Hundreds of years ago, on a wild sea coast, two bold-hearted men met in combat and love...

This is the story of Caius, a Christian monk struggling to reconcile his sensual nature with his newfound faith, and of Fenrir, a ferocious Viking raider abandoned by his comrades and left for dead. When Caius takes pity on the wounded man, his brethren are horrified: what kind of wolf has Cai brought into the fold?

But only when Cai and Fen join forces can the monastery of Fara be saved from the raiders from the east. And Fara holds a secret worth guarding, a legendary amulet with the power to bind even the might of the Vikings. Fen, his heart divided between old loyalties and a new love, must make a decision which could shatter his own heart and Cai’s into the bargain.

Will there ever be peace and a future for these brothers of the wild North Sea?

Excerpt

The sand was cool beneath his feet. He could have been alone in the world, one heart beating under the springtime stars. He took time to look at them, as Theo had taught—the little constellation of the lyre, the leaping dolphin and the swan Deneb’s great sail, these three in a triangle whose rising promised summer. Mars glowed dully near the horizon, as if pleased with his night’s work. Hundreds of millions of others glimmered behind the full moon’s cobweb light. Yes, millions, Theo quietly reminded him. More than the grains of sand on this beach, and no matter what you’ve heard, I don’t believe they’re holes pricked by the angels in the firmament of night.

 

Cai, who had never thought so, but had a hard time believing each star was a sun like the one that lit up his own days, shook his head in wonder. The beach stretched out before him, a long, broad sweep southwards, every grain a tiny star in the silver light. The only flaw in its stillness, its perfect serenity, was the black shape of the man down by the water’s edge. He was motionless. His cries had stopped. Cai, who was close enough now to make out his matted hair, drew his sword and began to run.

 

“No,” he whispered, barely audible to himself above the thud of his heart.

 

“Don’t die. You’re mine.”

 

Red-bronze hair, streaming over a face white as bone in the moonlight. The incoming tide was beginning to lift it, make it drift like seaweed. If Cai left well alone, the waves would do his work for him. But drowning wasn’t enough. Drowning wouldn’t wipe out the sword stroke that had ripped Leof out of the world. Only another would do that. He skidded to a halt beside the fallen man. He stood still, planted his feet squarely in the sand and raised the sword high in both hands, blade downward. One plunge would do it. One blow.

Cai, stop. You already delivered it.

Cai froze, hands convulsing round the sword. Theo’s voice was as real as the wash of the sea, but he couldn’t turn to look. The man at his feet was the raider he’d encountered in the gully, the first to engage with him. Torchlight, tawny wolf’s eyes. A brief rip and grind of metal through skin, against bone and then out again. On to the next. Cai hadn’t thought the blow a fatal one—hadn’t thought at all after that. But his blade had put this man here.

 

Perhaps not. Cai tossed the sword aside, suddenly frantic to know. The fight had been brief but savage—perhaps the raider had sustained some other wound. Crouching beside him, Cai pulled at the thong of his jerkin. Already the salt water had begun to shrink the leather, tightening the garment across the young man’s broad chest. Cai pulled out a knife from his belt and quickly cut through the thong. The skin beneath the jerkin was still warm, with the fading heat of an apple brought in from the orchard on a hot day. Smooth as an apple’s too, rippling over the framework of muscles and bones underneath—and unmarred, except for the one gaping hole Cai had put there himself.

 

He sat back on his heels, gasping. He felt sick. When he searched for his cold, vengeful anger, it was out of his reach—not far, but enough, like the sword he’d cast aside. Just beyond his fingertips. He moved to retrieve the weapon, and his medical kit tugged at his shoulders, the strap pulling tight. Cai couldn’t remember picking it up when he’d left the infirmary. He must have grabbed it out of habit.

 

“I’ve come to kill you, not heal you,” he told the pale face hoarsely. “You took my friends, you and your kind. You took Leof.” But the beautiful man laid out on the sand had passed far beyond care for such things. He had lost his helmet, the disguising metal stripped from him. His sins, whatever they had been, were smoothing away in the moonlight. The seawater rippled and gathered, and shot out one eclipsing wave to hurry on the dissolution. On an impulse he couldn’t understand, Cai lifted the Viking’s head clear of the water.

