Circa 866 AD
King Hraelauger soon realized that his brother had not been able to entice King Frodi to follow him south to Ireland and away from Oddi’s flight westward. The ruler of the Hraes’ was after only one Viking and that was Arrow Odd. So, the former king of Norway sailed to Frankia and took command of his father’s trading stations on the northern coast. Using his brother’s two thousand Cataphracts, he headquartered himself in Rouen, planning to handle the Nor’Way trade in Frankia, never to return to Norway. But a little bit of Norway was waiting for him there. His mother, Kraka, and Brak had sailed from Jaederen Province first to Flanders and then to Rouen in search of him.
“When you and Hraerik were about to fight the sons of Westmar,” Kraka began explaining to her son, “I received a dream from Odin warning me that you both were soon to die in your battle on the ice because it would snow that night before and the foot blades you had made would be useless for skating.”
“I remember you telling me that,” Hraelauger confirmed. “Then you told father of your dream and he marked himself with a spear and sacrificed himself to Odin.”
“Well, I’ve just had a similar dream about young Oddi,” Kraka said. “I have been warned by the gods that he has taken a wrong turn and is in grave danger, but when I try to find out which gods warn me, I am blocked by a warlock. I have to warn Hraerik that he must sail inland if he is to protect young Oddi. And I don’t know what it means. My witchcraft is being blocked by a warlock named Tussock.”
“Ogmund Tussock is King Frodi’s foremost man and leader of the Hraes’ fleet in pursuit of Oddi’s fleet. Oddi is overwhelmingly outnumbered, but Hraerik had plans to keep his Tmutorokan fleet in between the two. Something must have separated them.”
“We must get a warning to Hraerik,” Kraka pleaded.
“Ogmund Eythjof’s Bane Tussock has been steeped in magic since birth,” Hraelauger said. “His magic is purported to be powerful.”
Later that night in his palace in Rouen, Hraelauger was visited by the spirit of Princess Gunwar. “My son is still in danger,” she began. “He made a wrong turn and is sailing inland up a great river that leads to great lakes while Hraerik continues to follow the coast south and away from him. My brother, Frodi, is right on his tail and shall catch him soon unless Hraerik can get back between them. But we have to warn Hraerik to head inland now.”
“Kraka could, but there is a warlock named Tussock who is preventing her from sending Hraerik a dream.”
“Ogmund Tussock,” Gunwar whispered. “There is a corrupt chapter in Oddi’s future Saga devoted solely to Ogmund Tussock. Slide over and I’ll recite it to you,” Gunwar said as she joined Hraelauger in bed. “It is one of the few Sagas of our family that has just barely survived the ravages of Christian kings and drunken skalds.” And the spirit of Gunwar spent the next few hours reciting sagas to Hraelauger. She concluded her tales, saying, “And that is the story of Oddi and Ogmund in the newfound land up to now, but I’m afraid it will end much differently if we can’t get a warning to your brother, Hraerik.”
“Can you not visit Hraerik and warn him just as you are now visiting me?”
“I have no connection with Hraerik,” Gunwar explained, “other than being his wife in my past life. I am a Christian now and have no spiritual connection with my pagan husband.”
“But I’m a pagan,” Hraelauger protested.
“But you won’t be for long,” she warned. “You, too, shall convert to Christianity, just like me, and you shall build stone churches, just like me, and be a fine example of the faith, unlike me.” And Gunwar snuggled into him and smiled up at him and they caressed each other. They made love and they talked of how they had missed each other and they made love again. They were about to fall asleep in each other’s arms when Princess Gunwar saw the spirit of Queen Alfhild step out of the shadows of a corner of the chamber. “What are you doing here?”
“Who is it?” Hraelauger asked.
“It is a pagan witch,” Gunwar said angrily.
“I see no one,” he said.
“She is pagan. She has no connection with you.”
“Don’t be angry with me,” Queen Alfhild complained. “I shall warn Hraerik. I thought I’d be open and tell you first.”
“You didn’t the last time your spirit slept with my husband,” Gunwar said angrily.
“The last time I slept with your husband was to warn him that the witch, Gotwar, was about to poison you and kill both you and your son, Oddi, before he was even born!”
Gunwar, being a spirit, knew that Alfhild was speaking the truth. She lowered her head onto Hraelauger’s shoulder. “Thank you for that,” she said. “But did you have to sleep with him?”
“Men have a habit of waking up in the morning and forgetting what a woman has told them the night before. I slept with him so he would remember my dream visit. I left nothing to chance.”
“Again, thank you. We owe you so much,” Gunwar said sheepishly.
