Authors: Kim Wilkins
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.
“Wilkins confirms her increasing maturity in creating believable mythological worlds.”
“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.”
“Wilkins's human characters are endearing and her mythic monsters spring into vibrant life.”
“Wilkins is one of Australia's most assured and interesting storytellers.”
“... superb world building ... intriguing, genuine, rich.”
“One of the most gifted and versatile writers Australia has ever produced.”
“Rather than relying on standard fantasy tropes, her stories are informed by detailed research into the periods in question.”
”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.”
“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.”
Angel of Ruin
The Autumn Castle
Giants of the Frost
Rosa and the Veil of Gold
For Oliver, the best of men
âGaÃ©Ã° Ã¡ wyrd swÃ¡ hÃo scel.'
(Fate goes ever as she shall)
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 Ãlmesse 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, Ãthlric of Ãlmesse?
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 Ãthlric.
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 Ãthlric 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 Ãlmesse. 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.
âWhy didn't you tell me?' Byrta admonished, though gently, as she hurried to Ãthlric's side. He was sleeping now, the deep, impenetrable sleep that measured out the hours until his next fit.
âI 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. âYou 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. âNo-one must know,' he said. âIf our enemies thought our king could not rule ...' He trailed off, his voice tripping on tears he refused to shed. He straightened his spine. âWe must send for Bluebell.'
The name turned Gudrun's stomach cold. Ãthlric's eldest daughter: with her sinewy tattooed arms and her crushed nose and her unsheathed hatred.
âIt is premature, surely,' Osred said smoothly. âLet 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. âLet me attend to him.'
âI have medical training,' she said, bristling.
âI have trained in the Great School.'
âWhich is run by trimartyrs. Their faith is not welcome in Ãlmesse.'
Gudrun's scalp tingled with fear and anger. âEnough!' she said. âByrta 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. âWait outside. Osred will advise you when he has finished his examination.'
Dunstan set his jaw forward, but Byrta quieted him. âMy lady,' she said, her bright blue eyes locking with Gudrun's. âI 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 â there was stone beneath it â and took Dunstan with her. âWe will be in the great hall,' she said, as she closed the door behind her.
Alone with Osred, with Ãthlric 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, âTell 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, âDunstan is right. You should send for Bluebell. You should send for all his daughters. They will want to see him.'
âYou think he will die?' The words rushed and mumbled against each other, but he understood her nonetheless.
âA 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 Ãthlric 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.
âMy lady?' Osred's voice roused her from her dark reverie.
She turned her face to him, forced her swimming eyes to focus.
âShall I send for his daughters?' he asked.
âNo.' The strength of her voice surprised her. âSend 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 ThrÃ¦c, 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.