Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
(Circa 855 AD)
When Oddi turned fifteen, King Hraelauger planned to do some raiding in Frisia. Oddi reasoned that this would be a good opportunity for him to thank Prince Hraerik and his family for the ship, so he gathered up Asmund and a group of two dozen local fifteen year old youths into Fair Faxi and they followed the Norwegian fleet out to sea. But the fleet wasn’t really going to raid Frisia at all. King Hraelauger planned on sailing west around Frankia and south past Spain in order to enter the Mediterranean Sea through the Pillars of Hercules. King Hraelauger’s father, Hraegunar Lothbrok, had acquired some vellum maps of Europe during his sacking of Paris years earlier and his son was now going to follow those maps as part of a planned reconnaissance of the Mediterranean for a sea route to Constantinople. Chieftain Hraegunar of Frankia was also going to lend his son some ships for the raid. The fleet was halfway to Frankia before they discovered they were being followed. When King Hraelauger found out that young Captain Oddi had trailed his ships all the way from Norway, he was furious and wanted to send him back to Jaederen. But it would be too dangerous to send a ship full of boys back alone, so they were allowed to join the fleet, at least until they met up with Hraegunar’s fleet on the Seine.
When he met up with his father, Hraelauger brought up the problem that had arisen from Oddi’s following his fleet. “Could you take care of this ship full of boys for me while I’m in the Mediterranean? I can’t be taking them off to raid with me.”
“I’ll have to meet them first,” Hraegunar stated. “I don’t have any wet nurses in my fleet, so they can’t be in their swaddling clothes.”
Hraegunar met with Captain Oddi and his crew and he was immediately taken by the mettle of the boys. The youthful captain reminded him of his two sons, both of them, almost as if they had been forged together into one young man. He inspected their weapons and Oddi’s ship and told his son he would take them. “I don’t think it’s a fair trade, half of my fleet going to Spain with you while I get all these fine young men, but I’ll find some way to make up the difference to you.” He stood at the forestem of Fair Faxi with Oddi as they watched the combined Norwegian/Viking fleet continue westward along the coast of Frankia. “I was plying the Nor’Way trade when Hraerik won this ship from King Gotar with a portent drapa. I don’t think he was that much older than you are now,” he said. “Your king thinks I’m too old to go to the Mediterranean with him.”
“And he thinks I’m too young,” Oddi complained.
“If I loaned you a few of my years,” Hraegunar started, “we’d both be just about right.”
“Quite a few of your years,” Oddi quipped.
“Let’s get your crew some decent weapons,” the old man laughed, giving the boy a quick cuff. “And I’ll get us a nice chest of gold. We may need supplies on the way to Spain.” Hraegunar gave each of the boys fine weapons, swords and bucklers, spears and bows. And they loaded baskets full of arrows onto the ship and some strange linen sacks Hraegunar’s craftsmen brought out from a shed and then barrel after barrel of fine Frankish wine. Oddi wondered just how much the old man was planning to drink on the way to Spain.
With Hraegunar’s experience, they were able to trail the Norwegian fleet halfway down the coast of Spain before they were spotted. But again, the fleet was too far gone to send the ship of boys back. It was an angry Hraelauger that allowed Hraegunar and the ship of boys to join the rear echelon of his fleet. When Captain Oddi and his crew would drag Fair Faxi up onto the beach to camp for the night with the rest of the fleet, Hraegunar would entertain the youths with tales of fire-breathing dragon ships and Hraes’ gold hoards, battles of Goths and Huns and the dwarves and giants of the eastern realm. He also told them of his first attack on Spain.
“It was King Charles’ idea,” Hraegunar said. “He paid me to attack the Caliphate of Cordoba. I would have done it for free, but he paid me a thousand pounds of gold and he gave me a map, so the year before I sacked Paris, I sacked Seville!”
“Why would he pay you to sack Seville?” Oddi asked, incredulously.
“The Muslims were attacking Frankia’s southern borders, so he wanted me to attack their southern borders by sea. So, we headed down the coast of Spain and we raided a few places we had raided before, but we carried on further to the south of Spain and we raided cities as we went along. We captured Lisbon in the summer and we held her until they paid us a ransom then we sailed further south, then rowed upriver to Seville and captured her, but we could not take her walled citadel, so we surrounded the fortress and demanded a ransom for the city. They refused to pay, so we looted the city and occupied it until a Muslim army arrived and set up camp on a hill outside Seville. Since we had already earned our Frankish gold and we were already burdened with loot, we prepared our ships to retreat downriver. My son, Hraelauger, led his Norwegian fleet south first, then I left with my Viking fleet, but one of my lieutenants, Hastein, wasn’t in any hurry to leave because his thirty ships were on the river and the Muslim army was on the other side of it from Seville, so he wanted to harass them a bit because he had converted to Christianity and he wanted to kill himself an Emir or two.
A small contingent of the Muslim army came down from the hill dragging a couple of small catapults with them, so Hastein had his portside archers let loose on them. And, of course, the Muslims loosed arrows in return and a skirmish commenced. Then the little catapults let loose, but they weren’t launching stones. They were firing pottery canisters of Greek fire and launching them at Hastein’s ships. They fired up the downstream ships first, trapping the rest of his fleet upstream. Now we didn’t even know the Arabs had Greek fire,” Hraegunar exclaimed, waving his arms in the campfire light, and the butt of a log popped and sizzled as if to emphasize his words. “Only the Eastern Romans are supposed to possess it! We could only watch from downstream as the Muslims fired up the rest of Hastein’s ships. Those that dove into the river were fished out of the water and hanged from the palm trees lining the riverbanks. We stayed and watched to the very end, out of range of their archers and catapults. I lost a thousand men that day, and Hastein and thirty ships. But I learned two very important things in Spain that year,” and the old man looked about himself to the youths all around him.
