Author: Anne E. Johnson
Title: A Kiss at Vespers
Genre: Medieval Historical Romance
Purchase: MuseItUp Publishing
In 1008 AD, Dublin is just a small town, newly opened to trade now that Viking violence there has died down. A young woman named Asta runs away from her boring life in Britain on one of her father’s trading vessels bound for Dublin, hoping that she and the sailor she loves can find a new life together. But when shipwreck takes him from her, her whole world changes. She is helped up the rocky shores of eastern Ireland by handsome and enigmatic Brother Martinus, who takes her to the Monastery of St. Luran’s to recover. Despite his vows of silence and chastity, Brother Martinus is entranced by the beautiful maiden who seems delivered to him by Providence. Their unexpected relationship causes both of them to rethink their concepts of faith and love.
A spritz of cold rain awakened Asta, who came to with her mouth against salty wood. She found herself clinging to a piece of the shattered ship that someone must have set her on, and which now bobbed gently against the rocky shore. Her bones ached with exhaustion deeper than any she’d known, but she fought to pull herself up. The tides in this place were unfamiliar to her, and as a shipper’s daughter, she knew that fast-rising waters could strand the unsuspecting.
Dragging herself up to hands and knees, she thought, “Thank Heavens I’m in a boy’s outfit, and not in a big, heavy dress!” She smiled at her good fortune, but then remembered all her misery. With the last of her energy, she used her arms to navigate to the rocky shore and drag herself onto an outcropping. Nestling in a crevice with her knees pulled to her chin, Asta wept.
She must have cried herself to sleep. The next time she looked down, the water was lapping only inches from her. Although she felt a little more rested, her tongue was feathery with thirst, and the salt dried to her lips only made it worse. She knew not to drink from the ocean, but couldn’t imagine how she would find fresh water before she perished. Climbing to the next rock up (she thanked fortune again that she was not in a dress) she looked out to the sea. Except for some wood caught against the rocks, there was no sign of the ship or its men. The wild sea had devoured them, a punishment for humanity’s pride in trying to tame it.
“Magnus,” whispered Asta. She closed her eyes. “Magnus, dearest love in Heaven, please help me.”
It might have been merely the crashing waves, but she thought she heard his voice, hoarse and tired, saying, “Climb. Climb. Climb.”
Despite her weakened limbs, Asta climbed, moaning each time she dragged her weight upward to a new perch. Every motion seared her to the core.
At one tricky spot she threw her weight forward to grasp a jutting rock a few feet away. Although she caught the upper rock, her foothold crumbled beneath her. As her hands barely held onto the outcropping, one foot swung loose and the other was starting to slip.
“Help me, God!” she cried.
She heard angels singing again.
“Why, Lord,” Asta prayed, “did You not drown me in the sea, if it is Your will that I die today anyway?”
The angels sang on and on, Latin chants unfamiliar to Asta’s ear. The priest and deacons in her church didn’t sound like this. But then, she’d never heard angels sing the chants before.
“Do You want me to let go?” she cried. “Is that Your will?”
She heard a voice. Not the distant angels or the great, booming voice of an omnipotent God, but the nearby voice of a child. He spoke in syllables she couldn’t understand.
“Hello?” she said, unable to look up from her perilous place. “Is someone there?”
The child spoke again. Asta heard footfalls crunching against the rock above, and felt two strong hands encircle her wrists. Although her legs felt leaden, she tried to help her rescuer by scrambling her feet against the rocks. It occurred to her that the little voice and the big hands couldn’t belong to the same person. Once they had pulled her up over the ledge, she found her head covered in a rank, scratchy brown fabric. For an instant, Asta feared she was being kidnapped by Vikings. That sort of thing happened to women all the time, or so she’d heard.
Struggling against her captor, Asta nearly fell backwards over the rock’s edge. A boy and a man, both in grayish-brown robes, lunged forward and righted her. At last she realized she wasn’t their prisoner, but had been covered in a fold of the man’s robe when he dragged her to safety.
“Oh, thank you,” she gushed. “Thank you both. My father has money, and I’m sure he’ll reward you handsomely for your…”
The man backed away, pulling up the cowl of his garment to cover his head. A large leather cross pendant swayed across his chest. Despite his tall, lean body, the way he hunched over made him seem smaller. Out of curiosity, Asta stepped forward and tried to get a good look at his face. He turned his hooded head in profile to her, eyes down, and she could make out only his pale skin and high, noble cheekbones.
More quietly, she spoke again. “Thank you, sir.”
“Thank you, sir!” Tugging at her hand, the little boy imitated her speech. Asta smiled in spite of herself. He was perhaps eight years old, the age of her brother back home, a brother she might never have seen again were it not for these two saviors.
The innocence in the boy’s round face so filled her heart that she fell to her knees and wept. He hugged her tightly. The maternal ache she felt was almost unbearable because she could not fulfill it, now that her betrothed was swallowed by the sea. Somehow the child understood her anguish.
The robed man, on the other hand, neither approached nor spoke a word. Instead, he turned and walked a few steps, disappearing behind a rock.
“Excuse me?” Asta called between sobs. “Sir, where are you going?” She turned to the little boy. “Where did he go?”
The lovely child seemed to understand her meaning, and used his sleeve to wipe her tears. Then he pulled at her hand and led her behind the same rock where the man had gone. Rough-hewn stairs carved into the yellow-gray limestone snaked through the outcroppings as far up as Asta could see. Since going down was impossible, there was no choice but to follow. But she was too exhausted to climb. After a few steps, she fainted.
a Rafflecopter giveaway