Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert


Princess Aslaug ‘Kraka’ Rules in the Vikingdom of Stavanger Fjord



(Circa 820 AD)  King Ragnar and his fleet arrived at Stavanger Fjord and continued north to Master Island and then to Rennes Isle to check in with a few of his chieftains he had left in charge of certain duties while he was ruling in Denmark and then he sailed east and south into the town of Stavanger which was often called Stafangr at that time.  He checked in with the town hearse, the military officer he left in charge of the town’s protection, just to let him know that any messengers that had to be sent to the king would now go further on up the fjord and not to Liere in Denmark.  The town had been founded by his grandfather, King Hring, two generations earlier and it had doubled in size since his father, King Sigurd had begun trading in the east.  But Ragnar was in a hurry to get home, so he did not stay long or survey much.  He had not seen his wife, Aslaug, in almost a year and the closer he got to her, the more he longed for her smell and her taste and the feel of the woman.

King Ragnar led his small fleet southeast, deeper into Stavanger Fjord, and then they sailed straight east to the very end of it, to the source.  The day was almost spent and Ragnar missed his two sons and hungered for her, who spoiled them, and he wished that perhaps he had built his stead outside the town of Stafangr, but it was more secure nestled in at the end of the fjord, because a fleet would have to penetrate deeply without being sighted to get at his family when he wasn’t there to protect them.  And there was a lookout tower located amongst the trees along the coast where they had turned straight east and a great directional horn had sounded when Ragnar’s fleet had sailed past and they heard the friendly signal, but those far down the fjord had heard it even more loudly and they would know their king and father approached.

A narrow greensward ran along the south edge of the fjord of Hraegunarstead, between the mountains and the vik, a lush meadow the freemen called the bitter green.  At its westernmost point stood a watchtower where another lookout monitored the fjord for ships and listened for the sounds of the directional horn that would warn them if it was friend or foe.  Ragnar watched all the folk of Hraegunarstead rushing along the bitter green to welcome their Vikings home.  In an instant it would be known which warriors were not returning from their dangerous duties, be they trade or war.  Everyone ran across that meadow.  Only the old folk walked.  It was said the bitter green was watered by the weeping of new-found widows; it was a verdant green.

After warning horns had been heard, a longship was spotted sailing up the fjord toward Hraegunarstead.  It was Ragnar’s ship and with a small fleet behind and back of him and the whole household rushed out onto the bitter green to welcome him home.  Erik watched as his stepmother, Kraka, ran amongst the throng along the meadow to greet her husband.  He and his half-brother, Roller, walked calmly, as brave warriors would, But they were still young and impatient, a dozen years old, and they, too, soon broke out in a run and the two boys raced each other to catch up with the throng.  The people stood about, apprehensive, gathered in small moving knots, facing west and swaying with the cool fall wind.  The distinctive white and red sail of Ragnar’s ship could be seen above the waves and, as it neared, a white shield could be seen suspended above it from the mast.  And Ragnar’s Raven Banner fluttered madly above it.  Murmurs raced through the throng as the ship’s bulwarks rose up out of the waters and soon the oars could be seen chomping at the waves.  Men could be made out on the foredeck and then men could be seen scampering about mid-deck, gathering up the sail and unfooting the mast.  As the ship passed along the shore the crewmen at were not at work on the oars waved happily at their people on the shore.  And the people on shore ran back along the bitter green, following the longship’s progress.  Erik and Roller, too, ran with the throng, and soon passed Kraka, and broke away from the group so they could be at the head of the fjord to help haul the ships up on the beach.  Ragnar’s shieldship was rowed till near the shore, then the oars were raised, and it coasted up onto the beach, scudding softly into the salty sand.  Ropes were let out and men jumped into the water and splashed through it as Erik and Roller each took up a rope and pulled it taut.  Soon the multitude grabbed them up and all hauled the ships ashore, as the Vikings stowed their oars.  Roller was at the forestem, below the fierce dragon’s head, and was the first to give Ragnar a hand down off the topstrake.  Erik rushed up to Ragnar and hugged him and the two boys led him to Kraka, who hugged and kissed him warmly.

