(A prequel to Vikingr)
With steps which were so slow that they could barely be seen, so careful they could scarcely be heard, Ana picked her way over the rugged, sloping cliff. She had to be doubly certain of where her feet landed for here and there lumpen rocks and the straggling roots of trees jutted out of the grassy turf.
Her ears were straining until she imagined they had begun to hurt. It was worth it though when she heard the thin screech of a nesting gull. The mother’s cry cackled out over the high waves of the rusted-copper sea, beckoning her mate.
Ana tightened her small fist around the bunched links of the net. The muscles at the back of her legs tensed and released, sending her leaping up over the edge of a moss-patched boulder.
Her net flew from her hand, opening wide as it did so. For a moment it spun in the air, pirouetting above the catch, before falling under the weight of the stones tied to its outer edge.
Once she was certain that the sharp claws and beak of the mother gull were safely confined under the net, Ana allowed herself to sit and catch her breath. Her interest did not lie with the large bird, though it would make a fine addition to her family’s evening meal. Instead, her eyes were drawn to the soft down feathers of its hatchlings.
A mattress or quilted tunic made with such feathers could fetch a handsome price, but first there was an unwelcome task to perform. Ana approached it with mercenary dispassion and efficiency. Her short wooden cudgel rose once, twice, three times and once again. Thin droplets of blood spattered the hem of her woolen tunic, but the bird and her chicks felt little pain.
When she rose to her full height, not a great height for she was scarcely beyond her eleventh year, she saw something trace the edge of the cliffs ahead of her. She walked towards the clifftop, hefting the net, now filled with bird and blood, over her shoulder.
It was a long, narrow vessel like no other she had seen. Its hull seemed to glide over the tops of the waves, rather than cutting through them, under the power of its wide, striped sail.
Thunder rattled out across the waves and Ana saw a clatter of lighting out of the corner of her eyes. The bright flash reflected on the curved bosses of the shields lined up against the ship’s side. No trading ship then, she thought, a vessel built for war.
Her catch fell onto the soft turf of the slope, forgotten, as she began to sprint back towards her village. In the distance, a small bell pealed out mournfully beneath the rolling crashes of thunder.
Read a Saxon story here.
Vikingr is available on Amazon Kindle (click here).