Scotland’s King Macbeth has been dead for a decade, yet his legacy changes forever the lives of his twin nieces, Jenna and Jessie macFindlaech. Viking raiders on a blood feud come to their home in the Cairngorm Mountains, intending to kill all males of Macbeth’s line. Finding only female descendants in the clan-hold, the Vikings declare they will seek out the older sister, who has two sons. Knowing she must somehow warn Tessa, Jenna escapes the marauders. To her horror, the Vikings take Jessie with them as a hostage.
The girls must learn to live without each other, outside the world they’ve always known. It’s especially hard for kind-hearted Jessie, whose lameness makes her doubt her own worth. Jenna’s anger keeps her going, rage at the Vikings who ruined her peaceful life and, she fears, have killed her beloved twin. She refuses to believe any Northman has the tiniest spark of good: not the deformed vitki fortune teller called Aldis, and definitely not Lukas the Tracker, whose merest touch makes her feel weak in the knees.
Jenna’s path takes her to England and then France, where she meets William of Normandy just before he leaves to conquer England. Jessie stays in Scotland, pursued by Viking Bjorn Bear-Slayer and protected by a kind man who sees her as a burden laid upon him by a benevolent priest.
As each sister copes in her own way, love interferes with their intentions. In both cases it’s love that cannot be expressed, love that’s too irrational to ever be returned. Each girl struggles to put her emotions aside, but their hearts don’t know how. The attempt only leads to Double Toil and Trouble.
Targeted Age Group:: adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
In 2007, I published a book called MACBETH’S NIECE. It did well, but another story, related but not really a sequel, kept coming to mind. I wrote it down then put it aside. By that time I’d begun writing mysteries, and I was really busy with them. Recently a family member brought the book up, saying she’d always liked it and asking when it would be published. I decided to take a look and found that I like it, too, so I hired an editor, did some reworking, and put it all together.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I was a high school English teacher, so I feel like I knew Macbeth “back in the day.” The idea of his remaining family seemed like fun. How were they treated after the king died? They were innocent of his crimes (if he really did them), but people don’t always accept that. Jenna and Jessie are young, but they have to find the courage to face life and all its ups and downs. They find that family is a person’s strongest connection–well, family and love!
They came at daybreak, stalking silently from the grove of spindly trees in business-like formation, eyes watchful, weapons ready. Before the sleepy-eyed Scots could react, the rough men were upon them, pulling the adults from their beds at sword-point and herding them together like sheep. Squinting into the misty morning, Jenna stood with the others, shivering and fearful in the cold damp. Their men glared at the interlopers, furious with them for the assault and with themselves for being caught unprepared.
There was little to hear as Jenna’s life crashed around her. Men grunted as they were kicked or pushed into place, a child cried out and was hushed, face muffled against her mother’s chest. Jenna heard the mother whisper fiercely into the girl’s stiff, reddish hair, “Whist, nae, d’ye hear?” An older girl sobbed, but there was not much sound to it, as if she realized her fears meant nothing to the hard men who stared impassively at them.
Jenna’s gaze swept the tiny circle of her family. Meg, her oldest sister, stood with her husband Donald. Nettie and Ailsa, each with a baby on her hip and a husband at her side, watched fearfully, glancing at Meg for courage. Behind them the family’s servants and herdsmen stood, children peering from around their parents’ legs. Jenna’s heart gave a little jump as she realized her twin was not among them. A second, closer scan gave no reassurance. Jessie was not there. Where was she?
Out staring at the night, Jenna decided. When darkness covered the mountain, Jessie often left the smoky house to breathe fresh air beneath the stars. Tonight, it’s a blessing, Jenna thought. Jessie will be spared whatever fate awaits the rest of us.
When members of the clan-hold were assembled within the ring of the hard-faced, foreign-looking warriors, two men stepped from the tree line and made their way forward. The first, a man with starkly-white hair and dark, brooding eyes, moved with a slow and stately gait, as if heading a procession of worshipers rather than a band of interlopers. Though his frame was well muscled he looked shrunken, as if he’d taken little nourishment of late. His solemn face bore an expression of piety, and his gaze focused somewhere above their heads. His heavy sword rode in a scabbard at his back, and his hands were folded before him as if in prayer. Lesser men had done the dirty work. It seemed he had a different role.
The second man, a half step behind the first, was one such as Jenna had never seen before. Taller even than his tall companions, he seemed too perfect to be real: long, silken hair of reddish gold, a face strong yet beautiful with high cheekbones and a smooth brow, and a body formed for pure strength. While the others wore subdued colors and rough fabrics, this man’s deeply-dyed garments trumpeted personal pride. His bright blue eyes missed nothing as they swept the scene. When they lingered on Jenna, she shivered but would not look away. After a moment his gaze went on.
The silent warriors who’d torn Jenna’s people from their beds parted to admit the two men into the circle of captor and captured. The dark-eyed one examined the men among them, focusing on each face in turn, his expression almost, but not quite, benign.
When he spoke, his voice was higher than she’d expected. “I seek the men of Macbeth’s clan.” The words, though spoken in her tongue, sounded strange, the inflections slightly off. Their odd appearance now made sense. The intruders were Vikings.
Long ago, before Jenna’s grandfather’s father was born, they’d come as invaders. Some had settled along Britain’s east coast, carving a place for themselves among the mixed clans and tribes settled there. Along with Saxons, Picts, and Angles, Vikings had intermarried with natives until in some places it was difficult to separate the cultures.
