Morgaine ap Rhodri stood at the prow of her ship, the Golden Princess. The strong wooden bow slipped through the semi-calm water as smooth as a ripple through silk. Tendrils of her free hair lifted, riding the same wind swelling the sails of the vessel. Dressed in blue-tinted men’s breeches and tunic, she drew in a deep breath and inhaled the salty tang of the sea, letting it fill her nostrils and lungs with its neat, familiar scent. How long had it been since her last trip on the sea? By her calculations, it had been almost too long. Had it not been for her father’s plans for her, she would not be here at all.
“Are you all right, Princess?” issued a strong male voice behind her. She turned around to see Robert, the captain of her ship, standing before her. Concern and worry stamped his aged features.
Morgaine shook her head and brushed the strands of loose hair over her shoulder.
“Aye, Robert. I was just thinking about home.” She leaned against the railing and stared at Robert. His face, the color of tanned leather, was creased and lined with age. White hair tumbled around his head in the ring of a halo, wafting in the gentle wind. He was no taller than three-quarters of a rod but he was mighty.
Despite his grizzled appearance, his smile was warm and inviting. “What were you thinking?”
She sighed and turned to gaze out toward the sea with her arms resting on the element-battered railing. “How much I would have liked to stay.”
Robert stepped up next to her, assuming the same pose. “You could have, you know.”
She shook her head. “No, I could not. Facing a life next to a man who would give his horse more regard than his wife was not an enlivening prospect. I refuse to play the part of political pawn, so this was my only choice.”
Robert’s tanned, freckled hand covered hers, squeezing gently. “If I were your father, I would have let you have some say in a choice of husband.”
“Much thanks, Robert. It pleases me that you think that way. However, my father, being who he is, decided my marriage to King Alfred of Wessex would prove to be a very good alliance with Wales. He was only doing as he was taught.”
“Still, I would ...”
She laid a finger to his lips. “That is enough, Robert. I want to discuss this no further. Now, where will our course take us?”
It was his turn to sigh. “France, then on to Spain. From there, we may go wherever our hearts desire.”
Morgaine cast her gaze out onto the crystal blue waters rumbling past the hull. With the dawn of each new day, her ship and destiny pushed away from the familiar Welsh shoreline she had loved so much. At least the unknown future of her flight was a far better prospect than facing a life with the horrific King of Wessex.
Just as she turned to her left, something caught her eye. Though it was quite a span away, it possessed the resemblance to a ship. She could not make out the size because of the distance, but something definitely intrigued her. Red and white material flapped at the vessel’s mast; mayhap it was a trading ship sailing by . They must be the sails of traders roaming the sea in search of good trading routes. Morgaine let a sigh of relief escape her lips. For a moment, she thought it might been a roving band of pirates in search of hapless ships to plunder.
“’Tis the Vikings!” echoed the call from the crow’s nest
“Princess, get down below!” Robert bellowed.
Her brow lifted. “What are the Vikings doing this far south this time of year?”
“I know not, but the fact remains they are here. Now get down below where you will be safe.”
Morgaine spun on a booted heel to face him. “No, Robert! Give me a sword! I can defend myself as best as any man!”
Robert gripped her upper arms in an iron clasp and pushed her toward the stairs.
“This is one time that I will not obey your orders, Princess.”
Rough hands shoved Morgaine into her cabin. Once she was in, the door slammed and locked behind her. Damn them! She kicked the door with vicious swipe while cursing Robert with a bitter tongue. She could take care of herself!
She paced uneasily as her mind continued to work. How was she going to get out of here? Suddenly, Morgaine’s gaze drifted to the hinges of the door. If she could just push up the pins holding the door in place, she would be able to move the door a bit and slip through the void.
Before she could find anything to take out the hinge pins, a loud thump resounded above her. She looked up as fear and trepidation pounded her temples. Would all of them live to see the end of the day? Fear formed a lump in her throat. Red and white vertically striped fabric comprised the sails of the approaching ship while a dragon’s head decorated the bow of the highly crafted vessel.
The Vikings were taking over her ship!
Her mouth dried instantly as a thin sheen of sweat beaded her upper lip. Storming hurriedly away from the window, Morgaine knelt next to her bed, her hands searching for her sword frantically. It must be here somewhere!
