The Weaver and the Witch Queen

The Weaver and the Witch Queen

by Genevieve Gornichec
The Weaver and the Witch Queen

The Weaver and the Witch Queen

by Genevieve Gornichec

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Overview

The lives of two women—one desperate only to save her missing sister, the other a witch destined to become queen of Norway—intertwine in this spellbinding, powerful Viking Age historical fantasy novel from the acclaimed author of The Witch’s Heart.

Oddny and Gunnhild meet as children in tenth century Norway, and they could not be more different: Oddny hopes for a quiet life, while Gunnhild burns for power and longs to escape her cruel mother. But after a visiting wisewoman makes an ominous prophecy that involves Oddny, her sister Signy, and Gunnhild, the three girls take a blood oath to help one another always.

When Oddny’s farm is destroyed and Signy is kidnapped by Viking raiders, Oddny is set adrift from the life she imagined—but she's determined to save her sister no matter the cost, even as she finds herself irresistibly drawn to one of the raiders who participated in the attack. And in the far north, Gunnhild, who fled her home years ago to learn the ways of a witch, is surprised to find her destiny seems to be linked with that of the formidable King Eirik, heir apparent to the ruler of all Norway.
 
But the bonds—both enchanted and emotional—that hold the two women together are strong, and when they find their way back to each other, these bonds will be tested in ways they never could have foreseen in this deeply moving novel of magic, history, and sworn sisterhood.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593438244
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/25/2023
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 3,523
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Genevieve Gornichec earned her degree in history from the Ohio State University, but she got as close to majoring in Vikings as she possibly could, and her study of Norse myths and Icelandic sagas became her writing inspiration. Her national bestselling debut novel, The Witch’s Heart, has been translated into more than ten languages. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

Read an Excerpt

1

A horn sounded across the water in two short bursts.

Upon hearing it, Gunnhild Ozurardottir dropped her spindle and distaff and ran, ignoring the admonishments of the serving women she'd been spinning with under the awning. They would scold her later, but she cared little.

Her friends were about to arrive. And at such times she found it hard to care about anything else.

Gunnhild rounded the corner of the longhouse and sprinted up the hill, making for her father's watchman on the eastern side of the island. He was stationed on a small platform overlooking the water and always had a blowing horn on hand.

"One ship!" he called over his shoulder at the other men milling about, not noticing as Gunnhild hiked up her dress and scrambled up the platform's short ladder. "It's Ketil's!"

Before he could protest, Gunnhild grabbed the horn off its peg and blew it twice. As she lowered it she heard noises of disappointment coming from the children on the incoming ship, and she pumped a fist in victory. "Yes!"

"Oi!" the man said, snatching the horn from her. "That's only for emergencies!"

"This is an emergency," Gunnhild replied with gravity. She pointed to a dark shape in the water. "As soon as they pass that big rock in the bay, they blow the horn. And if I don't respond before they dock, I owe them a trinket. Two blasts for 'hello,' three for 'goodbye.'"

"Aren't you a little old for games, girl?"

"Not when I know I can win!" With that, Gunnhild scampered back down the ladder and ran for the shore, leaving the watchman shaking his head.

As she approached, Gunnhild could see Ketil and his son, Vestein, tying up their ship at the rickety wooden dock. Three other people disembarked: Ketil's wife, Yrsa, and their daughters, Oddny and Signy, whom Gunnhild practically tackled in a hug. Sighing and shifting the bedroll in her arms, Signy rummaged in her rucksack and handed over a single glass bead, which Gunnhild snatched up with an air of triumph and stuffed into the pouch at her belt.

At twelve years old, Gunnhild was exactly between the sisters in age-Signy a winter older, Oddny a winter younger-and the girls rarely got to see one another except at gatherings, which made this day even sweeter.

"You're too fast," Signy complained as Gunnhild threw an arm around each of her friends and herded them up the hill toward her father's hall.

"Or maybe you're not fast enough," Gunnhild said, "because when I visit you I still win. I have a collection to prove it."

Oddny sniffed and picked at one of the furs in her bedroll, her thin shoulders hunched, her pinched face looking more so than usual. "Maybe we'd win every once in a while if Signy ever stopped daydreaming and paid attention."

"Hush, you. I pay attention," Signy said lightly, but her green eyes were brimming with mischief. Gunnhild appreciated that about her: Whether it was stealing oatcakes from the cookhouse or pulling a well-timed prank on the farmhands, Signy was always up for a little fun, whereas Oddny was more likely to sit back from whichever of her chores she was dutifully performing and give them a disapproving look. Oddny wasn't much fun, but at least she never tattled on them.

