Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
(Circa 886 AD)
“And his shield was called Hrae’s Ship’s Round,
And his followers were called the Hraes’.”
Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler; Skaldskaparmal.
Arrow Oddi called out the cadence of the rowing by stout young Norsemen from the new Province of Normandy as Fair Faxi slipped away from the mouth of the Seine and entered the Anglish Sea. They were picked men, warriors chosen for a mission in the east, and their backs bowed as their oars bit into the dark heavy waves of the open sea. Sailing east and then north, they slipped past the land of the Jutes undetected, then sailed down the coast of Gotland and entered the Baltic. With a good eastern wind, they sailed quickly across that sea and entered the mouth of the Dvina River and the land of the Lithuanians.
Oddi stopped at Polotsk and found Gudrun working at her father’s Hraes’ Trading Company station there. He learned that both sisters had been pregnant when their father took them out of Norway to the east and that both Oddi and Asmund had sons living in Polotsk. He told Gudrun that he would be back for her, but if he didn’t make it back, he wanted both sisters and their sons to meet him in Gardariki as soon as she could. He warned her that the Southern Way was soon to be slave free.
When they came to the Dnieper Portage, they unfooted Fair Faxi’s mast and, posing as traders, paid the local Slav porters to portage their ship to the tributary of the Dnieper. It was yet early spring; the weather was cold and wet; patches of snow remained upon the ground in shaded riverbank areas. Soon they came upon a trading station consisting of several longhalls in a clearing by the riverbank, along with a large stable for horses, warehouses for the storage of furs, rans for the keeping of slaves and a number of boat sheds for the repair of ships and monoxylan. This was the jumping off point for Southern Way trade and the river route to Kiev, King Frodi’s Konogard.
Oddi and his crew set off in Fair Faxi and, within hours, his company had passed from the territory of the Radimichi to the lands of the Dregovichi. The sun was yet high in the east and a steady breeze blew from the north, adding its power, to the speed of the current and the efforts of the rowers, driving the vessel south towards the Black Sea. When they moved into Drevjane territory, the river slowed and widened and fishermen worked their nets from the shores. In the land of the Poljane, the river slowed even more and the wind died down so the Norsemen rowed even harder.
A week of this found Oddi and his men at the main quay of Kiev, the Ferry Quay, and he sent the ferryman to fetch his king. The ferryman returned with a retinue of guards from King Frodi’s longhall and they asked who it was that had business with their king. Oddi’s group of twelve drew their weapons and set upon twice their number with great ferocity. Half the guards fell in the initial rush down the quay and the remainder of the retinue were pushed back onto the sandy riverbank in a tumultuous battle when King Frodi came out of his longhall at the head of another dozen guards led by the giant, Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock. Oddi and Ogmund stopped dead in their tracks then began circling each other.
“I challenge you to personal combat,” Ogmund shouted, waving back his men. “Catch your breath. I don’t want excuses!”
“I don’t need a break,” Oddi shouted back. “Bring on your battle!”
“Rest,” Ogmund demanded. “I must tell you why I’m going to kill you.”
King Frodi took a seat upon a bench that a courtier rushed out from the hall and placed in front of his personal howe at the head of the main quay.
“You’re going to try to kill me because I slew the twelve berserker grandsons of King Frodi!”
“That is the part I am being paid for,” Ogmund growled, glancing back at his king. “But the part I am doing for free, the killing of Thord Prow Gleam with an arrow is payment for what you did with Gusir’s Gifts in Bjarmaland so many years ago.”
Oddi stopped circling an instant, then started again.
“You shot my sister through the eyes and you killed my mother and wounded my father in Giantland. I am half giant,” Ogmund growled and he straightened up and looked much taller than Oddi remembered. “I hunched down when we last fought, because I didn’t want you to run away. Here you can’t run,” and he flexed his muscles and looked even more a giant. “My mother was on an embassy to the dwarfs and was left for dead by King Gorp when your Arthor led him to the land of the dwarfs and sacked their city. Giants fell during that battle. Your father saw their armour and weapons when he visited the ruins and he thought they were props.”
“What else does your prescience tell you?”
“Besides the fact that you are going to die here today, I can tell you that you are called Arrow Odd because all your true friends die from the bite of an arrow.”
“I have complained about that,” Oddi said, still circling and catching his breath, “but my best friend, Hjalmar died from the bite of the famed sword Tyrfingr.”
