A young Cornish woman during the 10th century works as a handmaid at court, but she is kidnapped by Vikings and learns to view the world from a different perspective. 14-year-old Merewyn lives a poor, lonely life until a shipwrecked prince named Rumon sets her 10th century world alight. On the way to her home in Cornwall, Merewyn takes a liking to Rumon, but he does not see her as anything more than a child. She is from the town of Tre-Uther, and she falsely believes she is descended from royalty. Her mother lied to protect the truth that she had been raped during a Viking attack.
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Rumon heads off to a priory to spend the night. He is on the way to England under the orders of his grandmother, Queen Edgive. The Queen of Provence has ordered him to the court of her nephew, King Edgar, since Rumon does not want to fight any battles.
On her deathbed, Merewyn's mother, Breaca, asks Rumon to take Merewyn with him to England. Her aunt is an Abbess of Romsey, and she might take in the girl. They set out for the journey. Shortly after leaving they learn King Edgar has recently married a second time to Alfrida, a beautiful, conniving Saxon woman.
As they cross into England at Lydford, they meet Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is impressed by Rumon's intelligence and offers to introduce Rumon to the King, who is in fact visiting Lydford Castle. King Edgar learns of Merewyn and wants her to be a handmaid for Alfrida. Rumon meets Alfrida and immediately falls under her spell. He has been warned she is evil, but he cannot resist her beauty.
The Court soon packs up and prepares to travel to Bath. Merewyn meets Edgar's spoiled sons, Edward and Ethelred, and she is introduced to her Aunt Merwinna, Abbess of Romsey. Merwinna wants Merewyn to attend to her during her free time.
A couple years go by while Merewyn continues her life as a handmaid and dislikes the cruelty and harsh treatment, and Rumon lives at Glastonbury Abbey under Dunstan's guidance. Rumon and Alfrida have a secret relationship that is discovered by Dunstan. He orders Rumon to control himself.
That same day, they learn King Edgar is ill and leave to visit him. He dies without naming a direct heir. The council wants Edward, but Alfrida and her relatives want Ethelred to be King. They argue, but Edward is eventually chosen. Alfrida turns on her charms and gets Rumon to support her. She conspires with her relatives to get Ethelred on the throne. Rumon moves in with Alfrida now that she is no longer Queen. Merewyn refuses to attend to Alfrida anymore and escapes to her Aunt Merwinna's abbey. Rumon and Alfrida marry despite the warnings.
One day when Edward is out riding alone, Alfrida brings him a poisoned cup. Rumon realizes what she is doing, but his warnings come too late, and Edward dies. Rumon is very distraught and goes back to the abbey in Glastonbury.
In her early 20s, Merewyn still resides at Romsey with her friend, Elfled. Southhampton, a nearby town, is attacked and burned by Vikings. Merewyn is fearful the abbey will be next, but the Vikings soon depart with their loot. Merwinna is dying, and she asks Merewyn to travel to Glastonbury and seek out Rumon. When Merewyn gets there, Rumon is overcome with sudden lust, and he realizes how foolish he was to turn her down. He tries to advance on her, but now that she is wiser, she realizes it is not love. She returns to Cornwall, and Rumon follows her. Rumon finds out the Vikings have just raided the region.
The leader, Ketil, tries to rape Merewyn when he is informed she is actually his daughter (from when he raped Breaca). She is taken back to Iceland. She hates Ketil at first, but she realizes he is kind at heart with his family. She marries Sigurd and gives birth to a son, Orm, in Langerfoss. Sigurd promises Merewyn that he will not partake in raids, and he settles down to raise sheep and catch fish. Ketil begrudgingly agrees as well, but it is mostly because he is older now. He is frustrated and feels useless sitting around the homestead.
Several bad winters prompt them to consider leaving for land in Greenland. One day while everyone is out, Rumon and a Norse friend, Jorund, show up at Merewyn's doorstep. They have been searching for her since she was kidnapped. He wants her to return to England, but she is happy with her family.
Several weeks later they travel to Thingvellir to listen to Erik Thorvaldson speak of Greenland. Convinced it will be a better place, they pack up and leave with several other families. They discover Greenland is not quite what Erik promised, and they are disheartened by the lack of trees. Merewyn gives birth to a daughter, Thora Mary, several months after they arrive. Ketil becomes ill and dies while sailing.
Several years pass, and Sigurd becomes sick. He fades slowly, and dies after telling Orm he is head of the family. After Sigurd's death, Merewyn, Thora Mary and Orm set off for England.
They arrive in Bristol, and Merewyn decides to look for Rumon. She wants them to become Christians, but Orm refuses. As they pass through Romsey, Merewyn recognizes her friend, Elfled, as the Abbess. Thora becomes infatuated with the Abbey and will not leave it. Merewyn decides to let her stay and be a nun.
Merewyn acts as lady-in-waiting for the Queen, while Orm is restless at court. He goes off to join the Danish Vikings, and Merewyn is left alone. She marries Wulfric, and they settle down at Ashley Manor.
In short order the Danes come to threaten the region. Orm has befriended Leif Erickson and they want to explore a new land, Vinland. Merewyn looks for Rumon and finds he has aged. Merewyn finally tells Wulfric of her true ancestry, and she gives him the option of annulment. He refuses, and they go back to Ashley Manor to live out their days.
Best part of story, including ending:
Ancient England and the Viking era are fascinating time periods, and I love stories set into this background.
Best scene in story:
A favorite scene is Alfrida decides to poison Edward with poppy juice. She prepares the mixture and heads out in high spirits to congratulate Edward on a good hunt. Edward is completely blindsided when he slumps down, poisoned, and the horse takes off and dashes his head on a rock. It was cruel but typical for this type of betrayal to occur.
Opinion about the main character:
Merewyn has the ability to see the best in a situation. She lived in Iceland for several years, and even though she was initially frightened, she grew to love her fellow villagers and friends. She spent time staring out the window, but her thoughts were not about England. She knew that even though she was brought to Iceland against her own will, she was treated fairly. Her son, Orm, and husband, Sigurd, may have been Norse, but her life was relatively comfortable.