Lord Of Raven's Peak by Catherine CoulterLord Of Raven's Peak by Catherine Coulter

Lord Of Raven's Peak

byCatherine Coulter

Mass Market Paperback | April 1, 1994

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Merrik Haraldsson, the younger brother of Rorik, the Lord of Hawkfell Island, embarks on a journey that begins in Kiev where he comes away with two slaves--Laren and her younger brother. Laren wants to tell stories to earn enough silver and gold to buy her and her little brother from Merik, only he refuses to sell her. And now that she's his, he must protect her when she's accused of murder, then save her yet again when he discovers her secrets.
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.
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Title:Lord Of Raven's PeakFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:400 pages, 6.72 × 4.2 × 1.06 inPublished:April 1, 1994Publisher:Penguin Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0515113514

ISBN - 13:9780515113518

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1The Slave Market of Khagan-RusKiev, A.D. 916THE SLAVE RING was as sweet-smelling as it wouldever be, Merrik thought. It was early morning and stillcool; a breeze off the river Dnieper rustled gently overthe scores of unwashed bodies. It was July and the waterbelow the embankment flowed smoothly and serenelywithin the Dnieper’s broad banks now, the icefloes having finally melted early the month before. Theconsequent flooding had eased now as well, sendingcleansing river smells upward.The sun had just risen behind Kiev, showing brightgold behind the endless stretch of barren hills and jaggedmountains to the east. The stench of winter-dirtyfurs and scrawny bodies too long unwashed wouldn’toffend the nostrils until later in the day, even here inthe slave ring. The only thing here to offend anyone wasthe abject human misery, and that was a condition sofamiliar in a place like this, it hardly bore notice.Merrik Haraldsson had unfastened the pounded silverbrooch and slipped its sharp point from the soft otterfur cloak. He’d slung the cloak over his arm as hewalked toward the slave market’s perimeter. He’d comefrom his longboat, The Silver Raven, moored below ata long wooden pier that lay in a protected inlet of theDnieper just below Kiev. He wasn’t sweating now, butthe climb was a hard one, and he’d walked briskly,wanting to be here as early as possible to find a slavehis mother would approve before they’d been pickedover and only the sick and wasted were left.The Khagan-Rus slave market was set apart from thetown. Its name was the same as that of the prince ofKiev: a reminder that there was a tax at each purchasethat would go directly into Prince Khagan-Rus’s capaciouspockets.Merrik turned to Oleg, a man he’d known since they’dboth been boys—wild and passionate and eager to besttheir older brothers and acquire their own longboats totrade and fight and grow rich, rich enough to buy theirown farmsteads sometime in a future that they ponderedonly rarely, richer even than their fathers andolder brothers.‘‘We will leave after I buy a female slave. Keep asharp eye, Oleg, for I don’t want a drudge for mymother’s longhouse, or a sloe-eyed maid that would undulystrain my father’s faithfulness. He has had no concubinefor thirty years. I don’t want him to begin now.’’‘‘Your mother would break his head open were heever to gaze fondly at another woman and you wellknow it.’’Merrik grinned. ‘‘My mother is a woman of strongpassions. Very well, then, I think of my brother’s wife.Sarla is a shy little thing and could easily be governedby a clever female, slave or no.’’‘‘And your brother is a man of strong appetites, Merrik.A female doesn’t necessarily have to be toothsomefor Erik to want her. Look at Caylis, I’ll grant you she’sa beauty even though her son is close to ten years oldnow, but Megot, whom he beds just as much, is a plumppullet and her chins shake when she laughs.’’‘‘Aye, ’tis true. We must consider many factors beforeI pick the right female. My mother needs a female slavewho will be loyal to her and work only for her. Mymother wants to teach her to spin, for her fingers stiffenand give her pain now. Roran told me this should be anexcellent selection this morning, many slaves werebrought in just last night from Byzantium.’’‘‘Aye, and the great golden city of Miklagard. How Ishould like to voyage there, Merrik. It is the greatestcity in the world, it is said.’’‘‘Aye, ’tis difficult to believe that more than half amillion people live there. Next summer we will have tobuild a stronger longboat, for the currents and rapidsbelow Kiev are vicious. There are seven rapids and eachis more deadly than the last. The one called Aifur killsmore men than all the others combined. Even the portageis dangerous for there are many vicious tribes livingalong the Dnieper waiting for men to come ashorewith their longboats to drag them overland to beyondthe rapids. Aye, we’ll join an armada of other tradingships for protection. I don’t wish to die just to see Miklagardand the Black Sea.’’