“The sword forged by your father,” Ogmund started, “the ruler of the Nor’Way, Hraerik Bragi Hraegunarson. It is a starstone blade forged from a falling star that Hraerik thought was an arrow of the gods as he watched it descend from the heavens. And that arrow of the gods bit Hjalmar sixteen times before he died of its poison.”
“And the starstone blade rests in Angantyr’s howe. I know because I put it there. So, what sword do you propose to kill me with, for I am my own best friend now,” and Oddi hiked up his shield and lunged at Ogmund with a stroke so quick, the giant barely avoided it. Oddi stepped back into the circle they were pacing and blocked a vicious set of blows with his shield before whacking back at Ogmund’s shield with a blow of his own. They circled each other trading blows for a while and then King Frodi gave Ogmund a look of impatience as he sat on his bench. Ogmund attacked once more with renewed vigour and managed to lock up shield arms with Oddi. He then used his greater size to spin Oddi about and throw him to the ground, but Oddi bounced back up and flew straight out at King Frodi, sword outstretched, and pierced the old monarch through the heart, bowling him over his bench stone dead. Ogmund dashed at Oddi but tripped over the bench and fell over the two just as Oddi flipped Frodi over on top of himself as a shield. Ogmund landed on top of King Frodi’s back driving Oddi’s sword even further through Frodi’s heart and he caught the flat of the blade and he bent it like a clinched nail in a ship’s strake and he bounced off the two and flew headfirst into a huge wooden post and snapped his neck with a loud crack. All watching were stunned as the giant died with a huge grunt and Oddi pushed the body of King Frodi off of himself. Then Frodi’s troops stood by and watched in dismay as the giants hands moved and grabbed it’s own dead head and popped the neck back into place. The soldiers grabbed at their amulets and said prayers to both Odin and Thor; Oddi jumped to his feet and led his men running back down the quay to his ship. They had already started rowing before the stunned guards started throwing their spears. Ogmund sat up against the post and watched as two men at the rudder blocked the flying shafts with their shields and the rowers bent their oars in the waters of the Dnieper. Spears were followed by arrows and rowing back upriver would be fatally slow. Oddi could not return to his uncle in Flanders, so he would visit his father in Tmutorokan.
First, they came upon a rapid called Essoupi, meaning Do Not Sleep in the native Slav, a narrow rushing cataract broken by jagged rocks that caused the water to veritably roar. There were local Poljane guides along the river that were paid to help merchants unload their ships and draft the vessels through a narrow channel by the right riverbank.
The second cataract, called Ostrovouniprach by the Slavs and Oulvorsi by the Norsemen, both meaning Island Rapid, was similar to the first and was traversed in a like manner. The third rapid was called Gelandri which the Poljanes explained as meaning Noise of the Rapid and it, too, was coursed in a similar fashion.
The fourth of the seven rapids, the largest, was called Neasit by the Slavs and Aeifor by the Danes, because pelicans nested out in the rocks of the cataracts. Here, there was no safe passage along the banks, and the Normans had to haul Fair Faxi out of the water and drag the ship six miles around the torrent. The fifth cataract was called Voulniprach in Slavic and Varouforos in Norse because it forms a large lake. It was traversed in the same manner as the first, as was the sixth rapid, called Veroutzi and Leanti in the Slav and Norse tongues, meaning the Boiling of the Water.
The seventh and last rapid, called Naprezi or Stroukoun, meaning Little Rapid, was reached just upstream of the Ford of Vrar, a wide and shallow ford susceptible to attack on horseback. The Stroukoun Rapid was navigable and gave the Normans little trouble and the Ford of Vrar was peaceful and they camped on the Island of Saint Gregory. Exiting the Dnieper into the Black Sea, Oddi and his men sailed wide around the Cherson peninsula and along the Sea of Azov until they reached Tmutorokan.
At the mouth of the Kuban River, before the Sea of Azov, of gleaming gold and glittering marble, sat Gardariki. Hraerik had been busy building this tribute to his wife, Gunwar. It was no longer a trading settlement, but a small city of high stone walls, paved streets and marble faced concrete buildings. As Oddi approached in his Nor’Way ship, he marvelled at how much the riverward side of the city resembled Paris, the island city, but on the landward side the walls seemed greater: taller, wider and brighter, glittering of white marble. Many quays thrust out into the river and between every two quays there was a gate with twin towers built into the wall.
