BOOK THREE: THE SAGA OF HELGI ‘ARROW ODD’ ERIKSON

THE VARANGIANS / UKRAINIANS

BOOK THREE

THE SAGA OF HELGI ‘ARROW ODD’ ERIKSON

— PRINCE HELGI ERIKSON OF KONOGARD —

— PRINCE OLEG RURIKSON OF KIEV —

A Novel By

Brian Howard Seibert

Kelowna, B.C.

2018

Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

Table of Contents

0.1  BABY HELGI – BORN IN A WAR ZONE  (Circa 839 AD) 5

1.0  GRIM ‘HAIRY-CHEEK’ KETILSON  (Circa 840 AD) 22

2.0  THE SACK OF PARIS OF 845. 27

3.0  THE PROPHECY  (Circa 852 AD) 35

4.0  THE VARANGERS OF SEVILLE  (Circa 855 AD) 41

5.0  ODDI AND THE NOR’WAY  (Circa 856 AD) 48

6.0  HILDER THE GIANT  (Circa 856 AD) 64

7.0  THE ATTACK ON CONSTANTINOPLE OF 860. 74

8.0  THE SIEGE OF KIEV  (Circa 861 AD) 84

9.0  HALFDAN’S GIFT  (Circa 861 AD) 91

10.0  SOTI’S GIFT  (Circa 861 AD) 96

11.0  HJALMAR THE BRAVE  (Circa 861 AD) 101

12.0  THE CALLING BACK OF THE HRAES’  (Circa 862 AD) 105

13.0  FIVE EASY BERSERKS  (Circa 862 AD) 111

14.0 THE DEATH OF RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ SIGURDSON  (Circa 863 AD) 115

15.0  PRINCESS OLVOR’S SCALE-MAIL SHIRT  (Circa 864 AD) 119

16.0  HOLMGANGER ON SAMSO  (Circa 865 AD) 135

17.0  THE GREAT PAGAN ARMY ATTACK ON ANGLELAND  (Circa 866 AD) 147

18.0  WARLOCK SONGS  (Circa 866 AD) 162

19.0  NEW IRELAND, NEW SCOTLAND, NEW ANGLELAND  (Circa 866 AD) 174

20.0  THE VALLEY OF THE MOUND BUILDERS  (Circa 867 AD) 181

21.0  VIGNIR  (Circa 868 AD) 199

22.0  TALE OF TWO CITIES  (Circa 869 AD) 206

23.0  THE CITY OF ROUEN  (Circa 870 AD) 213

24.0  GEIRROD THE GIANT AND OGMUND  (Circa 875 AD) 230

25.0  THE BARKMAN  (Circa 880 AD) 239

26.0  THE SIEGE OF PARIS OF 885. 268

27.0  HAVE SWORD — WILL TRAVEL  (Circa 886) 272

28.0  KING ALF ‘THE OLD’ FRODISON  (Circa 887) 292

29.0  THE SECOND SIEGE OF KIEV  (Circa 888) 302

30.0  RECONQUERING THE SOUTHERN WAY  (Circa 889-891 AD) 306

31.0  THE BIRTH OF IVAR THE BONELESS  (Circa 896 AD) 315

32.0  THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE OF 907 or T.B.B.T.N.W. 328

33.0  THE TREATY OF 911 or THE WAKING OF ANGANTYR.. 337

34.0  THE PROPHECY OF ARROW ODD, Part One  (Circa 911 AD) 347

35.0  THE PROPHECY OF ARROW ODD, Part Two  (Circa 912 AD) 359

APPENDIX A:  HELGI ‘ARROW ODD’ ERIKSON GLOSSARY OF TERMS.. 391

APPENDIX B:  MAP OF EASTERN EUROPE OF THE NINTH CENTURY.. 397

Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information or storage retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.

The author wishes to acknowledge his indebtedness to the following works, upon which he has based much of his research and a great deal of his writing:

Saxo Grammaticus.  The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus.  Denmark, c.1200.  As translated by Oliver Elton, B.A. London, 1893, with consideration toward the translation by Peter Fisher.  Cambridge, 1979.

Author unknown.  Arrow-Odd:  A Medieval Novel.  Iceland, c.1200.  As translated by Paul Edwards and Hermann Palsson.  New York, 1970.

Author unknown.  The Saga of Arrow-Odd.  Iceland, c.1200.  As translated by Gavin Chappell.  Thor’s Stone Press. 2014.

Authors unknown.  The Hrafnista Sagas (The Saga of Arrow-Odd).  Iceland, c.1200.  As translated by Ben Wagonner.  Lulu.com, 2012.

Author unknown.  The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise (Hervor’s Saga).  Iceland, c.1200.  As translated by Christopher Tolkien.  Oxford, 1960.

Vernadsky, George.  The Origins of Russia.  Oxford, 1959.

Pritsak, Omeljan.  The Origin of Rus’.  Cambridge, Mass., 1981.

Davidson, H.R. Ellis.  The Viking Road to Byzantium.  London, 1976.

Dunlop, D.M.  The History of the Jewish Khazars.  New York, 1967.

Author unknown.  Gautrek’s Saga.  Iceland, c.1200.  Translated by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards.  Middlesex, 1976.

PREVIOUSLY (From Book 2, Chapter 31):

CHAPTER ZERO POINT ONE

0.1  BABY HELGI – BORN IN A WAR ZONE  (Circa 839 AD)

“One morning at sunrise Hervor stood on a watchtower

above the fortress-gate, and she saw a great cloud of dust from

horses’ hooves rising southwards towards the forest, which for a

long time hid the sun.  Presently she saw a glittering beneath the

dustcloud, as though she were gazing upon a mass of gold, bright

shields overlaid with gold, gilded helms and bright corselets; and

then she saw it was the army of the Huns, and a mighty host.”

Anonymous;  Hervor’s Saga.

(839 AD)  One morning, King Olmar and General Ygg returned to Gardariki from a scouting expedition and called Princess Gunwar forth to the fortress gate.  From a high stone tower of her city wall, Gunwar saw a mighty cloud of dust rising up on the eastern horizon, obscuring the orient pearl of dawn, the sun, and rolling slowly across the plain.  An aura glowed gold beneath the dusty cloud, evincing glittering armour and bristling raiment, as the fiery mass of the Hunnish host blazed slowly across the eastern firmament.  The brightly arrayed Hunnish horse led the host and kicked up all the dust, and a distance behind which the wind carried the dust away, marched the footsoldiers of the Khazars, with their Roman red rectangular shields, like legions out of the past, and behind them trailed their great baggage train, wains and wagons drawn by oxen and mules and the creaking and groaning of axles threatened to drown out the clatter of spears and rattle of swords.

They had come out of the Mirkwood Forest and marched south and west across the Dun Heath and were now approaching the walls of Gardariki, Erik’s Keep.  It was her nephew, young Prince Hlod and his grandfather, King Hunn, here to claim, by force of arms, Tmutorokan, the southernmost land of the Hraes’.  She wished for a second that her husband, Prince Erik was with her, but she remembered that he must be dead, killed by the Caesar of Constantinople, Emperor Theophilos.  She thanked the gods that she was carrying his son and she put her hands upon her swollen belly and she felt her legs and then her feet getting wet and she realized that her water had just broke.

“Not now!” she cried, and King Olmar saw the puddle growing about her feet and he knew what had happened.  “Come,” he said, “we must get you inside,” and he and General Ygg helped her down the granite tower stairs, a man on either side, and they guided her across the streets of Gardariki and into her highseat hall.  Her shield-maidens rushed to her sides and displaced the older men and they took her down the hall and into her master suite and they sent for the midwives.

Prince Erik had left Gardariki in the spring, to seek Roman aid from Constantinople, and it was summer before the crew of his ship, Fair Faxi, returned from the great city without him.  They brought news that Emperor Theophilos had sent their prince and several crew members on a Roman mission to Frankland.  From there, Erik was to be allowed make his way to Kiev, to Konogard, and King Frodi and gain the aid of the Kievan Hraes’.  Princess Gunwar had heard their report but she did not believe it.  She knew that, if her husband had failed to gain the support of the Greeks, Emperor Theophilos would not allow Erik to go elsewhere for aid.  The Emperor was half Khazar on his mother’s side and was unlikely to help, but the Hraes’ had a trading agreement with the Eastern Romans and it included mutual support, so her husband had gone there to ask for it.  But she knew her husband was either imprisoned or, more likely, dead, and the mission to Frankland was likely a trap, a place where princes could be killed without contracts being broken.  It was the Roman way.

Princess Gunwar was right, for her husband was now a guest of Emperor Louis ‘the Pious’ Charlemagneson in Ingelheim (Engilinheim) and was languishing in a dungeon cell of the Imperial Palace there.  Prince Erik had avoided execution by changing the wording of the sealed orders that Emperor Theophilos’ emissaries had carried with them, and he was now planning his escape by befriending the emperor’s young skald and teaching him about the German’s Pagan past and poems in exchange for help.  The Christian Franks had burned all their Pagan rune panels and scrolls and now their history was lost.  Erik was going to escape and head north and raise an army in Denmark and Norway and Sweden and take it east and then south across the Southern Way, the Dane Way, to Kiev and on to Gardariki to fend off an expected attack by the Khazars in the spring.  In the slim chance that the Huns attacked early, he had left express orders with all that Gardariki was to be evacuated.

King Olmar had arrived in Gardariki with a contingent of Slav soldiers shortly after Prince Erik had set out for Constantinople.  He brought word from Kiev that Queen Alfhild was dead, slain by her husband, and that King Frodi had fallen into an abyss of alcoholism and degradation.  In an unexplained fit of rage, he’d had all his senior officers hanged, and shortly after that King Olmar had gathered up his Poljane Slav troops and abandoned the capital for Gardariki.  The presence of his soldiers over the summer had helped ensure that the victorious, but decimated, Hun army had retreated back into Khazaria to regroup rather than press on into Tmutorokan.

The day before the ship, Fair Faxi, had returned from Constantinople, ambassadors of King Hunn and Prince Hlod had visited Gardariki with demands that Princess Gunwar relinquish her rights to Tmutorokan.  The Hraes’ army had been crushed in the Battle of Sarkel, and the Huns believed, once again, that Prince Erik was dead.  Gunwar had sent the emissaries home with a firm rejection of their demands and had assured them that Erik was still very much alive, drawing his famed sword Tyrfingr from its scabbard and showing them its strange glow as proof of her husband’s escape.  She had then sheathed the sword and sent the ambassadors back to the land of the Huns with reassurances that her husband still lived, but now she was no longer so sure of that claim.

In the early fall, a shield-maiden, a messenger that Princess Gunwar routinely sent out to try and contact her brother, King Frodi, got through the Magyar blockade at the Dnieper Rapids and she made it to Kiev.  She managed to gain an audience with the king, and, even more incredibly, she made it back past the Magyar horde.  In Gotland, she found General Ygg at the head of a large contingent of Goth troops bound for Gardariki, so, being in the guise of a male warrior, she joined them on the return home.  When the Goths arrived, Princess Gunwar announced that there would be a great feast of welcoming for General Ygg and his Gothic host, but she had a private audience with her messenger.

“It is like Denmark of old,” the shield-maiden claimed, “when King Frodi ruled with his berserker champions.”  She had been a long time with Gunwar’s retinue.  “He is in a drunken and tragic state, and crime runs rampant in Konogard.  All the citizens of note have fled the capital, and a new cadre of young officers control the city with a vile hand.  We can expect no help from your brother,” she concluded.

As summer waned and the seasons changed, the demands of the Huns had grown increasingly aggressive.  Military units replaced ambassadors in presenting the Hun terms, and these were, in turn, replaced by cavalry regiments presenting demands.  Finally, in late fall, word filtered into Gardariki, as news often does in a city under threat of siege, that the Huns had raised a huge host and that it was on its way to Tmutorokan.  When the rumoured army failed to materialize, the Gardariki Hraes’ breathed a sigh of relief.  There had been a revolt in Atil, the capital of Khazaria, and the loyal Hun regiments were recalled to put down the rebellion.  Several noble houses of the At-Khazars had attempted to overthrow the rule of the great kagan, and King Hunn, as kagan bek of the Khazars, was forced to return to the capital to rescue his Caesar.  At the approach of the feared Hunnish host, the rebellious At-Khazar forces fled the country to shelter among the Magyars on the Dnieper.  There, beyond reach of the Khazar regular forces, they continued to foment trouble for the Khaganate.  But a large part of the Hun army was freed up to carry on its campaign against the Hraes’.

‘And now they’re here,’ Gunwar thought as she was tucked into the bed of her master suite and she gave the order to sound the general alarm.  Soon church bells were heard ringing and bronze shields of temples were clanging and there was a great movement of troops without as the Slav king and the Goth general rushed out of the high seat hall and rallied their warriors.  The dwarf, Durin, sent for Brother Gregory, and he arrived in Gunwar’s bedchamber just as her baby was being born.

Two of the princess’s warrior maidens were at each side as Gunwar cried out in agony.  A midwife was at the foot of the bed massaging her swollen belly.  Durin stood back a little and watched a small crown of hair issuing forth from between the princess’s legs.  Gunwar was breathing in short gasps and pushing hard.

“Stop pushing,” the midwife said, as the head of the infant cleared its mother, and she untangled the blue-white cord wrapped about the throat of the baby and cleared mucus from around the nose, mouth and eyes.  “Now push!” the midwife said, and the rest of the baby slid out into the cool still air of the room.  Gunwar cried out in pain and relief.  The midwife cradled the baby in one arm and held the umbilical cord in her other hand, feeling for the pulse.  When it ceased, she knew the baby was ready.  Durin watched, in awe, the spectacle of birth.  Brother Gregory saw his premonition come into existence from the doorway.  Suddenly, the still body came to life, and it kicked and it cried.  “The knife,” the midwife said, and Durin stepped forward and cut the umbilical cord with his seax.  The midwife drew a brand from a nearby brazier and cauterised the cord, then passed the brand to Durin and raised the infant so that Gunwar could see.

“It’s a boy!” Brother Gregory exclaimed, as the midwife passed the infant up to his mother.

Immediately, Gunwar ceased her painful sobbing and, as if by magic, all pain was gone, and a passionate glow overcame her.  “I knew it was a boy,” Princess Gunwar said weakly, exhausted, but radiant with the aura of motherhood.

Just then, King Olmar and General Ygg entered the chamber.  General Ygg surveyed the situation in dismay and said, “The Huns are but a day’s march away, my lady,” but King Olmar went straight to the child in Gunwar’s arms and exclaimed, “It’s a boy!” and he held the child up, proudly, for all to see.

General Ygg continued on, “We must evacuate the city!  That is what Prince Erik has ordered.”

Princess Gunwar had the baby up to her breast and weakly said, “Prepare the evacuation.  Send emissaries to the Huns and stall for time while we pack up our belongings.  The ships are all at ready up and down the quays.”  She was yet weak from the ordeal of birth and she wanted to rest and feed her son in peace.  Her shield-maidens sensed this and took the men out into the highseat hall to celebrate the birth while the princess switched her little prince over to her other breast.  The midwives, once satisfied, left Princess Gunwar alone with her child and they closed the double doors to the suite behind themselves.  Gunwar studied her young son as he suckled greedily and she saw her Erik in his eyes and then she saw Gardariki burning.  Perhaps she had been hasty in ordering the evacuation, she thought, as her strength began returning.  Her son was the heir to Gardariki, not her brother’s bastard boy, the cuckold son.

The next day Princess Gunwar stood up off her high seat and paced.  Age had not touched her at all.  Tall and lithe, she walked the dais, her long blond hair flowing over her plate-mail byrnie, which was still loose at the bottom.  She had resumed wearing her warrior maiden’s armour the day Erik had left; male warriors viewed a woman in war gear with a certain uneasy reverence, and Gunwar knew she would need all the leverage she could muster in order to hold their crumbling little trading empire together.  Her crumbling little empire, Gunwar corrected herself, as the weight of Erik’s likely death came down upon her.  She wished she could die with her husband, but she held their baby and she was thankful.  A small part of Erik was with her now.  Erik’s son.  Gunwar had felt all along in her pregnancy that it was a boy and now she held him in her arms.  Now she had to hold her little empire together for him.

The next day, Princess Gunwar sent King Olmar and General Ygg out onto the plains outside Gardariki and they marked their battlefield with hazel poles and then they challenged the Hunnish host to battle in two days’ time.  This was, of course, done against the protests of all her officers.  General Ygg recommended a general retreat to the land of the Goths and offered Gunwar and the Gardariki Hraes’ sanctuary there.  King Olmar suggested that they sail up the Dnieper and fight their way through the Magyar blockade.  The dwarf Durin was the only one to side with Gunwar in her desire to fight the Huns.  After the battle of Sarkel he had no love of the Khazar army.

After two days respite, in the soft frosty glow of false dawn, the Hunnish host drew up in battle array, their ranks bristling with gilded barbs, their war ponies pawing at the hoarfrost dew.  Gunwar led a smaller but determined force out from the protective walls of Gardariki and onto the field of battle, leaving her new-born son suckling at the breast of a voluptuous nursemaid.  The dwarf, Durin, rode before her, in the vanguard of the Gardariki Hraes’, with King Olmar leading his Slav troops on the left flank and General Ygg commanding his Goths on the right.  With her long blond hair tucked up under her Greek helmet, and her body clad in her plate-mail armour, Gunwar looked every bit a Roman cavalry officer.  She drew Tyrfingr from its sheath, raised the famed sword above her, and gave the signal for her army to move forward.  The Huns, in turn, began their advance.

First the archers on both sides loosed their arrows, then the heavy infantry hurled their spears, and then the armies merged, two wavering lines blending into one mass, and the fighting began in earnest.  Up and down the main line of battle, the standards danced, first advancing a little, then falling back.  Mounted soldiers and officers fought side by side with foot-soldiers all along the front, while Hraes’ cavalry regiments fought the Hun horsemen on the outer flanks.  A dull clattering roar sounded across the plain and would not stop.

As the sun rose up high into the late fall sky, it looked as though neither side would budge, but a savage blow from a Hun horseman’s lance knocked the helmet off Gunwar’s head, and the force of it stunned the princess momentarily, as her bright flowing locks leapt about the gold gilt mail on her shoulders.  She thought about her young son momentarily and the thought of his dependence upon her brought her clarity.  Regaining control of her mount, Gunwar lashed out at the Turk with Tyrfingr and killed him.  All the Huns before the princess fell back and none would withstand the fierce blows of the female warrior and it looked as though the Hunnish host was breaking up before her attacks, when Prince Hlod slinked in from her blind side and pierced his aunt with a bright golden lance.  Princess Gunwar dropped Tyrfingr into the battlefield dust, and she clutched at the lance stuck between her ribs, and she pulled the spear free of her nephew’s grip.  She held the lance ever so gently and she slid from the saddle of her mount, then she kneeled by her husband’s cursed sword, and, like someone grown suddenly tired, she lay down beside the blade and she died.  Durin flew into a great rage and he drove back the cowardly attack of the Hun prince, then leapt down from his mount, but he was too late–Princess Gunwar was already dead.  The dwarf dragged her body into the sheltering ranks of the Hraes’ army, then he laid Gunwar across the saddle of her mount and he tied her in place.  He then gathered up his own mount and led Gunwar’s horse in trot back to Gardariki.

General Ygg came to the vanguard from the flank and attempted to rally the Hraes’ forces, but their losses were too great and the Hun warriors too numerous.  Soon a general panic came over the Hraes’ army, and everyone began to flee to the safety of the walls of Gardariki.  King Olmar and his Slav troops fought a brave rear guard battle as the Hraes’ and then the Goths fled the field.  Within the walls of Gardariki, calm returned to the troops and they took to the battlements and prevented the pursuing Huns from overrunning the city.  Once the surviving rear guard forces had entered the fortress, King Olmar broke away from the fight, looking for Gunwar in her high seat hall.  He found General Ygg and Durin and Brother Gregory there, all gathered in a semi-circle about the serene body of Princess Gunwar laid out upon her dais. 

“How died she?” King Olmar asked.

“Slain from behind by her nephew, Prince Hlod,” Durin answered.

“Oh, infamous day!” General Ygg cried.  “Murderously early the evil whelp claims his inheritance.  Pray to your God, brother that Erik yet lives to avenge her.”

But Brother Gregory did not hear his brother, Yggerus.  He was busy administering last rites to the slain Princess Gunwar, but by her Christian name, Hervor, for she had been newly baptized in the faith.

Outside the hall, chaos reigned.  The citizens of Gardariki were in a panic and frightened groups of women and children thronged in and about the small stone church of the Christians.  King Olmar and General Ygg took joint control of the Hraes’ troops and began to organize the evacuation of Gardariki, placing all the ships in the city on standby for a retreat to the land of the Goths under cover of darkness.  As evening came upon the steppe, the victorious Huns withdrew from the walls of the city and returned to their war camp.

When Brother Gregory had finished his obsequies over the body of Princess Hervor, he looked about himself to find everyone gone.  The high seat hall was deserted and quiet, and even the sounds from without ceased suddenly.  Then Brother Gregory heard the crying of an infant, and Durin entered the hall from the bedchambers carrying Prince Erik’s and Princess Hervor’s baby in his arms.  The child was crying as Durin placed him up to Hervor’s cheek, and the rivulet of a tear from the infant could be seen running down her pale dusty countenance.  “She didn’t even get to name him,” Durin cried.  “She had a name picked out but was waiting to give him a naming feast.”

“What name did she pick?”

“Helgi”, replied the dwarf.  “It means holy.”

“What is to become of the child?” Brother Gregory asked the dwarf.

“Erik placed me under oath to protect his household, and, again, I have failed him.  I must take the child across the Nor’Way, to King Roller of Norway, Prince Erik’s older brother.  The Huns must never know he is alive, for he has a just claim to Gardariki.  He must be raised in the north, safe from Khazar treachery.”

“I shall help you,” the cleric offered.

“I intend to take him in his father’s ship up and across their family’s Nor’Way.  The path will be through Hun lands, long, hard and dangerous.  All would understand if you chose not to go.”

“I give you my word that I shall do all within my powers to see that you fulfil your oath.”

That night, Brother Gregory, King Olmar, General Ygg and Durin buried Princess Hervor in an unmarked grave beside the small stone church of the Christians.  Then King Olmar and General Ygg began to argue over what was to be done with the baby.  King Olmar wanted to take it back to Kiev.  General Ygg wanted it raised amongst the Crimean Goths.  But Durin and Brother Gregory insisted on taking him to Prince Erik’s family in Norway.  King Olmar was about to announce to all that Prince Erik was his grandson and as grandfather, he had rights to his great grandson, Prince Helgi, But he had never acknowledged his relationship with Erik and he knew that everyone would consider him to be lying to get control of the baby, so he stood there and said nothing.  General Ygg also relented, so, when the midnight evacuation of Gardariki took place, all the ships of the Hraes’ sailed to the mouth of the Kuban River, and, while the rest of the fleet sailed west for the Crimea, Durin and Brother Gregory sailed north in Fair Faxi, bound for the Don River and beyond.

After crossing the Sea of Azov, the dwarf, Durin, and the cleric, Brother Gregory had sailed Fair Faxi up the Don Estuary, with its tiny precious cargo, to the Fortress of Sarkel.  As Prince Erik had done several years prior, the dwarf and the monk waited till just before dawn to navigate past the anchored Greek ships and the shore defences of the fortress.  This time there was no sighting and no pursuit as the Hraes’ ship slipped past the Khazar outpost, but, in dawn’s early light, Durin saw a great Khazar encampment outside the walls of the fortress, as though an army had laid siege to Sarkel.  All wondered at the spectacle as Fair Faxi slipped past the fortifications.  They could not even suspect that the Kara-Khazars had fled the might of the Huns and were now travelling west to meet up with their allies, the At-Khazars, and begin a great journey into Europe, where the Magyars were to become the Hungarians and the At and Kara Khazars were to settle in the land of the Wends, remaining forever faithful to their Jewish religion.

Durin led the Hraes’ up the Don River and into the Khopel tributary, and once they reached its source they portaged across land to the Sura River and on up the Volga to the Kama tributary.  One last portage across to the Northern Dvina and they were soon outside the walls of Arthor’s settlement of Hawknista.  A month of hard rowing and harder living had gotten the Hraes’ there with, to Brother Gregory’s surprise, Hervor’s baby no worse for wear.

As the Hraes’ beached their ship a large force of Varangians came out from the settlement to meet them.  Arthor, tall, lean and enduringly grizzled, stood out at their forefront.  “Hrae! Durin!” he shouted in cold greeting.  “It has been a long time!”

‘Not long enough,’ thought Durin of the man that had captured his father.  “Too long, Arthor!” Durin lied.  “I have with me one Brother Gregory,” he said as the two groups closed together, “a Goth from Gardariki.”

“A Christian?  So far north?” Arthor asked.  “Well, how do you do brother?  I’ve never met a Christian before.  Heard a lot about you Christians, though.”

“Only good things, I hope,” Brother Gregory said, watching the tall Varangian, more or less eye to eye.

“Not a one,” replied Arthor staring back at the monk.  They stood eyeing each other for a time, with Durin wondering what was to become of this confrontation of giants, and then Arthor decided that this Christian was clearly a man of mettle and he warmed to him somewhat.  “But, then again, I have to deal with the blackest bunch of merchants this side of the Nor’Way, so what can one expect.”

“I pray I can prove them all wrong,” Brother Gregory responded gruffly.

“Come into our trading post,” Arthor said.  “We have sweet meats and bitter ales.”

All afternoon and well into the night the Hraes’ enjoyed the hospitality of their Varangian hosts.  To avert any questions as to whose child was travelling with them, Brother Gregory passed the baby’s nursemaid off as his woman and let Arthor assume that the child was his.  He then told the Varangian leader that he had a most urgent and secret message for Prince Erik’s brother, King Roller of Norway.  With the infant between them, the monk and the nursemaid spent the night together under the furs of the bench Arthor had appointed them.

The next day, arrangements were made for Brother Gregory to take Fair Faxi across the Nor’Way to Hrafnista.  Durin would not make the journey.  Brother Gregory assured the dwarf that he could complete the delivery without him.   “The Northmen have little respect for dwarves,” Durin explained to the monk.  “I must return to my people.  I have been away from them far too long.”  The two men stood on the bank of the Northern Dvina, and when Durin looked off to the east his countenance had lost its youthful demeanour and a great tiredness had set upon it.  His itinerant adventure had come to an end.  It was time for him to lead his people.  Soon, a dugout boat paddled by dark-haired dwarves came down around a bend in the river and came near, but not up to, the bank.  Durin waded out to the canoe, turned and waved goodbye to Brother Gregory and the Hraes’, then climbed into the boat as many small hands reached out to assist him.  The dwarves then turned around to face the stern of the canoe and began paddling back upriver.  The stern had become bow and the bow stern as the dwarves took their leader back to Giantland.  Durin never looked back.

Soon after, Brother Gregory and the nursemaid took Gunwar’s baby aboard Fair Faxi, now crewed by Varangians accustomed to the rigours of the Nor’Way crossing.  The skeleton crew rowed up the Northern Dvina without incident.  The aggressive Bjarmians were busy with their hunting, not expecting any merchant river traffic until the Varangian expedition in Bulgar was to return home a month later.  The lone Nor’Way ship was travelling early, but its captain anchored the boat in the White Sea for two weeks waiting, what seemed an eternity, for just the right weather for a crossing.  With Brother Gregory growing more impatient by the day, the handsome, blond haired young Varangian took the trouble to explain to the monk the fickleness of the Nor’Way winds.

“While the weather may seem right for a crossing,” he began, “as soon as you head out, sure as Loki is a devil, it will turn on you.  A storm will come up from the other direction and blow you back right where you started, if you are lucky.  If not, a calm will set in and strand you out on the cold Northern sea where you will perish.  We wait for a storm going our way.  A storm to take us all the way.”  And the captain waited and watched the weather until, well into the second week, heavy dark clouds began forming on the eastern horizon.  He then ordered the crew to fasten in place the heavy ox-hide awnings that soon covered Fair Faxi from stem to stern, and they rowed the ship north, out and into the gale.

Brother Gregory had never experienced anything like the fury of that storm.  Huge waves crashed against and carried along Fair Faxi, and it took all the strength the old double braced hull had to hold the boat together.  Three days they rode upon the storm and when it ceased they were past the North Cape of Norway and Brother Gregory was a Varangian.  After rowing a week in the late summer’s calm that followed, the men of Hawknista gave it one last effort and, with the circling of an island, they pulled into the tranquil blue harbour of Hrafnista, Raven’s Nest, and the Goth saw Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’s white red and black Raven Banners flying from the peaks of an immense longhall.

During the feast that soon followed their arrival, Brother Gregory inquired as to the whereabouts of King Roller.  A powerful young chieftain of Hrafnista, Grim ‘Hairy-Cheek’, overheard the monk’s question and asked him why he was seeking audience with his cousin, the king.

Brother Gregory had given his word to Durin to entrust no one with the secret of Gunwar’s baby, so he told Chieftain ‘Hairy-Cheek’ that he had an urgent message for Prince Erik ‘Bragi’, if he was still alive, or his brother, King Roller.

“You’ll be glad to know that Prince Erik is alive, if you are a friend,” Grim told the monk.  “King Roller fetched him out of Frankland back to Vik Fjord more than a month ago.”

“Are they yet in Vik Fjord?”

“The Prince battles with the Goths against King Alrek of Sweden and King Roller is passing the war-arrow around all of Norway.  They are raising a host to save Gardariki from the Huns.”

“Gardariki has fallen to the Huns, I’m afraid,” Brother Gregory said sadly.  “That is part of the news I have for Prince Erik and his brother.”

Grim Hairy-Cheek could see the grief welling within the priest after his telling of the fall.  “Bring your woman and child,” he said.  “You will share the high seat spread with us,” and he introduced his wife, Lofthaena, to the eastern couple.  Though Brother Gregory was very tired from his travels, his deep dark eyes yet compelled people to listen to his words, and, after supper, he told all of the tragic death of Prince Erik’s wife, Princess Gunwar, before the walls of Gardariki.  All present at the feast knew Erik ‘Bragi’ and many were related to him in some manner or another, so Brother Gregory’s story of battle in a far-off land affected them all very personally.

The day after the feast Grim ‘Hairy-Cheek’ offered to take Brother Gregory to find King Roller.  It was an offer the captain of the Nor’Way ship recommended the monk refuse.

“It grows late in the season,” the Varangian captain stated.  “If we are to make it back to Hawknista this year, we must leave soon.”

But Brother Gregory wanted to follow Grim, and the young chieftain persisted in his offer, so a party set out from Hrafnista for Trondheim and an inland journey through the Uplands, in the hope of meeting up with King Roller on his way back to The Vik.  Grim ‘Hairy-Cheek’, with his young wife, led the party, accompanied by Brother Gregory, his woman and child and the Nor’Way captain, along with many others, but, at every place they stopped, they learned that King Roller had just passed through with the war-arrow and had left with most of the able-bodied men of that village.  After two weeks of fruitless pursuit, the Varangian captain called for a halt to the enterprise.

“If we head back for Hrafnista now,” he claimed, “we will have a chance to make the crossing back.  If not, we shall remain in Norway for the winter.”  Now the Varangian captain had a wife and child of his own in Hawknista, and he did not relish the thought of leaving them to spend the winter alone in the east.  So, after one more village and one more close encounter at Brother Gregory’s insistence, the party headed back for Hrafnista.

“It is my own fault,” Brother Gregory told Grim, “that now the crossing has become too dangerous.  You must take my wife and child to Prince Erik’s family farm in Stavanger Fjord and keep him safely there for me.  Protect the baby at all costs.  You know not the travails of his birth.”  Brother Gregory then took his heavy iron cross from about his neck and he placed the chain around the baby’s neck and he tucked the cross into its swaddling clothes.  “Keep this with him always.  The Prince will recognize it as being mine and will show my child favour.  I must return to the east, to the Glassy Plains, but I shall come back to claim him.  His welfare you must guarantee me.  You must pass him off as your own.”

In the short time Grim ‘Hairy-Cheek’ had known Brother Gregory, he had grown to love him.  “I shall follow your wishes,” he answered, “though it surprises me you can bear to leave such a fine wife and child behind.  He shall be raised in Stavanger and he shall await your return.”

“I feared coming to the west with my sad tale,” Brother Gregory told his new friend, “but you have made me welcome and you’ve assured me that there can be harmony between our realms.”  The two men hugged each other warmly, as the impatient Nor’Way captain watched, and Brother Gregory placed the child into the arms of Lofthaena and he kissed the nursemaid goodbye.

Grim ‘Hairy-Cheek’ hesitated a moment, then offered, “Your ship is old and not fit for this late a crossing.  I’ve just had a new Nor’Way ship built.  Leave yours and take it instead.  Prince Erik will be pleased to get Fair Faxi back, I’ll bet.”  Brother Gregory thanked his new friend warmly and the men of Hawknista took Grim’s new ship and they left with the tide and rowed out and around the island.

At the North Cape, the Varangian captain waited patiently, once more, for the storm that would take them back to the east.  But it was too late in the season and the storm never came.  The impatience of the Varangian captain, worried about his wife and child in the east, overcame him and the staunch men of the Nor’Way ship sailed out into the Barents Sea and were stranded in a calm and perished.

CHAPTER ONE

1.0  GRIM ‘HAIRY-CHEEK’ KETILSON  (Circa 840 AD)

“Let us take this       Saga for a ride,

 Let us take it            to a gallop,

 Let loose the            reins a bit….

 Let’s see just           where it takes us.”

Brian Howard Seibert

(840 AD)  This Jarl of Hrafnista, this man named Grim, had the byname ‘Hairycheek’ because when he was conceived, a strange thing happened; Ketil Trout, his father, and Hrafnhild, Bruni’s daughter, went to bed together and her father spread a hide over them because he had invited some Lapps over, and during the night Hrafnhild looked out from under the hide and saw one Lapp who was very hairy.  And it was at that moment of conception that Grim got his mark, his hairy cheek.  Grim lived on the island of Hrafnista and was one of the most wealthy and powerful men of the Nor’Way.  He was tall and strong with short cropped brown hair and he kept his hairy cheek clean shaven.  He was married to a bright and beautiful woman named Lofthaena, the daughter of Lord Harald of The Vik Fjord in the east of Norway.

The summer after the death of Brother Gregory of Gardariki, Grim planned a journey to Hraegunarstead in Stavanger Fjord and then on to The Vik Fjord, where he had much property.  Lofthaena wanted to go with him, but Grim was reluctant because his wife was with child.  He had planned on taking his concubine wife, Aester, Brother Gregory’s voluptuous woman, whom he had married in respect of the Goth when he’d learned he had perished in the ice of the Nor’Way.  Lapps had found his new ship crushed and deserted in the ice over winter and they knew the markings of Jarl Grim of Hrafnista and they returned him his dragon’s head from the forestem.  They told him there were no signs of the dead, only signs and tracks of white bears and wolves where the dead had perhaps lain.  So he had married the large breasted nursemaid that Brother Gregory had hauled, much to her horror, north across the Nor’Way to the northmost tip of Thule, and he had adopted her son as well.

“I will not be happy unless I go,” Lofthaena told him stubbornly.

Grim loved her dearly, so he let her come with him.  She was very attractive, intelligent and well-spoken and was used to having her way.  Her long blonde hair fell halfway down her tall lean body.  They outfitted their two ships smartly and adorned themselves lavishly and the people of Hrafnista loved them for it and gave them a grand send-off.  When they reached Stavanger they turned into the fjord and sailed up it until they beached their ships at Hraegunarstead.  They were greeted by his Aunt Kraka and Jarl Brak, Ragnar’s foremost man.  Ragnar himself had not been home in years, having marked himself with a spear to dedicate himself to following Odin’s calling.  When Grim told his aunt that Brother Gregory had requested that his baby be raised at Hraegunarstead, she suggested that he be raised at a farm by the stead called Berurjod, just along the bay.  Grim’s friend, a man called Ingjald lived there with his new wife and baby, a handsome boy called Asmund.  Ingjald’s new wife was having trouble breast feeding and it was obvious that Grim’s concubine, Aester, had no such difficulties, and Ingjald was very pleased that the voluptuous woman came along with the boy.  Lofthaena had seen to that.

