© Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert



            “Sorrowful deeds     the dayspring saw,

              unwelcome dawn,     the alf folk’s grief;

              thus early morn     the ills of men

               and every sorrow    and sadness quickens.”

            Bragi the Old(?);  Elder Edda.

“Welcome, Hraerik!” Arthor shouted, truly happy to see a son of his old friend Hraegunar.  “You look well enough coming out of the south, a little heavier even.”

Arthor had seemed very old to Hraerik when he had seen him as a young man, but it was as though he hadn’t aged a bit in the years since Hraerik last saw him.  Such are the fleeting distorted perceptions of youth.  “I’m older as well as thicker,” Hraerik said, taking Arthor’s hand in his.  “And you haven’t aged a bit,” Hraerik added, without a trace of a lie.

“We’ve been hearing great tales about your adventures from your brother, King Hraelauger,” Arthor said, leading Hraerik into his longhall.  “You must tell us all of your adventures in Hraerik’s Keep, Gardariki.”

Just then Hraerik saw her, at a far hearth near the back of the hall, surrounded by two young children and with a baby suckling, a tattered and worn middle aged woman with red hair that he recognized.  He walked along the hall to her.  “You’re looking well,” he lied.

“Thank you, Hraerik,” she said, devouring his lie.  She primped and preened her still beautiful hair and begged for more, the babe still at her breast.

Hraerik couldn’t even remember her name.  “Are these all your children?” he asked.  None of them were old enough to have been his work.

“They’re all that have lived,” she answered.

Hraerik asked her no more questions, turning and walking back towards Arthor.  He did not want to know any more.  It had never occurred to him that he might have conceived a child here, but when he saw the red-headed woman surrounded by her children a sudden wild hope had swept through his breast.  A son, he had imagined.  Brother Gregory’s vision would have turned out to have been preordained.  Gunwar yet remained barren and Hraerik would have been overjoyed to have found a child of his being raised at Hawknesta.  Such was not the case, however, and Hraerik began to wonder if there was something wrong with his virility.

“See that she gets some new clothes and the same for her children,” Hraerik said, passing a purse of silver Kufas into Arthor’s huge bony hand.  “Don’t let her know it was my silver that bought the goods.”

Arthor weighed the purse in his hand with mercantile skill and announced, “We shall have a feast in honour of your return!” and he ordered horns of ale brought in from the scullery as they took their places upon the longhall high seats.  “Trade has been slow across the Nor’Way,” Arthor complained, “and the crushing blow you and your brother dealt the Khazars almost killed trade completely.  Not that I have any feelings for the Huns,” he added.  “King Hunn got what he deserved, near as I can tell, but their defeat almost killed the Nor’Way.”  Arthor went on into detail of the hardship the people of Hawknesta experienced, and it seemed to Hraerik that he was driving at something.  Finally, Arthor got to the point.  “Business is picking up.  We’re trading with the Bulgars again, ’cause they’re trading with the Khazars again, who are trading with the Romans.  The Huns have a trade treaty with Constantinople, Miklagard, as you call it.  Be careful of the Khazars.  They mean you harm.”

“And yet you trade with the Huns?” Hraerik asked, incredulously.  “Why warn me about the Khazars intentions one minute and tell me of your plans to trade with them the next?”

Arthor looked at Hraerik perplexedly.  They were sharing Arthor’s high seat and his horn of ale.  “Because one is business and the other personal,” Arthor finally answered.  “The Nor’Way will remain, whether your friends run it, or others take it over.  Your father would maintain the Nor’Way at all costs.  It is the legacy of Sigurd.  Whatever goes on in the world, be it twixt the Danes and the Huns or the Bulgars and the Romans, the Nor’Way shall remain your family’s heritage.  Sigurd discovered it.  And Hraegunar tamed it.”

“It is my heritage, yet its very success may destroy me,” Hraerik said.  “I have moved beyond the legacy of my father.  I no longer need it.”

“You may take that up with your brother, Hraelauger, when he arrives.  Till then let us feast and celebrate your return.  Let us share ale, not hurl harsh words,” and Arthor took up the horn and toasted Hraerik.

“Hraelauger is coming?” Hraerik asked.  “Here?”

