Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
(Circa 911 AD)
“The snake will strike, venom filled, flashing from
the time worn skull of Faxi.”
Oddi had been long settled in his kingdom, and he’d had a long life there, and he had two sons with his wife, Silkisif. Asmund, the eldest, was named after Odd’s foster-brother, and the youngest was named Holmar after Silkisif’s father. They were both very promising young men. One evening, when Odd and Silkisif went to bed, he slowly told her: “There is one place that I would like to go.”
“Where would you like to go?” Silkisif asked.
“I want to go north to Hrafnista,” he answered, “and I want to know who now holds the island, because I own it with my family and I have much wealth buried there.”
“I think,” she said, “you have enough wealth and property here. You have Gardariki and have won all Tmutorokan and can take other goods and countries that you want, and I think you should not worry about one small island in the north.”
“Yes,” he said, “that may be true, it may be that the island is worth little, but I have the treasures of many victories buried there and I wish to choose the ruler it will have, and you should not discourage me, because I have decided to go. I will only be away for a while.” The next day he sailed away in Fair Faxi, with a cargo knarr following, and with forty picked and well-armed warriors aboard each, and they sailed up the Nor’Way to Hawknista and entered Giantland. He found the dwarf, Durin, there and had gifts for him.
“Prince Hraerik left to find aid in Constantinople,” Durin explained, “and when he didn’t return with his ship, Princess Gunwar thought the Romans must have killed him. She was pregnant with you at the time and she wanted to protect her lands for you.”
“I just wanted to thank you for helping her when she was so alone,” Oddi said.
“Don’t thank me,” the dwarf said, dejectedly. “I failed her. I failed Prince Hraerik, when he rushed back to Gardariki to save you and your mother; I lost the battle against the Huns on the Don Heath. The Hraes’ officers wouldn’t follow the orders of a dwarf. And I failed Princess Gunwar. She died fighting beside me, when Prince Hlod snuck up on the other side of her and pierced her with his golden lance. And now, I learn that I failed Brother Gregory as well. I should have helped him further, perhaps I could have saved him.”
“Still, you beat back Prince Hlod and recovered her body for the Christian burial she so wanted,” Oddi said encouragingly. “And the Prince and Duke Hraelauger always speak fondly of you.”
“King Hraelauger is a Duke now?”
“Yes. A Duke in Frankia. King Frodi pillaged Norway and set up a puppet king there, Harold Fairhair. Hraelauger fled with me and now he is Duke Rollo of Normandy and is a good Christian now, haunted only by my mother.”
“Princess Gunwar haunts King Hraelauger?”
“She has her way with him whenever she wants something,” Oddi said, laughing. “And it’s mostly when she’s trying to save me!”
Durin joined him, laughing, “Those Christians! They’re taking over the spirit world as well.”
Oddi was glad that he was able to cheer up the dwarf somewhat. They parted great friends. Then Oddi returned to Hawknista and proceeded further north to Varg Island and entered the north of Giantland, leaving his men to wait on the isle for him.
Oddi learned that Hildigunn had taken his advice and married a giant and they had many children together. Hraegunhild was all grown up and married to a half giant and she had many children as well. King Hildir was old and ill. Giants didn’t seem to live as long. Oddi had gifts for all of them.
“You were right to have Hraegunhild with Hildigunn,” King Hildir told Oddi privately. “Hraegunhild has brought us both much happiness over the years. And she kept us both occupied until Hildigunn was ready for marriage. You have given us both much sage advice, and for that I thank you.”
When Oddi got back to Varg Island he learned from his terrified men that several young giant warriors had brought him two chests full of gold Byzants and a silver cauldron full of Kufas but had covered them with a large flat stone. It took both ships crews to get the stone off of the gifts.
There is nothing more to be said about his journey until he came north to Hrafnista in Halogaland. His relatives welcomed Oddi there and they gave him a great banquet to greet him with and they gave him a fortnight of feasting. They invited him to rule over the island and all the property that belonged there. He gave them all the property he had kept there and would not stay there. He dug up all his treasures and shared much of the gold with his kin, then he prepared for his homeward journey, and the people brought him fine gifts. When they left, his men understood why he had taken two ships.
In Ireland, Queen Olvor and Hraegunhild were happy to see Oddi. His first child was married with children and some of her children had children.
