3 WINNING OF FAIR FAXI

© Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

CHAPTER THREE

THE WINNING OF FAIR FAXI (Circa 828 AD)

“The king gave him a ship, and the oarsmen

called it Skroter (Fair Faxi).”

History of the Danes; Saxo Grammaticus.

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Princess Alfhild

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In a dark remote corner of King Gotar’s high seat hall he stood, perturbed. Bobbing in a throng of stout young warriors, all dressed in the raiment and finery of battle, he watched. Past the soldiery crowding both sides of the longhall, he stared, his eyes sopping up the beauty of Princess Alfhild, King Gotar’s daughter, as she sat upon her high seat on the far side of the hall. Her beauty had entranced him when he first saw her from a distance. And her beauty had enslaved him when he saw her up close. She had been standing upon her father’s high seat dais and Hraerik had been carrying a table into the hall and bright light from a window had caught up her form and her presence. She was a young woman of unusual beauty; her lithe form an embodiment of grace, her flowing blonde hair a frolic of sunlight, her deep green eyes a sounding of oceans and her pink full lips a flushing of petals. Her presence an elegance, her slightest movement sensual, she stood before Hraerik and he froze, captivated by something he had never felt before. His face flushed and his forehead broke out into a sweat. All strength left his body and he let go the table. It thudded softly on the clay floor and she turned away, oblivious to her conquest, and then she was gone.

As he floundered in his emotions, his feelings huge swells in the tempestuous sea of the war assembly, arguments were being waged for and against an attack upon Denmark and its young King Frodi. But he was oblivious to it all. Perhaps it was infatuation, but a woman such as Alfhild he had never seen before. He should have been attending to the arguments of the war thing, but, as he watched Alfhild from afar, he recollected instead his arrival in Oslo Fjord and his first sighting of her. He was at the forestem of Hraegunar’s longship and, as they closed with the shore, he was studying a huge headland that tumbled out into the sea. On a high scarped knoll he saw her standing alone, watching. The day was waning and the sunlight caught up in her tresses and it flowed and ebbed with her movements along the crest of the cliff. He waved at her and her hand went up as she tossed forth a flower in answer, the blossom arcing over the edge of the cliff and plummeting down to the breakers far below, swallowed up in the crashing surf. A loud roaring of warriors brought Hraerik back from his reverie.

“Furthermore,” Hrafn Ketil shouted, in conclusion to his inspired speech urging an assault upon the Danes, “are we to sit idly by while young King Frodi builds his Southern Way, his eastern empire, at the total expense of our Nor’Way? And when this southern route collapses, as it surely must, can the Northern Way, our Way, be reopened?”

Again a great cheer erupted, “Nay! Never!” from the warriors and chieftains as they stamped their feet and pounded their benches. Hraerik was still watching Alfhild when he saw his brother step down from the opposing third high seat and walk toward his corner of the hall.

“I don’t like the way this council is turning,” Hraelauger said as he stepped beside Hraerik. “Hrafn Ketil is emboldened by news of father’s flight at the hands of Oddi. Now Sigurd’s Way, Hraegunar’s Way has become the Northern Way, Everybody’s Way.” Hraelauger smacked his palm with his fist. “He’s stirring up the Vik to defend the Nor’Way so that soon he can deprive us of our rights to it. Sigurd discovered it, Hraegunar tamed it and now I, Hraelauger, shall lose it to the very people who benefit from it. King Gotar and Hrafn Ketil plan to claim it as their own.” The cheering subsided and the hall began to hum with little pockets of discussion that broke out up and down the length of the chamber.

“But my dream,” Hraerik started. “Gotar hasn’t a chance against Frodi according to my portents.”

“If we lose the Way to Gotar or because of Frodi, the loss is still the same to us.”

“Well…we won’t be around to worry about it if we follow Gotar off to war. The defeat in my dream is quite complete and I saw my fylgja above Gotar’s high seat hall this morn. If Odin has a warrior on this side, Oddi is that man and soon he will set a death trap for us all.”

“We won’t be following Gotar,” Hraelauger assured him. “I’ve arranged for you to have an audience with King Gotar and I want you to recite your dream to him, in a drapa, just as it came to you. If it doesn’t convince him to give up on his plans of conquest, at least it shall give us an excuse not to join him on those strands.”

“For the hand of his daughter, I would follow Gotar anywhere, even out onto those strands; but I’ve little chance of acquiring a hand such as that one.”

