Friday, February 28, 2014

Revenge is best served by a woman!

 A woman outwits an opposing army, and reeks revenge on those who wish to conquer her kingdom.

An interesting account of a true warrior woman in history is The Deeds of Princess Olga. Olga lived in the tenth century. According to modern scholar Judith Jesch, Olga is the Russian translation of Helga, a Norse name. Although the Vikings did reach into Russia during their raids and some settled there, historians disagree over Helga’s true origins. It is unclear as to whether she was of Slavic or Norse descent, but compelling evidence suggests Norse origins as her parents were said to speak the ‘Varangian’ tongue.[1]  In the tenth century, Helga/Olga, was brought to the city of Pskov as a wife for Igor, prince of Kiev. When Prince Igor is killed in 945 CE by the neighboring Derevlians, they demand that Olga marry their Prince, Mal, to create an alliance. This would technically give the Derevlians power over Kiev and over her young son by Igor, who was destined be the future prince of Kiev. 
Olga plots to avenge the death of her husband in good old fashioned Norse/Viking tradition. First, she tricks the Derevlian ambassadors who come by river to secure her hand in marriage for their prince. She specifies that they must come to the palace from the river carried in a boat. Anxious to please her and secure the alliance, they comply. When they arrive in their boat/carriage, the boat, with the ambassadors inside it, is dropped into a deep ditch and the envoys are buried alive.
Another group arrives, unaware of the plight of the first. Olga instructs them to ceremonially bathe before meeting her at the palace. They comply, are locked in the bath house, and the bath house is set fire with the men inside.
She invites the next wave of Derevlians to attend a feast at her husband’s grave as a sort of peace offering before she will agree to marry their prince. She instructs them to prepare vast quantities of mead and meet her for a funeral feast at the grave site. When the ambassadors are drunk, she orders her followers to kill them. She then leads her troops in the attack against Derevlian cities in the ensuing war, using her young son (Igor, who will be the future prince) as a figurehead for the troops. When the city of Iskorosten held out against her siege, she demands tribute and submission before she will leave. The tribute, (according to The Russian Primary Chronicle) was to be three pigeons and three sparrows from each household. When the strange tribute was paid, Olga ordered her soldiers to attach a small piece of cloth filled with sulfur to each bird’s foot with a thread. At sunset they released the birds. The birds then flew to their respective nesting places beneath the eaves of the houses, in haymows and outbuildings within the city, and the city was set on fire.[2]  The entire city went up in flames.
The chronicle goes on to record that Olga converted to Christianity in 955 CE. Her son did not convert, but grandson Vladmir I (r. 998-1015) also converted and is considered the first Christian ruler in Russia. The woman in this tale sounds suspiciously like a valkyrie.  Scholar Judith Jesch believes Olga’s Norse lineage is responsible for her ferocity in seeking vengeance for the death of her spouse.

[1] Judith Jesch. Women in the Viking Age. (Woodbridge; The Boydell Press, 1991)  111-113. Chapter VI, 
Warrior Woman to Nun.
[2] We aren’t told how this feat happened, if the soldiers fired flaming arrows at the birds as they flew or if they just spontaneously combusted in unison!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Serial Sundays: The Gypsy's Curse