Sentries ran out to the ends of quays and waved them on past dozens of docks. There was a great gate in the center of the riverside wall and the sentries waved Oddi in. Standing atop the near tower of the gate was Prince Hraerik in baggy red velvet trousers and a white silk shirt with elaborate red silk piping.
“Hoi, Oddi, my son!” Hraerik shouted. “I thought you were staying with your uncle in Flanders.”
“It is called Normandy now, father,” Oddi shouted, leaping from the ship to the dock. As his men tied the ship off, he headed for the tower. “I thought I might visit with you and take care of some business on the way here.” By the time Oddi had entered the great gate, Hraerik had skipped down the stone stairs of the tower. “Last year King Frodi attacked Duke Hraelauger and the army of the Franks. We stopped him at the gates of Paris. He withdrew to Liere, and then to Konogard.” Then Oddi whispered, “I paid him a visit on the way here and killed him near the main quay in Kiev.”
“King Frodi is dead?” Hraerik whispered, stopping suddenly. “The Southern Way shall die with him. Come. We must make preparations. I no longer have friends in Kiev. Like Hraegunar in The Vik, I only have spies now. We must take steps to protect the Nor’Way. But first, you’ve never seen Gardariki as my son. It has changed so much since you were last here as a merchant warrior. Let me show you your mother’s city….the place of your birth.”
Hraerik led Oddi down the street that ran from the main gate on the river to the front gate facing the Don Heath to the northeast. “This is the tower your mother stood upon as she watched the Hun army approach just days after your birth.” They climbed the stone stairs of the tower and looked out through castellations over the plain. “That is where your mother, Princess Gunwar, fell at the hands of her nephew, Prince Hlod.” There were a few travellers on the road running across the plain, but there was a stillness in the air and faint echoes of battles fought there. “Are you sure he is dead?” Hraerik asked in a low tone.
“Quite sure,” Oddi answered. “I pierced him through the heart with a single sword thrust. It was quick and sudden, a fatal strike.”
“That is good,” the prince said. “He was bad. But we had good times too, and I still love his sister, your mother, though she be two decades gone now.”
“We tried to lay low, father,” Oddi said, “but he came after your brother, Duke Hraelauger, Duke Rollo as he is now known. His growing fame ‘came hard to hide.”
“King Hraelauger,” Hraerik corrected. “He is still the rightful king of Norway, to my mind at least, not that Harold Fairhair that Frodi instilled after crushing Norway.”
“Yes, of course. King Frodi must have learned of where your brother was ruling, because he sent Prince Alf with a small fleet to scout out Flanders and Frisia several times then returned with King Frodi and an armada of three hundred ships and attacked your brother in Rouen. We withdrew with a fleet of one hundred ships to Paris and sought the protection of the Franks, but they were suspicious and thought we were attacking them. So, we portaged around Paris and planned to hunker down in Melun to watch the siege. Count Oddo of Paris only had two hundred men to hold the walls, but he still refused our help. I don’t think he trusted us. I don’t think, at that point, he knew we were being pursued by King Frodi of Gardar. We warned them of the size of the coming fleet, then carried on upstream. King Frodi laid siege to Paris, but the Franks had built high walls and ramparts after your father’s sacking of the city decades ago and now Paris could not be stormed. King Frodi lost many men trying to scale those grey stone walls and Count Oddo, after losing half his men, suddenly became more accepting of our aid. The siege was meant to keep the Parisians within, so it was quite easy for us, under cover of darkness, to sneak from without. Your brother, Duke Rollo, and I wintered in Paris defending its walls while King ‘Sigfried’ and Prince ‘Alfgeir’ spent the winter in tents outside the walls trying to get in. It was during the defence of Paris that Count Oddo made Hraelauger Duke of Normandy and Count of Rouen. Your brother joked that, had he known he would end up being the Count of Rouen, he would never have allowed Frodi to sack it.
“In the spring a Frankish army arrived from Saxony, but King Frodi’s warriors wasted no time in destroying it. Yet our defenders of Paris never seemed to be depleted, no matter how many fell in attacks. We kept sneaking in fresh troops from Melun. Finally, King Frodi left and your brother, Duke Rollo, and Count Oddo were the heroes of Frankia. But I knew that King Frodi would never let King Hraelauger rule in Normandy unscathed, so I became determined to kill him, and I’ve done just that.”
“Prince Alf is in Denmark,” Hraerik started, “but he’ll return to Konogard to establish order. The local Slav tribes are near revolt and only their fear of King Frodi has kept them in check. If the Slavs overthrow Alf, they’ll shut down the Southern Way. They are fully against the slave trade that is carried out through it, since they make up most of the slaves.”
