uilleam baptizes Kara.

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Will’s eyes were on her, flooding her with strength, as she shed her cloak and dipped a toe into the cold water.  It lapped around her bare foot, then her ankle, then the other.  Then her dress dragged into the water, soaking it up, becoming heavy.  She kept her eyes on Will as she felt her way over the mossy rocks and mud with her feet.  
He held out a hand for her as she drew near and she grasped it with white knuckles.  Her dress was unbearably heavy now – if he let go, if she slipped, the weighted folds would drag her deeper until she drowned like the sacrificed man.  The thought of his bones, of centuries of bones in the depths of the pool almost broke her resolve.
But Will smiled at her and courage bloomed in her heart.  
“Kara,” he said, his voice warm, “The first to follow Kristr from among your people, may God bless you for your courage.  I baptize you today in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
He questioned her silently with his eyes and she gave a little nod.  Then his hands were on her shoulders, strong and cool, and with one deft movement, he tipped her.  For a moment her body fought to resist him, but she forced it to relax as she lost her footing and lay back in the water.  The cold shock touched the back of her head, raced up the sides like a thin crown, and closed again over her face. 
Beneath the murky depths, she opened her eyes, held her breath.  It was only a moment, she knew, but it felt like eternity, floating there, suspended between heaven and earth.  She thought of all she had been before – of the old gods, of their grisly sacrifices, of her selfishness and her lonely, aching longing for something more.  Once, for all, she cast it away from her, into the depths with the bones, and at that moment, under the water of the sacred pool, Kara Einarsdoter died.
Then Will’s hands pulled at her, plunging her back into life.  She sucked air into her lungs – had it ever tasted so sweet?  Water ran down her face, pulled her hair back, drained away from her with a rushing splash.  She looked into Will’s face triumphantly.
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Feel free to comment as you like.  And keep an eye on this site, as I’ll be announcing the release of book 3 soon.  🙂

In this latest excerpt from Sons of Alba, Book 3: Son of Courage, Uilleam meets one of his own people who has lived his life as a slave among Vikings.

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Inside the dim building, in the reek of horse dung and fragrant hay, Kara waited for him.  
“You can take this one,” she said, patting the rump of a handsome, sturdy chestnut beast.  “Thrall, saddle our horses … please.”  She added the last with a sheepish smile.  
“It’s a fine animal.”  A thought occurred to him and he paused, his hand arrested in motion toward the horse’s nose.  “This isn’t your father’s horse, is it?”
She laughed and shook her head.  “No.  My youngest brother.  He won’t mind, truly.”
With relief, he stepped closer and let the horse smell him.  The thrall Kara had called, a stable boy of about eight years, approached the stall.  
“That won’t be necessary,” he told the boy.  “I’ll saddle him myself.  Will you please see to the lady’s horse … what is your name, lad?”
The boy blinked, surprised.  For a moment Uilleam thought he might answer with the simple epithet “thrall” but he smiled bemusedly and said, “Coluim.”
“That’s an Albannach name, is it not?” Uilleam looked at him again in surprise.  Indeed, he did have an Alban look to him – more than Uilleam himself – with his small sturdy build and brown hair and eyes.  
“Yes it is,” he said with a sudden smile.  “My mother was Albannach.  She was with child  with me when … when they brought her here.”
“Well met!” he said in the Gaidhlig, and the boy’s eyes widened in recognition.  “I am Albannach as well.  I should like to speak to your mother some time.”
“Oh.”  The boy’s face dropped.  “She died a year ago last winter.”
For a moment Uilleam saw himself in the lad’s face, what he might have been.  He gripped the boy’s shoulder and gave him his regrets.
Kara’s eyes were on him through the entire exchange, wide with surprise, a smile playing on her lips.  “That was kind,” she said softly as the boy went to work preparing her horse.
Uilleam shrugged.  “We are the same, he and I.  All of us thralls.  Some of us freed.”

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Please feel free to comment and critique!  🙂

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in a Viking village with Uilleam in my work in progress Son of Courage, so I thought I’d share with you a few things I’ve learned about Viking religion.

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The Vikings celebrated their many gods in natural places such as sacred groves, stones, and pools, but they also had a unique style of worship architecture called the hof.  It was a wooden structure, square or rectangular, with an emphasis on height that wasn’t seen in other architecture of the time.

Often these hofs would be accompanied by some of the natural features like an oak grove or a pool.  In my fictional village of Vasthammar, I decided to incorporate both.  Historical accounts mention that these hofs, groves, and pools were often the sites of ritual sacrifices that would include all manner of animals and frequently human sacrifice as well.