“He has spent the winter travelling about Norway and Finmark gathering tribute, furs and slaves, for trade this summer in Bulgar.”

“And he’s coming here?” Hraerik asked again in disbelief.  Hraerik was overjoyed at the thought of meeting his brother.  For the moment all thoughts of Huns and Bulgars, Arabs and Greeks fell away, replaced by thoughts of his brother and how long it had been since he had seen him.  Before Hraerik could slide into a deep reverie, Arthor interrupted him.

“Years ago, when you were last my guest, I shared tales with you of bygone days and you shared a poem with us that I remember quite well.  But you are older now with, no doubt, a tale or two more to tell.  Recite for us this poem of yours and others of your  life,” Arthor requested.  Hraerik had forgotten what a lover of stories Arthor was, be they fact or fiction.  He took up the horn of ale and stepped down from the dais to the audience area between the opposing high seats and he started into his poem, Dream of the Drums of War:

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

  misty shrouded masts of      mighty sea-steeds fighting.”

and he remembered back years into his past when he was barely out of boyhood, awaking frightened from a dream and telling his brother of their fate should they follow King Gotar.  He remembered his trip to Oslo and his winning of a ship and his infatuation with Alfhild.  He had made an enemy of Hrafn Ketil that day, but, while he was making his Nor’Way crossing, the Sea-King Oddi had taken care of that.  Hraerik next recited a poem of how he had, in turn, taken care of the Sea-King Oddi:

“We set out from Jaederen,

  my brother and myself with Hraegunar’s heavy blessing,

  Nor’Way silver in our purses,      Norway timber ‘neath our feet.

  We set off into Denmark with revenge upon our hearts.

 The beacons of the sea-king      we soon set to blazing,

 and seven ships that followed,      with augers we did raze.

 Tyrfingr was proof ‘gainst Oddi’s berserk stare,

 and deeply it did bite the quick of Oddi’s life.

 As the waves rolled ‘cross the deck

 of Oddi’s mighty ship, he blessed me with a promise

 of a son named after him.

 Landing in Liere’s harbour town      on all fours on the beach,

 I kissed the sand of Denmark      and found it to my liking.

 Grep came to the harbour town,      I’d tarried overlong,

 with feathered shaft upon word-bow,    he sent his flygt a flying,

 but he faltered ‘neath my nith-song,    small payment for his crimes.”

And Hraerik’s memories took him back to King Frodi’s high seat hall and his winning of Gunwar’s hand and his song sang of foot-blades shattering the House of Westmar out upon the ice and the wresting ‘way of Alfhild from her father’s home and hall.  Hraerik’s poem went on to describe the Danish victory over the Sclavs and their crushing defeat of the Slavs and their subsequent flight before the Hunnish horde, followed by their eventual success in the marshes of Lake Ilmen.

When Hraerik was through, all applauded his courage as well as his song.  A red-headed woman served the Raes’ leader choice cuts of meat and she always made sure his horn was full, and Hraerik was reminded of Brak and the older woman who served him so faithfully when Hraerik had first come to Hawknesta.

Hraerik had to wait a week for his brother, Hraelauger, to arrive and the whole of that week he pestered Arthor with questions of his mother and further questions about Giantland.  He then told the old merchant that he planned to take his men across the land bridge into that mysterious land that King Gorp had explored many years before.

“I’m not sure who your mother was,” Arthor had answered him.  “I rescued her from thieves that had attacked and destroyed her caravan, but I never learned who she was.

“You mustn’t travel into Giantland,” Arthor warned him.  “Few men return from there.

“Your mother never met Dvalin,” he answered another question.  “They were not captured at the same times.”

But Hraerik did not trust Arthor’s recollections of Giantland.  When he had taken Dvalin back to be buried in his homeland, he’d gotten a terrible sensation that an ominous injustice had been committed there and, though fear and the season wouldn’t allow him to at that time, he’d always planned to return to Giantland and learn what had transpired.  Hraerik felt that Arthor was being evasive with his answers regarding his mother, too, but he had only a gut feeling to go on.

King Hraelauger was as surprised to find Hraerik at Hawknesta as Hraerik had been on hearing that Hraelauger was coming.  Hraegunar’s eldest son came rowing up the Northern Dvina with a dozen Nor’Way ships.