“Don’t underestimate yourself, Hraerik,” Hraelauger laughed. “Poetry has won many a royal heart. Now…I’ll signal you when it’s time for your recital.

“Just remember…the telling of fortunes is a dangerous game, best left to charlatans who tell people what they want to hear. Gotar likely won’t believe your dreams, Hraerik. He’ll suspect I’ve put you up to this and he may try to hang us both for it. But it’s the only chance I can see of keeping us out of this war without losing face and station. We wouldn’t be doing this if father were here, but Brak agrees it may be the only way out of this mess, so, if you want to back out of this, tell me now.”

“Gotar must weigh my poetry against Hrafn Ketil’s words. I shall not falter in the recital, but if Gotar chooses words of war over poems of peace, I don’t think that I shall be running from this fight. If my poesy fails to impress our king then at least let it win me a place in the heart of Princess Alfhild.”

“What good will your words in her heart do when your bones are bleaching on the sands of a strand? Father would forbid your going and I’m afraid I must as well. Perhaps this recital isn’t the best idea after all.”

“I shall not turn tail from this contest Hrafn Ketil arranges; not in front of Princess Alfhild.” Hraerik was pleading now. “It was my dream. Even now, as we speak, the poem comes back to me. Odin’s mead words shall not be taken lightly by Gotar. Besides…like as not the sons of Westmar, King Frodi’s berserks shall be there.”

“If you are determined to go, then I’m going with you,” Hraelauger said stiffly. “To keep you out of trouble. You’ll have to answer to Hraegunar.”

When Hraerik nodded, Hraelauger worked his way through the crowd to the high seat of King Gotar and had a word with him.

The request of a son of Chieftain Hraegunar was not easily denied, for, besides being of royal descent, Hraegunar was a wealthy and powerful leader of men; Hraerik soon found himself before the king’s high seat. King Gotar had been told to expect a drapa inspired by prescient dreams and he now signalled for the poem to begin.

Hraerik recited it thus:

“Drums of war I dreamt of,                dreams of norns it seems of,

misty shrouded masts of                     mighty sea-steeds fighting.

Gauta-Tyr’s song, Gotar,                      glazes Odin’s blazes:

glore the victor garners,                      gore the vanquished forfeit.

Steadily the steeds rock                        striking Frodi’s vikings.

Odd, the sea king, Odin                         aids to halt the raiding.

Rising waves he raises,                          raging winds he stages,

hard swept warrior hoard is                 harried by the skerries.

Streamy-horses stumble,                         stranded where they landed.

Strung out for the strangling                  sleet-of-Har this fleet is.

Burnished gleam the bared swords,      brightly flashing lightning.

Know the kettle drums now start…        Hnikar’s-storm is speaking.”

Hraerik’s poem went on for seventeen more stanzas completing a full drapa and, once it had described how Oddi, King Frodi’s sea king, would call upon Odin to provide a storm that would run the Norwegian fleet aground, it went on to warn that the Danes would cause heavy stones to fall from the sky breaking up the stranded ships in the beating surf and that the survivors of this debacle would be slaughtered, their bones bleaching in the sand of a distant Danish shore. And in the centre of a small island there would rest an eagle picking over the carcase of a wolf.

Hraerik’s poem struck fear into many of the chieftains entertaining an attack upon the Danes, but King Gotar was visibly angered by it and Hrafn Ketil was furious, preparing himself for a verbal assault upon the bastard son of Hraegunar, the chieftain who had so recently fled from the Danes. But Hraerik noticed only Princess Alfhild’s reaction as she shook her head in warning, as if to say: “My father is not to be swayed in this…Your life is in jeopardy…Hrafn Ketil will have your head in a noose if he can.” All this she told Hraerik in a glance and in that fraction of a second Hraerik could feel his life teetering over the great abyss, the vast ginungagap, and it seemed as if the gods were struggling, some for, some against him…some thrusting him into the blank depth…some pulling him back out and it seemed as though he teetered there for quite some time…though he knew it to be less than an moment…and suddenly he felt the course of his life change. Gotar was doomed, Hraerik felt. He would save his king from Oddi, but Gotar was still doomed. Paths had been preordained by the norns and in this moment Gotar had made a decision that would drive their paths apart, and Hraerik saw his own path continuing onward and upward while Gotar’s led off into an unfathomable abyss. All this Hraerik felt in an instant and then he knew what he must do.