“Don’t play kiss my ass with me,” Alfhild said, haughtily. “I was the one who made your brother, Frodi, withhold his support from Gardariki and you died fighting the Huns alone. Saving your son was the least I could do. But you can thank me for trying to save him again now.”
“Thank you, my queen. If you don’t mind my asking, why are you helping save my son? He has slain your twelve grandsons.”
“It was eleven grandsons.”
“What?” Gunwar said in astonishment.
“He killed eleven of my grandsons. Hjalmar the brave killed Angantyr. And if Hjalmar had just listened to Oddi, Oddi would have fought Angantyr and Hjalmar would have killed my eleven of my grandsons and Hjalmar would be alive today. But he thought he was Oddi’s equal, that he could battle both Angantyr and your sword Tyrfingr together. Only Oddi could have matched that duo and then he would have only killed one of my grandsons.”
“One or eleven,” Gunwar said, “you would not be helping him now unless there was some other reason. I know you. What is it?”
“When I died, I saw Oddi’s spirit. Frodi was strangling the life out of me just as you and Hraerik conceived Oddi, and I saw his spirit enter you then enter him and it was a tiger. His spirit was a tiger, full of courage even in infancy, and it gave me the courage to fight back and I clawed Frodi’s face and I clawed and I clawed. I didn’t die like a pussy. I died like a tiger. And when anyone sees your brother they can see what I did to him and are reminded of what he did to me. Oddi’s spirit, his tiger gave me that. One might not forgive a snake for killing Hraegunar, but I cannot blame a tiger for killing Angantyr.”
Gunwar was in tears and she whispered, “I’m so sorry.”
“I shall sleep with your husband again. I’ll leave nothing to chance.” And Alfhild turned and returned to the corner she had come from and the shadows from whence she came.
“Is it Queen Alfhild?” Hraelauger asked.
“She is gone,” Gunwar told her lover, wiping away a tear. “But she claims that she will warn Hraerik to go inland and protect Oddi. You must tell Oddi when you see him next that his spirit is a tiger! Queen Alfhild saw his spirit when he was conceived and she said it was a tiger!”
“I will tell him, but will Alfhild be able to bypass Ogmund Tussock?” Hraelauger asked. “Kraka says he is a very powerful warlock.”
“I think she is in a better position for spiritual feats, for she is a spirit and Ogmund is yet alive. Perhaps you should talk with Kraka about this and I shall return again, and you can tell me what she says.”
In the morning, Hraelauger met with Kraka and asked her about Ogmund Tussock’s powers.
“Ogmund is said to be a ‘Caller of Spirits’ and has no power to help or hinder spirits,” Kraka began. “But he can call on other spirits to hinder a spirit willing to help Hraerik and Oddi. Do you have such a willing spirit?”
“I do,” Hraelauger said with trepidation.
“Who is it?” she asked, and she saw him hesitate, so she added, “I do have to know this if I am going to help you.”
“It’s Queen Alfhild,” he replied.
“Queen Alfhild? King Gotar’s daughter?” and she laughed. “She cannot be trusted. Her father tried to kill Hraerik. Hraerik killed her father. And Oddi killed her twelve grandsons. She cannot be trusted! Why would she help Oddi?”
Hraelauger let his mother go off for a bit, then said, “She says Oddi’s spirit is a tiger and she cannot blame a tiger for killing a man because that is what they do. She claims she is square with Hraerik. And she is pissed at King Frodi. It is he she wishes to harm. And her spirit claims to have saved Oddi once before.”
“So, what is her beef with Frodi?”
“Oh…I don’t know…she claims he murdered her. Strangled her in her bed for sleeping with his captains. She says she is the one who tore up Frodi’s face, just before she died.”
“That’s why he wears a mask?” Kraka asked. “I thought he had leprosy,” she mused. “He’s debauched so many women, I thought he had caught something. Still, Alfhild is not to be trusted. You are not sleeping with this spirit, are you?”
“I am not,” said Hraelauger. “She is just a vengeful spirit that has contacted me through my dreams,” he lied. “She wishes to avenge herself with King Frodi.”
“Well…we must help her, or Ogmund will sense her presence in his affairs and will send a spirit he knows up against her. We shall have to block Ogmund’s prescience with Warlock Songs.”
