"When the Norse warrior meets the Frankish girl, who will rule the longhouse?"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted December 29, 2013
Romance | Romance Historical
This story starts in the land of the Franks in AD 1022 as
Helena, a chattel stolen from her village by Danish
warriors, looks over a trading scene. She has been cut by
a knife while being captured, and is warned that she should
find a good master or risk worse injury. A chieftain who
wishes to settle to a farming life is looking for servants,
and in his arm ring winks a NORSE JEWEL.
Helena is valuable to a trader because she has a smattering
of a few languages, and Hakan the Norse chieftain has to
haggle for her. She's handsome enough, and young so she can
work hard, but he doesn't want a bedslave. Wool and
wolfskin clothe this warrior, who is as much at home on sea
as land. Ominous news reaches him from a Rus merchant:
back home in Svea, his enemy Gorm has arrived. Hakan loses
no time in sailing; his thralls find no comfort aboard
ship. Denied the possibility of seeing home again, Helena
regains her wits and makes plans to survive. She's a
talented weaver of wool and linen, if she can only get the
chance to use her skills, and she knows some herbal lore.
Can she make herself a new life? And what dangers will she
As Norway had so little arable land, the men went and
raided other countries, selling slaves to buy what they
needed. The fearsome Hakan returns home with animals,
thread, candles, spices and oil. I appreciated the details
of the Norse homestead, and they seem well researched. We
learn that a cooking bowl made of soapstone holds heat long
after it is removed from the fire, so the food continues to
cook. One measure of distance is pilskudd - the length of
an arrowshot. Thralls are treated reasonably well, but of
I particularly liked a late scene when we get to see
Helena's Frankish home again, and how unhygienic, mean and
impoverished it appears by contrast with the "Nor'man"
longhouses and farms. The Franks might bathe once a year
and their grubby bodies mean that even silk clothing from
Paris doesn't lend much allure. Entertaining contrasts as
well as the suspenseful travels and romantic tensions make
NORSE JEWEL a fine saga for fans of historical romance,
from young adults to adults, and I look forward to reading
more by Gina Conkle. This one is a good hearty read with
believable characters that we can all admire.
A stolen woman of rare qualities...
Seized by marauders and taken to the icy northlands by
wolf-eyed Viking warrior, Helena will do whatever it takes
to earn her freedom and return to France.
A mighty Viking Chieftain...
Betrayal has turned Hakan's heart to ice, but the
Frankish maid warms him in a way he's never known. The
she weaves leaves them both breathless, but can he keep
promise to return her home even if it means he'll lose his
precious jewel forever?
Land of the Franks
Smoke and mist parted, luring gawkers and traders
âCome, see the goods,â a voice beckoned from the
Canny merchants in billowing robes examined
wares: fragrant spices, cloth spilling rivers of color,
barrels of rich Frankish wine. Morning air filled with
foreign words and the clink of foreign coins. Bretons.
Castilians. Saxons. All mixed with the Danes, those giant
men who fingered giant hammers with relish. A gaggle of
freewomen gossiped while gutting slippery fish. Scores of
seagulls squawked, diving at fish heads the chattering
tossed aside. Helena watched these curious sights, so
different from her humble village. All would be well
she was a stolen woman, taken in a raid on her village.
Human chattel to the Danes.
She scanned the heavens and curled her fists.
I will return home.
A cool, mocking laugh intruded. âPraying again?â
Sestra, a buxom, flame-haired woman swigged water
from the drinking pouch they shared. Like Helena, her
were tethered by long leather bindings to a stake in the
âGood morning.â Helena reached for the proffered
âWeâll see soon enough,â Sestra groused. âPrayers
donât work, you know. Find a good protector. Work will be
light then.â She finger combed her tangled hair for
effect and purred, âFind the right protector and you wonât
have to lift a finger.â
Helena bristled at the suggestion. âI will have my
freedom again.â She winced at the sight of loud warriors
sharpening their axes around a smoky fire. âFirst, I need
get away from here.â
âGive it up. Accept your lot in life. We are
captives. Slaves. Thralls. The language doesnât matter,
master you serve does.â Sestra scanned the horizon,
assessing a Flemish merchant fussing with his robes.
Both women were Frankish and of similar age but
worlds apart in experience. Helena wanted to argue her
point, but Sestra held up bound hands.
âLet me give you some adviceâŚadvice thatâs saved
hide. Forget about home, and donât fight. Those who fight
donât live long.â Sestra tapped her own smooth cheek and
gave Helena a knowing look. âLook at what happened to
Helena tested her cheek, touching skin scabbed and
smooth. Outer wounds heal, but wounds to the soul cut
and lingered long. Aye, some things were worth a fight.
hands slid to the leather pouch that hung from her neck.
