Circa 866 AD
After Duke Hraelauger had failed to draw away the fleet of King Frodi, Prince Hraerik had seen the Hraes’ fleet of his king pulling up behind his fleet, so he pushed Arrow Odd’s fleet harder.
Slabland looked the same, slabs of rock and slabs of stone and not much else. Yet Oddi could not stop there. The Hraes’ fleet of Prince Hraerik had matched him league for league across the great Atlantean Sea and behind them a half day back was the Kievan Hraes’ fleet of King Frodi. Oddi and King Skolli sailed their fleets past the southern tip of Slabland, then sailed along the coast for New Ireland. They put some distance between themselves and their pursuers, but the Hraes’ knew they had only one way to go…south. When Oddi reached the green island, he had named New Ireland, he led his fleets between the isle and mainland coasts.
When their pursuers reached the northern tip of the island they paused to plan their pursuit. Prince Hraerik saw King Frodi’s foremost man, Ogmund Tussock, at the forestem of Frodi’s flagship and he shouted, “You take the channel and scour both coasts and we’ll take the east coast of the island. Once past the island sail straight south and we’ll be waiting for you off the mainland coast.”
Ogmund agreed and the two fleets separated and scoured down the coasts of both sides, with Hraerik and his Tmutorokan Hraes’ checking the Atlantic side and the larger Kievan Hraes’ force sweeping the channel sides, both island and mainland for the Norwegians. But neither fleet could find sign of them. Hraerik led his men around the south end of New Ireland and waited for King Frodi at an island on the north end of New Scotland, but the Danish king never showed. He had followed the mainland coast west up the mouth of a great river and accidentally followed it and then, surprisingly, spotted remnants of Norwegian camps on the riverbanks and signs of their progress upriver. There were also signs of natives and villages deep in the woods and round bark boats that would scurry up tributaries as the Hraes’ approached. King Frodi sent a ship back east to New Scotland to apprise Hraerik of the situation and set off in pursuit of the rebels. But Prince Hraerik had a dream the first night they anchored off New Scotland, and Queen Alfhild came to him and joined him under the awnings and she kissed him and caressed him and made love to him and then she told him that Arrow Odd, had taken a wrong turn into the mainland and was now heading up a great river that was leading to great lakes far inland. Hraerik woke with a start, realizing that he was supposed to keep himself between his king and young Arrow Odd.
Oddi had led his men upriver instead of down the coast. Then he sent his best rowers in several of the many twelve oared boats with which he had equipped his fleet. They backtracked downriver, watching for signs of the Hraes’ fleet and spotted them camped along the riverbank for many miles downstream, but they only saw signs of the Kievan Hraes’ fleet. The Tmutorokan Hraes’ fleet that had been between them was gone. They retreated upriver undetected and returned to their own Norse fleet to find them beached at a village of some native peoples. Oddi met his returning lieutenants on the riverbank and told them that he had visited with these Algonquin people on his first trip to the newfound land and he introduced them to a young native woman.
“This is Watseka,” he started, “and this is our son, Ahanu, named after his grandfather. The name means he who laughs.” The men gathered around the couple and child and were very obliging. Oddi was going to warn them to be gracious, for their very lives depended on the natives help, but he could see they already understood that. Once the men had given their reports, Oddi told them that the native reports agreed with theirs. The Tmutorokan Hraes’ fleet had been monitored going south along the coast, just as Oddi had expected. “We have to attack King Frodi,” he explained. “While the two fleets are separated. I have it on good authority that, if the Kievan fleet is defeated, the Tmutorokan fleet will leave.”
So, the Norse fleet rested in the Algonquin village for a day, then went back downriver to meet the Danes and the Kievan Hraes’. Oddi knew from experience just how hard these men were, especially the Hraes’, and he knew that the half-troll warlock, Ogmund Eythjofsbane would be waiting for him as well. King Frodi would let his foremost man do the fighting for him. The Algonquin chief, Ahanu, sent warriors along and they helped camouflage his ships under trees and branches along the river’s edges. Although the Norwegians were heavily outnumbered, Oddi wanted to take the fight to King Frodi. So, they waited for the Hraes’ fleet to resume rowing up stream, and a few native warriors, in their birchbark boats, paddled ahead of the Danes and warned the Norse fleet of their approach. Oddi watched the fleet go by and saw Ogmund at the forestem of their shield-bearing lead dragonship and when he had gaged that the van of the Dane fleet was at the rear of the Norse fleet, he ordered the attack and the Norwegians, Swedes and Angles attacked from both riverbanks. They threw off their camouflaging foliage, fired volley after volley of arrows, then rowed out from under the overgrowth with their bright blue swords and spears flashing in the early sun. The battle raged for hours until the afternoon sun began to wane, and still more Danish ships tried to pull into the fray, encumbered by the wrecks floating down from the battle upriver. King Skolli fell in the latter half of battle and under cover of darkness the remnants of the Norwegian fleet fled upstream. They unfooted their masts and flooded and sank their ships in the middle of the river and Oddi asked Watseka to watch over his hidden ships. And they rowed their twelve oared boats upstream to make better time. The Danes pressed them hard from behind, but they were in large ships, so they could never really catch up to the Norwegians. The chase went on for weeks upriver and then the river became a lake…a huge lake, and the ships of the Danes could use their sails and were catching up to the Norwegian boats, but the lake turned into a river again and the Norse put distance between them. But the river narrowed and started getting very fast, and the rowing got hard and the ride got rough. When they got around a bend in the river the rapids became impassable, so Oddi had his fleet row to shore and there on the riverbank was Chief Ahanu and hundreds of his warriors to help portage the boats around the raging waters. Then back into the river the boats went and the rowing was much better, but soon there was a low rumbling sound that got imperceptibly louder as they rowed until it grew into a deafening roar, and they could see a huge curving wall of water fifty fathoms high.