‘‘The Aifur, huh?’’ Oleg grinned at Merrik. ‘‘You havebeen talking to other traders, Merrik. You are alreadypreparing this in your mind, aren’t you?’’‘‘Aye, I am, but Oleg, we grow rich trading in Birkaand Hedeby, for we are known there and trusted. TheIrish slaves brought more silver than even I believedpossible. And this year we grew even richer trading ourLapp furs in Staraya Ladoga. Remember that man whobought every reindeer comb we had? He told me he hadmore women than he wanted and all of them beggedcombs from him. He said their hair would beggar him. ‘‘Nay, we will wait to travel to Miklagard next year.Be content.’’‘‘ ’Tis you who aren’t content, Merrik.’’‘‘Very well, I will be patient. We return home withmore silver than our fathers and brothers have. We arerich, my friend, and there is no one to gainsay us now.’’‘‘Forget not that lovely blue silk that came from theCaliphate, at least that’s what Old Firren claimed.’’‘‘He’s a liar who has grown over the years to believehis own words, but the material is beyond beautiful.’’‘‘Aye, and you will continue the lie. Will you give itto your bride? You plan to buy your own farmstead now,Merrik? Or perhaps return with your bride to herfather’s?’’Merrik said nothing, but he frowned. During the winter,his father had negotiated with the Thoragassons,not bothering to tell his son until the two fathers hadcome to agreement. Merrik barely knew the seventeenyear-old Letta. He’d felt anger at his father at such interference,for Merrik was, after all, nearly twenty-fouryears old, but he’d said nothing. The girl was lovely,appeared gentle, and her dowry would be impressive.He would look closely at her when he returned home,then make his decision. But if he wedded her he wouldhave to leave his father’s farmstead, for already his eldestbrother and his wife of two years, the gentle Sarla,lived there and would continue there after their parentsdied. Surely they would have many babes, and soon itwould be too crowded, what with all his father’s andbrother’s people and his own men and slaves as well.He shook his head. He disliked thinking of leaving hishome, but if he wed, he would have to take his wifesomewhere, and there was no more land in Vestfoldthat could be farmed. His brother, Rorik, had gone toHawkfell Island, just off the coast of Britain, and hadprospered. Ah, but to leave his home, it was somethinghe didn’t yet wish to do. He also disliked knowing hewas now rich enough to leave.He said only to Oleg, ‘‘A farmstead and a wife are twodecisions a man must weigh carefully.’’‘‘That is what my father says, but he is always smilingat me when he says it. Think you he wants me outof his longhouse?’’There were at least eighty slaves in the pit, as it wascalled. They were of all ages, both sexes in nearly equalnumbers, some few still proud, their shoulders squared,but most stood still as stones with their heads bowed,knowing what was to come, perhaps praying to theirgods that the men or women who bought them wouldbe kind.Merrik walked slowly through the rows. The youngwomen were lined up on one side, the older women behindthem, and the boys and men on the other side ofthe pit. There were guards only behind the men, whipsin their hands, watching, ever watching, silent andmenacing, but they really weren’t concerned. None ofthis group would cause any problems. They’d been brokensufficiently since they’d been captured on raids,some of them had been slaves for decades, some evenborn of slaves.It was a sight Merrik had seen since he’d been a boywhen his father had first taken him to York to buyslaves. This was nothing new, save that this slave marketwasn’t as grim or as dirty and didn’t smell yet sinceit was so early in the day and they were in the cool freshair of Kiev and not in the Danelaw where the Saxonssmelled as bad as the slaves, and their stench filled theair. Here a man could breathe as he made his selections.Many of the girls were fine looking and appearedclean enough. They were from all parts of the world,some with yellowish skin and beautifully slanted eyesand the thickest black hair he’d ever seen, long andboard-straight. They were slight, and all had theirheads down. There were redheads and blonds fromSamarkand, some very tall and broadly built, otherssquat with heavy torsos and short legs who hailed fromBulgar and beyond. Merrik saw a girl who pleased him.He realized she pleased him too much, for she had thepale golden hair of his people, pale clear flesh, and along slender body. He felt a mild spurt of lust and shookhis head. No, she wouldn’t do for his mother. Hisbrother would soon have her flat on her back, if Merrikdidn’t take her first. He wouldn’t provide another concubinefor his brother Erik, for unlike his brother, hesaw how much it hurt Sarla when her husband ignoredher at night, then took himself off to bed with one of hiswomen.He must search for a comely face, but not too comely,certainly no more than a pleasant