The Vikings worshiped a large pantheon, but chief among their gods were Thor – the god of thunder, Odin – the god of war, and Freyr – the god of celebration.  Descriptions from the time mention statues of the gods present in the hof, and sacrifices would be brought to the god most likely to help based on their area of expertise.

After three centuries of missionary activity in Scandinavia and other territories, eventually the Vikings universally accepted Christianity and left their pagan ways behind them.  But vestiges still remained, as evidenced by the unique frame churches of Scandinavia that very closely resembled the old pagan hofs.

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Since Uilleam will be spending a significant amount of time in and around the hof in Vasthammar, I thought I’d share this interesting fact with you.

In todays excerpt, Uilleam’s new friend Kara quizzes him about his strange new faith.

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It was here she found Wilhjelmr, kneeling beside the pool.  In his reflection she could see his lips moving slightly, his eyes closed.  Was it simple fancy, or did the air around him seem brighter, somehow?  
Though she walked quietly along the packed earth of the trail, his head lifted at her approach.  But he smiled, and her breath quickened at the unfeigned welcome.  She knelt down beside him.  
“What brings you to our hof, Will?” she asked, shortening his name for ease.  “I thought you served the Hvitr Kristr?”
His smile brightened.  “I do.  I may serve him anywhere, even ground said to be sacred to another.  In fact, there is no better place.”
“My father wouldn’t like it.”
He lifted his shoulders lightly.  “I have no wish to cause your father insult, but the work of my God comes first in my heart.”
“Which is?”
“To bring good news of freedom to thralls.”
“My father would like that even less.  You plan on freeing all our thralls?”  She laughed at the thought.
“I don’t mean slaves of earthly masters.  All men are thralls – all women, as well,” he added at the gleam in her eye. “They are slaves to the powers of darkness, if they are not freed by Kristr.”
The very idea rankled.  “I am no thrall. I am the daughter of a Jarl, and as free as any woman can be.”
“Are you?”  Wilhjelmr raised his eyes to the trees, the hof, back to the pool.  
“What do you mean by that?”  Did he know the bones that crumbled beneath those oaks, the blood of centuries soaked into the earth?  Did he know the horrors that poisoned the waters at his knees?  With a shiver, Kara remembered the man who had died in that pool when she was only a child.  She still remembered the bubbles disturbing the mirror-smooth surface, roiling with greater and greater force until the water suddenly stilled again, reflecting the trees as though the man had never been.  
“What do you mean?” she asked again, insisting.  
“I think you feel it, even if you don’t yet understand.”
Why did the empty grove seem so full, so malignant?  She’d felt it all her life, but had never identified it until this moment.  She drew in her breath sharply to repudiate his words, but it came out in a gasping wordless rush.
“You know there is something wrong with the very fabric of your world – something woven in that doesn’t belong.  You know you are held hostage by the whims of your gods.”
“And you are not?” the sense of unease gave vent finally in a storm of anger.  “You say you are free, but here you are, shipwrecked on a shore not your own, and you say you were sent here by your god.  Why would you even leave your home unless he somehow coerced you?”
“Ah, but I did not come here out of fear – a blind terror that if I did not please my God I would face his wrath.  I came out of love.”
“Love?”  She snorted in disgust even as she hung on his words.
“Yes, love.  I love my God.  And he loves me.  He loves you and your people, too, and so do I.  It is not his wish to leave you in darkness and chains, and so his wish becomes my wish, out of gratitude.  Out of love.”
“Love for strangers?”
He smiled, and her heart was in her throat.  He spoke of love – she wanted it, like a greedy child at a feast.  She wanted his god’s love, and she wanted his.  This stranger’s message was powerful indeed.
“My father won’t like this,” she said again, but all humour drained from the words this time.  She thought of Wilhjelmr plunging into the holy pool and her father holding him down until he died.  She fought the urge to move away from the water’s edge.  “Would you really risk everything – your life – for someone you don’t know?”
He smiled sadly.  “If I must.  After all, Kristr gave everything for me.  He was a sacrifice, you know.  A sacrifice who lived.”
His words raised gooseflesh on her arms and neck.  She stared at him, mesmerized.

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Please feel free to share any comments or helpful suggestions!  🙂

Here’s a new excerpt from Sons of Alba, Book 3: Son of Courage.  Uilleam is about to embark on his missionary journey, alone for the first time.

