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1064

Off the Coast of Northumbria

Elaine of Rockland stood at the bow of her ship, squinting bleary eyes against the icy winter wind. She and her crew had spent a frightening night fighting to keep their course through an ice storm. Had Rockland not been so desperate for money and goods, they never would have ventured out until spring. Their people were hungry, many were sick, and the raids earlier that year had left them with little resources and in dire need of repairs. Elaine and her crew were forced to sail up the coast of Essex all the way to Northumbria and possibly to Scotland, if necessary, to gather supplies for their survival.

Thus far most villages had been unwilling or unable to trade in the midst of winter. They needed their supplies for themselves, since Rockland was not the only village which had been sacked from summer to autumn. Though Viking raids were far less common than in earlier years, bands of outlaws throughout the land destroyed many of the smaller villages. William Blackridge, a man who had once been one of the finest knights in the land but had turned to looting, led a particularly fierce band of raiders. Only through a recent failed attack on a village called Ravenhill, under the protection of a Viking who had converted to serve the king, had Blackridge’s dishonorable actions been revealed to the king and his raiders disbanded. The knight was now an outlaw with an enormous price on his head.

And I hope someone finds him and cuts his head off, Elaine thought. Actually, beheading is too good for him. He deserves to suffer as he made others suffer, as he’s made every man, woman, and child in Rockland suffer.

“It’s cold, but if the weather stays clear, we should reach Ravenhill soon,” Ezekiel, Elaine’s brother, said as he came to stand beside her.

Elaine nodded. Since hearing of Ravenhill’s success against Sir William Blackridge’s raiders, they had decided to approach them for trade. If Ravenhill possessed such a fine army, perhaps they retained the resources to assist Rockland.

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