The national bestselling author of the award-winning novel “The Witch’s Heart” (2021), Genevieve Gornichec, delivers another subversive reimagining of Norse mythology in her new novel “The Weaver and The Witch Queen” ($27) — publishing from Ace (an imprint of Penguin Random House) on July 25, 2023.
Like Madeline Miller’s “Circe” and Neil Gaiman’s “Norse Mythology,” Gornichec’s novels breathe new life into the more obscure characters of myth and history. “The Wall Street Journal”‘s Tom Shippey wrote that Gornichec’s debut, “The Witch’s Heart,” “subverts the mythology from inside, knowledgeably and provokingly,” detailing the story of a banished witch who fell in love with the trickster god Loki.
In “The Weaver and the Witch Queen,” Gornichec crafts another sweeping, feminist tale, this time exploring the powerful bonds of sisterhood — both by blood relation and by sworn blood oath — through a striking new take on the story of the Viking Queen Gunnhild, Mother of Kings.
This excerpt from “The Weaver and the Witch Queen” introduces us to Gunnhild when she was still just a child, long before establishing her legacy as Viking Queen.
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 other serving women sitting under the awning, where they’d been spinning all afternoon. 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 even 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. Below, she could hear disappointed noises coming from the children on the ship, and she grinned.
“Oi!” the man said, snatching the horn. “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?” He hung the horn back where it belonged with an air of reverence.
“Not when I know I can win,” Gunnhild said, still grinning. She descended the ladder and ran for the shore, leaving the watchman shaking his head.
As she got closer, she could see Ketil and his son, Vestein, and his men tying up their rowboat at the rickety wooden dock, which would soon be full. Three others disembarked: Ketil’s wife, Freydis, and their daughters, Oddny and Signy, whom Gunnhild practically tackled in a hug as she ran up to them. After 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 year older, Oddny a year younger—and the girls rarely got to see each other except at gatherings like this, which made the 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 always win. I have a collection to prove it.”
Oddny, the younger of the two sisters, sniffed and picked at one of the furs rolled up in her bedroll, thin shoulders hunched, her usual pinched expression looking even more so than usual. “It would help if Signy ever paid attention instead of daydreaming all the time.”
“Hush, you. I pay attention,” Signy said lightly, tossing one of her chestnut-colored braids over her shoulder. Her green eyes were, as always, brimming with mischief. Gunnhild always 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, where Oddny was more likely to sit back and give them a disapproving look from whichever of her chores she was dutifully performing. 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 to receive the völva, the wise woman who would soon be visiting. A small, square platform had been raised at the far end of the hall, near her father’s high seat, for the witch to use as she performed the ritual to peer into the other world and reveal the future. It sat just under the wooden statues of the gods Odin, Thor, and Frey which loomed from 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. It felt like a much-needed rainstorm was about to blow through.
Image Source: Courtesy of Ace Publishing