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Dawn found the folk of Thorsbjorg gathered on the strand.  The dragon-prowed longships bobbed at anchor, laden to the gunwales with cargo, eagerly pulling at their ropes as the tide turned.  The sailors lingered on the shore as long as they dared, bidding farewell to their women and children and clapping brothers on the shoulders with stern injunctions to keep their homes in their absence.  
Uilleam embraced his mother briefly, conscious of the watching men.  Her eyes shone with unshed tears, her lips trembling with unsaid words, but she held them back, but for a whispered “I love you.”
Then the Jarl lifted up his booming voice over the sound of the ebbing surf and held up both his massive arms.  “May the blessing of Hvitr Kristr go with your ships.  May his mighty hand protect you on the sea and on the land, and may you find favour wherever you go.”  Then he turned, his blue eyes lighting on Uilleam.  “Willhjelmr Alfarinsson, will you pray to Kristr for us?”
Uilleam’s heart caught and tripped over a beat.  Certainly he prayed as easily as breathing, but he’d never prayed before so many people before.  Usually it was his grandfather, or his mother, or his uncles.  But now it was his turn, and if he was to be a missionary across the sea, it wouldn’t be the last time.  He squared his shoulders and closed his eyes, holding in his mind the words of his father’s tongue.
“Great Father who made us and sustains us, be with us on this voyage.  Keep our ships from harm and let the wind blow true.  Guard our loved ones while we are away.  Let us be your hand of deliverance and love to those we meet.  May you claim the land we tread for your great Kingdom.  Amen.”
The pounding of his heart eased, and he opened his eyes to his mother’s proud gaze.  He smiled as one with her.  Her tears were gone, now.  She was at peace with his leaving.  
With one last goodbye, the sailors splashed into the shallows and clambered into the waiting boats.  Uilleam crowded in with as many broad-shouldered Lachlannaich as the boat could hold, grasped the oar nearest him, and set to rowing with as much vigor as he could muster.  The men shouted together in time with their strokes, and Uilleam joined in eagerly, relishing the splash of the water and the warm strain in his muscles.
By the time they reached the ships his hands were already stinging slightly – he would have blisters within a day from handling ropes and oars.  But he smiled nonetheless.  This was what he was made for, what he was born to.  
The ship’s captain, a lean, leathered man named Geirr, called the order to unfurl the sail, and Uilleam untied the nearest rope, letting it out as he’d been taught and retying it.  The wind instantly bellied the striped square sail with a snap and a creak of ropes.  Others hauled up the anchor, and the insistent tide that had rocked the ship now drew it along, and suddenly the figures on the beach grew smaller.  
Uilleam shaded his eyes and saw his mother a bit apart, alone.  But with the fiosachd, he saw a light upon her, like a stray beam of sunlight breaking through the cloud cover, and like a bright shadow, a tall, shining figure standing with her, overshadowing her as if with wings.  He blinked and the vision vanished, but Uilleam knew she was safe.  She was in God’s hands, just as he was.  With a smile, he turned his eyes out to the open sea and his future. 

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As always, please feel free to comment and critique!  🙂

In today’s excerpt from Sons of Alba, Book 3: Son of Courage, Uilleam is about to embark on a mission across the sea, leaving his mother for the first time.  She has a precious gift to send with him.

