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Authors: Kim Wilkins

Daughters Of The Storm

BOOK: Daughters Of The Storm
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About the Author

CREDIT: Craig Peihopa

Kim Wilkins published her first novel, a supernatural thriller, in 1997. Since then she has successfully maintained a busy writing career, as well as earning a PhD and holding down a job as a senior lecturer in writing and publishing at the University of Queensland. Under her pseudonym, Kimberley Freeman, she has published seven novels of epic women's fiction. She is published in seventeen languages and has written for adults, young adults and children.

For fun, she likes to hang out with her chihuahuas and ride her bicycle up mountains.

Praise for Kim Wilkins

“Wilkins confirms her increasing maturity in creating believable mythological worlds.”

Canberra Times

“Kim Wilkins has a gift for creating narratives that swivel between the world of fantasy and reality. This is a tribute to the measured purposefulness of her prose ... Inhabitants of the real world will be seduced by this fantasy.”

Sydney Morning Herald

“Rich with the dense texture of authoritative research.”

The Age

“Wilkins's human characters are endearing and her mythic monsters spring into vibrant life.”

Publishers Weekly

“Wilkins is one of Australia's most assured and interesting storytellers.”


“... superb world building ... intriguing, genuine, rich.”

Kirkus Review

“One of the most gifted and versatile writers Australia has ever produced.”

Kate Forsyth

“Rather than relying on standard fantasy tropes, her stories are informed by detailed research into the periods in question.”

Publishers Weekly

”Wilkins combines great craft with solid knowledge and understanding of the core material. [Her] skill is demonstrated in not being overt about it but letting her historical knowledge sit under the motivations and actions of the characters.”

Thirteen O'Clock

“There's a richness of invention here while the characters are perfectly realised, people with feelings and internal conflicts between doing what they wish and what they know as right.”

Black Static

Also by Kim Wilkins
now published in ebook:

The Infernal


The Resurrectionists

Angel of Ruin

The Autumn Castle

Giants of the Frost

Rosa and the Veil of Gold

For Oliver, the best of men

‘Gaéð á wyrd swá hío scel.'

(Fate goes ever as she shall)



About the Author

Praise for Kim Wilkins

Also by Kim Wilkins







































A thousand times he had murmured her name in the soft darkness; now though, he didn't know her name. He didn't even know his own.

The rain had set in outside the bowed wooden shutters. Endless mornings under dark grey, swirling clouds that unburdened cold water from one end of Ælmesse to the other, turning the roads to stinking mud: Gudrun could not send for a physician, and she could not tell anyone he was ill, because he was the king. She could not even tell Byrta, his counsellor, because Byrta would send for his daughters.

Gudrun knew his daughters hated her.

And so she had been trapped for three long days in the gloomy bowerhouse with him as he raved. The wild man in the looking glass made him quiver for fear; he shouted obscene words at her; he wept like a babe over a loose thread on his robe. She soothed him with soft words and firm touches, even when he pummelled her with his fists and accused her of trying to steal his food. The fits came suddenly, and left as suddenly. Then he would sleep for hours among the crumpled woollen blankets while she watched his face and barely recognised his sagging skin and grey beard.

Where was the noble, strong man he had been? The warrior king, the Storm Bearer, Æthlric of Ælmesse?

And where was the woman she had been? Whose were these thin-skinned hands, fearfully stroking an old man's troubled forehead?

Finally, the rain cleared, and she sent for Osred, the physician who had accompanied her more than three years ago when she came to marry Æthlric.

She should have known word would spread quickly.

The bowerhouse door opened, gusting air against the tapestries so they swung then settled with a clatter. Three figures stood there. Osred, tall and finely dressed; Byrta, the crone who had attended Æthlric since she was a young maid; and Dunstan, a grizzled war hero who was so old the hairs on his meaty fists were silver.

Gudrun's stomach coiled. Osred was her only ally. The others were natives of Ælmesse. No matter that they had always been friendly to her; she knew they thought her an interloper. She felt old, frail. Far from home. The person she loved and depended on the most was lost to her; lost, it seemed, to the world.

‘Why didn't you tell me?' Byrta admonished, though gently, as she hurried to Æthlric's side. He was sleeping now, the deep, impenetrable sleep that measured out the hours until his next fit.