Kraka had Hraelauger search the Norse community of northern Frankia for a spae-queen who specialised in contacting the spirit realm. There was a woman whose name was Thorbjorg who lived just outside of Rouen. She was a prophetess and was called Litilvolva. It was a custom of Thorbjorg, in the wintertime, to make a circuit of the Frank trading stations of Hraegunar Lothbrok to visit with those who had any curiosity about the season, or desired to know their fate. Hraelauger invited the spae-queen to his palace and prepared for her a fine welcome, as was the custom whenever a reception was accorded a woman of this kind. A high seat was prepared for her, and a cushion laid thereon in which were poultry-feathers. She arrived in the evening, accompanied by a troupe of young women known as chantreresses, and she was dressed in a blue mantle, with strings for the neck, and it was inlaid with gems down to the skirt hem. On her neck she had glass beads. On her head she had a black hood of lambskin, lined with ermine. In her hand she had a staff, with a knob thereon that was ornamented with brass and inlaid with gems. Around herself she wore a girdle of soft hair and therein was a large skin-bag in which she kept the talismans needed to gain her wisdom. She wore hairy calf-skin shoes on her feet, with long and strong-looking thongs with great knobs of latten at the ends. On her hands she had gloves of ermine-skin, and they were white and hairy within. When she entered the palace, all men thought it their duty to offer her greetings, and these she received according to how agreeable the men seemed to her. Hraelauger took the wise woman by the hand, introduced her to Kraka and Brak, who were sharing his high seats, and he led her to the highchair prepared for her. He requested her to cast her eyes westward to his brother on the other side of the Atlantean Sea and to distract a warlock who was after Arrow Odd. She remained silent while he explained that a spirit would be contacting his brother, but the warlock must be distracted or he would interfere with the planned dream seance.
During the evening the tables were set and food was made ready for the spae-queen. There was prepared for her porridge of kid’s milk, and the hearts of all kinds of living creatures thereabouts were cooked for her. She had a brazen spoon, and a knife with a handle of walrus tusk, which was mounted with two rings of brass, and the point of it was broken off. When the tables were removed, Hraelauger advanced to Thorbjorg and asked her how she liked his palace and if she had everything she needed to distract the warlock. She asked him if he knew who the warlock was and Hraelauger told her all about King Frodi’s new foremost man, Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock. Then preparations were made for her which she required for the exercise of her enchantments. She begged Hraelauger to call over to her the young women who she had brought for singing and chanting and who were acquainted with the lore needed for the exercise of the enchantments, and the chants that were known by the name of warlock-songs. They were led by a lean pretty girl who introduced herself as Gudrid. “I am not skilled in deep learning, nor am I a wise-woman, although Halldis, my foster-mother, taught me, in Norway, the lore which she called warlock-songs.”
The young women gathered about Thorbjorg and formed a ring round about the highchair prepared for her enchantments. Then Gudrid started by singing a weird-song in a beautiful and excellent manner. No one there seemed to have ever before heard such a song in a voice so beautiful as now. The spae-queen thanked her for the song and then all the young women started into the warlock-songs. The girls would chant, holding hands and dancing around Thorbjorg and then one would sing solo a warlock-song that told a battle tale then they would all chant and dance and another girl would start singing another warlock-song that regaled another battle tale. And they planned on performing their chants and their songs all night long and into the dawn. Thorbjorg sensed that while it was late evening in Frankia, it was afternoon on the far western ocean. But they kept up their enchantment. “Many spirits,” said she, “are present under its charm, and are pleased to listen to the songs, who before would turn away from us, and grant us no such homage. And a warlock in the west has now been drawn to our chants and is enthralled by our songs and now many things are clear to me which before were hidden both from me and others. And I am able to say that Ogmund shall never prevail over Arrow Odd and he knows and fears this truth. Also, the epidemic of cold and fever which has long oppressed us will disappear quicker than we could have hoped. And thee, Gudrid, will I recompense straightway, for that aid of thine which has stood us in good stead; because thy destiny is now clear to me, and foreseen. Thou shalt make a match here in Frankland, a most honourable one, though it will not be long-lived for thee, because thy way lies out to a new land called Iceland; and there, shall arise from thee a line of descendants both numerous and goodly, and over the branches of thy family shall shine a bright ray. And so, fare thee now well and happily, my daughter.” Afterwards some of Hraelauger’s lieutenants went up to the wise woman, and each enquired after her what he was most curious to know. She was also liberal of her replies, and all the while the chanting and the songs carried on. Thorbjorg invited Hraelauger over for a telling, but he refused, excusing himself and going off to bed. But he saw Kraka joining her with some questions, volva to volva.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Gunwar said. She was already lying in his bed.
