Title: The Flame of Battle
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publication Date: May 29, 2018
Cover Designer: Andreea Vraciu
Hosted by: Lady Amber's PR
Pauline Creeden is USA Today Bestselling and award-winning author of inventive and inspirational stories, entwining real-world problems with fantasy characters.
Author Bio: Author of the Easy-Growing Garden series & the Dragonriders of Skala! Hamline MFAC, chicken wrangler, horticulturist.
NONE SHALL GET THROUGH ME
Dyrfinna and Aesa were out in the field that morning to hoe—though, to be closer to the truth, Dyrfinna was tilling the fine soil with her hoe. Little Aesa chopped at it for a little while, trying to be a big girl like Dyrfinna. Then she would tire and pretend she was a puppy. She was only five years old and a little goosy. She romped around the broken clods of soil, yipping and barking, and then she’d come back and put her hands on Dyrfinna’s side, panting up at her and smiling.
“Are you my little puppy? Who’s my little puppy?” Dyrfinna asked, giving Aesa-puppy a one armed hug. “Puppy puppy, dig a little hole. Look at these stones! We’re growing a big crop of stones. Can you help me dig them up?”
Dyrfinna’s hoe struck sparks on a stone the soil had heaved up. Every winter, the soil shrugged up a new crop of stones, slowing down the spring tilling and planting.
Aesa-puppy barked and started digging away around the rock with her little hands, but then changed her mind and picked up her hoe and used that to dig. Dyrfinna joined her, scooping the soil out around the smooth, round boulder—the bones of the rugged land. Dyrfinna handled each one with care, as she considered them sacred objects in a sense, even though they were a terrible annoyance.
Dyrfinna straightened from her hoeing and rolled her neck, looking across the small Viking city of Skala toward the endless ocean and the great mountains of the fjords. The smell of wood smoke from many chimneys came to her, the quiet conversations of many people in the streets, the complaints of the sheep on the hills, and the music of a hammer striking iron in the forge—all the sounds of home came to her at the height of the field on the hill. The great black ships stood in the harbor, the masts of their fleet standing side-by-side with a trader from the Balkans, several Moorish ships from Iberia, and a number of Viking ships from places like Oslo, Hedeby, and Birka.
She wanted to get the hoeing done before midday, for she had the usual chores to attend to at home, and she also had to get those out of the way so she could take Grandma for her walk, which was to keep her hands and legs from twisting more. But also Grandma told the best stories and Dyrfinna loved being with her. Then if everything was finished, she could do a little fishing and squeeze in a little sword-work with her battle-friends. They liked to practice combat on the long cliffs over the sea when they could, and they were all going to gather late in the afternoon, and bring in supper. They would fight and eat, though not at the same time.
Suddenly Aesa drew in a sharp breath. “Sissy…”
Dyrfinna jerked her head up from the boulder she’d just dislodged. Her breath stopped in her throat.
From out of the tall winter grasses at field’s edge came a wolf, his yellow eyes full on them.
Aesa started to whimper. When Dyrfinna was her age, she’d seen a pack of wolves take down one of their horses, her favorite horse, and Mama had snatched her up and run hard for the house while Papa had run at our side—backwards—while slamming home arrow after arrow from his bow at the wolves. Afterward, three of their bodies littered the field with arrows sticking out of them. But it did not save her poor horse. She had nightmares about that for moons.
Dyrfinna bit back a curse. She wouldn’t have been alone in the field in the first place, had she waited for someone to help. Her hand rested on the hilt of the only thing that could protect them. But she’d have to wait for the wolf to come right up to her little sister in order to use that sword.
“Grab hold of my leg,” Dyrfinna commanded. “Do it!”
Aesa’s little shaking arms went around Dyrfinna’s left leg.
“Sissy…” Aesa said again, and her little face crumpled. Her shaking arms loosened. She started to sob against Dyrfinna’s leg.
The wolf’s intense stare never wavered. It took one slow step toward them. Then two.
Dyrfinna would have to move quickly. She had to pick up her sis, and she’d need to stoop to do it, and the wolf would likely rush them when she was on his level. At least he was alone, for a wolf with a pack would be calling to them. But a lone wolf was usually more desperate– hungrier.
With her foot, Dyrfinna touched two of the stones she’d dug up, and pulled them close together so she could easily grab them when she picked up her sister.
“Aesa,” she said. “On the count of three, I’m going to stoop down and pick you up. If I have to fight this stupid wolf, I need you to hold me as tight as you can. Tight. Like a barnacle. Do you understand?”
Aesa started crying out loud, but she nodded. Dyrfinna pulled her sword up a little from the scabbard so it would slide out in one smooth motion when she needed it.
Her heart pounded hard against her chest. This whole time, her eyes had been fixed on the wolf’s, except for a brief moment when they’d flickered to the stones and flickered to Aesa. Her little sister.
Well. Now Aesa was going to see how her big sister, who loved her more than anything else in the world could fight.
“When I pick you up, I’m going to scream like nothing you’ve ever heard,” she told her sister. “Hold on tighter when I do.”
The wolf moved in a step. That bastard.
“Count to three with me,” Dyrfinna told her. “Then you scream when I scream. Okay?”
Her left hand was around her little shoulders. She felt Aesa nod.
Dyrfinna made her heart iron.
That wolf was not going to get her little sis.
That wolf was going to die right now.
“One.” She placed her feet into a solid stance, both for fighting and for picking up a three and a half stone girl.
“Two.” Aesa’s little trembling voice echoed hers.
Dyrfinna breathed in deep, let it out, let power uncoil through her, just as she’d been taught for so many years.