King Ragnar’s great longhall was the largest of many buildings at Hraegunarstead, a great meadow of a farm at the head of Stavanger Fjord, closed off all around from other land by the heavily forested mountains that surrounded it.  A large craft-house where all the wool was spun, and the cloth was woven stood to the south of the hall, while a long shipwright’s shop, where the sturdy ships for crossing the Nor’Way were built, stood to the north, all three facing west, opening out onto the vik.  Farther down the shore was a large smithy shop where iron was being smelted and steel was being forged.  The sound of the forging hammers could be heard out across the waters, for smith-work would not be stopped for anything short of war.  The homes of Ragnar’s freemen were nestled into the slope behind these buildings and behind the smithy shop there was a greying dilapidated hall in which the household slaves slept.  And behind that were several new slave halls where unransomed captives were held before the spring sailings across the Nor’Way and now the new Sor’Way that was just opening up.  Between the halls and the rising meadow was a loose crescent of outbuildings: a dairy-house where the cows were milked, and the cheeses were moulded and a salt-house where the meat was laid up.  There were cattle barns, horse stables, sheep sheds and granaries and beyond them all, the meadows, fields and pastures rising gently to meet the surrounding mountain forests.  And running down from the mountains was Ulf Creek, wandering and ranging its way south-west through the fields then west through the little settlement and just south past Ragnar’s longhall, where a little wooden bridge crossed it, then out across the beach and into the vik, where it fed the fjord. 

The great longhall of Hraegunarstead was of a size befitting Ragnar’s station as King of Stavanger Fjord and Jaeren Province, being thirty-two feet wide, a hundred and forty feet long and standing twenty-four foot at the gable peak.  It was of massive post and beam construction–the huge, squared timbers having been hauled out of the great mountain forests surrounding the farm–with board and batten walls and a steeply pitched pole and thatch roof that, from the front porch at the gable end, seemed to arc up into the very heavens.  The posts and beams were detailed in carved reliefs of ancient religious motif–the work of finely skilled craftsmen–and the designs marched down the doorposts and across the great oaken entrance doors, twin story panels at the front of the hall.  The heavy front doors were opened with effort by Roller and Erik and Ragnar and Kraka stepped into the main hall and there was a vestibule with a great square entrance hearth where a fierce fire roared, keeping the chill of the doorway at bay.  Ragnar warmed himself in front of the fire as Kraka took his cloak from his shoulders and his sons stripped him of his weapons.  The inner front wall of the hall was studded with pegs upon which guests hung their outer garments and weapons, but Kraka carried his cloak within and the boys followed along with his sword and axe.  In the front half of the hall sleeping benches were butted up endwise to the heavy plank side walls, twelve on either side upon slightly raised platforms, and the walls themselves were adorned with the painted shields and silver inlaid weapons of Ragnar’s hired men and the four walked past them as Ragnar’s men began to file into the hall.  Halfway down the longhall, two sets of triple highseats faced each other, backed against either wall, sitting above the worn plank floor, each upon its own dais.  The highseats, too, were handsomely carved and behind them the walls were rich with tapestries.  Kraka led Ragnar to the highest highseat and she sat him down and then joined him on it, sitting down beside him closely.  In the back half of the hall two dozen more sleeping benches hugged the walls on each side and again and some of Ragnar’s men filed past the highseats and went to their respective benches and started stowing their gear.  Down the centre of the hall ranged six long narrow flagstone hearths spaced out evenly between the two rows of sleeping benches leaving an open area between the two sets of highseats where audiences and entertainments took place.  The wood smoke from the hearth fires rose freely up into the beams and rafters where it blackened them with creosote before escaping through smoke-holes in the thatched roof.  Beyond the main hall were the bedrooms, three plank walled chambers on either side with a six-foot hallway between them.  And at the very back of the hall was the kitchen and scullery where the feasts and the meals were prepared.

The evening was late, but supper had been held off at the sounds of the horns and now at supper were all Ragnar’s men, both hired and free, and the women and children of the stead attended their usual places.  Roller’s mother, Erik’s stepmother, Queen Aslaug or Kraka as she preferred, sat with her king in the highest highseat, and the boys, the young princes, shared the second highseat.  Jarl Brak soon entered the hall from his work in the smithy shop and he joined them on the third highseat with a slave girl he had chosen for the evening.  The matching highseats on the opposite side of the hall were empty, reserved only for guests of high station when they attended upon their king.  Below them the people of Hraegunarstead were occupied with their meals, sitting at the ends of their sleeping benches or on stools with their trencherplates on their laps, devouring roasted and boiled meats, baked breads, meal cakes, curds and cheeses, then washing them down with milk or ale.