“I can’t condone the slave trade myself. I swore an oath to my friend, Hjalmar, that I would never force someone unwillingly onto any ship under my command.”
“Your mother was so dead set against it, she became a Christian. It was many years after her death that I learned that Princess Gunwar actually founded the Freedom Movement that is so prevalent in Sweden now, ironically, using gold I made off of the slave trade.”
“But you freed Sister Saint Charles from slavery so many years ago,” Oddi started.
“There was nothing noble in my actions at that time,” Hraerik explained. “She became determined to teach me Latin and French so she could try to explain that I could get a mark of silver for her from Bishop Prudentius of Troyes. She had no idea that I could already read the Runes and had learned Latin from Brak, my foster father, or that I was very adept at learning spoken languages, yet she became determined to teach me Greek, as well, so she could earn her freedom. It was her determination that made me free her. And the Greek she taught me saved my life in Constantinople more than once. After your mother died, I banned all slave trade on the Nor’Way out of respect for her beliefs. That was the finale of my falling out with King Frodi. My falling out was always there, but it really got started when he murdered Queen Alfhild. Then he left your mother to deal with Prince Hlod alone. But the Slavs were the Menja that ground his gold for him.”
“I’m glad. I could not break faith with Hjalmar at this point in my life.”
“Now, Prince Alf won’t be feared near as much as his father was, so I would expect an uprising as soon as he takes over in Gardar. We must try and establish new trade agreements with Constantinople and Baghdad for Southern Way trade. It must go through us. As long as the Slavs control the Southern Way, everything will go through the Nor’Way.”
Oddi wondered what the Prince of Gardariki meant by ‘us’. He had been worried that his father would turn him away, or worse, but instead he seemed to be including him in future plans.
“I need you to represent me in Baghdad,” Hraerik started, “while I go visit the Romans in Constantinople, that is, if you don’t mind working with me for a while instead of with your uncle.”
“I would be honoured,” Oddi responded.
“Great!” Hraerik said. “Now, how about a tour of the city?”
Oddi stared out across the plain as they left the tower.
“The Khazar Quarter is on the left in the southeast quadrant and they maintain a Jewish Temple there,” Hraerik started as they walked back down the broad main street that formed the short axis of the city.
“You allow Khazars within your city walls?” Oddi asked, incredulously.
“The Romans said, ‘Keep your friends close, your enemies closer’, so I have placed the Khazar Quarter across from the Muslim Quarter so they can watch each other. The Khazars are playing a big part in the success of the Nor’Way and I intend to make sure that they are given opportunities to earn their fair share of the profits.”
Unconvinced, Oddi asked, “Wouldn’t it be better to just destroy Atil Khazaran?”
Hraerik pulled Oddi closer and quietly said, “Atil Khazaran must never fall. The fortress city holds back the Hordes of the Asian Steppes. I have had visions of what will happen to us if the Khazars fall,” and he shook his head grimly. Changing the subject, Hraerik said, “The Muslim Quarter is run by the Caliphate of Baghdad and has the largest Mosque in Europe. Their merchants are our connection with Indian trade as well as Middle East and African traffic. The African trade is picking up the slack in the shortage of slaves that is being caused by our new policies. And Nigerian Alchemists’ Schools have been monitoring the abuse of black slaves in Baghdad. That is one of the issues you must address with the Caliphate when you are there.”
“In the name of Hjalmar, I shall do my best. King Hraelauger showed me a picture of you in Baghdad,” Oddi added. “He called it a silver oil emulsion exposure.”
“He still has that! I’m glad.”
“He treasures the picture. I promised Sister Saint Charles that I would try to have an exposure created of myself in Jerusalem.”
“I’ll put you in contact with those Alchemists in Baghdad and the Khazars have a Jewish Embassy in Jerusalem. They’ll assist you there.” Then Hraerik carried on with the tour. “The Quarter of the Alchemists’ Guilds is on our right in the northeast and the Roman Quarter is in the northwest with a huge Christian Cathedral. The palace is on the hill at the northern tip of the city and there is a Hall dedicated to Odin on the left and our own stone Christian Church that your mother sponsored. Our Hraes’ and Varangians are interspersed throughout the city in various sections of all quarters, surprisingly often based on which of the various religions they choose to follow. Oh yes, there is also an Oriental Temple and a Zoroastrian Church in the Alchemists’ Quarter should you be a follower of Buddha, Confucius or Zarathustra.”