When Ingjald asked Grim what the baby’s name was, Grim explained that there was none.  Brother Gregory wanted Ragnar Lothbrok’s son, Erik ‘Bragi’, to name the boy when he next returned to Norway from Gardariki.  Kraka thought the instructions very odd, so that is what they decided to call the boy until his proper naming…Odd, meaning edge.

While Grim and his wife were staying in Ragnar’s longhall, Lofthaena went into labour and gave birth to a boy.  They named him Gudmund and took their baby with them when they left for The Vik, but Oddi stayed behind at Berurjod to be raised with Asmund and Aester stayed and breast fed them both, much to the relief of his mother.

Oddi grew to be a good looking boy who picked up skills very quickly and Asmund followed Oddi’s example.  Oddi and Asmund became sworn brothers, brothers who’d shared the same breast.  But Oddi spent much of his time at Hraegunarstead with Jarl Brak and seemed to take an interest in blacksmithing.  Oddi would not play games like other children.  He forged his first little arrow heads by the time he was five and seemed quite skilful at making arrows.  Many arrows.  And he did not take good care of them.  He left them lying about on seats and benches and many people were hurt by them when they came in after dark and sat down on them.  This one thing made Odd unpopular.  Men told Ingjald that he should talk to Odd about this.  Ingjald met with Oddi one day.  “There is one thing, foster-son,” said Ingjald, “that bothers people.”

“What is that?” said Oddi.

“You do not take care of your arrows properly,” said Ingjald.

“I think you could blame me for it,” said Oddi, “if you had given me something to keep them in.”

“I shall get you whatever you want.”

“I think,” said Oddi, “that you will get me what I need, but not what I want.”

“I will get you what you want,” said Ingjald, impatiently.

“You have a black three-year-old goat,” said Oddi.  “Have him killed and skinned whole with both horns and hoofs.”  All was done as Oddi had asked, and he was brought the skin-bag.  Then he gathered all his arrows up into it until the skin-bag was full.  He had much finer arrows, and more of them, than other people, and he had a fine bow to match.  He and Asmund both practised with their bows and became the finest young archers in Hraegunarstead, but, still, Oddi left his arrows lying about and the people began calling him ‘Arrow Odd’ and grew tolerant of his carelessness.  When Asmund accidentally sat on one of Arrow Odd’s arrows, he was injured and couldn’t sit down for a week.  “Your arrows will be the death of Asmund,” the local folk warned and Oddi had a dream that Asmund died from an arrow’s bite and from the next day on, he never left an arrow lying about.

Oddi wore a scarlet robe that Grim had sent him from Hrafnista, that came from Constantinople, and every day he wore it and he had an embroidered gold headband round his long blonde locks and he looked quite the handsome boy.  He had his bow and quiver with him wherever he went.  Asmund wore a brown tunic and kept his brown hair cropped short like his father, and everywhere he went he carried a short sword and cut quite a dashing figure himself.  Both boys were tall for their age and surprisingly strong.

The sworn brothers were six years old when they first learned to row a boat and often rowed out from the land together in a four oared boat that Ingjald and Brak had later helped them build.  But they were only allowed to row it about the fjord.  And the two boys practiced everything together: archery, swimming, sword play and riding, but afternoons, Oddi reserved for steel smithing with Brak.  Brak had never seen a child take so quickly to steel work as Oddi.  Not even his former apprentice, Erik, had started so young or progressed so quickly.  One good thing had come out of Oddi’s carelessness with his arrows, besides the byname, and that was his interest in the alloys that Brak would create to prevent rusting.  Oddi had often left his arrows lying about and that included when he was outside and he’d often left his arrows out in the rain and they would rust and lose their odd or edge.  Brak would get certain alloys from Damascus and India that could prevent this and Oddi would borrow them from Brak to make his arrows, but Brak would never allow him to use too many alloying agents.

“The gods created rust to punish steel for the pain it inflicts upon men,” Brak would lecture him.

Oddi wanted Brak to teach him how to make Indian steel, but Brak would always tell him he was too young.

“Indian steel can be a little brittle if not made exactly right,” he would tell Oddi, “and that may suffice for armour, but not for good blades.”

One day the boys decided to row their little boat all the way to Stavanger and back, but it took them half the day to row down to the town with the current and when they started rowing back upstream against it they only made it halfway back before nightfall.  They’d heard the wolves howling in the forests of the foothills at the bases of the mountains, so they huddled together under their cloaks in the middle of the fjord and slept in their boat.  When they got back home the next day, there was hell to pay, but at least the boys learned from their mistake.

“We have to become stronger rowers,” Oddi explained to Asmund, and they practised even harder, but only in their end of the long fjord.

Soon after they had gotten in trouble with their boat, the boys heard rumours of an upcoming raid.  Prince Erik was bringing a fleet of Nor’Way warships from the east to help his father in an attack upon a Gaul named Frank.  The boys would row their four oared boat around the fjord and pretend it was a dragonship and Oddi was the captain and Asmund his foremost man and they planned to join the Prince’s Hraes’ fleet when it came from Kiev to attack Frankia.

CHAPTER TWO

2.0  THE SACK OF PARIS OF 845

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

                             And his followers were called the Hraes’.”

                        Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler;  Skaldskaparmal.

It was late spring, 845 AD when Erik ‘Bragi’ Ragnarson and cousin Grim ‘Hairy-Cheek’ Ketilson came south from Hrafnista with three longships full of warriors from Halogaland and countless Nor’Way ships full of Varangians from Gardariki.  The war arrow had been passed up and down the Nor’Way coast and east into the Nor’Way trade routes and all were required to respond in some way.  It was a call to arms for an attack on Paris and all the chieftains of the Nor’Way and The Vik and Hraes’ Gardar and Gardariki had responded with dragonships full of fierce men bearing mortal weapons.  Prince Erik had returned to Hraegunarstead from the east for the first time in many years and there was something Jarl Grim wanted to discuss with him regarding the ship Fair Faxi and young Oddi’s future.  Oddi and Asmund were sitting together on the second high seat next to Brak and Grim.

“Is it about Fair Faxi?” Oddi asked.

“Yes.  That and more,” Grim went on.  “I have to talk to him about Brother Gregory, the Goth who brought Faxi over the crossing from the east.”

“Will you be giving Fair Faxi back to Prince Erik?”

“No son,”  the Halogalander continued.  “Faxi is a Nor’Way ship and will be on her way back east for the summer’s Nor’Way trading, back east with the rest of the Nor’Way ships, but I’ll be lending our Prince all my longships and my warriors for the raid on Frankia,”

“Can I come?” young Oddi asked.

“Oh no!” Grim exclaimed, laughing.  “You are far too young for that,” and he grabbed Oddi up in his strong arms and gave him a great hug.  Just then the bellhorn from the watchtower at the fjord’s bend began bellowing a message of ships approaching, friendlies.  People began darting about and throwing on cloaks and soon all were running for the bitter green, with Grim and Oddi at the forefront. 

The narrow greensward ran along the south edge of the fjord of Hraegunarstead between the mountains and the bay, a lush meadow the freemen called the bitter green.  At its westernmost point stood a watchtower where a lookout monitored the mouth of the fjord for the arrival of ships and the guard was sounding a bellhorn in warning.  Prince Erik’s longship was spotted sailing up the fjord toward the stead and the whole household had rushed out onto the bitter green to welcome The Prince home.  Grim and Oddi watched as the ship’s bulwarks rose up out of the waters and settled back down into the waves as the oars chomped at the swells.  The Prince could be made out on the foredeck as men scampered about mid-deck, gathering up the sail and unfooting the mast.  As the ship passed along the shore, the crewmen at the stern waved to the crowd and the people on shore ran back along the bitter green, following the longship’s progress.  Prince Erik barked out orders and the oars were raised as the longship coasted up onto the beach, scudding softly into the coarse sand.  Ropes were let out and the multitude grabbed them up and hauled the ship onshore, as the Varangians stowed their oars.  Erik was at the forestem, below the fierce dragon’s head, and was the first to leap to land and stand steadfast in the sand.  He greeted Kraka and Brak, then gave Grim a great hug.  “This is Oddi,” Grim announced and Erik shook the boy’s hand vigorously and continued greeting the folk of Hraegunarstead, many of whom he had not seen in years.

Later, in the evening, Grim had a private audience with The Prince on the high seats of the main hall.  “Shortly after the fall of Gardariki,” Grim began, cradling a goblet of mead, “Brother Gregory visited us at Hrafnista, bringing the news of the tragic death of your wife, Gunwar.”  Erik nodded.  “He also brought his baby, the boy, Oddi, that I introduced you to this afternoon.  And he gave me this,” Grim said, presenting Erik with a cross made of iron.  “He said you would recognize it as being his.”  Erik took up the cross, speechless.  “He also brought your ship, Fair Faxi, across the ‘Way.  He left the baby with Loefthana and me with instructions to have him raised here in Hraegunarstead.  He also told me that he wanted you to name his son.  Brother Gregory then said he had to return to Gardar late in the season because he expected the Huns to attack his Goths in the spring.  I gave him a new Nor’Way ship with which to attempt such a late crossing, but he never made it.  The ship was found by Sami hunters that winter, crushed and broken in the sea ice, with no sign of the crew.  Young Oddi has been raised here at Hraegunarstead with the family of young Asmund ever since.  The two boys are inseparable.”

Erik mulled over what Grim had told him, he stepped down from the highseat and paced back and forth as though very troubled and said, “Brother Gregory was like a blood brother to me.  His son must be cared for as though he were my own; he must be kept safe at all times.  I would take him back east with me, but it is far too dangerous there.  He is safer being raised here with family.  As far as naming goes, many years ago King Frodi’s sea king, Spear Odd, claimed he would have Odin name my son after him, just before he died by my sword…and here is Brother Gregory’s son…who has been called Arrow Odd and we shall keep it as Arrow Odd!”  Tears began to well up in Prince Erik’s eyes.

“I think that is very wise,” Grim answered.  “And what about your ship, Fair Faxi?”

“Since Brother Gregory brought Oddi across the Nor’Way with it, I think it only fair that we give Fair Faxi to Oddi when he is twelve.  And I’ll pay you for the ship you lost.  It’s the least I can do for my blood brother.  I’ll try to make it back here more often, just to check up on the boy, but I shall make sure I come back here for Oddi’s twelfth birthday naming feast and his gifting of the ship.”

“That too is very wise.  Old King Gotar was as sagacious in giving you the byname ‘Bragi’ as he was foolish in crossing swords with you, Cousin Erik.”

Grim ‘Hairy-Cheek’ gripped the forestem of his ship, fighting for balance as he scanned the horizon and the approaching coast.  There, he was sure, was the mouth of the Seine River as his lord, King Roller, had described, a broad mouth between two headlands, one humped like a Bactrian camel and the other a silhouette of a horned recurve bow.  The references were eastern, but Grim was a Varangian, a true Varangian, with many Nor’Way crossings under his belt, so the Seine was but a shadow of the Volga he was used to.  He directed his longship south and led the Norwegian fleet into the main river of Frankia.

Prince Erik shook his mane of coal black hair and it danced about his shoulders showing flecks of grey as he stepped forth from the awning that was anchored, midships, to the mast.  “This is it?” he asked and Grim nodded, the noon sun casting a shadow of a dragon’s head across his broad shoulders.  Seventy longships followed in their wake, each casting a dragon shadow of its own upon the waters.  The sails lost their wind with each turn up the river and thirty oars would pierce the waters of the Seine, then thirty more would pierce again, then thirty more till all the ships had entered that wide mouth of the River Seine.  The king had left The Vik with a similar fleet a week before them and would be in Rouen by now, at the island base of King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson, father of the two Ragnarsons.  King Roller and Prince Erik each brought a fleet of dragonships to support their father in his planned assault upon Paris, capital city of the Franks.

“I have to attack Paris,” Ragnar explained.  “I have to capture a capital of the Holy Roman Empire before my sons conquer the Eastern Roman Empire’s Constantinople.  How would I ever live it down if my sons were to capture a capital before me?”

“Aye,” were the shouts of all as they raised glasses and goblets in praise.  Rouen was in ruins about them and Viking raiders sauntered down the streets as the city smouldered.  But spoils had been scant, and the populace had been evacuated.  Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ had sacked the city four years earlier and it had never truly recovered.  The victory was a hollow one.

“Perhaps Paris should be handled differently,” Erik suggested.

“How so?” Roller responded.

“We don’t sack the city.  We occupy it and force the Franks to ransom her.”

“That’s never been done!” Ragnar exclaimed.  “I like it!  How much should we demand?”

“Just enough so we can do it again.  Four years later.  Not like Rouen here.”

“I like it too,” Roller added.  “But how will we keep our men from pillaging?”

“My Varangians could occupy the city.  They have all been posted in Constantinople at one time or another and they know restraint and discipline.”

“Now we just have to destroy the Frankish army,” Ragnar stated, matter of factly.  “Their King Charles is leading his army from Paris as we speak.”

The next day, the Norse fleets left Rouen and sailed up the Seine.  Halfway to Paris they saw the Frank army, half of it on one side of the river and the other half on the other side.  Prince Erik led his Varangian fleet up the right side of the Seine and his brother, King Roller, led his Norwegian fleet up the left.  Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ sailed his Viking fleet straight up the middle.  The Varangians beached along the right riverbank and assembled into a wedge formation five thousand strong to engage the ten thousand strong Frankish army on an open field just beyond the river.  King Roller’s fleet nosed into the sand on the left riverbank but did not disembark.  King Ragnar’s smaller fleet kept sailing upriver around a bend and out of sight.  Once the Hraes’ Varangian troops had fully engaged the Franks in a shield wall battle, Roller led his Norwegian fleet away from the riverbank and they sailed further upstream and across river to attack the rear of the Frank army as it battled the Varangians.  The Frank army on the left bank of the river watched as the two Norse armies enveloped their countrymen.  Most could not swim, but the few thousand that could, stripped off their armour, lashed their swords about their necks and swam out into the river to help their fellow Franks.

King Ragnar’s Viking fleet soon reappeared from around the bend upriver, oars splashing with the downstream current and attacked the swimmers in the water.  Prince Erik watched from behind his shield wall lines and found it difficult to ascertain which Franks were dying faster, those upon the right riverbank or those in the water.  King Charles and the remaining half of his army continued to watch the slaughter on the opposite bank of the River Seine.  The swimmers in the river were all gone by then, either dead and floating downstream, or, some stronger swimmers having made it back to their own riverbank stood watching while the swimmers who’d surrendered were being bent over their shields and raped by the Vikings on the ships.  Then the Viking fleet beached on the right bank and joined in on the massacre.  A few thousand Franks remained and they threw down their arms and surrendered to this third assault upon them from the riverbank.  They, too, were bent over their shields as King Charles and his remaining army could only stand there and watch.

“We should hang the captives as a sacrifice to Odin,” Ragnar started.

“There has been enough blood shed today,” Erik protested.

“That’s very Christian of you,” Roller laughed.  “King Frodi once wanted to sacrifice the Sclavs to Odin at the whim of old Gotwar, that witch you spared from the House of Westmar.  You came up with a test for them back then.  Perhaps you can come up with a new test now.”

Prince Erik argued that only the swimmers should be tested, as they had not made it to the field of battle to be covered under the ancient Roman laws of war.  Then he decided that they would tell these prisoners that any of them who would convert back to the old pagan faith would be spared and the remaining Christians would be hanged.  One hundred and eleven men broke off into a group willing to convert and one hundred and twenty moved off into a group unwilling to give up Christianity.  One man remained between them, unable to decide what to do.

“What is your wish?” Prince Erik asked in French.

“I have heard that King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ has marked himself with a spear as a sacrifice to Odin,” the Frank started, a little startled that the Viking could speak his language.  “I would convert to the old religion, but I fear your king plans to sacrifice the converts to Odin, not the Christians.”

“What is your name?” Erik asked.

“I am Varrin,” the Frank answered.

“Well Varrin, my wife converted to Christianity and she died in battle staying true to her new faith.”

Varrin joined the group remaining faithful to Christ.

King Ragnar took the group of prisoners that were willing to convert onto his Viking ships and they rowed to a small island in the middle of the Seine and in sight of the remaining Frankish army he marked the hundred and eleven men with a spear and had them hanged as a sacrifice to Odin.  The Norse fleets then sailed off toward Paris, leaving the stalwart Christians standing on the right riverbank, the Frankish army still standing, watching on the left and the new converts dangling in between them.  The captured prisoners who had been bent over their shields were going by ship to Paris where they were to be ransomed.

The fleets arrived outside Paris on Easter Sunday and the Varangian troops entered the city without resistance while most of the citizens attended mass.  They were so orderly as they marched up the riverbank and across the island city’s northern bridge bearing the captives’ Frankish shields, that the watchtower sentries mistook them for the Frankish troops of King Charles and failed to raise the alarm.  The sentries were dispatched for their sloth and the city guard was captured and locked up.  The Norwegian and Viking armies then surrounded the island city with their ships to keep the populace on the island and when the Mayor returned to city hall after mass, he found Prince Erik ‘Bragi’ and King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ awaiting him.  They demanded seven thousand pounds of silver and gold as ransom for their capital city plus the return of all trading settlement lands that Ragnar had been deprived of years earlier.

It took King Charles several weeks to raise the ransom and the Varangian Hraes’ troops got less orderly as time wore on.  A plague broke out in King Ragnar’s Viking camp outside the city and King Roller kept that camp isolated from the Norwegian camp until the affliction had run its course.  Prince Erik had his men wear their gloves to prevent the outbreak from affecting his disciplined Varangians who held the city.  They held Paris hostage for over a month before they got their ransom.  King Roller returned to The Vik with his fleet, King Ragnar remained at one of his trading settlements on the coast of Frankia and Prince Erik returned to Stavanger Fjord to visit with Oddi before leading his Varangian Hraes’ fleet across the Baltic and back to Gardar.

CHAPTER THREE

3.0  THE PROPHECY  (Circa 852 AD)

” Venom-filled snake               shall sting you

From below the                    skull of Faxi.

The adder will bite               from below your foot,

When you are terribly old,              my lord.”

From The Saga of Arrow Odd

(852 AD)  Over the years Oddi would progress from forging arrow heads to spear tips to seax knives and axes, then on to the famed Stavanger swords that Hraegunarstead was famous for.  By the time he was twelve, Oddi could hammer together a Stavanger tri-steel blade with trident guard as fast as any man.  Jarl Brak even taught Oddi how to make Indian steel, and how to hammer out the alloyed blooms into helmets and breastplates, ring-mail corselets and Roman plate-mail byrnies as well as chain mail coifs.  Brak was primarily a weapons steel smith, but he also dabbled in defensive gear and was known for his shield bosses and perimeter rings.

There was a witch named Heid who knew how to predict the future.  She was often invited to banquets to tell people their destinies.  She had a troupe of fifteen boys and fifteen girls that would chant up spirits for her, and she was at a banquet not far away from Ingjald’s farm.  One morning Ingjald got up early and went to where Oddi and Asmund rested and said, “I will send you two on an errand today.”

“Where will we go?” asked Oddi.

“You shall invite Heid, the seeress, over for your birthday naming feast,” answered Ingjald.

“I will not invite that old witch,” said Oddi, “and I will not like it if she comes here.”

“You must go then, Asmund,” said Ingjald, “and I expect you to do as you’re told.”

“Prince Erik is coming to the naming,” said Oddi, “and he hates witchcraft more than I do.”

But Asmund went and invited the seeress to the banquet anyway, and she promised to come.  Ingjald went to meet her and invited her into his longhall.  They had prepared preliminary auguries to be carried out the night before the naming feast and when some people started showing up early, the seeress went right to her night-time rituals with her followers chanting songs and spells to attract spirits.  Ingjald went up to her and asked what the results of the auguries were. “I think,” she said, “that I have already learned all that you wish to know.  I was going to tell all tonight so I didn’t have to stay for the naming feast, but Prince Erik shall be late for it, so I can stay for it.”

“The Prince frightens you?” Ingjald asked her.

“The last time I told fortunes in Hraegunarstead,” she explained, “Prince Erik didn’t like my prophesy and threatened to strike me on the nose.  I was warning him of what would happen to his son, but he thought I was talking of him and he flew into a rage and came towards me with malice in his eyes, but turned and left the hall instead.  I never did get to complete the prophesy, but with him coming late, perhaps I can rectify that.”

“How do you know The Prince will be late?” Ingjald asked.

“Why, the hall is full of spirits,” she replied.  “Can you not feel them?”

Ingjald gave a shiver.  As evening approached, the last of the guests filed into the hall.

Prince Erik ‘Bragi’ and Jarl Grim ‘Hairy-Cheek’ were late coming down from Hrafnista, but King Roller was in early from The Vik.  As he sat down at the guest high seat opposite Ingjald he saw Heid and had the feeling that he had seen this before.

“Everyone shall go to their seats,” said Ingjald, “and hear your words, Heid.”  And Ingjald was the first man to go to her.

“It is good, Ingjald,” she said as she sat on a highchair between the high seats, “that you have come here before me.  I can tell you that you shall live here until you are old and with great dignity and respect,” and this prophesy was applauded by all.

Then Ingjald went off, and Asmund came. “It is well,” said Heid, “that you have come here, Asmund, for your honour and dignity will go around the world. You will not wrestle with old age, but you will be thought a good fellow and a great warrior wherever you are.”  Asmund went to his seat, and others went before the witch and she told each of them their fortunes, and they were all well satisfied with the prophesies.  Then she predicted the weather for the farmers and many other things as well.  Ingjald thanked her for her predictions.

“Has everyone come before me that are to have their fortunes told?” Heid asked.

“I think now almost everyone,” said Ingjald.

“What about Oddi, the subject of this naming feast?  What lies on that bench over there?” she asked.  “A fur cloak is lying there, but I think it stirs sometimes when I look at it.”

Oddi threw off the fur and sat up on the bench.  “That’s right,” said Oddi, “you thought that a sleeping man might be stirring under the fur, and it is a man trying to sleep, and what he would like is for you to be quiet and not talk about my future, because I do not believe in what you say.”  Oddi had a rod in his hand and said: “I will hit you on the nose with this, if you prophesize about my future.”

“You are yet a child,” Heid said.  “You will be a man on the morrow when your father, The Prince, arrives, but right now you are still a child.  I will speak, and you will listen.”  Then all ears perked up as poetry came to her lips:

“Awe me not,             Odd of Stavanger,

With that rod,             although we row.

This story will hold true,      as said by the seeress.

She knows beforehand      all men’s fate.

You will not swim           wide firths,

Nor go a long way    over lands and bays,

Though the water will well       and wash over you,

You will burn             here, at Berurjod.

Venom-filled snake             shall sting you

From below the                skull of Faxi.

The adder will bite               from below your foot,

When you are terribly              old, my lord.”

Heid saw that Oddi was angry and she ended her poesy and switched to prose.  “This is to say, Odd,” she started, “that you are destined to live much longer than others.  You shall live to be three hundred years old, and go from land to land, and always seem the greatest wherever you go.  Your reputation will go around the world but, travel as far as you try, you’ll die here, in Berurjod.”

“You make the worst prophecies of any old woman I have ever known,” said Oddi.  He jumped up as she was about to speak and he brought the rod down on her nose and blood soon flowed.

“Pack up my belongings,” said the witch, holding her face in her hands, “as I wish leave this place.  I have never been treated, beaten like this before.”

“Do not leave,” pleaded Ingjald, “for there’s recompense for every ill, and you will stay here for three nights more and get good gifts.”  Heid took the gifts but left anyway.

King Roller got up and stood beside Oddi in front of the highchair where Heid had been seated.  “I’ve heard this poesy before,” he told Oddi.  “Heid foretold it to my brother, Prince Erik, many years ago.”  Oddi looked up at his king.  “Erik wanted to punch her in the nose back then.  The stick might have been a bit much.”

“Will Prince Erik be here tomorrow?” Oddi asked.

“He will,” Roller answered.  “He and Grim will be bringing your naming gift and shall be here tomorrow some time.”

Later that night, Oddi and Asmund went to the barn and they took Ingjald’s favorite horse, Faxi, and put a bridle on him and led him off towards the bay.  There they dug a deep pit and Oddi killed Faxi and they dropped him into the hole.  Oddi and Asmund brought the largest stones they could find and piled them over him, and then they poured sand between every stone.  Then they smoothed the grave over and, when they had finished their work, Oddi said, “I suppose witches shall have a hand in it if Faxi gets up out of this.  I think I’ve thwarted the fey that he will be the death of me.”

The next day, Erik, Grim and Lofthaena arrived at Berurjod and they had Oddi’s gift with them.  “What do you think of your gift?” Prince Erik asked Oddi from the bow of the ship as it nudged gently into the sand and he swept his hand back to present him the ship.

“It’s Fair Faxi!” Oddi shouted.  “And she is beautiful!”  Oddi jumped into the freshly painted ship.  “I shall sail her across the Nor’Way!”

“She’s a little old for that trip,” Erik laughed.  “But she is fine for coastal waters and just right for young men to train in.”

That evening, at the naming feast, Prince Erik ‘Bragi’ Ragnarson gave Oddi his full name: Arrow Odd Gregoryson and he told the people a few stories from the east about Brother Gregory, Oddi’s father.  When Brother Gregory had lost his life bringing news of Gunwar’s death from the east, Prince Erik considered him a member of the Hraes’ family and his son, Odd, was to be provided for by The Prince and the Hraes’ Trading Company. 

Prince Erik and the people of Berurjod and Hraegunarstead feasted and drank late into the evening and he recited many great poems while folk line danced through Ingjald’s high seat hall.  Next day, The Prince returned to Gardariki, King Roller returned to The Vik, Ingjald looked for his favourite horse Faxi, and Oddi and Asmund learned how to sail his new Nor’Way ship.

CHAPTER FOUR

4.0  THE VARANGERS OF SEVILLE  (Circa 855 AD)

“In the Earl’s ear the words                        of Ermengarde will echo,

 enjoining us to journey                   by water to Jordan.

 But when the sea-riders                 race back from the river,

 as we navigate northward             we’ll call at Narbonne.”

Røgnvaldr kali Kolsson;  Orkneyinga Saga

(855 AD)  When Oddi turned fifteen, King Roller planned to do some raiding in Frisia.  Oddi reasoned that this would be a good opportunity for him to thank Prince Erik 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 Roller planned on sailing west around Frankia and south past Spain in order to enter the Mediterranean Sea through the Pillars of Hercules.  King Roller’s father, Ragnar ‘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.  Count Ragnar of Frankia was also going to lend his son some ships for the raid.  The Norse fleet was halfway to Frankia before they discovered they were being followed.  When King Roller 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 Stavanger.  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 Ragnar’s fleet on the Seine.

When he met up with his father, Roller 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,” Ragnar stated.  “I don’t have any wet nurses in my fleet, so they can’t be in their swaddling clothes.”

Ragnar 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 Erik 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,” Ragnar 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.”  Ragnar 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 Ragnar’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 Ragnar’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 Roller that allowed Ragnar 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, Ragnar 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,” Ragnar 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, Roller, 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,” Ragnar 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 Ragnar 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, Roller 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, Ragnar had his ship of boys row over to Roller’s dragon ship.  “I have seen these cave paintings before,” he called out to his son.  “It is Grendal,” he continued.

Roller 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 paintings just like these, but now, with rising oceans, the caves are all below the waves.”

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 Ragnar 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 Ragnar exclaimed.  “Just as I attacked Fafnir while Jarl Brak 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 Roller had been studying, so the Norse set up a Viking base there.  King Roller’s longship was the fastest in the fleet and would be the ship to go it alone into the Sea of Marmara and on to Constantinople to meet up with Hraes’ traders already there.  He would be meeting his brother, Erik, if everything continued to go as planned.  And Roller’s longship was already equipped with its own bags of sheepskin awnings and barrels of sour wine.

The Norse fleet waited anxiously in the secluded bay for a week before King Roller’s ship was spotted returning from the Sea of Marmara.  Oddi and his ship of boys could not wait and rowed out with Ragnar to meet him.

“How did it go?” Ragnar shouted across the waves.

“Erik sends his regards,” Roller shouted.  “No Romans suspected I came from the west.”

The Mediterranean reconnaissance mission was a success.  King Roller 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, Arrow Odd decided he would take his ship of young men straight back to Stavanger Fjord 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 Erik was just a few years older than you are now, he and Roller 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, Princess Aslaug 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,” Ragnar 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,” Oddi said, encouragingly.

“Spoken like a true prophet,” King Ragnar told Oddi.  “My son, Erik ‘Bragi’, could not have said it better.”

CHAPTER FIVE

5.0  ODDI AND THE NOR’WAY  (Circa 856 AD)

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

                             And his followers were called the Hraes’.”

                        Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler;  Skaldskaparmal.

(856 AD)  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.  Then they hauled Fair Faxi into a boat shed and began working on her over winter.  It was time consuming and difficult work drilling holes and 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 Stavanger Fjord, Oddi became determined to join in on the Nor’Way trade, but he knew that King Roller 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 Ragnar 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 Roller ran the northern end of it, while Prince Erik ran the eastern end.  The old man, Count Ragnar, himself ran the lucrative Hraes’ trading stations in Frankia.  Jarl 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.”  Arrow Odd 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 bullseye 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 past the Kola Peninsula and the wind just died as they weighed anchors to spend the night in a 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 Erik 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 Stavanger 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 Stavanger 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 Erik 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 Stavanger 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 Erik 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 Ragnar 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, a two dimensional 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 Erik gave me the byname Arrow Odd,” shouted Oddi.

“And Prince Erik rules the Nor’Way, go now Arrow Odd,” 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 Erik 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 Erik 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 gold trimmed 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 Erik ‘Bragi’ to garner a second byname of Hvitserk, or Whiteshirt.  They soon met again in the Mese, the main street of Gardariki, where Erik was holding impromptu meetings with merchants and traders.

“I see you have profited well from this trading season, Captain Oddi,” Prince Erik declared.  “King Roller 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 Stavanger 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.

Erik 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 Erik 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 Erik 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 Erik 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 Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik told Oddi.

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

“You are perplexed,” Erik 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 Ragnar once told me,” Erik 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,” Erik 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 instinctively 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, 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, Princess 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 Erik 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.”

Oddi, Asmund, Gudmund and Sigurd spent the rest of the summer in Gardariki and Oddi learned much from his frequent discussions with Prince Erik.  But as summer waned, King Roller’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 Erik 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.

“Erik 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.

When Oddi entered the submerged cave entrance, he swam ahead and up until he broke the surface of the pool inside the cave.  All was dark except for a shaft of light filtering in through an air hole.  There were no torches lit and the place seemed deserted.  Oddi could see faint light at the other end of the cave and he guessed that he would find an entrance there.  He walked across the cave and he put his offering of gold wergild into a small grotto at the side of the cave’s entrance.  Then he re-entered the pool and swam back under the cave entrance and came up in the river again just in time to call back Asmund in his boat.  “There was no one there,” Oddi explained as he climbed into the boat, “so I just left the gold.”

“You’ve been gone for two weeks,” Asmund told him.  “I was just rowing here to see what was taking you so long!”

CHAPTER SIX

6.0  HILDER THE GIANT  (Circa 856 AD)

“This is taken pretty literally from Arrow Odd’s Saga,

 Perhaps a bit too literally, but it seems to follow Sinbad the Sailor,

  Which is interesting because Oddi would have visited Baghdad

  Just after Sinbad’s time, an Arab saga feeding a Norse saga.”

Brian Howard Seibert

(856 AD)  “I’ve been gone two weeks?” Oddi asked Asmund as they sat around their campfire on Varg Island.  “I just went into the cave  and came right back out again.”

“No,” Asmund assured him.  “You’ve been gone two weeks.”  And Oddi’s men all agreed with Asmund and told Oddi he was gone two weeks.  “Do you have any recollection of it at all?” Asmund inquired.

“No,” Oddi said.  “I just remember swimming into the cave, leaving the gold, and swimming right back out again.”

“No more Giantland for you, my friend,” Asmund warned.  “Something happened in that cave that you can’t remember and you’re not going back.”

After their supper Oddi said, “I’m tired and I’m going to bed,” and he went into his awning and realised that he had no bed.  Just a warm fur on some straw.  But he knew that and he shook his head and asked himself, ‘Why did I expect a bed?’  But he quickly fell asleep on his fur and he had a dream:

Oddi entered the submerged cave entrance and swam ahead and up until he broke the surface of the pool inside the cave.  All was dark except for a shaft of light filtering in through an air hole.  There were no torches lit and the place seemed deserted.  Oddi could see faint light at the other end of the cave and he guessed that he would find an entrance there.  He walked across the cave and he put his offering of gold wergild into a small grotto at the side of the cave’s entrance.  He then stepped out into a sunny wood and he continued on until he came to a crag, and some big ravines, where a river fell in noisy waterfalls.  He wondered how anyone could get across, and he saw no way forward.  He had just sat down when something caught him up and lifted him into the air.  A huge bird had come flying at Oddi and snatched him up with its claws so fast that he could not protect himself from it.  “You’re in Giantland now,” Oddi thought, incredulously.  The creature flew with Oddi to some cliffs and landed on a grassy ledge.  Here its young waited.  When it let Oddi loose, he tumbled into a nest and bowled over some chicks that were almost as big as he was.

Oddi was left alone with the vulture’s young in the nest.  There was a high cliff above, while a sheer drop was underneath.  Oddi could see no way to escape without risking his life and jumping into the river that the waterfalls spilled into.  The chicks were still unfledged.  The vulture was rarely home in the nest, as it was always out looking for prey.  Oddi tied up the beaks of the young and concealed himself in a rock cleft behind the nest.  The vulture returned with fish and birds and human flesh, and all sorts of animals and livestock.  It even began carrying cooked meat there.  When the vulture left, Oddi came out and took the food but he concealed himself during feedings.

One day Oddi saw a great giant rowing in a stone boat towards the nest.  The giant shouted and said: “An evil bird is nesting there, and she has been stealing away my freshly boiled meat day after day.  I shall avenge myself somehow.  When I take the oxen of the king, I did not mean that a bird should have them.”

Oddi stood up and killed the chicks and called to the giant: “Here is all that you are looking for, and I have taken care of it.”

The giant went into the nest and took his meat and bore it to the boat. Then he said, “Where is the little boy that I saw here?  Don’t be scared, step out and come with me for your reward.”  Oddi showed himself then, and the giant took him and put him in the boat. He said: “How shall I kill this beast?”

Oddi said, “Set fire to the nest, and when the vulture comes back, she will fly so near that the fire will burn its feathers, and then we can kill it.”  It happened as Oddi said, and they killed the vulture.  Oddi took its beaks and claws and climbed into the boat, and the giant rowed away.

“Do you have a name, boy,” the giant asked as he rowed.

“I am Arrow Odd,” was the reply and Oddi asked him his name, and he said he was Hilder and that he was one of the giants of Giantland and he had a wife called Hildirid, and a daughter named Hildigunn.

“And I have a son called Godmund,” Hilder added, “and he was born yesterday.”

Hilder rowed some more, then he said, “I am one of three brothers.  The name of one is Ulf, the other Ylfing. We have set up a meeting next summer to see who will be the next King of Giantland, namely, whoever does the most remarkable deeds and has the most savage dog in the dogfight at the meeting.”

Oddi said, “Who do you think, out of you three brothers, will become king?”

Hilder answered: “It seems to go that one of the other two receives it, because I’ve always been the lesser of us three, and so it will likely still be.”

Oddi said, “Would you choose to be king if chance was in your favour?”