Kraka pumped her husband for news of Denmark and the world about it, and for news of his other sons and other wives and of his war with the Jutes.  She called all the folk of Jutland Jutes even though most of them were Angles and only on the northern tip of the peninsula lived Danes who called themselves Jutes.  It was a slight slight, she supposed, for it was the Jutes that had ferried the Saxons across the North Sea in their little ships to southern Angleland after the Angles had conquered and taken the northern half from the Britons and the Angles and Saxons have been scrapping over the island ever since while the Jutes sit in their little corner or Kent of southern Angleland and watch the big show.  When Ragnar told Kraka that they were winning all the battles, but slowly losing the overall war, she lamented the loss but secretly, deep inside, she knew it meant she’d have more time with her husband and a small part of her rejoiced.  She didn’t like the Danes, especially the Zealanders, who had refused to accept her as their queen just because she had been enslaved a few years in Skane.  Now they could be to the Anglish Danes what the Britons were to the Anglos and Saxons of Angleland.  The thought put a warm feeling in her belly and she hoped her husband was up for it.

The next morning, Jarl Brak showed King Ragnar the new project he and his smiths had been working on in the smithy shop down by the waters.  The smithy shop was a long-weathered shed of ancient stone construction with its whole front left open to the sea.  There had been two forges there, but Brak had added two more, complete with coal fired hearths, combustion air bellows and huge flat stone anvils.  His steel smiths were already at work heating strips of steel to a white hot glow and hammering them together to form a tri-layer sword blade.  “One of your Sor’Way traders brought me some iron from a certain mine in Sweden that has pure iron with no carbon contaminants in it,” he told the king.

“But don’t we want carbon in the iron?” Ragnar asked.  “Isn’t that what makes it carbon steel?”

“We want a little,” Brak explained, thinking back to what he had learned in the Alchemists’ Guild, “but bog iron has too much carbon and that makes blades brittle.  With this pure Swedish iron we can add as little or as much as we want.”  He then walked Ragnar over to some long soapstone boxes that lined the back of the shop and they were full of long strips of steel that rested in coal dust.  “We filled these soapstone chests with iron strips in beds of coal powder and fired them for many weeks and the heated carbon from the coal soaked into the iron very slowly in a controlled fashion and the longer we soaked them, the harder the steel that the iron turned into, so we use a harder strip for the center of the blade, the one that holds the odd or edge, and we pancake it between two softer strips and hot forge it into one blade.  The harder, more brittle center strip is reinforced by the two more flexible strips on either side, giving swords unique qualities by varying the carbon contents of all three strips.  It’s new with the Guild, and came out of the Cathay Guild and parts even further east.”

“There are parts further east than Cathay?” Ragnar asked, surprised.

“Just the one,” Brak said, “the Land of the Rising Sun.”

“How big is this land?”

“Very small,” Brak answered.  “I’ve heard it’s a number of islands about the size of your Angleland and then that’s it, just water after that, the great Atlantean Sea for thousands of miles, sailing east until you reach Ireland.”

“Didn’t an Irish priest sail west until he reached land?” Ragnar asked.  “I heard some Irish priests talking about it in Dublin.  Queen Imaira sainted him for it.”

“Then he must have sailed for thousands of miles,” Brak replied.

“Your probably right.  Those Irish are a stubborn lot!  And so are the Anglish.  My Angleland is up in revolt.  I had to send Ivar and Agnar to tune them up.”

“Ivar will tune them up!” Brak assured him.  “He has a fine ear for music.”

“Sure!  The music of sword play,” Ragnar said, using the kenning for battle.

“Funny you should say that,” Brak interjected.  “This new sword type has a peculiar ring to it.”

“What do you call it?”

“I dunno?  Just a peculiar ring, like a vibrating ting.”

“I meant the sword type.  What is the forging type called, like Damascus?”

“Oh!  It’s from the east, and they had an oriental name for it…Sammy, I think.”

“You mean Sammi, like the Finns?”

“No.  Sam My, I think.  I just call it three strips pancaked.”

“Pancakes won’t sell swords,” Ragnar replied, ever the merchant.  “We’ll call it Tri-Blade to go with our Tri-Guard.  You’re still putting the Raven Banner guards on it, right?”

“Oh yeah!” Brak assured him.  He knew how much Ragnar liked branding and the Hraes’ Tri-Guard was becoming famous along the Nor’Way trade route.  It was a steel guard with Raven Banner shaped tips pointing forward towards the blade to keep blows from deflecting outwards.  “Our Tri-Guard will now have a new Tri-Blade.  Three plies of finely tuned steel custom forged for the sword play!”

“Now that will sell!  Now show me the ting!”