“It is commonplace that he who covets another man’s goods,” Hraerik started, eyeing Hrafn Ketil fiercely, “often loses his own. The unrest of the Danes shall dissipate at the approach of an enemy host. Quarrelling swine are drawn into tight array at the approach of a wolf. A native tyrant is oft-times preferred to a foreign king and Frodi shall not allow you the chance to sway his people, but shall sally forth to meet you.

“Unlike Frodi, King Gotar,” Hraerik said, shifting his eye to meet his ruler’s “you are surrounded by loyal subjects willing to try the fortune of this young king for you. Let your most trusted subjects test the magic of Oddi and the strength of the Danes while you maintain your neutrality. A blacksmith uses tongs to spare himself the heat of the ingot; a warrior throws first his spear, then draws his sword; use your most loyal subjects to gain your ends and take some thought for yourself. Allow Hraegunar’s men, your loyal subjects of Jaederen Province, to try the luck of young King Frodi for you!”

A great cheer rose from all the men in the hall and it was obvious that King Gotar was moved by Hraerik’s appeal. He leaned over and conferred with Hrafn Ketil, who sat in the third high seat on his left. They had words for some time, then King Gotar turned to face Hraerik and smiled ever so slightly. “My foremost man, Hrafn Ketil, tells me that you are Hraerik Boddison, half-brother of Hraelauger Hraegunarson and son of Hraegunar Sigurdson. You are eloquent in speech and equally convincing in argument. Perhaps you have been too long in the shadow of your brother’s blood and brilliance. Henceforth your byname shall be Bragi, foremost in speech and argument…Hraerik `Bragi’ Boddison.”

Hraerik stepped boldly forward and said, “Is it not customary for some toothing gift to accompany a naming?”

“Shrewdly spoken, Hraerik,” King Gotar answered. “What is it you desire most?” Hraerik wanted more than anything to ask for the hand of his king’s daughter, but, bold though he was, it would be some time before he would make that request, and under totally different circumstances. “I have a fresh forged sword that yearns to fight the Danes,” Hraerik answered, looking first at Gotar and then upon Alfhild, “but in King Gotar’s high seat hall I find most need of a buckler with which to build a shield-fort around my heart.”

Alfhild was amused by this and warned her father, “One shield does not a shield-fort make.”

Gotar was more than a little surprised by the interest his daughter seemed to be showing in the dangerously outspoken and, as he saw it, rather brutish young poet. “Yes daughter,” he replied. “A mere shield would make for a paltry toothing gift. Since you ask for a leaf-from-leafy-land, Hraerik, I find it fitting to give you the whole sea-tree. I will give you a ship that I have just had completed. She is called Skroter, meaning fancy or showy, but Princess Alfhild prefers to call her Fair Faxi, meaning pretty horse. The ship has been specially built to suit the name. You shall also lord over the district of Lither wherefrom you may select your crew. Alfhild, could you have one of the stewards show young Hraerik to his ship? Meanwhile, Hrafn Ketil and I have a great deal to discuss regarding a change in plans.”

Alfhild stepped down from the high seat and called over her father’s chief steward. Alfhild and the frail old man led Hraerik out of the hall and down toward the Vik of Oslo to a secluded bay in which her father berthed his ships. They led him down a quay beside which bobbed a vessel, a showpiece of a ship.

Hraerik stepped over the brightly painted ochre bulwark and onto the white deck. “She’s beautiful,” he said, helping Alfhild aboard. The chief steward watched aloofly from the dock. Hraerik examined the longship from stem to stern. It was some sixty feet in length by ten foot across with benches for twenty-four rowers. Hraerik studied the intricately carved forestem with a fierce stallion’s head mounted high at the top. The horse had a long wicked snout full of bared teeth and it had the ears of a mule, but, most eerily, it had no eyes, having only deep sockets that gave it more the appearance of a horse’s skull rather than a full head. It almost resembled a scorn pole and that fact sent a shiver up Hraerik’s spine that he could not yet fathom. Hraerik then began working his way down the ship, stepping over the uppermost cross-beams, when his mood changed from enrapturement to consternation. He realized that this ship’s framework closely matched the heavy construction of his father’s Nor’Way ships. The crossbeams and floor-timbers were twice the usual number and the clinker-laid strakes had double fastened pine tarred joints. Princess Alfhild waited patiently on a foredeck rowing bench as Hraerik concluded his inspection at the inboard rudder port then worked his way forward to rejoin her. “How many of these ships are there, anyway?” he asked her angrily.