“That the Arabs have Greek fire!” Oddi and Asmund shouted out at the same time.
“And?” King Hraegunar asked, pausing. “That an unwalled city…”
“Is easy to attack,” Oddi shouted. “And you attacked Paris the very next year!”
“Yes,” the old man shouted, raising his arms to the campfire once more. “And I ransomed her for seven fold the men I lost in Spain. Seven thousand pounds of gold and silver for the ships and men I’d lost. Had Hastein not converted to Christianity, he’d be alive today.”
As the Norwegian fleet approached the Pillars of Hercules, Hraelauger warned his captains that Arab and Roman fleets could be lying in wait for them. They would row under cover of darkness and would hide in bays or sea caves during the day. The Spanish shores had many bays and the cliffs were perforated with limestone caves that ships could navigate through. While the fleet took cover in sea caves in the northern Mons Calpe Pillar, Hraegunar had his ship of boys row over to Hraelauger’s dragon ship. “I have seen these cave paintings before,” he called out to his son. “It is Grendal,” he continued.
Hraelauger peered out into the darkness of the cave walls and could make out crude faded drawings of deer and other animals.
“I’ve seen paintings like this in the sea caves near Heorot, north of Liere. When I was a boy you could see the tops of the sea caves at low tide and as youths, we would dive into the sea and swim underwater into the caves and rise up into the air pockets of the cave roofs and there would be the paintings just like these, but now, with rising oceans, the caves are all below the waves now.”
When night came, the fleet continued along the coast of Spain, then headed east, out into the Mediterranean. They stayed just out of sight of the coast of Africa and soon had Sicily off their port side. Some of the boys began complaining about the odours emanating from the sacks under their rowing benches. “Those are raw sheep skins,” King Hraegunar explained, “enough to cover two ships with awnings. And the wine barrels are full of sour wine that can be used to put out Greek fire.”
“So, we cover our ships with sheepskins and we soak the wool in vinegar,” Oddi concluded.
“And then we attack the fire breathing dragon ship that is after us!” King Hraegunar exclaimed. “Just as I attacked Fafnir while Sigurd steered our ship!”
There were no more complaints about the odour and the boys kept a good eye out for Arab and Roman ships. A week of good sailing put Crete off the fleet’s starboard and they headed north into the Aegean Sea, as yet undetected. The fleet found a secluded bay of an island that seemed uninhabited according to one of the maps that Hraelauger had been studying, so the Norse set up a Viking base there. King Hraelauger’s longship was the fastest in the fleet and would be the ship to go it alone into the Sea of Marmora and on to Constantinople to meet up with Hraes’ traders already there. He would be meeting his brother, Hraerik, if everything continued to go as planned. And Hraelauger’s longship was already equipped with its own bags of sheepskin awning and barrels of sour wine.
The Norse fleet waited anxiously in the secluded bay for a week before King Hraelauger’s ship was spotted returning from the Sea of Marmora. Oddi and his ship of boys could not wait and rowed out with Hraegunar to meet him.
“How did it go?” Hraegunar shouted across the waves.
“Hraerik sends his regards,” Hraelauger shouted. “No Romans suspected I came from the west.”
The Mediterranean reconnaissance mission was a success. King Hraelauger proved it was possible to take a fleet across the Mediterranean all the way to Constantinople undetected. The Varangers of Seville had proven it so.
Once the fleet was back in Frankia, Spear Odd decided he would take his ship of young men straight back to Jaederen Province and Hraegunarstead. Oddi knew he would miss the old man his stead was named after so he sought him out before leaving for Nor’Way.
“When you were loading Fair Faxi with all your gear, those smelly linen bags of rawhides and barrel after barrel of wine, I thought you might be quite the drunkard. Then, when you didn’t seem inclined to tap a keg at all, I wondered at what kind of a drunk you were, or perhaps weren’t. Next, I heard that you had marked yourself with a spear and sacrificed yourself to Odin. And you know how to defeat Greek fireships! I have learned so much from you….please tell me of your sacrifice to Odin?”
“When Hraerik was just a few years older than you are now, he and Hraelauger went to Denmark to avenge my honour by attacking the Sea King Spear Odd and the twelve berserker sons of Westmar. My sons defeated and killed Spear Odd upon the waters, but they knew they could not defeat King Frodi’s twelve champions on land, so they devised a plan to battle the twelve berserkers on ice, upon frozen waters. They would traverse the waters on skates of bone and slay the twelve brothers as they slipped and slid upon the ice. But the gods were fickle the night before battle and they threatened to put a foot of snow on the ice, turning it back to land again. My wife, the renowned witch Kraka Sigurdsdottir, told me that the gods required a sacrifice, so I marked myself with a spear and I set out roving with two longships and men likewise dedicated to Odin. The gods held back their snow and my sons prevailed over the berserkers and became King Frodi’s foremost men.
“I attacked Angleland first, King AElla of North Umbria, and the gods blessed me with victories and treasure, but not with a warrior’s famous death. So, I tried my luck in Frankia, aiming to regain lands I had lost there and, again, I was blessed with victories and spoils, but yet again, no famous death. I thought, surely, if I attacked Paris, surely the Franks would kill me. So, with the help of my sons, I sacked Paris and the Franks gave me back all my lands and more plus seven thousand pounds of gold and silver just to leave the city. I consigned myself to the belief that the gods did not want my sacrifice and I worked to rebuild my trading centres in Normandy,” Hraegunar concluded.
“Perhaps the gods have a special death planned for you….a death so famous that poets will sing about it for a thousand years or more,” Oddi said, encouragingly.
“Spoken like a true prophet. My son, Hraerik Bragi, could not have said it better.”