Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
(Circa 861 AD)
The kinsmen sailed from the Vik with five ships and were soon moored south off Skane. Soti heard of Oddi’s activity and sallied forth to meet him and set up an encounter. When Soti came up against contrary winds, he told his men, “Let us lay our ships side by side in a line, with my dragonship in the middle and, because I have heard that Arrow Odd is a man of daring, I think that he will sail his ships straight for us. But when they come at us and drive back the center, we will encircle their ships and not one mother’s son shall escape.”
“I think I know what Soti has planned,” Oddi told his kinsmen as they saw the Danish fleet. “They believe that we will sail straight at their centermost vessels.”
“Then we’d best not do what he expects,” said Gudmund.
“We do not want to disappoint Soti,” said Oddi, “but we should take advantage of knowing that he knows what we will be doing. I’ll sail my dragonship first, right up to where Soti is, and we’ll clear the whole deck back to the mast. And you will follow me in your ships and break through their lashings and when they close their trap, the only thing left in the middle will be Soti…dead.”
And so that is what they did, and Oddi’s dragonship, Halfdan’s Gift, charged fast, and it was all covered in iron bands right round the prow, so it went with its keel just scraping bottom, straight for Soti’s dragonship and the others followed in his wake. As Oddi got close to the Viking ships he could see how well they were lashed together and he said, “I think their ropes will break.” Oddi sailed his dragonship as fast as it could go and he crashed through the lashings all the way past mid-mast, and Oddi and Asmund rushed aboard Soti’s ship and they cleared the deck and killed him before Sigurd and Gudmund came up in their wake and crashed through the remaining lashings and did an about face outside the encircling ring. Then Oddi had Halfdan’s Gift join their formation and they gave the Vikings the choice of taking peace from Arrow Odd or keeping up the fight. With their encirclement broken and their formation scattered, they decided on peace.
Again, it seemed that most of Soti’s fleet had been made up of merchant ships full of captives so, again, he had the surviving raiders put in chains and sent off to Denmark, all crowded on one merchant vessel. Then they sailed the rest of the fleet back to the Vik and Gudrun’s farm where volunteers of the Freedom Movement helped organize the return trips of the freed. But this time they found that all the captives were from Ireland only and there were so many that only two old slaver ships were fed to the bonfire on the beach. The captives claimed there was a Viking town in Ireland called Dublin and it looked to be a slavers’ haven.
That night, in bed, Oddi thanked Gudrun for the use of her family stead while her father was off trading on the Nor’Way. Then he told Gudrun something disturbing they had discovered that day. “Some of the young girls that we freed today had been captives for some time,” he explained slowly. “We found girls as young as eight years old wearing makeup and women’s clothing. The Irish called them wee folk and told us that Soti and his captains found them cheaper to keep and more compliant than older slave girls. These are Irish children being abused by the Danes. The Irish don’t have the power to save them, so they call them wee folk to make them seem older, and they do look older, the way they dress, but they’re still eight and nine year old children.”
Gudrun was pale. “If the Irish can’t save them,” she said, regaining her composure, “then we must!”
The next day, Oddi and Gudrun saw off the Irish fleet of freed captives, wee folk and all. Oddi gave Gudmund and Sigurd the dragonship he called Soti’s Gift and they sailed back to Hrafnista shortly after the Irish left. Oddi and Asmund stayed on the farm with Gudrun and Sigrid and spent a few weeks resting and healing there. Oddi had the whole of the dragonship Halfdan’s Gift painted and he gilded both dragon head and weathervane in gold. When all the ships were repaired and ready to sail, Odd rested, up on his elbow in bed and asked Gudrun, “Now tell me, my beloved, where does the best slaver and raider you know of prowl?”
“I haven’t had time to check this fully,” said Gudrun, “but I have heard of two Vikings that are raiding the Kattegat and they are supposed to be the best in everything. One is Hjalmar the Brave, and the other is called Thord Prow-Gleam. But I must warn you that I know they are raiders, but I’m not sure if they are slavers. They are based out of Sweden, so my contacts in the Vik don’t have much on them.”
“Where are they,” said Oddi, “and how many ships do they have?”
“They have fifteen ships,” said Gudrun, “and a hundred men aboard each.”
“Where is their home?” asked Odd.
“Uppsala and Hlodver is the name of the king of Sweden. They stay with him in the winter but stay aboard their warships in the summer. I’ve heard that Sweden has a freedom movement so they may not be slavers,” Gudrun warned.
“Prince Hraerik told me that, when he was King of Sweden, the son of the king he had deposed was involved in a freedom movement. Prince Bjorn of the Barrows would sit upon the howe of his father, throwing stones at birds and flying kites all the time, even if it was raining. He would sing in the rain and dance in the sunshine, all the time flying his kites, two, three, four at a time. Everyone thought him quite mad and, of course, harmless. But the whole time he was secretly involved in a freedom movement. When news travelled north about the death of Princess Gunwar at the hands of her nephew Prince Hlod and the Huns, Prince Hraerik fell into a deep depression, caring not whether he lived or died. Bjorn of the Barrows took advantage of this and, with support of this freedom movement, stole the royal highseats back from him. Bjorn decreed that Prince Hraerik was to be beheaded and as the date for it approached, the Bragning Prince wrote a beautiful full drapa for Princess Gunwar and recited it for all in Bjorn’s highseat hall. King Bjorn was so moved by the poem that he offered to free Prince Hraerik if he could recite such a drapa in his praise before the execution time on the morrow. Prince Hraerik laughed at the offer, not caring if he died the next day, for he could not bear to go on living without his princess. But Bjorn persisted with his offer by reminding Hraerik that it was his duty to avenge the death of his wife and to that end all of Sweden would join in and aid him in this effort, and the highseat hall rang with cheers of support for the prince. Hraerik bolted himself up in his chamber and worked all night on a drapa in praise of King Bjorn, but it was difficult because King Bjorn had very few accomplishments to date outside of having regained the family throne. But then the Prince remembered a story he had been told in a prison cell in Constantinople, by no less than the Roman Emperor himself, about a Roman Prince Brutus who had, too, saved his own life by playing the part of a mad fool. By starting the drapa with this ancient Roman tale and progressing through to Bjorn of the Barrows in our modern times, Prince Hraerik managed to draw out a full drapa that was rich enough in heroic deeds that it just might save his own head. And King Bjorn was very pleased with Prince Hraerik’s recitation the next day and he spared his head and gave him his full support in his fight against the Huns. Word of Prince Hraerik’s saving his own head by writing a full drapa overnight spread throughout the northern lands and kings struggled to outdo King Bjorn in his support of Hraerik’s noble cause. The act became a rallying cry that launched a thousand longships across the Baltic and into the land of the Hraes’ for what would become The Battle of the Goths and the Huns. And both Prince Hlod and King Hunn fell to the bite of that terrible blade, Tyrfingr, the sword that had fallen from the hands of Princess Gunwar when she had died at the hands of her nephew.”
Gudrun was in tears by the time Oddi had finished his recollection and when they were ready to go, Gudrun went down with Oddi to the ships, and they parted with much affection.