Mary Ann Bernal, author of The Briton and the Dane novels, is an avid history buff whose area of interest focuses on Ninth Century Anglo-Saxon Britain during the Viking Age. While pursuing a degree in business administration, she managed to fit creative writing classes and workshops into her busy schedule to learn the craft, but it would take decades before her “Erik the Viking” novel was ultimately published.
Mary Ann is also a passionate supporter of the United States military, having been involved with letter writing campaigns and other support programs since Operation Desert Storm. She has appeared on The Morning Blend television show hosted by KMTV, the CBS television affiliate in Omaha, and was interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald for her volunteer work. She has also been a featured author on Triangle Variety Radio, The Phil Naessens Show, and The Writers Showcase, and has been interviewed extensively by American and European bloggers.
Mary Ann is a New York “expat,” and currently resides in Omaha, Nebraska.
As the sun began its descent in a cloudless sky, the battle-weary Saxons cheered as the blazing dragonship sank in the windswept channel. The forceful gusts obscured the cries of drowning men as the remnants of Norse invaders embraced a watery grave. The stench of death intermingled with the sea mist as King Alfred’s warriors walked amongst the carnage, seeking their fallen brothers in arms while a healer tended to the wounded.
Women from a nearby village hurried towards the sandy battlefield, carrying baskets filled with an assortment of healing herbs while children carried much needed linen to bind the wounds. The healer was grateful for their assistance, barking orders as he bound the severed leg of a gravely injured warrior.
“We are skilled with the needle,” one of the women said as she pointed to a man whose arm had been slashed.
“Tend to him then!” The healer shouted while the rest of the women made themselves useful ministering to the mutilated men.
A stableboy drove a wagon down the sloping shoreline, reining his horse when he reached the blood-soaked beach. He jumped off his seat and calmed the frightened animal as he waited to load the wagon, thanking the Lord silently that the heathen assault had been thwarted.
Brantson walked amongst the wounded as his able-bodied men made the necessary preparations to bury the dead. He spoke with every man, assessing their wounds while providing comfort, but his demeanor was somber as he silently counted the number of warriors he had lost. Brantson gestured to the stableboy who hurried towards him, and he smiled slightly when the lad removed his hat and bowed.
“How are you called?”
“Alden, my lord.”
“Alden, I would have you bring the wounded men to the holy brothers at the abbey, but return quickly for the dead.”
“We will need more wagons,” Alden replied while pointing at the heathen bodies.
“Nay, we will alight a funeral fire as is their custom...I would not deny them their beliefs.”
“As you wish,” Alden mumbled before taking his leave.
“The boy seemed surprised by your honorable treatment of the enemy,” the first officer said quietly as he approached his commander.
“It is only fitting,” Brantson murmured as he gazed upon the lifeless bodies. “But you already know my thoughts in this regard, so why are you troubled?”
“One of the children said there were two dragonships.”
Brantson did not answer immediately but rather walked towards the rippling waves breaking softly upon the muddy beach. He glanced at the quiet coastline as the red and orange hues of twilight brightened the evening sky.
“Set up camp in the forest, near the abbey. If what the boy said is true, I would expect a raid when the moon sits high in the sky.”
Brantson remained at the water’s edge while his first officer carried out his orders. His thoughts returned to a battle at sea so many years past, when the man he called father had died while serving King Alfred in a fight of his own choosing. If the king had not been victorious, Rollo’s fate might never have been known. His eyes became moist as he remembered the pain the woman he called mother suffered once she learned the truth, and because he remembered, he took pity on the heathen women who lived across the North Sea since they would never learn the fate of their men.
The Saxon warriors rested in the darkened camp, eating dried meat but drinking sparsely as they awaited the enemy while scouting parties patrolled the shoreline in the warm night air. The men spoke in whispers, their soft words hidden beneath the screeching sound of dying animals as nocturnal predators ensnared their prey. A gentle breeze rustled the trees, the cool night air a welcome respite from the sweltering heat that lingered across the countryside. Faint flashes of lightning were seen on the horizon, casting an eerie whitish glow in the star-studded sky.
Brantson sat against a white birch, sharpening his sword while his thoughts wandered to happier days when cousins spent the summer months in Exeter, visiting Concordia’s Uncle Sidonius, her mother’s brother who had restored the familial estate to its former glory. A smile formed on his solemn face when he recalled Concordia running through a flowery meadow, her laughter echoing across the countryside as she playfully teased the younger children. He was not of their blood, but he was considered family, sharing a life once thought beyond his reach. The cousins sought his counsel because he was older and wise beyond his years, which formed a deepening bond that defied the passage of time.
Brantson did not remember when his feelings towards Concordia began to change. She was as a sister, a spirited little girl who never left his side whenever he visited Wareham. His hand sought the silver Cross he wore beneath his tunic, Concordia’s parting gift when he left to serve in King Alfred’s army. She had stayed atop the Keep until he was lost to her view, a mere child whom he would not see again for many years.
Brantson rose in the ranks of King Alfred’s army and became a respected officer, a gifted tactician who thwarted the Norsemen on numerous campaigns, but the heathen continued to threaten Britannia’s shores, keeping Brantson in the midst of battle and preventing him from returning to those he loved.
“My lord,” Bryce said softly as he approached his commander.
Brantson smiled at his first officer, beckoning him to sit while sheathing his sword. He handed the younger man a wineskin filled with water and waited as Bryce greedily drank his fill.
“The breeze does little to dispel this insufferable heat!” Bryce grinned as he wiped his mouth with the back of his gloved hand. “Rain would be most welcome.”
“Not until we win the battle!”
“That is what I meant,” Bryce chuckled, “but all is quiet still. It is possible the children were mistaken.”
“I pray that is so, but the night is young...and the abbey is known for its riches, but that is not why you seek me.”
“You speak the truth, as always. We have received word from the king,” Bryce replied as he handed Brantson a sealed parchment. “The messenger is being fed as we speak.”
Brantson broke the king’s seal and was surprised when he noticed that a second letter had been enclosed with the king’s communication. He recognized Concordia’s handwriting but controlled his desire to read her words before reading his king’s orders.
“We are to return to court once we finish here,” Brantson said, somewhat bemused. “I wonder what mischief is planned.”