 

A fist grabbed the front of his cassock. Cai lurched back, and the Viking shoved onto his elbow, soaked hair whipping back off his face. Cai lost balance. He landed hard on his back, the young man seizing the advantage and pouncing up to straddle him. His thighs clamped tight on Cai’s hips. The hand Cai had last seen drifting limply in the foam was now clenched tight around a rock. Amber eyes blazed into his, blind with uncomprehending hate.

 

Cai still had hold of his knife. He was a doctor, and cold vengeance had turned out not to be his gift, but he was his father’s son—the dagger’s tip was pressed to the Viking’s throat. “Go on,” he growled. “Brain me with your rock, and I’ll slit your gullet with this. Then we’ll be quits.”

 

The wolf’s eyes fell shut. A crescent of white glimmered through his salt-rimed lower lashes. The rock splashed harmlessly down into the sand, and the huge, virile tension holding his body taut over Cai’s drained away. His arms buckled and he collapsed.

 

Cai snatched the knife away, just in time to spare his enemy the passive drop onto the blade. He didn’t know why—he’d done worse things tonight than cut a man’s throat. And this was his Viking, the one whose life he’d come down here to take in place of Leof’s. He rolled out from under the soaked deadweight, sprang to his feet and stood watching while a wave broke over the young man’s face. If he was playing dead again, the game would soon be up. Cai waited. The seventh wave and the ninth one, powerful heralds of the incoming tide, washed right over the raider’s body—tumbled him over onto his front. He lay still.

 

Cai ran to him, seized him by the armpits and dragged him out of the clutch of the tenth wave. This time no hand seized his cassock. That had been a convulsion, Cai thought, a killer’s last impulse to kill. Cai could not identify the impulses guiding his own actions now. He hauled his burden up the beach onto dry sand, not caring that the long, well-wrought limbs jolted over rocks. Maybe death by drowning was too good, too easy for this brute. Maybe Cai would find the spark of life in him, fan it up to consciousness and take his cold vengeance after all. There were things in his medical kit, acids, drugs for cleaning dirty wounds, drugs that would burn…

 

He let the young man’s shoulders fall and thudded down beside him in the sand. He wouldn’t allow his ragged inhalations to be sobs. He was breathless, that was all. He undid his satchel, reached in and drew out the first vial that came to hand—Danan’s poppy, glowing with its own light under the moon. Cai had let a human creature howl in its lonely death throes. He’d done it for hours, closing his ears and his heart.

 

“I’m sorry,” he choked out, not to the Viking but to Theo’s ghost and Leof’s. He uncapped the bottle, cleared strands of hair and seaweed from the raider’s pale mouth and pressed the rim to his lips.

 

“Gunnar,” the young man said, on a note of soft wonder. His eyes opened wide. They were focussed on a distant shore, a homeland far from this bleak coast. “Gunnar,” he repeated. Tears filled the amber eyes. He reached out, and Cai flinched away, but this time his scarred, capable hand only stroked the empty air.

 

Cai poured the liquid down the man’s throat. It was a dose for sleep, not death, and he shuddered in bewilderment as he fastened up his satchel and bent down to take hold of the fallen man again. It was a quarter of a mile to the foot of the cliff. If he managed that, there was the path, almost sheer in parts, a tough climb even unburdened. If Aelfric or one of the other Canterbury spooks caught sight of him…

 

“Caius?”

 

He jumped and let the Viking drop, nearly hard enough to break his skull on a rock. Staring up into the darkness, he made out a familiar shape, briefly outlined against the sky and then beginning a scramble down the path. Benedict… Cai couldn’t have hoped for anyone better, and yet a chill of mistrust went through him. Ben should have been asleep. “What are you doing out here?” he called cautiously. “Where’s Oslaf?”

 

“Praying, as the abbot told him to. It’s where you should be too.”

 

“And you. But we don’t march to Aelfric’s drum yet. Or do we?”

 

Cai hadn’t meant it to sound like a challenge. After Leof, Ben had been his dearest friend at Fara, his advocate in the early days when even Theo’s gentle rule had chafed him. But he hated the new coldness in Ben’s eyes. He waited warily.

 

Ben put out one sandalled foot and gave the raider a shove. “Is it dead?”

 

“Almost. Don’t kick him—that’s where I hurt him during the fight.”

 

“And you came down to finish him off?”

 

Cai nodded. That had been his exact intention. He couldn’t remember when or how he had lost it. “I can’t, though. Help me carry him up.”

 

“Are you off your head?”

 

“Possibly. I wounded him myself. I can’t kill him.”