As they entered the longhouse, Gunnhild saw that preparations were well underway for the ritual and feast taking place that evening. Near her father's high seat at the far end of the hall, a small square platform had been raised for the visiting seeress to sit on, so she could look out over the crowd as she revealed their futures. It sat just under the wooden statues of the gods Odin, Thor, and Frey, which loomed beneath the jutting lintel above the entrance to the antechamber where Gunnhild's family slept.

Gunnhild had never seen her father's hall looking quite like this: buzzing with activity, the air charged with excitement. The seeress's impending arrival had turned the entire household upside down, and Gunnhild considered herself lucky to have escaped from her spinning in the chaos.

A knee-high platform ran the length of the hall on each side, where guests would feast and then sleep. By day, light streamed in through the holes in the roof above the two center hearths; by night, the longhouse would be dim and smoky, lit only by the hearth fires and by the lines of oil braziers hanging from the posts that ran down either side of the hall and divided the seating areas into sections.

"Where is our family sitting?" Oddny asked her as they neared the center of the hall.

"My mother assigned the seats," Gunnhild said. "We can ask-"

As if on cue the woman in question came out of the antechamber, already dressed to welcome the guests in her finest brooches and beads, and with a gauzy linen head scarf knotted at the nape of her neck. Before Gunnhild could so much as speak, her mother was upon them.

"What mischief have you been up to, Gunnhild?" Solveig demanded. "Why aren't you spinning with Ulfrun and the others? They're supposed to be keeping you out of the way."

They didn't tell on me, Gunnhild thought with short-lived relief, for the look on her mother's face was nothing short of hostile.

Oddny and Signy moved in fractionally closer on either side of Gunnhild, Signy's arm tightening around her friend's back, and even Oddny-a paragon of submitting to parental authority-stiffened as if bracing for an attack. Solveig would never dare strike her daughter in front of guests, but that didn't mean she hadn't done so in private, and both Ketilsdottirs knew this. They had seen the proof more than once.

"I-I heard the horns," Gunnhild said at last, her friends' presence giving her strength, helping her find her voice. "I had to win."

"Not this silly game again," Solveig said scathingly, and she echoed the watchman's earlier sentiment: "Aren't you girls a little old for this?"

"It's only a game." Gunnhild raised her chin. As she stared her mother down, Oddny and Signy held their ground beside her until their own mother entered the hall.

"Hello, Solveig," said Yrsa with forced politeness. "Are my daughters causing trouble already? We've only just arrived."

Solveig plastered a look of equally strained courtesy onto her face. "Not so. I only suspect that mine is, as always, up to no good."

Yrsa's voice turned cold. "Gunnhild just came down to the dock to escort us to the hall. Why does this offend you?"

"I feel compelled to remind you, Yrsa, that you are a guest in my home," Solveig said stiffly. "I don't recall asking for your opinion on the way I choose to deal with my own daughter."

"Of course." Yrsa's eyes narrowed, but she gave her host an insipid smile. "Before we get settled in, is there anyone in need of my services?" There was usually no shortage of sick or injured people on any given farm, and Yrsa was a skilled healer.

"Not that I know of. Please, make yourselves comfortable." Solveig gestured to the section of the platform two spaces down from the high seat, then looked to Gunnhild. "Clean yourself up and get ready at once." She made to breeze past them but stopped to hiss in her daughter's ear, "And do not embarrass me tonight."

Then she was gone, and Gunnhild could breathe again.

Yrsa's keen eyes followed Solveig as the woman went to greet the next guests. "Oddny, Signy-why don't you help Gunnhild get ready?"

The sisters dumped their bedrolls and scurried off with Gunnhild to the antechamber. Her parents slept on the right side, and behind a curtain on the left side were two wooden bunks with thin straw mattresses atop them.

Gunnhild had once shared this room with her sisters, but as they were much older and had long since been married off, she now bunked with Solveig's most trusted serving women, and she was glad to see that none of her aged roommates were present. Besides the bunks, the only other fixtures were a few small chests, one of which was Gunnhild's. She opened it and added the bead Signy had given her to the little pouch full of smooth skipping stones, seashells, and other baubles she'd won over time from the Ketilsdottirs. Then she took out a bone comb and began to assault her thick dark red hair.

Gunnhild's feast clothing was already spread out on her bunk: a linen dress soft from years of use; a woolen apron-dress, faded and threadbare but woven in a fine diamond pattern; and a pair of tarnished oval brooches with a simple string of beads. All had been handed down to Gunnhild from her older sisters.

"Mother asked to foster you again at the midsummer feast, last time we were all together," Signy said as she sat down on the bunk with the clothing on it, the beads clinking together at the movement. "Your mother refused."

"She said you were too old now." Oddny sat down on the opposite bunk. "As if she hasn't been asking forever."

