Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

(Circa 856 AD)

“And his shield was called Hrae’s Ship’s Round,

                             And his followers were called the Hraes’.”

                        Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler;  Skaldskaparmal.

Over the winter Oddi worked with Brak on Fair Faxi.  The ship was old and there were many leaks between the strakes which had been weakened by many years of flexing in violent seas.  It had made the Nor’Way crossing too many times.  Oddi used his skill at making arrowheads to devise a nail clinching system to draw the strakes tightly together but Brak told him that it would not be enough.  They added alloys from Damascus and Baghdad to their blooms of Indian steel and Oddi hammered them into clinching nails that would not corrode away once the strakes were tied together.  It was time consuming and difficult work adding the strake-nails between the existing gut tied points, but Oddi and Asmund had the work completed before the snow was gone.

When spring came to Jaederen Province, Oddi became determined to join in on the Nor’Way trade, but he knew that King Hraelauger would not let him travel with the trading fleet.  His was no longer a ship of boys.  All saw that they had come back from the Mediterranean quite changed.  But they were not yet a ship of men.  Oddi knew he would have to trail the fleet once more, but this time they were well aware of the route to be taken.  They had all grown up hearing the tall tales of the Nor’Way and the seas to be crossed and the rivers to be travelled.  Oddi decided that Fair Faxi would trail the trading fleet by two weeks, so they left Hraegunarstead well after the flotilla of Nor’Way ships had passed by from the Vik on their way to the north and then to the east.

Oddi had his men beach Fair Faxi in a small cove and he waved to his foster-father, Grim, in front of his large longhall in Hrafnista.  It was the Hraes’ Trading Company jump off point for the Nor’Way crossing, so the hall was the largest in the north and the raven banners of Hraegunar Lothbrok fluttered from points all around the building.  There was no question of who you were representing when you became a Varanger on the other side of the crossing.  It was a family business that welcomed all reputable merchants, but it was still a family business and King Hraelauger ran the northern end of it, while Prince Hraerik ran the eastern end.  The old man, Hraegunar, himself ran the lucrative Hraes’ trading stations in Frankia.  Grim greeted Oddi warmly and told him that his foster-brother, Gudmund and cousin Sigurd awaited him with their ships on the other side of the island and were making offerings for a good crossing wind soon.  Grim then welcomed Asmund and the rest of the crew into his hall and offered them food and drink.  After the meal he presented Oddi with three golden arrows called Gusir’s Gifts, arrows that his father, Ketil Trout, took from the Finnish King Gusir, who’d had them fashioned by dwarves.  “I give you these arrows because the stories we have heard of you and Asmund and your crew in the Mediterranean foretell of your future greatness, Oddi,” Grim said.  “These arrows will help keep you alive to fulfil that omen.”  Spear Oddi was a young expert at fashioning arrows, but he had never seen arrows such as these.  The arrowheads were gold with inset steel blades, fine grained steel for sharpness, and gold for weight, knock down weight, and they had flights both fore and aft and hollow metal shafts that seemed surprisingly light from the balance of the darts.  They were flawless in manufacture, so perfect that they made Oddi want to string his bow and shoot them.  Grim had suspected this would happen so he had Oddi’s bow at the ready and three straw targets thirty paces outside the hall front doors.  Oddi took his bow and the arrows and stepped out onto the porch.  He let two of the arrows drop and they tick ticked into the deck of the porch, standing, quivering at the ready.  He nocked the third and drew back on the bow then let the heavy dart fly.  It flew straight and true, as if it had no weight at all, but when it hit the bulls-eye it knocked the target over as though it had been hit by a log.  Oddi let loose the other two and they flew with much the same result.

Oddi met up with his young relatives on the other side of Hrafnista just as a crossing wind came up and the three Nor’Way ships set their awnings and raised their sails for their first crossing and were swept east into a storm of such ferocity that they were soon Varangians on the other side.  It was dusk when they sailed into Varangerfjord and the wind just died as they weighed anchors to spend the night in the sheltered harbour.  They did not know this land so they felt safer sleeping aboard their ships.

In the morning, they saw some Lapp tents inland a bit so, Gudmund and Sigurd’s crews rowed their ships in to shore and learned that the Lapp men were further inland herding reindeer so they raided the tents and plundered the Lapp women.  The women were very upset with this abuse and even sent a group of girls to the shoreline to shout at Oddi and his ship for help.  Oddi’s crew of youths wanted to go join the others in the mayhem on shore, but Oddi wouldn’t allow anyone to leave Fair Faxi.  In the evening Gudmund and Sigurd’s crews rowed their ships back out to safe harbour.