“It makes me feel old just watching all of them,” Queen Olvor said. “Age doesn’t seem to touch you, Oddi, the way it seems to touch others.”
“I’ve never felt old,” Oddi confessed, getting up on his elbow and stroking Olvor’s silver blonde hair as she lay in bed. “Even my wounds haven’t bothered me. It takes longer for them to heal these days, but once they’re healed, it’s like I never had them, save the scars that is.”
“You’re blessed, Oddi. I remember taking your shirt off years ago when I was fitting you for your Roman scale shirt, your body was so beautiful, but so battle scarred. That’s when I fell in love with you. Now, it’s still beautiful, but some of your scars have scars. It’s like you’re immortal.”
“I’m not feeling that good,” Oddi laughed. “But my father, Prince Hraerik, he’s an alchemist and I’m starting to think he just may be immortal. I have silver in my blonde, but his hair is still Hrafn black. I guess he does have a bit of grey, but he still leaps into his saddle. You’re a healer, how is this possible?
“I did join the Healers Guild, as Princess Blaeja requested,” Olvor started, “but that’s medical alchemy. “Your father is a Magi. He’s way up there in the turns lead into gold alchemy, the talking to the Norns category. Anything is possible with the Alchemists Guild. But I did attend a Hraes’ Trading Company meeting in Rouen last year and your uncle, Rollo, is looking quite spry with his young wife and new baby. Perhaps it just runs in your family?”
“I’ll ask him,” Oddi replied, getting up, out of bed, “because that’s where I’m heading next.”
“Will you be stopping in at York as well?”
“Right after Rouen. Why?”
“Princess Blaeja has a surprise for you.”
“What is it?”
“I’m not supposed to tell.”
“Com’on, spill it,” Oddi prodded.
“Let’s just say…it’s a boy!”
“It is a boy,” Duke Rollo confirmed in Rouen. “But he’s a handsome young man now. You’ve been away quite a while. Hraegunhild is married with children now. You’re a grandfather now!”
“People keep telling me that,” Oddi complained. “But she named our son Hraegunar! She’s still afraid of the curse.”
“I’m sure she just named him after your grandfather.”
“And to try to keep her offspring clear of the curse. Kraka was quite clear that she considered Hraegunar’s curse to be ongoing.”
“My mother, Kraka, God bless her soul,” and Rollo crossed himself, “should perhaps have kept that opinion to herself. But even if Princess Blaeja is trying to buy herself some extra blessings, then what’s the harm. It could be worse…she could have named him Prince AElla.”
“Don’t even say that,” Oddi said, looking over both his shoulders, first the left, then the right.
“See? It doesn’t hurt to be safer than sorry.”
Oddi spent a lot of time in Rouen visiting with his uncle and his new wife and baby. They all spoke in French around the Duke’s palace and Oddi found it a good opportunity to brush up in the language. He spent time in Paris, visiting with his foster-mother, Sister Saint Charles, and some time in Flanders visiting his brother, Baldwin. He wanted to go to Kiev just before spring trading got started, and Frankia seemed like a good place to overwinter. He didn’t have any children here, at least that he knew of.
“If you’re nervous about going to York to overwinter,” Duke Rollo started, “Princess Blaeja is still single and beautiful and, if things don’t work out, you can come back here.”
“It’s not that,” Oddi began, “well, it’s just that they’re grandmothers. I still found Queen Olvor very attractive, but I’m having sex with grandmothers. I think back to the days when I was raiding and battling slavers and Asmund and I were having sex with Gudrun and Sigrid. We’d have scared shitless sex before we headed out after those sea-king bastards and then we’d have thank the gods we’re still alive sex when we got back. And the people that we saved thought we were heroes and we’d have cook-outs for them on the beaches of the Vik and then we’d have more thank the gods sex. It was the worst of times and the best of times.” A servant brought more mead to the highseats. “I felt so young and alive. Now I’m having sex with grandmothers.”
“I know,” Rollo said. “I was there, and if I remember right, you’re the one that made them grandmothers. Well, mothers anyway. But that’s a necessary step in becoming a grandmother.”