Brak had his foremost smith bring over two of the Tri-Guard Tri-Blade swords and the smith flipped him a sword and they started the sword play for their king.  The young smith was fast with his blade, but Brak was very quick for an old guy and the blades were ringing off each other and each blade had it’s own peculiar ting that would ring out and vibrate a little after the blades had crossed against each other.  “The ting of the swords varies,” Brak explained as the two men dueled, steel on steel, “with the weight of the blade, the carbon contents, and the quality of the forging.  Get one of the heavier swords,” Brak told his adversary, and when he came back, Ragnar could hear the difference in the ting of the blade and he also saw that, suddenly, Brak had gotten faster than his apprentice.  Then Brak broke off and got a bad blade from their small reject pile.  “This one has a cold spot in the forging,” Brak said, as they began dueling again, and Ragnar could hear the flat spot in the ring of it.  Brak stopped dueling and said, “We can actually test the quality of the blade by the ting of it!” and he rested both hands on the pommel of the sword.  The pommel was another peculiar aspect of the Hraes’ Tri-Sword.  It was a spherical piece of tonstone with a steel ring formed around it and forge welded to the hand grip to counterbalance the weight of the blade, and the tonstone, if properly refined, had the same weight density of gold, but the hardness of iron, and it was this tonstone that had first caught the attention of the Guild.

The Alchemists’ Guild was renowned for its ability to turn lead into gold, using their Baghdad batteries called Arcs, but a Greek named Archimedes had come up with a way of detecting the gold plated lead statues and art works, which he had called weight by water displacement or buoyancy.  Because tonstone had the same specific weight as gold, it passed the Archimedes test, and such gold plated objects could no longer be detected.  And where was this tonstone found, one might ask?  “While your trader was in Sweden, he picked up another load of tonstone,” Brak added.  “You can sell it to the Guild through the Khazars next summer.”

Ragnar led Brak down to the shoreline, away from his men a bit.  “The Khazars have been causing trouble for us,” he told the old Goth.  “They want to control everything, Volsung, the Thervings, Kiev.  All of it!”

“You can still portage across to the Don River,” Brak added, “can’t you?” he asked.

“They’ve started on the Fortress of Sarkel again.  The Romans loaned them more gold.”

“Red gold?” Brak asked.  “More red gold rings of Byzantium?”

“Yes,” Ragnar answered.  “And they don’t send out just one fire-breather anymore.  They send at least three!”

“That’s too focking many to attack,” Brak said, sitting down on a great flat stone next to him and staring out into the fjord.

“There’s some kind of connection, some kind of blood bond between the Romans and the Khazars,” Ragnar complained, “but I can’t find out what it is.  And that focking Prince Harald has the Franks up in arms against us.  I’m going to have to give him Zealand just so he’ll share the Sor’Way with us.  I have to keep it out of the Angles hands.  They won’t share!”

“Will Harald?” Brak asked.  “Will the Angles let him keep it himself?”

“Harald kisses Louis ass, and with the Franks behind him, the Angles will have to let him, and they will as long as he shares the Sor’Way with them as well.  Ivar had a plan to fight Harald and his Franks on Zealand and kill them all, especially Harald, but he ran off and got away.  Ivar captured all the Franks that survived though and I got gold for them in Constantinople.  They’ll all be spending the next twenty years working off their bonds rowing those new Roman triremes.”

“They’re probably already rowing those fire-breathers,” Brak spat in disgust.

“Yeah!” Ragnar spat as well.  “Anyway, if Ivar had killed Harald, maybe the Frankish problem would have gone away.  Then we could handle the Angles, but combined, we can’t hold her.  If I let Harald have Zealand, it will save him face for having run off and leaving Louis’ Frank troops there to be bent over their shields and sold in the east.  And I’ll only let him have it if he shares.”

“We need that Swedish tonstone,” Brak lamented, “and this new iron.”

“We’re Vikings!  We can smuggle it.  We’re half pirate, half merchant, and we can always haul through the mountain passes if need be.”

Brak looked down at the water.  They needed ships to haul heavy cargo.  Mule trains were expensive and the wains always broke down.  Especially hauling tonstone.  It weighed a ton!  One good cargo knar could haul as much tonstone and iron as twenty mule trains, and a lot quicker too!  That’s why the Roman lands went all the way around the Mediterranean coast, or used to.  Their Roman legions didn’t go anywhere that their ships couldn’t go by sea or river.  They tried, but their biggest defeats were in areas their supply chain couldn’t reach.  “Fock it!  Let’s have lunch,” Brak offered and the two men and their smiths headed up for the great hall.  All the other free folk of Hraegunarstead were also going up to the great hall for lunch and Ragnar saw his son, Erik going into the hall alongside the dwarf, Dvalin.