“You raided the Lapps?” Oddi shouted as they approached and dropped anchors.

“We sure did,” Gudmund shouted back.  “We got much loot and had a fine time making the Lapp women shout and swear at us.  Will you come with us tomorrow?”

“We will certainly not!” Oddi shouted across the waves.  “No good will come of this, mark my words.  The Lapps have magic they can use against us.”

Gudmund thought about this and decided to make offerings for a good wind east.  Still, it took three nights to get that wind and that was a long wait for Hrafnista men.  They sailed past Kandalaks Bay into the White Sea and then up the Northern Dvina River into Bjarmia.  They saw no men for several days then sailed past a clearing in which there was a huge gathering of Bjarmians.  The men in the clearing watched them go by with complete indifference, so Gudmund suspected that something must be up.  Further downriver they spotted a large ran and sailed past it but put in to shore upstream of it and doubled back through the bush to have a closer look.  They saw a few people around the ran and their talking was like the twittering of birds, then they saw a Norse slave working in a nearby field, so they snatched him for questioning.

He was a Norwegian, captured on a trading mission of the Hraes’ Trading Company and he claimed to know Prince Hraerik personally.  He also told Oddi about an offering mound that was in the clearing they had passed by and, there, Bjarmians celebrated births and deaths with a double handful offering of both soil and silver.  There, the captive promised, they would find much silver just lying about.  They waited till dusk, then rowed their ships downstream to the clearing and pulled up to the riverbank.  The clearing was empty so they went ashore, Gudmund and Sigurd’s men first, filling sacks with silver, while the crew of Fair Faxi stood guard, then Oddi and Asmund and their crew of young men went out into the clearing.  Somehow, between the shift change, the Norse slave had escaped.  Soon Bjarmian warriors were flooding into the clearing, forcing Oddi and his youths back to their ship.  The Norwegians stood on the riverbank, shields and swords at the ready, as they finished loading Fair Faxi.  And the ships of Gudmund and Sigurd were nowhere to be seen.  The Norse captive stepped to the front of the Bjarmians and hailed Oddi.

“Where did you go?” asked Oddi.

“I went to see where the Bjarmians were and this group was heading out to attack you, but I told them you would rather do some business.”

“And what business do they wish to do?”

“I suggested they trade their silver weapons for your steel blades.”

The silver weapons of the Bjarmians flashed in the fading sunlight, but they seemed more interested in the steel weapons of the Varangians and offered to trade swords of silver trimmed in gold for fine swords of steel trimmed in ton-stone.   Oddi had his young men pull forth and spread out several hides piled high with fine Jaederen swords from the smithyshop of Hraegunarstead.  Oddi traded sword for sword, steel for silver and gold and made himself a fortune that evening, for there did not seem to be any shortage of silver or gold in those Bjarmian lands.  As the sword pile slowly diminished, the warriors began offering two silver swords for a blade and when the sword pile was gone they were offering silver swords for Seax knives and iron spears.  As a final transaction, Oddi ransomed the Norse captive from the Bjarmians with his own last Jaederen blade and they gave the slave his freedom.  The young Varangians rowed Fair Faxi out from shore and parted, if not friends, at least, not enemies.

“What should we do with the slave?” Asmund asked Oddi quietly.

“I ransomed him for Prince Hraerik of Gardariki,” Oddi whispered back.  “The captive claims to know him.  The prince may be grateful.”

“And what about Gudmund and Sigurd?  They were supposed to wait for us.”

“That’s why we must run a tight ship and our young men must have discipline.  They must be taught when to stand and when to run, when to raid and when to trade.  Gudmund and Sigurd must learn this as well.  So, let us row upriver until we find them.  They’ll be washing the earth out of their melted bits of silver by dragging their sacks through the river and then they’ll stop to count it all up and divide some of it out amongst their men to keep them all happy.”

“And what shall we do?”

“We shall show discipline by washing our silver and using it all to buy furs from the Permians to sell to the Romans in Tmutorokan.  Our men will get triple the silver for the furs there.  But the Bjarmian swords are mine.  Those Jaederen blades were all smithied by Brak and yours truly and the silver swords of the Bjarmians are so finely crafted, the Arabs in Gardariki will pay their weight in gold.”

So, they headed upriver.