Here it is, Chapter Three part II for your reading pleasure:  
 Copyright Lily Silver, 2013
“Worry, worry, worry. Wind’s pickin’ up,” the breathless voice chanted, as if repeating a worn out song. “Winter storm a comin’, ain’t no one in his right mind going to be outdoors today pokin’ about the master’s house. I told her. But Annie, she does more than her share o’ worryin’. Worry, worry, worry, and when it’s done and everything’s all right, don’t she go out and find more to worry over! Wears a fella out, she does. Worry, worry, worry . . .”
  It was the cottager, Zara realized.  He was inspecting the manor, just as he promised his wife last night. She moved quickly to the armoire. She opened the door and slipped inside before the man discovered the door to this room was ajar. She sat down carefully behind the hanging clothes and drew the cabinet door closed behind her.
         “Ah, what’s this?” The man entered the room. “Open door, but nothing disturbed.” He chatted to himself. “No squirrels, here Annie, my love. They don’t open doors, now, do they? But they do leave a fearful mess behind.”
          Zara held her breath, and tried, unsuccessfully, to still her thundering heart. She feared he might be able to hear the loud clattering beneath her ribs, and discover her hiding place.
         “Aye. But a ghost will open a door now and then, won’t it?” The gruff voice continued. “Mayhap her ladyship’s been visiting the old place, looking for her lord. He’s not here, milady.” The voice shouted, as if trying to tell a very deaf spirit her quest was a useless one. “He’s in Lunn’un. Hasn’t seen fit to visit the home place since ye left us so sudden. Can’t bear the memories, I wager.”
         “Jasper!” A woman’s voice called from somewhere below. “Where are you?”
         “Demm it, woman. Give a man a chance, would ye?” The man called out, exasperated with the woman who had dragged him from his warm lodgings in the early morning hours to inspect the manor for would be four legged trespassers. He muttered to himself a little more as he shuffled about the room. She heard him pause at the window and rattle the latch.
          Please don't open the cabinet, she prayed. Even pressed tight into the back of it, behind the shirts and jackets she would be noticeable. The cabinet wasn’t that deep, after all.
The uneven gait moved toward the door. After a moment, it closed with a defining thud.
He was gone from the room at least. It would be a while yet before he and his wife left the manor house if they were checking it, room by room, to make certain it was secure against the woodland creatures seeking shelter for the winter. She?d just have to be quiet until they left and try not to suffocate amidst the masculine clothing in the tight, coffin-like space.

*   *   *

Stephan returned to the townhouse with sense of purpose he hadn’t felt for a long time.  The prospect of returning to the abbey was invigorating. He didn’t realize just how much he missed his family home. The winters in the Lake District were not terribly harsh. They were tolerable, as his father used to say. The foliage dressing the trees would be gone by now, of course, and the fields stripped of their verdant glory. All the same, he felt a small stirring of excitement in his breast. He was going home, to the family seat, to the place he knew and loved as a boy. The woods and the paths winding about the lake were old friends. Perhaps, they would offer him solace this time around, instead of pointing stark, accusing branches at him as he passed along the road in the carriage, as it seemed they had when he’d fled the dark manse.
          Huntley was shocked when he informed the butler of his decision to spend the winter at the abbey. The old man gazed at him as if he had taken leave of his senses. Huntley didn’t say it aloud, but the question was in his eyes. Why, they asked with an impertinence made possible only from decades of service to the same family, would you wish to return to the place where your wife was murdered?
          Snapping his morning newspaper open, Stephan didn’t bother to answer the burning question in the old butler’s rheumy eyes. He simply began reading the news, and waited for the man to exit the room and carry out his wishes for the packing to commence. He’d have to send word to Maria in Derbyshire that he would not be attending the Christmas festivities at her husband’s estate this year after all.