“Why is Erik walking in with Dvalin?” Ragnar asked Brak.

“They both work with me in the smithy shop when they can,” Brak said, “and Dvalin has agreed to teach Erik the language of the dwarves.  Erik picks up languages fast.  He’s a quick study in the smithy as well.”

“I don’t know how he could learn it,” Ragnar said.  “It’s like the twittering of birds.  I pick up languages pretty fast, but not that one.”

“I know,” Brak agreed.  “They’re starting to talk it when they’re working in the shop and it’s like a couple of ravens chattering.  I had to tell them to speak Norse.  It was distracting the men from their work.”

They sat down in their highseats and a slave brought them their trencherplates of meat and bread and cheese and horn cups of ale.

“Good,” Ragnar agreed.  “Distractions cause rejected work and that costs silver.  But it’s a good thing for young Erik to learn.  Someday we might begin trading in Giantland.”

“Fock!” Brak cursed.  “You’ve been to Giantland, Ragnar.  You know that’s not going to happen anytime too soon.  I’ve heard the stories coming out of there.”

“It’s not as bad as the tales make out,” Ragnar calmed him.

“When you say that, I know it’s worse.”

“What are you two talking about?” Kraka asked as she joined Ragnar on the highest highseat.

“We were talking about Erik learning the dwarf tongue,” Ragnar told her as he kissed her.  “It’s like the twittering of birds.”

“I like the twitter of birds,”  Kraka said regally.  “They’re like two robins talking away.”

“I’m hearing two ravens cawing,” Ragnar said and Brak laughed.  “Where’s Roller?”

“He rode up into the higher fields to check on the cattle,” Kraka answered.  “I packed him a lunch.  He’ll be back for supper.”

That night Erik got up out of bed and put his outer clothes on and was going to sneak out of the bedroom he shared with his brother.  “Where you goin’?” Roller said as he was walking to the door.  Erik looked back and saw Roller’s blonde hair and flashing blue eyes by the moonlight that eked into the room through the translucent mica panes of the window between their beds.  His head was poked out from under his woollen blankets.

“Dvalin and I are working on a special project in the smithy shop,” Erik told him.  “I’ll be back later.”

“You two are up to no good,” Roller said and he ducked back under his blankets.  The fall air was cool and soon the shutters would be closed on the windows and there would be no moonlight to give him away, Erik thought as he snuck out of the longhall.  Dvalin was waiting for him at the smithy and they both stepped in and lit some candles off the covered coals of one of the forging hearths.  “I’ve got it here,” Erik said, pulling out a large key to the women’s slave hall of the stead.  The two set to work forging a copy of it.  Dvalin pumped a bellows and got the coals back aflame as Erik got some key stock.  They heated up the material and beat it to a matching thickness to fit the locks and then they filed the teeth to match the key Erik had taken from the post behind Ragnar’s highseat.  “We’ll meet at the women’s slave hall this time tomorrow,” Dvalin told Erik in Dwarf tongue.

“Don’t worry,” Erik replied in Dwarf, “I’ll keep my end of this bargain.”

When Erik got back to the longhall, he put the key back in its place and snuck back in his room.  He half expected Roller to comment on something, but he could see he was asleep by the faint light carrying through the mica.  He took the key he had made and tied a cord around it and put it under his bed then undressed and crawled under his wool blankets and settled into his feather mattress and drifted off to sleep.

The next night, Erik met Dvalin at the women’s slave hall where Ragnar kept his captive female slaves that were to be taken east in the spring.  Dvalin passed Erik a torch and lit it off the burning torch he carried and Erik unlocked the Roman merchant lock that sealed off the hall with the key he kept around his neck.  He tucked the key back under his shirt and they proceeded into the building.  There were willow barred slave pens on either side of the hall and each held about a dozen women and girls.  Erik had promised Dvalin six of them for a night if he would teach him the tongue of the Dwarfs.  Dvalin was a slave of low standing and hadn’t had a woman since arriving in the west so he made sure he had found repair work to do in the hall and he had already selected the women that he was interested in and had shown some interest in him.  It was mostly red haired Irish women that had shown a curiosity in Dvalin and it was because there were some dwarfs in Ireland and the women had heard tales of them.

