I wrote this prologue before I even began writing The Marriage of Time. When deciding how to start the novel, my editor and I chose a different beginning—where a grown-up Hakon confronts King Nyr. But I love this chapter because you get to see exactly what happened from twelve-year-old Hakon’s perspective, and who he was the night everything changed. You also get to meet his mother, Dota, and his father, Ulf.
So, I thought you might enjoy spending some more time with Hakon and see the origins of The Beast.
THE MARRIAGE OF TIME
A Time Travel Romance
Called by a Viking Series
© Mariah Stone. All rights reserved.
Norway, 858 AD
Cursed. Terrifying. Unwanted.
The gods, men, the world reject me.
The shadows of the pine trees on the moonlit snow sparkle like ground glass. When I inhale, the cold glues my nostrils shut. My mother and I sit on a horse, and my mother’s breath rushes out in quick clouds around my head, but she suppresses the sound. Her hands holding the reins in front of me clench into fists.
Snow crunches under the horse’s hooves as it steps onto the edge of a small moonlit clearing. The three of us freeze. Something lurks in the darkness between the pines.
Then shadows come and snow whispers under their paws. Steam pumps from their jaws. Their eyes glow, teeth bare, noses wrinkle, shoulders round.
Terror slithers in my stomach. Bile rises. It is just me, my mother, and the horse against the pack.
“Climb the pine, Hakon.” Mother maneuvers the terrified horse close to the trunk of a giant tree.
I obey. She will follow, and we will be safe up there. Someone will come to get us. I clamber over the lowest, thickest branch, and it sinks under my weight, sending a hail of snow thudding to the ground below. As I stand on it and reach the next branch, snow pours over me, sliding down my burning cheeks. My breath is heavy, my heart drums in my ears, the wood cracks and scratches my hands as I work my way up. The giant ax on my belt slows me down, but I climb up, up, away from the whiteness into the darkness of the sky. But all too soon I’m so high up, there’s nowhere left to go. Here all I can see the stars scattered across the sky.
The wolves howl and snarl somewhere below, close by. The horse neighs, then its voice trails off into the distance.
Mother must be climbing, perhaps she let the poor animal go. I sit on a branch that looks strong enough to hold my weight and hug the trunk. Under my feet lies a thicket of black needles and branches.
I wait for her.
But the tree does not move, does not tremble, does not rustle. No one is climbing it.
Where is Mother?
My breath catches in my throat, I choke in horror as I take in the surroundings.
Nothing moves in the clearing. The snow does not whisper, does not crunch. The wolves do not howl, and the horse does not neigh.
I am alone.
The woods are still and waiting.
Tears blur my vision. Fear for Mother snaps shut on my heart like a bear trap. I must find her. I can not leave her to the wolves.
The way back down is slow and arduous. When my feet sink into the soft snow, I see the tracks of the horse. The wolves’ paws have left frozen waves in the white storm. I pull the ax from my belt, its smooth handle burns my hand.
If anything happens to her, it will be because of me.
As I follow the tracks, I remember.
Earlier tonight, she woke me. “We must go, Hakon.”
Her worried face hung over me like a moon.
I rose on my elbows. “What is it, Mother?” My mouth felt as if it were filled with clay from sleep.
She stroked my head, glanced over her shoulder into the mead hall, her eyes wide and worried. Guests and servants slept in alcoves as I did. But in the dim light of the long hearth, my father and our guest, Jarl Nyr, were slouched over their cups of mead. Father’s back was round and tense. In the shadows thrown by the dying flames, Jarl Nyr’s eyes glowed, hot coals from the depths of Helheim. And they watched me; their eyes burning my skin, making the birthmark around my eye itch.
Sleep fled my body. I sat up and threw off the blanket, the chill air biting my skin under the night shift.
Mother held out my clothes for me. “Get dressed, sweet.”
With a heavy head, I began dressing. “Where are we going in winter? At night?” When she did not reply, I said, “Is Father coming, too?”