Oddi watched the captive figit as his men rowed and he remembered what he had learned from Kraka about how men could be injured in their minds as well as their bodies during the bloodbath that was called war.  She had taught Oddi how to handle the mentally wounded as well as the physically.  And Oddi suspected that the captive was just one such wounded warrior, enslaved in mind as well as body by his captors.  He would deliver the man to Prince Hraerik in Tmutorokan.  Kraka was a healer and she had taught her sons this as well.

The three ships were soon progressing together up the Northern Dvina and when their crews were exhausted, for security, they made camp on an island in the midst of the river.  In the middle of the night a huge brown bear came rustling through the camp and Oddi shot it dead with one of Gusir’s gifts.  The arrow literally knocked the bear down dead.  The next day, Oddi made a scorn pole using the great head of the bear and set it up facing out toward shore to ward off evil.  He even added some fiery coals in the agape jaws of the bear, but the scorn pole did not work well, for an evil giantess soon wandered across the waves and attacked the Norwegians.  She was huge and very muscular with thick long black hair like whale baleen; she was hideous and covered in a hide.  As she approached, Oddi went over to the scorn pole with his bow and Gusir’s gifts and blew on the coals in the head of the bear until flames erupted.  But the giantess kept coming, so Oddi set the arrow and drew the bow.  She turned just as he shot and he caught her on the side of the head and the gift pierced both of her eyes, blinding her as she stepped out of the river.  She fell back into the water and started swimming downstream with Gusir’s gift jutting wickedly from her temple.  Oddi took off after her.  With the bow and two more of Gusir’s gifts in hand, he dove into the river and began to swim after the giantess.  She swam incredibly fast and was heading for some cliffs that made up the eastern riverbank.  When she got to the cliffs, she dove and disappeared.  Oddi swam around waiting for her to come up, but she didn’t.  Then Oddi remembered what Hraegunar had told him about the caves near Liere.  The entrances were now below sea level, so he dove below the waves and soon found the submerged entrance to a cave. 

“She must have gone in there,” he thought.  Oddi went back up to the surface, took several great gulps of air, then went back down and entered the cave.  He quietly broke the surface of a pool within the cave and could see the giantess complaining in a guttural language about what had happened to other giants who seemed to be her mother and father.  The inside of the cave was faintly lit by crude torches, but Oddi could make out animal paintings all over the walls that looked just like those he had seen in Moorish Spain.  Some of the animals were different, of course, but the style was the same, as if painted by artists who only knew of one way to represent images.  Artists who had reached their limits of imagination.

The father giant saw Oddi rise out of the pool and walk onto a beach.  The mother giant made a move as if to attack, so Oddi drew his bow and shot her right in the eye, knocking her down, dead.  The girl giant wailed as her mother fell into her arms and Oddi could hear a baby crying in the background.  The huge father giant moved quickly towards Oddi.  He was massive, taller than Oddi and heavily muscled, weighing twenty to thirty stone.  Oddi set the last of Gusir’s gifts onto his bowstring and instinctively drew and shot.  His aim was true and he hit the giant in his left eye, but the gift failed to knock the giant down.  He stopped in his tracks but was not killed.  He stood there and, seeing that Oddi was now unarmed, said in a low slow voice, as if trying to use a language he had not used for some time, “I shall not kill you out of respect for your father, who rules the Nor’Way.  But you must go now!”

“My father is dead,” Oddi protested, then caught himself.

“Your father rules the whole Nor’Way, Arrow Odd, so leave here now with your life and never come back.”

“Prince Hraerik gave me the byname Spear Odd,” shouted Oddi.

“Well, it is Arrow Odd now,” the giant replied.  “And take your evil arrows with you!” he shouted, throwing Gusir’s Gifts across the cave to him.

Oddi was shocked that the giant knew his name.  He gripped his bow and Gusir’s Gifts in his left hand and dove into the pool.  The arrows had saved his life, but he was still shaken when he returned to the island and ordered his men to pack up their gear and shove off.  Gudmund, Sigurd and Asmund could see that Oddi was deeply disturbed by something that had happened, but Oddi would not talk about it.  Instead, he just said, “Make sure you bring the captive.  Prince Hraerik will want to question him.”

And they sailed and rowed through the land of the Hraes’ so quickly, they almost caught up to the trading fleet that had left weeks before them.