Gunnhild grimaced, but this came as no surprise; she knew there was no escape for her. She'd tried to run away once or twice, slipping out during the commotion of a feast after stealing some finery from her parents' chests to pay her way to . . . Where? If not to Ketil's farm-the first place they would look for her-where could she possibly go? Each time, she'd ended up returning in the dead of night, putting her parents' things back where she'd found them, unpacking her bag, and slipping into bed.

She had thought that nothing would frighten her more than Solveig, but it turned out that the unknown was more terrifying still.

"Of course she refused," Gunnhild said hollowly. She loves to deny me anything I could possibly want. "And on top of everything else, I'm not allowed to have my fate told tonight."

Signy had been running her hand enviously over the diamond twill of the apron dress on the bed, but her head snapped up at this. "What do you mean, you're not allowed to have your fate told?"

"My mother decided it." And, as usual, she hadn't offered an explanation besides because I said so. Her father, however, had been a bit more willing to talk after a few drinks and a prolonged exposure to Gunnhild's whining. "But Papa said it's because I had my fate told when the last seeress came through."

"But you were three when the last one was here," Oddny said with a frown. "That's not fair. You can't possibly remember what she said."

"Of course I don't." Gunnhild crossed her arms. "And no one will tell me!"

"For once, I agree with Oddny Coal-brow," Signy said, and her sister hmphed at the nickname, earned because Oddny's thin eyebrows were a much darker brown than her fine, mousy hair. "What if you just came with us when our mother calls us forward? Solveig can't make you sit back down without embarrassing you both. People would want an explanation."

"She'll make my life even more miserable this winter if I disobey her," Gunnhild said glumly, and neither of her friends disagreed.

Gunnhild braided her hair into a thick plait, donned her dresses, and pinned her beads and brooches in place. When she was done, Signy gave a sigh of admiration and Oddny gave a nod of approval. Neither of the sisters owned a set of brooches. The two wore faded woolen gowns-red for Signy and dull yellow for Oddny-and Gunnhild knew Oddny's was a hand-me-down, for the younger girl had it tightly cinched at the waist with a thin overlong leather belt.

Nevertheless, their dresses were free of stains and didn't show any obvious signs of mending or patching, so Gunnhild knew that these were likely the best garments her friends had; even their mother's weren't much better. And yet, though the family had so little to their name, Yrsa was still adamant about bringing their neighbor's mistreated daughter into their home.

Gunnhild swallowed the lump in her throat and sat down beside Oddny. "Let's stay out of the way until the ritual starts."

"Otherwise Mother might put us to work," Signy said, disgusted, as she flopped onto her back on the bed. "I want to go one single day without picking up a spindle. Is that too much to ask?"

"Just because you pick up a spindle doesn't mean that you get anything accomplished with it," Oddny said under her breath, and Signy stuck out her tongue.

To keep themselves busy, they decided to rebraid Oddny's and Signy's hair, which had become windswept during the crossing. By the time Gunnhild had fixed Oddny's twin plaits and Oddny had done the same to Signy's, they could hear more and more voices coming from the main hall.

"I suppose we should go before our mothers come looking for us," Gunnhild said at last, standing. The ritual would begin at dusk, and by now the sunlight outside was spent; the start of winter was almost upon them, and the days were getting shorter. Soon the sun would barely rise at all, and she'd be trapped inside this hall, weaving and sewing by firelight, completely under her mother's thumb.

But not yet. Tonight, she had her friends by her side, and the future awaited.


The hall was full and the braziers had been lit, and the seeress herself was the last to arrive, borne north by King Harald’s tax collector and his retinue.

Along with the neighboring farmers, Gunnhild's father's friends among the Sámi had been invited to attend. They clustered together at the back of the hall, although Gunnhild saw that a few of the women had wandered over to chat with Yrsa in Norse. Ketil and Ozur had stopped to talk with the Sámi in their language, and Gunnhild heard Ketil's roaring laugh from across the room as the largest of the men clapped him on the back with a grin.

Gunnhild would have to go sit with her parents once the feast began, but for now she sat with Signy and Oddny, content to watch their fathers conversing in a tongue the girls didn't understand.

"I wonder what they're talking about," Signy said.

"I wonder what the Sámi will think of the seeress," Oddny replied. "Did you know Papa said their men are more likely to be seers instead of the other way around? I'll bet their rituals are much different, too-"

Signy batted her sister's arm. "Shh. It's starting!"

A hush came over the hall as the seeress finally appeared. The old woman was frail and peculiar, from her lambskin cap and gloves to the multitude of mysterious pouches at her belt. But what drew Gunnhild's eye most of all was her iron staff, twisted at the top, its brass fittings gleaming in the firelight.

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