Excerpt from The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Half-Drowned King

by Linnea Hartsuyker

The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker X
The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker
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  • Published:
    Aug 2017, 448 pages

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Gary Presley

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1

Ragnvald danced on the oars, leaping from one to the next as the crew rowed. Some kept their oars steady to make it easier for him; some tried to jostle Ragnvald off when he landed on them. The wind from the mountains, a breath of lingering winter, swept down the fjord, whistling through the trees that lined the cliffs. But under the bright sun, Ragnvald was warm in his wool shirt and heavy hose. He had worn them during the whole journey back across the North Sea, through the storms and mists that separated Ireland from home.

He touched the bow post and hung on for a moment to catch his breath.

"Come back," called Solvi. "You cling like a woman to that dragon." Ragnvald took a deep breath and stepped out onto the first oar again. His friend Egil held this one, his bleached hair shining in the sun. Egil smiled up at Ragnvald; he would not let him fall. Ragnvald's steps faltered as he leapt back the other way, against the direction of the oars' motion, the sun shining in his eyes. He moved more quickly now, falling, slipping, each upstroke catching him and propelling him onto the next sweep, until he reached the stern again and swung over the gunwale onto the more stable deck.

Solvi had offered a golden arm ring to whoever could make it the length of the ship and back, stepping from oar to oar as the men rowed. Ragnvald was first to try, for Solvi valued daring. He thought after he stood on the deck again that his run might have been one of the best, hard to beat, and he grinned. A lucky star had lit his path on this journey, finally guiding him away from his dour stepfather. He had not succumbed to disease in Ireland, when so many others had died, and now he had earned a place on Solvi's ship for another summer's raiding. He had grown into his long limbs over the winter, no longer tripping over his feet with every step. Let any of the others match his run.

"Well done," said Solvi, clapping him on the back. "Who will challenge Ragnvald Eysteinsson?"

Solvi's forecastle man leapt out next. Ulfarr was a grown man, half again as wide as Ragnvald in the shoulder, with a long mane of hair, yellow from the lye he used to lighten it.

"This is a game for young men, Ulfarr," Solvi called out. "You wear too much jewelry. The goddess Ran will want you for her own."

Ulfarr only took a few steps on the oars before his shoes slipped and he fell into the water with a splash. He emerged breathing heavily from the cold, clinging onto one of the oars. Solvi threw his head back and laughed.

"Pull me up, damn it," Ulfarr said.

Ragnvald reached over and hauled Ulfarr in. Ulfarr shook his head like a wet dog, covering Ragnvald with seawater.

Egil tried his luck next. He looked like a crane as he clambered over the gunwale, gangly and awkward where agility was needed. Ragnvald winced, watching him. Still, Egil almost reached the bow before losing his footing. He clung on and only wet his boots before Ragnvald helped him back in. Ragnvald settled on a pile of furs to watch his other competitors as they tripped and splashed.

The high walls of the fjord slipped by beside them. Snow from Norway's great spine of mountains turned into the water that cascaded down the cliff faces in waterfalls where the spray caught the sunlight in a scattering of rainbows. Seals, plump and glossy, sunned themselves on rocks at a cliff's base. They watched the ships go by curiously, without fear. Longships hunted men, not fur.

Solvi stood at the stern of the ship. He applauded good attempts and laughed at the poor ones. He only seemed to be giving the race half his attention, though; his eyes moved constantly, flicking over cliff and waterfall. He had shown the same careful watchfulness when they were on a raid, which had saved his men from the Irish warriors more than once. The Irish fought almost as well as Norsemen did.

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Excerpted from The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker. Copyright © 2017 by Linnea Hartsuyker. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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