Catherine Coulter Lord of Falcon Ridge

ISBN 13: 9780515115840

Lord of Falcon Ridge

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9780515115840: Lord of Falcon Ridge
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A classic Viking novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author.

When Chessa, the princess of Ireland, is kidnapped, Cleve rescues her to hand her over to her rightful groom, William of Normandy. But Chessa refuses to marry anyone but Cleve.

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About the Author:

Catherine Coulter is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the FBI Thrillers featuring husband and wife team Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock. She is also the author—with J. T. Ellison—of the Brit in the FBI series. She lives in Sausalito, California.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Malverne farmstead

Vestfold, Norway

A.D. 922

CLEVE DREAMED THE dream the first time on the night

of his daughter’s third natal day. It was in the middle of

the night in the deepest summer, and thus it never darkened

to black until it was nearly dawn again. He was sleeping

deeply in that soft gray dark of the midnight summer when

the dream came. He stood on a high, narrow cliff listening,

sniffing the warm, wet air. Below him was a raging waterfall

roiling through slick boulders only to narrow with the

tightening of the banks before it shot out over a lower cliff,

crashing far below beyond where he could see. A light mist

fell about him. It was suddenly so cold that he shivered.

He pulled his warm woolen cloak closer.

All around him were thick stands of trees and bright

purple and yellow flowering plants that seemed to grow out

of the rocks themselves. Boulders and large stones were

scattered among the low, scrubby brush. He followed the

snaking path, making his way down through the narrow cut

in the foliage. A pony awaited him at the bottom: black as

night with a white star on its forehead. It was blowing gently.

Cleve knew the pony. Although it was small, it seemed

right to him. He realized that just as he knew the pony, he

knew this land of crags and misting rain and air so soft and

sweet it made him want to weep.

There was a single wolfskin on his pony’s back which he

knocked askew when he jumped onto its back. A moment

later, he was racing across a meadow that was filled with

bright flowers, their sweet scent filling the air. The misting

rain stopped and the sun came out. It was high overhead,

hot and bright. Soon he felt sweat bead on his forehead. The

pony turned at the end of the meadow toward another trail

that led eastward. He pulled the pony to a stop, turning it

away to the opposite direction. He felt sweat stinging his

eyes, wet his armpits. No, he didn’t want to go that way,

just thinking of it made his belly cramp with fear. No, he

wanted to ride away, far away, never to have to see . . . see

what? He sat atop the pony’s back shaking his head back

and forth. No, never would he go back. But then he knew

he would, knew he had no choice, and suddenly, he was

there, staring blankly at the huge wooden house with its sod

and shingled roof. This was no simple home really, but a

fortress. He realized then that he heard nothing, absolutely

nothing. There was so much silence, yet men and women

were working in the fields, carrying firewood, directing

children. A man with huge arms was lifting a sword above

his head, testing its weight and balance. There was no

laughter, no arguments, just a deathly silence that filled the

air itself and he knew that was the way it always was. Then

he heard low voices coming from within the huge fortress.

He didn’t want to go in there. The voices became louder as

the immense wooden door opened. Through air that was

thick with smoke from the fire pit he could see men sharpening

their axes, polishing their helmets. He could see

women weaving, sewing, and cooking. It all looked so normal,

yet he wanted to run from this place, but he couldn’t.

Then he saw her standing there, her golden head bowed, so

small she was, so defenseless, and he backed away, shaking

his head, feeling a keening wail build up inside him. She’d

spun, dyed, and woven his woolen cloak for him and he

clutched it to him as if by doing so he could clutch her and

save her. A part of him seemed to know the danger she was

in; he also knew he was helpless to prevent what would

happen. He was outside the fortress now, but he could still

hear the calm, low voice that was speaking from somewhere

within. It was deadly, that voice, just as deadly as the

man who possessed it. Soon he would be silent. Soon, all

would be silent, except for her. The low, deep voice murmured

on until it was pierced by the woman’s scream. That

was all it took; Cleve knew what had happened.

He ran as fast as he could, looking frantically for the

pony, but the pony was no longer there. He heard a cry of

pain, then another and another. The cries grew louder and

louder, filling him with such unutterable emptiness that he

saw nothing, became nothing.

He gasped, jerking upright in his box bed.

‘‘Papa.’’

He heard her soft voice before he could react, before he

could pull himself away from the terror he couldn’t see, a

terror that gnawed at him just the same. He knew, he

knew . . .

‘‘Papa. I heard you cry out. Are you all right?’’