Hilder answered: “I would like to be king, but it is very unlikely, because Ulf has a wolf that is so ferocious that no dog can take him.  And Ulf has killed an animal called a tiger, and he has the head of the beast to prove it.  But Ylfing is even harder, since he has an unbeatable polar bear, and he has killed an animal called a unicorn.  I have no deeds to compare with theirs and no dog to compare either.”

“Well, it seems to me,” said Oddi, “that I might have a solution if someone was sympathetic to my cause.”

Hilder said, “I have never met a child as little as you, nor as arrogant, nor as crafty, and because I think you may be too clever by half, you are the greatest treasure.  I will bring you to Hildigunn, my daughter, and she can have you to play with and foster you and bring you up with Godmund, my son.”

After that Hilder rowed home to Giantland and Oddi thought that the boat went very fast.  When Hilder got home, he showed them the child that he had found, and asked his daughter to take care of him as if he were her own.  Hildigunn took Oddi and when he walked with her, he stood thigh high, but Hilder was taller than her, as a father would be.  Hildigunn picked up Odd and put him on her knee, then she turned him to look at him, and said: “This tiny pip has a tuft under his nose, but Godmund is bigger, though born just yesterday.”

She put him in the cradle with the giant baby and sang lullabies to the child and cuddled with them.  But when Oddi was restless in the cradle, she took him to bed with her and caressed him, and it came about that Oddi played the games he wished and then things went well between them.  Then Oddi told her that he was not a child, though he was smaller than local men.  But the people of Giantland were so much bigger and stronger than any other kind; they were friendly and handsome, but no wiser than other people.  Oddi stayed with them and he asked Hilder how generous he would be to the man who got him a dog that could beat his brothers’.  Hilder answered “I would give him anything he asked for.  Can you get me such a dog?”

Oddi said, “Perhaps I can show you it, but you will have to grab it yourself.”

Hilder answered, “I will grab it if you show me it.”

Oddi said, “There is a beast on Varg Island that hibernates.  Such is its nature that it sleeps all winter, but in spring it wakes up hungry as a bear and then it is so greedy and cruel that nothing is safe, neither cattle nor men nor anything that moves.  Now I’m pretty sure that this animal would beat your brothers’ dogs.”

Hilder said, “Take me to this dog, and if it turns out to be true, then I will pay you well when I’m in power.”  They got ready to go.

Then Hildigunn spoke to Oddi.  “Will you be coming back after this?”

He said that he did not know for sure.

“I hope you do,” she said, “because I love you greatly, even though you are small.  I must tell you that I am with child, though it seems unlikely that you could do this, as small and feeble as you are, but there is no one except you who can be the father.  And though I love you very much, I will not stop you going, because I know your character is to go where you please, but do not doubt that you cannot get away from here without my letting you.  But I would rather bear grief and sorrow, than hold you here against your will.  Still, I would like to know what you want me to do with our child?”

“You must send him to me,” said Oddi, “if it’s a boy, when he is twelve years old, and of naming age because I have much to offer him.  But if it is a girl, then she should be brought up here, and you should look after her yourself, because I will be of no use to her.”

“You shall have your way in this as in everything else,” she said, “so farewell.”  She then cried tragically, but Oddi had his way and went to the stone boat.

Hilder rowed.  To Oddi the way seemed too long and the progress too slow with oars, so, he raised his arms like a true Hrafnista man and he hoisted the sail, and there came along a fair wind, and they sailed out of the country.  But, before long, Hilder got to his feet in the boat and seized Oddi and pushed him down.  “I will kill you if you don’t stop this magic of yours,” he warned, “for the land and the mountains rush past as though sheep and the ship will soon sink under us.”

Oddi explained, “You are dizzy because you’re not accustomed to sailing; let me up and I’ll show you how it works.”  Hilder did as he asked and Oddi reefed the sail and the shore and mountains were calm again.  Oddi told him not to worry about the speed because he could stop whenever he wished.  Hilder was now calm after that and he realized that sailing would be quicker than rowing; Oddi hoisted the sails and the wind took the boat along as before and Hilder sat quietly.

When they got to Varg Island, they went ashore.  There was a large scree slope nearby and Oddi asked Hilder to stretch his hand down among the stones and see if he could feel anything.  He did so and drove his arm into the stones up to the shoulder, and said, “Oh, there’s something odd inside.  I’ll get my rowing glove,” and once so armed, he drove his arm back into the scree and then pulled out a bear by the ears.  Oddi said, “Now, treat this dog just as I said; take it home with you and don’t let it loose or feed it until the meeting when it fights the dogs.”  Hilder had bites all over his hand.  He said, “This should do the trick, Arrow Odd.  Come to this grim place next spring, at this time and I’ll have your reward for you.”  Oddi agreed to it.  Hilder returned Oddi to the cave and took the beast home with him and Oddi re-entered the pool in the cave and swam back underwater to the entrance and came up in the river and saw Asmund looking for him in his boat.

The next morning Oddi got up and walked over to the campfire.  “You were gone two weeks,” Asmund said as Oddi walked into the clearing.  “Did you at least make your offering?”

“There were no giants left there.  But I think I was taken captive by another giant named Hilder and he spoke Norse fluently and Oddi sat down and told his men all about his dream of his adventure in Giantland.  When he got to the end of his tale and he told them he would be returning the next spring for a reward, just to find out if it actually happened, the men laughed skeptically, some laughing so hard they rolled backwards off the log they were sitting upon.  “That giant won’t pay up, even if he beats his brothers,” they claimed in unison.

“Where is Gudmund and Sigurd?” Oddi asked.

“They waited as long as they could,” Asmund replied, “but they wanted to make the crossing and get back home to Hrafnista.  They have to help Grim get ready to receive the Norwegian merchant fleet.”

“We should go then,” Oddi said.  “They won’t be getting a crossing wind without us.”

And it was as Oddi had said, for when they had sailed down the Northern Dvina and crossed the White Sea and sailed past Kandalaks Bay, there on the Kola Peninsula sat the ships of Gudmund and Sigurd, becalmed in a harbour.  Oddi threw out Fair Faxi’s anchor and they all slept aboard ship in the harbour.  When night waxed, they awoke to a great crashing in the air, the likes of which they had never heard before.  Oddi asked Sigurd and Gudmund if they had heard such a racket before, and as they were discussing this, there was another great crash, and then came a third, and it was the greatest of them all.

“What do you think causes this, Oddi?” Gudmund asked.

Oddi said, “I’ve heard it said that two winds will blow at the same time and clash and from their collision will come a big crash.  Now we should expect rough weather soon coming our way.”  And they built a bulwark across their ships and lashed them together following Oddi’s instructions, and when it was all done, weather struck that was so evil it swept them clear of the land, and they were carried off out of control and they had to keep bailing so their vessels would not founder beneath them.

Then Gudmund called from his ship to Oddi and said: “What should be done now?”

“There is only one thing left to do,” said Oddi.

“What is that?” said Gudmund.

“Take all your Lappish plunder and toss it overboard,” said Oddi.

“What good will that do?” said Gudmund.

“The Lapps will decide that for themselves,” said Oddi.  All did as Oddi instructed, and when it was done, the Lappish plunder was all broken up.  Then they saw that it was driven along one side of the ships, and back to the other, so that it became one mass, and then it was driven rapidly against the wind, and then it was gone.  Soon after this Oddi stood up, spread out his arms and a crossing wind arose to take them west.  They sailed all the way to Hrafnista, arriving just in time to beat the merchant fleet.  They put all their vast wealth into the hands of Grim and overwintered there.  Midwinter, Oddi and Asmund returned to Hraegunarstead and Asmund visited with Ingjald while Brak and Oddi forged more Stavanger blades for Bjarmia.

(857 AD)  The next spring, Oddi and his foster-brothers sailed the Nor’Way once more, following two weeks behind the Norwegian contingent of the Hraes’ Trading Company fleet.   Again they traded weapons with the Bjarmians, steel and ton-stone for silver and gold and then they returned to Varg Island and rested there.  Oddi snuck off alone to the place where the giant, Hilder, had agreed to meet.  The young Varanger arrived early and hid in the woods a short way from there so Hilder would not see him if he showed up, if he even existed.  He did not want to meet him, because he was likely just the product of a dream, of a nightmare.  Soon he heard the sound of oars and saw Hilder come ashore.  In one hand he had a large kettle full of silver, and under his other arm two very heavy chests.  He came to the spot where they had agreed to meet and he waited there a long while, but there was no sign of Oddi.  Then Hilder called out to the woods, “It is a shame now, Arrow Odd, foster son, that you did not come, but I see no point in staying here any longer, because my domain is leaderless while I am away, so, I will leave these boxes here, which are full of gold, and a kettle full of silver; please take this treasure, even if you come later.  I will put this flat stone on top of it so no wind blows the treasure away.  Also, I am leaving these gifts, a sword, a helmet and a shield.  But if you are about and can hear my words, then I shall tell you that I was chosen king out of my brothers and I had a great savage dog because it bit to death both the dogs of my brothers and many of the men who tried to save the dogs.  I produced the beak and claws of the vulture we killed and that deed seemed greater than those of my brothers.  I was declared king of the land and now I shall return to my kingdom.  Come with me and I shall give you the best of everything.  I can also announce that my daughter, Hildigunn, has given birth to a boy we named Vignir, and she said that you fathered him upon her, so, I shall bring him up to be a lord and I shall teach him sports and do all for him as I will for my own son, and when he is twelve years old, your naming age, he will be sent to you, according to what you told her to do.”  Then he rowed off in his stone boat.  Oddi stood up and went to the treasure, but it was under the stone slab, and the rock was so big a ship’s crew could not have stirred it.  Fortunately for Oddi, he had three ships’ crews on the island at that time, so he donned his new helmet, sword and shield and returned to their camp to get help.  It took two full crews to get the stone slab off of the heavy wooden chests and when they opened them, they found them full of gold coins and bars.  And between the chests sat a huge silver kettle full of silver Kufas from Baghdad.  They buried the gold chests on the island and used the silver Kufas to by the finest sables the Permians had to offer.

Oddi and his men were becoming more confident with the eastern trade so they stopped in Gardariki to visit with Prince Erik then carried on to Baghdad to trade their sables and silver swords for chests of gold.  When they returned to Gardariki, they spent more time with their prince and he again told them they were once more the richest merchants of the Nor’Way trade that season.  That was even before Oddi told Prince Erik that he had given a giant named Hilder a Varg Island brown bear for two chests of gold and a silver kettle full of Kufas.

The following trading season, Oddi expanded his fleet, increased trade with the Bjarmians and Permians and began supplying the alchemists of Gardariki with ton-stone from Sweden.  Arrow Odd gained such fame for his deeds and his wealth gained in Bjarmaland that no one thinks any greater thing has ever been achieved from Norway.  It is said that the name of the northern province of Halogaland means Helgi’s land, but that could be for quite a different matter.  There was great joy in the winter and much drinking.  When spring came, Odd asked his kinsmen what they wished to do next.  “You can decide for us,” they said.  But the decision had already been made for Arrow Odd.  The war arrow of King Roller of The Vik arrived in Hrafnista midwinter, and it carried news of a planned attack on Constantinople in the summer.

At first, Oddi thought this would work into his plans for even greater eastern trade, but he later learned that the Norwegians were not going to Constantinople via the Nor’Way but would be attacking from the west via the Mediterranean.  He then realized that the trip he had taken a few years earlier following King Roller across the Roman Sea was a dry run for this attack on Constantinople, and he marveled at the foresight of the Sons of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’.

CHAPTER SEVEN

7.0  THE ATTACK ON CONSTANTINOPLE OF 860

            “Like a thunderbolt from heaven.”

                                               Patriarch Photius of Constantinople.

(859 AD)  In the spring of 859, the war arrow was passed around Norway for ships and warriors in support of King Frodi of Konogard with an attack upon Constantinople.  Oddi was now the captain of a ship of young men and he talked it over with them and was the first to volunteer his services to King Roller.  But the Norwegian fleet wasn’t taking the usual Southern Way route to Constantinople like the Danish and Swedish fleets.  They were sailing west around Frankia and south past Spain in order to enter the Mediterranean Sea through the Pillars of Hercules, following the path they had reconnoitred several years prior.  King Roller’s fleet was to be part of a two pronged naval attack upon the Eastern Roman Empire.  The fleet paused in the Anglish Channel and met up with Ragnar’s fleet off the coast of Frankia.

“The Romans are up to their old tricks,” Roller explained to his father.  “They’re financing the rebuilding of the Fortress of Sarkel.”

“Let’s steal the gold again!” Ragnar exclaimed, laughing.  “If only Jarl Brak was here to see it.”

“They don’t ship all the gold in one bireme anymore, Greek fire or not,” Roller laughed.  “I’m glad to see you’re in good spirits, father.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?  My sons are going to try to outdo me by sacking Constantinople while I only sacked Paris.  I guess I’ll have to sack Rome next,” he laughed.  “But I’m proud of you boys.  Your fame will outshine mine.”

“Nothing will ever best the fame of the Hraes’ Gold!”

“The Franks and Germans are already stealing my story,” Ragnar complained.  “They’re calling it the Rhine Gold Hoard now.”

“Is that why you’re stealing the Frank’s gold?  They’re stealing your story?”

“I’m just maintaining our trading posts along the coasts.”

“And halfway up the Seine,” Roller laughed.

“Just as far as Rouen,” the old man corrected, drinking half a goblet of wine.  He was half cut and in a fine mood.  “Someday son,” he said, waving his free arm, “this will all be yours!”

Again, as the Norwegian fleet approached the Pillars of Hercules, Roller warned his captains that Arab and Roman fleets could be lying in wait for them.  But their fleet this time was over two hundred ships, so they sailed boldly into the Mediterranean.  They stayed just out of sight of the coast of Africa and soon had Sicily off their port side.   A week of good sailing put Crete off the fleet’s starboard and they headed north into the Aegean Sea, again, undetected.  The fleet found the secluded bay of the island where they had set up their base camp years before and King Roller took his longship east into the Sea of Marmara and on to Constantinople to meet up with Hraes’ traders there.  He learned that a major Roman attack on Arabs in Anatolia had been delayed by a year and the main Roman army was still deployed around Constantinople, so the Varangian attack would also be delayed a year.

(860 AD)  King Roller returned to his base camp in the Aegean with the news of the delay, so the Norse fleet returned to Spain and began raiding there.  They wintered in Southern Frankia, keeping a low profile there, and in spring set off down the coast of Italy, attacking settlements along the way, including cities as large as Luna and Pisa.  Ragnar wanted to attack Rome, but Roller could not risk taking his fleet through the Strait of Messina as the Roman navy was known to set traps there.  They were on a schedule to arrive in Constantinople for the attack on it and could not afford any delays.  The fleet headed out to open sea sailing straight south from Pisa and skirting the eastern coasts of Corsica and Sardinia then sailing southeast between Sicily and Malta and then straight east between Greece and Crete.  Roller kept feeling the need to get there sooner, even though they were ahead of schedule.  They sailed north, winding through the Grecian Isles, then east into the Sea of Marmara.

Roller’s concerns were warranted when they started to come across the wreckage of ships on the waters.  Long ships.  Dragon ships.  Monoxylan.  On the beaches west of Constantinople they found the remnants of the Hraes’ fleet, drawn up on the sand and under repairs.  He spotted Erik’s Raven Banner and headed for that ship.  Erik was busy supervising repairs to his long ship when Roller’s ship scudded into the beach sand.  “Sorry we missed the fight,” he apologized.  “I wanted to arrive sooner, but we had to evade the enemy.”

“This wasn’t from a fight.” Erik said, hugging his brother.  “A storm came up and destroyed our fleet as we were preparing for the assault.”  And Erik went on to tell him of how the Greeks had paraded their priests around the docks of Constantinople, dipping sacred vestments into the water of the Golden Horn, as their fleet was sailing by on the Sea of Marmara and a violent storm seemed to come out of nowhere and swept the Hraes’ fleet west and destroyed much of it.  Most of the larger dragon ships survived the crashing waves, and all of the Nor’Way ships, but the rest were gone.  “King Frodi is fine, and most of our people made it, but many Hraes’ went down with their ships.  Now the small Roman home fleet is getting ready to sally forth and attack us.  Our spies in Constantinople tell us that they have one fire breathing bireme and a hundred or so standard biremes.  The main fleet and the army are off fighting the Arabs.”

Roller made arrangements for his fleet to proceed east and anchor between the wrecked fleet and Constantinople and, as the last of the fleet passed them by, Fair Faxi broke off and was being rowed to shore.  Erik instantly recognized his ship and saw his father at the forestem with young Oddi beside him.  Ragnar slowly ambled down the side of the ship and onto the sand and Erik rushed up to hug him. 

“We have brought you something special,” Ragnar interrupted.  “A weapon against the Greek fireship,” and the old man had Oddi’s crew start unloading Fair Faxi.  The barrels of fine wine the boys had loaded up back in Frankia were now unloaded onto the beach.  And linen sacks of special awnings were hauled out from under rowing benches, foul smelling bags with hairs sticking out through the seams.  “We’ve gotten used to the rawhide odour,” Ragnar said as he withdrew the contents of a sack.  “I never go to Constantinople without these,” he declared as he pulled out black sheepskin awnings that carried the faint smell of vinegar.  “We have enough barrels of vinegar and sacks of rawhides to outfit a longship.”

“That is exactly what we need,” Erik said.  “The Byzants only have the one bireme equipped with a fire-tube and bellows.  It will be at the vanguard and so will my ship.”

The next morning, they completed repairs on the ships and launched them all, dragging them out with the rising tide.  Erik had his men lash twelve of the most damaged longships together and then they backed off the lashings so the ships spread apart enough to allow for rowing.  He knew the biremes were equipped with rams and that the enemy would try to sail straight through his formations, busting up oars and breaking through strakes.  A lot of ropes had washed up on shore from the broken wreckage, so the Hraes’ were planning to ensnare the Roman fleet.  A fighting platform was all that many of the damaged ships were good for anymore.  But the fire-breathing bireme would have to be dealt with first or the platform would be a sitting duck for the Greek fire.

Soon ships from the Norwegian fleet came from the east with news that the Roman fleet was approaching.  Erik flagged Fair Faxi over to his own longship and had Ragnar and Oddi join him on his foredeck.  “We’ve set up a field hospital in our shore camp, Oddi,” he started, “but we need a ship to collect up the injured during battle and ferry them to shore.  This is a special job I have for your ship and crew.  We’ll put a half dozen medics aboard Fair Faxi and they’ll let you know what needs to be done.  You will be saving a lot of lives today and that is always better than taking them.  Can you do it without Ragnar?”

Oddi looked over at the old man and said, “I suppose, but we came here to fight.”

“Good.  I need him to help me tackle the fire-breather.  Then I’ll return him to you and you can join in the battle.”

“It’s been awhile,” Ragnar beamed, “but I think I can remember how it’s done.”

The Hraes’ fleet began forming up when the Eastern Roman fleet appeared on the horizon, matching them ship for ship across the sea.  Erik led his fleet in his longship and the dozen damaged ships that were loosely lashed together were drawn up behind him.  He hoped the background of ships and masts would blend in with the black rawhide sheep skin awnings that covered his own ship while he used an optical scope to scan the horizon full of biremes for the tell-tale bronze tube that would identify the one fire breather amongst them.  “It should be in the center of the vanguard with its flanks well protected by the rest of the fleet,” Erik told Ragnar.  And then he spotted it.  A flash of gold at the forestem.  Then the flash of the special plate armour byrnies of the fire officers.  He had found his target and he pointed it out to his father, on the other side of the forestem.  Ragnar flashed a smile as he recognized their adversary.  Erik looked to his left and saw Roller at the fore of his Norwegian-Norman fleet, then checked out King Frodi at the forestem of his damaged dragonship at the fore of the Hraes’ fleet on his right.  Satisfied, he ordered his crew to row double time and his ship broke free of the main fleet and headed straight for the fireship.

The waters were calm and there was no wind to help either side and the Byzantine fire officer watched as a black longship accelerated towards their fireship.  He could not make out the awnings on the ship but noted that the lack of sails in this calm would lessen the effect of the Greek fire in setting the enemy ships ablaze.  As the lead Hraes’ ship closed in on them, the fire officer got close enough to realize that the awnings were raw wet sheep hides and a legend came to his mind of a gold hoard that was stolen from a Roman fireship a full generation past and he raised a general alarm and readied his fire tube for an attack that he realized was directed expressly towards his ship.

Ragnar was tying raw wet sheepskins to the shields of his son and other boarding party members, just as his wife, Ladgerda, had done for him many years before.  The fireship roared and an arc of Greek fire swept towards the Hraes’ ship but fell short and landed on the water, still burning fiercely.  The longship swerved wildly to avoid the fire on the water as the fire officers on the bireme recharged the firetube and re-pressurized the bellows system.  Ragnar warned that the Byzantines would have one more shot before they would be able to attack them.  And the shot soon followed, as the fire breathing bireme roared once more, ‘Hraaaaee’, and a long trail of liquid flame arced heavenward.  Ragnar and Erik both jumped up on the topstrake at either side of the forestem and roared back.  “Hraaae,” they shouted, imitating the roar of the fire-tube, as the fiery fluid flew towards them, then they grabbed at the awnings, jumped to the deck and pulled them closed just as the flaming emulsion hit.  The Greek fire landed on the wet awnings and the vinegar in the soaked furs boiled but would not allow the sticky flaming gel to adhere, and the flaming mass of petroleum rolled off into the waves.  Small bits of flame penetrated the awnings here and there, but the Frankish craftsmen and women the old man had paid to make the coverings had done their jobs well.  The crew threw back the awnings and launched grappling hooks at the approaching bireme.  They tied off the ropes to their stout rowing benches and pulled in their oars just as the longship started snapping off the oars of the bireme and the ropes sprang taut and drew the two ships together.  The boarding crew threw up their short boarding ladders and their shields protected them from the arrows that were spattering all over the deck.  The Tmutorokan Hraes’ charged up the ladders and immediately fell into deadly combat with the Roman marines waiting for them on the deck of the larger bireme.  Erik led his men forward and they cut down the marines in a vicious assault as they made their way towards their one target….the firetube.  The Byzantine lead fire officer had his sword drawn to protect his secret weapon and recognized Erik as one of the wild berserks who had shouted at them crazily from the longship.  He lashed out at Erik and his sword stuck into the edge of the Hraes’ shield and Erik thrust out with his sword and caught the officer just below the jawline, killing him instantly.  Erik then started hacking at a large leather hose that ran to valving on the firetube and the wash of liquid that flowed out of the hose instantly caught fire and set the deck of the bireme ablaze.  The fiery liquid splashed across the deck and flowed back towards the masts of the Greek ship.  Men that could not get away slipped in the gel and were set aflame, running on fire to the rear of the ship.  Erik and his men beat a hasty retreat back to his ship and had to fight to keep the Byzantines from boarding his ship to escape the flames.  They cut the ropes to escape the burning bireme and were soon under attack from biremes in the rear of the Byzantine fleet.  Arrows were flying at the Hraes’ ship from all directions as the Varangians got to their oars and pushed off from the dying ship and began rowing for their own fleet while constantly under barrage.  Ragnar could be heard shouting out orders and there was no question as to who was in command while his son was in a berserk frenzy.

The main Roman fleet was engaging the Hraes’ fleet by now and, as the biremes charged at the twelve damaged longships, ropes were drawn up and out of the water,  taut, as they drew up to pass each other and the biremes became entangled with the makeshift fighting platform, twisting sideways in the ropes, snapping some and getting caught up in others and the biremes behind them could not stop and began to ram their own biremes ahead of them.  The Hraes’ troops on the fighting platform used grappling hooks to pull in the foundering biremes and board them in a battle that seemed more on land than on water.  Scores of berserk warriors would clear the decks of ensnared biremes while sailors would use grappling hooks to reel in the next row of biremes.  There were a multiple of slaughters launched from the fighting platform that floated so helplessly upon the sea, for the Roman soldiers were no match for the crazed berserks that ravaged up and down their decks.

As Erik’s longship rejoined his men at the fighting platform, he shouted for his men to save the ships.  “Save all the Byzant ships,” he shouted as they cleared the decks.  “We need them to get back home with.”  Erik could see that everywhere on his flanks battles were raging between ships and Byzant decks were being cleared all over.  He saw young Oddi rowing about in Fair Faxi, pulling the wounded out of the waters, both Hraes’ and Roman alike and he marvelled at the idealism of youth.  He waved the ship of young men over to his longship and he could see its deck awash in the blood of the dead and the dying and he knew it was a ship of youths no more.  As his crew passed the wounded over the bulwarks of Fair Faxi he shouted to Oddi, “Save all the Byzantines you please, Captain Oddi, but spread the word to save all their ships as well.  We shall need them to sail home with.”  Oddi nodded grimly but did not say a word.  They saved as many lives as they could and spread the word to save ships as well, but when Oddi spotted a bireme making a break to escape, he had his crew double up on the oars to run it down.  The bireme’s rowers were exhausted, so Fair Faxi quickly bore down on it and Oddi and Asmund launched grappling hooks into the air and yarded in and tied off the Byzant ship.  They boarded the bireme and the Greeks immediately dropped their weapons and surrendered.

After the battle, Prince Erik met with King Frodi and King Roller.  A few Byzant biremes escaped the slaughter, but sixty had been captured and the rest were sunk or sinking.  “We have won a great victory here,” King Frodi announced, “but it is a Pyrrhic victory.  We no longer have the forces we need to attack Constantinople.”

“We may not have enough of an army to take the city,” Erik started, “but they don’t know it.”  With a hundred and sixty Norwegian ships, a hundred or so Hraes’ and Danish ships and the sixty captured biremes, it was still an impressive fleet that sailed before the walls of Constantinople to the Golden Horn.  While a great chain blocked ships from entering the port, dozens of four oared boats were launched under the chain and Erik led a force of men up to the main quay and the city gate.  He nailed a shield onto the gate with a list of their demands written in Greek.  Then they rowed their boats back to their ships.  The next day they found two signed treaties tied to the shield that met their demands.  Prince Erik read out the Greek to King Frodi and King Roller and they all signed both of the treaties.  Prince Erik then handed King Frodi one treaty and tied the other back onto the shield on the gate.

They returned to the fleets and the captured Roman biremes were portioned out amongst the Hraes’ fleet and, after a great victory feast, the remnants of the Hraes’ army returned to Gardar: the Tmutorokan Hraes’ to Gardariki, the Kievan Hraes’ to Konogard, the Northern Hraes’ to Novgorod and the Scandinavians to their respective lands beyond the Baltic.  The Norwegians and Normans, however, returned the way they had come, via the Mediterranean.  Captain Oddi and Fair Faxi were in the vanguard of the fleet right behind King Roller’s longship and Count Ragnar, in a captured Byzant bireme, and the rest of the Norwegian and Norman fleets were taking up the rear.  They sailed south and then straight west across the Mediterranean, circumventing Sicily and sailing for the Pillars of Hercules.  They did not want to accidentally run into the main Eastern Roman fleet on its way back from Syria.

Off the coast of Barbary, they were spotted by the fleet of Al-Andalus of Muslim Spain who set off in pursuit of the Varangians.  Roller signalled for his fleet to run for it and rowers gathered up their oars and began rowing, adding some speed to the power of their sails.  The flagship of the Andalus fleet was equipped with a form of Greek fire that they delivered by catapult.  The slower Norman ships at the rear of the Norse fleet soon fell victim to the fiery catapult, so Ragnar had his ship rigged up on the fly for fighting Greek fire and, once the awnings were soaked and hung, he signalled for his Norman fleet to turn about and attack.  Years earlier, he had marked himself with a spear as a sacrifice to Odin.  He could not run from a fight…it was a contract with the gods.  Ragnar headed his bireme straight for the Andalusian flagship and several volleys of Greek fire rolled harmlessly off his vinegar soaked sheepskin awnings before he was close enough to ram the Arab galley.  His men dropped from the topstrake of the taller bireme and were soon clearing the galley decks of Moroccan sailors.  Soon the whole Norman fleet was engaged with the Muslims and the flagship became a victim of its own Greek fire.  Roller and his Norwegian fleet were soon turned about and ready to engage, but the Muslim fleet disengaged and allowed the Norse fleet passage through the Strait of Hercules.  Ragnar had lost half his Norman fleet in the battle but had captured many Arab galleys and he cursed the fact that Odin had not taken him.

CHAPTER EIGHT

8.0  THE SIEGE OF KIEV  (Circa 861 AD)

“You can’t just sit becalmed and bored and wait for wind and inspiration.

You must raise your arms and sail after it with a club!”

Jack of London;  Arrow Odd’s Saga

(861 AD)  King Frodi, the Great Kagan of the Hraes’, returned to his fortress in Kiev with one tenth of the troops he had left with three months earlier.  And Prince Erik, Kagan-Bek of the Hraes’, returned to Tmutorokan with not too many more.  When the Poljane and Drevjane learned the extent of their king’s losses, they rebelled and laid siege to his capital.  They hated King Frodi because of his extreme cruelty; his byname, Angantyr, the hanging god king, had been gained by reputation.  As the siege of Kiev dragged on over weeks, King Frodi and the remnants of his beleaguered army sought terms from the leader of the rebellion, Vadim the Brave of Novgorod.

About this time, King Roller and his Norse fleet arrived back in Frankia and Count Ragnar and his Normans prepared a great feast for their Norwegian allies.  The next morning the Norwegian fleet made preparations to carry on east and then north to The Vik Fjord.  Arrow Oddi had planned to take his ship of young men straight back to Stavanger Fjord and Hraegunarstead, but King Roller invited him to join him in The Vik for the summer.

Vadim the Brave had waited patiently in Staraya Ladoga for the remnants of the Danish and Swedish fleets to return to their homes across the Baltic Sea, then rallied the Ilmen Slavs, who then trekked south along the Lovat River, linking up with Dregovichi and Radimichi Slavs along the Dnieper River.  Vadim commandeered monoxyla in Smolensk and led these peoples further south down the Dnieper, convincing the Drevjane and then the Poljane to join in the rebellion and they surrounded King Frodi’s fortress in Kiev.  They presented the Kievan Hraes’ with a series of demands that included the elimination of the capture and enslavement of Slavic peoples for sale in the slave markets of the Baghdad Caliphate and the Eastern Roman Empire.  They also wanted to establish their own trading companies for fur and honey sales in the southern markets.

While the Siege of Kiev wore on, Prince Erik of Gardariki continued trade with the Arabs and Greeks through his family’s Nor’Way trade route.  For the South-Eastern Hraes’ it was business as usual.  During the Siege of Constantinople, Prince Erik had gained exclusive trade agreements on all Scythian trade for his Hraes’ Trading Company and he now moved to establish exclusive agreements with the Arab Caliphate in Baghdad.  The Khazar Empire was still reeling from their defeat by the Hraes’ in the Battle of the Goths and the Huns, so Erik only had to worry about containing the Slav threat.  But he had lost a great many of his troops in the storm that had preceded the Siege of Constantinople, so he was in no position to relieve the Siege of Kiev.  He could only quash their plans of replacing the Hraes’ Trading Company, and he did so by shifting trade from the blockaded Dan’Way to the older established Nor’Way and by sending his fleet of longships up the Dnieper to reinforce the Kievan fleet.  King Frodi controlled Kiev and the quays along their side of the river and there was no way that monoxyla could win a river battle against sleek Danish longships, so a stalemate developed.

Arrow Oddi and his ship of youths arrived in The Vik as homecoming heroes.  Many of the Norse warriors who had been injured during the sea battle with the Romans were grateful to the young men who had manned Fair Faxi and had saved many lives by performing triage and by ferrying the wounded to shore where tent hospitals had been set up by Medical Alchemists from Gardariki.  Offers of free drinks and lodgings abounded for the youths and the eligible young women of The Vik were not shy in expressing their gratitude as well.

“The Vik has grown since you were last here,” King Roller said as he shared his highseat and horn of mead with Captain Odd.  The young captain looked around the highseat hall and recollected the village of The Vik without and compared it to the cities of Rouen and Pisa and Constantinople and Gardariki that he had just visited and politely said, “I have never been here before.”

“We are having a great feast for our victory over the Romans tonight,” the king went on, “and we would like your entire crew to join us in the square outside my longhall.  There will be benches for all in the hall afterwards, but there will be many young ladies at the feast tonight and I suspect they will invite many of your young men to their homes to meet their families.”

“Am I going to lose more of my men to the ladies of The Vik than I did to the Roman fleet?” Oddi asked.

“You remind me of someone,” King Roller said wistfully.  “I can’t quite place it but it will come to me.”

That evening the feast started in the square and everybody of any importance for miles around was there.  Young warriors and maidens, poets and musicians, parents and grandparents, Swedes and Danes, Angles and Jutes from Britain and Vikings from Frankia.  Several steers had been roasted and numerous pigs were on spits; ales and meads were flowing freely.  Crowds circulated through the tables and benches in the square and people moved in and out of the three longhalls that bordered the square.  There were hearthfires in the longhalls and bonfires in the square and torches appeared at each table as the evening wore on.  Oddi was sharing the highseat with his king but stepped away from it to check on his men in the square.  Asmund was there at the tables of his crew and he could see that all his young men were sharing their benches and entertaining ladies.  Asmund had a beautiful girl on either side of him on his bench and he saw Oddi coming and said, “Captain Arrow Odd, I’d like you to meet Sigrid and her sister Gudrun,” and Gudrun looked up at him and it happened.  A shiver coursed through his body and he felt as though he was standing too close to one of the distant bonfires and he could only nod.  He could no longer speak.  “Please join us, Captain Odd,” Gudrun said, patting the bench beside her.  “Asmund has told us so much about you.  Our father is a merchant for the Hraes’ Trading Company.”  And Oddi sat down beside Gudrun as she offered him food and drink that was in abundance at their table.  Eventually he found his voice and said, “We have much in common then, for I captain a Nor’Way ship for the Hraes’ Trading Company.  When I’m not fighting the Romans in Constantinople that is…,” and it was Gudrun’s turn as a great shiver coursed through her lean body and her dirty blonde hair, cropped at the shoulders, shook.  Her blue green eyes flashed brightly in the firelight and her dainty nose sat calmly above her pursed full lips.

When the feasting was over the skalds began their recitations of past and present stories of valour and great victories, often accompanied by musicians when the drapas were of the cadence for ring dancing.  All the people got up for those recitations and joined hands and danced in lines that flowed in and out of the tables in the square.  Once the poetry was over, King Roller invited Oddi, Asmund and their ladies into his highseat hall for some fine Frankish wines.

“I’ve never been here before,” Gudrun started, “in our king’s highseat hall, I mean.”

“I should give you a tour,” Oddi said.  “Come Asmund.  Let’s give Gudrun and Sigrid a tour.”  The king’s longhall was twice the size of a standard longhall but pretty much followed the standard layout, front double door entry with six massive hearths running down the hall, twenty four sleeping benches down either side then triple highseats on a raised dais on the right and guest triple highseats on a raised dais on the left, then another twenty four sleeping benches per side further down the hall and at the back a hallway set between numerous bedchambers on either side and the king’s bedchamber with double doors across the back of the hall.  When they reached the back of the hall, Oddi said, “This is my bedchamber, right next to the king’s,” and he pushed open the door and Gudrun could see a massive goose down bed from the hallway, “and this one is Asmund’s, right next to mine.”  As they were returning down the hall Oddi stopped and warned the girls, “At night there will be two warriors posted in front of the king’s bedchamber, so don’t let them startle you if we stay up later than expected.”

“There you are,” King Roller said, as they re-entered the main hall.  “I have some Devil’s Wine, as the Christians call it, that I acquired in Constantinople.  They call it that because it sparkles and foams,” and he prized the cork from the bottle with a loud pop and it flowed on its own for a bit.  He filled some Frank wine glasses and passed them out to his young guests and they sampled the fizzy white wine.

The next morning Gudrun asked Oddi if he had ever heard of the freedom movement.  “I only ask you this, because you have been to Gardariki and the movement was founded by Princess Gunwar of Gardariki.”