face, perhaps one onthe broad, flat side. His brother disliked thin women;Merrik searched out females with hollow cheeks, showingbones. He selected three possible young slave girls,turned to search out the slave-auction merchant, Valai,to bargain. As he waited for Valai to finish with a Swedishmerchant who smelled of rotted fish and stale sex,he realized he’d seen that same merchant—so obese hewheezed even as he spoke—the night before with adozen more merchants at the house of a man who hadmany female slaves to sell. Each merchant was given agirl and they had, each one in turn, with all the otherslooking on, stripped the girls and had sex there on thewooden benches that lines the inside wall of the greathall. Merrik had felt immediate lust, for he saw thatthere were still half a dozen girls left and one would behis, until he saw a merchant over a girl, and the girlwas lying there, her eyes closed, so still she could havebeen dead, and the fat merchant had shoved into her,huffing, his great belly shaking, until, finally, he’dspilled his seed inside her. She’d never opened her eyes.Merrik saw tears seeping from beneath her closed eyelids,streaking down her face. He had left.He turned away from the fat merchant, and lookedindifferently at the long line of men and boys. He froze.He didn’t know why that of all the scores of men helooked directly at the boy, but somehow, once he had,he couldn’t seem to look away. The boy was perhapstwelve years old, not older than thirteen. He was so thinMerrik could see the long bones clearly in his barearms, the knobby scabbed elbows, the wrists so thin hecould wrap his fingers about them twice over, long narrowhands held loosely to his sides. His legs, bare fromthe knees down were just as thin and very white wherethey weren’t blackened and streaked with filth andscabs from cuts. He could even see the pale blue veins.The boy was pathetic and would die soon if he weren’tbought by a master who would at least feed him properly.He’d doubtless been mistreated in the past. Hewas wearing rags and a ripped filthy sealskin.Not that it concerned Merrik. The boy was a slaveand would be sold, perhaps to a cruel master, perhapsnot, perhaps to a master who would let him buy hisfreedom someday. It was a common practice and perhapsthe lad would be lucky. It didn’t matter. Ah, butthere was something about him that held Merrik verystill, that wouldn’t allow him to look away. But heforced himself to look away. He wanted to sail fromKiev this morning and there was much he still had todo before leaving. He turned to go when the boy denly looked up and their eyes met. The boy’s eyes werea gray-blue, two colors that sounded normal, even common,particularly in Norway, but this boy’s eyes weredifferent. The gray color was deeper than the rich pewterbowl Merrik’s mother had received as a gift uponher wedding to his father, and the blue darker than asea in winter. He could tell that the boy’s flesh was verywhite despite all the dirt. His brows were dark andwell-drawn but the tangled, filthy mat of hair on hishead was too dirty and oily to determine its true color.It was simply dull and dark and filthy. The boy wasbeneath notice were it not for those eyes. They caughtMerrik cold. Eyes weren’t made filthy; but eyes couldreflect a man or woman’s thoughts, and the boy’s eyeswere drained empty, dull, accepting. Certainly thatwasn’t odd. But then, quite suddenly, there was a remarkableshift—where there’d been emptiness, therewas now coldness and a look of defiance that wouldprobably get the boy killed or beaten to death if hedidn’t learn to mask that spark better. In a flash thatlook of defiance turned to one of anger, immense angerthat held such violence and rage, it shook Merrik. Then,just as suddenly, the boy’s eyes became blank again, allthat fury and passion buried beneath hopelessness andawareness that his lot in life was that of a slave andprobably would remain so until he died. It was as ifMerrik could see the boy withdrawing into himself. Hecould see him dying and accepting death before hiseyes.Merrik roused himself from this ridiculous revery.The boy was a slave, nothing more. It didn’t matter ifhe’d been captured from a hovel in a small village orfrom a rich farmhouse. Merrik would never see himagain after he left the slave pit. He would cease to thinkabout him the moment his hand was on the rudder ofhis longboat and the wind from the sails was sharp inhis face. He shrugged and shook his head. He turnedthen when Oleg tugged on his arm to point out anotherslave.He heard an agonized cry and turned back. The veryfat merchant, the same Swedish merchant Merrik hadseen the night before, the same merchant who had justbeen dealing with Valai, had grabbed the boy’s arm andwas pulling him away from the line of other boys andmen. He was shrieking that he’d paid too much silverfor the filthy little garla, or puny pig, and he would shutup now or be very sorry for it. But the shouts and criesweren’t all coming from the boy. The most piercing oneswere