          It shouldn’t come as a surprise to his sister, as he hadn’t attended them last year, either. He’d been in mourning. Maria coaxed him to commit himself to attending the annual Christmas house party this coming year when he’d spent a month brooding under her roof over the summer.  Maria, his baby sister was not one to tiptoe around a problem. She prided herself on being able to confront it head on. And thus, she’d confronted Stephan about his retreat from polite society. The chit had rung the duns over his head until he promised to attend her gala event this year. The holiday party was always a huge success and Maria had become famous for her ability to keep Christmas in a grand style since she became a Duchess.
          Well, she’d get over her disappointment, wouldn’t she? With over fifty house guests to attend to, she could hardly claim to miss him. And a quiet, uneventful Christmas spent at Huntingdon Abbey would be preferable to one spent here in London. He made that mistake last year, believing his presence in London would be overlooked as he was still in mourning. It had been just over a year, and he dared to hope the holidays would not find him.  Thanks to friends like Hadley, Christmas had been forced upon him because he had the audacity to be residing in town during the holiday.  
           Stephan took a sip of his lukewarm tea and ignored the eggs and rashers on the plate before him. He didn’t have an appetite for them this morning. Nothing cook made would tempt him. His life had been reduced to nightmares when asleep and wandering the streets of London during the night to avoid the demons clawing at his soul. Sometimes, he didn’t recall how it was he’d returned home. He blacked out. If he were given to strong drink, he’d blame the spirits for blocking his memory of the previous night’s events.
           It was a different spirit than mere alcohol that dogged his steps.
           Madness?  It was a possibility or merely an excuse.
           He scanned the headlines. The bold black print letters assaulted him.
           Heinous Murder in THE SLUM DISTRICT OF LONDON.
          The word murder jumped out at him, accusing, like the fingers of a preacher pointing directly from the pulpit. He read on, his hands rattling the thin paper as he did so.  A couple had been brutally murdered last night while enjoying a tryst in a secluded grove at Covenant Gardens. The man’s neck had been twisted and broken according to the constable, while the woman’s throat had been slashed.    
          The woman’s torso appeared to have been torn open by wild dogs before the couple were found early this morning by an attendant of the gardens. This was the third such murder in town in the last month, authorities said.
          Stephan uttered a curse under his breath, and set the paper on the table. His mind wandered back to last night. James Hadley had accompanied him to Whites. They sat before a fire, drinking and talking, or rather, James did most of the former while he did most of the latter. He didn’t remember leaving Whites, nor did he recall James taking leave of him there. What he did have was a strong impression of wandering through the streets last night, dangerously close to the gardens where the murder took place. It wasn’t a clear memory, but rather a fractured jumble of images that seemed more dream than reality.
          He brushed the curl from his damp brow, and concentrated on finding that shred of reality.  There were sounds of a couple laughing, and the strong scent of sex. How he knew that, he couldn’t fathom. There was the bittersweet taste of copper on his lips. The cool, night air had embraced him. The heavy fog lent a welcome shroud to his silent passage as he meandered through the hedges.
Stephan took a sip of the now cold tea, his mind frozen by the numb reality that he might have been in that district last night.  Had he gone to the Gardens after leaving the club? If so, had James been with him?  Could James exonerate him of any wrongdoing?
          Did he need to be exonerated?
          He released his breath, disturbed by the working of his own mind. He was being unreasonable. An old family curse had nothing to do with his current melancholy, or his detached thoughts. It was boredom, he told himself, taking up the paper again to peruse the financial page. A faint knocking sound at the front door gave him a start. He slapped himself mentally for his nervousness. He had no reason to be on edge.       
          The butler entered the dining room. “You have a caller, my lord. A young--er-- woman.” The old man corrected. “She claims you instructed her to come here last night. She gave me your card, sir, said you promised to reimburse her for her services to you last night.” The butler held up his calling card. “Do you wish to see her, sir?”
Copyright Lily Silver 2013

