1. eric


Chapter 1 The Invasion



      Eric leaned on the long, smooth tiller as he sailed past the rhythmic, crashing breakwater to see armed peasants guarding the creaking docks of Demril. Deadly glints of their harpoons and pitchforks shone across the wide harbor, warning him not to approach. Eric’s callused hand ached for his broadsword, but he forced himself to remain calm and stroked his long gray beard; although nearing sunset, it was too early for the real sailors, the tough fishermen of Demril, to have returned from their day’s labors. Eric didn’t need to kill these village fools; their deaths would ruin his plan.

      Eric grinned wickedly and steered his mighty dragonship toward them. Spray from the roaring waves showered his deck as his great oaken vessel cut powerfully through the swelling surf. The early evening breeze was blowing inland, and his square, striped sail was billowed taut, its colorful canvas catching the wind’s invisible speed. Timbers groaned and flexed as his dragonship rolled over the last wave and rode it into Demril’s sheltered harbor.

      Eric could hardly blame them for bearing weapons; any dragonship justified Saxon fear. Soon those fears would be realized: Svenson Two-Sword was halfway across the North Sea, sailing fast, his whole army hungry for vengeance. Demril would be slaughtered when Svenson’s horde arrived, even though the tiny village wasn’t their true target.

       Hoping the Gods were watching him, Eric sailed closer to the armed peasants guarding Demril. If he killed them while they held weapons they should thank him because, according to Norse lore, the only purpose for living was to die a warrior. For more than four decades Eric had marched, sailed, and ridden past thousands of fools like them, farmers and fishermen who lived only because men like Eric, warriors of steel destined for the glories of Valhalla, saw no profit in killing them. Those fools were short-sighted: what good was a century of peace in this world compared to an eternity of regret in the next? All men die. Few truly live.

       Silently Eric scolded himself; this was no time for philosophy. Svenson Two-Sword was hunting and Eric was the prey.

       Eric looped a line over the tiller to hold it steady and hurried across the loose deck planks to his tall, polished mast. Carefully gauging his speed, he grabbed the main spar line, waited until just the right moment, and then pulled the knot loose and jumped back. The freed line flew upwards, the rigging spun in its pulley, and the great square sail crashed down across the deck in a tumble of puffed sailcloth, heavy spar, and loosed lines.

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