 

Ben snorted, sounding more like his old self. “You did for three of his friends up there, no bother at all.”

 

“Yes, in the heat of it.” Cai glanced back out over the moon-burnished sand. The tide had already covered the place where he had tussled with the Viking. So all earthly struggles would end, Theo had taught—wiped clear, smoothed away by God’s hand. “I can’t explain it to you. Are you going to help me or not?”

 

“Where will you put him?”

 

“To bed, of course. I need to treat him.”

 

“In the infirmary? Where John and the rest of your brothers are still bleeding from vikingr swords?”

 

“I’ll put him in the quarantine cell. Look—the moon is setting. Carry him up to the clifftop for me. I won’t ask you to have anything else to do with it, except…” Cai paused, wiping salt-stung tears out of his eyes. “Don’t tell Aelfric.”

 

“Aelfric is going to notice a six-foot-tall Viking in his monastery. Even in the quarantine cell.”

 

Cai almost laughed. But the Benedict he had once known, that vigorous and hot-tempered ploughman, would have knocked him down for so much as suggesting the betrayal. “I’ll deal with Aelfric,” he said hoarsely. “Here. You take his shoulders and I’ll…”

 

“No. Leave him to me.” Ben pushed Cai out of the way. “You bring your kit and his things. That sword is a good one—the shield too. Is that his helmet down there?”

 

Cai looked. The incoming tide had washed a gleaming curve of metal up into a niche between the rocks. He went to pick it up. He turned it over in his hands. Yes, he thought it belonged to the Viking. He remembered how the amber eyes had widened and shone out from behind its mask. Would Cai

have been able to run the young man through without the disfiguring metal?

 

It didn’t matter. Cai gathered the other weapons and followed Ben up the cliff path, suddenly too exhausted to do more than put one foot in front of the other. Ben had slung the Viking over one shoulder. The matted bronze hair hung down, swinging in time with Ben’s movements. The hand that had reached out blindly for a long-gone friend also swung, limp and pale. Cai doubted there was a pulse in its wrist. He wanted to check, but Ben was moving too fast for him. Probably being carried like this would kill the raider off before they got to the top of the cliffs, but Cai could hardly ask Ben to cradle him in his arms.

 

If he died, he died. The world would be that much simpler for Cai. There would only be a wolf-shaped vacancy, a gap where the sea wind would blow soundlessly through. Cai remembered his dream and caught his breath, stumbling on the track. The wolf from the sea…

Excerpt

(Rufus has finally arrived, on a very delayed train. Drusilla - now Lady Birch, of course - has brought them a festive gift, in the form of a huge stag's skull.)

“I’ve never done this before. I’ve never had this.”

“What, my love?”

Archie swallowed hard. His heart was thudding in astonishment that Rufus would risk the endearment, here on the path where the yellow roses had closed over their heads in the summer, and the green leaves provided such sheltering shade. There was no concealment now, only thorns. His fingers on one hand were laced tight through Rufus’s. He had to wait before he could answer, and his words came through gritted teeth. “Waiting for someone. Long enough to wonder if they were alive or dead.”

“Oh, God.” Rufus turned to face him. He lifted his face, and Archie wouldn’t kiss him, not out here, but somehow their brows were resting together. Giles had discreetly vanished, all the noisy new arrivals briefly quenched. If the house itself had a power of protection, channelled through his transformed spirit and the watchful souls of Drusilla and Maria Nettles, they would be safe. “I’m so sorry. The railways seem to like to keep their most urgent work for the busiest time of the year, and...”

“And what?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“No, not nothing.” Archie picked up and followed the glimmering threads of unease, his keys to the labyrinth of his lover’s mind. “Why else are you late?”

 

“Oh, Archie. Someone jumped in front of the train. One of the reporters who... who went into Belsen and took all the photographs, the guard said it was. Another one.”

 

Archie closed his grip tighter. He said, for want of a wiser or more consoling word, “Fuck.”

 

“Sorry. I wasn’t going to tell you.”

 

Archie gave him a gentle shake. “Why on earth not?”

 

“Because I’ve come home for Christmas. And there’s nothing festive about...”

 

“A body on the railway line. For such awful reasons.” Quickly Archie checked around. He’d learned that one glance wasn’t enough, that observers could congregate without a breath or shoe-scrape of warning. He hated his vigilance, but he’d pay the price a thousand times over if it meant he could lay a hand on his lover’s face, give him that comfort right now when he needed it, not half an hour later when – knowing Rufus – he’d have found a way to choke the trouble down. “I’m so glad you did tell me. We’re being called post-war England, you know. I read it in the Times.”