from a small child who had a death grip on theboy’s other hand. By all the gods, Merrik thought, itwas the boy’s little brother and the man hadn’t boughthim. The child was screaming, terrified cries that werepathetic, and it made something deep inside him twistand cramp and he didn’t understand it. He took a stepforward, then saw the fat merchant slap the boy, for hewas now trying to grab his little brother. The merchantthen kicked the child hard. Merrik watched him fallonto his face and remain still, saw him just lie there,huddled into himself, sobbing. The boy hit the merchant,not a hard hit, for Merrik doubted he had thestrength, but a fist in that oaf’s fat belly that surely hadto hurt. The merchant raised a fist, but then lowered it.He cursed, threw the boy over his shoulder and walkedaway.The child rose slowly, holding his ribs, and just stoodthere, not crying out now, just staring after his brother,and suddenly, quite without warning, Merrik couldn’tbear it. Something gave way deep inside him. No, hecouldn’t bear it, he wouldn’t bear it. ‘‘Wait here,’’ he saidto Oleg.He was on his knees in front of the child. He gentlycupped the child’s chin in his large hand and lifted it.The tears were still streaming down his dirty face, leavingobscene white marks in their wake. ‘‘What is yourname?’’ Merrik said.The little boy sniffed loudly. He stared at Merrik, hissmall features so drawn with fear that Merrik said, ‘‘Iwon’t hurt you. What is your name?’’The child said quite clearly, his words only mildlyaccented, ‘‘My name is Taby. That fat man took my—’’His voice died, just stopped cold. He looked at Merrikand the tears were thicker now and the child was snivelingand hiccuping. And there was such fear in thechild’s eyes that Merrik wanted to snarl like a wolf, buthe didn’t. He didn’t want the child to fear him more.He said only, his voice low, slow, ‘‘What is yourbrother’s name?’’The child ducked his head down and said nothing.‘‘Is he your brother?’’The child nodded, nothing more. He was very afraid.Merrik didn’t blame him.Merrik had looked up as he’d spoken, but the merchantwas gone. The child was alone. He looked downat that bowed head, saw the child’s thin shouldersheave and shake with his crying. He knew well whatbecame of children who were alone and were slaves.Most of them died, and if they didn’t, well, perhapswhat became of them was even worse. Suddenly, Merrikdidn’t want this child to die. He took the little boy’shand, felt the filth on the child’s flesh, felt the delicatebones that would snap like twigs at the slightest pressure,and something lurched inside him. The childwasn’t as thin as his brother, and Merrik knew why.The older brother had given what food he’d gotten tothe little boy. ‘‘You will come with me, Taby. I will takeyou from this place. You will trust me.’’The child shuddered at his words and didn’t raise hishead or move.‘‘I know it is difficult for you to believe me. Come,Taby, I won’t hurt you, I swear it.’’‘‘My brother,’’ the child whispered, and he raised hishead then and looked at Merrik with pathetic hope. ‘‘Mybrother is gone. What will happen to him?’’‘‘Come,’’ he said, ‘‘trust me.’’ He walked away fromthe line of slaves, the little boy’s hand tucked firmly inhis large one.Merrik knew he would buy the child for a very smallweight of silver, and he was right. Soon he had completedhis business with Valai, a small man with atwinkling eye and a shrewd, ruthless brain. Valaiwasn’t, however, necessarily cruel, just matter-of-factand spoke his mind when it couldn’t hurt his trade. Hesaid to Merrik, ‘‘I know you aren’t a pederast, thus thechild will bring you no pleasure and will be only a burdento you.’’‘‘Aye, but it doesn’t matter. I want him.’’‘‘It’s possible that someone would buy him and hewould be raised well, used only to service his masters.Not a bad life for such as he. Better than dying, whichis what would happen at many other places.’’Merrik said nothing but he felt his guts surge withrage. Aye, the best that could happen would be that thechild would be raped endlessly, then trained to pleasuremen, those damned Arabs who kept both sexes in theirkeeping to pleasure them at their whim. After Tabygrew up and no longer had a boy’s allure, he would bethrown into the fields to work over crops until he died.And Merrik couldn’t bear that. He looked down at Taby.No, he wouldn’t allow that to happen. He didn’t tion what he would do with the child. He paid Valai,then went to find Oleg.If Oleg believed him mad, he said nothing, merelystared at the small boy, then grinned and nodded, rubbinghis hands together. Oleg always loved an adventure.Merrik realized he was thinking he would granthim one this day. And Oleg would probably be right,Merrik thought.

From Our Editors

During a journey to Kiev, Merrik Haraldsson, the Lord of Raven's Peak, acquires two slaves, Laren, a beautiful and mysterious troubadour, and her little brother. Original.

Editorial Reviews

"Another spry Viking romance...A grand adventure." -Booklist