The Lords of the Winds: The Saga of Hasting the Avenger – Book 1
By C.J. Adrien
“For indeed the Frankish nation, which was crushed by the avenger Hasting, was full of filthy uncleanness. Treasonous and oath-breaking, they were deservedly condemned; unbelievers and faithless, they were justly punished.” – Dudo of St. Quentin
Orphaned as a child by a blood-feud, and sold as a slave to an exiled chieftain in Ireland, the boy Hasting had little hope of surviving to adulthood. The gods had other plans. A ship arrived at his master’s longphort carrying a man who would alter the course of his destiny, and take him under his wing to teach him the ways of the Vikings. His is a story of a boy who was a slave, who became a warlord, and who helped topple an empire.
A supposed son of Ragnar Lodbrok, and referred to in the Gesta Normanorum as the Scourge of the Somme and Loire, his life exemplified the qualities of the ideal Viking. Join author and historian C.J. Adrien on an adventure that explores the coming of age of the Viking Hasting, his first love, his first great trials, and his first betrayal.
Read an excerpt from Chapter 2:
Only the bravest men betake themselves a-Viking. It is a dangerous profession, but a lucrative one for those who are successful. When Eilif bought my freedom, he recruited me as ship’s boy. He first taught me how to tie knots. I thought a Viking should first learn how to wield a sword or throw a spear. But a Viking, Eilif said, is nothing without the skill to sail his ship, and to sail his ship, he must know his knots.
Ours was a warship named Sail Horse of the Mountains of the Swans, or Sail Horse for short, and it was one of many kinds of boats sailed by those who roved. Sail Horse contained all manner of ropes, and each use required a different knot. I thought to find a life of excitement at sea, perhaps filled with unbridled adventure. That was how it was always described in Hagar’s hall. Instead, I found myself spending my first days aboard the longship fiddling with ropes to make one knot or another.
“A true Viking is a seafarer first and a warrior second,” Eilif said. “His strength is his ship, not his sword or his ax.”
I admired Eilif. He was strong-minded, intelligent, and he had exceptional skill in navigation. What I admired most about him was his ability to command the respect of his men. They obeyed him unquestioningly. When a new recruit stood against him in protest or defiance, it always ended badly for him. Eilif hardly had to lift a finger before his loyal followers put the challenger in his place. Seldom did he have to raise his voice. He could cut through men’s courage in a single glance. The men feared his wrath, but he did not have to threaten them with any violence to earn their loyalty. It was Eilif who taught me the power of respect in commanding fealty.
As ship’s boy, it was my duty not only to learn the craft of sailing, roping, and cleaning, but also cooking. My first night aboard Eilif’s longship, the second in command, Egill, taught me and the other ship’s boy how to make the foods needed for a long sea voyage.
For most of the day the men ate dried, salted fish, but at night they preferred fresh cuts of herring or mackerel with bread if we had any in the hold. On some days, when the wind blew favorably, we made a fire in a large iron pot suspended from a tripod that was bolted to the deck. The pot swayed with the ocean’s waves, so the coals did not spill out. From the same stand, we hung a smaller iron pot and dipped it into the flames. This was how we made our stews. As our days in open water passed, the ingredients to make the stews dwindled, leaving us with nothing but raw fish to eat until we reached land.
Egill was no ordinary Northman. His father lived in the far north, beyond the edges of what Danes considered to be the known world, and he traded with a mysterious people called the Sami. It is believed by the Northmen that the Sami possess magical powers—powers which have allowed them to survive in the harsh northern wastes since the creation of Midgard. They gave him rich white furs, and in return, he gave them grains, iron tools, and mead.
To forge trade relations with the Sami, Egill’s father married one of their chieftain’s daughters. Eilif believed Egill had inherited his mother’s ability to see into the other realms and to interpret the will of the gods. At first, I did not believe Eilif, but I later learned to respect Egill’s abilities and magical powers. Although he shared half his blood with the Sami, he had the look of a Northman. He had long, curly brown hair and a coarse beard that he boasted could stop an arrow from piercing his chest. So proud of his beard was he that he drunkenly dared me once to throw a dagger at it to prove to me it could stop the blade. Years of braiding and exposure to the sea had made the beard hard as wood.
My first few weeks at sea were uneventful. We encountered no storms, held a favorable wind to our back, and praised the gods we did not encounter any beasts beneath the waves. As a child, I feared the monsters of myth, as most children do, and it did not help that the men told stories of ships devoured whole in the open ocean by giant serpents.
I cannot say if the men truly believed the stories or if they intended merely to frighten the ship boys as a cruel amusement. The other ship boy, Bjorn, also feared the monsters. To him, the myths were very real. I saw him one night, peering over the gunwale into the ocean’s dark waters, illuminated by a bright crescent moon under a clear night sky. When I joined him, I heard a muffled knocking against the hull, and we saw the dark silhouette of a shark that rammed itself repeatedly into the ship’s strakes. Bjorn said the shark’s behavior was an ill portent of things to come. I was not so quick to believe the shark acted with the will of the gods. I searched for a cause and found a bucket of fish guts tied to an oar-port that was leaking blood down the hull and into the water. Bjorn sighed in relief at the revelation.
“Monsters be damned,” I said to him.
Once we arrived at our destination, our good fortune turned against us. No sooner had Egill screamed from the prow that he had spotted land, a fierce wind overtook us from the south. The men reefed the sail completely, and they set their oars to the water to take the ship to shore, hoping to avoid the approaching tempest. The gods had something else in mind for us. Dark clouds filled the sky and unleashed rain, thunder, and wind that swelled the waves as tall as the ship’s mast. I saw fear in Eilif’s eyes for the first time. His knuckles were white as he gripped the steering paddle and worked with all his strength to keep the ship on course.
Bjorn came to me in fear as I held onto the gunwale to steady myself in the waves. I took his arm to pull him toward me and place his hands by mine. The waves rocked us with relentless force, the likes of which I had never witnessed. In my fear, I had not noticed that Bjorn and I stood in the path of a loose crate of supplies. A violent gust of wind swept across the ship and, with the help of a towering wave, tilted Sail Horse until we nearly capsized. The crate slipped and slammed against the gunwale and hurled the two of us into open water.
I should have drowned that day. My body sank beneath the waves, and I felt the cold embrace of the ocean’s water all around me. As I drifted deeper and deeper, I watched helplessly as the light from the living world dimmed to near blackness.
The ocean claimed me for herself and swallowed me whole until my final breath escaped from my chest. I should have sunk and perished, but I remained suspended in place at the precipice of where the light from the surface met the darkness of the deep.
There I saw the silhouette of a monstrous wolf with deep red eyes running through the water as if through a field of grass. The wolf opened his jowls, which stretched from the surface to the deep, as if to devour me, but it passed me by and swirled around my body. It turned back and ran at me again, but then I saw it charge at something below me. It was Bjorn. I reached for Bjorn’s lifeless hand and grasped it with all my strength. At that moment, I felt two powerful hands clasp around my shoulders and pull me from my watery tomb.
C.J. Adrien is a bestselling author of Viking historical fiction novels with a passion for Viking history. His Kindred of the Sea series was inspired by research conducted in preparation for a doctoral program in early medieval history as well as his admiration for historical fiction writers such as Bernard Cornwell and Ken Follett. He is also a published historian on the subject of Vikings, with articles featured in historical journals such as L’Association des Amis de Noirmoutier, in France. Click here to view his website.