“Is the crossing still the experience it was,” Hraerik asked him, “when we first came across in Fair Faxi?”

“The crossing still turns men into Varangians,” Hraelauger answered, hugging his brother warmly.

All went into Arthor’s longhall for a feast that would last long into the night.  Hraerik learned that Hraelauger had not yet found himself a wife, and Hraelauger learned that Gunwar remained barren.  “Hraegunar would not be pleased,” was Arthor’s observation on both matters.  The conversation was pleasant and friendly enough, but there was an edge in the talk that threatened to cut through the fabric of sociability and, when he had finished telling his brother of his founding of Gardariki, Hraerik broached the subject of Hraelauger’s trade with the Khazars.

“We trade with the Bulgars,” Hraelauger corrected him.  “What they do with the goods after that is beyond our control.”

“If the Khazars undermine our trade with Constantinople they will once more become a threat to us,” Hraerik said.

“The Khazar’s destruction almost killed the Northern Way.  Has Arthor told you how bad it’s been up here?”

Hraerik nodded in affirmation.  “But the Southern Way is the Way we decided to support,” Hraerik countered.

“It’s the Way you decided to support,” Hraelauger corrected Hraerik again.  “We set off for Denmark to destroy the Southern Way and somehow our plans got changed and we ended up helping establish it, but it was never our intention to destroy the Nor’Way in the process.  If the Nor’Way can survive side by side with the Southern Way, who are we to destroy the work of our forefathers?”

“The Nor’Way is surviving by feeding the recovery of the Khazar Khaganate,” Hraerik answered angrily.  “There is no denying that fact.”

“Had we done as I suggested and followed the Huns into the Caucasus and destroyed them, we wouldn’t have to worry about them.  We Nor’Way traders could then trade directly with the Arabs, as you are doing, much to Constantinople’s chagrin.  Most of the Greek support the Khazars have garnered comes from your trading with the Baghdad Caliphate.  How do you think King Frodi feels about that?”  Hraelauger shouted, rising from his high seat.

“We couldn’t wipe out the Khazars,” Hraerik protested, “for they sit settled on a constriction of the Asian plain, keeping the hordes that sit behind them at bay.  Even now a great tribe of Turks, the Magyars have blocked up the Don and Volga River routes covering the Khazar’s building of a fortress they call Sarkel.  The Magyars are but one of the hordes, and all of Europe would be sore pressed defeating them.  As for King Frodi, he benefits from the Arab trade as much as I do,” Hraerik replied, he, too, rising.  “We play one off against the other and get the best prices we can for all our goods.”

“So, you aggravate the Greeks, who then back the Khazars, and you expect the Norwegians to abandon the Nor’Way to destroy their trade?  How long do you think it would take the Bulgars to come up north and get the furs from the Permians and the Biarmians and the Finns?  There is nothing we can do here to stop them, so it is better to have your friends controlling the Nor’Way than your enemies.  It will not be us who fail you when the Huns saddle their ponies for war.  Of that you have my word.”

“You’d like to see a war with the Huns, wouldn’t you,” Hraerik accused his brother.

“The destruction of the Khazar Khaganate would not cause me grief,” Hraelauger countered, “but, if war starts, it will be due to your trade with the Arabs more than anything we do up here.  What is it that draws you so to these Arabs?  To the alchemists of Baghdad?  Is their trade worth risking the whole Southern Way?”  The two brothers eyed each other intensely for several minutes.  “However,” Hraelauger started again, “my mother, Kraka, always warned me to follow your sage advice, and that I have always done, with profit of life and limb, and I will continue to do so in this matter.  Just keep in mind, before you give us your answer, all the suffering the people of Hawknesta and Hrafnesta have endured waiting for the Nor’Way to recover.”

Hraelauger thus put the fate of the Northern Way into Hraerik’s hands and all the younger brother could say was this:  “Carry on with your trade.  I shall head east into Giantland.  We’ll discuss this further when we meet here on your return.  You are right when you say it is better we have friends here in Hawknesta than enemies.  Let me know all you learn in Bulgar.”