“This is the first,” she replied. “Father gave Hrafn Ketil another.” She paused and studied the coarseness of Hraerik’s face. There was none of Hraelauger’s winsomeness, but there was a power to it and she decided that this she found attractive. “As you can see, there is more to this gift than first meets the eye,” she warned. “You’ve made a powerful enemy in Hrafn Ketil. He is of the common people, but he is very ambitious. My father will send him to test the strength of the Danes, not you.”

“I expected no less. He shall not be my enemy for long then.”

“You have that much faith in your dreams?”

“Enough that I’m sure it’s my death if I follow your father against King Frodi.”

“Yet you were the first to volunteer to test Frodi. Your grasp of the political surprised me, but it totally shocked Hraelauger. I was watching him as you concluded your speech. He didn’t set you up to this,” she said with conviction. “Perhaps father was right when he said that you’ve been too long in the shadow of your brother.”

“And perhaps he only said that to put dissension between brothers.”

“That should not even be required in your case,” Alfhild scolded. “Hraegunar doesn’t even recognize you as an illegitimate son. You’re your mother’s son with no right to even a third of your inheritance. Hraelauger’s mother, no doubt, has seen to that.”

“That is true and I would be lying if I said that it doesn’t bother me, but somehow I’ve always felt that I have a greater destiny to pursue. Hraelauger judges himself by what Hraegunar has done, who in turn has tried to match the greatness of Sigurd. It is a legacy not meant for me. I am to do something, as yet unknown to me that has never been done before.”

“My mother knows of your foresight. She says that Kraka is a priestess of Odin, a witch, but she also says that you have a great gift and that Kraka fears you. Now I see what mother means. There is much power in your vision, but what would you have done if father had accepted your offer to test the strength of Frodi?”

“I would have gone off in search of Frodi, for I could not run from a fight before the cheek-lights of the most beautiful princess in Norway.” Alfhild blushed at this and Hraerik kissed her awkwardly. Then they both heard a cry, far off at first, but closing.

“Help me, Hraerik! Help me quickly!”

“What is that, Hraerik,” she asked.

“Help me, Hraerik! Help me quickly!”

“That is a dwarf,” Hraerik answered. “A dwarf named Dvalin. I heard some of your father’s men talking about having a dwarf throw while the war council was in session.”

“A dwarf throw? That sounds perfectly awful. You must help him.” Princess Alfhild peered over the ship’s side and she saw a brightly dressed dwarf running for his life down the path to the wharf, towards an alarmed chief steward. Running fast behind him were six sailors, their awkward gaits belonging to men born to the sea.

Hraerik leaped down onto the dock, gathered himself up and charged the men as Dvalin ran by him and jumped into the ship. Hraerik knocked the first man off the quay and caught enough of the second man to send him spiralling into the quaking chief steward and both of them toppled off into the water, but the onslaught of the others drove Hraerik back beside Fair Faxi’s berthing.

“Help me with this oar,” Dvalin cried as he wrestled a long oar off the ship’s cross-members.

Alfhild helped him raise the oar up into the air and, when they had positioned it just right, Dvalin pushed it over. The blade of the oar arced down through the air and smacked one of the sailors across the back, knocking him into the water. When Hraerik sent a fourth man into the drink, the remaining two fled back to shore. Hraerik helped the rest of the men out of the icy water and sent the sailors on their way. The chief steward shook himself off on the dock and stood there shivering, looking quite the drenched dog. By the time Hraerik got back on the ship, Dvalin had already made Princess Alfhild’s acquaintance and was busy reading her palm.

“I see a great king in your future,” Dvalin said, bunching up his face and talking with great intensity. “A very young king, handsome and brave and showing great promise.”

“Spare us your divinations, Dvalin,” Hraerik said, annoyed at his words.

“I want to hear this, Hraerik,” Alfhild pleaded.

“That is all I see,” Dvalin prudently answered.

“Come, Alfhild. I’ll walk with you back to your father’s hall. You stay here, Dvalin. Watch the ship and stay out of trouble.”

“I’ll stay here and prepare the ship,” Dvalin replied. “It shall serve our purpose nicely.” He stomped his foot upon the deck. “She’s very solid. What do you call her, Hraerik?”

“I call her Fair Faxi,” Hraerik said. “It means pretty horse,” and Princess Alfhild smiled at this.

“The name suits the craft,” the dwarf replied.

Hraerik and Alfhild walked up the quay hand in hand, wet steward shivering in tow. Alfhild turned slightly and waved at the dwarf. “He’s such a sweet little fellow,” she said. “And handy with an oar.”