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Serialized Sunday; The Gypsy's Curse

Enjoy a peek into an author's life with a weekly rough draft excerpt from a work in progress.  This is for your reading enjoyment, Any comments are welcome. Once this book is complete and edited, it may differ slightly from the verision you read here. Those wishing to be given a free ebook copy of the finished novel  must leave a comment with their email address in the comment section. It's my way of giving back to my wonderful readers!  Enjoy this week's post.

The Gypsy's Curse, Chapter Three Part 1

Copyright Lily Silver, 2013
        The wind awakened her. It blustered outside and rattled the window panes.
        Zara sat up in the big bed, confused by her surroundings for a brief instant. She was in a manor house, in a warm, dry, comfortable old canopy bed. She wore a clean bed gown that belonged to the lady of the house. Her own meager clothing was draped over the chair to dry. Her sodden, stained slippers had been discarded when she entered the house via the unlatched window on the back side. It was not quite dark up here on the hill as it had been in the hollow by the lake. The grey twilight had given her just enough light to make her way to an upstairs bedroom and collapse.
        The bed was luxurious. She’d never seen the like before. Her experience with sleeping quarters was severely limited to her uncle’s camp wagon and the small cot the Widow Kendall had offered her in the cottage attic. She sprawled on the feather mattress and extended her arms. There were still a few inches on either side of her fingers. Oh, it must be wonderful to be wealthy. Warm, cozy beds. Rooms with fireplaces. Yards and yards of elegant brocade fabric hanging from the bedposts and windows, all matching, not scraps of fabric sewn together willy- nilly to create an illusion of privacy in an overcrowded wagon--Stop it.
         Guilt and shame dampening her spirits, Zara sat up suddenly and curled her arms about her bent knees. She was doing it again; ungrateful wretch that she was. She was mentally comparing the wasteful luxuries of the Gadje against the simple provisions of her mother’s people.  Oh, but it was so grand, this room. She’d never dreamed such places existed in the world. It was a place for a princess in a story book.
        The sun was still hugging the far horizon, as reluctant to rise from its dark, comfortable bed as Zara was to pull herself from her cozy refuge. She stretched, and placed a bare foot on the floor. It was cold, but not terribly so, as the rich carpet had been set down to protect milady’s dainty feet from the frigid reality of an uncaring winter floorboard. She stood and pulled the covers up about the bed and smoothed away any evidence of her presence the night before. Remembering the cottager’s assurance to his wife that he’d come up the hill to inspect the manse today, she hurried to the clothespress and hung the new cotton gown back up on the peg where it belonged. Her fingers caressed the soft fabric with longing before she closed the door on the borrowed gown and slipped into her own worn garments.
       Shoes. Yes, she needed something more substantial than the frivolous slippers she ruined on the way here. She’d cast them down the well in the courtyard last night, mindful that she must not leave any evidence of her passing for the villagers on the other side of the woods to track. Zara knelt on the floor and checked the drawers of the armoire. She found an alluring pile of soft silken garments?stockings, petticoats, garters. Her fingers coveted the costly garments. With reluctance, she closed the drawer and nibbled at her lower lip.
        Being in this house was bringing out the worst in her; the Gadje part she couldn’t deny, no matter how hard she tried. Her father had been wealthy landowner, so she’d been told. Perhaps not as wealthy as the one whose home she had stolen into now, but rich enough. He’d been a selfish, greedy man, so they said, a bad influence even among his own people. Devil seed, they sometimes whispered about Zara when she was a child. Devil’s child. It wasn’t enough that her mother had born a babe from a Gadje man. Such things could be forgiven. It was his reputation that had tarnished her standing in the tribe.
        All her life, Zara was cautioned about not giving in to her carnal side lest she become like her father--evil--given over to the desires of the flesh. It wasn’t fair. She was expected to walk a straighter path than the other children of the tribe. If she showed the slightest yearning for a pretty bauble, it was blamed on her Gadje blood and she was chastened for it, where another girl in the camp would be petted and fussed over for wanting that red silk shawl or that gold locket. Her uncle was the only one who took her part against the other children during the many squabbles. Her mother and grandmother always made her apologize for any disagreement. Not because they thought her guilty, but because they knew that her tainted blood could be brought up by the others and Zara would be exiled if she made trouble among them. And as she was but a child, her mother would be exiled too.
Zara didn’t resent her mother or grandmother for their caution--not much. It was hard to hold a grudge against the dead. It did little good. Uncle Lothar took her hunting or he’d let her tag along as he made his rounds to the cottagers to ply his tinkering skills. Aunt Sapphira gave Zara hugs when Cousin Rhys wasn’t watching. Rhys was the leader of their caravan, the oldest male since grandfather had passed on.  He watched Zara incessantly. She knew he was just waiting for a reason to make an example of her to the other children for her wickedness. Lothar always defended Zara against the bully Rhys had become as their chief, but Lothar died last spring, and after his funeral Zara was finally cast out and left to fend for herself.