“I know. I hold myself fully responsible. Do you know that, after you told me that Gudrun and Sigrid had been whisked off to Polotsk by their father, I stopped in at Polotsk, on my way to kill King Frodi, and told them to meet me in Gardariki when they got the chance. So, the two sisters show up at my longhall, looking hot as hell and we have this great threesome all night long and in the morning they tell me that they each have a son, one named Oddi, and one named Asmund, so I’m overjoyed because Asmund has a son, and me as well, of course, so I tell the girls that I want to meet them.” Oddi paused and quaffed some mead.
“Well, go on,” Rollo said, “don’t leave me hanging.”
“So I get invited to their father’s hall, expecting to meet some boys,” Oddi explained, “and I get there and these boys are each twenty four years old. I was just floored. I didn’t know what to say.” Oddi started laughing and Rollo joined in. “I had brought some boys games as gifts, I think it was Jacks and Knights, so I had to hide the gifts in my tunic and they were scratching my side the whole visit…” Oddi was laughing so hard he couldn’t get the words out. Rollo was laughing so hard he started choking on the mead. “And Gudrun and Sigrid had seen me hide the gifts and you’d think they would have helped, but no. And the next time we had sex, Gudrun played the Jack and Sigrid played the Knight, and they wouldn’t stop. And they’re grandmothers now and we still fock. And I travel halfway around the world, and I’m still focking grandmothers!”
The young servant girl set a pitcher of mead between the highseats and fled the hall.
Oddi and his uncle drank late into the evening and the next day Oddi left for York.
As Oddi sailed up the Humber River and entered the mouth of the River Ouse, he noticed that he was being shadowed by cavalry units. He considered rowing back to the Humber, as it was a large river and afforded ships some security from land based attack that the smaller Ouse just could not. And both his ships were full of treasure. But he soon gathered, from the peace banners and the cheerful demeanor of the troops, that they were there to welcome him, not bury him. He had his men row Fair Faxi towards the riverbank, but he directed his knarr to remain centered in the river.
“Princess Blaeja sends greetings,” the cavalry officer shouted from the riverbank. “She has planned a welcoming banquet for you on your arrival.”
“Tell her we shall arrive tomorrow,” Oddi shouted.
“If you ride with us,” the officer started, “we can be in York tonight.”
“A Viking never leaves his ships behind!” Oddi shouted. ‘Especially when going to York,’ he thought.
“We shall ride ahead and tell the Princess you’ll arrive tomorrow,” the officer replied, and the troop rode off.
Oddi knew that Princess Blaeja controlled only her small corner of York which included Castle York, the Hraes’ Company Trading Station of York and a few surrounding streets and fields. The rest was controlled by various Northumbrian princes who were all allied with various southern Angle and Saxon kings. And he knew and trusted only Blaeja.
“I thought if I threw you a great welcoming banquet and royal reception,” Princess Blaeja explained, “then I could convince you to stay in my castle, instead of having me join you on your ship.” They were sneaking aboard Fair Faxi after the welcoming banquet and had both been drinking a bit too much to be overly stealthy in the darkness of night.
“Hjalmar’s rules,” Oddi said, as he gently lifted Blaeja over the topstrake.
“I’m glad that Fair Faxi still has two masts,” Princess Blaeja said, but Oddi had a puzzled look, so she added, “Your second mast was jabbing me in the ribs as you were lifting me.”
“It is the second mast that is hardest to control,” Oddi apologized, as he carried her under the awnings and placed her gently upon the bed.
“Let’s see what we can do about that hardness,” Blaeja offered, pulling Oddi onto the bed with her. It had been years since they had been together, made love together. And the children of their past times together were still in the hall celebrating. Their daughter, Hraegunhild, was married with six children of her own and their son, Hraegunar, was a young man in charge of all Hraes’ trading in Northumbria.
“What do you think of Hraegunar?” Blaeja asked.
“He is a fine young man with a marked resemblance to yours truly,” Oddi answered. “But his name concerns me.” Oddi paused. “You’re still anxious about this curse thing and it worries me.”
“I have dreams,” Blaeja admitted. “Viking princes coming out of the east and having their way with the women of York and having their way with Angleland.”
“Are all you healers gifted?” Oddi asked. He took dreams very seriously.