“Not only have I heard of it, but I have also discussed it with Prince Erik of Gardariki, Princess Gunwar’s husband.  He still grieves for her.  He knew that she secretly started the movement but he chose not to stop her.  His mother was a captive, taken during a raid.  Her name was Boddi, but her family was never given a chance to ransom her, so she remained a captive, not a slave.  And her father was King Olmar of Kiev, so she would have been ransomed.  Prince Erik only learned of all this after he conquered Kiev.”

“And what do you think of the movement she started?”

“I think I could support it.  I’m glad Prince Erik had the wisdom not to try to stop her.  But he doesn’t think the movement will succeed, not in our lifetimes anyway.”

“Why would he think that?” she whispered, drawing herself closer to him.  “All he would have to do is order slavery to stop and it would stop.”

“He says that sudden change is always fleeting.  Even if his orders were followed, as soon as he was gone, slavery would come back and likely in a worse form.  He is seeking a more permanent solution.”

“Spoken like a true king!” Gudrun said.  “What if I told you that your fellow Norwegians were being raided right now and enslaved without right to ransom?”

“I would be compelled to stop it!”

“There is a Viking raider called Halfdan and he has thirty ships.”

The siege of Kiev carried on over the summer and King Frodi bargained for safe passage for all Varangians back to Denmark before winter.  There were not enough provisions to carry the siege through the brutally cold winter months, so a retreat was the only option for the Kievan Hraes’.  They packed up their wealth and belongings into their ships at the quays of Kiev and set off up the Danepar as per their negotiated terms.  Vadim the Brave and his Slav forces moved into Kiev and began to set up the first Pan-Slavic state.  King Frodi arrived back in Liere in the fall and began preparations for the retaking of Kiev.  Prince Erik of Gardariki moved his fleet of blockading longships to the mouth of the Dnieper on the Scythian Sea and he welcomed his returning merchant fleets from Constantinople and Baghdad.  Their ships were modified in Gardariki and equipped with awnings to handle the Varanger crossing, then most of them began their return trek north up the Don River, past the ruins of the Khazar Fortress of Sarkel and onward to the Nor’Way trade route of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’.

CHAPTER NINE

9.0  HALFDAN’S GIFT  (Circa 861 AD)

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

               And his followers were called the Hraes’.”

                        Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler;  Skaldskaparmal.

(861 AD)  Oddi had Gudrun use her connections in The Vik to get a location on Halfdan’s raiding fleet while he sailed up the Nor’Way to get help and asked Gudmund and Sigurd, his kinsmen at Hrafnista, if they would like to raid against a very bad Viking named Halfdan.  He explained that Halfdan was a raider who had begun to pillage the Nor’Way coast, taking captives without affording them the opportunity of ransom.  He then told his foster-father Grim that they needed one more ship to complement their three and he promoted his blood-brother, Asmund, to captain of the fourth vessel.

Grim, a very wealthy and capable man, took charge and soon had all ships ready.  “Now, would you have any idea,” Oddi asked, “where I might find this Viking?”

Grim said, “Halfdan anchors in the east, off Elfar Skerries, but he has thirty ships.”

“I’m sorry I asked for that fourth ship,” Odd then apologized, “when three were all we needed.”

They sailed south round Norway and visited The Vik to confirm Halfdan’s location with Gudrun and then they sailed south down the coast of Skane and when they came to the Elfar Skerries they anchored their ships, for Captain Halfdan was nearby.  Once they had pitched their tents, Oddi went off in Fair Faxi with Asmund and a few others to where the Vikings were moored.  Oddi saw a huge dragonship in the fleet and he called out to the ship and asked who the commander was.  A sailor lifted up the ship’s awnings, “Halfdan is the name of this fleet’s leader, but who asks?”

“He is called Arrow Odd,” Asmund shouted in reply.

“Are you the Arrow Odd who went to Bjarmaland?”

“I have been there,” shouted Oddi, nonchalantly.

“What is your errand here?” Halfdan questioned.

“I want to know why you raid the Nor’Way coast, taking captives without affording them the opportunity of ransom” said Oddi.  “It is contrary to Viking customary law.”

“I captain for King Frodi of Denmark and I’ll do as I please!”

“Unless you release all your captives, prepare for a naval engagement.”

“How many ships have you got?” Halfdan said.

“We have three vessels,” said Oddi, “all big dragonships with a hundred and twenty men aboard each, and we will be here tomorrow to meet with you.”

“I think we’ll sleep soundly despite that,” laughed Halfdan.

Oddi and Asmund and their crew rowed Fair Faxi back to their own Vikings and told them what had happened.

“Why’d you have to tell Halfdan we had three big dragonships,” Gudmund complained, “when all we have are little Nor’Way ships.  They’re gonna laugh when they see us coming.”

“I know that it seems like we will have our hands full,” said Oddi, “but I have a plan on how we’ll deal with Halfdan.  First-off, the majority of the ships in his fleet are merchant vessels and they looked to be full of captives so we don’t have to worry about those ships attacking us.  Secondly, only three of his ships are actually warships.  So, we’ll beach our cargo to make our ships lighter, and we’ll cut down some trees, the largest and most leafy we can find, and we’ll put two on the foredecks of two ships, and two on the aftdecks of the other two,” and so they did.  When they were ready, Oddi said: “I want you, Gudmund and Sigurd, to take your ships and board the dragonship from our left and Asmund and I will attack it with our ships from the right.  We want to take out Halfdan before his other ships can engage.”

“But you told Halfdan,” Asmund started, “that we only have three ships.”

“I lied,” Oddi confessed.  “Three on thirty sounds better, but at these odds, I think we’d best use all four.”  And everybody agreed.

Oddi and his men quietly rowed toward Halfdan’s ships which were anchored down the inlet.  Halfdan saw four small ships approaching all green and covered with trees, when he was expecting three large dragonships.  He watched the leafy ships approaching almost lazily and gave no orders to his fleet, sitting dead in the water.  Oddi gauged their distance from Halfdan’s dragonship to be just right, then ordered his men to start rowing hard and the four ships leaped out of the water and began a rush for the flagship.  They soon flanked the huge dragonship, and grappling hooks were thrown and lines were let and the smaller ships were soon towing the dragonship along with them, but one grappling hook let go and Asmund’s ship shot forward and away from the pack.  Lines were cut and the trees all fell free from the rigging and the trunks crashed against the topstrakes of the dragonship and the men of Hrafnista dropped out of the leafy branches like red and yellow leaves in a fall breeze and they hit the deck running, taking the Vikings by surprise, and they beat at the Vikings through their tent awnings.  Oddi and his foster-brothers battled so ferociously that they had the dragonship cleared as far as the quarterdeck before Halfdan even got to his feet, and Oddi slew him there on the quarterdeck, and then Oddi gave the survivors two choices, they could keep fighting or they could give up their captives, but they took the latter and surrendered.

Oddi had his men free all captives on the ships and put their Viking raiders into chains on one lone merchant ship and sent them off to Denmark.  Then he had some of his men join the captives aboard their merchant ships and they all sailed back to The Vik, where Gudrun and Sigrid awaited them at her father’s farm on the coast.  There they sorted through the captives and gave all the Angles one ship and all the Saxons another and the Irish a third and fourth and they did the same for the Skanians and the Swedes and Goths and lastly their fellow Norse who had been kidnapped from their homes along the Nor’Way.  Oddi used the some of the silver that the giant, Hilder, had given him to provide the freed captives with provisions for their return to their homelands.

They held a great feast for the freed captives that night on the beach and they used the worst of the slaver ships as fuel for a great bonfire.  Oddi took the lead dragonship into his possession and a second dragonship as well, but all the other ships either went to the freed captives or were fed to the flames.  He gave a share of Halfdan’s treasure to each of the captives and the lead dragonship he had kept for himself he named ‘Halfdan’s Gift’.  He gave the second dragonship to Asmund, who called it ‘Halfdan’s Shadow’.

Gudrun was elated that so many people had been saved.  Oddi and Asmund stayed with Gudrun and Sigrid just outside of The Vik because they didn’t want King Roller to know what they were up to.

In the morning, after all the freed had sailed off, Oddi asked Gudrun, “Where can we find a slaver who is truly bad?” and Gudrun said, “I have already looked into it and Soti is the name of a powerful Viking, and he lies south of Skane.  He too has thirty ships.  I would recommend using more than just three this time,” she advised him and she kissed him dearly and led him back to her father’s longhall.  Her parents were still in the east, even though the Southern Way was effectively shut down for the time being.  They just moved themselves from Polotsk to a new Gardar town further east and began operating their branch of the Hraes’ Trading Company as a part of the Nor’Way trade route.  In this way, Prince Erik shifted most of the trade to Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’s trade route without missing a beat.  And his warfleet at the mouth of the Dnieper effectively kept the Slavs of Kiev from trading with the Romans.  They did not have a signed trading contract with the Emperor in Constantinople and he did.

CHAPTER TEN

10.0  SOTI’S GIFT  (Circa 861 AD)

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

  And his followers were called the Hraes’.”

                        Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler;  Skaldskaparmal.

(861 AD)  The kinsmen sailed from The Vik with five ships and were soon moored south off Skane.  Soti heard of Oddi’s activity and sallied forth to meet him and set up an encounter.  When Soti came up against contrary winds, he told his men, “Let us lash our ships two full oars apart, side by side in a line, with my dragonship in the middle, and because I have heard that Arrow Odd is a man of daring, I think that he will sail his ships straight for us.  But when they come at us and drive back the center, we will encircle their ships and not one mother’s son shall escape.”

“I think I know what Soti has planned,” Oddi told his kinsmen as they saw the Danish fleet.  “They believe that we will sail straight at their centermost vessels.”

“Then we’d best not do what he expects,” said Gudmund.

“We do not want to disappoint Soti,” said Oddi, “but we should take advantage of knowing that he knows what we will be doing.  I’ll sail my dragonship first, right up to where Soti is, and we’ll clear the whole deck back to the mast.  And you will follow me in your ships and break through their lashings and when they close their trap, the only thing left in the middle will be Soti…dead.”  But this time, instead of unloading their ships to lighten them, Oddi had his men double the ballast on board them by adding stones from along the coast.

And so that is what they did, and Oddi’s dragonship, Halfdan’s Gift, charged fast, and it was all covered in iron bands right round the prow, so it went with its keel just scraping bottom, straight for Soti’s dragonship and the others followed in his wake.  As Oddi got close to the Viking ships he could see how well they were lashed together and he said, “I think their ropes will break.”  Oddi sailed his dragonship as fast as it could go and he crashed through the lashings all the way past mid-mast, and Oddi and Asmund rushed aboard Soti’s ship and they cleared the deck and killed him before Sigurd and Gudmund came up in their wake and crashed through the remaining lashings and did an about face outside the encircling ring.  Then Oddi had Halfdan’s Gift join their formation and they gave the Vikings the choice of taking peace from Arrow Odd or keeping up the fight.  With their encirclement broken and their formation scattered, they decided on peace.

Again, it seemed that most of Soti’s fleet had been made up of merchant ships full of captives so, again, he had the surviving raiders put in chains and sent off to Denmark, all crowded on one merchant vessel.  Then they sailed the rest of the fleet back to The Vik and Gudrun’s farm, where volunteers of the Freedom Movement helped organize the return trips of the freed.  But this time they found that all the captives were from Ireland only and there were so many that only two old slaver ships were fed to the bonfire on the beach.  The captives claimed there was a Viking town in Ireland called Dub-Lin and it looked to be a slavers’ haven.

That night, in bed, Oddi thanked Gudrun for the use of her family stead while her father was off trading on the Nor’Way.  Then he told Gudrun something disturbing they had discovered that day.  “Some of the young girls that we freed today had been captives for some time,” he explained slowly.  “We found girls as young as eight years old wearing makeup and women’s clothing.  The Irish called them wee folk and told us that Soti and his captains found them cheaper to keep and more compliant than older slave girls.  These are Irish children being abused by the Danes.  The Irish don’t have the power to save them, so they call them wee folk to make them seem older, and they do look older, the way they dress, but they’re still eight and nine year old children.”

Gudrun was pale.  “If the Irish can’t save them,” she said, regaining her composure, “then we must!”

The next day, Oddi and Gudrun saw off the Irish fleet of freed captives, wee folk and all.  Oddi gave Gudmund and Sigurd the dragonship he called Soti’s Gift and they sailed back to Hrafnista shortly after the Irish left.  Oddi and Asmund stayed on the farm with Gudrun and Sigrid and spent a few weeks resting and healing there.  Oddi had the whole of the dragonship Halfdan’s Gift painted and he gilded both dragon head and weathervane in gold.  When all the ships were repaired and ready to sail, Odd rested, up on his elbow in bed and asked Gudrun, “Now tell me, my beloved, where does the best slaver and raider you know of prowl?”

“I haven’t had time to check this fully,” said Gudrun, “but I have heard of two Vikings that are raiding the Kattegat and they are supposed to be the best in everything.  One is Hjalmar ‘the Brave’, and the other is called Thord ‘Prow-Gleam’.  But I must warn you that I know they are raiders, but I’m not sure if they are slavers.  They are based out of Sweden, so my contacts in The Vik don’t have much on them.”

“Where are they,” said Oddi, “and how many ships do they have?”

“They have fifteen ships,” said Gudrun, “and a hundred men aboard each.”

“Where is their home?” asked Odd.

“Uppsala, and Hlodver is the name of their king in Sweden.  They stay with him in the winter but stay aboard their warships in the summer.  I’ve heard that Sweden has a Freedom Movement so they may not be slavers,” Gudrun warned.

“Prince Erik told me that, when he was King of Sweden, the son of the king he had deposed was involved in a freedom movement.  Prince Bjorn of the Barrows would sit upon the howe of his father, throwing stones at birds and flying kites all the time, even if it was raining.  He would sing in the rain and dance in the sunshine, all the time flying his kites, two, three, four at a time.  Everyone thought him quite mad and, of course, harmless.  But the whole time he was secretly involved in a freedom movement.  When news travelled north about the death of Princess Gunwar at the hands of her nephew Prince Hlod and the Huns, Prince Erik fell into a deep depression, caring not whether he lived or died.  Bjorn of the Barrows took advantage of this and, with support of this freedom movement, stole the royal highseats back from him.  Bjorn decreed that Prince Erik was to be beheaded and as the date for it approached, the Bragning Prince wrote a beautiful full drapa in memory of Princess Gunwar and recited it for all in Bjorn’s highseat hall.  King Bjorn was so moved by the poem that he offered to spare Prince Erik if he could recite such a drapa in his praise before the execution time on the morrow.  Prince Erik laughed at the offer, not caring if he died the next day, for he could not bear to go on living without his princess.  But Bjorn persisted with his offer by reminding Erik that it was his duty to avenge the death of his wife and to that end all of Sweden would join in and aid him in this effort, and the highseat hall rang with cheers of support for the prince.  Erik bolted himself up in his chamber and worked all night on a drapa in praise of King Bjorn, but it was difficult because King Bjorn had very few accomplishments outside of having regained the family throne.  But then the Prince remembered a story he had been told in a prison cell in Constantinople, by no less than the Roman Emperor himself, about a Roman Prince Brutus who had, too, saved his own life by playing the part of a mad fool.  By starting the drapa with this ancient Roman tale and progressing through to Bjorn of the Barrows in our modern times, Prince Erik managed to draw out a full drapa that was rich enough in heroic deeds that it just might save his own head.  And King Bjorn was very pleased with Prince Erik’s recitation the next day and he spared his head and gave him his full support in his fight against the Huns.  Word of Prince Erik’s saving his own head by writing a full drapa overnight spread throughout the northern lands and kings struggled to outdo King Bjorn in his support of Erik’s noble cause.  The act became a rallying cry that launched a thousand longships across the Baltic and into the land of the Hraes’ for what would become The Battle of the Goths and the Huns.  And both Prince Hlod and King Hunn fell to the bite of that terrible blade, Tyrfingr, the sword that had fallen from the hands of Princess Gunwar when she had died at the hands of her nephew.”

Gudrun was in tears by the time Oddi had finished his recollection.  She had, of course, heard the tale before, what northern girl hadn’t? but she knew that he was telling her the tale as it had been told him by Prince Erik, himself, the hero of the tale.  And when they were ready to go, Gudrun went down with Oddi to the ships, and they parted with much affection.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

11.0  HJALMAR THE BRAVE  (Circa 861 AD)

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

              And his followers were called the Hraes’.”

                        Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler;  Skaldskaparmal.

(861 AD)  Oddi and his kin sailed out from The Vik and they got a great wind, and soon arrived off the coast of Sweden, at a place where one massive headland jutted out to sea from the mainland.  They anchored their ships and raised the awnings and Oddi went ashore to see what was what, but on the other side of the headland he spotted fifteen ships and a camp on the land.  He saw games being played outside of the tents and he saw the leaders of these ships, both Hjalmar and Thord.

Oddi walked back to the beach and rowed out to his ships and told his brothers the news. Gudmund asked what they should do.  “We will split our men into two groups,” said Oddi.  “You shall sail our ships around the headland and shout a war cry at the men on the shore, and I will march overland with my half of the troop and we shall shout another battle cry at them, and it shall unnerve them so much that they will flee back to King Hlodver.”

But when Hjalmar and his men heard the battle cry of Gudmund, they didn’t heed it, and when they heard another battle cry from the land, they stood still a while, then they got back to playing their games.  Soon both groups returned from the headland, and Odd and Gudmund spoke.

“I don’t think,” said Oddi, “that these Vikings are easily frightened.”

“What will we do now?” Gudmund asked.

“Here is what I think we should do,” said Oddi, “We should not sneak up on these men.  Here we shall sleep in our ships tonight beside the headland and wait for tomorrow then sail around and challenge them.”

Then next morning they sailed around the headland and challenged the Swedes to fight.  But Hjalmar walked to the beach from his camp and said they should join him to eat first.  When Oddi and his men saw the Vikings cooking on shore, they armoured themselves and joined them.  Hjalmar asked who led such a fine troop of men.  Oddi answered: “There are more chiefs than just one.”

“What is your name?” said Hjalmar.

“My name is Arrow Odd, son of Grim ‘Hairycheek’ out of Hrafnista.”

“Ahh…Norwegians”, Hjalmar said easily.  “Are you the Odd that went to Bjarmaland recently?”

“I’ve been there,” Odd answered coolly.

 “What is your errand here?”

“I want to know,” said Oddi, “who is the greater man of us.”

“How many ships have you got?” said Hjalmar.

“I have five ships,” said Oddi, “and how many ships have you?”

“We have fifteen ships,” said Hjalmar.

“That’s heavy odds,” said Oddi.

“Ten of my ships’ crews shall sit back, watch and learn,” said Hjalmar, “and we’ll fight it out man to man.  My men could use some hard training.”

Both sides prepared for battle and the ships squared off and fought while day lasted.  In the evening a white peace shield was held up, and Hjalmar asked Oddi how he thought the day had gone.  Oddi was very pleased and said, “Your men make worthy opponents.”

“Do you want to continue the game?” said Hjalmar.

“I would not have it any other way,” said Oddi, “for I have not met better boys or hardier men, and we will continue the fight in daylight.”  And everyone did as Oddi suggested, and they bound their wounds and returned to camp for the evening.  But the next morning, after breaking fast, both sides drew up their ships into battle array and fought all that day and as night approached, they drew up a truce.  Then Oddi asked what Hjalmar thought of the battle that day and he said he was very pleased. “Do you want,” said Hjalmar, “to have this game a third day?”

“Only if it will settle things between us,” said Oddi.

Then Thord Prow Gleam said, “Is there plenty of treasure and money in your ships?”

“Far from it,” said Oddi, “we have got no plunder this summer at all.”

“That goes for us as well,” said Thord.  “I think it is foolish for us to keep fighting, because we fight for nothing, only pride and ambition.”

“What do you suggest we do?” said Oddi.

“Do you not think it good advice,” said Thord, “that we combine our efforts?”

“It pleases me well,” said Oddi, “but I am not sure what Hjalmar would think.”

“I want only the Viking laws,” said Hjalmar, “which I have always had.”

“I will know,” said Oddi, “when I hear them, just how agreeable they are to me.”

Then Hjalmar said: ‘This is the first rule, that I will not eat raw meat, nor my troop, because it is many people’s custom to squeeze flesh in cloth and call it cooked, but it seems to me that it’s a custom more fit for wolves than humans.  I will not rob merchants or farmers unless it is just to cover my immediate needs.  I never rob women, even if we find them in the land alone with a lot of possessions, and no woman is to be taken to the ship to be raped, and if she is taken unwillingly, then he who does this will lose his life, be he rich or poor.  I free all captives that surrender to me and require neither ransom nor oath of fealty.”

“Your laws are good,” said Odd.  “I have a silver kettle in my ship that we use for cooking and the rest of your laws will not block our comradeship.”  And then they joined forces, and they had as many as Hjalmar had before they met.  But the survivors were the best of the best.

CHAPTER TWELVE

12.0  THE CALLING BACK OF THE HRAES’  (Circa 862 AD)

“The tributaries of the Varangians drove them back beyond the sea

 and, refusing them further tribute, set out to govern themselves.

 There was no law among them, but tribe rose against tribe.

 Discord thus ensued among them, and they began to war one

 against another. They said to themselves, “Let us seek a prince

 who may rule over us and judge us according to the Law.” They

 accordingly went overseas to the Varangian Hraes’: these particular

 Varangians were known as Hraes’, just as some are called Swedes,

 and others Norsemen, Angles, and Goths, for they were thus named.”

The Hraes’ Primary Chronicle

(861 AD)  When King Frodi had left Kiev and the Varangians had left Gardar, the local Slav tribes began fighting amongst each other and all trade through the Southern Way ceased.  Slav envoys were sent to Constantinople to establish trade, but envoys of Prince Erik had already been there, reminding the Emperor of the contract that the Hraes’ had established during the Siege of 860.  Prince Vadim the Brave didn’t even bother to send envoys to Baghdad for trade talks.  The Slavs knew that the Arabs were only interested in trade talks if slave trade was involved.  A constant influx of purchased slaves were required in the markets of Baghdad, because the offspring of slaves were considered as being born free.  Eventually Erik met directly with the Slav envoys of the Poljane and Drevjane, bypassing Vadim the Brave, and they worked out a plan for the calling back of the Hraes’ to re-establish the Southern Way.  Slav royals and chieftains would be allowed to participate in a new slave free Southern Way trade.  Erik was to be returned control of all Gardar in return for reopening freer trade.

Vadim the Brave and a few loyal followers fled Kiev and returned to their homes in Staraya Russa in the north of Gardar.  They were not included in the new Southern Way, so they hunkered down and prepared for a siege.

Over the winter, King Frodi learned that his Kagan Bek had regained control over Gardar and he made plans to return from Denmark with the vast army he had been raising in the north.  He had a great fleet of longships being equipped in the harbour town of Liere and his daughter, Princess Eyfura, was readying her twelve sons for a return to Gardar.  Her husband, Jarl Arngrim and her brother, young Prince Alf, had another fleet of longships to prepare and the prince was excited to get under way.

(862 AD)  In the spring King Frodi and his Hraes’ sailed across the Baltic and entered the mouth of the Dvina River into the land of the Sclavs, where decades ago he had gained his first victory in a battle of hosts and had slain King Strunick with his own hand.  It was where he had first earned his byname of Angantyr , ‘the hanging god king’.  They sailed past the ruins of the Sclav fortress then on past the town of Polotsk and on to Surazh where they were to be portaged across to Smolensk on the Dnieper River.  But they had a side trip to make first.  Prince Alf and Jarl Arngrim’s fleet were portaged to the Lovat River which they sailed down and entered Lake Ilmen.  King Frodi and Princess Eyfura watched from the lake as the Hraes’ forces under the command of Jarl Arngrim and Prince Alf laid siege to the stockaded town of Staraya Russa.

Prince Vadim the Brave and his men held the town for a few days, but they were outnumbered a hundred to one and whole sections of stockade wall were soon aflame and, once the fires had cooled, the Hraes’ troops poured into the town by the thousands.  Jarl Arngrim entered the town with Prince Alf at his side and they surveyed the prisoners but could not pick out Prince Vadim.

“Who is Vadim the Brave!” Jarl Arngrim shouted to the encircled prisoners.  A big man with long black hair stepped forward and said, “I am Vadim the Brave!”

Another Slav fighter stepped forward and said, “I am Vadim the Brave!” and another and another.  Even a large and beautiful female warrior stepped forward and shouted, “I am Vadim the Brave!”

“Behead all who have stepped forward,” Jarl Arngrim ordered, and his men assembled all twenty four Vadims in a line and had them kneel shoulder to shoulder and two soldiers had a Vadim bow forward and a following axman lopped his head off.  When they got to the woman, she offered her beautiful long black locks to one of the soldiers to keep them from tumbling in the bloody soil, while the second soldier made her bow and the axman hesitated momentarily, then lopped her head off.  And this carried on until all twenty four had been executed.

“Any more Vadims wishing to step forward?” Jarl Arngrim asked boldly.

Prince Alf sat on his horse, white as a ghost.

Princess Eyfura watched the whole process from her ship on the lake and she fumed.

The Hraes’ then made the townsfolk watch as they burned Staraya Russa to the ground in retribution for the burning of Aldajuborg known as Staraya Ladoga the year before.

When Jarl Arngrim returned to his wife’s ship, Princess Eyfura asked him why he had killed all those people.  “Now we’ll never know if Prince Vadim died here!”

“The first man I picked out of the group was Vadim.  The rest were just lying and that’s all we would have gotten from them.”

“We could have tortured them until we got to the truth of the matter.  Now they’re dead!  Now we can’t!”

“Well,” Jarl Arngrim started, “we could go back and grab another twenty four townsfolk and torture them until we get an answer.  They’ve all been living with Vadim the Brave for the past year.  I’m sure any one of them can tell us which real Vadim head belongs to which real Vadim body!”  And he ordered the sailors to weigh the anchor and unfurl the sail.

 The Hraes’ fleet then sailed across Lake Ilmen and began expanding the town of Holmgard or Novgorod on the site of the army camp the Danes had set up during their war with the Khazars decades earlier.  They left a large troop of soldiers and craftsmen to get the town construction under way and the small fleet rejoined the large one at Surazh just in time to join in on the portaging and soon all ships were sailing down the Dnieper River.  Princess Eyfura and her husband would return to Novgorod, New Keep, in the fall with their sons once construction had been completed.  Until then, she planned on their staying in Kiev with her father.

Further down the Dnieper was Chernigov, a town of the Drevjane, a Slav woodland tribe that had supported the revolt.  King Frodi and his army laid siege to that town as well, but it was larger and better defended.  Prince Erik had just arrived in Kiev for his meeting with his king when he learned of the attack from distraught Poljane princes.  He did not like staying in Kiev in the best of times, wanting to avoid the ghost of Queen Alfhild, so he left a troop of Tmutorokan soldiers in charge of the city and left for Chernigov at the head of five hundred Varangian cataphracts.  He met with King Frodi outside the walls of Chernigov and the king was in a rage.  “They have shut their own king out of their town,” he complained.  “I want them to send out all traitorous rebel leaders immediately!”

“I have arranged a truce with the Slavs,” Prince Erik explained.  “We must respect the terms or there will be bloodshed.”

“That is why I brought an army with me!” King Frodi replied incredulously.

Prince Erik looked to Princess Eyfura and Jarl Arngrim for aid.

“I’m with him,” the Jarl said, but Eyfura stepped in and said, “We must at least show some respect for the terms of Prince Erik’s truce until we can get the Danepar trade re-established.”

This settled the king down somewhat and he agreed to considering a more political approach.  Erik set up negotiations between the Drevjane princes and King Frodi and a few concessions by both parties soon had the town doors open for business.  There was a trading season to be salvaged.  Later, Prince Erik thanked Princess Eyfura for her support.  He told her that her words had saved lives and when she blushed, he saw a bit of Queen Alfhild in her.

When King Frodi and his Hraes’ arrived at the quays of Kiev, they found the doors to that city bolted as well.  Prince Erik’s troops let him in and he went through negotiations with the local Poljane princes and arrived at pretty much the same concessions and the doors to the city were opened as well.

Prince Erik asked his Tmutorokan Hraes’ officers why they had let the local Slavs lock the doors and they told their prince that they came to an agreement with the Slavs that as long as they were allowed to stay inside and move around freely, they would let the locals bar the doors.  “We felt you would want us to prevent bloodshed rather than instigate it,” the lieutenants said in unison.  Prince Erik wondered if he had given their action enough thought because they were so right.

When Prince Erik was leaving Kiev at the head of a thousand Varangian cataphracts, Princess Eyfura rode up to the Prince, dressed in her best riding outfit, and asked, “When you told my father that we must respect the terms of your agreement or there will be bloodshed, did you mean his blood?”

“By the gods, no,” Erik said.  “You saved Drevjane lives that day, my princess.”  She was her father’s daughter, the prince mused, as she rode away, just as her mother, Queen Alfhild had been King Gotar’s daughter right to the end.  He watched her ride away until she disappeared behind a crowd and he could swear he was watching Alfhild, then he looked back on his regiment of Cataphracts in their golden raiment and their plate-mail armour and he could see where she might think that.  “Death on hooves,” he thought.  “Forward!” he shouted.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

13.0  FIVE EASY BERSERKS  (Circa 862 AD)

“The Chuds, the Slavs, the Krivichians, and the Ves’ then said

 to the people of Hraes’, “Our land is great and rich, but there is

 no order in it.  Come to rule and reign over us.”  They thus

 selected three brothers, with their kinsfolk, who took with them

 all the Hraes’ and migrated.  The oldest, Erik (Rurik), located himself

 in Novgorod; the second, King Frodi (Sineus), at Beloozero; and the third,

 King Roller (Truvor), in Izborsk.  On account of these Varangians, the district

 of Novgorod became known as the land of Hraes’.”

The Hraes’ Primary Chronicle

(862 AD)  When Oddi asked Hjalmar where they should go next, he said: “On Zealand I know of five berserk slavers who are hardier than other men, one called Brand, another Agnar, the third Asmund, the fourth Ingjald, and the fifth Alf.  They are all brothers and have six vessels, all large.  What do you say we do, Odd?”

“I say we set sail,” said Oddi, “to where these berserks are.”  They went to Zealand with twenty ships and heard that the berserks had gone ashore to meet up with their mistresses.  Oddi secretly slipped ashore by himself to meet them, and when he saw the brothers returning from their trysts, he planned his attack.  They were riding back on horses when they saw Oddi standing on the road, bow in hand.  They immediately raised their shields, drew their swords and charged at Oddi.  The young Norseman stood his ground against the Danes and nocked one of Gusir’s Gifts, and when he loosed it, the arrow flew as if it had caught someone’s evil stare and it followed that evil eye to the head of Alf and it struck him so hard in the face that it passed through his brain and out the back of his skull and it took his helmet right off him, and Alf rolled backwards off the saddle of his horse and he fell face-first onto the road.  The brothers rode around his body and continued on their course.  Oddi already had another nocked and he let the second of Gusir’s Gifts fly with pretty much the same result.  Agnar’s helmet flew off his head as he rolled backwards out of his saddle and landed ass-first on the road, his body rolling and tripping up Ingjald’s horse which slowed up the charge of the others.  Asmund at the back became the man at the front, destined to receive the third and final arrow of Gusir’s Gifts, but he hit a rise in the road and bounced up out of his saddle and was struck hard in the chest and flew backwards off his mount quite dead.  When Brand stopped his horse in front of Oddi and leaped down sword in hand, Arrow Odd was there to meet him sword on sword and the blades sang out.  The berserk bit into his shield and flew into a rage and was soon hacking Oddi’s shield to bits.  Backing down the road, Oddi found himself beside one of the horses and he managed to get the horse between himself and Brand just as his shield gave out.  Brand was in full rage by then and began hacking the horse apart and took its head off with one stroke, but blood spurted out of the horse’s neck and hit Brand in the face, blinding him.  Oddi instantly lunged forward with his blade and sliced Brand through the jugular and halfway into his neck, then sliced the other jugular with his return stroke and Brand’s head fell and rolled across the road until it hit the head of the horse.

“Speed is everything!” Oddi breathed as he sidestepped the falling bodies of both the horse and the berserk.  He walked up the road to check on Ingjald, who had fallen from his horse and was laying on the road dead without injury.

When Asmund realized Oddi had gone ashore he told Hjalmar about it.  “Yes,” Hjalmar agreed, “he must have headed inland.  And we should not be idle while he is away.”  Hjalmar sailed with six ships and attacked and captured the berserks’ ships.  When Oddi returned, they told each other of their adventures and both had amassed wealth and honours.

Hjalmar invited Odd to return to Sweden with him and Oddi accepted.  But Gudmund and Sigurd went north to Hrafnista with their crews, agreeing to meet again at the Gota River.  Asmund took his ship to The Vik and asked Sigrid and Gudrun to come to Sweden with them, but their father was back from his Nor’Way trading and would not allow it.  But he told Asmund they could visit if they wished.  King Hlodver welcomed the Vikings with open arms, and they wintered there with much honour.  Oddi was treated with great respect, because the king thought he had no match, and, soon, the king gave him five farms.  The king had an only daughter, named Ingibjorg and she was a very attractive and skilled woman.  Oddi asked Hjalmar why he did not marry Ingibjorg, “because even I can see that both your hearts beat as one.”

“I have asked for her hand,” he replied, “but the king will not give his daughter to anyone below a king’s rank.”

“Then we shall gather our Vikings next summer,” said Oddi, “and give the king two choices, fight us or give you his daughter.”

“I don’t want to force King Hlodver’s hand with this,” said Hjalmar.  “I have had sanctuary here for a long time.”  They stayed there quietly over the winter.  When the weather was good, Oddi and Asmund would take a dragonship north to The Vik and spend a week or two visiting with Sigrid and Gudrun at their father’s farm and they slept with the girls in their rooms, even though their parents were there, because many Scandinavians at the time enjoyed freedoms that Christian countries of the time did not.  Life was not a given and had to be enjoyed while it lasted.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

14.0 THE DEATH OF RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ SIGURDSON  (Circa 863 AD)

“If the porkers knew the punishment of the boar-pig,

 surely they would break into the sty and hasten to

 loose him from his affliction.”

            The Saga of the Sons of Ragnar Lothbrok; Anonymous.

(863 AD)  Count Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ could remember it as though it had happened yesterday.  His wife, Princess Aslaug, the witch Kraka, had been awakened by a dream.  She saw her son dying out on the ice, and she blamed his half-brother for it.  “It’s Erik’s fault!” she had called out in her sleep.  “Roller shall die because of the snow!  They both shall die because of the snow!”  Ragnar woke his wife and asked her what she had dreamed.  She told him that she had seen her son and Erik battling on ice with Westmar’s berserks, but the bone skates Erik had built for them would not work because snow had covered the ice.  They would be slaughtered unless a suitable sacrifice was made to Odin.

 Then Ragnar sacrificed himself, offered himself up to Odin, to stop the snows.  He marked himself with a spear and set off to attack his old enemy, King AElla of Northumbria, who had long ago lost his country to Ragnar and his sons, but now lost the small county in Mercia that he lorded over and he fled to the protection of the Mercian king.  So Ragnar took his two ships south and he attacked Frankia afterwards.  He recaptured all the Hraes Trading Company stations King Charles ‘the Bald’ had taken from him and later he’d even sacked Rouen and Paris, but he always kept in mind who he had originally planned to attack.  When his sons in York had taken warfleets east to the great Battle of the Goths and the Huns and one had even died there, King AElla had used the respite to take back York for himself, so, when Ragnar felt the time was right, he had Frankish shipbuilders craft him two of the largest knars ever built and equipped them handsomely and manned them with as many fine warriors as the ships could carry.  He had marked himself for Odin to save two sons, so he always limited himself to two ships, but he wanted to attack King AElla of Northumbria with as many men as the large knars could hold and they were enormous ships.  He learned that his wife, Kraka, did not approve of the idea because she came to him in a dream and told him the English coast was not fit for such ships, only for longships, but Ragnar did not listen to her advice.  But true to her dream message, the ships proved very difficult to handle in the North Sea and were damaged by a storm.  Ragnar did manage to beach them safely with his army intact on the coast of Northumbria and they began to ravage and burn.