      A bare branch rattling against the window startled her out of her ruminations. Zara refolded the pretty red silk stockings, placed them reluctantly in the drawer and closed it. Red silk was her weakness. Crimson, the color of blood, the color of the cloak from the Hellfire Club her mother had kept tucked in the bottom of her trunks and took out only late at night when she was alone in the wagon and she thought Zara was asleep. If her father had truly been a rapist, as they claimed, then her mother had secretly been in love with her assailant. A woman didn’t pine after a man who had shamed her and abused her body. Zara saw how her mother fondled the cloak and held it against her cheek, as if mourning the loss of a lover, not a villain. When mother died Lothar burned the cloak, refusing to let Zara have the token of her father’s so cherished by her mother. He spat on it, and cursed the man who wore it, frightening Zara with his vehement response.
      Shoes, girl, sensible boots, and then you must away!   Zara moved across the room in her bare feet. Her stockings as well as her shoes were destroyed. She nibbled her lip, and touched the clean bandage wound around her wounded palm. Surely the lady wouldn’t miss a pair of stockings when she had dozens. Would such a grand lady begrudge a poor girl a pair of stockings from her horde? The lady was probably in London. It was the place that all grand ladies preferred to the country. And surely the woman had other stockings with her.
      The trunk in the corner caught her eye. If there were boots, they might be in there. She opened the trunk and found a sturdy pair of riding boots. Soft black leather--it was like butter beneath her fingers. Zara grabbed them and closed the lid of the trunk, lest her eyes behold something else that her hands might itch to possess. She sat on the bed for a moment, hesitating, resisting the wicked urge to take those red silk stockings. She needed stockings, but not silk ones. Oh, and they felt so lovely against her fingers! There were woolen stockings shoved in the back of the drawer, banished from sight due to their bland, serviceable appearance.
        Zara’s hands fisted about the lovely red silk. She bunched the fabric up, resisting the call of her conscience to put them back in the drawer. If you’re going to steal something, choose something useful, she heard her uncle’s voice in her head.
       She bit her lip and counted to ten, fifteen, and on to thirty.
       In the end, it didn’t matter. Stockings were stockings she told herself as she gathered up her bag and treaded carefully from the room in her new black riding boots. She closed the door, and crept carefully down the hall, listening for the telltale sound of the cottager below the stairs.
      Once she was in the hall, she couldn’t resist peeking in the other rooms before descending to the first floor and making her exit. The house intrigued her. It seemed as if the hallway went on forever. There were doors and more doors as she gazed down the long hall. Zara shook her head. She must appear the simpleton to be so fascinated by a mere house, yet, having grown up in a camp wagon the notion of inhabiting such a grand, expansive home, of staying in one place for more than a week or a month, was vastly appealing.
       Zara entered the room across the hall from the one she had just exited. It was a masculine room, probably the lord’s chamber. The furniture was covered with white sheets to protect it from the dust. The curtains were drawn over the window, blocking out the light. It was a beautiful, peaceful chamber.
       Oh, to have such a room all to myself. The room was wider than three camp wagons put together and twice as long. All of this space for one person? She set her pack on the floor and stood in the center of the room. She held out her hands and spun about slowly. This would be a  place to dream, to be free. To sway to the music in her soul unobserved.
       That was one thing she could not do at the widow’s house, dance. It was in her blood. Her mother had been a dancer. And yet, the widow’s kindness in taking Zara in required a respect for the old woman’s beliefs. Widow Kendall frowned on her urge to move unrestrained, and so, Zara restrained herself, lest she give the woman cause to regret having taken her in.
        She closed her eyes and lifted her arms above her head. The boots with their slight leather heel were cumbersome, not allowing her feet to turn as easily on the carpet as if she’d been barefoot. She was not about to remove them. Zara forgot her loneliness for a time as she let her soul flow through her body, allowed her mind to cease its endless prattle of worried thoughts and recriminations. She gave herself up to the dance.
        A loud clanging of a door reverberated through the manse, stopping Zara’s movements. Someone was here. Probably the old man from the cottage below the hill. She froze and whirled about quickly to gather her bag and find a hiding place. The curtains were drawn. She considered them and just as quickly dismissed the idea. If the cottager came in and opened the drapes, she’d be exposed and hauled off to the nearest jail for trespassing. There was the dressing screen, but it proved equally flimsy. She could hear footsteps echoing on the parquet flooring of the hall below the stairs. She heard low muttering, turned to the door, and stifled a gasp. She left it open. She didn’t dare close it now. The sound would alert them that someone was in the house.  The muttering grew louder, more distinct as the person climbed the stairs and walked slowly down the hall toward the opened doorway.  
Copyright Lily Silver, 2013