“I’d like this one,” Dvalin told Erik in Dwarf, “and that young one over there.”  Then they moved on to the next pen and Dvalin selected another two that had shown interest and they stopped at a third pen that held another woman and a young girl that the dwarf picked out.

Dvalin led the women to the back of the hall where there was a pen for any captive royal princesses that might be taken.  It was empty, but it was the only pen that had beds in it.  The other pens had straw on the floor for beds that would be changed out weekly.  Erik followed behind the six women and then went up to the door of the princess pen and unlocked it.  Dvalin led the women into the pen and Erik put the torches into holders on the hall posts and locked the door behind them and watched from outside the cage as Dvalin undressed each and every woman.  He walked back and forth in front of them, waiting for one to show some interest.  He was a full head shorter than the women, except for one of the girls, a blonde Anglish maiden who was still quite a bit taller.  Dvalin then started undressing himself and he stood in front of them and they could see that he was hard and not at all short in one respect and soon an Irish woman stepped forward and offered herself up as though to save the others.

There was one large bed in the center of the pen and it must have been queen sized, for it was much larger than the other princess beds, and Dvalin led his queen into that bed and they coupled for a good half hour under the blankets.  The queen was soon moaning in her pleasure and her sounds awakened passions in two others and they joined them in bed as well.  Finally the fourth woman joined in, leaving the two girls standing in the middle of the pen, naked.  After an hour of love making, Dvalin shouted to Erik in dwarf, “Help me, Erik!  I’ve bitten off more than I could chew!” and he looked over at the girls standing.  “Help me, Erik!  I’ve saved the young ones for you!”

Erik wasn’t sure of himself, but he had just turned twelve and was now of marriageable age, so he felt he should partake and he unlocked the pen and stepped inside, locking the pen behind himself.  He took the two young girls over to a princess bed and they began undressing him and he took them into bed under the covers, and the one girl who’d had some experience went first and took Erik’s virginity and then Erik took the second girl’s.  As they were making love, one of the torches sputtered out and when they were finished the second went out.  “Let’s stay awhile in the darkness,” Erik heard Dvalin say in Dwarf.  So Erik slept with his girls, one under each arm and Dvalin shook him awake a few hours later and told him it was time to leave.  Faint light was coming in through mica windows and Erik saw that it was almost dawn.  They straightened up the princess pen as best they could and Dvalin said he had an assignment there first thing in the morning and would do a better job of it in the light, so they returned the women to their respective pens and slipped out of the women’s slave hall and returned to their own respective halls.

In late fall a messenger ship arrived from Zealand with word of negotiations with Prince Harald, who was staying in his estate near Jelling in Jutland.  Common relatives had offered to broker a peace between the prince and his king and Harald had agreed to accept rule in Zealand and share the Sor’Way with Ragnar.  He was to also patch up any grievances the Franks had with Ragnar’s sale of captive Frankish troops at no cost to Ragnar and Harald would be allowed to share the trade route with the Anglish Danes as well, but only if they demanded it.  The handover was to take place in the spring just prior to the sailing of merchant fleets over the ‘Way.

A little later, another ship arrived from Angleland with news that Princes Ivar and Agnar had been successful in retaking York and the rule of Northumbria.  It was also agreed that Prince Sigurd Snake-Eye would join the brothers in Angleland shortly after the handover of Zealand to Prince Harald.

A few weeks before Yulefest it was discovered that one of the young captive slaves in the women’s slave hall had been impregnated by some male of Hraegunarstead, a young Irish girl, and then an older Irish woman was soon found to be pregnant as well and soon four others were throwing up too.  An investigation was started and all fingers were pointed at the dwarf Dvalin except for two.  When those fingers began pointing in a princely direction, the investigation was hushed up and the slave women were returned to Ireland under the caring watchful eye of Queen Imaira of Dublin.  “Those women slept with us to get pregnant,” Erik told Dvalin in Dwarf as they worked their penance off in the smithy shop under the strict tutelage of Jarl Brak.  “They wanted to get sent back to Ireland instead of being shipped off to Baghdad!”

“That is quite likely,” Dvalin replied in Dwarf.  “But wasn’t it a fine night?  Was it not well worth it?”  Dvalin had stopped swinging his forging hammer and he looked out from the shop towards the fjord.  He longed for his home in Giantland, but he knew his only way back was across the Nor’Way in one of the special Nor’Way ships they built specifically for the great crossing.  He was already a Varangian, for he had made the great crossing one way already.  He wondered if crossing back the other way could make him an Un-Varangian.