‘‘Aye,’’ he said finally, focusing on his daughter. Her

hair, as golden as his own, fell in tangles around her small

face. ‘‘ ’Twas a vicious dream, naught more, just a dream.

Come here, sweeting, and let me hug you.’’

He tried to believe it was just a dream, nothing more

than a simple dream concocted out of the barley soup he’d

eaten for the evening meal.

He lifted his daughter onto the box bed and pulled her

into his arms. He held her close to his heart, this small

perfect being whom he’d magically created. He tried not to

think of her mother, Sarla, the woman he’d loved who had

tried to kill him, particularly not so soon after that dream

that still made his heart thud against his chest and made

the sweat itch in his armpits.

Kiri kissed his chin, curling her thin arms around his

neck. She squeezed hard, then giggled, and that brought

him fully back into himself. It had been nothing but a

strange dream, nothing more.

She said, ‘‘I kicked Harald today. He said I couldn’t use

his sword. He said I was a girl and had enough to do without

learning to kill men. I told him he wasn’t a man, he

was just a little boy. He got all red in the face and called

me a name I know is bad, so I kicked him hard.’’

‘‘Do you remember what Harald called you?’’

She shook her head against his chest. He smiled down

at her though he felt more heartache than he wished to let

on. He couldn’t protect her forever from the truth. Children

heard the adults talking. Sometimes they spoke of that time

so long ago and spoke of Sarla, then looked sideways at

Kiri, who looked nothing like her mother. No, Kiri was the

image of him. Were they trying to see Sarla in her? Aye,

of course they were.

He hugged Kiri to him. He loved her so much he ached

with it. This tiny scrap of his, so perfectly formed, a face

so beautiful he knew someday men would lose their heads

at the mere sight of her. Yet from her earliest months Kiri

had clutched at her father’s knife, not at the soft linenstuffed

doll her Aunt Laren had made for her. It was he

who arranged the stuffed doll where Kiri slept so Laren’s

feelings wouldn’t be hurt.

To his now sleeping daughter he whispered, ‘‘I dreamed

of a place that seems not so different from Norway, but

deep down I know it is. There was mist so soft you could

believe it woven into cloth, all gray and light, and yellow

and purple flowers that were everywhere and I knew they

were everywhere, not just that place in my dream. It was

very different from any place I have ever been in my life.

It was familiar to me. I recognized it. I knew more fear

than I have in my life.’’

He stopped. He didn’t want to speak aloud of it. It scared

him, he freely admitted it to himself. He hadn’t been himself

in that dream, but he had, and that, he couldn’t explain.

He kissed his daughter’s hair, then settled her against him.

He fell asleep near dawn, the lush scent of those strange

flowers hovering nearby, teasing the air in his small chamber.

Malverne farmstead

Vestfold, Norway

Nearly two years later

‘‘Damnation, Cleve, I could have killed you. You’re just

standing there like a goat without a single thought in his

head, ready to take an arrow through his heart and be the

evening meal. What is wrong with you? Where the hell is

your knife? It should be aimed at my chest, you damned

madman.’’

Cleve shook his head at Merrik Haraldsson, the man who

had rescued him along with Laren and her small brother,

Taby, five years before in Kiev. Merrik was his best friend,

the man who’d taught him to fight, to be a Viking warrior,

the man who was now striding toward him, his bow at his

side, anger radiating from him because he feared Cleve had

not learned his lessons well enough. It was an uncertain

world. Danger could appear at any moment, even here at

Malverne, Merrik’s farmstead, a magnificent home surrounded

with mighty mountains and a fjord below that was

so blue it hurt the eyes when the sun shone directly upon

it.

Cleve waited. When Merrik was just an arm’s length

from him, Cleve turned smoothly to his side, gracefully

kicked out his foot, connecting with Merrik’s belly, no

lower, for he didn’t want to send his friend into agony, then

he leapt at him, his knee in his chest, knocking him backward.

He landed on top of Merrik, straddling him, his knife

poised at his throat.

Merrik looked surprised. He said nothing. He brought his

knees against Cleve’s back, hard, knocking the breath from

him, even as he jerked sideways, hitting upward with his

mighty arm, trying to throw Cleve to the ground beyond

him. Cleve dug his knees into Merrik’s lean sides, closed

his eyes against the pain in his back, and held on. Were

Merrik an enemy, he would be dead, the knife sliding clean

and quickly through his neck, but this was naught but sport

and there was more pain to be borne, more grunts and

curses to turn the air a richer blue than it now was in late

spring, more breaths to explode into the warm afternoon

light, before Merrik would allow him to declare victory, if

that would indeed be the outcome. Merrik was a cunning

bastard and Cleve still hadn’t learned all his tricks, even

after five long years.

