The newborn’s first scream filled the air, mingling with the sound of galloping hoofbeats on the path outside the family’s small cottage. The new mother opened one weary eye, too tired to get up after the difficult birth. Her husband had gone to fetch the midwife in the nearest village but hadn’t arrived in time, and while her sister had been there to assist, Clara wished Cenric had made it back sooner. Was that him returning now? She hadn’t thought their old farmhorse could move any faster than a lazy trot.
“Clara, run!” her husband shouted, riding a chestnut stallion through the doorway and knocking off part of the thatched roof. His wife wondered whose horse it was-- it certainly didn’t belong to them. She struggled to her feet and nearly fell before her husband noticed her struggling and helped her, the child, and her sister up onto the horse.
“Cenric, what’s going on?” Clara shouted over the wind as the family galloped inland away from their riverside farm.
“Vikings!” he shouted back. “I saw their ships up the river near Wharram Percy.”
Clara’s heart nearly stopped when she heard the news. She knew what a raid meant-- towns burned, monasteries looted, and the lives of simple people such as themselves destroyed.
“We need to go back!” Her exhaustion was forgotten, every inch of her being focused on protecting her child. “If they burn the farm, we’ll lose everything!”
He ignored her, as did her sister. If she hadn’t been holding the baby, she would’ve grabbed him and forced him to listen.
“Cenric, if one of us does not go back to defend our farm, we will lose all of our food and money and be dead before winter ends. If we make it till spring, we’ll be beggars. Is that the life you want for our child?”
“Clara, if I could go back and fight all of them off I would, but they’re Vikings and I’m…” He rubbed his leg as his sentence trailed off. There was a time he had served as captain of the guard for Wharram Percy, but an injury during the harvest had ended his fighting days.
“I didn’t mean for you to fight them off by yourself.” Clara’s father had been a merchant, and she travelled with him while she was young. Since he had no sons who could watch over her, he taught her to use a sling and a dagger so she could defend herself against bandits or other threats should something happen to him.
“Clara, you can’t fight, you just gave birth!” Cenric seemed unwilling to listen to his wife, but he slowed the horse to a trot all the same. “Love, they have armor.”
“Then I’ll just have to hit them somewhere they don’t,” she retorted, sliding off the horse and handing him the baby. She stumbled a little as she hit the ground, but quickly regained her footing and ran back towards the farm. She’d used her sling as something to bite down on during birth to stop the screaming, and she still had it with her.
Clara scooped up some decently sized rocks from the side of the path before the cottage came into sight. She didn’t think the Vikings would have arrived yet, but if they had they were in for a nasty surprise. When people described the fearsome warriors, they spoke of seeing battle rage on their faces. It stood to reason their helmets didn’t cover their mouths or eyes, since their faces wouldn’t have been visible if that had been the case. Either one of those areas would make a painful target, Clara thought.
The farm was quiet as she crept up to the cottage, aching all over but not letting a little thing like pain stop her.
She pushed open the door and looked longingly at the chair by the fireplace. If she sat down, she would fall asleep and not be ready to fight against the Vikings if they came. Clara prayed they might raid Wharram Percy and leave without going farther down river, but she couldn’t leave the farm unguarded in case her prayers went unanswered.
Her dagger was sitting on the mantle. With shaking hands, she shoved it through her belt, wondering if she’d made a stupid decision.
Clara peered out the door and saw a small boat full of Vikings headed towards her farm. Slipping a rock into her sling, she prepared her aching muscles for the fight.