Rufus pushed his cheek against Archie’s palm. He’d closed his eyes, and the relief of the loving touch at the right moment had softened the lines of pain on his brow. “So everything’s over, is it? Shall I break out my demob suit?”

“Oh, did you finally get one of those?”

 

“Yes. I shouldn’t have, really, because they more or less shipped me home in a bucket, and I never did get to trade in my uniform for civvies at one of the centres. Still, they issued me one, and sent it care of the museum because they didn’t have my address down here. It’s rather dapper, I have to say – pinstripes, with a little waistcoat to match. I should have brought it with me. It’s just that...”

 

“It’s just that for you, it won’t ever be over. Not for you, not for the Jews, not for anyone who saw what happened in the camps. Not for me either, and that’s the good part, dear Rufus – we don’t have to hide from each other. We never have to pretend that everything’s all right.”

 

Rufus let go of an unsteady breath. Then he looked up, and gave Archie a smile of such brilliance that for a moment summer returned, and the scent of golden roses. “But the strange thing is that... knowing you feel that way, everything is all right for me, somehow. Come along, Squire Archie. You’d better introduce me to your house-load of Christmas guests.”

 

“I didn’t invite any of them, you know. They just descended. And you mustn’t call me squire, love!”

 

“I suppose you shouldn’t call me love, out here in the open, if it comes to that. Ah, if you could have seen yourself, though – standing on the doorstep surveying your domain, and all the birds flocking to you for shelter!”

 

“For Mrs Nettles’ mince pies, is more like it. Very well, then – come on in, if I’m not to be allowed half an hour with you in the bike shed first.” He took hold of Rufus’s wrist, drew his arm through his own. “We’re allowed this much, aren’t we?”

 

“Yes. We’re allowed this much.”

 

Together they made their way into the house. Archie’s whole attention had focussed on the link between them, where human warmth had made its way through tweed and cotton and was sending up bright signals to his heart. He barely noticed the new shadow falling across the hallway: stopped with a jolt when Rufus did, clamping one hand tight to his arm. “Good Lord, Archie. What’s that?”

 

Archie followed his gaze. The huge stag’s skull had been hoisted over the archway that led to the kitchen, and expertly lashed into place there, tinsel and all. “Ah. Drusilla brought us that as a kind of Christmas gift, although she doesn’t hold with new-fangled modern festivals. He’s for Yuletide, I gather. I’ve no idea how he’s ended up there so quickly – although, having said that, the house is full of able-bodied young men at the moment.”

 

“Oh, really? Who have you got? Captain Meredith must count for one.”

 

“Several, if being an adoring husband qualifies him. Billy Prescott is around here somewhere, come to show off his constable’s uniform. And then of course there’s...” Their eyes met, and they both finished out the thought in rich amusement. “There’s Giles.”

 

Stifled giggles exploded from the living room. Archie’s reflexes weren’t fast enough to pull his arm out of Rufus’s grip, and damned if he would anyway: we can have this much, Rufus had said, and Archie was ready to defend their small permissions and privileges to the death. Straight-faced and steady, he turned to the source of the noise. “Ah,” he said, as urbanely as he could manage. “Rufus, I haven’t yet had the chance to introduce you to...”

Oh, hell. He couldn’t remember their names. Worse, he couldn’t think how to define them, these glittering, silk-clad apparitions. And that was ridiculous, because if they’d been men he’d have simply said that they were Giles’s friends. Distress began to shadow the younger woman’s face, and Giles, as if receiving a silent summons, shot out of the kitchen. He edged past Archie and Rufus, smiling, and went to put an arm around her waist. “My fiancée,” he said firmly, making her beam in pleasure and relief. “And this is her sister, Greta. Ladies, this is Dr Denby, the famous archaeologist I told you about.”

“Oh,” said Loretta, “I’ve read about you in the papers, Dr Denby. Ever so interesting. Such an honour to meet you.”