“Yes,” Hraerik laughed. “But he can’t read palms worth a damn.” They both stopped and laughed, then continued on up the path. “Did Dvalin look well to you?” Hraerik asked as they walked.

“He looked just fine,” Princess Alfhild replied. “I don’t think those brutes got a chance to lay a hand on him.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Hraerik said, but it was Dvalin’s health Hraerik was worried about, not his condition.

Hraerik left Alfhild at the hall, which was quiet now, the assembly having been concluded. He then walked over to the shore where the ships of Jaederen Province were beached. Hraelauger and Brak were there, standing and talking between their ships.

“Hoi, Hraerik,” Hraelauger called. “How’s your ship?”

“She’s a real beauty,” Hraerik called back.

“And the princess,” Brak asked.

“The ship pales next to her,” Hraerik replied.

Hraelauger and Brak shook Hraerik’s hand, congratulating him on how he had shifted the upcoming battle from their camp to that of Hrafn Ketil’s, and the men gathered round and did likewise. Hraerik could not have handled it better, they all agreed, and Hraerik never told them he would have led them out onto those strands himself, for a chance at the hand of Alfhild.

With the approach of evening Hraerik and Hraelauger began grooming themselves for their final night’s revelry. Hraerik was hunkered down in front of a polished bronze mirror that stood between the beached longships, brushing his hair. Their men were nearby, on the beach, roasting meats and preparing for a feast of their own, but the real celebration to conclude the war council was up in Gotar’s high seat hall, which Brak and others were already commencing with. When Hraerik and Hraelauger got up to the hall the ale was flowing freely and Hraerik was greeted with toasts and cheers as the brothers walked between benches and hearths. Hraelauger snatched two horns of ale from a slave girl and he and Hraerik toasted the men who were cheering them on. Hraerik took note that it was the older, proven warriors that were doing most of the cheering, while the few young men his own age that were allowed to attend the war thing sat sullen and envious.

When Hraerik turned to continue, he found Princess Alfhild standing in front of him, her bright green eyes staring boldly into his. Wisps of blonde hair flowed past pink cheeks and her lips parted. “My father wishes that you join us at our high seats for the feasting.”

“And do you wish this also?” Hraerik asked.

“I should prefer to share my seat with the young king your dwarf promised me, but, in his absence, I shall settle for my eloquent prince.”

Alfhild led the way to the high seats and Hraerik could not prevent his eyes studying her movements, her grace, as her body flowed beneath her white silk gown. The silk had come from the Eastern Romans, the Byzantines, and only just now had Hraerik come to understand why royalty placed such a high value on the material.

“Keep your eyes in your head, dear brother,” Hraelauger whispered as he turned off for his own high seat on the other side of the hall. “Your tongue gets you in trouble enough on its own.”

Hraerik shared the second high seat with Princess Alfhild, on the right of King Gotar, who sat alone, his queen, Alfhild’s mother, being ill, while Hrafn Ketil and Bari, the king’s foremost skald, shared the third high seat on his left. Hraelauger and Brak and several notable chieftains sat in the opposite high seats across the hall. A slave handed Hraerik a fresh horn of ale, which he shared with Princess Alfhild. Trenchers of choice cuts and platters of fresh baked breads followed and the princess soon had Hraerik’s tongue flowing as fast as the ale. She wanted to know all about the charming little dwarf she had met, so Hraerik told her about Dvalin and the star stone and the forging of Tyrfingr. She wanted to see the sword, but, as weapons were not allowed in an Althing hall, he could only promise to show her it later. As the evening wore on, King Gotar asked that Hraerik recite his poem once again, but for his ears only this time. Hraerik switched places with Alfhild and recited his poem to Gotar over the arms of the high seat benches. Once King Gotar was satisfied with the accuracy of the reciting, for a true poet committed his verses to memory word for word, he made praise of Hraerik’s talent. Bari, the king’s skald, then rose from his high seat and offered a poem in praise of the generosity of King Gotar, stating that his virtue could not be equalled. The poem was amiably worded, but was, in effect, a slight against Hraerik, for it implied that Hraerik deserved no reward for his warning, nor his offered aid, and that Gotar expected no return on his favour. As the poem progressed Hraerik’s temper rose and only Princess Alfhild’s calming words kept him from attacking the king’s skald. Hrafn Ketil enjoyed the poem and savoured Hraerik’s anger, while King Gotar sat in muted silence, showing no favour one way or the other as he played his foremost man off against his eloquent guest. Later, when the drinking bouts started and the bragging challenges began and the women were leaving the hall, Alfhild asked Hraerik to walk her over to King Gotar’s living hall which was located beside and a little back of his assembly hall. Hraerik walked the princess there and they stood in front of its great double doors.