‘I hoped he might get better on his own.' Oh, how she had hoped it. She had hoped so hard her ribs ached at night.

Osred came to Gudrun and laid his hand on her forearm. ‘You mustn't worry,' he said in a cold, flat voice.

Dunstan closed the door carefully and pressed his back against it, arms folded across his round belly. ‘No-one must know,' he said. ‘If our enemies thought our king could not rule ...' He trailed off, his voice tripping on tears he refused to shed. He straightened his spine. ‘We must send for Bluebell.'

The name turned Gudrun's stomach cold. Æthlric's eldest daughter: with her sinewy tattooed arms and her crushed nose and her unsheathed hatred.

‘It is premature, surely,' Osred said smoothly. ‘Let me examine the king and let me prescribe him a remedy. Then we will see. He may be better in a few days.' He advanced to the bed, gently but firmly pushing Byrta aside. ‘Let me attend to him.'

‘I have medical training,' she said, bristling.

‘I have trained in the Great School.'

‘Which is run by trimartyrs. Their faith is not welcome in Ælmesse.'

Gudrun's scalp tingled with fear and anger. ‘Enough!' she said. ‘Byrta and Dunstan, you must leave. My husband's dignity does not allow for any but his wife and a trained physician to see him.' As she said it, it became urgently true. The room smelled of sour sweat and trapped stale breath, the bed a mess of dirty blankets. ‘Wait outside. Osred will advise you when he has finished his examination.'

Dunstan set his jaw forward, but Byrta quieted him. ‘My lady,' she said, her bright blue eyes locking with Gudrun's. ‘I understand you are uncertain and sad. I would not add to your misery. If you want us to leave ...'

Gudrun nodded, chest pounding, and Byrta smiled at her slightly — there was stone beneath it — and took Dunstan with her. ‘We will be in the great hall,' she said, as she closed the door behind her.

Alone with Osred, with Æthlric sleeping, Gudrun felt not so desperate as she had. Osred led her to the carved wooden chair by the bed and helped her to sit. Then, crouching in front of her, he said, ‘Tell me his symptoms.'

She described the last few days to the physician, and gradually his expression softened with a pity that terrified her. Her heart
grew colder and heavier. At last he said, ‘Dunstan is right. You should send for Bluebell. You should send for all his daughters. They will want to see him.'

‘You think he will die?' The words rushed and mumbled against each other, but he understood her nonetheless.

‘A malady that comes upon the brain this way is serious. I have heard of such an illness before. The fits will grow shorter, the sleeps will grow longer. Until ...'

Her veins hardened. The forgotten certainty of death was upon her with steely force. But through it glimmered self-preservation. If Æthlric were to die, what would become of her? Surrounded by enemies, who masqueraded as friends to please the king. She needed someone on her side. Someone
her side. Long before those women arrived, greedy to turn her out of the king's bowerhouse.

‘My lady?' Osred's voice roused her from her dark reverie.

She turned her face to him, forced her swimming eyes to focus.

‘Shall I send for his daughters?' he asked.

‘No.' The strength of her voice surprised her. ‘Send for my son.'


Blood. It smelled like the promise of something thrilling, as much as it smelled like the thrumming end of the adventure. It smelled like her father when he came home from battle, even though he had bathed before he took her in his arms. Still the metal tang of it lingered in his hair and beard, and as she smashed her skinny, child's body against his thundering chest in welcome he smelled to her only of good things.

Now she was a woman and knew blood intimately. Bluebell loved and feared it, and appreciated its beauty splashed crimson against the snow.

The air was ice, but her body ran with perspiration beneath her tunic. Her shoulders ached, as they often did if the skirmish was fast and intense. Around her, twelve men lay dead; ten men stood.
men still stood, as did she. Always.

Thrymm and Thræc, her dogs, nosed at the bodies delicately, their paws damp with powdery snow. They were looking for signs of life, but Bluebell knew they would find none. The ice-men hadn't a chance: they were on foot, trudging up the mountain path, no doubt to attack the garrison that managed the beacon fire and kept watch over the northern borders of Lyteldyke.
Bluebell's hearthband were mounted, thundering down the path from the garrison. They had speed and momentum on their side. Four of the raiders had fallen to the spear before Bluebell even dismounted. Swift, brutal, without cries for pity. Death as she liked it best.

BOOK: Daughters Of The Storm
2.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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