These men, however, were blatantly Norse, with the tall frames and fair hair of the Scandinavians to whom terrible deeds were attributed. Looking at the grim faces before her, Jenna felt her fears deepen. What if the old folks’ tales of the Northmen’s cruelty were true?
Eyes sweeping the bedraggled group of prisoners, the leader’s gaze focused on Donald. “Are you blood kin to the fiend Macbeth?”
Meg’s husband was no coward. His rugged face revealed contempt and his voice was firm as he answered, “Our late king was no fiend, though I claim no blood kinship with him.”
The stranger smiled thinly. “Macbeth was a murderer and a coward. I am come to avenge his crimes, so my soul and the souls of my family can be at peace.”
Donald frowned in confusion. “Macbeth is dead these ten years.”
Waving a hand as if the argument had no consequence, the man replied, “I, Leif Arneson, have seen his cruelty. The sight of it would burn the eyes from your head.”
The splendid man beside Arneson shifted his feet. Jenna couldn’t decide if he was discomfited or impatient. Their eyes met for a second time and his head tilted, like a cat awaking at a sudden noise. She lowered her face, uncomfortable at his interest.
The white-haired man spoke again, raising his voice. “Macbeth ordered the murders of a mother and her sons. The gods have called me to avenge them.”
A stir went through the little crowd of listeners. A stranger come at the behest of his gods could not be good for them. “The ageless ones are angry.” His voice thrummed with certainty. “The blood feud calls.”
There were gasps of dismay. A blood feud!
“Macbeth was killed in battle,” Donald said, his voice firm. “There’s no call for more blood.”
The Viking shook his head. “One death does not suffice. Each squandered life cries for payment.”
Jenna shivered. A blood feud was a fearsome thing. The family of a murder victim was required by honor to exact a life for a life, and the life taken need not be the murderer’s. Any family member might suffer in his place, even children. Would they all die today because of events a decade gone? It was unusual but not unheard of, and Arneson’s demeanor revealed determination to see it through.
Meg stepped protectively before her husband. “No man of Macbeth’s line lives here.”
Anger flared in the Viking’s eyes. “You lie! Macbeth’s brother took his family to the Cairngorms, to this place, when he tired of your nation’s constant upheaval.”
“My father, long dead, sired only daughters.” Meg nodded at her little family. “Nor are there male children in the new generation.”
Arneson’s posture slackened as if he’d taken a blow to the stomach, but he raised his face piously to the stars. “At least the gods spared us more of his ilk,” he murmured.
Meg’s chin lifted defiantly. “Our father was as good a man as ever lived.” Donald put a hand on her arm, warning her not to tempt a madman. The Viking, ten years late for vengeance, was almost certainly diseased in his mind.
There was a stir outside the circle, and Jenna turned to behold a new, even stranger sight. Four men approached, bearing among them a large shield of beaten metal. On it sat a woman of extraordinary beauty and coloring such as she had never imagined. Her hair was so pale as to seem translucent, lighting the face it framed. Her eyes were a brilliant blue, and her cheeks showed red against otherwise chalk-white skin.
When the bearers set the shield on the ground, however, Jenna saw that the woman’s lower body was deformed, almost barrel-shaped. Probably to disguise this, she sat amid colorful blankets and pillows, only her upper torso visible above the bright fabric, like a vision in a dream.
The newcomer examined the people before her, considering each face. Her gaze stopped on Jenna, perhaps noting that no child clung to her, no man lent his protection with an arm or even a glance. One pale eyebrow lifted before she went on, cataloging each member of the group in a manner known only to herself. “Have you found what you sought, Leif?”
The Viking glanced at her resentfully, but his voice remained neutral. “They say no men are left of his line, Aldis.”
“Is this true?” She spoke to Meg, her tone hinting she would know if lies were told.
“My uncle was the last macFindlaech.”
Her smile was odd, perhaps haughty, perhaps something else. “Only women speak for the great Macbeth?”
“I cannot speak for him,” Meg corrected. “My uncle and I never met.”
Arneson stirred impatiently. “No sons to compensate my loss, Aldis. Who will pay for Macbeth’s murder and betrayal?”
“We have heard such stories,” Meg said, “but tales may be told of any man once he’s dead. The telling does not make it true.” Again Donald shifted beside his wife, perhaps wishing she didn’t feel the need to defend her kinsman.
Even in their home high in the mountains, they’d heard of it. Folk said the desire for power had led Macbeth and his lady wife to murder and madness. They rejected the whispers, first because it was natural to hope their kinsman had not been a monster, and second because their sister Tessa had known the king in his last year of life. She insisted the stories were lies invented to justify one king’s deposition of another.
The Viking’s cold gaze seemed to look through Meg, but he responded to her words. “I did not imagine my brothers’ cries as Macbeth’s men spitted them like hogs at slaughter. I heard them!” He raised his hands dramatically, and spittle flew from his lips as he shouted, “The fiend’s line must be stomped out, like the eggs of a serpent!” His eyes searched the crowd as if willing satisfactory victims to appear. The Scots winced at his fury, but no one spoke.
“There are no males of his blood here, Leif.” Aldis spoke softly, her hands resting in her lap. Jenna would learn later that she cultivated stillness because movement caused her pain.
The Viking turned on her in anger. “Then you were wrong, and we have wasted weeks.”
Though she sat below Leif, Aldis appeared to look down on him. “If a curse were easily broken, it would not be such a dreadful thing.”
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