The next day Hraerik took his brother over to Fair Faxi and withdrew a chest from a stern compartment.  He opened it and took out the picture of himself with Ahmad Ibn Yakut.  “It is a very fine painting of you,” Hraelauger stated, as he sat on a rowing bench and studied it.  “Who is the Arab with you?”

“He is a merchant and alchemist of Baghdad,” Hraerik answered.  “But it is not a painting.  It is an exposure from a pinhole housing.  It drew itself.  This is the science of the alchemists and they have much more.  This is the future,” Hraerik started.  “Brak has learned the secret of Indian steel from them….I have seen his swords, but there is much more.  The Romans have stolen Greek fire from the Alchemists Guild, but they have even more powerful weapons.  They have powders that explode when ignited and arrows that fly without bows.”

Hraelauger was still studying the picture.  “You look hungover.  This drew itself?” he asked in disbelief.

“Yes.  And I have learned the secret of the ton-stone that Brak was searching for.  I have joined the Alchemists Guild and we have a hall in Gardariki where we experiment, and I fund their research and science.”

“And they share their secrets?”

“No.  They don’t share their secrets.  And I don’t ask them for them.  The guild is the guild.  It is ancient.  It was old before the Romans.  When the Romans conquered the Greeks, they tried taking over the Alchemists Guild, but it withdrew from the west or hid, so the Romans started a science of their own….a military science of engineers.  And they have been at war ever since, the sciences of the east and west.  That is why the Romans had to steal the secret of the sea fire from the alchemists.”

“And you support these alchemists against Constantinople and they don’t share their weapons with you?” Hraelauger said, shaking his head.

“They share their good science quite freely: medicines, philosophy, optics,” Hraerik answered, rummaging through his chest, “but the bad stuff they keep secret.  Man cannot be trusted with the weapons of science.  I have seen this in my visions.  This I just got,” he added, passing over a small tube.  “You look into the end….the other end and it allows you to see great distances.” 

Hraelauger pulled his eye away from the tube quickly, then let it return to the tube slowly.  “Ahhh….”

“It is an optical scope,” Hraerik reassured him.  “You adjust it by pulling the other end away from you.”

“Can you get me one of these?” Hraelauger asked.  His eyesight had never been as fine as his younger brother’s.

“It’s yours.”

  There were amiable partings as Hraelauger and his men continued their journey south and Hraerik prepared Fair Faxi for an expedition into Giantland.  He brow beat Arthor into accompanying them as guide and they set off the day after.

Crossing the land bridge into Giantland, Hraerik and his men were soon drifting down the Pechora River in a dense blanket of fog, a solid firmament that blocked vision only, allowing mass and sound to pass.  Waves lapped at Fair Faxi’s strakes as the deadly mist swirled about the men aboard her.  A powerful voice echoed off the waters at the bow giving off soundings as Hraerik and Arthor discussed their position in low whispers near the mast.  They didn’t bother anchoring at night, for they could see just as well then as they could in broad daylight.  That was the most disturbing thing about the fog:  the day was bright, the sun a powerful beacon in the celestial firmament, yet one could not see the hand in front of one’s eyes.  Some of Hraerik’s Centuriata were quite disconcerted by this fact and soon there were grumblings of their having penetrated the realm of the gods and tales of Thor’s great feats of prowess dominated the talk of the idle rowers.

As the Nor’Way ship progressed downriver, the waters widened, and the fog dispersed somewhat.  Arthor instructed the men to keep to the right bank and, after several days of drifting and sailing and rowing, Fair Faxi was anchored off the ruined settlement that the men of King Gorp’s expedition had invaded.  Even from the river one could observe that, long ago, the town had been sacked; there was no sign of life and no evidence that reconstruction had ever been attempted on that low plateau above the river meadows.  The savage dogs were gone; only hawks circled the fields, searching for rodents to whisk back to their nests high up in the rocks of the cliffs behind the city.