“I’m really not that religious,” Oddi replied. “But I would like to see the stone church my mother built.”
“You take after your father,” Hraerik replied, laughing. “The church is on the way to the palace,” he continued as they turned onto the main avenue that formed the long axis of the city’s quadrants. “Your mother is buried there.” The stone cobbles of the avenue ran for a mile north to the palace square and a mile and a half south to a castellated wall. Under a copse of trees in the center of the intersection were several chariots with paired teams of horses.
“This chariot is a fourth century Roman original,” Hraerik started, “that I’ve had fully reconditioned, and this one is an Egyptian copy, and this is a Scythian reconstruction. There is a shop in Constantinople that specializes in antiquities and the teams are all Arabians, the same breeds that the Emperor uses in the Hippodrome.” Hraerik stepped upon the Roman rig and held out a hand for Oddi to join him. The Roman unit had a smoother ride.
“Your streets have no names,” Oddi commented as he climbed aboard.
“The main street and avenue are the ordinates and all addresses are coordinates using positive and negative numbers. It’s a new Indian thing. Kind of like Roman numerals where a one before the five gives you a four and a one after the five gives you a six. So, the numbers to the left of the centre ordinate are negative and to the right are positive.”
“I think I get it,” Oddi lied. “But the ride to the stone church was pretty smooth”, he thought.
“This is it,” Hraelauger said, drawing the chariot up to the stone steps of the church. “We call it Gunwaran.”
“God’s House,” Oddi mouthed the words.
“We rebuilt it on the original site after the Huns destroyed it. We built stone and mortar foundation walls and filled in the cavity with rubble and poured a concrete floor, then we built stone and mortar walls with leaded glass windows and doors….hope you like the colours of the glass….your mother picked them out for the original church and some of the colours cost a fortune. The roof is of clay ochre oak trusses covered by slate tiles. I had a dream that if I poured the concrete floor with steel rods cast into it, the concrete floor could span the foundations without a rubble fill. And if it could span the foundations to form a floor, it could span the walls to form a roof. But a flat roof would take some getting used to. A dome, an arch, a barrel vault or a gable truss I can trust, but a flat concrete roof…makes me nervous. Still…in my dream those same steel bars in the concrete walls of Constantinople could someday save that city from a new iron weapon that belches smoke and fires great iron balls further and faster than catapults. But that’s a story for another day.”
“What was she like….my mother?”
“She was the love of my life.” Hraerik started. “She was tall, with long blonde hair and blue hazel eyes touched by Odin. You remind me of her.” Hraerik fought back tears as he hugged his son. “Your mother was my anchor in this sea of troubles we call life,” he said, as he stepped back and admired Gunwar’s baby. They sat in the pews of the church for a long time, two pagan non-believers, while Hraerik told Oddi stories about his mother, from tales of princes’ heads lining the walls of her bedchamber to stories of witches offering poisoned brews. “She wasn’t my first love though,” Hraerik concluded. “Princess Alfhild was first. I was infatuated with her, but she would settle for no less than a full blooded king. King Frodi, the man who took her life. It is good that you killed him.” The story reminded Oddi of Hjalmar and Ingibjorg’s forbidden love and its tragic consequences.
As Hraerik carried on showing his guest the City of Gardariki, it occurred to Oddi that the whole city was patterned after the Island City of Paris. When he suggested this to his father, Hraerik explained that the north side of the Isle of Paris matched the west side of Gardariki, but Paris was much wider. He was planning to eventually double the city’s width to match Paris and then cut a channel so the Kuban River would flow all around it.
While Hraerik made preparations for the embassies to Constantinople and Baghdad, news was filtering into Gardariki from his spies in Konogard that King Frodi was alive and well.
“Are you sure you killed him?” Hraerik asked Oddi.
“I pierced him through the heart. He was dead before he hit the ground.”
“Are you sure it was him?”
“He wore a mask, but as he fell it dislodged and I saw his face quite clearly. He had deep vertical slashes over his entire countenance and they were quite red and enflamed.”
“That’s him alright. He strangled Queen Alfhild to death and in her death throes she used her fingernails to tear up his face. An infection set upon him, some say Alfhild’s spirit sent it, and when it flares up Frodi wears a mask.”