“It is called O’Niagara by some,” Oddi told his men as they pulled into shore. “Others call it the Gitchee Nibi, meaning great waters.” There to help them were more Algonquin warriors, and they helped the Norse portage their boats around the falls. Then they put their boats back into the river and followed it into a second huge lake followed. A third lake followed in similar fashion, and Oddi followed directions he got from Watseka and they found a river on the western edge of the lake and the Norwegians in their twelve oared boats escaped into the wilds.
Prince Hraerik and his fleet caught up to King Frodi just as he was preparing to build a portage road along the rapids and falls so he could haul his ships around them.
“How many miles of road?” Hraerik asked.
“Twenty or thirty,” Frodi replied.
“That’s a long way.”
“No longer than the roads we built for the Danepar rapids.”
“We took a full year building those.”
“We didn’t have two armies.”
“We had experienced builders and oxen and tools. We have to return to Europe in the fall, at the latest.
“We’ll have the road built in three weeks!”
The road was almost completed in three months, just in time for King Frodi’s return trip to Europe. Their men were tired, their supplies almost gone and they still hadn’t hauled one ship out of the water.
“We must head back now or we shall never make the crossing back,” Hraerik told his king. “If we can even find them, they can lead us on a goose chase across a land that could be as vast as Europe, itself. If we don’t leave now we may never make it back.”
“I’ll not leave till I have Arrow Odd’s head to bring back with me,” King Frodi replied. “My Empire be damned.”
“The Tmutorokan Hraes’ shall stay behind and catch them,” Hraerik offered. “The great army must return and maintain the Peace of Frodi.”
So, the great army headed back the same way they had come and the fleet of the Tmutorokan Hraes’ set up camp on the riverbank by the falls and waited. Hraerik had a twelve oared boat readied and set off upriver after Oddi. While longships seem to have intimidated the natives, the boat did none of that and soon there were native warriors paddling their round birch bark boats a safe distance away from the twelve oar boat. A white shield was strapped to the forestem of the boat and after a few hours of rowing, they were joined by a half dozen Norse boats.
“You were supposed to keep sailing south,” Hraerik started, as a boat with Oddi at the helm approached.
“We lost our bearings,” Oddi shouted over the waters. “And we paid for it. Where were you?”
“We had positioned ourselves to be between you and King Frodi, but you and Frodi seemed to have taken the same wrong turn.”
Oddi joined the Prince in his twelve oared boat and they began to plan their next moves. Soon dozens of Norse boats joined them in their downstream return to Hraerik’s ships. They camped a week on the beaches of the river mouth, meeting and trading with the local natives then retraced their steps back across the Gitchee Lake and Gitchee River to the spot Oddi had scuttled his ships. Their best swimmers then dove to the river bottom and removed some rock ballast from the ships’ hulls and they re-floated Oddi’s fleet of Nor’Way ships. When they re-floated Fair Faxi, Hraerik suggested he take the Nor’Way ship back to Kiev and King Frodi as proof that the natives had killed Arrow Odd, but Oddi had decided to take Fair Faxi and his smaller Nor’Way ships further inland, because he had seen a great river there that the natives call Mis Sis Sippi. When Prince Hraerik asked him why we wasn’t refloating his dragonships Oddi answered, “I’ve decided to overwinter in the newfound land. I found a great river inland that is full of huge mounds that I wish to explore.”
“Are these mounds full of silver, like those of Bjarmia?” the Prince asked.
“No. They are full of cities. I have seen native cities the size of Paris and London. The further south along the river we went, the larger the cities got. Perhaps they have a Constantinople at the southern end, just like our Nor’Way.”
“I’d love to stay and explore with you, but I must get back.”
“Thank King Frodi for the fine road he built for us.”
Prince Hraerik smiled and gave Oddi a big hug and whispered, “You didn’t get lost at all, did you?”