Oleg shouted from behind them, ‘‘Enough, both of you.

You’ll kill each other and then what will Laren do? I’ll tell

you what. She’d take Merrik’s big sword and hit both your

butts with the broad side. Then she’d kiss Merrik until he

wanted to rut more than he wanted to fight.’’ He was laughing,

standing over them now, hands on his hips. Oleg was

a big man, golden as most of the Vikings were, his eyes as

blue as the summer sky.

Finally, when Cleve lightened the pressure from Merrik’s

throat, Merrik splayed his hands upward in the dirt. ‘‘I am

defeated. Actually, I’m dead, truth be told. You and that

bloody knife, Cleve. You’ve gotten much too adroit with

it. Then you’ve got the gall to toss it away and use your

elbows on me, a trick I taught you.’’

‘‘You were angry, Merrik. You’ve told me often enough

that a man is a fool if he allows himself to be angered

during a fight.’’ Cleve grinned down at him. ‘‘Actually, I

don’t think you had a chance, angry or not.’’

Merrik cursed him, loud and long, until all three of them

were laughing and others had come to them and were telling

some of their own tales of cunning and guile.

Cleve climbed off Merrik, then offered his hand to his

friend. Merrik could have broken Cleve’s arm, could have

thrown him six feet with a simple twist of his body, could

have brought him eye to eye and crushed the life from him,

but he’d claimed defeat, and thus the sport was done, at

least for now. There was always another day to test each

other’s strength.

Suddenly, Merrik was as serious as he’d been when fever

had come to Malverne the past spring and killed ten of their

people. ‘‘Listen to me, Cleve. You can never relax vigilance,

you know that. There is always trouble somewhere,

and if you blink, the trouble can be right in front of you.

Remember just weeks ago my cousin Lotti nearly died

when a wild boar came into the barley fields? She was

lucky that Egill was nearby. You can never nap, my friend,

never.’’

Cleve remembered well enough and the memory still

made his blood run cold. Cleve adored Lotti, a woman who

couldn’t speak but who could communicate just as clearly

as those who did by moving her fingers. It was a language

of her own creation but all the Malek people, her children,

and her husband, Egill, understood, and spoke thus to her

as well. Cleve himself had learned some words over the

past five years but he doubted his fingers could ever be so

adroit as Lotti’s or Egill’s.

‘‘I was thinking of a dream I had,’’ Cleve said. No

sooner had he said this than he wished he’d kept his

mouth shut. Dreams were always important to Vikings,

each one remembered was spoken about, argued over

endlessly, until all were satisfied that it posed no danger

to any of them.

‘‘What dream?’’ Oleg said, handing each man a cup of

pure fjord water, so cold in late spring that it constricted

the throat.

‘‘A dream that has come to me five times now.’’

‘‘Five nights in a row?’’

‘‘Nay, Oleg, five times over the past two years, it has

come unexpected. It has become fuller, richer, I suppose,

like one of Ileria’s tapestries, yet I still can’t grasp what it

means. But it means something, I know that it does. It’s

very frustrating.’’

‘‘Tell us,’’ Merrik said. ‘‘A dream that returns in fuller

detail could mean something very important, Cleve. It

could portend things to come, mayhap dangers of which we

know naught as of yet.’’

‘‘I cannot, Merrik. Not yet. Please, my friend, not yet.

It’s not about here or about you. It’s about the past, the

very distant past.’’

Merrik let it go. Cleve was as stubborn as Laren, Merrik’s

red-haired wife, particularly once he’d made up his

mind. As they walked down to the fjord to swim with a

half dozen of the men and boys, he changed the subject.

‘‘You leave tomorrow for Normandy and Rollo’s court.

You will tell Duke Rollo we will come to Rouen to visit

after harvest.’’ He paused a moment, his face lighting with

such affection that Cleve was glad Merrik’s sons weren’t

there to see it. ‘‘Tell Taby I will teach him a new wrestling

trick. By all the gods, I miss him. He’s ten years old now,

a handsome lad, honest and loyal.’’

‘‘You couldn’t have kept him with you, Merrik. As

Rollo’s nephew, he belongs in Normandy.’’ Aye, he

thought, Rollo had subjugated northern France so that the

French king had been forced to grant him the ti...

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