Here’s an excerpt from chapter 19 of THE FLAME OF BATTLE in which Dyrfinna recieves a ship from her grandmama, who really wants to go into battle but her arthritic hands won’t let her grip a sword any more. Grandmas are the best, just in case you didn’t know that. But her papa … he’s not going to be down with that.
A great bustle and movement surrounded the long stone piers by the waterside where the great black ships lay. Warriors and thralls worked hard, carrying provisions and weapons to the ships to prepare for their voyage. Here and there in the crowd was a bright cloak or a gilded helm to show a person of rank. The sun gleamed on helmets and coats of mail, and the noise of preparation filled the air.
Dyrfinna had a sleek, dark ship sitting in the harbor below. Her crew was placing a dragon’s head on the prow. The workmen greeted her as she stepped into the hollow ship with its reddened ribs and tarred oar-blades. She had already loaded her gear on the ship, little by little, as she’d recruited warriors for her crew. She inhaled deeply the smell of old wood, tar, bilgewater, and sea air – the smell of her ship.
“Thank you, Grandmama,” she murmured, her heart full.
My ship and my crew, she thought, almost giddy with possibility.
It was a smart little longship made all of dark oak that her grandmother had ordered built, long ago – a snekkja with a sail and rowing benches that carried a crew of about thirty-five. It was named Saebrandur, or Sea Flame, and it darted through the waves like an otter.
It was the richest gift she’d ever been given. And not just any gift, but one that needed more than anything. She had loved this ship since she was a little girl, loved how friendly it seemed to be, nudging up to her on the waves as she stood on the docks, like a cat. And now Saebrandur would the first step to the future that she desired above all others.
“Hello, little Finna!” cried the exuberant old steersman, Hakr, as he joined her. “Ye dogs and little fishes, it is a pleasure to see you again here on the wide waves.”
Dyrfinna leaned in for his embrace. “It’s good to see you, too.”
Old steersman that he was, Hakr looked the part, in his old oilskin, cheery eyes that were permanently squinted against the wind, his sunburned face, his white beard and hair making the man look as if he were permanently rimed with salt. He had sailed for years for Dyrfinna’s grandparents, and he knew the seas like the palm of his hand. He’d fought pirates and Vikings alongside Dyrfinna’s grandfather, who understood the battle strategies of many nations, and he feared nothing in or over the wide salt seas.
“Ah, I used to help you toddle around on deck when you were a teeny lass. You’d hold my finger with your wee hand and stump around, so serious. Little did I dream that someday you would have my ship in your service.”
“I need your expertise,” she said, resting her arms on the side of the ship. “You’ve voyaged all over the watery part of the world; you’ve fought many battles alongside my grandparents. I welcome your help.” She didn’t mean to get grandiloquent. She loved Hakr’s exuberant way of speaking, and she found herself echoing it whenever she was around him.
“I am at your service,” he said. “Any time you need help, I will be there. You have my word.”
Warmed through with happiness, she turned to look at her crew as they clambered aboard, greeting her. They were mainly older men and women. For an instant she felt young and uncertain, but then pulled herself up. She was equal to the task. Indeed, they greeted her with respect as they came aboard or as they left. “Our commander,” they kept saying. It felt incredible.
“Hakr, I am looking forward to this so much,” she said to her old friend.
From the corner of her eye, she could see one of their black dragons circling, looking to the left and right. Her heart always leapt at those wings. How she longed to fly! Perhaps her time on this ship would be the beginning of her rise … she could prove herself as commander of her crew, and perhaps eventually the Queen would be impressed enough to allow her to become a dragonrider, despite her father.
The dragon’s burning body roared straight over her ship, and Dyrfinna threw her head back in wonder. The sun shone through those gigantic wings, as if shining through thick, black smoke. She exulted in the storming of the wind against its wings, and she felt the heat from the dragon’s body even far below on the ship, and its great shadow fell over her.
Except … now she recognized the dragon, and her heart froze inside its shadow.
It was her papa’s dragon.
He had returned at last.