Further reports detailed King Frodi riding throughout his kingdom in his royal carriage, making the tribute rounds. It was weeks before they received word from spies that it was the masked corpse of King Frodi that was making the rounds. His foremost man and lieutenants, fearing an uprising of the Slav populace, devised this ruse to maintain the Peace of Frodi until his son, Prince Alf, could be crowned king. Once all were reassured that King Frodi truly was dead, Oddi felt comfortable in parting for Baghdad early, as he still wanted to include a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in his plans.
Prince Alf left Liere for Konogard in the spring at the head of the Danish merchant contingent traversing the Southern Way. He could tell the trip would be different as soon as they had crossed the Baltic and entered the mouth of the Dvina River. The few Sclavs that were left in the land were on edge and the Lithuanians were gathered in riverbank settlements, showing no fear of the Danes. The Hraes’ stations along the Dvina-Dnieper Surazh-Smolensk portage were undermanned and poorly supplied. The Radimichi along the Dnieper seemed overly aggressive and the Drevjane looked to be preparing for war. Only the Poljane around Kiev seemed to be following normal daily routines, but probably because they were being more closely monitored.
As soon as Prince Alf had arrived in Konogard, he had King Frodi’s body preserved, then placed into a carriage and his mask was put on and the carriage was paraded around Kiev behind Prince Alf’s retinue to quash the rumour circulating through the people that their feared king was dead. This quelled any thoughts of rebellion that the Slav peoples along the Dnieper River may have had, but it didn’t calm the various groups living further north along the Dvina. They essentially choked off the Southern Way trade. Prince Alf was secretly crowned king and he ordered Prince Arngrim of Novgorod to put down the northern revolt. Prince Arngrim led a local force from Holmgard to relieve the portage stations at Smolensk but received little help from Kiev and was met by rebellious warriors of the Krivichi, Radimichi and Dregovichi and he and his troops were slaughtered before they could even get to Smolensk. King Alf contented himself with controlling the Dnieper end of the Southern Way and cut deals with the northern groups to maintain the trade of slaves from Ireland, Angleland and Scandinavia. All the northern Hraes’ trading stations and forts fell that spring. Vadim the Brave, the rebel that was supposedly killed in Staraya Russa years before, came out of hiding and the Slavs threw off the yoke of slavery and each tribe set up its own independent state and they began to live as they had before the coming of the Hraes’ and the coming of the Khazars before them. Only Novgorod remained unscathed in the north as Princess Eyfura bribed the few Ests in that land to remain loyal, but her situation was very precarious as she grieved the loss of her husband and she blamed her brother, King Alf, for his death.
Nor’Way trade via the Northern Dvina and Volga Rivers carried on as usual over the spring and even increased as the season progressed. Furs and amber and tonstone flowed south, but no slaves. This did not impact the trade agreements with Constantinople, but it caused panic in the slave markets of Baghdad, but no matter how fervently the Caliphate pleaded for thralls, Oddi personally refused them access, but he soon learned that African slave traders were picking up the slack. Still, longships of the Gardariki navy patrolled the Nor’Way river routes to ensure that Scandinavian slaves were not being smuggled through by Norwegian merchants. Over the summer one of these patrolling longships met up with a small fleet from Novgorod led by Princess Eyfura. She was leading her people to the relative safety of Tmutorokan.
“She looks just like her mother,” Hraerik thought as he welcomed her to Gardariki. “Princess Eyfura,” he started. “Our city is your city. Please….welcome.”
“Thank you, Prince Hraerik,” she replied quite regally. “Thank you for making my people feel so welcome.”
“Do you mind if I join you?” Gunwar asked as she joined Duke Hraelauger in bed. “I see you have done quite well for yourself, since my brother tried to kill you. Hero of Paris! Did you ever tell them it was you he was after and not them?”
He hadn’t seen her spirit for what seemed an eternity. “Mais, non. It did not come up.”
“My son killed him, you know.”
“He may have mentioned that he intended to do just that.”
“My sole surviving child has killed my only brother,” she started. “We are quite the family, you know. And now Hraerik is in love, so you needn’t feel guilty about sleeping with your brother’s wife.”
“The spirit of my brother’s wife….so who is he in love with?”
“Princess Eyfura, Queen Alfhild’s daughter. She’s the spitting image of her mother. How could he help but fall in love with her?”
“We are quite the family,” he agreed. He would still have a lot of explaining to do when he met his brother in Valhall. He pulled the spirit of Gunwar near and he kissed her warmly. A lot of explaining.