When King AElla of Northumbria learned of the pillaging army, he mustered an overwhelming force and crushed Ragnar’s army.  They captured the old merchant warrior and held him for a long time under terrible conditions, but he refused to die for them.  Ragnar demanded a death befitting a warrior who had marked himself with a spear for Odin.  But King AElla was afraid to kill him; afraid of what his sons would do.  So, he held a feast for Ragnar in his longhall in Castle York.  He invited all his nobles and they were sworn to secrecy and during the feast Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson was brought into the center of the hall and was fed the fine highseat cuts and the king’s best wine while AElla selected twelve of his finest nobles and gave them poison slaked swords out of his armoury and when the food was done and Ragnar had finished his wine he stood up and servants took his stool away and chained his hands to a tall post in the middle of the hall between the two sets of highseats and they looked down from the highseats and it seemed as though Ragnar was in a fight pit, a blood-snake pit.  The twelve nobles circled around Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ like vultures spiralling down on a carcass and a poisoned blood-snake would flash out and strike Ragnar and he would stumble from the blow and the circling would continue and then another blood-snake would strike and cut him and a new wound spurted blood across the floor of AElla’s great hall.  Ten more times the blood-snakes struck, and the poison drove Ragnar to his knees, each of the dozen wounds on his body no worse than the others, but cumulatively fatal.  No one person could be blamed for striking the mortal blow that killed Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson, and certainly not King AElla, so the feast carried on for another hour as Ragnar sang his death dirge and succumbed to the poison and bled out.  “When my young porkers learn of how their old boar has died, they shall surely free me from this pit of snakes,” he finally cried and then he collapsed.

King Ælla suddenly became fearful of the sons of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ and he asked his young daughter, Princess Blaeja, who was a healer, to go over and revive him but she said, “It is too late.  He is dead.”

“What did he cry out at the end?” AElla asked.

“He said that his young porkers, meaning sons, shall free the old boar, being him, from this pit of snakes, meaning us,” she answered.

“He must have been delirious to think that that might happen.”

“I think he’s cursed us,” she replied.  “I told you not to torture Ragnar or use death by poison blood-snakes to kill him.  You should have put him and his men in those god awful knars and sent him on his way back to Frankia.”

“How has he cursed us?  He just babbled about pigs!”

“He has made us the snakes and his sons are the swine, the mortal enemies of snakes.  If a farmer’s fields are being overrun by snakes he lets his swine out into the fields and they kill and eat all the snakes.  They are impervious to poison.  His sons shall be let out onto the battlefields of Northumbria and they shall kill all the snakes and set Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’s spirit free.  I fear, dear father, that we are focked!”

But there was even more to Ragnar’s words than that.  The City of York had originally been called Eburakon by the Britons, meaning place of the Yew tree, the saplings that the famous Briton Yew bows were fashioned from.  When the Romans conquered Briton they Latinized the name as Eboracum and when they left to defend the Empire, the Angles conquered York and they renamed it Eorforwic, meaning the Village of the Boar and when King Ragnar and his Norse Danes conquered York, they left it as that, and it was not called Jorvik until King Frodi and his Anglish Danes, the Great Heathen Army, reconquered York in 866 AD.  The Anglish Danes and the sons of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’, having avenged the Old Boar, renamed the city in the hopes of ending the curse, but this was not to happen.  When King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson had called his sons young porkers and had referred to himself as the Old Boar, he was reinforcing his rightful claim to the Village of the Boar, and his sons as the rightful heirs, right into the wording of his curse, compounding the meanings of his words, as skalds of the time were wont to do.  The dual nature of the curse required a duality of vengeance.  Perhaps this inspiration had come to him with the approach of death, for he was not noted as a gifted skald, as was his son, Prince Erik ‘Bragi’ Ragnarson, but the healer, Princess Blaeja, had been charged by her father, King AElla, to prepare the poison that had been slaked upon the twelve blood-snake swords, and she had mixed an opioid into the apothecary drug to take a bit of the bite out of the blades and that, too, could have brought the poet out in the Old Vik King.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

15.0  PRINCESS OLVOR’S SCALE-MAIL SHIRT  (Circa 864 AD)

“The shirt will have powers thus:  “You shall never get cold when

 wearing it, whether on sea or on land.  Swimming shall not wear

 you out, and fire shall not burn you, hunger shall not waste you,

 and iron shall not bite you unless you are fleeing.”

Princess Olvor;  Arrow Odd’s Saga

(864 AD)  A few years after the Siege of Constantinople in 860, Arrow Odd had a run in with King Roller of Norway.  While attending the wedding of a common cousin in The Vik, Captain Oddi and his foremost man, Asmund Ingjaldson, were arrested for wanton piracy by their king, who was also attending the wedding, for the king and the captain had numerous common relatives.

“King Frodi has charged you with piracy and attacking several of his sea kings up and down the Nor’Way coast,” King Roller stated sternly, as Oddi stood in front of his high seats in his royal longhall in The Vik.  “And in my brother’s ship, Fair Faxi, no less.  Tell me of your adventures, Captain Oddi, foster-son of my cousin Grim ‘Hairy-Cheek’ Ketilson?”  Roller was beginning to have some serious doubts about Oddi’s parentage.

“We set out from Hraegunarstead in Fair Faxi,” Oddi started, “and met up with some Vikings who’d sailed down from Halogaland in two more Nor’Way ships.”  Oddi was dressed in a white silk shirt, bright red tunic, his hair bound by a gold headband tied round his long golden locks, his bright blue eyes flashing earnestly.  Two young ladies watched from benches at the entranceway of the longhall.  “We searched out a Viking named Halfdan near Elfar Skerries.  He had thirty ships so I challenged him to a sea battle.  He asked me who I was and I told him Arrow Odd and when Halfdan asked me why I wanted to fight, I told him I wanted to see who the better Viking was.  Then he asked me how many ships I had and I told him we had three against their thirty, but I prevailed in the battle anyway and I slew Halfdan and destroyed all his ships.  And Asmund was not involved in any of this.”

 “Those were King Frodi’s ships,” King Roller started, then bit his tongue.  “King Frodi’s warrant mentions a Captain Soti and another Danish fleet?”

Before Captain Halfdan died, he told us of another Viking named Soti, in the south off Skane.  He, too, had thirty ships, all large dragonships.”

“All King Frodi’s,” Roller whispered to himself through clenched jaws.

“While we were searching for Soti, he seemed to be stalking us.  We played a back and forth trap game and finally we caught Soti in his own trap and destroyed his fleet.“

“Again, King Frodi’s ships,” the Norse king muttered, “Go on!”

“On my next voyage, I sought out five famed berserk brothers on Denmark, anchored off Zealand with six dragonships.  The brothers had gone inland to visit their concubines, so I alone went inland to challenge them.  I met them on their way back to the coast and I attacked them before they could go into their fits and I cut them all down.  I’m not sure what happened to their ships.”

“This warrant claims that you took those ships as well,” and the king waved for his prisoner to continue.

“I left the ships in the hands of the original crews that surrendered to me.  What they did with them, I’m afraid I do not know.”

“But it is King Frodi that you should be afraid of, for he has asked for your head, Captain Oddi.  Although he has returned to Kiev, he still wants your head in his court in Liere.  The Halfdan you killed was half Danish, as was Soti, and the berserks you dispatched were full Danes killed on Danish soil.  That is why you were apprehended.  I shall have to consider his request.”  King Roller looked down at his shoes.  “Take them away!” he ordered, and the guards prodded their guests out of the high seat hall and the shackles around the prisoners’ ankles clanked and clattered as they were led off into the shadows.  The two young ladies who had watched from the benches at the entranceway of the longhall got up, disappointedly, and left.

Exhausted, King Roller sat resting at the head of his bed.  Blue and hazel eyes caught Roller’s’ from the dark shadows of his stately chamber, and out from a corner stepped Princess Gunwar.  “Who goes there?” cried the king.  “What manner of spirit are you?”

“I am a shield-maiden now,” Gunwar whispered softly.  She was as beautiful now as ever, not beaten and bloodied on a far-off battlefield in Tmutorokan.  Her hair was of soft gold and her eyes glowed blue then hazel out of the shadows.  Her full lips parted, and her gloss white teeth caught up the light of the tapers.  She was wrapped in a white silk sheet, a slight red stain on the left side and, as she stepped in front of the tapers on the table, the light showed her heavenly form through butterfly threads.  Her hardened war-maiden’s hands held a small iron cross to her breast.  “You shall release my son, Helgi, on the morrow,” she stated.  “Tonight, I am yours, but on the morrow, you shall release my son, the one you call Arrow Odd.”

“Stay back, spirit,” Roller said weakly, grabbing for the woman he had loved from afar for so many years.

Gunwar was at his side now, drawn to him by his hand on her hip.  She unbuckled the belt about his waist, and she undressed him.  She laid him back, naked, upon his bed and she opened up her silk sheet and slid onto him, her nakedness brushing up his body.

“Please,” Roller whispered, Roller lied.  He had always dreamed of her, wanted her, cried for her.  He had always loved her, and she had always been beyond his reach.  She now drew him to her and she kissed him with her warm full lips, and he kissed her back, pushing away all thought of his brother, her husband, and, when he pushed her, she pushed back, and when he thrust, she thrust back, and they began the rhythmic dance that had seen her bring life to twelve sons, but only one to full term, to fruition, and her soul would do anything to save that one young man.  Then they rested, and Gunwar asked Roller a question.  “Can one stop up the flow of time?”

“I think we have, just in your being here,” Roller assured her.  And he pulled her to himself as though to make time stand still, and he held her in his arms, her head upon his chest, and he stroked her hair for a long time and made love to her again.  “I want to stay inside you forever,” he whispered, and he held her and tried to stay awake because he feared she would be gone.

“Forever in you,” she whispered back, but she was just a dream, oh what a dream, and then he slept the sleep of one committed to a cause.  Gunwar took her silk sheet and left Roller with coarse wool, tucking the heavy blanket about his heaving chest before disappearing into the darkness.

“Tell me of your childhood,” King Roller began, as Oddi and Asmund stood in front of their monarch once again.  He studied Oddi’s face and understood, at once, why it looked so familiar.  It was Gunwar’s countenance all over again, or her face had she been a warrior and not a war-maiden.  An embarrassing warmness set about him.

“Is this a clemency thing?” Oddi asked, and Asmund gave him a poke in the ribs.

“Just humour me,” Roller answered lightly, not sternly as he would have answered the day before.  “I am not fully convinced that you are Brother Gregory’s son as so many others say.  I was at your twelfth birthday naming feast, and I heard your fortune being told, but I can’t remember Heid’s exact words.”

“That’s the thing that really stands out most about me, my curse,” Oddi started.  “When I turned twelve, when both Asmund and I turned twelve, Asmund’s father, Ingjald, brought in a seeress called Heid to read both our fortunes, totally against my wishes.  She prophesied that a snake would strike me, venom filled, from the time worn skull of Faxi, so I struck her in the nose.  Faxi was the favourite horse of Ingjald so, since he had brought the witch to my naming, against my wishes, I felt justified in killing his horse to keep the snake thing from happening.  Asmund and I buried the horse deep, and Ingjald still doesn’t know what happened to his dear Faxi, so don’t tell him.”

Roller had sat up at the word prophesied, then said, “I remember you hitting her with a rod.  Death shall strike, venom filled, ‘neath the time worn skull of Faxi.  The ship must be burned, and sacrifices made, or it shall be the death of your son.”  Roller tried to remember the exact words Heid had told his brother, Erik, a generation before.  “I have heard this prophesy told before,” the king stated.  “Perhaps she did not mean you, Captain Oddi!”

“Oh, she meant me alright,” Oddi replied.  “So much so that I made plans to leave Hraegunarstead for the most dangerous place I could think of, just to prove the old witch wrong.  That’s when Asmund and I and the youths of Hraegunarstead followed your fleet to the Mediterranean.  After that we prepared to make the Nor’Way crossing the very next trading season.  In order to get Fair Faxi back into condition to make the crossing, I used my arrowhead making skills to devise a clinch nailing system to keep her strakes from separating during very rough seas and Brak provided me with the alloys needed to keep the nails from rusting, but I had to promise to replenish his supplies by trading Tonstone for alloying agents in Damascus.  So, we made the crossing to Bjarmaland and had many great adventures in the Eastern Realm.”

“I only ask,” King Roller started, “because that very same old witch made that very same prophesy about my brother, Prince Erik, many years ago.  And that snake still has not struck him dead either.”

“Well now, at least I do not feel so bad about striking the old witch!”

“Erik tried to strike her too,” Roller laughed, “and would have if our father, Ragnar, hadn’t stopped him.”

That night, in bed, Roller thought hard about the old prophesy and his father and brother.  “A snake shall strike, venom filled, and your son shall die ‘neath the time worn skull of Faxi,” was what she had warned, Roller tried to remember, “or was it Erik by name she had said?”  Then a spirit stepped out of the shadows and she was dressed in white sables and her blonde hair danced about the furs as her hazel blue eyes caught up the light of the tapers.

“You have not freed my son,” Gunwar whispered.

“He is no longer in chains,” Roller replied.  “He is my guest.”

“You do not believe me,” she cried.

“You are but a dream, what a dream,” Roller whispered.  “Since you are a spirit and all knowing, what exactly were the words that the witch Heid used to prophesy the death of your husband?”

“Death shall strike, venom filled, ‘neath the time worn skull of Faxi.  The ship must be burned and sacrifices made or it shall be the death of your son.” 

“But because she said, ‘the death of your son’, we all assumed she was talking to Ragnar.  But what if she was talking to Erik?  If Oddi is your child and Erik is his father, then the prophesy forewarns of Oddi’s death, just as your son claims.”

“No!” Gunwar cried, falling upon the bed in tears.  “Erik struggled with that cursed prophesy most of his life, sailing in Fair Faxi to prove it wrong and fearing always just a bit in his mind that perhaps it would prove to be right.”

“And now that burden passes on to his son,” Roller whispered, comforting the only woman he had ever loved.  “Let us just sleep together tonight and find a way through this thing.”  He tucked Gunwar in under his blankets and slid into bed beside her.  He calmed her and when her sobbing had subsided, he asked, “Last night you wanted to stop up the flow of time.  Why?”

“The drapas and the sagas that are now being sung and recited about you and your brother, my husband and my brother, about the Nor’Way and the Southern Way, and the battles we Norse fought with the Slavs and the Khazars and the Romans shall dim over time and will be called, by future Danish and Norwegian kings, the ‘Lying Sagas of Denmark’.  Future scholars will confuse the Huns of Atilla’s time with the Huns of our time.  Future poets will confuse Sigurd Hrae’s Gold with Rhine Gold and a Greek fire belching dragonship with a fire breathing winged serpent and our efforts will be lost.  The Hraes’ Trading Company, Frodi’s Gardar, Erik’s Gardariki, my Tmutorokan will all be lost to the flow of time.  It fills me with fear and trepidation.”

Roller comforted Gunwar and tried to refrain, but as the night wore on, they made love and the shield-maiden did not resist.  Roller held her in his arms while she slept, determined not to let her go, to keep her there to see morning’s light, but he nodded off and when he woke up, she was gone.

“It has become apparent to me,” King Roller started, the next morning, “that you and Asmund are in need of a mission, a quest to keep you both on the right path and keep you out of trouble.  My brother once told me of an Irish monk named Brendan, who had discovered a vast new land far to the west.  You are to take a fleet of ships….my ships….to Ireland and find this Brendan and set off in search of this new land.  My brother also told me that when the gods were dead, after Ragnarok, a new god would rise up in this western land, a god called Technology, that would come to rule the world.  Explore this new land and try to stay out of trouble.  King Frodi wants your head, Captain Oddi, so we’ll keep your head as far away from him as we possibly can.”  King Roller later regretted freeing Oddi, for he was never visited by the spirit of Gunwar again.

In the spring Oddi and Asmund met up with Hjalmar and Thord at the Gota River and Oddi explained that he had been given a mission by King Roller to visit Ireland and explore parts further west. The two Norwegians had been given a fleet of twenty ships by their king, including Halfdan’s Gift, plus they were joined by Hjalmar and Thord’s fifteen.  Using some new navigational devices that had been acquired through Baghdad trade, they sailed directly to Scotland, then, raiding as they progressed, on to the Orkneys and to the coast of Ireland.  Oddi and Asmund were exploring on land when a bow thrummed, and an arrow flew out of the woods and struck Asmund in the chest and in Oddi’s arms he died. 

Oddi led a group of his men to a clearing on the other side of the woods and they saw an archer in a velvet tunic, bow in hand and arrows at the ready.  Oddi shot his bow first and killed the man and killed another three in like manner before the rest could flee into the forest.  Oddi had his men search the periphery of the clearing until they found a trap door that led into an underground chamber.  They opened the door and Oddi entered to find four women hiding in the room.  He grabbed the prettiest of the four. 

“I have a gift for you if you let us be,” she cried, “for I am wealthy.”

“I have no shortage of gold myself,” Oddi replied.

“I have a shirt for you,” she said.  “A special shirt given to my mother by Vikings such as yourself, a Vik King named Hraegunar ‘Lothbrok’ and his wife, Ladgerda.”

“How do you know these names?” Oddi exclaimed.  “They are from Stavanger, from Hraegunarstead, where I was raised.”

“Hraegunar and his wife  wintered here after defeating a fire-breathing dragon called Fafnir in the Eastern Realm.  They had lost their bearings on their return home, so they beached their ships along our coast, and they shared much wealth with us.  Red gold rings from Constantinople and silver Kufas from Baghdad,” she began, dropping ancient names like rose petals in a frost.  “And a shirt, a special shirt, was taken from Fafnir.  In it, fire cannot harm you and steel shall not bite you, nor cold, and swimming will not tire you for it will keep you above the swells.  It was worn by the Greeks to protect them from their fire, just as Hraegunar had worn shaggy green rawhide shirt and trousers to protect him from the flames as he slashed at Fafnir’s soft underbelly from below.”

“Where is this shirt?” Oddi asked, suddenly keen for this fine gift.

“Let my maidens go and I shall take you to it.”

Oddi had the maidens released into the woods and the Irish princess led her Viking to Dub-Lin town.  “The town is run by the Danes,” she started.  “But they haven’t been around for a while,” she added, crossing herself.  They entered her manse and when Oddi wondered at the lack of men about she explained that he had killed her father and three brothers in the woods that day.  “But then again,” she said sadly, “they did shoot your friend, even as I pleaded for them to refrain from shooting arrows at the offspring of Hraegunar.”

“Asmund was not of Hraes’ blood,” Oddi stated.

“Not him….You!”

“I was raised at Hraegunarstead, but I wasn’t born there.  I am Helgi Arrow Odd Gregoryson, son of Brother Gregory of Berezan in the east.”

“We only know of Hraegunar and Ladgerda,” the princess conceded.  “But my mother told me all about them, and she was a great seeress and very knowledgeable in our history.  I am Princess Olvor, daughter of King Amhlaide and Queen Imaira.”  She took a plate-mail byrnie out of a chestnut bureau and passed it to Oddi.  It seemed to fit quite well, but Olvor wasn’t happy with the fit so she took some measurements and marked the garment with a soapstone and she told Oddi to return next day, so Oddi left Olvor in peace.

Oddi returned to their Viking camp on the coast and they burned the body of his best friend Asmund and offered him to Odin and the Vikings all swore to meet him in Valhall.  Hjalmar and Thord sailed off to raid in Scotland while Gudmund and Sigurd showed up and took charge of King Roller’s fleet on the Irish coast.  Oddi spent the spring in Dub-Lin town, staying in Olvor’s manse, while he researched the explorations of Saint Brendan, who had long since passed.  Oddi and Olvor became the best of friends and she even expressed a wish to sail west with Oddi to find the new land that the Irish monk had discovered.  But it was pointed out that she must stay home and rule her lands now that her father and brothers were gone.

Oddi returned to the coast and had Gudmund and Sigurd assemble and provision the fleet for a long summer’s sail.  Hjalmar and Thord returned from a Viking raid just in time to join them.  Oddi taught them all in the use of the navigational tools that had been purchased in the bazaars of Baghdad…small sundials from which they could set their course and rectangular crystals that could locate the sun even on the foggiest of days.  They would be arcing west at a northerly latitude so high that the winds blew from the east almost continuously.

For three weeks they sailed west, the wind at their backs, and several times they saw signs of land to the north, birds and such, but Oddi kept them sailing west, following the course Brendan was supposed to have taken many years before, until they saw a great slab of land rising out of the western sea.  It was a coast of huge slabs of flat stone plummeting down into the sea, which was filled with great flat slabs of floating ice and on this ice were great white bears and seals they were hunting and the waters teamed with fish and the ships’ kettles steamed with cod and salmon.  Oddi named the coast Slabland and they sailed south along the rocky promontories until the coast started sprouting trees, small at first and stunted but growing in size as they sailed south.  They put into shore at river mouths to replenish their barrels of fresh water and often men would claim to have seen native peoples.  They looked like Bjarmians some claimed, so distance was kept as they might have a war-like nature.  Smoke from campfires soon appeared far off in the woods, and further south, clearings appeared along the shore that might have once held villages, but no native people came out to greet the explorers.  They sailed around a huge rock of an island that seemed a lot like Ireland so they called it New Ireland.  They hugged the coast of the mainland and soon found themselves going upriver, the water was fresh and certainly flowing and soon they could make out the far riverbank, south, in the distance.

As the river narrowed, Oddi found a native group that seemed friendly and curious about them, so they rowed in to shore and tried to communicate with them.  Oddi had always been quick with languages and the tongue they spoke was similar to one Bjarmian language he had learned a bit of, and it seemed their king’s daughter was quite quick with languages as well, so soon they were slowly talking and drawing little maps in the riverbank.  Her advice was quite helpful and the people were friendly, so the Norsemen spent several weeks with the tribe, learning about and exploring the newfound land.  They visited great lakes and even greater waterfalls before the fleet headed back downriver.

Once they were back on the coast, they sailed south across a vast tidal bay and they found a land that had many berries and grapes and they called it Vinland.  It would not be the last time this land was discovered and called Vinland, perhaps it was not even the first.  But most natives were elusive, ever fearing the large fleet of ships and many armed men.  When the summer days began to shorten, it was time to head back north.  The Arab navigation devices would not work at night and the north star could not be spotted at night if it was cloudy or foggy.  The dragonships sailed best in the light of day, and the longer the day remained, the better.  Again, the wind was at their backs as they sailed east, and the sailors thanked the gods, but it was actually the seasonal prevailing winds that had blessed them.

Back in Ireland, Oddi learned that Olvor was with child and while the Vikings wintered there, she gave birth to a girl and named her Hraegunhild, after Oddi’s grandfather.  King Hraegunar and Princess Ladgerda had blessed the Irish with their gold and gifts and a child or two as well and had won fame and glory with their tales of Arab trade and Roman victories and the secrets of steel that their Alchemist Brak taught them.  But when spring came, Oddi wanted to take his daughter home to Hraegunarstead with him and Princess Olvor would have none of that.  The parents agreed that Hjalmar would decide the girl’s fate and he decided in favour of Olvor.

Gudmund and Sigurd took their dragonships and sailed north to Hrafnista and gave up raiding, wishing to devote themselves to the Nor’Way trade.  Oddi, Hjalmar and Thord took the rest of the fleet south and across the Anglish Sea.  Along the coast they heard that a Viking named Skolli was anchored nearby with forty ships, so Oddi approached with his fleet of twenty and challenged him to a naval engagement.

“What is your name and why would you wish to hold battle with me?” Skolli cried out over the waves.

“My name is Arrow Odd and I think you are a slaver here, kidnapping and enslaving the locals without offering them the benefit of ransom!”

“Are you the same Odd who went to Bjarmaland long ago?”

“The very same,” shouted Oddi.

“I’m not foolish enough to go up against someone as lucky as you,” Skolli shouted back.  “I’m preparing to attack King Edmund of England and I’d like you to join me.  My father and many of my kin settled in this land peacefully and this king attacked and slaughtered them all.  Greater fame awaits you if you join me and we kill this King Edmund and we rule over his land.  I will seal this deal with witnesses that I am not a raider.”

“Please,” said Oddi, “summon eight farmers of the land to swear oaths on your behalf.”

“It shall be so,” said Skolli.

Oddi returned to their ships and told Hjalmar and Thord what Skolli had offered, and that they should fight alongside him.  They slept on it and in the morning,  they went ashore with all their followers.  Skolli had been busy all night, and he came down from the land with the farmers, and they all swore oaths of support.  After that they joined their forces and went inland to make war.

Warriors from sixty ships gathered in force on the coast and headed inland in search of King Edmund and his army.  The two forces clashed in southern England and they fought for three days before the king fell and his troops capitulated.  Oddi, Hjalmar, Thord and Skolli shared the land, leaving King Skolli in charge of it and they parted great friends. 

Sailing east towards Denmark, the Norsemen were intercepted by two Hraes’ raiders, Hlodver and Haki, who had thirty ships anchored off the coast of Skane.  Ten ships rowed out from the Danish shore and attacked the Norwegian fleet of twenty ships.  A desperate battle broke out and it was only with great effort that Oddi and his men managed to defeat the Danes.  They learned that Danes had been sent by King Frodi to avenge the deaths of the five famous berserks that Oddi had slain earlier.  Oddi and his men rested and sharpened weapons and repaired shields.  Soon twenty ships, the bulk of the fleet rowed out from shore and attacked the Norsemen.  A battle broke out so fierce that Oddi swore to Hjalmar he had never fought such men before.  “They are Danes from Gardar, the land of the Hraes’,” Hjalmar shouted out in response.  After hours of hard fighting with no let-up the two kings finally fell, but Oddi’s force was so decimated that they all sailed away on Halfdan’s Gift.

Fearing all of Denmark was after them, Oddi had his men sail for the sheltered inlets of the Elfar Skerries.  They wove their way through the inlets but soon spotted two ships lurking under their black awnings.  Hjalmar wanted to evade the ships but Oddi became determined to address them.  When Oddi asked who was in command and why they appeared to be waiting for somebody, their leader replied, “I am Ogmund ‘Eythjofsbane’ Tussock.  Are you by chance Arrow Odd, the Odd that went to Bjarmaland long ago?”

“I am that Odd,” said Oddi, “but it wasn’t that long ago.”

“I’m glad,” said Ogmund.  “I’ve been searching for you.  Prepare to do battle.  King Frodi has requested your head’s presence in his court.  Just your head!”

Ogmund and his men took down their black awnings and prepared their ships for battle.  They were all huge men…giants…from the east…from Kiev.  They rowed out to meet Oddi and their ships straddled Halfdan’s Gift and a fierce battle ensued.  So many men fell on both sides that Ogmund raised peace shields and asked Odd how goes it.  Oddi admitted that it was going badly.

“It is like fighting with demons,” Oddi complained.  “Twice I struck at your neck, but my sword would not bite.”

‘I might say the same,” Ogmund complained in his Slav accent.  “I struck you in the chest, but my sword could not bite through that shirt you wear.  Do you want to keep fighting or do you want to part?  For I can tell you how this fight will go.  Hjalmar and Thord will fall here, as will all your men.  All my champions shall fall and then your fine shirt will save you and I shall fall here as well.  A shirt such as that I have only seen once, on a Captain at the foredeck of a Greek fire-ship in Constantinople.  Roman scale is the finest armour stone for stone.”

“Enough of your witchcraft,” Oddi shouted, remembering the prophesies of that old witch, Heid.  “Let’s get on with this.”

They kept fighting until all the Norse, save Oddi, were dead and only the Swedes, Hjalmar and Thord stood with him.  Ogmund and eight of his men were all that were left of his two dragonship crews.  “Shall we part now, Oddi?” Ogmund asked.  “It shall go as I predicted if we carry on.  Either way, king Frodi will not get his head, not here, not now.”

“I am not afraid of your witchcraft,” Oddi said, “but it just makes sense to part ways.”

Oddi and his captains sailed Halfdan’s Gift to an island and Oddi and Hjalmar went inland to hunt for food, leaving Thord to guard the Gift.  When they returned later with a small deer, they found Thord dead, pierced through his side with an arrow.  “It is Ogmund,” Oddi started.  “He’s decided to try his luck again.  I got my byname by shooting arrows, not losing all my friends to them,” he cried.  They erected a howe over Thord, then searched for Ogmund, sailing through and around the Skerries, but he was gone, likely back through the Southern Way to Gardar to lick his wounds.  It still seemed that all Denmark was looking for Oddi, strange black awninged ships searching here and there with full crews and warriors at the ready.  Sailing by moonlight, Oddi and Hjalmar were able to search and stay hidden, but finally they returned to that island, gathered up Thord and sailed off for Sweden.  They planned to raise a mound over him there.

Back in Uppsala, they were welcomed home as heroes.  They told King Hlodver and Princess Ingibjorg of the trials and tragedies they had faced and endured, and the king told them about the guests that had visited the kingdom that past summer while they were away.  “The twelve berserk sons of Jarl Arngrim and Princess Eyfura visited us and the eldest, Angantyr, sued for the hand of Ingibjorg.  Of course, we told them that Princess Ingibjorg had a preference for you, Hjalmar, but he challenged you to a duel on Samso Island, a Holmganger, next spring.”

Oddi wintered near home, in the court of King Roller.  It was tense, at first, for, after Oddi had told his king that he had discovered the western land of Saint Brendan, he had to tell him that he later lost the entire fleet to Danish bounty hunters, save for his own ship, Halfdan’s Gift.  “Frodi’s ship,” King Roller corrected him, as Halfdan had been one of Frodi’s Vikings before Oddi had killed him.

Hjalmar wintered at home in Uppsala in the court of his king and in the arms of Princess Ingibjorg.  “Tell me about New Ireland once more,” Ingibjorg pleaded, stroking Hjalmar’s fine blonde hair.  She had been dreading the challenge of the twelve berserks even before Hjalmar had returned home, but as time wore on, she became filled with fear and wanted to spend as much time with her lover as she possibly could.

“It is a great big island off the coast of the mainland, and it is as green as Ireland itself, and as isolated.  Further south we found a promontory that we thought was another island, but was connected to the mainland, and we called it New Scotland and further south we called the land New Angleland.”

“You named the lands Slabland, New Ireland, New Scotland and New Angleland, but you didn’t call any of the new lands New Sweden?” Ingibjorg teased.

“New Sweden is in the east, in Gardar and the land of the Hraes’,” Hjalmar replied, and he felt a great shiver course through Ingibjorg’s body, and he held her tight.  The sons of Arngrim would be coming from the east.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

16.0  HOLMGANGER ON SAMSO  (Circa 865 AD)

“Hervard, Hjorvard,      Hrani, Angantyr,

 Bild and Bui,               Barri and Toki,

 Tind and Tyrfing,        two Haddings,

 East in Bolm            they were bairns,

 Sons of Arngrim    and Princess Eyfura.”

Arrow Odd’s Saga;  Author Unknown (Chappell).

(865 AD)  Arrow Odd gripped a bow in his left hand and held three arrows called Gusir’s Gifts in his right and he surveyed the misty shores of Samso Island, struggling to keep his balance as the waves of Munarvagr Bay rocked his Nor’Way ship, Fair Faxi.  He had never seen Samsey, as the locals called it, but he was sure this was the right island, the island where the holmganger had been called, west of Zealand, east of Jutland, smack in the middle of Denmark.  The bay looked just as Hjalmar’s lord, King Hlodver, had described it, strangely mystical in a moonlit dusk, with a bright curving beach that instantly turned, with a grassy lip, into forest.  “This must be it!” he called out towards the other longship pulling up beside him.

Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ stood at the forestem of that ship and answered back, “I see no one here.  I think they are late.”

“That’s okay,” Oddi shouted.  “Tomorrow we’ll work on your ship.”  They had hit a bit of rough weather while sailing from Sweden.  Hjalmar was in need of a new rudder oar.  The awnings were let on both ships, lookouts were posted and the crews slept at their benches, weapons at the ready.

On the way to Samsey, Angantyr, a giant of a man a head taller than his eleven berserker brothers, touched in at Jarl Bjarmar’s stead and he married Svafa, the Jarl’s daughter…not because he wanted her, but because he did not want Ingibjorg.  He wanted to give the world notice that he was after their heads, Arrow Odd’s and Hjalmar ‘the Brave’s.  And that’s why they were late.  After their wedding nuptials, Angantyr had a portent dream and he stirred so much in his sleep that he woke Svafa.  The next morning he told Jarl Bjarmar about it.

“In my dream,” Angantyr said, “we went to Samsey and we found a lot of birds there and we slew them all.  Then we walked further and two eagles came at us; I struggled with the first and we fought long and hard and the second eagle fought my brothers and seemed to get the upper hand.  I woke in a cold sweat and I fear the dream’s meaning.”

Jarl Bjarmar told Angantyr to return to Holmgard and tell his father, Prince Arngrim about the dream, because the felling of mighty oaks seemed to have been foretold.

So Angantyr and Svafa returned to Holmgard with the brothers and Prince Arngrim understood the portents of the dream and he told his sons that he had never before feared for his sons in their travels, but he agreed with Jarl Bjarmar’s interpretation.  Princess Eyfura pleaded with her sons to stay, but they refused to have their honour rebuked, but she would not let Svafa leave with them.  Prince Arngrim accompanied his sons to their ship and gave Angantyr the famed sword of Prince Erik, Tyrfingr, saying, “I think that good weapons will be needed now.”

When the twelve berserk brothers came to Samso from the east, they saw two longships anchored in the exposed expanse of the bay called Munarvag.  They knew right away that they were the ships of Arrow Odd and Hjalmar ‘the Brave’.  They rowed their own longship hard toward the other two and, just when the two crews had got their oars into the water, the berserk’s ship came crashing through them.  Shattered oars kicked up and sent men flying, as the sons of Princess Eyfura drew their swords and gnawed their Lindenwood shields before flying into their berserk rages.  Of the twelve, only Angantyr was not a berserker.  He was so big and so strong, he didn’t need to fly into fits.

“Odin is with us,” Angantyr called as he leapt aboard Oddi’s Nor’Way ship.  Five crazed brothers followed and six more attacked the crew of Hjalmar’s ship on their starboard side.  The warriors raged up the foredeck of Fair Faxi, hacking and hewing their way through men as though possessed and six more berserks raged up the length of Hjalmar’s ship with sword moves and sword strokes so fast and furious that the furies, who were watching from hell, were impressed, and the two warrior groups fought on until they met at the after decks, and both decks had been totally cleared of their men.  A dozen wolves howled on the aft decks as Sweden’s finest lay dead or dying.

Angantyr looked about and he realized that the battle had been far too easy for champions the likes of Hjalmar and Odd.  When his brothers came out of their furies, he said, “Our grandfather, King Frodi, has that foremost man named Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock and he told me that Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ and Arrow Odd were the greatest foes he had ever encountered, and you all know what a killer Ogmund is,” and he led them to shore and pointed out two sets of tracks going inland across the wet sandy beach and disappearing into that grassy lip that turned into woods.  “We have killed only birds.  The eagles have escaped us,” Angantyr swore bitterly.  Amid all this death, his portent, his dream, was coming to life.  “Even though you are all exhausted from your fits, we must go inland and kill them both,” Angantyr said.  “If we return to King Frodi in Kiev without Arrow Odd’s head, we shall throw shame on our father.”

Just then Hjalmar and Oddi stepped out of the woods carrying a freshly hewn rudder for the Swede’s ship.  The berserk brothers all started howling furiously and fear set upon Oddi momentarily.  Hjalmar shouted, “They have slain all our men!”

