In the silence of night Briana O'Toole's deep brown eyes peered into the darkness. As she waited for exactly the right moment, the wind off the Norwegian Sea caught her flyaway hair. On the Viking ship around her other prisoners slept, but Bree kept watch. This might be her one hope of escape.
A few hours earlier, Vikings had drawn their longship onto a beach on the west coast of Norway. Now the two men standing guard on one side of the ship began talking to guards on the other side. And still Bree waited.
On that September night late in the tenth century, time grew long. Then came the moment Bree hoped for. When a black cloud moved above the ship, the heavens opened, and rain poured down upon them.
At the far end of the ship the four guards took refuge under the sail spread out like a tent. Without making a sound, Bree woke her young friend Lil.
"Shhh! Don't speak!" Bree whispered close to her ear. "It's time to go."
Silently they dropped their bundles from the ship. As they climbed over the side, the full force of the storm struck them. Wind and rain slashed at Bree's face as she snatched up the bundles she had prepared. Giving one to Lil, Bree took the rest herself, and started across the beach.
Pounding rain covered the sound of their feet on the small stones near the shore. In the dark of the storm no moon betrayed them. No stars gave them light. Staying as far as possible from other ships in the harbor, Bree headed for a line of trees behind a cluster of houses.
When they reached the trees, Bree pulled Lil into the shadows and stopped to listen. In that instant a dog barked.
Lil gasped. Reaching out, Bree touched her arm in warning. As still as the stones of the land they stood.
The bark came from a house close to the shore. In spite of the rain, Bree could see the dark outline of the back of the house. If the dog startled the guards on Mikkel's shipif the guards found prisoners missingif they went to find Mikkel
If, if, if. All of them held the threat of danger. And all of them centered on Mikkel.MM
Only one year older than Bree, the fourteen-year-old led the band of Vikings that had captured the two girls. When the raiders plundered a monastery in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland, they carried off rich treasure. From the surrounding countryside they took captives for ransom or slavery.
Again the dog barked. If the guards knew something was wrong, they would bring Mikkel back to the ship. As his prisoners, Bree and Lil were now slaves. That is, unless they escaped.
The next time the dog barked, it sounded closer. As though in reply, a second dog barked, then a third.
Lil shivered in fear. "Can we climb a tree?" she whispered.
Bree looked up. The lowest branches were far above them. Even if she lifted Lil on her shoulders, the younger girl wouldn't be able to reach.
As the pounding rain changed to a soft mist, a dog rounded the corner of the house. Even in the dark, Bree could see its white hair. Head to the ground, it sniffed its way along the side wall.
Moments later another dog joined the first. Yipping between themselves, they moved back and forth, close to where Bree and Lil had walked.
Bree held her breath. Did the rain wash away our scent?
Kneeling down behind a tree, Bree opened one of her bundles. Deep inside was the small hoard of food she had hidden away. If the dogs found them, she needed to be ready.
Her hands cold with fear, Bree touched the pieces of flatbread. If she gave them to the dogs, she and Lil would have no food. Filled with dread, Bree started to pray.
In ever-widening circles the dogs moved out, their noses to the ground. Then a third dog joined the first two. How many are there? An entire pack?
Yipping and barking, the dogs came closer and closer to where Bree and Lil hid.
"Don't let them see you're afraid," Bree whispered. But her own heart thumped. Were Viking dogs as fierce as their owners?
Once again she touched the food inside her bundle. At the same time she felt it was hopeless. How could she ever make friends by giving the dogs a few pieces of flatbread?
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