“They aren’t nice like you are, Oddi,” Princess Blaeja said, sitting up and crying. Oddi sat up and held her in his arms. “And the last Viking prince,” she said, “the worst Viking prince, isn’t even from the east. He’s from Frankia.” Oddi held her, crying, for a long time.
“My father dreams of great kagans riding into Tmutorokan from the east with hordes of horsemen and they are all killers and rapists and slavers. He says the evil of King Frodi shall shine next to the darkness they shall bring.”
“Will they come here?” Princess Blaeja asked incredulously.
“No. He has plans to stop them.”
“How? How will he stop these terrible hordes?”
“He says sometimes our enemies are far better than the enemies that will replace them once they are defeated. So he works with our Khazar enemies, rather than crushing them, by giving them a working interest in the Nor’Way. He feels that they will hold back those hordes if they have as much to lose as we do.”
“He sounds like a very wise Prince,” Blaeja said, feeling better knowing she was not alone in her dreams. “No wonder he is a Grand Magi of the Alchemists.”
“Yes, I suppose he is,” Oddi replied, “but if this is what you believe the fates hold for your future, for our children’s future then you must prepare for the coming storm.”
“I have been. Why do you think our children’s names are Hraegunhild and Hraegunar?”
“To insulate them from Hraegunar’s curse?”
“Yes. And to expose them to Hraegunar’s Hamingja, his luck.”
“You’re Christian,” Oddi stated. “You’re not supposed to believe in that.”
“When it comes to our children, I leave nothing to chance. I haven’t seen anything intelligent coming out of Christian mouths for a very long time. They are beginning to persecute our healers in the Alchemists Guild. In Frankia they are burning our medical alchemists as witches and are replacing medicines with prayer. People are dying from things as simple as a tooth ache, because their prayers are not being answered.”
“If it wasn’t for your healers guild, I’d be dead a few times over,” Oddi admitted.
“A plague broke out in Amarca and people refused to wear masks, claiming they are unholy, and praying to God for protection from foul ethers. They’re dying like flies there and our healers can’t speak up or they’ll be burned alive. It’s all quite sinful.”
“Not to change the subject,” Oddi whispered, “but I have a gift for you. Only if you have time,” he teased. He got out of bed and lifted the lid on his raised quarterdeck and withdrew several packages. “Silks from Rouen,” he started, “and the latest fashions from Paris!” And Oddi began opening the gifts and showering Blaeja in silk as she knelt on the bed and bounced in glee. Oddi returned to the quarterdeck and withdrew a chest of gold Byzants and set it on the bed. “This is for you and the children,” he said as Blaeja pulled him onto the bed and into the silks.
In early spring, Oddi sailed straight from York to Hraegunarstead, in Jaederen Province. Then he told his men to reef the sails. Oddi went ashore with a group to where Ingjald’s farm, Berurjod, had been, and it was all a shambles and grown over with weeds. Norway still suffered from the damage that King Frodi had wrought. He looked the place over and said, “This is awful, a good farm should be in ruins like this, instead of the grand place it was before.” He told his men where he and Asmund had practiced archery all day and where they had gone swimming to cool off, and then he named off all the landmarks. They were heading out, going down to the bay, and everywhere around them the soil had been eroded. “I think that now hopes are fading that Heid’s prediction will ever happen,” Oddi said confidently, “as the old witch foresaw so long ago. But what is that, there?” Oddi asked. “What lies there exposed? Is that not a horse’s skull?”
“Yes,” his men agreed, “and extremely old and bleached, very big and all grey outside.”
“Do you think it could be the skull of Faxi?” Oddi asked and he pounded the skull with the steel butt of his spear. The skull suddenly turned all white against the black earth, but nothing crawled out from under it. Oddi flipped the skull over with the spear tip but there was no adder there. No serpent sprang forth and struck at Oddi. No snake bit his leg above the boot and no venom took him down. “That old witch Heid,” Oddi swore, “she lied.” When they got to their ships, Odd stood up on a huge flat stone on the beach and said, “Now we must divide up into two groups. Forty men must stay here with the knarr and the silver and rebuild Berurjod. And when King Harold Fairhair is dead, rebuild Hraegunarstead. Forty must come with me in Fair Faxi and help guard the gold until we reach Gardariki. I shall leave it up to you who shall stay and who shall go.”