When Oddi and his men arrived in Gardariki, it was just after the main trading fleet of the Nor’Way had arrived and the city was an absolute madhouse.  There were merchants there from Constantinople and Baghdad and caravan traders from Cathay to West Africa.  Some ships of the Nor’Way fleet would sail all the way to Constantinople or upriver to Baghdad to fetch better prices for their goods, but prices were so high in Gardariki, many captains cancelled their on-going travel plans and sold their goods right there.  Oddi found some officers of the Tmutorokan Hraes’ Guard and he soon got an audience set up with Prince Hraerik regarding a recovered captive of the Nor’Way.  Meanwhile, Oddi took the silver swords of the Bjarmians that he had traded for their weight in steel and traded them to Arab merchants for their weight in gold, so finely crafted were the silver blades.  Oddi was now a very rich captain and his companions were very wealthy men so he had all his men dressed in the finest white silk shirts with bright red piping, as was common practice among the Hraes’ Trading Company members.  This practice had led Prince Hraerik Bragi to garner a second byname of Hvitserk, or Whiteshirt.  They soon met again in the Mese, the main street of Gardariki, where Hraerik was holding impromptu meetings with merchants and traders.

“I see you have profited well from this trading season, Captain Oddi,” Prince Hraerik declared.  “King Hraelauger told me all about your activities in the Mediterranean.  I hope Fair Faxi has treated you well.”

“Thank you again for the gift, my prince,” Oddi replied.  “And I bring you a gift in return.  A captive of the Bjarmians who claims to know you.  I bought his release with a fine Jaederen sword that your foster-father Brak helped me forge.”  And he had Gudmund, Sigurd and Asmund step forward with the captive, all of them dressed in white silk shirts and red velvet pants, as though in uniform.

Hraerik blinked and could not believe his eyes.  “Is it you, An?  Brother of my Lieutenant Ask?”

“It is I,” the captive replied.  “Back from the dead.”

Prince Hraerik hugged the Varangian as though he was hugging a ghost….very gently.  “You must all share the high seat spread with me tonight in my palace.”  He waved over servants and instructed them to escort his guests to the palace to relax.  “And use the chariots,” he ordered.  “I’ll be back there as soon as I am done with these embassies.  And make sure you collect the crew of the ship of boys as well.  All your party is welcome.” 

“Have you ever driven a chariot before?” was all the servant had to ask and Oddi snatched up the reins.

“Jump aboard, Asmund,” Oddi declared.  “We are off to the palace.”

Gardariki was a jumble of buildings and walls, some log, some stone, but it seemed to be growing in a very organized pattern of broad streets and avenues.  And standing tall above all other buildings was the royal palace, half built of stone and marble with the other half still under construction.  The main hall was like a longhall but double the size in all dimensions.  The entrance had great double doors of steel reinforced oak and four huge fireplaces divided the longhall lengthwise, and they had massive stone chimneys that carried the smoke straight up through the oak plank and beam roof.  Servants sat Oddi and Asmund on the stone carved second highseat of the host highseats, while Gudmund and Sigurd occupied the third.  An, the brother of Ask, sat on the first highseat that he would share with the Prince.  It turned out that the captive had, indeed, known Prince Hraerik personally.  Servants brought fresh fruits and cut crystal containers of juices on platters and laid them out on the arms of the highseats.  Soon the crews of Oddi’s and Gudmund’s and Sigurd’s ships arrived and were seated at tables to the immediate left and right of the host highseats.  The guest highseats began to fill with Roman officers of the Varangian Guard and ambassadors of the Caliph of Baghdad.  The first highseat was reserved for a royal family member of the Emperor of the Han Dynasty of Cathay that might or might not show up.  This was a far cry from camping on an island and being attacked by giants.    

“I had planned to sit with embassies from the Poljane and Drevjane Slav Provinces, but they can wait,” Prince Hraerik declared when he arrived at the high seats.  “I hope you find everything satisfactory, particularly the chariots.”

“The chariots were great!” Oddi exclaimed.  “Very fast.”

Prince Hraerik sat down on the first highseat between An and Oddi.  “I have news for you, An, about your brother Ask.  He died in the Battle of the Goths and the Huns.”

“Did he die quickly?” An asked.

“Yes.  And he died bravely,” Hraerik answered.  “The battle of hosts can be strangely unnerving and Ask felt he was doomed to die, that there was an arrow with his name on it, so he may have wavered a bit, but in the end he fought bravely, and when an arrow struck him in the nose, he snapped it off and fought on, thinking he had escaped his fate.  But there is no escaping fate and his arrow soon found its mark and struck him dead through his heart.  No matter what you may hear told, he died bravely, fighting the Huns to his last breath.”