âTwas tucked between her breasts inside her dress, the
contents safeâfor now.
âThe wound stopped the Danes. Whatâs done is done.
.â She squeezed her eyes shut, banishing images of that
â. . .but I will not accept this as my lot in life.â
A stench of fish assaulted Helena. When she opened
her eyes, the freewoman who brought their provisions
approached and her gap-toothed smile held no cheer.
âWonât have that for long,â the hag sneered,
pointing at the lump under Helenaâs bodice. âShouldâve let
him take yer puny purse.â
The old woman dropped bread to the ground and
planted work-rough hands at her hips as she loomed over
them. Chills swept Helenaâs limbs, owing nothing to the
morningâs dampness. She folded her legs tight to her body.
Her bindings chafed tender flesh. The brutal Gudrudâs
broke like sharp-tipped fragments in her mind as the
grizzled woman cackled.
âHe returns. Soon,â she crooned. âDung for brains
has he. Felled by a Frankish maid in front of the other
Yer kick hurt more than his man parts. Ye damaged mannish
pride.â She waggled a finger at Helena and sang a gleeful
warning. âGet sold today or sleep with one eye open.
when heâll get revenge.â
âLeave her be,â Sestra hissed. âIsnât it enough
torment us daily?â
âI can forget to bring food for the likes of ye,â
the old woman jeered.
âBe gone. We donât need you.â
Two pairs of stunned eyes turned to Helena, who
tall with her chin tipped high.
âWant me gone, do ye? I can forget yer food. See
those haughty words taste when yer belly aches from
The fishwifeâs rheumy eyes narrowed on the small bulge
Helenaâs bodice. âHope whatevers ye got was worth it.â
The freewoman sauntered away, jibing about less
thralls to feed. Helena clenched the pouch; the stone
was hard to her fingers. After she had been wounded, the
other Danes had belittled Gudrud for losing a tussle with
mere woman. Magnuson, their leader, had let her keep the
well-worn pouch, deeming it worthless upon quick
âWell, she did serve a purpose. I, for one, like
eat,â Sestra said, eyeing the bread.
âI couldnât abide her taunts anymore.â Helenaâs
shoulders slumped as she dusted off the loaf and tore it
two. She passed the larger portion to Sestra. âAnd now my
outburst cost us both. Who knows when sheâll bring food
Sestra inspected the breadâs soft innards and
scooped a handful. âForget it. Eating is the least of your
worries. The hag had one thing right. Gudrud will return
you cannot be here.â
Helena tucked her bread portion into her lap. âI
could try running away.â
Sestra choked on her bread. âRemember the Basque
Helena hugged her legs still folded tightly to her
body as visions of that day spilled. A twilight trip to
answer natureâs call at the forestâs edge, and she saw the
black-haired Basque woman slipped from sight. The fishwife
screeched an alarm. Men yelled. Hooves thundered. Tree
had bitten into Helenaâs skin as she sunk into it to avoid
the blur of men atop horses. Then, somewhere in the dense
forest, the Basque womanâs blood-curdling screams carried
through the air. None heard or saw her again.
Helena eyed that dark tree line. âA bad plan.â
Sestra snapped her fingers twice. âLook. Buyers
come. Heed the old woman,â she chided. âHide your wound.
smile. Men like a woman who smilesâŚa friendly woman.â
Aye, survival first.
Her breath quickened as she whispered a short
prayer, but heaven stayed silent. Gulls squawked and dove
the salty sea air, like her, seeking survival. Helena
at her braid, covering her wounded cheek with loose
and prepared for the loathsome ordealâone human selling
another. Beside her, Sestraâs voice touched a seductive
âFor these men I can smile very nicely.â
âYou say that about every man.â
Sestra snorted and nodded at the horizon. âJudge
Two long-limbed, thickly muscled warriors walked
through the morning mist. Hard Danes and wiry merchants
alike paused mid-conversation to dip their heads in
to these two. One was dark and amiable, yet large as a
The other, wary like a wolf, was fierce and blonde. He
his sword strapped across his back and listened quietly to
his friend, but his ice-blue eyes measured the camp.
ever the fount of knowledge, tipped her head toward the
âSee that? His leather belt,â she said with
calculating awe. âA sign of authority. Kings served.
won. Many battles. A Norse chieftain by the look.â
Bronze and copper squares were stamped into his
belt. Each token bore a unique design that caught the eye.
But, he did not need the belt to command respect. The air
around him crackled with authority. He moved like one
belonging to an honored warrior class. Helena suddenly
realized that her home village of Aubergon, her whole
was sheltered and small.
Beside her, Sestra poked her arm. âYou speak
What are they saying?â
âI understand some.â But, her gaze wandered to the
sinister horizon where the Basque woman had disappeared.