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She was at the altar, just as he’d thought – as he’d somehow known she’d be.  But her eyes were open.  Her lips didn’t move in prayer.  Instead, she pored over a book that lay open on a linen cloth on the broad, flat stone, her hand hovering reverently over the pages.  Tears stood in her pale eyes as she gazed at it.
Uilleam didn’t need a closer look to know this was the book from his vision, the jeweled book that lay open, its pages riffled in the sea wind.  But he neared the altar all the same.
Mamaidh didn’t look up as he drew closer, though she surely knew he was there.  She merely shifted to the side to give him a better view as he knelt beside her.  He lowered to his knees slowly, in awe, absorbing the artistry of the book.
It was clearly meant to depict the baptism of the Criosd.  Uilleam would have known even without the Latin narrative inscribed in perfect script.  The illustrated man stood in the midst of a river, its currents of cerulean blue mingling with his white robe.  His head was crowned with an intricately detailed halo, and a dove spread its wings over his head.  Every inch of the vellum was embellished in luminous, vibrant hues the like of which Uilleam had never seen.
He glanced at his mother for permission, and with her smiling nod he leafed through the rest of the book, each page as beautiful as the last, and closed the cover with the wink of candlelight on jewels and gold.
“This came from your monastery,” he whispered.
Mamaidh nodded, her lips smiling, but the corners of her mouth quivering.  “Caomhin made this.  I used to watch him when I tended the braziers in the scriptorium.  I had thought it lost, until after … after he died, Alfarinn … your father … he had taken it for its beauty and then he thought I would like to have it.”
“You left it here?  When you took me back home, you left it here?”
“I thought the people of Thorsbjorg had far more need of it than I.  After all, I have the gospels all but memorized.  But these people alone, with no guidance …”
“It was good of you.  It was good to leave it for Niall to teach from.”
She smiled.  “You know, leaving it here was like losing Caomhin all over again.”
“But now you have it back.”
“Yes.”  Her eyes drifted back to the jeweled cover.  She opened it and smoothed her hand lightly over the vellum, over the lines her loved one had drawn.  “And yet, I think it must go again.”  Her eyes rose to his.  
At once he understood.  “You mean for me to take it?  To take it to share with the people I meet?”
She nodded.  “Caomhin’s work was never meant to be hidden away.  He called it illumination.  It is meant to shine, like the good news it carries.”  She closed the cover with a sense of finality and laid its linen wrappings back in place, tying the ribbon tightly.  Then she placed it in his waiting hands, her own hands cool over his, beneath and upon the book.  “Let it shine forth into the darkness, a mhac.”
“I will,” he said, overwhelmed by the solemnity of her charge.  “I promise.”

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As always, please feel free to share your response to my writing! 🙂

Here’s a new excerpt of Sons of Alba, book 3: Son of Courage for your reading enjoyment:

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At the front of the sanctuary stood a massive stone laid mostly flat, darkened by age and use.  It was the stone from his vision – there could be no mistake.  Once, this monolith had soaked up the blood of pagan sacrifices.  Now, it held a golden cup, at times filled with the wine of the Criosd’s blood.  
Mamaidh knelt here, bowed her head.  Under her breath she prayed, and tears fell from her eyes.  Uilleam prayed, too.  A Dhia, reveal your plan to us.  Bring us both healing from the hurts of the past.
After a time, Mamaidh lifted her head, and her smile was like the watery sun breaking through the clouds after a heavy rain.  “Come, a mhac.  I’ve something to show you.”
He rose, brushed the dust from his knees, and followed her out of the church to a nearby cluster of small cairns and standing stones carved with crosses.  She found one, traced the runes.
“This must be Niall’s.  See how new the carving?”  She smiled sadly.  “He was a friend, a monk from Cill Linnhe.  It was he who led Seannathair here to rescue me.”
She strolled farther.  “And here is your father’s grave.”  She glanced over her shoulder at Uilleam, watching him as though she thought he might break.  In truth, Uilleam had very little memory of his father – a tall, yellow-haired man with a clean-shaven face and broad shoulders he used to sit on.  He’d felt like a giant then.  It was his turn to trace the runes.  They spelled Alfarinn Wilhjelmsson, he knew.  
“I hadn’t seen his resting place,” Mamaidh said softly, laying a hand on Uilleam’s shoulder.  “We left before he was buried.  It was probably for the best.  Your uncle paid weregild to compensate Alfarinn’s family, but it wouldn’t have been kind for their kinsman’s killers to linger here.”
Mamaidh lifted her eyes, swept her gaze across the cemetery, and rested on a cross near the back – one if not old, at least as old as Uilleam.  
She dropped her hand, lifted the hem of her leine and walked swiftly to the cross.  There, she knelt down, tears coming fresh to her eyes.  This was more grief than she’d shown for her dead husband, for her friend the monk, even more than she’d shown when Seannathair had died.  Uilleam deciphered the runes as best he could – C-A-W-U-N.  It didn’t sound like a Lachlannach name.  
There were more runes below – Thrall and Martyr, Priest of Hvitr Kristr.
“Caomhin?” he guessed.  “Who was Caomhin?”
Mamaidh looked up at him, her eyes red.  “He was …”
The fiosachd came upon him then, an insistent image of the two men duelling – the warrior and the slave.  He saw again the slave, bleeding on the ground beside Thor’s altar stone.  And now he had a name to put to the dying man, with his dark hair, pale skin, and wide hazel eyes.  Caomhin.
“He died …” Uilleam whispered.  “They killed him.”
Mamaidh nodded, startled.  “He was one of the monks from Cill Linnhe.  He could have escaped, along with the others.  But he stayed.  He stayed to be with me … because he knew I couldn’t go.”
“Because of me?”
“Because of you.”  It was a whisper, barely above a breath.  
“He loved you.”  Uilleam said.  “You loved him.”
“Yes.”  His mother’s face was a pale bleak ruin of sadness.  “I would have married him, had the Lachlannaich – your father’s people – not taken us.  I would have run away with him …”
“If not for me.”  Uilleam sighed.  He had held her here in Thorsbjorg, with stronger ties than any slave chain.
“It wasn’t like that, a chuisle,” she said, her hands going to his.  “I love you.  I loved you the moment I knew you existed.  I couldn’t hold you to blame for the sins of your father.  And much good came out of it – as much joy as sadness.  Yes, Caomhin died, but his blood watered the new-born church.  Without his sacrifice – to stay behind here – your father’s people would still be in the darkness.”
He saw the blood of his vision, soaking into the earth, the church rising out of it like a tree sprouting from the ground before his eyes.  
“I had thought I was finished with this place, when your grandfather rescued me.”  Mamaidh gazed at the church.  “But it seems it is not done with me.  Niall is dead.  I can’t escape the feeling that I am to replace him.”
She looked at Uilleam, her pale eyes unfocused as they always were when she had the fiosachd.  
How could he tell her that he’d had a seeing of his own – that although Thorsbjorg was the end of her travels, it was only the beginning of his?

