The Kings of the Sea
By C.J. Adrien
Book 3 in his series The Saga of Hasting the Avenger
Published by Runestone Books
843 A.D. The city of Nantes Burns.
An unexpected betrayal forces Hasting to abandon his closest ally. With his heart turned black, he rekindles the savagery of his race. In sacking Nantes, his bravery and luck earn him a place in the skalds’ songs. Word of his deeds reaches his kin in the North, and more and more sea captains sail to Francia to join him, hoping his luck might help theirs.
Thor of Dublin, Hasting’s old rival, will seek him out and ask him to join his new alliance of sea kings. Together, they will launch the most ambitious raids their people have ever attempted. They will sail south to the land of the Moors to test their alliance’s strength and, if successful, turn their sights to an even more daring prize: Paris.
The Norns make nothing easy. A secret affair will risk unraveling the alliance and bring the sea kings to the brink of civil war.
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Read an excerpt from the novel:
As the sunrise’s first glimmers painted the eastern horizon, towering red and orange flames silhouetted the city’s walls. I did not want to merely take the city—I wanted to destroy it. And so we did. Nantes burned.
We loaded the ships so full of loot that two of them sank in the river on the journey home. Lucky for those men, we were able to retrieve them from the water, though not their wealth. On our way, we collected several ships from my fleet that we had left behind during the ambush, and onto these we repartitioned some of our plunder and men. We did not want other ships to sink when we reached open ocean.
With so much wealth, Rune decided to take his fleet straight home to Ireland and not risk lingering in Francia in case other raiders from the North decided to try their luck that summer. He knew all too well Danes and Northmen had a bad habit of looting from one another if their paths should cross at sea. We said our farewells near the mouth of the river and sailed our separate ways. Tariq lingered at the aft of the ship to watch Rune’s fleet glide into obscurity. He wore a solemn frown.
“He should not look so sad to see Rune leave,” Skírlaug said to me before joining Tariq at the gunwale. They spoke briefly, and she motioned for him to rest on some furs she had laid out. Tariq did as she suggested. Once she had him comfortable, she weaved back through the huddled bodies of resting men to join me at the prow. Her hand brushed mine over the gunwale.
“Talk to me,” she said.
“You haven’t said a word since the Loire.”
“I haven’t had anything to say.”
“You don’t need to hide behind your strength with me.” She waited for me to respond, but I said nothing. “Is it Morgana?”
Morgana and I had been betrothed the previous summer, with Nominoë’s blessing. She was the daughter of the wealthiest nobleman in Armorica. Our union would have solidified my place and power in the region. We had also shared a bed, and for a short time, I had felt myself falling for her, but no longer. Erispoë’s betrayal stung too much, and my heart craved vengeance against their entire race.
I laughed and said, “I haven’t given her much thought.”
“Laughing is a man’s way of distancing himself from how he truly feels.”
I pulled my hand from the gunwale and away from hers. “I laughed because what you said was absurd.”
“I’m worried about you,” she added.
“Worry about someone else!” I snapped. Though I was not looking at her, I could feel her heart sink.
“What is it you are thinking about, then?”
I turned to meet her eyes and said, “I’m thinking about how I will kill Erispoë and make sure his family never again rules Armorica.”
“So it’s revenge again. You know if you kill him, another will take his place.”
“In that case, perhaps I should take Armorica as my own,” I said with a smirk.
Skírlaug shot me sideways glance as if I had made a bad joke, yet she knew I was serious, at least in part. Without saying more, she stepped away and left me to my brooding.