Her heart beat faster; a copper tinge filled her
mouth at the sight of the dense forest, dark even in the
morn. Aye, get sold this dayâa far better fate than
escape or facing the cruel Gudrud when he returned.
Sestra prodded her again. âHelena. Arenât you
listening? What is heââ
âShhh,â Helena set a finger to her lips and canted
her head to listen.
ââŚa farmer?â The bear man spoke the word as if he
tasted brine. âI donât see it. Hakan the Tall, a chieftain
of Svea becomes HakanâŚthe farmer.â His booming voice
âI tire of this life.â
âDo we not gain gold aplenty from fat foreign
kings?â The bear man jingled a bag at his waist and
âThis isnât about gold.â
Yet, the wolf-eyed chieftain loosed a bulging bag
from his belt. âTwas obvious he didnât waste coin on fine
attire: his scuffed leather jerkin and faded blue
tucked into fur boots, had seen much wear. No sweeping
or brash torque hung about his neck such as usually graced
the necks of high ranking Norsemen. What manner of
would dress so simply?
âWhat are they saying?â Sestra whispered.
âThat you need to be quiet so I can eavesdrop
Sestra paused midst cleaning her teeth with her
sleeve. âOh, very funny.â
Helena smiled and turned her attention to the men,
but their voices were too low, all the better to sate her
curiosity for the one called Hakan. He crossed his arms
stood like a warrior-king, but of course that was
harebrained. What did she know of kings? Whatever his
he lured her. She couldnât help but follow the knit of the
Norsemanâs muscles under burnished skin. What would it
like to touch him there?
Amidst her fascination, Magnuson, leader of the
Danes approached. At the sight of him, an ugly shiver
traced her back.
âHakan.â The Dane clapped a heavy hand on the
chieftainâs shoulder. âI hear you seek a woman to teach
âAn old Frankish woman. To keep my farm, help with
my wine trade.â
âOld? Young? What does it matter?â Magnuson
and splayed his fingers her way. âFrankish women here.
of them. The restâŚSarmatians, Flemish, many from Eyre.â
âAnd not one of them long in years.â
Hakan rubbed his jaw as his gaze swept the row of
women. Wide silver bands etched with intricate swirls
wrapped around his strong arms. Helena frowned as Sestra
brazenly thrust her curves at the men. Is that what it
to escape this place?
The bear man laughed and pointed at the blatant
display. âThis one could teach you much.â
The chieftain scowled. âAnd cause trouble.â
Sestraâs come-hither smile melted to a sulk under
his harsh glower. Her disappointment didnât last long,
men ambled on the horizon. The Frankish maidâs face lit up
when she spied a lavishly dressed merchant drawing near.
Magnuson rubbed his hairy cheeks. âOld women give
fewer years of service.â
Helena wrapped her skirt close about her legs.
Listening to their rapid Norse took all her concentration.
âWhat happened to that one?â The one called Hakan
asked about her.
A flush of warmth poured through Helena, alert to
his attention. She stiffened and couldnât look higher than
the chieftainâs silver armbands where a blood-eyed beast
carved in silver winked at her, a trick of daylightâs
âAn unfortunate mishap.â Magnuson shrugged a
shoulder under his bearskin pelt. âOne of my menâŚshe
him, his knife slipped, caught her jaw âŚ The Dane slid his
finger from jaw to ear, mimicking her wound. ââŚbut, if its
old you want, come this way.â
The chieftain turned his back on her.
Helena dropped her forehead to her knees. If she
met him as a freewoman, would he have lingered? Or asked
name? The unbidden questions faded as the overbearing
Magnuson spoke, and the men moved away. She scolded
for her lack of courage in failing to meet the Norsemanâs
stare. Was her cheek truly awful? Her fingers gingerly
tested the scab.
âStop,â she whispered and lowered her hands.
Beside her, Sestra greeted a be-ringed Castilian
merchant whose rich robes boasted silken tassels. Near the
Daneâs camp, rough warriors emerged from a tavern; their
crude jests abraded her ears.
Greater is the need to flee this place than feel
sorry for myself.
Her stomach growled and Helena checked the bread
nestled in her lap; best she ration the fare. Her fingers
pulled a bite-sized morsel from the loaf, as Magnusonâs
rumbling voice played in the background.
âOlder, quietâŚwomen who know their placeâŚâ He
extolled the virtues of the poor woman whose name he did
know. ââŚgive you a good dayâs work.â
Half-listening to his merchantâs pitch, she rolled
her eyes. So disgusted was she, Helena almost missed a
rarity. But she didnât. Her hand stopped mid-way to her
The chieftain, the one called Hakan, spoke gently
the older captive woman.
