THERE’S a first time for everything, so the saying goes – and in the case of unfortunate Combe, the ‘first’ this season is its first Viking attack.
Although a terror of pillaging Norsemen has hung over the settlements of western England for many years, never before has Combe been targeted. Finally, however, in mid 997 the village’s luck runs out.
At 17 Edgar is already a fully grown man, the youngest of three brothers apprenticed to their master-boatbuilder father.
When the marauders arrive, he is away from his parents’ home, waiting desperately at dawn on the far shore of the bay for his beloved Sungifu to join him. Edgar has constructed a sturdy wooden vessel to carry the young couple away together and can already imagine the happiness they will soon share. Today’s elopement will be the start of a new life for them both.
On the opposite side of the English Channel, the high-spirited Lady Ragnhild is ensconced safely inside Count Hubert and Countess Ginnilaug’s castle at Cherbourg.
Themselves the descendants of Viking conquerors, the Norman nobles are proud of their Norse heritage and feel no need to turn away the longships that visit their port en route to rich, undefended pastures nearby.
They are on friendly terms with the English at the same time and often welcome delegations led by clergymen.
As the fallout from the Viking plundering of Combe begins to solidify, the ruling families of the two communities are drawn closer together.
Wilwulf, ealdorman of Shiring, needs help. His coastline is being ravaged and Combe’s destruction has left its mark on his finances.
Gaining the co-operation of Cherbourg could be an important step towards stemming the flow of aggressors from the north but in order to forge an alliance he must be able to offer something to the Normans in return.