“The town was in flames when we fled the escaping ogres,” Arthor claimed as Hraerik led his men across the meadow and up into the town.  The stockade about the town had burned down into blackened pegs, falling away completely in spots.  Log buildings had been levelled by the flames, their charred walls askew and the roof timbers long collapsed.  Only the corduroy roads remained unburned, and evidence of warriors having fallen lay upon them.  A cracked helmet could be seen here and a shattered shield there and broken spears and withered arrows lay about everywhere, but there were no remains anywhere.  Survivors had returned to the ravaged town and buried their dead.  At the back of the town, pressed into the enclosing cliffs, stood one small stone building.  “That is where the giants lived,” Arthor explained.  “Thorkill called it the hall of Geruth.  It is much larger inside,” and everyone saw that it was so when they entered.  The hall was as corrupt and filthy as Arthor had described it years before, but no ogres remained chained in what appeared to be cells.  Hraerik had several torches lit and they carried on their exploration, back into the depths of the hall.  Huge stone thrones sat at the back of the hall, but there was no sign of the giants Arthor had described.  As Gorp and Thorkill had done many years previous, Arthor led them off to the left into a large and empty anteroom.  At the back of it was the entrance to a treasure chamber which was, though not empty, bare.  All that remained were some huge shields and swords, the weapons of giants that Arthor had described.  Along one wall hung huge cloaks and beside each cloak Hraerik noted a pair of stilts.  Hraerik had a man hold his torch and he took the stilts and climbed up on them and strapped them to his legs.  In them, he stood over ten feet in height, and he took one of the long cloaks from a high peg in the wall and he wrapped it about himself.

“Is this the giant you saw?” Hraerik asked Arthor, taking up one of the huge helmets and placing it upon his head.  His face disappeared in the shadows of the helm and only his eyes flashed brightly in the torchlight.  He took up one of the massive shields, strapped on an enormous sword and armed himself with a large spear to complete the transformation from man to giant.  Arthor looked up at Hraerik and said nothing.

When they had completed their exploration of the grotto, they returned to the entrance chamber only to find the exterior opening blocked up by a great stone slab.  Fearsome whispers broke out among Hraerik’s men, so powerful are born beliefs.  “Only giants could have moved such a slab,” some said.  “We shall be trapped forever in the hall of Geruth,” cried others.

Hraerik took a torch and studied the slab blocking the entrance.  It was solid stone in the shape of a huge coin and had been rolled from a slot in the great stone wall of the building.  Although it had slid into a slot on the other side of the entrance, it had not rolled all the way shut, Hraerik guessed, from disuse.  Small beams of light filtered in through the top and bottom corners, and Hraerik could get his fingers in behind the edge of the stone.  Light was not the only element that penetrated the cracks;  Hraerik could hear voices on the other side of the slab and they were speaking in Dvalin’s native language.  Thinking back to the past, Hraerik grabbed a linden shield from one of his men and bit into it, growling ferociously, as his father, Hraegunar, had done years before.  He then went back to the great stone slab, grabbed it down in the corner of the entrance and began to roll it back, mightily.  The muscles in his broad back bunched up and the sinews in his blacksmith’s shoulders stood out as he slowly rolled the stone up, in his berserker’s rage.  He slipped his body into the opening he had created and, with his back to the doorway, he began to push with all his might.  The stone door was moving, and light shone into the hall when Hraerik felt a spear in his ribs.  “Don’t kill me,” he growled in the dwarf language and, when the spearhead was backed off, Hraerik let go the stone and jumped outside the doorway.  The great stone slab rolled quickly shut as the bright light of day blinded Hraerik, who stood helpless and exhausted as the berserk fit left him.  When his eyesight returned, he was standing in front of Dvalin, the dwarf he had grown up with, but he knew it could not be.  He had cremated Dvalin.

“Where did you learn the dwarf language?” the little man with the spear demanded.

“From a dwarf who sounded just like you,” Hraerik answered.  “A dwarf called Dvalin.”

The dwarf pointed his spear away from Hraerik slightly.  “You knew my father?”  Several other young dwarfs kept their spears fast on the Norseman.

It was a question that immediately endeared the dwarf to Hraerik.  “Your father was my friend.  I owe him much.”

“I am Durin, son of Dvalin,” the dwarf introduced himself.  “He made you that sword, didn’t he?”

“Yes.  It is star stone.”

“I can see that from the glow.”

“Some see it better than others.”

The dwarf smiled and the others in his party relaxed their weapons.  “My father taught you our language well,” the dwarf started, clumsily.

“He was a man of patience.  He always said I had a way with words, still, he showed much patience.  When I was growing up, he and I would talk to each other in your language and none would know what we were saying.”