I knew the answer. She flashed a tense smile. “No, sweet, just you and me. We are going to my family in Geiler.”
Of course, Father would not come. A twinge of pain at his rejection stung me. But it was not unfamiliar, I took his daily coldness to me like oats for dagmal. For as long as I could remember, he had always thought my birthmark was a sign of bad luck. That I was cursed by the gods.
A Norseman fears nothing as much as bad luck. Not even death.
I put on my winter jacket. Deep worry coiled in my gut. “Did Jarl Nyr bring news of war? I want to stay and defend Lomdalen.”
“No, not a war.” Mother put the woolen hat on me that she had knitted. She glanced back at Jarl Nyr and whispered to me, “It is not safe for you here anymore.”
I frowned. Had Jarl Nyr threatened my life in some way?
She handed me a big ax, and my arms sunk with its weight. Pride rose in me. She trusted me with a grown man’s weapon when I was barely twelve winters of age. I had always hoped that my father would gift me one before we went viking for the first time.
But it was my Mother.
With shaking hands, I put the ax on my belt. “Let us go, Mother.”
As we walked to the gates, Father stood, as big and mighty as a golden giant, watching us with a deep frown. Worry, relief, and guilt etched his face. He walked towards us and stopped abruptly before us. Mother tensed and laid her hands on my shoulders. Jarl Nyr watched from the mead-bench.
“Ulf, you agreed that I am the one taking him,” Mother said.
Father’s lips twitched, then flattened into a straight line in his full golden beard.
“Yes, Dota.” He looked at me, really looked at me, and my breath stopped under his gaze that lay as heavy as a mountain on my skin. It was the longest that Father’s eyes ever met mine.
“Ulf, we agreed.” Mother’s voice rung harsh like a sword against a shield.
Father closed his eyes. His hand shot to the Mjölnir, Thor’s hammer pendant, on his neck. He sighed. When he opened his eyes again, he moved his hand as if to touch me. The skin on my scalp tingled, my heart pounded in my ears. I held my breath, afraid to spook him from showing his affection. But Father’s arm stopped mid-air and dropped.
He nodded. “Go. The Gods be with you both.”
My legs were heavy, and my breath rushed in halting puffs of air. Everything was wrong tonight. I glanced at our guest, and something dark and cold slithered in my stomach.
But now I am here, in the freezing woods. My legs sink knee-deep in the snow as I make my way. From the darkness between the trees, a movement catches my eye. I freeze.
Steam puffs out of the wolf’s jaws in swirls. Giant. He must be as tall as me. He moves one step towards me, head low, teeth bared, eyes pinning me like spears to a wall.
And in them lurks my death.
Blood freezes in my veins, the birthmark around my eye burns. The ax is as heavy as Midgard, and I can not move my arm.
The beast launches at me, snow spraying from under its paws, fog rushing from his jaws. Paralyzed, I watch him run at me. It is as if time has slowed down. But as he is almost upon me, I come to my senses. I stagger, fall on my back, beat the snow with my feet, trying to scramble away from him. Rolling over on all fours, I crawl towards a pine.
I almost reach it, then I sense him, or hear him, or is it someone’s voice inside my head telling me to roll?
He flies over me, his teeth grazing the sleeve of my jacket, his stinking breath searing my cheek. He smashes into the snowdrift at the roots of the tree with a soft thud.
I clamber back away from him, expecting another attack. Then death.
But it does not come.
I stand, ax ready. The wolf writhes and whimpers in the snowdrift, dark blood spreads through the snow like a flower. I move closer, and I see why. An old, dry stick, as sharp as a spear pierces his shoulder. He twitches, giant legs kicking, trying to free himself.
But he is alive, and his yellow-green eyes still glow with a threat. Maybe he is the curse that the gods sent me. Maybe he is the Fenrir, the giant wolf, and Loki’s son. He finds the strength and peels himself off the stick. He staggers at first but launches at me on three legs with a growl.