 

Rufus would always have trouble with women, Archie wryly reflected. Despite his wholly restored reputation and growing fame, he brought a shy charm to introductions which inevitably bowled them over. He had let go of Archie and was stepping forward now, hand outstretched. “I’ve made your acquaintance too, in a way,” he said, and Loretta took his hand and looked as though she’d have liked to kiss it. “Yours too, Miss Lombardi. Archie and I saw you in a film, the last time we were in London. Highly...” He paused, and no-one but Archie would have detected his brief struggle for a word. “Most diverting. It’s my great pleasure to meet you both too.”

Trust Rufus to remember the womens’ faces, to pick out the one link between them. Over time, Archie had learned how close he’d come to losing him to Alice Winborne, who even in her grief had come down like a weary dove in response to his diffident kindness. Greta’s mouth had fallen open. She said, in what might have been meant as a whisper but carried clearly across the room,”Oh, my God, Lorrie. I know what you said, but I can’t possibly choose!”

 

Loretta went scarlet. She grabbed her sister’s arm. “That was a joke,” she hissed. “A joke between us, and a private one, you fool!”

Archie and Rufus watched in bewilderment as she dragged Greta to the door, then out into the hallway. Their voices faded off in a series of yelps and snarls. Giles, left behind and blushing vividly too, turned to face them. “I’m very sorry, gentlemen,” he said. He really was the pink of post-war English perfection, Archie thought, with his handsome, open face and immaculately cut motoring gear. Again over time, the memories of his emergence from the pit beneath the church had begun to seem like a dream. “I’m very fond of Greta, but the truth is that she’s travelling with us because Lorrie is so keen to help her find a husband, and... well, when I told them about the two of you, they had their little joke about which of you Greta would prefer.”

 

“Oh,” was all Archie could think of to say, and was relieved when Rufus added a slightly more articulate, “Good grief.”

 

“I know,” Giles agreed, nodding fervently. “I’d be angry with her, only I do remember how it was when... well, when I was like her. A man in his thirties has the world at his feet, if he’s talented and hardworking, which she is, in her way. An actress that age has to look around her. Most of them jump out of the business to get married, you see.”

 

Archie rubbed his brow. “And... she thought to land here?”

 

“Not seriously. It’s my fault really. I talked to them so much about you both – how kind you were, and how good. One of you a country squire, and the other getting so well known for making all those discoveries... I suppose they’ve come to think of you as what they call a catch.”

 

But I’ve already been caught. Archie didn’t know why he didn’t just say it. He hadn’t dreamed the transformation in the pit, the turning castle where his lungs had been healed by Rufus’s kiss and Gillian had turned into Giles. He was certain that Giles knew. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, keeping a tremor of laughter out of his tone, trying to imagine either himself or Rufus pairing off with such a bird of cinematic paradise. “You and your Lombardis stay here for Christmas. And perhaps you can find a way of telling Greta that, lovely though she is, she’ll find better opportunities...”

 

“Archie, look.”

 

He swung round. For a minute or so he’d been aware that Rufus’s attention had detached itself from the discussion of Greta’s hopes and dreams. Archie was used to these shifts. They happened more and more often, as Rufus healed and regained the gifts that had put him in the archaeological spotlight before his terrible war. He was standing with his hands in his pockets now, to all appearances just a quiet man at the end of a long journey, but his eyes were shining. With one hand he indicated first the great stag’s skull, just visible through the doorway to the hall, and then the painting over the fireplace – George Mount, the vast hilltop labyrinth he had discovered, now visited by historians, folklorists and historians from all over the world. He caught and held Archie’s gaze, smiling. “Look.”

 

Archie couldn’t look anywhere else. After a moment, Giles said, quietly, “Thank you, then, Squire Thorne. Dr Denby. I’ll go and help the ladies unpack.”

 

He strode away. Archie allowed himself a moment to wonder at his powerful movements, the air of sheer masculinity that had brought his polar opposites, the flickering, glittering moths, to flutter around his flame. Then he focused on Rufus. “You’ve discovered something.”

 

“Yes. Isn’t it strange? I could do this before the war, but only occasionally. Then when it all got knocked out of me, and I came to Droyton and...” His voice shook slightly. “And you put it back, you must have added something extra. Because now it happens all the time.”

 

Archie held himself stiffly back. Rufus’s gift for landscape archaeology, for picking out a site without so much as sinking a trench or turning a trowel-ful of soil, had flown them both off to all the round Earth’s imagined corners. Then he saw that Giles had carefully, lovingly closed the door behind him, and he crossed the lily-patterned carpet in four big steps and pulled him into his arms. “Rufus. Dear fellow. Thank God you’re home.”