“I think we should escape into the forest,” Oddi blurted.

“Let us never flee our enemies,” Hjalmar cried.  “We must endure their weapons even though we rest tonight in Valhall.”  Then Hjalmar bolstered Oddi with these words:

“Mighty are the warriors       our warships leaving,

  Twelve men together,         inglorious in giving;

  We shall be Odin’s             guests this evening,

  Two sworn brothers,           with the twelve still living.”

Oddi suddenly realized that the berserk brothers were all now weak from their fits and he knew that now would be the best time to fight them, so he encouraged Hjalmar with these words:

        “Now we’ll fight them           weak from rages:

         And to your words         I say, I give:

         They shall this evening       be Odin’s pages,

         These twelve berserks;        and we two shall live!”

The fully armed berserks approached the champions in a clearing in the woods and the sunlight, dappling down through the leaves, brought the forest floor to life.  Angantyr strode foremost and drew the famed sword, Tyrfingr, and a ray of light flashed from it as though a beam of sunlight had burst through the verdant canopy above.  Then Hjorvard stepped forward and drew his sword beside him. 

“I shall take on Angantyr,” Hjalmar pledged.

“I should fight Angantyr,” replied Oddi, slipping the rudder oar off of his shoulder.  “He has that famed sword, Tyrfingr, and shall lash out harshly with it.  I have more faith in my plate-mail shirt than you should have in your ring-mail byrnie.”

“When have you ever taken priority in battle?” Hjalmar shouted angrily.  “You wish to fight him because it shall be the more famed combat.  I am the principal here, and you are my second.  I fight for the hand of Princess Ingibjorg.  It is I who shall fight Angantyr with his famed blade,” and he stepped forward to face him, drawing his sword.

They were ill prepared to fight, having only their shirts and their swords, while the berserks had their swords and shields and mail draped helms, and long byrnies and greaves and arm-rings of red gold.  Oddi patted the haft of the rudder and called out to the berserks:

         “Singly shall we fight,         strong men in mail,

          Unless you be soft,            or your spirit doth fail!” 

He had always preferred a good strong club when fighting berserks, blade blunters or giants.

Hjorvard stepped forward, sword in hand.  The foursome engaged in their deathly combat.  Oddi was angry that he could not face off against Angantyr and Tyrfingr.  He knew the sword, had learned to make arrowheads at the very stone that the sword had been drawn out on, and he’d heard of its blessings and curse:

“It will never rust,           it will forever remain sharp,

 it will neither bend              nor break,

  the most powerful of berserks       shall never blunt its edge,

 and the blade must always be sheathed       still smothered in the blood

  of its last victim,            or it will be the death of its owner.”

This ode Oddi cited under his breath as he fought patiently, prodding his opponent back with the great oar.  Hjorvard was still weak from his fit and Oddi watched Tyrfingr take a bite out of Hjalmar’s chainmail shirt.  As Hjalmar fell back a step, Angantyr watched Oddi and he wanted his head, but Hjalmar came at him anew.  Hjorvard overcommitted himself on a stroke and did not even see the great spinning blow that crushed him and killed him and sent his weapons clattering.  Oddi kicked his shield over to Hjalmar, who took it up quickly in a move none had ever seen before.  Hervard stepped forward to take his place and Oddi rested as the young berserk readied himself.  Hjalmar and Angantyr had been going hard for a while so they took a break as Oddi waited.

“We should swear an oath to bury the dead,” Angantyr shouted between breaths, “whoever they may be.  And with our weapons and arms so we don’t go to Valhall with empty hands.”

“You just want Tyrfingr in death, as you’ve had her in life,” Oddi shouted, eyeing the blade, then charging at Hervard.  A few pokes and prods, then a mighty blow and Angantyr watched another brother fall.  Then Hrani stepped forward and he quickly fell.  And the famed sword took another bite out of Hjalmar.  Bild and Bui were next, and they fell to the great club one after the other.

Once more Hjalmar and Angantyr rested while Oddi waited.  Barri stepped forward.  He was recovering from the exhaustion of his fit and was able to fight more vigorously, so Oddi had a difficult time finally striking him down.  And Hjalmar managed to strike a blow that wounded Angantyr.  As Toki prepared to face Oddi, Angantyr once more insisted that they take oaths to provide full and proper burials for the slain.  Hjalmar was losing blood now and was more prone to agreeing with the request.

“We shall provide for burial with weapons,” Hjalmar shouted, as he prepared to renew his battle with the eldest berserker brother.  Just as Oddi was about to protest, Tyrfingr once again bit into the chainmail of Hjalmar.  Oddi took the fight to Toki hard.  He knew he would have to defeat the rest of the brothers quickly or his friend was going to die.  A few club blows later and another brother was dead.  But it was too much.  Tind and Tyrfing both attacked simultaneously and Oddi was pressed defending himself, but he kept to the one side of the brothers and he slew Tind first and then Tyrfing.  The Hadding twins attacked in a similar fashion and got a similar result.

Oddi then turned his attention to Angantyr.  “Let me finish him for you,” Oddi shouted out to Hjalmar, again patting the haft of his bloody rudder oar.

“I must finish him off,” Hjalmar replied angrily.  “If I do not win this combat, the hand of Princess Ingibjorg is forfeit.  King Hlodver could well withhold her hand.”  And the exhausted combatants carried on with their duel.

Oddi could see Hjalmar was dying.  It was the curse of Tyrfingr:

“The blade is             heavenly poisoned;

 the steel,         when forged to an edge

 is the death of          any man it cuts,

 for, no matter               how insignificant

 the wound,       it never heals.”

Jarl Brak had told Oddi this in his youth.  And Hjalmar’s wounds were anything but insignificant.  He was slowing down now, as the poison took hold.  “It matters not if Ingibjorg is forfeit,” Oddi shouted over the din of battle.  “Angantyr shall not be leaving Samsey alive.”

“I will not be leaving Samsey ever!” Angantyr shouted.  “And I don’t give a damn about Ingibjorg.  You can have her for all I care.  We came here for Odd’s head and his head alone.  King Frodi wants it bad, and he’ll want it even more now that Odd has slain his twelve berserker grandsons.”  Angantyr swung Tyrfingr in a high arcing blow that sliced off the leading edge of Hjorvard’s shield and buried the blade tip deep in the ground.  Starting to pull the blade out of the earth, Angantyr suddenly stopped himself and he placed both hands on the blade’s Tonstone pommel, left atop the right, and he leaned forward, fully exposing himself.  “We pledged full burial with weapons,” the great berserker reminded Oddi, as Hjalmar thrust his sword deeply into Angantyr’s chest.

“Eleven berserker grandsons,” Hjalmar corrected, as, foot upon chest, he pulled his sword free of the dead berserk.  Hjalmar sat and rested on a huge flat stone, leaning forward weakly, his elbows on his knees.

Oddi said:

“What ails you, Hjalmar?                Your colour is gone;

 Wasting your strength:            many wounds many ways,

 cleft is your helmet,            your ring-mail is done

I think you have seen            the sum of your days.”

Hjalmar replied to his comrade in arms:

“Wounds have I sixteen,         slit is my corselet,

 Sight is darkened,               I see not my way;

 To my heart pierced me,          poison-hardened,

 Angantyr’s Tyrfingr,             bitter is that blade.

Farms I owned there           five together,

my lot in that land                yet loved I never;

now I must lie here              of life bereft,

here on Samsey                   by the sword wounded.

Mead they are drinking,      adorned with gems,

the throng of his folk            in my father’s hall;

ale overmasters                    many a warrior,

but the marks of the blade   torment me here.

I went away                           from that white maiden

on the outer shore               of Agnafit;

her fore-telling                      true will prove now:

I shall return not                   ever again.

The red gold ring-                from my wrist take it,

to Ingibjorg                            I ask you, bear it;

it will give her                        grief long-lasting

when I come not ever          to Uppsala.

I went from delight               of women’s singing,

for joy eager                          east with Soti,

sped my journey                  to join the host,

left for the last time              loyal companions.

From the high treetop          hurries the raven,

from the east flying,      the eagle his escort;

food for the eagle                 I find for the last time:

he shall make his meal       on my blood now.”

Then Hjalmar died.

Oddi carried Hjalmar out of the woods and across the beach, then rowed him out to Fair Faxi and laid out the body of his friend on a rowing chest.  He covered him with an awning and returned to the scene of the holmganger.  He sat down beside Angantyr and cursed Hjalmar for promising the berserks a burial with weapons.  “You should have stayed in Holmgard,” he told Angantyr.  “You’re all too young to be playing this game by yourselves!” he shouted to the rest of them.  Then he thought of Ogmund Eythjofsbane, who was even younger and impossible to kill.  “These are hard young men coming out of the east these days,” he muttered as he got to work.

He dragged the berserks bodies into a side by side line, with Angantyr and Hjorvard in the middle and he covered them with a sail, then he threw all eighty of his men into the sea and he waded in the water and herded them toward shore.  He washed the blood from their bodies as they floated in the shallow water and he cleaned and dressed their wounds as best he could before dragging them up onto the beach.  He laid them out on several sails and covered them with the sailcloth, then put large rocks around the edges to keep the wind at bay and the wolves in the woods.  He unfooted the masts of two ships and guided them as they fell into the sea, then he floated them to shore and dragged them up onto the beach.  He went back into the water and dragged the twelve oared ship of the berserks onto the beach.  He left Hjalmar’s ship at anchor, but he tied it to Fair Faxi in case a storm arose.  He went back inland with more sailcloth and he covered the berserks bodies with several more layers and weighed down the edges with deadfall.  Then he went back to his ship and he let down the awnings and he gripped a bow in his left hand and held the three arrows called Gusir’s Gifts in his right and he watched the misty shores of Samso Island for wolves and eagles until he nodded off in the moonlight.

The next morning, he sawed rollers out of oars and he used the masts and yardarms to support the rollers from the sand and he portaged the twelve oared ship of the berserks across the beach and up to the grassy lip of the forest.  The great rudder oar he had used to batter the berserks, he now used to pry the ship up over the lip and into the woods.  He strung out the masts and laid them across with rollers and he pushed the ship into the forest to where the berserks lay in a line.  He tipped the ship over them to form the roof of a howe and he laid their weapons under their bodies.  He could stand up under the ship, but he had to stoop under the port topstrake to get out from under the howe.  He sealed up the open side with deck planks that he nailed in place.  He then realized that the twelve oared ship had the clinch-nailed strakes that he had invented as a youth.

While he was working on a howe for his men, some local farmers came along and Oddi hired them and paid them silver to cover the first howe with turf.  He paid them for draught horses to drag Hjalmar’s thirty oared ship out of the water and onto the rollers and up the masts.  When they reached the grassy lip, even with the two horses, they could not get it over.  Oddi stepped back and looked out at the view of the beach of Munarvagr Bay on Samsey and he told the farmers, “I think my men wish to watch the sea rolling into the bay and out again.”  They laid up the ship much as before along the grassy knoll and Odd laid out his men without weapons so they could rest in peace and sealed off the view with deck planks.  He paid the farmers more silver to haul turf out of the woods and cover the ship and the sand around it.  They were still working at that when Arrow Odd sailed away from Munarvagr Bay with Hjalmar’s body in Fair Faxi.

Back in Sweden, Princess Ingibjorg died of grief when Oddi announced Hjalmar’s death and King Hlodver buried the two lovers in a great mound together in Uppsala.

The king had watched his daughter’s champion, Hjalmar, and his friend, Arrow Odd, struggle as their sea battles and combats with the Danes and then the Hraes’ of Gardar grew more and more desperate and the rivalry of champions spiralled out of control.  The harder the two young men had fought, the harder the champions they faced became.  And now they were dead….his daughter and his foremost man, his future son in law.  Never had he met men as hard as the Hraes’ warriors from Gardar.  They were hard men living hard lives.  And he knew Oddi’s growing desperation was not over.  He could see it changing the young man….wearing him down.  He would need friends now, more than ever.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

17.0  THE GREAT PAGAN ARMY ATTACK ON ANGLELAND  (Circa 866 AD)

“If the porkers knew the punishment of the boar-pig,

 surely they would break into the sty and hasten to

 loose him from his affliction.”

The Saga of the Sons of Ragnar Lothbrok; Anonymous.

(866 AD)  Over the summer, news filtered into Gardar, the Land of Forts, the Land of the Hraes’, that the grandsons of King Frodi ‘the Peaceful’, Ruler of Kiev, the twelve berserker sons of Jarl Arngrim and Princess Eyfura were dead and buried on Samso Island in Denmark.  And it was Arrow Odd who had killed them.  The raider who had killed five berserker champions of King Frodi’s in Zealand had now killed twelve berserker grandsons on Samsey.  King Frodi sent out envoys to Erik ‘Bragi’ in Gardariki, to King Olmar in Tmutorokan and to Jarl Arngrim in Novgorod.  An army was to be assembled to venture north and avenge the deaths of the berserker brothers.

“King Frodi has raised a host to attack us,” King Roller told Oddi.  “He wants your head.”

“The berserker sons of Arngrim were after my head when I fought them on Samsey.  And it cost Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ his life,” Oddi complained.  “I should flee.”

“He will pursue you to the ends of the Earth,” the king warned him.  “You must go to King Hlodver and get whatever force he can muster.  I shall raise a force to support you, but no king can help you openly.  We are all under the rule of King Frodi.  You must take your fleet and your forces to Britain and to your King Skolli there.  We shall face Frodi in Angleland.  His host is vast and we have no way of beating him, so we must wear him down, we must retreat up through the Jute Lands, the Saxon Exes, the Anglelands, the Danelaw, Northumbria and on up through Scotland, where our fleet will be waiting, then we’ll go to Ireland and, if need be, New Ireland.  There was a reason I sent you on that mission to find the western lands.”

‘Thus the ends of the Earth just got a lot larger.’  Oddi thought at that moment that King Roller must be the most fortuitous king he had ever met.  So, he left immediately for Sweden to garner King Hlodver’s support.

“Do you know that at that moment he thought you were the wisest king in the world,” Gunwar said as she joined Roller in bed.  He hadn’t seen her spirit for months.  Then after Samsey, when Frodi sent envoys out proclaiming Arrow Odd an outlaw, she came to him again, pleading for the life of her son.  But she needn’t have, for Roller knew, after he’d learned of Heid’s prophesy, that Oddi was his nephew, the son of his brother, Erik ‘Bragi’, Kagan-Bek of Tmutorokan.  He would have a lot of explaining to do when he met his brother in Valhall he thought, as he pulled Erik’s naked wife closer.

For the second time in his life, Erik received the war arrow, this time in Tmutorokan.  He was going to the hall of the Alchemists’ Guild when King Frodi’s envoy passed him the blackened arrow.  After he had received his first war arrow as a youth, it became he who sent out the war arrows during his tenure as leader of the Hraes’ and now, decades later, he was receiving his second.  “Tell your king,” Prince Erik told the envoy, “that I shall meet him with my fleet at the Thames Estuary, for it is said that Oddi and his raiders have conquered that land, so that is where we must start our search.  I shall take the Nor’Way in case they try to escape to the north.”

When Erik entered the hall of the Alchemists Guild he took a small red Coptic style book out of his shirt and he joined eleven other Prophets and Alchemists that knelt in a circle and he opened his book and began to chant with them.  There were Mages from Baghdad and Jerusalem, Cathay and India, Sheba and West Africa and one from the Nor’Way.  They squatted on their knees in their wide circle of twelve and they chanted for hours, reading from their ancient texts, all different, yet so much the same, and soon Erik felt a presence in the room, an ancient being in the room behind him and a future being ahead of him, just beyond the ring of Mages.  There was a problem.  Something that had worked before no longer worked as it once had – the science was flawed or changing.  Erik realized he was only a messenger.  Zarathustra, Zoroaster, the original prophet of the book, the first prophet of the one true god religions had a problem and the answer could only be found in the future, so far in the future that an intermediary had to be found to communicate through and Erik had shown promise of being just such a Mage.  The problem was in the primary Arc itself, and its ability to generate power.  The secondary or receptor Arc worked fine, but the primary would not provide enough power for the receptor Arc to do its job quickly and a new application had arisen for which it was not suitable at all.  Erik had no idea what was being discussed, or even the language it was being discussed in.  It was images and ideas, nothing verbal.  A great oaken chest filled with plumbium plates and fruity acids and copper and silver rods both rigid and flexible.  The science had worked for centuries, but now it would not.  Physics was changing as the three dimensional world was changing and Erik could understand this part…he had seen it before; when he was in Kraka’s coma for nine days, he had seen the universe form from a singularity to a linear existence then to a planar form and into a three dimensional world that was evolving still and what had worked before no longer did.  And concepts and terms such as batteries and capacitors were being bandied about, through and sometimes around Erik, and some things he could follow and others he could not fathom, but the future being that stood in front of him fully understood it all, like Erik understood steel, and the ancient being behind him was an apprentice who knew much of it and could guess at the rest.  Silver plates and posts replaced lead, and acids were replaced with oils, and static generators of fur and cloth charged up the Arc and it became a power storage device rather than a generator and its output increased exponentially.  Zarathustra was satisfied.  History would be kept on track.  Erik wasn’t sure what was meant by that, but he knew the messaging was over.

King Frodi assembled his fleet on the Dnieper at Kiev and he led it north up the Danepar.  He took his troops from the homeland of the Poljane to the land of the Drevjane and through the forests of the Radimichi and they portaged across to a tributary of the Dvina River and entered the land of the Sclavs.  They rowed and sailed north up the Dvina until they entered the Baltic Sea.  They sailed west across the Baltic until they reached Zealand and entered Liere to replenish supplies and bolster their forces.  The Danes then sailed north around Jutland and entered the Anglish Sea and headed for the Thames Estuary and waited for Prince Erik and his forces.

King Roller and Oddi had led their force of Swedes, Goths and Norwegians north to London, where they joined up with the army of King Skolli.  Their fleet they had sent north via the Irish Sea to Scotland to await their retreat.  King Frodi, Great Kagan of the Hraes’, was growing tired of waiting for Kagan-Bek Erik and his forces at the Thames Estuary and was about to lead his vast array west when half of Prince Erik’s forces finally arrived and the Hraes’ army fought the rebels on a plain in Cantia.  King Roller fought beside Arrow Odd and King Skolli, wearing his ancient Vanir armour all painted black.  It had a heavy fully enclosed iron helmet that covered his head, with but a T-slit to provide for sight and breath, a massive black iron breast plate that protruded from under his dark cloak, studded and banded black leather leggings and sleeves that covered his limbs and heavy boots and iron banded gloves that completed the armour.

The rebels fought a retreating skirmish all day and were joined in the late afternoon by the King of Wessex and his Saxon forces.  Under cover of darkness, they retreated through London and awaited the vast army on the plains of Mercia.  It took several days for the Danish supply trains to set up transport lines and fortifications, so Oddi’s men had time to rest and recover.  King Roller was gauging the difference in mobility of the two forces, so, when they engaged again on the Peterborough plains, it was another retreating skirmish designed to maximize Hraes’ and Danish loses while minimizing rebel casualties.  King Roller was planning to retreat to York and a bit of revenge, but he had to make sure they would have time, so he sent out cavalry forces to harass King Frodi’s supply lines.  The Danes had learned much from the Huns about setting up supply lines and handling hosts, but the Norwegians had learned much about destroying them.  King Frodi hunkered down in the abandoned city of London while forts were established to protect supply routes.

King Roller set up fortifications on a plain north of London and made it seem they were awaiting the Danes, but one night the rebels slipped away from their Saxon allies and began a forced march to York.  There, Roller met up with his brother, Erik and said, “Gudmund Grimson showed up a day ago and Oddi took off to the Nor’Way with him.  He said the Danes were destroying the countryside.”

“I just passed through there and I saw no Danes,” Erik said, “but they’d be coming from the south.”

Prince Erik had with him half of his Tmutorokan cavalry forces, two thousand Roman knights or cataphracts, half a legion of death on hooves.  They were placed on either side of five thousand Swedish, Norwegian and Anglish foot soldiers in a rushed attack upon King AElla and they crushed his Northumbrian foot soldiers on a plain north of York.  The Anglish King was captured, and his two sons died on that plain.  The Hraes’ army marched into York unopposed and captured the king’s daughter, Princess Blaeja.  King Roller and Prince Erik inflicted the death of the blood eagle upon the Anglish king.  But the king’s daughter was another matter.  She had to at least be plundered, but by whom?  “I may have to convert to Christianity soon,” King Roller explained, “and I don’t need plundering added to my long list of sins to confess to.”

“Well, I’m an Alchemist,” Prince Erik expounded, “and such things are frowned upon in Majestic circles.”

“Oddi!” they both said in unison, and they decided to wait for the return of Arrow Odd.

Oddi had been intercepted on the plains of Umbria by his foster-brother Gudmund and had been asked to join in on the defence of the Nor’Way.  The two Ragnarsons thought it wiser to lead King Frodi’s main army away from Norway on a wild goose chase while the Norwegians fended for themselves, but when Gudmund told Oddi that it was Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock that was leading a Kievan Hraes’ army up the coast of the Nor’Way, Oddi pleaded with King Roller to be allowed to help.  Grim ‘Hairy-Cheek’ and the men of Hrafnista were already on a plain north of Trondheim.  The shield-maiden Stikla brought her forces from Stiklastad there too, as did many other northern chieftains.

King Frodi’s foremost man, Ogmund Eythjofsbane, approached from the south with his Kievan Hraes’ army, which he had bolstered with many Norwegian chieftains that were covetous of King Roller’s wealth and title, the youngest of whom was Harald Fairhair from Vestfold, just outside of The Vik Fjord.  While King Frodi had been occupied raising troops in Denmark, Ogmund had sallied forth with an army and had plundered The Vik, enlisting the aid of Chieftain Harald with promises of his becoming the first Norse king to rule all of Norway.  Once they had completely pillaged The Vik, Ogmund and Harald worked their way west and then north up the coast of the Nor’Way. While they were occupied plundering Trondheim, Grim and Stikla were marking out their field of battle with hazel poles.  Grim placed his men on high ground on the north side of a valley so his men would find it more exerting to retreat back uphill than to sally forth downhill and when Ogmund’s larger army confidently came against the smaller but more determined Norse army, they could gain no ground, and as the battle drew on, their greater exertions began to wear on them as though they were swimmers stroking upriver against others swimming down.  It became a battle of attrition, with casualties piling up behind the shield walls of both sides.  By midday, both armies had lost half their men and that is when Arrow Odd arrived with his force of Norse, Anglish and Irish troops.  Ogmund paled as he watched his nemesis charging down the northern slope at the head of a small fresh army.  When the Norse shield wall parted to let Oddi and his men charge through, the impact of the fresh northern shields crashing into the southern battered bucklers could be heard across the entire battlefield and it was as if the ground quaked as that section of wall was driven back a staggering number of paces.  Ogmund knew he could not afford a battle of attrition against Arrow Odd.  He had seen whole ships full of his men fight to their deaths against Odd’s warriors only to come up with a draw.  He could not spend the rest of the day watching his remaining army slowly melt away.  He had to have some sort of a force to bring to King Frodi in Britain, so they could fight their real enemy, King Roller of The Vik.  So, he began the slow process of pulling back his troops in an orderly fashion and minimizing casualties, so it looked as if Arrow Odd and his men had completely turned the tide of battle.  When night came and each side withdrew from the field, Ogmund and his forces retreated to their ships in Trondheim and the Hraes’ army sailed away for London, leaving Harald Fairhair and his Norse army to hold Trondelag.  King Harald would later claim to be king of all Norway, but he would never lord over the Hrafnista men or Halogaland, the Nor’Way lands north of Trondheim.

Oddi knew he would have to get his men back to Northumbria, but they had a victory to celebrate that night, and the people of northern Norway voted to name their lands Halogaland after Arrow Odd’s true name, Helgi, meaning Holy.  And Shield-Maiden Stikla spent the night with Arrow Odd and showed Helgi that she, too, was holy and she prayed he would bless her with a son.  The next day, Oddi and his men sailed off for the defense of York.

After King AElla had been killed, word reached Prince Erik and King Roller that the vast Danish army had come up against the lone Saxon army and the king of Wessex had immediately sought terms and sent gifts to King Frodi and offered the Danes banquets and feasts.  The king of that island, perceiving that he was unequal in force, went to Frodi, affecting to surrender, and not only began to flatter his greatness, but also promised to the Danes, the conquerors of nations, the submission of himself and of his country; proffering taxes, assessment, tribute, what they would.  Finally, he gave them a hospitable invitation.  Frodi was pleased with the courtesy of the Briton, though his suspicions of treachery were kept by so ready and unconstrained a promise of everything, so speedy a surrender of the enemy before fighting; such offers being seldom made in good faith.

When Oddi reached Northumbria, he learned that York had been taken and King AElla and his sons were dead.  Then he learned that the daughter of King AElla was to be plundered and that he had been drawn the short straw.

“I promised Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ that I would never take a woman on my ship against her will,” Oddi said.  “I yet honour the wishes of my fallen comrade.”

“It must be done,” The Prince explained.

“I will only do it if she willing joins me on Fair Faxi,” Oddi said.

Oddi then made a proposal to Princess Blaeja and she only had one question.

“Will it end the curse Ragnar put on my family?”

Oddi got Prince Erik and King Roller, the two sons of Ragnar Lothbrok, to accept his proposal and also their assurances that the curse would be ended.

“I have been told by the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok that the curse will be ended after you are plundered,” Oddi assured the princess.

“Good. Let’s get this over with then,” Princess Blaeja replied.

“I promised you and your family forever, all the land in Northumbria that you can encompass with a hide, and this has been agreed to by the brothers,” Oddi explained.  “So, we will cut this cowhide into fine strips and wrap it around the walls of York.”  And Oddi and Blaeja and all her handmaidens got to work slicing the hide into silk-like threads until they wrapped it around the city walls.  By evening, the city was hers again.  Northumbria was still held by the brothers, but York would always be hers and her daughters, patriarchal inheritance being excepted.  No sons of AElla would ever rule York, the sons of Ragnar had stipulated.

That evening Arrow Odd invited Princess Blaeja aboard Fair Faxi and they dined under the awnings and then prepared to sleep together.  Some would say that Oddi was too much of a gentleman to take advantage of the princess, but for a young Christian woman, she seemed very afraid of Ragnar’s pagan curse, and she was ready to work very hard that night to ensure it was erased.  She took Oddi over to the bed that had been placed by the mast and began undressing him.

“We don’t have to do this,” Oddi started, as Blaeja then began undressing herself.

“I would say from the look of you, that we do,” she responded, “or does your ship now sport two masts,” and she laughed gently, “ like the two masted Knars that King Ragnar brought from Frankia?”

“Tell me more about Ragnar.  Do you know how he died?”, Oddi asked, pulling Blaeja onto the bed with him.

“I see we’re down to one mast again,” Blaeja said disappointedly.  “My father made me watch it all.  I’m a healer and he made me watch it all.”

“King Ragnar told me that he wanted a most famous death, a warrior’s death,” and then Oddi asked, “did he get it?”

And Blaeja told him everything.  She told him about the battle on the northern plain and about the capture and torture of Ragnar.  “I told my father not to torture him, but he tortured him and then made me heal him so he could torture him some more.”

She told him about Ragnar’s final feast and about the death by poisoned blood-snakes.

“My father made me brew the poison that was slaked onto the swords and he made me attend the banquet even though I told him I was against everything he was planning to do.  So, I mixed some pain medicine in with the poison, so the later cuts wouldn’t cause as much distress.  When the feasting started, King Ragnar was brought into the hall and chained to a tall post that had been set into the floor in the center of it.  I was surprised when my father had only the choicest cuts of the highseat spread served to Ragnar, and only the finest wines.  Everybody else was served mead, but he got wine.  The servants all treated Ragnar with the utmost respect and, although he remained chained, they brought him an armchair to sit upon and his trencher platter went from arm to arm, serving as a table.”

“It is fitting he got wine,” Oddi said.  “King Ragnar had marked himself with a spear and sacrificed himself to Odin and only Odin can drink wine in Valhall.”

“After the feasting, the servants took the chair away and stripped off King Ragnar’s white silk shirt.  Twelve nobles, selected by my father for their loyalty, were given the twelve swords and they circled around Ragnar, who fiercely faced off against whoever he thought most likely to attack him, but the slash would invariably come from the rear or the side.  After six cuts, it was easier for Ragnar to face his opponents because he knew the six with bloodied swords would no longer be lashing out at him, but the poison was at work and I could see him starting to slow and by the ninth cut he was really slowing down.  But then suddenly he looked refreshed and he would look off into the dark corners of the hall as though watching something and when a lash came from the rear he would sidestep it, even though there is no way he could see it.”

“He sees Valhall,” Oddi explained.  “Valhall has a hundred doors and all would be closed to him while alive, but he is peering over the doors to see his relatives drinking mead and fighting in combats.  In his heightened state, he can sense the blades coming for him.”

“Then King Ragnar began reciting his verses,” she said:

“If the porkers knew the punishment of the boar-pig,

 surely they would break into the sty and hasten to

 loose him from his affliction.”

And all the while that he was reciting them, the nobles would lash out at him from behind and he would effortlessly sidestep the strike.  This effortlessness angered the nobles, so one would lash from behind and, when Ragnar sidestepped it, another lord would slash him from the side.  Now it wasn’t the poison affecting Ragnar anymore, but rather, loss of blood.  He didn’t even try to avoid the twelfth strike, although it would be the easiest to evade, coming from only one man.  He just stood there with one hand over the other as though he was leaning all relaxed on the pommel of a sword, and the stroke came straight in and stabbed him in the abdomen and he fell forward and he died.”

“And those were Ragnar’s exact words of this curse?” Oddi asked.

“Yes.  My father wanted me to revive him, but it was too late,” Blaeja said, near tears, “he was already dead.”

“King Ragnar’s curse is pitting swine against snakes,” Oddi warned, “and we all know how that ends.”

“I know,” Blaeja said.  “I told my father we were focked.  I’m so angry with him.”

“Don’t be angry with him,” Oddi said, stroking her long auburn hair.  “When I was a boy, I sailed the Mediterranean with King Ragnar, and he told me that he had sacrificed himself to Odin, and that he wanted a most famous death, but that Odin didn’t seem inclined to give him one.  I told him that Odin would give him a death that people would talk about for a thousand years.  Your father just may have answered his prayers.”

“Do pagans pray?” she asked coyly.

“I’m praying to Odin right now,” Oddi said.  “Dear Odin…pray teach me how to sail this two masted ship of mine.”

“Once again, Fair Faxi sports two masts,” she agreed.  “Let’s see what I can do about that,” and she pushed Oddi back onto the bed.

Later, Princess Blaeja asked Oddi if the curse was now ended.

“I think it is,” he started, “but Ragnar had a bit of Loki in him, so he might have a trick or two coming your way.  I’ll check with his wife, Kraka.  She’s a healer and knows more than a bit of witchcraft.  She would know for sure.”

“Do you know a lot of healers?”

“In my line of work,” Oddi admitted, “you make it a point to know a lot of healers.  I know a Princess Olvor in Ireland that is a healer, and her mother was a great healer and a seer.”

“My mother knew her mother,” Blaeja said, excitedly.  “Do you know her well?  I’d like to meet her.”

“We have a daughter, Hraegunhild, together in Ireland,” Oddi said.  “Why would you want to meet her?”

“My mother was in the Alchemists’ medical guild.  She knew Olvor’s mother and was always inviting her to join the guild.  I thought perhaps to extend the offer to her daughter?”

“The Prince is an alchemist, Prince Erik is a member of the guild,” Oddi started.

“I know,” Princess Blaeja started.  “He was telling King Roller that he didn’t want to plunder me because he is quite high up in the Alchemists’ guild in Baghdad.  And King Roller told The Prince that he would soon be converting to Christianity, so he couldn’t plunder me.”

“They told me they drew lots while I was fighting in the Nor’Way and that I was drawn the short straw.  Those sneaky royals, present company excepted, of course.  I swore an oath to Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ that I would not take women aboard my ship against their wishes and we fought slavers together and though he is dead, I still respect his oath.”

“Is that the Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ that the skalds sing about dying on Samsey?”

“The very same,” Oddi said.  “Do they sing about me as well?”

“Not a verse,” Blaeja chided.  “But I see your mast is well above half now.”

Oddi took a quick peek out of the awnings.  “The sun also rises,” he said and it was his turn to push her on the bed.

“Will you come again, come visit me?” the princess asked.  They could both hear York coming to life outside the ship’s awnings.

“I’ll come back when I find out more about the curse,” Oddi answered, getting dressed.  “Today, I have to find some of your famous York boats, the bigger the better, twelve oared if possible.  I’ll pay silver to anyone who has them.  I need two or three for each of my ships.  If I can stack ‘em and rack ‘em, that would be great.”

“My cousin sells York boats,” Princess Blaeja started, “but she’ll want the silver now.”

“That’s fine.  I’ve got a silver kettle full of silver that I got from the giant, Hilder, right aboard Fair Faxi here,” and Oddi walked to the awninged rear of his ship, flipped open a covered half deck and scooped up a double handful of silver Kufas and let them pour back into the kettle from between his hands.  “I guess it’s King Hilder now,” he added.  “Or would this cousin of yours, would she prefer gold?” and he opened a chest and took up a handful of gold Byzants and let them slowly drop.

“Oh, I think she would prefer the gold,” Princess Blaeja said.

“Gold it is, but I need them today.  Also, there will be a particularly nasty King Frodi coming this way in the next day or two, so if you have some place outside of York you can stay for a while…”

Princess Blaeja stroked her belly as she watched Oddi leave, then said, “Hraegunhild, I like that name.”

King Frodi was being feasted and entertained by the king of Wessex in Mercia, but it did not take long before the Saxon king was caught plotting to poison the banqueting King Frodi, and the Saxon army fled back to Wessex and locked themselves up in their fortress of Winchester.  Soon the Danes were marching north through Umbria.  King Roller led his Norse cavalry forces into Scotland to join their fleet on the northern coast.  Arrow Odd’s fleet sailed back down the Humber and set off to join King Roller’s fleet in Scotland and Prince Erik’s fleet sailed south for London to meet up with Frodi’s fleet there.

“You must take your fleet west to Slabland,” Roller told Oddi, “ and Prince Erik shall act out pursuing you.  While you make good your escape, I shall try to draw King Frodi south past Ireland and all the way to Frankia.  Prince Erik will convince King Frodi to go after me and he will go after you.”

King Skolli and Oddi prepared their Norse, Swedish and Anglish ships to make a run for the Newfoundland, loading up their York boats, while King Roller prepared his Norwegian fleet to lead the Kievan Hraes’ fleet south.

“You must take your fleet to Flanders,” Erik had told his brother.  “Tell Bishop Prudentius, if he’s still alive, that Erik ‘Bragi’ needs a favour in the protection of his brother.  He still owes me a mark of silver for the protection of one of his flock.  And take my Cataphracts with you and reclaim Rouen and all of father’s trading stations in northern Frankia.  I’ll convince Frodi to go after you there while I go after Oddi in the west.  Keep the Franks between you and King Frodi.  I shall take my fleet west after Oddi’s fleet,” Prince Erik added, “and check out this Newfoundland he has discovered.  Whatever you do, do not go back to The Vik.  The Danes control it now.  King Frodi has ordered the razing of Norway and shall give what is left of it to that upstart, Harald Fairhair.  I learned of Frodi’s plans so I sent ships to take Kraka, Brak and all of our people to Frankia.  They should already be at the Hraes’ Trading Company stations there.”

King Frodi had gone quite mad in the years following his killing of Queen Alfhild.  The claw-marks she had ripped down his face often grew infected and inflamed and caused him to ofttimes wear a mask.  He was an unforgiving task master ruling an empire that stretched from Angleland to Asia, that traded in fur and slaves, spices and silk, that counted its wealth not in tons of gold, but in tons of gold per trading season.  King Frodi’s reign was a golden rule.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

18.0  WARLOCK SONGS  (Circa 866 AD)

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

               And his followers were called the Hraes’.”