Durin led Hraerik off to a place where they could sit and they all sat about Hraerik in a semi-circle.  “Tell me about my father,” Durin asked gently.

Hraerik felt the longing in Durin’s voice.  The longing and the pride.

“He was our leader before he was captured,” Durin said proudly, looking about the other young dwarves.  It was apparent to Hraerik that Durin was the leader here.

Hraerik told Durin all the tales he remembered growing up with Dvalin, and it was evident that the Norseman had truly loved the little fellow.  He ended his story with the forging of Tyrfingr and then told of the fatal disease that had afflicted Dvalin because of it.

“We watched you burn his body.  We were very much moved by your efforts,” Durin said.  “He was the last of my line to know the secret of the forging of the star stone.  I was but a boy when your people sacked our city, but my mother told me that he was captured, and he never got the chance to teach his craft.”

“After my people sacked your city?” Hraerik asked incredulously.

“I’m sorry,” Durin apologized.  “The one who leads you.  Arthor.  After he and others sacked our city.”

“Now there is a tale you must tell me,” Hraerik started, “for I am their leader here, and Arthor has told me quite another story.”

The dwarf sat a little closer to the Norseman and told him the story of the land the dwarves called Glassy Plains.  “At first, none but dwarves inhabited the land of Glassy Plains, then Slavs would come to trade, and my forefathers created giants to keep them away from our city.  Then the Norsemen came and we traded our fine steel weapons and furs to Arthor for gold and silks and other rich goods that corrupted our society, and, when we became too wealthy to work, to hunt and to forge steel, we had nothing more to trade; then Arthor came with men unafraid of giants and they attacked our city and killed our men and raped our women and took back the gold and the silk, and then they burned the town.  They captured my father, Dvalin, and that was the last we ever saw of him until our shaman sensed your coming and we went to the source of our river and we watched you burn the body of my father.”

A small rumbling sound came from the entrance of the Hall of Geruth, and the great stone blocking it began to roll back.  The dwarves grabbed up their weapons and surrounded the opening.  The butts of half a dozen spears could be seen protruding from the lower corner of the doorway as Hraerik’s men used the weapons of the giants to prize the slab free.  As the door opened, spear tips, too, emerged, as Hraerik’s men prepared to charge out of the breach.            “Send out Arthor,” Hraerik ordered.  “The rest of you, stay inside the hall.”

Durin ordered his dwarves to stand down.

Arthor squeezed out of the opening and the men inside stopped up the great stone with a fragment of shield, but no others came out.  Arthor stood at the entrance, blinded by the light of day and Hraerik called him forward.  The three men, Hraerik, Durin and Arthor, went over to the place Hraerik and Durin had been at before and they sat down, and they talked.

“King Gorp was a true explorer,” Arthor eventually confessed.  “He had nothing to do with the attack on the city.  It was all the doing of Thorkill and myself.  We had been raiding the territories about Hawknesta for many years, between trading seasons, while your father was back in Norway.  Thorkill had let it slip that he had been raiding Khazar caravans, so your father fired him and sent him back across the way.  Now, Thorkill knew that the dwarves kept a hoard of gold in the city, so he went to King Gorp in Denmark and he arranged for a Nor’Way expedition for the purposes of exploration, but his real plan was to get the gold for himself, no matter how it affected Nor’Way trade.

“When he arrived in Hawknesta with King Gorp and all his Danish troops, there was little I could do but go along with his plan.  We went to the city of the dwarves and we surrounded it and made ready to assault it.  The fact that the city was defended by giants only added to the challenge and the honours we expected to earn, but, when we attacked, it turned out that the giants were a ruse and we overwhelmed their defences.  The dwarves were brave fighters and we lost many of King Gorp’s men, but when we captured their king, your Dvalin,” Arthor said, nodding to Hraerik and then Durin, “the dwarves fled, and we carried the city.