“Of all the things I missed in my captivity, I think it was the companionship of my brother that I missed the most.  If he did not survive the Huns, I doubt very much if I would have.  I guess I can thank the Bjarmians for more years and Captain Oddi, here, for as many more as the gods see fit to bless me with.”

“Well spoken, An,” the prince said.  “And you will always have a job with the Hraes’ Trading Company, and enough back pay to allow you to buy a place of your own here in Tmutorokan, if you so wish.”

“And thank you for finding the brother of my friend, Ask,” Hraerik told Oddi.

“Thank you, prince,” Oddi replied, then paused as if deeply troubled.

“You are perplexed,” Hraerik responded.  “What troubles you?”

“I killed a giant in Bjarmaland,” Oddi started, “and I find it quite troubling.”

“As though you have further contributed to a crime already inflicted upon them by man?”

“That’s it!” Oddi exclaimed.  “That’s it exactly.  How did you know?”

“I had a similar experience with dwarves in Giantland.  Perhaps we could talk about it later this evening.  Please stay with me in my palace for the rest of your time in Gardariki.  You and Asmund and your ship of boys, and our common relatives from Hrafnista, too.  But now I must wait on our ambassadors seated on the guest highseats.  I see the Chinese Emperor’s cousin has just arrived.”

“Thank you, prince,” Oddi said.  “I look forward to our later talk.”

“As Hraegunar once told me,” Hraerik extolled, “a merchant must attend to all his trade routes….Constantinople, Baghdad and Cathay….all in one hall.”  And he rose and crossed the longhall to welcome his guests.

“When I hanged on the great tree of knowledge, Yggdrasil, for nine days near death, I learned of the birth of mankind,” Hraerik started, once again sharing the highseat with Oddi.  He had a small Capuchin monkey with him, on a leash, and it clutched at the arm of the first highseat they were sharing.  “Man was not unlike this monkey here.  Living up in trees, naked and afraid, evolving and changing.  At different times in history, various evolutions of man came down from those same trees in Africa and spread across the land, but he had one natural enemy,” he said, looking over to an Egyptian house cat that was roaming through the shadows of the now still hall.  “Big cats, mainly tigers, hunted us as natural prey.  Some tigers were such mankillers that they only knew of one way to kill a man and that is from behind, snapping his neck quickly.  Some evolutions came down from the trees and were wiped out, others came down and survived, becoming great hunters and inhabiting lands in which, they were particularly well suited.  These giants you have seen are one of those evolutions.  They came down from the trees before us and they spread out across the lands….Europe and Asia….preferring cooler climes.  They made tools of stone, thrusting spears for killing woolly elephants and great beasts and giant cats.  One giant even invented a thrusting spear that had replaceable tips so you could kill a woolly elephant with one spear and a dozen spear tips that were carried in a quiver like we do our arrows.  They used fire but could not master it.  They had beliefs in an afterlife, but they had no gods.  All this I saw in the birth of this particular man.

“When we came down from the trees we were faster and smarter than these giants, but we had two particular advantages over them.  We could throw stones and spears overhand, which, due to their immense strength, the giants could not.  And we could lie.  We could be so deceitful, we could even lie to ourselves and believe the lies we told ourselves.  We spread out across those same lands and we had fire and we mastered it.  And we had gods that we were taught, mastered us.  Through deceit and throwing spears we drove the giants north into colder climes, but the whole world was warmer then and they could eke out a living in those cold northern lands.  But then the world grew colder and great sheets of ice grew upon the land and drove the giants back south, where we were waiting to kill them.  Some were killed, some were enslaved, the world’s first slaves, and some….they were so appalled by the horrors of this new man, they killed themselves.  The giants you saw are what is left of this evolution of man.  There are other evolutions that survive in the east, but their fate is pretty much the same.

“Things tend to evolve to a certain level of perfection and then, after that, all further evolution becomes overly complex and evil.  And we are that man.  What we did to the giants, we now freely do to ourselves.  We kill ourselves, we enslave ourselves, we lord over each other as wolves devouring a kill.  And that is why the giants hide from us.  What is left of them, that is.”

“But the leader of the giants talked to me in Norse, and he knew my name.  He called me Arrow Odd, not Spear Odd, and he claimed to know my father.  He called him ruler of the Nor’Way.  That is, you.  How can this be?  How could he know me?”