                        Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler;  Skaldskaparmal.

(866 AD)  King Roller soon realized that his brother had not been able to entice King Frodi to follow him south to Ireland and away from Oddi’s flight westward.  The ruler of the Hraes’ was after only one Viking and that was Arrow Odd.  So, the former King of Norway sailed to Frankia and took command of his father’s trading stations on the northern coast.  Using his brother’s two thousand Cataphracts and his own Norse Vikings, he headquartered himself in Rouen, planning to handle his end of the Nor’Way trade from Frankia, never to return to Norway.  But a little bit of Norway was waiting for him there.  His mother, Kraka, and Brak had sailed from Stavanger Fjord first to Flanders and then to Rouen in search of him.

“When you and Erik were about to fight the sons of Westmar,” Kraka began explaining to her son, “I received a dream from Odin warning me that you both were soon to die in your battle on the ice because it would snow that night before and the foot blades you had made would be useless for skating.”

“I remember you telling me that,” Roller confirmed.  “Then you told father of your dream and he marked himself with a spear and sacrificed himself to Odin.”

“Well, I’ve just had a similar dream about young Oddi,” Kraka said.  “I have been warned by the gods that he has taken a wrong turn and is in grave danger, but when I try to find out which gods warn me, I am blocked by a warlock.  I have to warn Erik that he must sail inland if he is to protect young Oddi.  And I don’t know what it means.  My witchcraft is being blocked by a warlock named Tussock.”

“Ogmund Tussock is King Frodi’s foremost man and leader of the Hraes’ fleet in pursuit of Oddi’s fleet.  Oddi is overwhelmingly outnumbered, but Erik had plans to keep his Tmutorokan fleet in between the two.  Something must have separated them.”

“We must get a warning to Erik,” Kraka pleaded.

“Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock has been steeped in witchcraft since birth,” Roller said.  “His magic is purported to be very powerful.”

Later that night in his palace in Rouen, Roller was visited by the spirit of Princess Gunwar.  “My son is still in danger,” she began.  “He made a wrong turn and is sailing inland up a great river that leads to great lakes while Erik continues to follow the coast south and away from him.  My brother, Frodi, is right on his tail and shall catch him soon unless Erik can get back between them.  But we have to warn Erik to head inland now.”

“Kraka could, but there is a warlock named Tussock who is preventing her from sending Erik a dream.”

“Ogmund Tussock,” Gunwar whispered.  “There is a corrupt chapter in Oddi’s future Saga devoted solely to Ogmund Tussock.  Slide over and I’ll recite it to you,” Gunwar said as she joined Roller in bed.  “It is one of the few Sagas of our family that has just barely survived the ravages of Christian kings and drunken skalds.”  And the spirit of Gunwar spent the next few hours reciting sagas to Roller.  She concluded her tales, saying, “And that is the story of Oddi and Ogmund in the Newfoundland up to now, but I’m afraid it will end much differently if we can’t get a warning to your brother, Erik.”

“Can you not visit Erik and warn him just as you are now visiting me?”

“I have no connection with Erik,” Gunwar explained, “other than being his wife in my past life.  I am a Christian now and have no spiritual connection with my pagan husband.”

“But I’m a pagan,” Roller protested.

“But you won’t be for long,” she warned.  “You, too, shall convert to Christianity, just like me, and you shall build stone churches, just like me, and be a fine example of the faith, unlike me.”  And Gunwar snuggled into him and smiled up at him and they caressed each other.  They made love and they talked of how they had missed each other and they made love again.  They were about to fall asleep in each other’s arms when Princess Gunwar saw the spirit of Queen Alfhild step out of the shadows of a corner of the chamber.  “What are you doing here?”

“Who is it?” Roller asked.

“It is a pagan witch,” Gunwar said angrily.

“I see no one,” he said.

“She is pagan.  She has no connection with you.”

“Don’t be angry with me,” Queen Alfhild complained.  “I shall warn Erik.  I thought I’d be open and tell you first.”

“You didn’t the last time your spirit slept with my husband,” Gunwar said angrily.

“The last time I slept with your husband was to warn him that the witch, Gotwar, was about to poison you and kill both you and your son, Oddi, before he was even born!”

Gunwar, being a spirit, knew that Alfhild was speaking the truth.  She lowered her head onto Roller’s shoulder.  “Thank you for that,” she said.  “But did you have to sleep with him?”

“Men have a habit of waking up in the morning and forgetting what a woman has told them the night before.  I slept with him so he would remember my dream visit.  I left nothing to chance.”

“Again, thank you.  We owe you so much,” Gunwar said sheepishly.

“Don’t play kiss my ass with me,” Alfhild said, haughtily.  “I was the one who made your brother, Frodi, withhold his support from Gardariki and you died fighting the Huns alone.  Saving your son was the least I could do.  But you can thank me for trying to save him again now.”

“Thank you, my queen.  If you don’t mind my asking, why are you helping save my son?  He has slain your twelve grandsons.”

“It was eleven grandsons.”

“What?” Gunwar said in astonishment.

“He killed eleven of my grandsons.  Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ killed eldest Angantyr.  And if Hjalmar had just listened to Oddi, Oddi would have fought Angantyr and Hjalmar would have killed eleven of my grandsons and Hjalmar would be alive today.  But he thought he was Oddi’s equal, that he could battle both Angantyr and your sword Tyrfingr together.  Only Oddi could have matched that duo and then he would have only killed one of my grandsons.”

“One or eleven,” Gunwar said, “you would not be helping him now unless there was some other reason.  I know you.  What is it?”

“When I died, I saw Oddi’s spirit.  Frodi was strangling the life out of me just as you and Erik conceived Oddi, and I saw his spirit enter you then enter him and it was a tiger.  His spirit was a tiger, full of courage even in infancy, and it gave me the courage to fight back and I clawed Frodi’s face and I clawed and I clawed.  I didn’t die like a pussy.  I died a tiger.  And when anyone sees your brother they can see what I did to him and are reminded of what he did to me.  Oddi’s spirit, his tiger gave me that.  One might not forgive a snake for killing Ragnar, but I cannot blame a tiger for killing Angantyr.”

Gunwar was in tears and she whispered, “I’m so sorry.”

“I shall sleep with your husband again.  I’ll leave nothing to chance.”  And Alfhild turned and returned to the corner she had come from and the shadows from whence she came.

“Is it Queen Alfhild?” Roller asked.

 “She is gone,” Gunwar told her lover, wiping away a tear.  “But she claims that she will warn Erik to go inland and protect Oddi.  You must tell Oddi when you see him next that his spirit is a tiger!  Queen Alfhild saw his spirit when he was conceived and she said it was a tiger!”

“I will tell him, but will Alfhild be able to bypass Ogmund Tussock?” Roller asked.  “Kraka says he is a very powerful warlock.”

“I think she is in a better position for spiritual feats, for she is now a spirit and Ogmund is yet alive.  Perhaps you should talk with Kraka about this and I shall return again, and you can tell me what she says.”

In the morning, Roller met with Kraka and asked her about Ogmund Tussock’s powers.

“Ogmund is said to be a ‘Caller of Spirits’ and has no power to help or hinder spirits,” Kraka began.  “But he can call on other spirits to hinder a spirit willing to help Erik and Oddi.  Do you have such a willing spirit?”

“I do,” Roller said with trepidation.

“Who is it?” she asked, and she saw him hesitate, so she added, “I do have to know this if I am going to help you.”

“It’s Queen Alfhild,” he replied.

“Queen Alfhild?  King Gotar’s daughter?” and she laughed.  “She cannot be trusted.  Her father tried to kill Erik.  Erik killed her father.  And Oddi killed her twelve grandsons.  She cannot be trusted!  Why would she help Oddi?”

Roller let his mother go off for a bit, then said, “She says Oddi’s spirit is a tiger and she cannot blame a tiger for killing a man because that is what they do.  She claims she is square with Erik.  And she is pissed at King Frodi.  It is he she wishes to harm.  And her spirit claims to have saved Oddi once before.”

“So, what is her beef with Frodi?”

“Oh…I don’t know…she claims he murdered her.  Strangled her in her bed for sleeping with his captains.  She says she is the one who tore up Frodi’s face, just before she died.”

“That’s why he wears a mask?” Kraka asked.  “I thought he had leprosy,” she mused.  “He’s debauched so many women, I thought he had caught something.  Still, Alfhild is not to be trusted.  You are not sleeping with this spirit, are you?”

“I am not,” said Roller.  “She is just a vengeful spirit that has contacted me through my dreams,” he lied.  “She wishes to avenge herself upon King Frodi.”

“Well…we must help her, or Ogmund will sense her presence in his affairs and will send a spirit he knows up against her.  We shall have to block Ogmund’s prescience with Warlock Songs.”

Kraka had Roller search the Norse community of northern Frankia for a spae-queen who specialised in contacting the spirit realm.  Kraka was a witch and a healer, but the spirit realm was not her specialty and controlling spirits and warlocks could get quite involved and taxing.  There was a woman whose name was Thorbjorg who lived just outside of Rouen.  She was a prophetess and was called Litilvolva.  It was a custom of Thorbjorg, in the wintertime, to make a circuit of the Frank trading stations of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ to visit with those who had any curiosity about the season or desired to know their fate.  Roller invited the spae-queen to his palace and prepared for her a fine welcome, as was the custom whenever a reception was accorded a woman of this kind.  A high seat was prepared for her, and a cushion laid thereon in which were poultry-feathers.  She arrived in the evening, accompanied by a troupe of fine young women known as chantreusses, and she was dressed in a blue mantle, with strings for the neck, and it was inlaid with gems down to the skirt hem.  On her neck she had glass beads.  On her head she had a black hood of lambskin, lined with ermine.  In her hand she had a staff, with a knob thereon that was ornamented with brass and inlaid with gems.  Around herself she wore a girdle of soft hair and therein was a large skin-bag in which she kept the talismans needed to gain her wisdom.  She wore hairy calf-skin shoes on her feet, with long and strong-looking thongs with great knobs of latten at the ends.  On her hands she had gloves of cat-skin, and they were white and hairy within.  When she entered the palace, all men thought it their duty to offer her greetings, and these she received according to how agreeable the men seemed to her.  Roller took the wise woman by the hand, introduced her to Kraka and Brak, who were sharing his high seats, and he led her to the highchair prepared for her.  He requested her to cast her eyes westward to his brother on the other side of the Atlantean Sea and to distract a warlock who was after Arrow Odd.  She remained silent while he explained that a spirit would be contacting his brother, but the warlock must be distracted for the night or he would interfere with the planned dream seance.

During the evening the tables were set and food was made ready for the spae-queen.  There was prepared for her porridge of kid’s milk, and the hearts of all kinds of living creatures thereabouts were cooked for her.  She had a brazen spoon, and a knife with a handle of walrus tusk, which was mounted with two rings of brass, and the point of it was broken off.  When the tables were removed, Roller advanced to Thorbjorg and asked her how she liked his palace and if she had everything she needed to distract the warlock.  She asked him if he knew who the warlock was and Roller told her all about King Frodi’s new foremost man, Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock.  Then preparations were made for her which she required for the exercise of her enchantments.  She begged Roller to call over to her the young women who she had brought for singing and chanting and who were acquainted with the lore needed for the exercise of the enchantments, and the chants that were known by the name of warlock-songs.  They were led by a lean pretty girl who introduced herself as Gudrid.  “I am not skilled in deep learning, nor am I a wise-woman, although Halldis, my foster-mother, taught me, in Norway, the lore which she called warlock-songs.”

The young women gathered about Thorbjorg and formed a ring round about the highchair prepared for her enchantments.  Then Gudrid started by singing a weird-song in a beautiful and excellent manner.  No one there seemed to have ever before heard such a song in a voice so beautiful as now.  The spae-queen thanked her for the song and then all the young women started into the warlock-songs.  The girls would chant, holding hands and dancing around Thorbjorg and then one sang solo a warlock-song that told the battle tale of the Teutoburg Forest and then they all chanted and danced and another girl sang another warlock-song that regaled the battle tale of Bravalla and then they all chanted and danced and yet another girl sang yet another warlock-song that recalled the tale of The Battle of the Goths and the Huns.  And they planned on performing their chants and their songs all night long and into the dawn.  Thorbjorg sensed that while it was late evening in Frankia, it was afternoon on the far western ocean.  But they kept up their enchantment.  “Many spirits,” said she, “are present under its charm, and are pleased to listen to the songs, who before would turn away from us, and grant us no such homage.  And a warlock in the west has now been drawn to our chants and is enthralled by our songs and now many things are clear to me which before were hidden both from me and others.  And I am able to say that Ogmund shall never prevail over Arrow Odd and he knows and fears this truth.  Also, the epidemic of cold and fever which has long oppressed us will disappear quicker than we could have hoped.  And thee, Gudrid, will I recompense straightway, for that aid of thine which has stood us in good stead; because thy destiny is now clear to me, and foreseen.  Thou shalt make a match here in Frankland, a most honourable one, though it will not be long-lived for thee, because thy way lies out to a new land called Iceland; and there, shall arise from thee a line of descendants both numerous and goodly, and over the branches of thy family shall shine a bright ray.  And so, fare thee now well and happily, my daughter.”  Afterwards some of Roller’s lieutenants went up to the wise woman, and each enquired after her what he was most curious to know. She was also liberal of her replies, and all the while the chanting and the songs carried on.  Thorbjorg invited Roller over for a telling, but he refused, excusing himself and going off to bed.  But he saw Kraka joining her with some questions, volva to volva.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” Gunwar said.  She was already lying in his bed.

“It may be after midnight here, but where Erik and Oddi are, Thorbjorg assures me it is only early evening.  They’ll be chanting and singing downstairs all night long.  I don’t think we’ll be getting much sleep,” he said as he sat down beside her and pulled his boots off.  “Which begs me ask, shouldn’t I be sleeping when you pay me a dream visit?”

“Maybe you are sleeping,” Gunwar teased, glancing about the chamber nervously for any sign of Queen Alfhild.  Roller doffed his clothes and slid under the silk sheets beside her.  He said, “I’ve missed you my whole life.”

“You probably say that to all your spirit women,” Gunwar teased some more.  “There are certainly enough of them about tonight.  Thorbjorg is good.  Really good.”

“Back in Norway, when you first came to me, you talked about stopping up the flow of time.”

“Don’t go back there, by the way.  Don’t ever go back.  There is a new king there now…a King Harold Fairhair of The Vik, who claims to be the first king to lord it over all of Norway, over all the provinces, Stavanger included.  He claims to have demoted you to Earl of Northmore, or some ungodly province up the coast.  But he’s a boot-licker of my brother Frodi, just cleaning up the slaughter my brother caused.  Promise me you’ll never go back to Norway?”

“I promise.  Have you been drinking?”

“Because if you go back, King Finehair will further demote you to Earl of Noheadanymore.  He’s one lying, boot-licking mother-coupler.”

“Do all spirits talk like you?” Roller asked.

“Just the ones that want to stop up the flow of time.”

“Tell me more about that.  You said then that our family sagas will be destroyed by Christian kings.  And now you’re telling me that I will soon be a Christian.  I’m conflicted.  How many family sagas do we have?”

“We only have two right now, and one of them isn’t about us, but Erik has written them both, so that’s kinda family.  He has written a Saga about us…you, me, Frodi and Alfhild, you know, two Norwegian brothers going to the terrible court of Danish King Frodi to kill him, but your brother falling in love with me and joining him instead to help build the Southern Way and Erik’s Hraes’ Trading Company of Varangians.  Then our crushing of the Slavs of Kiev and our victory over the Khazars of Atil Khazaran and, of course, my famous death in battle at the hands of my Hun nephew, Prince Hlod, little focker, and how Erik writes a drapa about my death that so inspires the mad King Bjorn of the Barrows that he spares my husband’s life if he can just write such a poem for him.  And for the big finish, the great Battle of the Goths and the Huns.”

“And what is the other saga he writes?”

“A silly tale of some Danish Prince called Amleth or Hamlet or something.  He writes as Bragi ‘the Old’…’Bragi’ for the byname that Alfhild’s father, King Gotar, gave him…another mother-coupling king of The Vik, what a prick…and ‘the Old’ because he married me, married into ‘the Old’ Skioldung line of Danish kings.  It was inspired by Prince Brutus ‘the Mad’ of Rome, but it’s really about King Bjorn ‘of the Barrows’ Alrikson who played the mad kites-man to survive in Sweden until he could take back his kingdom from Erik.”

“If we have two now, how many will we have later?”

Over the next two hundred years…maybe a dozen.  But there will be dozens of variations on each of them and our family lines go way into the future, but those tales aren’t told as sagas.  They’re called Tales of Bygone Years.”

“So, what are the names of the rest of the sagas?”

“Erik writes another one called “The Saga of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson”.  And Arrow Odd writes “The Saga of Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ Erikson, but it’s all poetry, beautiful poetry; my son, a poet!  But there are many variations of it that are prose with his poems inserted and Erik writes a prose version as well.  Then there’s “The Saga of Ivar ‘the Boneless’ Erikson, but that’s the Anglish version.  The Danish version is called “The Saga of King Eyfur ‘Harde Knute’ Frodison”, meaning Frodi’s grandson, of course, and the Hraes’ version is called “Bygone Tales of Prince Igor of Kiev”.  But in Gardariki it’s called “The Saga of Prince Eyfur ‘the Boneless’ Erikson”.  Next in line is “The Saga of King Svein ‘the Old’ Ivarson” in Gardariki which is called “Bygone Tales of Prince Sviatoslav of Kiev” in Hraes’ and “The Saga of King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’ Knuteson” in Denmark and Angleland.  Finally, Erik writes “The Saga of Prince Valdamar ‘the Great’ Sveinson” in Gardariki, which is done as “Bygone Tales of Grand Prince Vladimir ‘the Great’ of Kiev” in Hraes’ and “The Saga of King Canute ‘the Great’ Sweynson” of both Angleland and Denmark and even Norway.”

“How can you remember all that?” Roller exclaimed.  “And you’ve been drinking.  Are there any about me…here?”

“Here they don’t call them sagas.  They’re annals and they’re boring and are taken as serious history and yours will be “The Annals of Duke Rollo ‘Longsword’ of Normandy and there will be many stories of you and your off-spring,” and Gunwar kissed him softly.

The two lovers could hear the chanting still going on as they made love into the early hours until Duke Roller fell asleep and in the morning Gunwar was gone.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

19.0  NEW IRELAND, NEW SCOTLAND, NEW ANGLELAND  (Circa 866 AD)

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

           And his followers were called the Hraes’.”

                        Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler;  Skaldskaparmal

(866 AD)  After Duke Roller had failed to draw away the fleet of King Frodi, Prince Erik had seen the Hraes’ fleet of his king pulling up behind his  fleet, so he pushed Arrow Odd’s fleet harder.

Slabland looked the same, slabs of rock and slabs of stone and not much else.  Yet Oddi could not stop there.  The Hraes’ fleet of Prince Erik had matched him league for league across the great Atlantean Sea and behind them a half day back was the Kievan Hraes’ fleet of King Frodi.  Oddi and King Skolli sailed their fleets past the southern tip of Slabland, then sailed down the coast for New Ireland.  They put some distance between themselves and their pursuers, but the Hraes’ knew they had only one way to go…south.  When Oddi reached the green island he had named New Ireland, he led his fleets between the isle and mainland coasts.

When their pursuers reached the northern tip of the island they paused to plan their pursuit.  Prince Erik saw King Frodi’s foremost man, Ogmund Tussock, at the forestem of Frodi’s flagship and, because King Frodi had the larger fleet, he shouted, “You take the channel and scour both coasts and we’ll take the east coast of the island.  Once past the island sail straight south and we’ll be waiting for you off the mainland coast.”

Ogmund agreed and the two fleets separated and scoured down the coasts of both sides of the island, with Erik and his Tmutorokan Hraes’ checking the Atlantic side and the larger Kievan Hraes’ force sweeping the channel sides, both island and mainland for the Norwegians.  But neither fleet could find sign of them.  Erik led his men around the south end of New Ireland and waited for King Frodi at an island on the north end of New Scotland, but the Danish king never showed.  He had followed the mainland coast west up the mouth of a great river and accidentally followed it and then, surprisingly, spotted some York boats of the Norwegians upriver spying on their progress up the great river.  There were also signs of natives and villages deep in the woods and round bark boats that would scurry up tributaries as the Hraes’ approached.  King Frodi sent a ship back east to New Scotland to apprise Erik of the situation and set off in pursuit of the rebels.  But Prince Erik had a dream the first night they anchored off New Scotland, and Queen Alfhild came to him and joined him under the awnings and she kissed him and caressed him and made love to him and then she told him that Arrow Odd, had taken a wrong turn into the mainland and was now heading up a great river that was leading to great lakes far inland.  Erik woke with a start, realizing that he was supposed to keep himself between his king and young Arrow Odd.

Oddi had led his men upriver instead of down the coast.  Then he sent his best rowers in several of the many twelve oared boats with which he had equipped his fleet.  They backtracked downriver, watching for signs of the Hraes’ fleet and spotted them camped along the riverbank for many miles downstream, but they only saw signs of the Kievan Hraes’ fleet.  The Tmutorokan Hraes’ fleet that had been between them was gone.  They retreated upriver undetected and returned to their own Norse fleet to find them beached at a village of some native peoples.  Oddi met his returning lieutenants on the riverbank and told them that he had visited with these Mississaugan people on his first trip to the Newfoundland and he introduced them to a young native woman.

“This is Watseka,” he started, “and this is our son, Ahanu, named after his grandfather.  The name means he who laughs.”  The men gathered around the couple and child and were very obliging.  Oddi was going to warn them to be gracious, for their very lives depended on the natives help, but he could see they already understood that.  Once the men had given their reports, Oddi told them that the native reports agreed with theirs.  The Tmutorokan Hraes’ fleet had been monitored going south along the coast, just as Oddi had expected.  “We have to attack King Frodi,” he explained.  “While the two fleets are separated.  I have it on good authority that, if the Kievan fleet is defeated, the Tmutorokan fleet will leave.”

So, the Norse fleet rested in the Mississaugan village of Kanata for a day, then went back downriver to meet the Danes and the Kievan Hraes’.  Oddi knew from experience just how hard these men were, especially the Hraes’, and he knew that the half-troll warlock, Ogmund Eythjofsbane would be waiting for him as well.  King Frodi would let his foremost man do the fighting for him.  The Mississaugan Chief Ahanu sent warriors along and they helped camouflage his ships under trees and branches along the river’s edges.  Although the Norwegians were heavily outnumbered, Oddi wanted to take the fight to King Frodi.  So, they waited for the Hraes’ fleet to resume rowing upstream, and a few native warriors, in their birchbark boats, paddled ahead of the Danes and warned the Norse fleet of their approach.  Oddi watched the fleet go by and saw Ogmund at the forestem of their shield-bearing lead dragonship and when he had gaged that the vanguard of the Dane fleet would have reached the rear of the Norse fleet, he ordered the attack and the Norwegians, Swedes and Angles attacked from both riverbanks.  They threw off their camouflaging foliage, fired volley after volley of arrows, then rowed out from under the overgrowth with their bright blue swords and spears flashing in the early sun.  The battle raged for hours until the afternoon sun began to wane, and still more Danish ships tried to pull into the fray, encumbered by the wrecks floating down from the battle upriver.  King Skolli fell in the latter half of battle and under cover of darkness the remnants of the Norwegian fleet fled upstream.  They unfooted their masts and flooded and sank their ships in the middle of the river and Oddi asked Watseka to watch over his hidden ships.  And they rowed their twelve oared boats upstream to make better time.  The Danes pressed them hard from behind, but they were in large ships, so they could never really catch up to the Norwegians.  The chase went on for a week upriver and then the river became a lake…a huge lake, and the ships of the Danes could use their sails and were catching up to the Norwegian boats, but the lake turned into a river again and the Norse put distance between them.  But the river narrowed and started getting very fast, and the rowing got hard and the ride got rough.  When they got around a bend in the river the rapids became impassable, so Oddi had his fleet row to shore and there on the riverbank was Chief Ahanu and hundreds of his warriors to help portage the boats around the raging waters.  Then back into the river the boats went and the rowing was much better, but soon there was a low rumbling sound that got imperceptibly louder as they rowed until it grew into a deafening roar, and they could see a huge curving wall of water fifty fathoms high.

“It is called Nia Gara by some,” Oddi told his men as they pulled into shore.  “Others call it the Gitchee Nibi, meaning great waters.”  There to help them were more Mississaugan warriors, and they helped the Norse portage their boats around the falls.  Then they put their boats back into the river and followed it into a second huge lake.  A third lake came upon them in similar fashion, and Oddi followed directions he had gotten from Watseka and they found a river on the western edge of the lake and the Norwegians in their twelve oared York boats escaped into the wilds.

Prince Erik and his fleet caught up to King Frodi just as he was preparing to build a portage road along the rapids and falls so he could haul his ships around them.

“How many miles of road?” Erik asked.

“Twenty or thirty,” Frodi replied.

“That’s a long way.”

“No longer than the roads we built for the Danepar rapids.”

“We took a full year building those.”

“We didn’t have two armies.”

“We had experienced builders and oxen and tools.  We have to return to Europe in the fall, at the latest.

“We’ll have the road built in three weeks!”

The road was almost completed in three months, just in time for King Frodi’s return trip to Europe.  Their men were tired, their supplies almost gone and they still hadn’t hauled one ship out of the water.

  “We must head back now or we shall never make the crossing back,” Erik told his king.  “If we can even find them, they can lead us on a goose chase across a land that could be as vast as Europe, itself.  If we don’t leave now we may never make it back.” 

“I’ll not leave till I have Arrow Odd’s head to bring back with me,” King Frodi replied.  “My Empire be damned.”

“The Tmutorokan Hraes’ shall stay behind and catch them,” Erik offered.  “The great army must return and maintain the Peace of Frodi.”

So, the great army headed back the same way they had come and the fleet of the Tmutorokan Hraes’ set up camp on the riverbank by the falls and waited.  Erik had a twelve oared boat readied and set off upriver after Oddi.  While longships seem to have intimidated the natives, the boat did none of that and soon there were native warriors paddling their round birch bark boats a safe distance away from the twelve oar boat.  A white shield was strapped to the forestem of the boat and after a few hours of rowing, they were joined by a half dozen Norse boats.

“You were supposed to keep sailing south,” Erik started, as a boat with Oddi at the helm approached.

“We lost our bearings,” Oddi shouted over the waters.  “And we paid for it.  Where were you?”

“We had positioned ourselves to be between you and King Frodi, but you and Frodi seemed to have taken the same wrong turn.”

Oddi joined the Prince in his twelve oared boat and they began to plan their next moves.  Soon dozens of Norse boats joined them in their downstream return to Erik’s ships.  They camped a week on the beaches of the river mouth, meeting and trading with the local natives then retraced their steps back across the Gitchee Lake and Gitchee River to the spot Oddi had scuttled his ships.  Their best swimmers then dove to the river bottom and removed some rock ballast from the ships’ hulls and they re-floated the smaller Nor’Way ships of Oddi’s fleet.  When they re-floated Fair Faxi, Erik suggested he take the Nor’Way ship back to Kiev and King Frodi as proof that the natives had killed Arrow Odd, but Oddi had decided to take Fair Faxi and his smaller Nor’Way ships further inland, because he had seen a great river there that the natives call Mis Sis Sippi.  When Prince Erik asked him why we wasn’t refloating his dragonships Oddi answered, “I’ve decided to overwinter in the Newfoundland.  I found a great river inland that is full of huge mounds that I wish to explore.”

“Are these mounds full of silver, like those of Bjarmia?” The Prince asked.

“No.  They are full of cities.  I have seen native cities the size of Paris and London.  The further south along the river we went, the larger the cities got.  Perhaps they have a Constantinople at the southern end, just like our Nor’Way.”

“I’d love to stay and explore with you, but I must get back.”

“Thank King Frodi for the fine road he built for us.”

Prince Erik smiled and gave Oddi a big hug and whispered, “You didn’t get lost at all, did you?”

CHAPTER TWENTY

20.0  THE VALLEY OF THE MOUND BUILDERS  (Circa 867 AD)

“Like a moth drawn to a flame,      the Spirit of Queen Alfhild

  was drawn to her Tiger Totem,       and she visited ‘Arrow Odd’,

  one night in a dream that was,    both physical and spiritual.”

Brian Howard Seibert

(867 AD)  It took all the people of Watseka’s village to portage six small Nor’Way ships around the Nia-Gara Falls.  And, with the dozen York boats and supplies, it took the whole village a month at the Nia-Gara site and so they built a temporary village there and called it Kanatatoo, meaning ‘Village too’.  Once the portage was completed, Watseka’s Mississauga people returned to their permanent village and Arrow Oddi took Watseka and their son, Ahana, across the great lakes and south to the Mississippi River to overwinter in warmer weather and explore.

“My father liked the name of your village,” Oddi told Watseka as they slept under the awnings of Fair Faxi.  “He says Kanata sounds like our word knute, or knud, which means knot and he likens our Hraes’ Trading Company as a great trading network composed of many trade stations or knots in a trading net that has been cast out to encompass trade from Cathay and the Land of the Rising Sun in the far east, and now, to Kanata and the Land of the Setting Sun in the far west, a truly world-wide company of merchants.”

“I like that,” Watseka said, snuggling into Oddi’s arm.  “A village is but a knot in a vaster net cast across the world for the benefit of all.  Your father must be a poet.”

“That he is, and more!”

“Is he really planning to make us a part of his trading net?” Watseka asked.

“I think he’d like to,” Oddi answered, “but he’s more in charge of the Varangians, the eastern Vikings, and my Uncle Roller, Duke Rollo, handles the western end of the business.  They’ll have to discuss it.  And right now my uncle and I are in trouble with our King Frodi who is trying to kill us both.”

“Is that the evil King that you fought with?  The one who paid us gold and gifts to build the portage road you are now using?”

“Yes, the very one and the same.”

“I don’t like him,” Watseka said.  “His face looks like it’s been clawed by a woman, like he’s a rapist of some poor girl who made him pay for his conquest.”

“He strangled his wife,” Oddi told her, “and she’s the one who clawed his face up in her last dying breaths.  Her spirit told my Uncle Roller this one night as she slept with him.  She told him that as she was dying she saw me being conceived by my father, Prince Erik and my mother, Princess Gunwar, and she saw that my conceptual spirit was a tiger and it gave her the strength to fight back and she tore up his face before he murdered her.”  He didn’t tell her that it was actually his father Erik that had related the story to him after the spirit had also slept with him.

“That is such a powerful spirit story!” Watseka said, shivering and clutching Oddi.  “But what is a Tiger?”

“It is a very big cat, very fierce…a maneater!”

“We have those here in our Puma, and the Mayans have Black Panthers.  That is a very powerful totem.  No wonder your rapist king ran back to his trading empire.”

“Tell me about these Mayans,” Oddi begged.

“The Mayans have their own trading empire that is full of many evil kings,” Watseka started, “but we shall be seeing that for ourselves, Gitchee Manitou willing.  Tell me more about this murdered spirit queen who was sleeping with your uncle.  How did he make love to a ghost?”

“He claims he didn’t, but I suspect that he did, and from what I’ve heard about it, the ghost gets astride the man,” and Oddi pulled Watseka atop himself, “and she rides him like a Valkyrie,” and Oddi entered her and pushed her up and began bouncing her atop his loins.

Watseka began her ride and, as she sped up, she whispered, “What is a Valkyrie?”

Oddi told Watseka all about Viking shield-maidens and how they became Valkyries after they died in battle and they served the God of Hosts, Odin, and selected who, among men, were to die in battle and they carried the fallen warrior spirits to Valhalla on their white chargers and their Valkyries were their first lovers in the great hall of Odin.  Then he told her of the Shield-Maiden Stikla and how he had helped her fight in the Battle of Stiklestad and that he made love to her the whole night after their victory and he’d blessed her with a son, he’d later heard.

Watseka was amazed that they had women warriors in Hraes’, and the Nor’Way and Denmark and Sweden.  Women that fought in battle and queens that fought in bed and spirits that carried off men and made love to them in Valhalla.  Such things were not allowed women in the Newfoundland.

“I promised your father that I wouldn’t get you pregnant this time,” Oddi told her.  “I think I may have just broken that promise.  Now he’ll be angry with me again.”

“He has never been angry with you,” Watseka reassured him.  “He just pretends to be angry.”

“Really?” Oddi blurted.

“I’m a princess of our tribe,” she went on, “and I would have to marry outside our tribe as most of our royal women must.  By marrying you, a prince from a distant land, he is allowed to keep me and my children in his home, and for a chief, a king of his stature, this is an unusual blessing, especially if our alliance brings him much lucrative trade.  Don’t worry about his anger.  He is blessed having a princely son-in-law like you!”

“Blessed?” Oddi blurted.

“Yes!” Watseka stated.  “But not nearly as blessed as I am!” and she gave Oddi a great hug.  It made her happy to learn that the Vikings were eager for trade, for her own Mississaugans were trading partners with the Mississippians who were trading partners with the Mayans and her husband would likely have come from the south to fetch her home with him and she was afraid it would have been a Mayan prince who would have taken her and she did not like the Mayans.  She had heard horrific tales of their human sacrifices and what they did to children and how they treated and traded their slaves.  Women there had even less freedom than she did and then to hear about shield-maidens and Valkyries and her own husband having fought alongside women…it was freedom.

As they sailed down the Mississippi River, Oddi saw some familiar cities that he had seen in the spring as they had fled King Frodi in their York boats, but from the higher vantagepoint of Fair Faxi’s longship deck he realized that the cities were not on mounds but were stockaded cities sitting on level ground behind ceremonial mounds that were shaped as snakes or other animals and Watseka told both Oddi and his son Ahanu of the significance of the edifices.

“Some tribes have the snake as their animal totem,” she explained, “so they have their slaves build a long snake mound of earth to show their respect for the snake.  Other tribes will have their slaves build deer mounds or wolf mounds or whatever their chosen animal totem is and they place ceremonial offerings upon the mounds.”

“Do the Mississaugans have an animal mound?” Oddi asked.

“Oh no,” Watseka replied.  “It is too much work.  We don’t practice slavery.  We only keep the captive warriors we have spared in our wars and they usually work their way to freedom or end up falling in love with one of our women and they marry into the tribe and replace warriors we lost in our wars.”

“Well, couldn’t these captives build mounds?” Oddi asked and Ahanu chimed in with him, “Yes, mother, can’t they?”

“The captives work for their freedom in the tin pits.  We dig tin metal out of the earth and we trade it to the Mayan traders for copper and gold.  The Mayans use their copper and our tin to make weapons, sharp bladed war clubs that don’t shatter like obsidian blades.  And they make sacrificial daggers out of the combined metals and they slaughter people like animals on their stone temples.  The Mayans are great warriors, but they sacrifice all their captives to their gods to ensure future victories.  I don’t like the Mayans,” she confessed.

At that moment Watseka reminded Oddi of his lover, Gudrun, back in Norway, whose father had taken her to Gardar just before King Frodi’s general, Ogmund Eythjofsbane, had ravaged the countryside, and he pulled her close beside him and he hugged her.  He thought of Gudrun and her sister, Sigrid, and he wondered if they had started a Freedom Movement in Polotsk in the east.

The further they sailed downriver, the larger the cities got, and the larger the fleets of canoes would be that came out to greet or threaten them, depending on the disposition of the particular tribes.  When they pulled into shore one evening Oddi had his men put the York boats upside down onto the ship decks, two to a ship, and he assigned the boatmen to the ships carrying their boats.  The ships got a little crowded, but it was safer.  The canoes were getting larger as well and their warriors could easily overwhelm a York boat crew, but the warriors could easily be repelled from the vantage of a ship’s deck.  The six Nor’Way ships then rowed out to the middle of the river and weighed anchor in a protective circular formation and the crews slept under awnings and under the Yorks.  They only went to shore to cook and to hunt fresh game.