This seemed to go on for a few tense moments until her hands locked around the thick leather sheath of her sword. We shall see how much the Vikings withstand. The ornate hilt, with her initials carved in the sturdy metal, was made of the best material iron Wales could produce. Her father had the blade fashioned for her to give to her husband on their wedding day. From the moment she had planned her escape, Morgaine knew this weapon was a must for her journey.
With a firm grip on the hilt, the smooth cold points dug into her palm and became comfortable, almost like a long lost friend. She pulled the blade out of its leather sheath and stood up, hefting the weapon from one hand to the other... perfect for her size. Perhaps Father had it made for her all along instead of her husband. Now came the harder task. She needed to hide her hair.
Morgaine ripped open a coffer at the end of her bed and plowed through the box with furious abandon. There had to be something here she could use! Gowns, bodices, and undergarments flew around her as she searched for a head covering. Nothing availed itself to her until near the bottom, underneath one of her darker gowns, lay a black velvet cap.
Picking up the neatly constructed cap, she jammed the hat on her head and crammed all errant strands beneath.
Once finished, Morgaine wielded the blade. Sharp slices of air parting echoed around her. Any man who got in her way would end up with the tip through his gullet.
Dropping to her knees at the door, she extracted a small dagger from her boot. She took the edge and dug between the top of the pin and the metal hinge. Using all the strength she possessed, Morgaine pushed upward. The pin never moved an inch. She tried again. Muscles bunched and strained in her arms but she refused to give up. She had to get out of here. With a grunt and a fresh round of unbound determination, Morgaine tried again. This time, the pin moved slowly up until the rounded metal fell from the hinge. She repeated her efforts with the other pin. At first, it also refused to move but with the same bit of will, she removed that one as well.
Standing up, Morgaine strained against the hard wood until it gave way. She slipped through the small void created between the jamb and the door. Above her, the scuffle of feet and shouts of anxious voices intensified. The Vikings had to be very close or even on board.
Winding her way through the darkened stairwell, Morgaine watched her steps, looking to the left and right for anyone to pounce on her. No one was there. Her mouth grew dry as she headed toward the steps, her weapon drawn.
Morgaine mounted the stairs, taking one step at a time as she listened to the sounds on the other side of the door. Everything remained muffled, not allowing her a clear idea of the ensuing mayhem. What was happening?
Light seeped through the crack under the door as well as the sharp smell of burning wood. Her eyes watered. Jesu, her ship was on fire!
Morgaine charged out of the door and stormed the deck, brandishing her sword before her like a flame. To her left was a young lad, about her size. His blade flashed in a blinding arc in her line of vision, but she caught his steel with her own. Metal clashed against metal with sparks flying as they danced around in a circle of death, thrusting back and forth. With quickness on her side, Morgaine swiped her sword at his belly. The redheaded lad fell forward, his eyes turning glassy before he fell onto the deck, his hands clutching the wound as if to prevent the bleeding. The hot coppery smell of blood commingled with that of the burning wood stung her nostrils and encouraged her belly to retch at all this death. This was one thing she had never experienced before.
Morgaine turned to see more of the Vikings scramble over the side of The Golden Princess. They swung from the mast of their ship on thick ropes and descended like hungry insects ready to feed on dead flesh. Fear threatened to overtake her. She quelled the disastrous emotion. They must defeat these heathens without any reservation or quarter.
She slewed her head to the right. There was another Viking about her size about to slay one of the cabin boys. She picked up a discarded Viking sword as well as her own and rushed to the boy’s side, burying both blades in the mid-section of the taller man. Blood spurted from his wounds and bathed her in coppery warmth. Before she could stop herself, the contents of her stomach spilled through her mouth and mingled with the congealing blood on the deck. Jesu! Why did she do that?
Tossing the Viking sword to the boy, she leapt up on deck with hers, pushing her way through the thick throng of men fighting20each other. The swift descent of the enemy had all but ended now with all of the raiders aboard her ship.
Suddenly, she caught sight of Robert backed against the side of the ship with a sword at his throat. A large Viking held the hilt as his bulging, naked arms glistened with blood and sweat. Tendrils of long blond hair streamed out from underneath his helmet and flowed over those massive shoulders. She narrowed her eyes and stared at him, calculating his strength. He was large, but she had the element of surprise on her side. Leaping from the prow Morgaine ran, her sword poised in front of her, ready to thrust at the tall man. Just as she came within reach of his back, a sharp pain rang in her head, then her world grew hazy. She felt herself fall and slipped into the bleak world of unconsciousness the moment her head hit the blood-splattered deck.
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