916 A.D. East Anglia under the Danelaw.
In Dark Age Britain, you knew your place and if you didn’t keep to it, you faced the consequences…
Hot-blooded Kjartan, accidental hero, has settled down into married life, with a baby on the way. But when he meets handsome glass maker Lini, their unlawful relationship provokes angry and passionate reactions from their kinfolk.
They have to fight back against the prejudice of Norse culture, and find out who their real friends—and enemies—are. And this conflict leads to murder.
But who is the victim, and who the killer?
“I’m happy with our students’ progress,” said Kjartan one evening as they sat together after tidying up. “For a murderer and a craftsman, we’ve done pretty well. They’ll be ready for Huskarl training in good time.” He took his tunic off, too hot from fighting, and struggled to pull it over his hair, which had come undone from its usual plait.
Lini smiled. “We should celebrate.”
“How? Gods, my hair!” He tried to get it in order with his fingers.
“I’ll do that, if you like.”
“Thanks. Wish I could cut it all off, but short hair’s for slaves.”
Lini took a comb crafted of bone from his belt.
“You’re well prepared.”
“Always.” The amber smith sat behind him and began combing the pale tresses with some difficulty. “What have you been doing with this? Weaving?”
“Yeah, that’s right, weaving. Not working my arse off stopping the boys killing each other by accident.”
“Keep still! Do you want a plait like before?”
Lini’s slender but strong fingers worked on all the knots, the comb too delicate for such thick hair. Kjartan relaxed, his eyes closing, his breathing slowing. Lini carefully teased all the knots out, then combed through the hair, starting the plait at the base of Kjartan’s skull. It felt like a ticklish, gentle massage as Lini worked over the long length of hair down Kjartan’s bare, weapon-scarred back.
“There. Better, yes?”
Almost disappointed he’d finished, Kjartan examined the braid with approval.
“That’s the neatest I’ve ever had it. Even Mildrith—” He stopped, realising he’d only ever let his wife touch his hair like that before.
He jumped up.
“Better clean the weapons.” He hastened towards the swords and spears, avoiding Lini’s eyes. Taking a cloth, he wiped the biggest sword, stroking along the wooden blade. It wasn’t thoroughly dirty, just a bit of earth from where it had been stabbed in the ground and a few splinters from clashes, but he just felt it needed doing.
“Anyway, I better go. Halldora will be wondering where I am. See you tomorrow.” He gave a brief smile, to which Kjartan gave the smallest of reactions.