“The dwarves know of the giants and they treat them with respect.  The dwarves are not another evolution of man.  They are like us, but different.  I saw, first-hand, the crimes we inflicted upon the dwarves and that is why I knew how you felt.  The dwarves learn from us and they teach the giants and, perhaps, some giants see things as I do, in glimpses of the past and foretellings of the future.  Do not feel bad about your encounter with the giants.  Their fate has been determined long before your coming.”

“Thank you, prince,” Oddi started.  “Knowing this makes it easier for me to accept what happened.  But I take no pride in it.  I am a human being and I know right from wrong.  Enslaving giants is no better than enslaving men.  And that is what seems to be so much a part of the Nor’Way.”

“That is an unfortunate part of the ‘Way.  I, too, am a human being, but we are surrounded by men.  It will take time.  I have learned over the years that it is very difficult to change people and to change things.  I thought I had changed my late wife, Gunwar’s brother, King Frodi into a man of peace.  The Peace of Frodi we called it, but he murdered his wife, Queen Alfhild, and fell back into his old ways and couldn’t even be bothered to save his sister while I was imprisoned by the Romans.  And now he blames the Romans instead of himself and is making plans against my sage advice.  Change has proved to be very fleeting.  My wife, Gunwar, started a freedom movement against slavery right under my nose and I certainly wasn’t going to stop her.  She even became a Christian because of their stand against slavery.  I didn’t get a chance to tell her that I was working on real change that would come about in our time.  Real change that will change history.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Oddi said.

“Have you heard the old Roman saying, ‘those that do not study history are doomed to repeat it’?” and Oddi nodded.  “Well…history is exactly that…his…story.  It is the story of your father.  And it is that immediate history one should study first, then work your way back and really know your history well, because it is all interrelated and the better you know it the more interrelated it becomes.  I have seen how something that Julius Caesar did, before the birth of the Christian’s saviour, will affect our own offspring a thousand years later.  And something I am working on now will affect the Persians a thousand years before that and will ultimately affect what the Romans believe in shortly after the reign of Julius.”  Prince Hraerik was staring out across his stone highseat hall and Oddi suspected that he was sharing a vision.  The Prince was famous for his foresight and, apparently his hindsight as well. 

“I heard of your success,” the Prince went on, “in trading with the Bjarmians and that you have profited more in this trading season than any other merchant.  And you did it trading steel swords for silver….no slaves.  Shall I take your success as a sign that you may be back next year?”

“I shall be back,” Oddi reassured his prince.  “I wish to learn more of my father, and I hear he was a Goth and was from here.”

“Good.  We shall talk more then.  No one has had as much success dealing with the Bjarmians as you have had.  And the giant that you met is their king.  If he says your byname is Arrow Odd, then I stand corrected.”

Oddi, Asmund, Gudmund and Sigurd spent the rest of the summer in Gardariki and Oddi learned much from his frequent discussions with Prince Hraerik.  But as summer waned, King Hraelauger’s trading fleet was expected back from Baghdad and Oddi wanted to head back to Hrafnista ahead of it so, they equipped their Nor’Way ships and sailed north on the Sea of Azov, entering the Don River and sailing past the ruined Fortress of Sarkel to the Volga portage, where they paid Hraes’ station workers to portage their ships overland to the Volga River.  They sailed and rowed up the Volga and then the Kama Rivers to the Hawknista portage and paid Hraes’ station workers to again portage their ships to a tributary of the Northern Dvina.  They sailed into Permia and stopped to purchase more furs to sell in Frankia, then continued on into Bjarmia, camping and resting on their island in the middle of the Dvina.

“This island is called Varg and is avoided by merchants because of the ferocious bears found hereabouts”, Oddi started.  “We have not been bothered by them because I killed one of the most ferocious of the bears here last spring with a Gusir’s Gift arrow.  Prince Hraerik told me that he had tried to kill one of these bears with a bow but half a quiver later they had to leave the island because darts would not kill it.”

“What else did the prince tell you about our island?” Asmund asked.

“Hraerik told me to leave an offering for the giantess I killed.  I think that if I don’t leave wergild, they will use their magic against me.”

So, Oddi took up a generous offering of his gold from one of his chests, put it in a sack and had Asmund row him across river to the cliffs on the east bank.  “Wait for me on Varg, no matter how long this takes me,” he said, then dove into the river and entered the submerged cave entrance.