This time, I am ready. I swing my ax at him as his jaws come for my neck. But the ax is too heavy, and I only manage to hit him in the chest.
He is weak though, and he falls. He comes again, but I strike. The blade sinks into his flesh. He whimpers. His teeth flash next to my ear, his claws cut my cheek and the side of my head, the pain blinds me.
I roar, and he roars, his jaws hungry for my blood. I kick him in the stomach, and he flies back. I swing my ax, and it lands below his neck.
There is a whimper, and he crashes into the snow with a thud.
Blood pumps from his wound, slows down, stops. His eyes grow dead and still.
I pant, battle fury still thundering in me like waves of fire. I have just killed a wolf, my first wolf.
But a whole pack is after my mother.
I turn around and run as fast as I can, following the tracks. After a while, my legs grow heavy as if full of water, my hands buzz from the cold, and my chest hurts with worry for her. I swallow my tears; the frozen, black and white kingdom around me blurry.
And then, too soon, or an eternity later, I find her.
Blood in the mashed snow leads towards a line of trees. And there, lies a hill of brown flesh. The horse.
My heart stops. My ears ring. The world turns to ice. I cease to live for a moment.
Next to the horse, my mother…what is left of her.
The wolves are gone—if they were here, I would kill every single one of them or let them have me.
Staggering towards her, I sink to my knees by her side. Her beautiful, blue eyes are fixed on the stars, but they do not see them.
She died protecting me. She lead the pack away, and she took my death. My curse. The punishment the gods intended for me.
How will I live without her?
A tear crawls down my cheek, but it does not burn, the cold does not chill me. I feel nothing.
She must have a proper burial. I cut the biggest pine branch I can see and lay her body on it.
I walk. I follow the horse’s trail, pulling the branch behind me like a sled. My lungs burn, but my body is numb. I walk until the late winter sunrise colors the sky in gentle pink, like my mother’s cheeks used to be on a cold day. I walk farther, and it is almost noon when I pass the sacred grove that is just a short walk from the village.
The streets are empty. The scent of woodsmoke rising from the holes of the roofs mixed with frost is foreign. My vision blurs and the ground shifts.
I head straight towards the mead hall. The doors fly open, warm air burns my face. Gasps run across the hall. People sitting around the central hearth, and on the mead-benches, watch me as if I am Hel herself, their eyes round, their faces ashen.
My father looks like he has aged a hundred years. Jarl Nyr’s frown is as deep as a crack in a mountain. I take my mother’s body under the armpits and drag her inside. People touch their Mjölnir’sfor protection.
“What did you do?” Father’s whisper thunders in the dead silence of the hall.
The words hit my numbness, and it crumbles like the wall of ice. Pain flushes through me, squeezing my muscles, my heart aching. My mouth opens and closes, the ache in my heart chokes me, and my arms tighten around my mother’s body.
He moves towards me. “It is you.” His voice rolls through the quiet mead hall like thunder. “Your curse. The gods cursed you, and yet everyone around you must pay! She must pay…”
His words hit me, ringing inside my head.
“Look what you have done to her…” He takes her gently from me, and my arms fall.
Every pair of eyes spear me as if I have just brought Ragnarök on them, the end of the world. I must look like death to them, bloody-snow caked on my clothes, deep scratches on my face.
The snarling wolf’s head birthmark around my eye must glow like molten iron to them.
My mark. My bad luck.
My gaze meets Jarl Nyr’s, and for the first time, I see the fear in his eyes. “You are full of surprises, are you not, boy? The mark on your eye was a sign.” He pauses for a moment, then adds softly, “You are a beast.”
The last word echoes throughout the hall. It saturates the air, mixes with my sweat, my hair, and seeps into my skin.
My heart whispers it with every thump.
Cursed by the gods and the people. Rejected by his own father. The son who killed his mother.
Hakon the Beast.
Copyright © 2019 by Mariah Stone
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.