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ancient Norse Legends, Anyone?

Ice floes on Bay of Green Bay, Lily Silver 2005

Brrrr, it's winter. It's freezing here in Wisconsin. We've not had a day above freezing for months. And being it's also the season for Thor 2 in the theaters, my mind is turning back to the Norse legends I studied in college a few years ago. I'm also part Norwegian, so that might have something to do with my fascination for Norse legends.

Here's the thing, in the legends, those women are not your typical weak female types hoping for a man to save them.  The legends of the Valkryies are quite impressive.  One story comes to mind about a girl named Brynhild.  

In Saga of the Volsungs, we have vivid depictions of valkyries, or shield maidens as they are sometimes called. The valkyries tend to be human women imbued with supernatural powers. In Chapter 21 of Volsungs, the hero Sigurd is drawn to a great light on a mountain. He climbs the mountain and goes inside a building to find a man lying asleep in full battle armor. Here's the kicker; he removes the sleeping warrior's helmet and discovers it is a woman, not a man. 
Brynhild awakens and tells him that she was stabbed with a sleeping thorn by Odin as punishment for killing a king in battle whom Odin favored. Odin also told her she would have no more victories in battle and that she must marry, meaning she must someday put away her battle array and become like other women. Boo Hoo!  For Brynhild, this would be a true punishment.

Eowyn from Lord of the Rings Valkyrie immortalized!
Sigurd is entranced by her, perhaps because of her status as a shield maiden, not in spite of it. He asks Brynhild to be his teacher and teach him ‘of mighty things.’ Brynhild does so.  Sigurd compliments Brynhild by saying she is the wisest of all women. Rather than being turned off by her warrior persona and her wisdom, he’s definitely liking what he sees. It’s okay for a woman to be strong and smart in the ancient Norse culture. 
Not your typical damsel in distress, Lord of the Rings, Eowyn

This passage is significant as it shows valkyries as being considered wise and gives them an additional role of playing tutor to the hero. Brynhild’s battle attire and her warrior persona seem to be taken in stride by those about her. When Sigurd comes calling at her home frequently, he doesn’t seem surprised to find her sitting near the hearth dressed for battle, a helmet on her head and a spear in her hand. Their 'love affair' is not clearly laid out in the sagas, but it doesn't take too much imagination as a romance author for me to picture the pair of them curled up on a bear rug in that mountain hideaway, next to a blazing fire, kissing and maybe a little more . . . .
Another story of the legendary hero Helgi has a valkryrie named Sigrun as his love interest. In the first poem, she flies over Helgi’s vessel, protecting his men as they sail off to battle. At the end of the story Sigrun and her valkyries ride into the battle with him:
“Helmeted valkyries came down from the sky--the noise of spears grew loud—
They protected the prince; then said Sigrun—the wound-giving valkyrie flew, the
Troll-woman’s mount [wolf] was feasting on the fodder of Ravens [corpses] . . . 
 [Sigrun says to Helgi] ‘it is fitting lord, that you should have the red gold rings
And the powerful girl [Sigrun is giving him herself, since he’s won the battle].

        Apparently girl and power were not mutually exclusive terms in Norse culture. And the presence of women in battle does not seem to trouble the men folk too much in these sagas. In fact, they seem to take it as a good omen to have valkyries present.
        I don't know about you, but I'm feeling very medieval about now. I'm chomping at the bit to write a good Norse Romance with a Shield Maiden/Valkyrie as a heroine.  If you're curious to see a good depiction of a shield maiden, watch Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers. Eowyn Rocks as a Norse warrior woman, and she calls herself a shield maiden of Rohan!  

She kills the bad guy!
 The best part of the movie (LOTR The Two Towers)  is when our warrior woman confronts the uber bad guy, the Witch King, the guy responsible for all the evil going on around them. He tells her that she's foolish to resist him and she will die, that no man can kill him. She stabs him, and as he's crumbling into dust, basically disintegrating before her eyes, she removes her helment and says "I am no man!" 

Next Week: I'll share another story of a Shield Maiden who avenged her husband's death, ruled Russia, and then became a Catholic, a woman named Olga, or Helga. She's a real person, by the way.

Where do I find this stuff? It's in the ancient literature of the Norse:

 Saga of the Volsungs, 13th century BCE. (New York, Penguin, 1999), 67-71.
The First Poem of elgi Hundingsbani, The Poetic Edda, Transl. Carolyne Larrington, (New York:
Oxford, 1996), 118.