“It may be after midnight here, but where Hraerik and Oddi are, Thorbjorg assures me it is only early evening. They’ll be chanting and singing downstairs all night long. I don’t think we’ll be getting much sleep,” he said as he sat down beside her and pulled his boots off. “Which begs me ask, shouldn’t I be sleeping when you pay me a dream visit?”
“Maybe you are sleeping,” Gunwar teased, glancing about the chamber nervously for any sign of Queen Alfhild. Hraelauger doffed his clothes and slid under the silk sheets beside her. He said, “I’ve missed you my whole life.”
“You probably say that to all your spirit women,” Gunwar teased some more. “There are certainly enough of them about tonight. Thorbjorg is good. Really good.”
“Back in Norway, when you first came to me, you talked about stopping up the flow of time.”
“Don’t go back there, by the way. Don’t ever go back. There is a new king there now…a King Harold Fairhair of the Vik, who claims to be the first king to lord it over all of Norway, over all the provinces, Jaederen included. He claims to have demoted you to Earl of Northmore, or some ungodly province up the coast. But he’s a boot-licker of my brother Frodi, just cleaning up the slaughter my brother caused. Promise me you’ll never go back to Norway?”
“I promise. Have you been drinking?”
“Because if you go back, King Finehair will demote you to Earl of Noheadanymore. He’s one lying, boot-licking mother-coupler.”
“Do all spirits talk like you?” Hraelauger asked.
“Just the ones that want to stop up the flow of time.”
“Tell me more about that. You said then that our family sagas will be destroyed by Christian kings. And now you’re telling me that I will soon be a Christian. I’m conflicted. How many family sagas do we have?”
“We only have two right now, and one of them isn’t about us, but Hraerik has written them both, so that’s kinda family. He has written a Saga about us…you, me, Frodi and Alfhild, you know, two Norwegian brothers going to the terrible court of Danish King Frodi to kill him, but your brother falling in love with me and joining him instead to help build the Southern Way and Hraerik’s Hraes’ Trading Company of Varangians. Then our crushing of the Slavs of Kiev and our victory over the Khazars of Atil Khazaran and, of course, my famous death in battle at the hands of my Hun nephew, Prince Hlod, and how Hraerik writes a drapa about my death that so inspires King Bjorn of the Barrows that he spares my husband’s life if he can just write such a poem for him. And for the big finish, the great Battle of the Goths and the Huns.”
“And what is the other saga he writes?”
“A silly tale of some Danish Prince called Amleth or Hamlet or something. He writes as Bragi the Old…’Bragi’ for the byname that Alfhild’s father, King Gotar, gave him…another mother-coupling king of the Vik, what a prick…and ‘the Old’ because he married me, married into the Old Skioldung line of Danish kings.”
“If we have two now, how many will we have later?”
Over the next two hundred years…maybe a dozen. But there will be dozens of variations on each of them and our family lines go way into the future, but those tales aren’t told as sagas. They’re called Tales of Bygone Years.”
“So, what are the names of the rest of the sagas?”
“Hraerik writes another one called ‘The Saga of Hraegunar Lothbrok Sigurdson’. And Arrow Odd writes ‘The Saga of Arrow Odd’, but it’s all poetry, beautiful poetry, my son, a poet! But there are many variations of it that are prose with his poems inserted.
Hraerik writes a prose version called ‘The Saga of Helgi Arrow Odd Hraerikson’. Then there’s ‘The Saga of Ivar the Boneless’, but that’s the Anglish version. The Danish version is called ‘The Saga of King Harde Knute’ and the Hraes’ version is called ‘Bygone Tales of Prince Igor of Kiev’. But in Gardariki it’s called ‘The Saga of Prince Eyfur the Boneless Hraerikson’. Next in line is ‘The Saga of King Svein the Old Ivarson’ in Gardariki which is called ‘Bygone Tales of Prince Sviatoslav of Kiev’ in Rus’ and ‘The Saga of King Sweyn Forkbeard’ in Denmark and Angleland. Finally, Hraerik writes ‘The Saga of Prince Valdamar the Great Sveinson’ in Gardariki, which is done as ‘Bygone Tales of Grand Prince Vladimir the Great of Kiev’ in Rus’ and ‘The Saga of Canute the Great’ of both Angleland and Denmark.”
“How can you remember all that?” Hraelauger exclaimed. “And you’ve been drinking. Are there any about me…here?”
“Here they don’t call them sagas. They’re annals and they’re boring and are taken as serious history and you will be Duke Rollo of Normandy and there will be many stories of you and your off-spring.”
The two lovers could hear the chanting still going on as they made love into the early hours until Duke Hraelauger fell asleep and in the morning Gunwar was gone.