A brutal Viking raid heralds the dawn of a new, powerful dynasty – the House of Normandy
Neustria, Kingdom of the West Franks
Fourteen-year-old Poppa’s life changes when Northmen land near Bayeux. Count Bérengar, her father, submits to them, and she is handfasted to Hrólfr, the Northmen’s heathen leader, as part of their agreement.
To her relief, Hrólfr leaves immediately in search of further conquest, only returning to claim her years later. In the face of retaliating Franks, they flee to East Anglia, where she gives birth to their son and daughter.
When Hrólfr and Poppa return to reclaim Bayeux, his new campaign strikes at the heart of Frankish power, and King Charles of the West Franks offers him a pact he cannot refuse. In exchange for vast tracts of land in Neustria, Hrólfr must convert to Christianity and accept marriage to Gisela, the king’s illegitimate daughter.
Poppa’s world shatters. She remains in Bayeux, with her daughter, Adela. When Gisela arrives one day, demanding she hand over Adela, to be raised in Rouen, Poppa’s patience is at an end. But Gisela makes for a dangerous enemy, and only one woman will survive their confrontation high up on the cliffs.
Will Poppa survive to witness the dawn of a new era?
ASCENT is the first in a new series about the early women of the House of Normandy – women whose stories have been forgotten. Almost!
Readers of Viking and medieval fiction will enjoy ASCENT, a fictional account of the life of Poppa of Bayeux, handfasted wife of Rollo the Viking.
Excerpt from Chapter One:
Was her fate sealed, together with that of all the women of Bayeux? She took a deep breath when their leader’s eyes met hers.
He raised an eyebrow and issued an order, and three of the warriors pushed their way through to the altar, towards the Holy Cross.
“No!” Father Peter’s voice rang loud in the silence, and he scrambled after them. “This is sacrilege.” When he reached the steps, one of the warriors turned swiftly.
Poppa lifted herself to the tips of her toes to see, but others stood in front of her, blocking her view. Then a raised blade flashed in the candlelight, and Father Peter groaned.
Screams filled the church again; high-pitched, they echoed around the thick stone walls. A strong scent of iron permeated the air. The blood drained from Poppa’s face as anger rose within her. One of the Norse warriors grabbed the golden cross and lifted it above his head. He shouted something in his language, and the invaders laughed again.
The light of the candle illuminated the rubies and garnets that adorned the cross.
A sense of dread settled over Poppa as she stared at them. Like flecks of blood dripping down the holy relic…
As the crowd shuffled to the side walls, away from the men by the altar, Poppa found herself left in the centre, alone. Now, she saw Father Peter’s crumpled body on the floor. With a cry, she rushed forward, but after three steps, someone grabbed her arm, yanking her around.
She raised her head to stare at the leader who held her wrist in a tight grip. “Leave the priest, girl,” he said in broken Frankish. “He’s dead.”
A cry hitched in her throat, as his eyes raked over her before they met her stare. His unusual height and challenging gaze exuded authority. Now, close to him, she saw his face and beard covered in dry blood, as was his tunic of green dyed wool. The blood of the good citizens of Bayeux. Father’s blood, even? She shuddered.
Soon, he would let his men rape their way through the women and girls. Of that, she had no doubt. She’d heard the stories of horror and pain from up and down the coast, and far inland. If that was to be her fate, she could not change it. But she would not go down without a fight.
She stood erect, her back straight, challenging him. “How dare you threaten us in a church!”
At first, he simply blinked at her, then a grin spread across his sun-darkened features. He shouted something to his men, who burst out laughing again. He pulled her closer to him, looking her up and down.
Poppa gritted her teeth, but she did not look away, pushing her fear for Father – and for herself – to the back of her mind. Their priest was dead, and the women gathered behind her were stricken with fear. They had no one to speak on their behalf but her.
To her surprise, he suddenly released her and took a step back. She nearly stumbled but caught herself in time.
“Who are you to tell me what to do, girl?” The sharp tone of his voice matched the contempt she saw in his eyes.
Poppa took in a sharp breath, but before she could formulate a lie, a female voice called out, “She is the daughter of Earl Bérengar.”
His grin grew wider. “Oh, is she? In that case, I’m sure her father would be delighted to see her.”
A chill ran down Poppa’s spine as she turned around to glare at Alva, one of the baker’s daughters. She’d always known the girl had feathers in her head, just like her hapless mother, Irmingarde, who stood beside her, wringing her hands.
The stupid girl just sealed Poppa’s fate.
Cathie Dunn writes historical fiction, mystery, and romance.
She loves historical research, often getting lost in the depths of the many history books on her shelves. She also enjoys exploring historic sites and beautiful countryside. Over the last three decades, she has travelled widely across Scotland, England, Wales, France and Germany.
After having spent many years in Scotland, Cathie now lives in the south of France with her husband and two rescue pets: Charlie Cat and Ellie Dog.
Cathie is a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors and the Historical Novel Society.
Find her at www.cathiedunn.com, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.