“It’s hard to explain what takes over in an army when a city is sacked, but I recall only a dark sensation of the aftermath.  We did terrible things with the dwarves we captured, and the women suffered greatly.  We were several days gathering up the booty and we were in no hurry to leave.  We took Dvalin with us as a hostage and left in our own good time.  It was I who concocted the tale of our adventures in Giantland, but, when Thorkill and King Gorp prudently left before Hraegunar’s return from Bulgar, they carried my story back to the west with them.  They had ordered that I kill Dvalin, our only witness, but, in return for his oath of silence, I let him live.  I suspected Dvalin made the promise only to await a chance to escape and lead the dwarves again and cause us much trouble, so, when your father arrived from his Bulgar trade I gave him Dvalin with instructions that he never be allowed to return to the Eastern Realm.  You can see why I was a little surprised,” Arthor said, shaking his head, “when you and Hraelauger arrived unexpectedly, many years ago, with an ailing Dvalin in tow.  The rest of the story you know.”

“My father hated Thorkill,” Hraerik started slowly.  “He drove him out of the Nor’Way trade because he was raiding.  Are you saying he never knew you were in league with Thorkill?”

“He always suspected a connection,” Arthor answered, “but he owed me favours.”

Hraerik was being very patient in the questions he asked Arthor.  He had gotten the old Varangian talking, confessing, and he didn’t want to give him cause to stop.  “You said Hraegunar fired Thorkill because he caught him raiding Khazar caravans.”

Arthor nodded in the affirmative.  “About four years before he came back to raid Giantland.”

“Back in Hawknesta you said that my mother was captured some years before Dvalin.  Was she captured in a raid on a caravan bound for Khazaria?”

Arthor began to get nervous with this new line of questioning.  “Yes.  Thorkill captured her and numerous other Slavs in a raid.  We kept her the winter in Hawknesta, but, when first the Bulgar and then Khazar embassies came looking for the captives, we realised we had gotten far more than we’d bargained for.  Out of fright, we hid the Slavs and blamed the Biarmians for the raid, but when Hraegunar came from Norway for the spring trading he learned of what had transpired, fired Thorkill and set off with the captives to return them to the Khazars.  Hraegunar wanted no trouble with either the Bulgars or the Khazars.  They were our partners in the Nor’Way trade and he always preached that we should protect the survival of the Way at all costs.”

Arthor sat back a little and drew his knees up in front of himself and he wrapped his arms around them nervously.  “But something went wrong on his way to Bulgar,” Arthor continued.  “Hraegunar fell in love with his captive, your mother.  The one the Khazars were searching for.  The betrothed bride of King Hunn, Kagan Bek of Khazaria.  Hraegunar sold all of the Slavs to Arab traders, but he refused to part with your mother, telling the Arabs that she was already sold to a Bulgar prince.”

Hraerik asked his next question very gently, and then Durin sensed that Hraerik, too, searched for knowledge about a lost parent.  “Who was my mother?”

Arthor looked nervously into the rich verdant carpet upon which they sat.  “We called her Boddi, because we found her with a golden bodkin.  We let her keep it, because we knew her to be of noble birth and proof of identity can be very important in ransoming a princess.”

“Who was my mother?” Hraerik asked, a little less gently.

“She was the daughter of King Olmar, the ruler of Kiev,” Arthor answered.

“I know King Olmar well,” Hraerik said, flatly.

“I’m sorry I have caused you so much grief, Hraerik,” Arthor apologized.  “And you too,” he added, nodding towards Durin.

“How shall we end this little standoff of ours?” Hraerik asked Durin in the dwarf tongue.

“I don’t see much point in seeking revenge,” Durin  said, “and perhaps the best thing for my people now is to resume trade with the rest of the world.  To that end, I would like to accompany you beyond the land bridge to study the ways and the words of other lands.”

“It would be an honour to serve the son of Dvalin,” Hraerik answered.  “Your father taught me some skill in the working of the star stone.  Perhaps, between us, we can rediscover your father’s lost art.”

“And while we are figuring it out,” Durin answered, “you can tell me about my father.”

The next day, Hraerik and his Centuriata, Arthor and Durin left the City of Glassy Plains and sailed upriver in Fair Faxi for Hawknesta.  They arrived at the trading post a week before Hraelauger and his Varangians returned, then the whole group successfully made the Nor’Way crossing together.  Hraerik announced in Hrafnesta that Nor’Way trade would continue as always and that the dwarves in Giantland would once again be playing a part in it.