It is a time of uneasy truce, of two races living side-by-side, inter-marrying even, but forever on the look out for treachery among their neighbors.
They meet, they bathe together and they consort. Life is short, fun is likely to be brief, and opportunity has to be seized wherever it can be found without unleashing long-held rivalries and carnage.
Then the youthful Dane, Ragnar, falls in love with Aelfwyn the Angle who is already promised by duty to one of her own village.
Ragnar and Aelfwyn’s passionate love affair is a secret which will never be hidden for long, but theirs is not the only secret around.
When Ragnar finds himself charged with murder, he and Aelfwyn are forcibly parted. But is Ragnar really a cold-blooded, cynical killer or is there a more sinister plot being played out?
Ragnar the Murderer
By Lily Byrne
Publisher: Taylor Street Books
ISBN: 13: 978-1463698379
“Come on!” urged Saehild, hopping from one foot to the other to keep warm. “The quicker we get there the quicker we’ll come back.” Aelfwyn, being shorter and thinner than her younger sister, found it harder to wield the pails. The long, stone wall edged path to the well led downhill, and she hated carrying the heavy pails back up again.
“I’m looking forward to the wedding feast of Eappa and Geatfleda next week, aren’t you? It’ll be a change from daily tasks. When I’m married I’ll have slaves and they’ll do all the work while I enjoy myself.”
“You’ve got to find a rich husband first.”
Aelfwyn imagined it wouldn’t be difficult. Fair of face and curvaceous of body, men couldn’t resist Saehild. Their parents insisted she should not get married until her fifteenth birthday however, and as that loomed, soon Aelfwyn would lose her annoying but amusing companion. Leafless, icy trees eerily overhung the sunken path through the wood. As they turned the last corner, they saw two figures by the well, wearing the red woollen cloaks of Jarl Thorvald’s men, stout leather boots, and trousers with garters. Complaining to each other, their breath clouded around them as they chipped at the frozen water with their spears. The girls hesitated a few yards away.
“Will they attack us?” whispered Saehild dramatically, clutching at her sister.
Aelfwyn sighed. “Probably not, but we’d better wait until they’ve gone.”
The taller Dane abruptly looked up and smiled. His dark red hair was wavy but tied back in a plat over his shoulders and he wore a fur cap instead of a helmet, as he wasn’t in battle. With skin rather darker than most Danes, he looked pleasant, not handsome but inscrutable, especially as his well groomed beard and moustache covered most of his lower face.
“Come,” he said. “Do not be frightened.”
The other turned too, and smiled. Now, he really was good looking. Straight golden hair, his eyes big and blue, his lips an attractive shape. His moustache and beard were fortunately less full than the other’s, as this revealed his beauty. The sisters gasped. He held his hand out in a welcoming motion so they stepped forward as one.
“We break ice,” said the handsome one, bending over his task while the other kept watch. The girls watched, fascinated. Saehild pretended to re arrange her head-rail, letting her It was flaxen blond, soft fine hair slip out. She took great care of it, unlike many girls, and owned three combs.
“Saehild!” Aelfwyn glared at her, shocked at her inappropriate behaviour.
“We’ve all got hair, it’s not something to be hidden,” she retorted.
“There!” The handsome Dane pulled up the bucket from the well, and gestured for them to come forward. He then tipped water into their pails, smiling at both of them until they blushed. Aelfwyn thought, however, that he smiled more at her sister. The same as every other man. Men were so weak and easily understood. They saw a pretty face and were instantly besotted. It amused her to see so many of them pursuing her sister, who often didn’t notice. Saehild was tall and well formed, obviously healthy and a promising prospect for bearing children. Being born underweight meant Aelfwyn had always struggled to grow and throw off illnesses. As a result she had remained short and thin, despite eating as much as she could. Grateful that her mother had kept her rather than abandoning such a weak sister. Everyone always thought she was the younger one, and even by eighteen, men hadn’t shown an interest. They no doubt thought of her as unpromising breeding stock. As she and her sister stepped back, feebly mumbling “Thank you”, the taller Dane began filling his own pails. He seemed to be instructing his reluctant companion, who turned back to the girls.
“Bjarni.” He pointed to himself, bowing his head politely and then pointed to his taller companion. “Ragnar.”
“Saehild,” she gushed in delight. “My sister, Aelfwyn.”
Ragnar did not seem pleased however, and said something sharp to Bjarni in their own language. Bjarni rolled his eyes and Saehild giggled.
“We should go now,” said Aelfwyn, realising their vulnerable position alone in the wood with two unfamiliar Danes.
“Goodbye. See you again,” said Saehild, before Aelfwyn could drag her away. Bjarni looked after them with interest.
“What d’you think, then?” he asked Ragnar as the girls rounded the corner and disappeared from view. “Would you fuck them?”
“Yes, probably,” his friend said unthinkingly. “I mean, no! We shouldn’t be associating with the locals. We have our jobs to do, we should-“ baby, even so she wished to be as attractive as her
“By the gods, you’re so boring! You wouldn’t fuck either of them just because of your job?”
“The Jarl said we must be honourable if we’re training to be Huskarlr. At your age, you’re supposed to have grown out of fucking around.” Ragnar’s job meant everything to him, he had no family and Jarl Thorvald was the only father he had ever known.
“I’m not nineteen yet. I hope by twenty I won’t be like you and have forgotten how to do it.” Bjarni pretended to doze off against the wall so Ragnar prodded his leg with his spear.
“Get off! I’ll have the tall, pretty one. Those breasts, you could get lost in them. I bet she’s a dragon in the sack-“
“Calm down or I’ll throw this ice over you. Come on.” Ragnar set off with two pails, Bjarni following cheerfully with the others.
“Think they come here every day?”
“I expect so. But we’re only on water duty for the fortnight, so don’t get too excited. There are loads of local girls for you to harass.”
“Water duty! It should be the women doing such tasks, not us.”
“It’s to teach us humility. You need to learn it.”
Bjarni kicked at him- no easy task while carrying pails of waterbut Ragnar managed to fight back. Continuing to bicker, they rounded the corner in the opposite direction to the Anglisc, heading back to Hallfridby.
I faffed around at writing for many years until I had my daughter, but becoming a mum seemed to kick start something in me: I realized that I now had a purpose and time was limited, so I must get on with it.
The winter of 2009 was severe and as I and my family live in a small village, we were house bound by unusually deep snow for southern England. So I settled down in my office (i.e. the corner of our bedroom) and began my first book, which was published in 2010.
I haven’t stopped writing since. I go through phases of planning my story, writing furiously, or editing it. It is much easier now my daughter is at school and I get a few hours of work done each day.
My daughter has truly been an inspiration to me: she has had severe health problems in her short life but is always smiling and laughing, planning for the future, full of ideas. Working at home writing and editing has been ideal, I love my life.