“Hrafn and Bari were trying to provoke you, Hraerik,” Alfhild warned. “You must control your temper lest others use it against you.”

“Hraegunar warns me of my temper all the time, but it is a part of me and I’m loathe to change it.”

“Does he complain of your stubbornness also?” she asked and they both laughed. Hraerik kissed her then and they looked into each other’s eyes for a long time, as if they both did not want to part just yet, then Alfhild’s mother called weakly for her and she went inside and Hraerik turned away from the porch and headed back for the high seat hall. Alfhild lingered in the vestibule and she watched him as he walked and he would turn and wave, turn and wave until he disappeared into the darkness.

“I see much in this dream of yours,” Gotar confided, when Hraerik had rejoined him on the high seats. “Hrafn scoffs at this, but my wife has told me that many people put great store in this prescience of yours. In this light, I want to thank you for your offer to attack King Frodi for me, but since you, more than anyone, must have faith in your own visions, I find it only fair to send out Hrafn and his men to destroy the Dane. They take no heed of your warning, so they shall be the ones to try it.”

“I find your decision in this most wise,” Hraerik replied, noting the emphasis Gotar had placed upon the word try.

“It is in this light that I have given you such a generous toothing gift.”

“It is a beautiful ship,” Hraerik acknowledged. “But of unusual construction.”

“I’m glad you realize the significance of the gift,” the king said. “And you realize, of course,” Gotar added, “the stakes involved in this test of your prescience.”

Hraerik was fast learning the subtleties of high seat discourse. “Certainly,” he answered.

“You shall, of course, become my hired man, Hraerik.”

“I thank you, my king,” Hraerik answered, “but first I must traverse the Nor’Way. I have promised a friend a return to his homeland and we must set off as soon as possible. My friend doesn’t know it, but I sense that he is dying.”

“You shall stop at the district of Lither on the way and select your crew. My steward there is quite capable and will run the district well for you, should you wish to retain him. When you return from this voyage you shall become King Gotar’s man.”

“I wish that very much,” Hraerik answered. “I find the Vik and its people very exciting.”

“It’s settled then,” Gotar confirmed. “A word regarding Alfhild though, Hraerik,” he said, leaning heavily on the arm of his high seat and speaking very confidingly. “I have raised her with the purpose of alliance in mind. She is a princess destined for a king, when the time and circumstances benefit my kingdom. You seem to amuse her and I appreciate that, as long as you keep it in mind that she is destined for a fine-blooded king.”

Anger danced dangerously upon the tip of Hraerik’s tongue and his face flushed with it, but Princess Alfhild’s recent lecture helped him curb his temper and he even began wondering if she had guessed what her father would be saying later. “I’ll be taking Fair Faxi out with the dawn,” he said coldly. “You’ll give Alfhild my fondest farewell?”

“Of course,” King Gotar replied. “May your journey be blessed by Thor.”

Hraerik stepped down from the high seat and stalked angrily from the hall. Hraelauger saw all of this and followed him out. “What’s happened?” he asked, rushing up behind his brother. “What did Gotar say?”

“Gotar wants me as his hired man, but he wants me to keep my distance from Alfhild,” Hraerik complained bitterly. “I told him I sail in the morning. Will you sail with me, Hraelauger? Across the Nor’Way? Dvalin is dying. Tyrfingr has poisoned his blood. We must hurry if we are to make it back by the end of this season. Hrafn will be dead before Dvalin even begins to feel his sickness,” Hraerik rambled on, “and soon the Nor’Way will be dead as well, unless we stop King Frodi.”

“Hraerik!” Hraelauger shouted. “Catch hold of yourself!” And he grasped his brother by the shoulders.

A pained helplessness crossed Hraerik’s face. He gripped Hraelauger’s arms as the anger passed. “When we get back from the east we’ll destroy Oddi for Gotar and we’ll destroy those berserks for Hraegunar.” Hraerik let go Hraelauger’s arms and continued walking for their ships. “That will change Gotar’s mind about me. He’ll see that my blood is worthy of Alfhild. He’ll see the stuff I’m made of.” He patted Hraelauger’s back and looked at him and there was a hot blooded madness in his eyes that Hraelauger had seen only once before. There would be no stopping Hraerik when that look came to his dark eyes and Hraelauger was sure Gotar would rue the day he had abused his brother.