The slave, huddled and silent on the ground,
to respond. He knelt in the dirt and touched the womanâs
shoulder with careâan odd thing for a warrior. The captive
had been too far away for Helena to render aid when the
Danes first brought her to camp. Yet, she was close enough
to see that she stayed curled in a tight ball, quiet and
unmoving, sometimes rocking and moaning.
Drawn to the scene before her, Helenaâs gaze
followed the Norsemanâs large hands as he cradled the
womanâs head. She leaned forward, straining against her
tether for a better look. He could have been holding a
newborn babe, so tender was he. Then, his thumb cautiously
brushed open the corner of the thrallâs mouth.
âNo tongue?â His hard stare shot accusation at
Magnuson. âYouâre trying to sell a woman who cannot talk.â
âNot always a bad thing.â The Dane shrugged at his
âNot when I need her to speak Frankish.â
âShe is the oldest here.â Magnuson waved his hands
over the array of women.
The chieftain stood up and silenced Magnuson with
thunderous glare. He did not draw his sword as other
affronted warriors might have done. Instead, he opened his
coin pouch and counted a few gold pieces.
âFor the goats and sheep already on my ship.â
Magnuson closed thick fingers around the coins
dropped in his hand and joined the Bear Man and the
Castilian, both charmed with Sestra. The whole camp, a
of voices and laughter, played background noise to the
interest threading from Helena to the chieftain. All faded
to a hum. Her bread slid to the ground, forgotten. She sat
up taller, staring at the Norseman as his long fingers
retied his coin pouch.
Embers of attraction flared for the unusual
He moved with fluid ease for one so large. Or was it
his care with the older woman that made him appealing? One
could even call him kind. Hope of finding strength and
kindness in one man poured a balm on her soul, and left
curious for more.
Her guarded survey inched upward to his broad
shoulders, the sort that promised safety and protection.
âTwas an odd notion about a man who came solely to
a woman for labor. Helenaâs lips twitched at such
foolishness, and her gaze drifted higher to a square jaw
firm lips, then higher still.
Ice-blue eyes stared back.
A strange enchantment mesmerized her. She had once
crossed paths with a lone wolf in the forest near home.
a beast would devour the weak. To her relief, that wolf
turned and disappeared. Though dangerous, she willed this
two-legged wolf closer. The price was tension coiling
Like a predator measuring prey, the Norsemanâs
unyielding stare traced her frame, lingering at the curve
her hips. Peculiar warmth poured through her as she stared
back. He did not leer as other men had, but Helena
recognized male interest.
Sunlight broke through mist, bouncing off the
strapped across his back. A large, red stone glimmered
the hilt. Something of a smile crossed her face. This
chieftainâs clothes were faded and well-used, but his arm
bands and sword were finely crafted with matching designs
and matching red stones.
The chieftain scowled and crossed his arms.
Her smile wilted. Was she over-bold? Her manner
nothing like Sestraâs. Helena swallowed hard and licked
lips, working to put her smattering of Norse words to
âSmilesâŚyou do not like,â she said in soft,
âA womanâs false smiles, no.â His voice was deep
smooth to her ears. âYou speak Norse.â
âAye, some. I smileâŚfriendliness only.â She
her throat and dared to say, âI seek freedomâŚnothing
The chieftainâs head tipped with interest.
words for a thrall.â
âI wasnât born to this.â She held her head high,
ignoring that she sat in dirt at his feet.
A light flashed behind the Norsemanâs eyes. He
loosened his stance, and Helena knew she had penetrated
unseen shield, drawing him closer.
âStatus of birth matters little. How you live each
dayâŚthatâs your true measure.â
A breeze blew thick blonde hair that fell past his
shoulders. The stoic chieftain stood like a rock, staring
her with unnerving intensity. A kernel of interest
betwixt them, but she needed to nurse this cagey
conversation. Her hair blew across her face, a momentary
âA warrior who speaks like aâŚâ She paused,
for the right word. ââŚa wise manâŚâtis rare.â
âFools donât live long.â
Helena motioned to his belt. âMarks of a warrior?â
âI haveâŚbeen places.â
âI have not.â Her bound hands tapped her chest.
âBut, you need one who speaksââ
Suddenly, wild bellows cut her short. The
pivoted, alert and ready, facing the clamor. Danes emerged
from red-striped tents, cheering and pointing at a dark
rider who came from the forest. Iron battle rings clanked
across the horseâs chest, a nerve-chilling noise to raise
the dead. The riderâs bulky frame and bald head were
familiar; Helenaâs heart pounded hard and fast long before
Magnuson raised his fist and roared her worst fear.
Cold flushes gripped her as the freewomanâs
words played in her head.
Nightâs when heâll get revenge.
Staring at the menacing horse and rider, Helenaâs
hands squeezed together as a worried supplicant. She would
beg this Norseman, this one called Hakan, to take her. He
was her only hope.
When she turned around, the chieftain was gone.
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