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Please feel free to critique as you see fit!  And if you feel comfortable, share something of your own for critique.

Here’s a new excerpt from Sons of Alba, book 3: Son of Courage.  On his way to the town of his birth, Uilleam contemplates the prophetic visions he’s had.

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Uilleam’s eyes took in everything around him – each unfamiliar rock jutting from the heather, each copse and spring and weathered standing stone.  They followed the coast west and north, closer and closer to Lachlannach territory.  Closer and closer to Uilleam’s past, and to his future.
As they travelled, sleeping rough on clear nights, accepting the hospitality of crofters along the way when it rained, Uilleam found himself thinking more and more of the answers that awaited him in the sod-covered longhouses of Thorsbjorg.  
His visions grew more intricate, more clear, and yet more confusing.  He still saw the village, but now he overlooked it from a rocky crag, where two men fought near a bloodstained altar stone.  Men stood all around, goading on a Lachlannach man as he trounced a smaller, dark haired man who looked to be a slave.  Outmatched, the slave succumbed, and died.
As Uilleam watched, the slave’s blood spread out, soaking into the ground.  Out of the same earth, a building rose, growing like a tree, and became a church, crowned with a cross.  Inside the church lay a book with a jeweled cover and pages that shone like jewels.  
The pages blew in a wind, a wind that came from the sea.  In the harbour, longships with big square sails stirred, their dragon-shaped prows rocking with the waves.  And by the proud, fierce carved dragon, Uilleam stood, gazing out over untold leagues of heaving ocean.  
Then the dragon’s head listed to one side, and the longship was broken on a string of rocks, and Uilleam lay on the strand, pale and soaked.  A girl walked along the strand, her pale hair flying in the wind, her blue eyes wide as she spotted him.  She ran to him, hovered over him, and suddenly he was seeing with his own eyes, seeing the face of the Lachlannach maid.
“My name is Wilhjelmr Alfarinnson,” he said in the Dansk tunga, shivering.  “I come from across the sea.”
“Kara,” she said.  “Welcome to Vasthammar.  You’re lucky to be alive.”
So Thorsbjorg was not his ultimate destination.  Wherever this Vasthammar was, he would leave his mother and go there alone.  And neither would he find the flaxen-haired maid there.  He should have told his mother, he knew.  But she rode along wrapped in a cloak of silent sorrow, and it didn’t seem right to add to her burden with new cares.  
And so he kept his seeings close, so the visions of blood and storms would trouble no one but him.
 

As always, please feel free to share any comments that might help polish my writing!  🙂

Sons of Alba, Book 2: Son of Redemption is out!

If you’ve been reading along via my excerpts, you might be interested in picking this up on kindle.  It’s available for free until tomorrow, so snap up your copy!

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In the land that would one day be called Scotland, the sons of three sisters find their place in the world …

Seumas, heir to all of his mother’s fire and his father’s charm, wants nothing more than to be a man, and it seems all of Alba conspires to hold him back.

Fionnaghal is a steady-minded girl, but where Seumas is concerned her heart outmatches her head.

When war erupts in Alba, Seumas plunges headlong into trouble, and Fionnaghal may be the only one to lead him back out.

 

If you haven’t read them, have a look at Book 1, and the prequel series Daughters of Alba.