When the fleet came across cities onshore, Watseka would gage whether it was safe to trade with them or not.  The stockaded cities were often at war with each other, fighting over territory or slaves or game or fishing rights, and when they fought they were not friendly.  Strangers seemed threatening to them and curiosity was subdued.  Watseka seemed to just know when something was up, when bad vibrations were carrying out over the waters.  War drums were heard often in the fall, after the wild rice had been harvested, and the weather was good, and the warriors had some time on their hands.  And as they sailed south, the weather kept getting better and better and the drums could be heard more and more often.  It was Mississippian summer and many stockades would be put to the test.

At one point in the river where a large tributary flowed in from the east, there were three stockaded cities across two rivers from each other and they all seemed to be at war with each other.  Fleets of war canoes would be paddled across river and a sudden attack would be made against a stockaded wall but, watching the warfare from the safety of the middle of the river, it was apparent that women who had been washing down by the river were caught outside the walls and were being gathered up by warriors and were being loaded into freighter canoes and slaves that had been caught working outside the walls were suffering the same fate.  And while the one city could be seen attacking the second city, a war fleet of the third could be seen paddling out across the second river to attack the first city.

As Oddi watched the captive women being paddled across the Mississippi in freighter canoes, Watseka said, “As always, it is the women who suffer most in wars.”

“Tragic but true,” Oddi agreed as they made their way down river as quickly as possible.  When they passed by and traded with a few more peaceful cities and the weather became quite warm once more, Oddi kept his eye out for some land on which to build an overwintering station.  The native tribes were all very martial and warlike, far too dangerous to sleep on shore, and Oddi didn’t want to spend the whole winter sleeping on his overcrowded ships in the middle of the winter.  He discussed his plans and concerns with Watseka and they decided to find a tribe that was peaceful and encouraged trade and when they found it, they traded iron ships kettles and frying pans for the right to build an encampment on the riverbank on tribal lands.  Watseka told them they were Mississaugans and the Mississippians told them they were of the northern Red Stick tribe.  Oddi learned that the southern Red Sticks had the lands of the Delta and that they leased land to the Mayan traders on the Delta.

“Did you see the size of their snake mounds?” Oddi asked Watseka when they got back to the ships.  “They were huge!”

“The Red Sticks have a lot of slaves,” Watseka replied.  “They buy slaves from the Mayans and they use slave labour to build the biggest mounds.  Only the Mayans build bigger mounds on the Delta and they put their sacrificial stone temples atop them.  Only the Mayans have more slaves than the Red Sticks and they need them.  My father says the Mayan stone temples keep sinking into the delta mud and they have to rebuild them every few years.”

“Why don’t they build them out of wood?” Oddi asked.

“They’re from the south, from across the Mayan Sea, and there, it is said, they build everything out of stone.  It is their way.”

Oddi gave her a shrug of ‘whatever’ then added, “We’ll be building out of wood,” he said.  Earthen berms and wooden buildings.  No stone.  Riverbanks can get as muddy as deltas and I want us as close to the river as possible.  On the river we have the advantage.  It is our escape route.  It is our sanctuary.”  They hired some Red Stick guides who helped them find a suitable site and then Oddi had to sit and think about what his grandfather had taught him about building a Roman ring fort.  The old Vik king had told all the youths of Oddi’s ship of boys how to build a Roman ring fort as they’d camped along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the old man had claimed that marking out the site properly was the first and most important part of the process.

“I had just returned from fighting in the Hellespont,” the old king had said, pacing around the campfire circled by boys listening with all ears, “the land of the Greeks, the Eastern Roman Empire, and I had personally seen the construction of a Roman ring fort on the Scythian steppe just off the Dnieper River north of Cherson.  Although their ring fort had not saved them from the wrath of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’,” and the old man waved his arms and their visions of the Roman legion vanished right before their eyes, “when I had to build a quick temporary fort in south Jutland, I employed what I had learned from the Romans and I set a millstone in the center of the fort site,” and he pointed to the center of the campfire, “and I put a short pole into the hole of the milestone and I looped a long anchor rope around it, and I paced out a hundred steps with the rope in my hand and I tied the rope to my spear with a knot, a square knute, and I began tracing a circle into the dirt as I walked around the millstone.”  And Ragnar walked inside the circle of boys around the campfire, tracing an imaginary line in the dirt behind himself.  Ragnar then stepped outside the circle of boys, saying, “Then I paced out another ten steps and tied another knute about the spear and walked around again, tracing out the outer perimeter of the berm we would be constructing,” and Ragnar had paced once more about the fire, a little further out and in the opposite direction.  The boys eyes were all glued upon the old man as he paced about without, and then he had paced out another ten steps and did the same for the outer perimeter of the ditch they would be digging to get the material for the berm, but again, he reversed his direction.  “That is why I made sure to use square knutes that would stay in the rope when I withdrew the spear because the Romans had also used the knots to square up the fort into equal quadrants.”

King Ragnar then went into detail of how the rope could be used to square up the two access roads that would criss-cross through the fort and he told the boys how he had sent half his men into nearby woods to fell trees for a palisade and he had set the other half to digging the outer ditch and throwing the earth between the two lines for the berm.  It took two days for his men to throw up the berm and another two for them to erect the palisade.  The old man had then warned the boys, “It is the gates for the entrance roads that take the longest to properly build so, while four entrances are best, in a rush job, one will do.”

Because they had made peace with the local Red Sticks, that night was the first night they would sleep on shore in a long while, so, that evening around the campfire, Oddi explained to all how they would be building a Roman ring fort in the Valley of the Mound Builders, and, although his son, Ahanu, was the only boy around the campfire, Oddi described the plan just as King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ had explained it to his ship of boys decades earlier.  And as they were building the Roman ring fort, the local Red Stick men, women and children came downriver in canoes and sat on hilltops to watch what the ‘Vikings’ were doing, just as the Anglish Danes had watched what Ragnar’s Norse Danes had been doing in the Valley of the Schlei.

King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ had built his fort in four days, but he had a full army.  Prince Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ had lost half his army fighting King Frodi the prior spring, so it took them a full week.  And Oddi took Ragnar’s advice and limited the fort to one entrance and it faced their sanctuary, the Mississippi.  To save time, instead of building longhalls, he had his men roll three of their longships into the compound on log rollers and, with surprisingly great difficulty, they turned one longship over in each of three quadrants and they balanced the upside down ships on their forestems and aftstems, using the keels and strakes for roofs, and quickly filled in the outer walls with vertical logs.  The ships had become surprisingly heavy over the summer.  Oddi limited each longhall to one door as well, for added security.  But, because he had used ships for the roofs, he did not want to put smokeholes in the roofs, as that might affect their later reuse as ships again, so he knew he could not build standard hearths.  He had to take the smoke out the sides of the longhalls just below the topstrakes of the hulls.  He got himself and Watseka invited to the Red Stick city and he was surprised how large it was.  They had done trading outside the stockade, but once inside, the large population within the walls became immediately apparent.  It was larger than Paris or London, but the streets were all very narrow because they had no horses or wheeled carts and foot traffic was very compact.  The Mississippian and Mississaugan languages were related and very similar so Oddi could converse with the locals and he found that their houses were quite similar to longhalls and had hearths on the floors down the center of them with smokeholes in the roof to carry out smoke.  While the fall weather was very mild that far south, the Red Stick builders assured Oddi that he would still need hearths in the dead of winter, as, on very cold days, a skim of ice would form on water puddles.  Ice used to form on the river centuries ago, the older builders told him, but the weather had warmed and it no longer froze over, still, they warned, fires would be needed.

Oddi described what he needed to the builders and they traded him some local mortar that could be used with river sand.  He returned to the ring fort and he told his men that he was going to build a little house for the fire out of stone, four houses actually for each longhall and the fires would be placed two per long side down each outer wall and he would build a stone smokestack for each stone house that would go up past roof level.  The smokestacks would be quite similar to the smelting stacks they would build when they made Indian steel back in the smithy shop of Hraegunarstead.  He had built lots of those over his years working with Jarl Brak and they would burn the excess carbon out of pig iron to make low carbon steel and then they would smash apart the stone and sand and mortar smelting stacks to get at the fired steel blooms and they would build a new stack for the next firing of Indian steel, so Oddi had built an awful lot of those smelting stacks over his years at King Ragnar’s stead.

He had a few steel smiths in his merchant marine crews and he got them together to help him build twelve of these firehouses and smokestacks.  When Watseka saw him and his men working with mortar and stone she said, “I thought you said: ‘No Stone’.”

“What?” Oddi asked.

“You said you were going to build our longhalls out of wood.  No stone, like the Mayans do.”

“I believe I said I was going to build our houses out of wood.  These four little houses are the fires’ houses, and only they shall be built out of stone.”

“So the fires get fine stone houses and we only get wood,” and she looked up at the longship above her head and added, “and it’s used wood at that.”

“It may be used,” Oddi said, realising that Watseka was pulling his leg, “but it will never leak.”  The first firehouse and stack was complete so Oddi showed his wife how it worked.  The mortar was still curing so Oddi built a very small fire at first, but she could see how all the smoke from the firehouse was magically drawn up the smokestack and out of the longhall.

“That’s amazing!” she said.  “Where did you learn how to do that?”

“I just invented it!” he admitted, proudly.  Even he was surprised how well the firehouse and smokestack had worked.  He had eyeballed everything from the size of the firehouse to the diameter of the smelting stack and even the thickness of the flat slate stone that served as a roof above the firehouse.  They soon discovered that the flat slate roof got hot enough that one could cook food in frying pans atop it.  Watseka even began frying fish right on the slate and it seemed to give some types of fish a unique and pleasant flavour.  But the thing that Watseka found so amazing was that the flat stone stopped the smoke from rising into the longhall, but it was flat, so why did the smoke only roll out the back side and go up the stack as if it had been commanded to only roll up one way?

“It is because hot air rises,” Oddi told her.  “We steel smiths do our forging over hot coals and fires and hot air and smoke rises and we have to come up with ways of drawing the smoke up and away from our work or we won’t be able to see what we are forging.  So we’re always creating draft paths to carry the smoke away from our eyes.  The smokestack creates a path for the hot air to rise and it draws the smoke out along with it as it rises, so when the smoke piles up under the flat slate, it doesn’t roll up and out on both open sides because cool air is being drawn into the firehouse to replace the hot air that is rising up the smokestack.”

“So, because you know that hot air rises,” Watseka started, “this knowledge allowed you to invent something that has never been done before.  That is even more amazing than your firehouse.”  She looked up at her husband and she suddenly realized just how special her ‘Arrow Odd’ was.

“And tonight I will show you proof of hot air rising,” Oddi added.  They finished the rest of the firehousings and smokestacks in the main longhall and had a river fish meal cooked on the hot slates for supper.  After the meal Oddi took Watseka into their bedchamber and unpacked a gift from a trunk.  “I was going to give this to Ahanu, but I realized it was too dangerous for a boy his age,” and Oddi showed her a small flat package.  “It is a sky lantern from Cathay, in the east, and it will serve to demonstrate that heated air becomes lighter because it expands and this causes it to rise up and float in colder heavier air.”  They went back out into the hall to a table in the highseats area and Oddi sat Ahanu on a bench beside him and began assembling the sky lantern.  He expanded and ballooned out the thin tissue bag that formed the top of it and he used four fine brass wires to attach a small candle basket below it.

Watseka saw what he was up to and she went over to the fire and lit a small kindling stick from it and returned to the table.  Oddi took the firestick from her and he held up the tissue bag while he lit the small candle below it.  “The hot air and smoke from the candle will rise up into the bag and displace the heavier cold air that is in the bag because it is hotter and lighter.”  Soon the bag floated on its own and Oddi let go of it and it stood above the candle on its own.  “In a few seconds the whole sky lantern will rise up and float because its hot air is lighter than the cold air around it.”  And just as Oddi had predicted, the sky lantern rose up off the table and began to float up into the darkness above.

“It’ll set the hall afire!” one of Oddi’s captains shouted.  “It’ll be fine,” Oddi said.  “The ship’s wood is still waterlogged from being immersed under the Gitchee River for six months. That is why it was so heavy when we hauled it up into the ring fort.”  The sky lantern rose up into the longship hull and was stopped by the deck planks, but only the bag was rising so the candle basket still hung safely below it until the small candle burned out.  “Now that the candle is out, the air in the bag will start to cool and the sky lantern will start its descent back to the tabletop.”  In a few minutes the lantern began its slow descent and almost landed on the tabletop so Oddi caught it.  All the people in the hall gave out a great cheer once the experiment concluded.  “Do it again,” Ahanu pleaded.

That night after they tucked Ahanu into his small bed and he fell asleep, Watseka snuggled up to Oddi in bed and whispered, “Can you teach me how Frankish women make love?”  The request surprised Oddi and he asked her what she had heard about the women of Frankia.  “I heard your captains talking and they agreed that the Frankish women were the best focks in the world.  They said they did things that no other women do.  I want to learn their ways.”

“I can teach you their ways,” Oddi started, “for I have been in Frankia quite a while and I have been with many Frankish women, but you have to learn all their ways if I am to teach you.  Can you handle it?”

“If they practise it, I can handle it,” Watseka said confidently.

That night Oddi taught Watseka all about Frankish oral sex.  She found it a bit strange until it was Oddi’s turn.  Oddi spent the winter teaching Watseka about the sex practices of many lands while Watseka taught Oddi about the Valley of the Mound Builders.

In the spring the Viking fleet sailed back up the Mississippi River and then back across the western great lakes to the temporary village of Kanatatoo.  Chief Ahanu was waiting with a large portion of the Mississaugan tribe to help portage the ships back around the Nia-Gara Falls, using the road King Frodi had paid them to build the previous summer.  While they were portaging the ships, Oddi took several Viking crews to where they had submerged their ships and then dove under water and removed all the stone ballast from each ship.  Still, the ships did not refloat themselves.  They had been too long under water.  Oddi had his men empty ship water barrels and reseal them airtight and they tied ropes to the barrels and then dove with the ropes and took them under a ship’s crossmembers and then back up to the surface so they had the barrel floating in the river above the ship and then they passed the ropes to a crew in a York boat and they yarded on the ropes until the barrel was drawn all the way underwater to the crossmember.  When the men complained of how hard it was to submerge the barrel, Oddi explained that it was a good thing, for the force it took to pull the barrel under was equal to the upward force the barrel now exerted on lifting up the ship.  Then he had his men tie another barrel to the end of the ropes they had been pulling upon and he told his men to pull excess rope from the first barrel to pull the second underwater.  He told them that this barrel would be much easier to pull under because the first barrel would help pull it under as it rose up a bit.  It took eight barrels per longship to get them dislodged from the river mud and get them halfway to the surface, then they could tow the ship closer to shore and drag it up along the river bottom with ropes they passed to men on shore.  It took a week to get all the longships re-floated and they repaired and dried the ships for another week.

A much larger Viking fleet now sailed down the Nia-Gara River and through the last great lake to the Gitchee River or Kanata River, as Prince Erik had called it, which would take them to New Ireland from whence they would make the very dangerous ocean crossing to Old Ireland.  But first they spent a few days gathering provisions in the Kanata Village of the Mississaugans, that the Vikings were also calling Kanata Town.  By now Princess Watseka was showing signs of her pregnancy and Chief Ahanu was once again angry, but Oddi knew it was for show and the chief threw a celebratory feast for the young couple on the last night they would be together.  Because they would be apart for a long while, Chief Ahanu assigned them a bridal house that was usually reserved for newlyweds and Oddi and Watseka were taken to it after the feast and the couple settled into bed together and practised some Frankish sex before going to sleep in each other’s arms.

Oddi woke up in the middle of the night to find Watseka on top of him, riding him like a Valkyrie.  He was both surprised and pleased with the experience and as they were speeding up and about to climax together, Watseka bit him on the arm and delayed his orgasm and enjoyed her own and then she rode him some more and when they were again nearing orgasm she bit him on the other arm and delayed him once more while enjoying her own.  These were not sexual tricks that Oddi had taught her, but he was enjoying the extended ride and the third time they approached climax they shared it together.  Watseka was exhausted and she collapsed on his chest and hugged him.  “I am so going to miss you,” he whispered and she hugged him some more then used Frankish oral tricks to get Oddi excited again and Oddi made love to her this time.   Again she used some other techniques to delay Oddi and enjoy herself some more and, again, these were methods that Oddi knew from somewhere but had not shown her.  After they had come together several hours later, Oddi rested and realised that these were techniques used in witchcraft for special ceremonies, sexual ceremonies.

“Are you going to miss me?” Oddi asked Watseka, looking into her eyes in the dim candlelight.

“You can’t go back the way you came,” she told him and there was a strange coldness in her eyes.

“Why not?” Oddi asked and he looked into her eyes suspiciously.

“If you try a direct sailing return to Ireland, as you came here last spring, your fleet of open ships will be caught in a storm and you will all drown,” she explained.  “You must sail a more northerly route to avoid the storm, sailing to Slabland, then east to the Glacier land you saw off your stearingboard side and then east to an island that your Captain Floki saw when you made your first trip to the Newfoundland.  He is building a settlement on the west coast of the island he has called Iceland and the settlement is called Reykjar Vik, meaning Smoky Bay, and you can get fresh water there and sail southwest safely to Ireland.  Sail south down the west coast of Ireland.  My husband, King Frodi has men in Angleland watching for your return there, so go down the west coast and sail straight to Frankia where your uncle, Duke Rollo awaits you in Rouen.  Don’t even stop for water.”

“Who are you?” Oddi asked incredulously, but he knew from the witchcraft and the slip of tongue that the Spirit of Queen Alfhild had taken possession of his wife.  “King Frodi only had one wife, but she is dead.”

“Dead is such a strong word,” Alfhild replied.  “I prefer spirited away.  I spirited away from my husband, after tearing his face off, and it was your Tiger Totem that gave me the strength to avenge myself that way.  Your mother, Princess Gunwar, was spirited away by the Huns and I promised her I would come and warn you.  Your Uncle Roller too.  They both send you their greetings and ask that you follow my warning to the rune.  Will you promise to do that?”

“How can I trust you?  You were one of the most powerful witches in all Norway!”

“Because I witnessed your conception as a Tiger Spirit, it gave me the strength to fight back.  I owe you a lot for that.  And I shall be severely punished by the gods for warning you, but that will make us even.  Your mother would help you, but she is in the Christian heaven and you are Aesir.”

“How will the gods punish you?”

“I was made a Valkyrie by Odin because I died fighting back, thanks to seeing your Tiger Spirit in conception, but that will be taken away from me and I shall have to earn it back.  That will take a long time and it shall be without sex.”

“I will follow your advice to the rune,” Oddi told her.  “I am sorry you will be punished.  Will you give me back my wife?”  This was more a request than a question.  He had learned a lot about witchcraft from his battles with the warlock, Ogmund Eythjofsbane, and had grown to both respect and fear it.

“Oh yes,” Alfhild started, “I almost forgot that Ogmund Eythjofsbane has built a fortress on the cliffs overlooking the strait between New Ireland and the mainland.  He is not there right now, but he has left ships and troops and junior warlocks there to watch for you in case you survived the wilds of the Newfoundland.  You’ll see it up on the cliffs and you’ll have to sneak by it at night in the darkness.”  Alfhild shivered warmly in her new body and Watseka shivered with her.  “I have to say, from the sex we’ve just had, that you have not only survived, but thrived in the wilds.  I shall ride you like a Valkyrie again, I am still a Valkyrie until they punish me, and halfway through it, I shall hand your wife back to you and she won’t even know that I have been in possession of her.  Do you mind if I bite you again?”

“Not if it will bring Watseka back.”

“Good,” she said, “because the first two orgasms will be for me and the third one will be for your wife.”

Queen Alfhild decided to use witchcraft techniques to get Oddi erect again and then she straddled his hips and began her ride atop him and as they were speeding up and about to climax together, Alfhild took his right nipple into her mouth and began to nibble at it and instantly Oddi was inside Watseka and sharing her orgasm with Alfhild and when the witch released it from her mouth he returned to his own body and its delayed orgasm, and then Alfhild rode him for a very long time, as one who would not be having sex for a very long time might, and when they were finally nearing orgasm she bit him on the other nipple and, again, he shared the female orgasm with Alfhild and it delayed him one more time so that Alfhild could continue her ride and the third time they approached climax they all shared it together and then Alfhild was gone and an exhausted Watseka collapsed on his chest and hugged him and said, “I am so going to miss you!”

“Watseka?  Is that you?”

“Yes, it is me.  I’m back.”

“Let me explain what happened,” Oddi began.

“I know what happened.  I have been enjoying the sex as well, the whole time that your queen had taken control of my body.”

“But she said you wouldn’t remember anything.”

“She lied.  She’s been a very naughty witch who knows that, like her, I shall be going without sex for a very long time, so she took full control of me but allowed me to experience witch sex along with her.  Boy that woman can fock.  I don’t think I’ll be able to walk tomorrow.”  She snuggled up under Oddi’s arm and she fell asleep right away.

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

21.0  VIGNIR  (Circa 868 AD)

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

                             And his followers were called the Hraes’.”

                        Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler;  Skaldskaparmal.

(868 AD)  Oddi was returning to Europe with his fleet and he followed Queen Alfhild’s advice to the rune, and they sailed north up the Newfoundland coast to Slabland then headed east out to sea and soon Oddi saw birds off their port side to the north and he knew that they were flying above the Glacier land and then, as Oddi was adjusting the course of Fair Faxi using a navigational device he had acquired in Baghdad, he noticed seagulls to the north, which could only mean Iceland, and from the number of gulls, there was quite a bit of it.  He told his men that they could use some fresh water so he led his fleet north and they spotted what looked to be a large island with mountains that seemed to be belching smoke and steam.  As they approached from the south, Oddi led his fleet west, looking for Floki and his ships.  They had been circling west for about an hour when they saw a half dozen ships anchored in the mouth of a fjord and Oddi recognized one of the ships as belonging to the Viking, Captain Floki, who had sailed with him on his first journey to the Newfoundland.  The whole Norwegian fleet swung into the fjord, which sent the anchored ships into a panic until Floki recognized Fair Faxi and told his men it had to be Arrow Odd.

Floki welcomed Oddi to Iceland and told him that he had observed seagulls to the north when they went to find Saint Brendan’s land a few years back, so he later returned to the area of the gull sightings and found this island of fire and ice and he called it Iceland.  “It’s not a very inviting name,” Floki laughed, “but it sure beats calling it Fireland.”  They were now in the process of establishing the first settlement on the island.  Oddi visited with Floki for a few days while his fleet topped up their fresh water supplies.

One evening Oddi was anchored off a headland of the fjord when he saw a man rowing from the east in a boat.  Whoever it was, was rowing powerfully across the open sea, and he was amazingly big in size.  He rowed so hard up to Oddi’s ships that it seemed everything would be broken before him.  Then he rested on his oars and asked who was in charge.

Oddi said to him, “I am Arrow Odd.  Who are you?”

“I’m Vignir,” he answered.  “Are you the Odd who went to Bjarmaland long ago?”

“Yes,” said Oddi, “but it wasn’t that long ago.”

“I am speechless,” said Vignir.

“Really…it wasn’t that long ago,” repeated Oddi.

“I am speechless because you are my father,” said Vignir, “and I can barely believe that you’re a father to me, for you are so small and weak looking.  I’m sorry, I’m just speechless.”

“Who is your mother?” Oddi said.

“My mother is Hildigunn,” said Vignir; ‘I was born in Giantland, and raised there, but mother told me that I must find my father and begin training as a Viking, so I have been searching for you.  She told me that Arrow Odd was my father, a Viking and a hero, and I was thinking he would be a real man, but now I see that you are the least of nobodies to look at, and so you will likely turn out to be.”

“You little shit,” said Oddi.  “Do you think that you will do more than me?  Or work greater feats than I have?  But I will accept you as my son and you’re welcome to remain here with me and I will train you.”

“That I will, and I accept it,” said Vignir, “but it seems beneath me, however, to train with your men, because they more closely resemble mice than men, and it seems very likely that I will do far bigger things than you, if I live as long as you have.”

Oddi recollected how modest a giant Vignir’s grandfather had been, but then remembered that Hilder had become king and likely Vignir had been raised as a little shit of a royal.  “I haven’t lived that long,” Oddi replied, then quietly asked him not to insult his men.  “Consider it the first lesson in your training.”

“Vignir started to protest, but Oddi said, “Ah…ah…ah, lesson number two starts tomorrow,” and he invited his son aboard for some food.  And the boy could eat like a horse, Oddi marveled.  A very large horse.  A cataphract horse.

In the morning they got ready to continue their journey to Europe and Vignir asked Oddi what they would do there.  Oddi said he was going to Frankia, but he really wanted to look for Ogmund Eythjofsbane.  “From him, you’ll get no good, if you find him,” Vignir said, “because he is the greatest troll and monster ever created in the northern part of the world.”

“It cannot be true,” said Oddi, “that you mock my stature and my men, but you are now so scared that you dare not seek to find Ogmund?”

“No need,” said Vignir, “to taunt me with cowardice, for now I shall have to repay you for your unkind words sometime soon.  But I will tell you where Ogmund is.  He’s in a fjord named Skuggi on a green island, of the wastes of Helluland, with his eight tussocked lads with him.  He was there waiting for you, but he came back to Giantland for some witchcraft and has just returned to Skuggi Fjord and he again is waiting for you to come out of the great hinterland.  Now, you may visit him, if you want, and see how it goes, but I would advise you to let him continue waiting for you.  You are safe staying here while he wastes his time waiting to spring a trap for you, way across the Atlantean Sea.”

Oddi said he wished to find him, regardless of safety.  They sailed west until they passed Glacier land again, then turned south at Slabland and sailed down the coast.  Then Vignir said: “Now I shall sail in my boat today, but you can follow after.”  Oddi let him go his own way.  Vignir was master of his one small ship.  That day they saw two rocks emerge from the sea.  Oddi wondered much at that.  Then they sailed between the rock faces.  But as day wore on, they saw a huge island and Oddi asked them to sail up to it.  The island was covered with heather.  Oddi asked five men to go ashore and seek water, but they had been on shore only a short while when the island sank and drowned them all.  They did not see it again.  When they looked back at the rocks, they saw they had vanished as well.  Oddi was very surprised by this, and he asked Vignir if he knew why this was.  Vignir answered, “It seems to me that you have no more sense than stature.  Now I will tell you that these are two sea monsters.  One is named Hafgufa, the other Lyngbak.  The latter is the greatest of all whales in the world, but Hafgufa is the biggest of monsters created in the ocean.  It is her nature that she swallows both men and ships and whales and all that she can reach.  She stays submerged day and night together, and then she lifts up her head and nostrils, then it is never less time than the tide that she stays up.  Now that sound that we sailed through was the gap between her jaws, and her nose and lower jaw were the rocks you saw in the ocean, but Lyngbak was the island that sank.  Ogmund Eythjofsbane has sent these creatures out searching for you with his enchantments to work the death of you and all your men.  He thought that this would have killed more men than only those that just drowned, and he meant that Hafgufa would swallow us whole.  Therefore, I sailed through her mouth because I knew that she had just risen to the surface.  Now we have seen through these contrivances of Ogmund, but I think that we will still suffer from him worse than any other men.”

“That’s a risk we’re going to have to take,” said Oddi.

Arrow Odd and his son, Vignir, sailed until they found the shores of Helluland and they sailed south until they found the green island that Oddi had named New Ireland.  They sailed along the east side of the sound until they rowed into the fjord called Skuggi.  Once they had beached their ships, the father and son went to high ground and saw the fortress at the top of some cliffs.

“We spotted this fortress when we were coming out of the hinterland,” Oddi explained.  “I thought it was a fortress of King Frodi’s, so we circumvented it.”

“This is Ogmund Eythjofsbane’s fortress,” Vignir said, watching the waves rolling into the fjord, warily.  “He calls it Solitude and he built it to wait for you, to wait until you came out of Skrailingland.  You must have someone protecting you, some witch or warlock, for you to have gotten by him.  But he knows you are here now.”

Ogmund was out on the walls with his companions.  He greeted Arrow Odd as though he had expected him and asked them their business.

“You know my business,” Oddi said.  “I want your life.”

“My idea is better,” said Ogmund, “that we accept that we are square now.”

“No,” said Oddi, “that isn’t true.  You murdered my blood brother, Thord Prow-Gleam.”

“I only did that,” said Ogmund, “because I had greater numbers slain in our prior battle.  But now that your losses equal mine, we are square.  Besides, you will never defeat me while I am in this fortress, but I will offer you this: either you two fight me and my companions, or we will stay in the fort.”

“If that is what you wish,” said Oddi, “I will fight you, Ogmund, and Vignir here will fight your companions.”

“That shan’t be,” said Vignir.  “Now I will reward you, father, for taunting me by saying I would not dare go up against Ogmund Eythjofsbane.”

“You sound like my friend, Hjalmar the Brave, when he wanted to battle Angantyr and left me to deal with all his brothers.  We’ll regret this,” said Oddi, “as I have regretted Hjalmar’s death by the bite of the berserk’s sword, Tyrfingr, ever since.  I have a shirt to protect me from harm, but I know you’ll want to get your own way in this, as did Hjalmar.”

Then the battle raged and all were evenly matched.  Ogmund and Vignir went hard because their age and might matched as did their weapons training.  Vignir drove Ogmund so vigorously that he ran off north along the sea cliff, but Vignir chased him until he drove Ogmund down over the rocks of a grassy ledge.  They were forty fathoms above sea level, and struggling mightily on the ledge, tearing up turf and stones like bone skates on snowy ice.  Sea spray rose up halfway to the ledge and Vignir watched the water warily.

Oddi seemed to be doing a little better, even with the numbers going against him.  He held a massive club in both hands, because iron would not bite through the magic of Ogmund’s men.  He dashed all those about him with the club until he had quickly killed them all.  Exhausted, but unhurt, he thanked Olvor once more for his famed shirt.  Oddi then went looking for his son out along the cliff edge until he saw Vignir and Ogmund battling like demons on the grassy ledge below him.  But before Oddi could get to them, Vignir moved in to finish off Ogmund with a blow and a spout of water from the great whale Lyngbak shot up from the sea and landed at his feet, causing Vignir to slip and as he fell, Ogmund crouched down over him like a beast and bit out his jugular.  Vignir died as he hit the ground.  Oddi stopped and put up his hands as if that action would reverse what had just occurred.  Ogmund said: “I think it would have been better, Odd, if we had called it square as I asked.  Now you have lost someone by me that you can never forgive, and that is something I wanted to avoid at all costs.  Your death has already been foretold to you and it is not at my hands.  This bodes not well for me.  And your son, Vignir, is dead; a man I think would have outdone both of us in strength and valour had he but lived.  He would have beaten me if I was an ordinary man and not the wraith that I am.  He has crushed and broken my body and damaged everything in me, every organ, every tissue, every bone.  I would be dead if it were not for my unnatural powers, but I am afraid of no one in this world except you, Arrow Odd, and from you I will get my just deserts, sooner or later, because now you have more reason to kill me.”

Oddi overcame his shock and flew into a rage, jumped down the cliff and landed on the grassy ledge.  Ogmund moved quickly and dove off the ledge headfirst into the sea far below with a great splash, and he was gone.

Oddi rushed back to his ships and ordered his men to row out and search the sea thereabouts, but there was no sign of Ogmund, so they burned Vignir’s body with the fortress and sailed back to Europe almost as Queen Alfhild had previously instructed.

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

22.0  TALE OF TWO CITIES  (Circa 869 AD)

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

     And his followers were called the Hraes’.”

                        Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler;  Skaldskaparmal

(869 AD)  Returning from New Ireland, Oddi sailed around the old Ireland and beached Fair Faxi on the sand by Black Pool and went inland to visit Princess Olvor and his daughter, Hraegunhild, in Dub-Lin.  “She has grown so,” Oddi exclaimed, as he got dressed.  Olvor was still in bed, propped up on one elbow.  They had spent the morning talking…she had spent the morning listening…to Oddi’s life these past five years and she was mortified.  “You must kill this King Frodi, Oddi.  He will never stop.  You must find a way to kill him!”

“I shall lay low with Duke Roller in Normandy.  Frodi can’t touch us there.  It’s part of Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire, the Constantinople of the West.”

“There is no Constantinople of the west!” she countered.  “The biggest city here is Paris, and your grandfather, Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’, already sacked that!”

“It’s the plan Prince Erik came up with.”

“I told you when I first met you that Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ was your grandfather and you didn’t believe me.  My mother was a Welsh witch and she told me that years before I even met you.”

“Okay, I believe you,” Oddi whispered, as he joined Olvor on the bed.

“Well, thank you,” Olvor whispered back.  “It’s just, if my mother knew you were coming and she’s but a healer, how are you going to keep your location from this warlock, Ogmund Eythjofsbane?”

“My uncle has a spae-witch in Rouen that can block Ogmund’s efforts.  I’m to lay low there and work for my uncle in the Hraes’ Trading Company stations.  I’ll be able to visit you from there.”

“Why don’t you just stay here?  With us?”

“If Frodi finds out that I’m hiding in Ireland, he’ll do what he did to Angleland and the Nor’Way.  I can’t put you and Hraegunhild in danger.  But I’ll visit you both when I can.”

Oddi sent messengers north to Hrafnista and asked his kin to join him, so Gudmund and Sigurd sent word back that they would come to Ireland as soon as they could.  Oddi spent the spring with Olvor and his daughter and Oddi taught Hraegunhild all about Saint Brendan and the land he had found  “He’s half Dane,” Oddi chided.  “That’s the Dan part of Brendan.”  And Olvor worked at repairing Oddi’s plate-mail shirt.  At spring’s end there was a joyful meeting between the Hrafnista men and Oddi.  Afterwards, they set sail from Ireland and kept heading south, hugging the coast, and they crossed the Irish Sea and soon had Wales off their portside, then they crossed the Anglish Sea and the water became much shallower along the coast and Oddi had never been there before.  They plundered southern Gaul, Frankland and Alsace.  They created havoc as they went until they managed to crash their ships on an unknown shore.  They went inland with full weapons and armour and they soon came upon a house.  It was of unusual stone construction they had never seen before.  It had colorful glass windows and spires on the roof.  They went up to it and found that the door was open.  Oddi said, “What do you think it’s used for, Sigurd?”

“I’m not sure,” he replied.  “What do you think, Gudmund?”

“I am not sure,” he said, “but I suspect that men must live here and will come back soon.”

“We shouldn’t go in,” Oddi added.  They sat down on a bench across the road from the house and waited.  Soon they saw people hurrying into the house, and they then heard a racket coming from within that they had never heard before.  “I think these are strange men in a strange country and we should wait here until they come out of the house.”  And it was as Oddi said, and soon people were hurrying from the house.

One of the men walked to where Oddi sat and said, “You look Norse.  Can I help you?”

Oddi asked him what country this was.  The man said that the country was called Aquitane.  “But what is this house you’ve just left?” Odd asked.

“We call this a church.”

“What kind of noise is it you have been making in this church?”

“That we call Mass,” said the local.  “But what about you, are you a complete heathen?”

Odd said, “We do not have a religion.  We believe in our strength and mettle.  We don’t follow Odin at all.  What religion do you practice?”

“We believe in God, creator of heaven and earth, the sea, the sun and moon,” said the pious man.

“He who has built all that,” Oddi said, “must be great, that much I can see.”

The stranger gave Oddi directions to a hostel for pilgrims but he and his men found an inn and paid for their lodgings with silver and gold.  They rested there several weeks and met with a few of the locals.  They asked Oddi and his men if they would like to follow the Christian faith and Gudmund and Sigurd converted.  They again asked Oddi if he would follow their faith and he said, “I will accept your faith, but I will still believe in my might and mettle.  I will not sacrifice to other gods, but I don’t want to stay here.  Therefore, since I will travel from place to place, and be with pagans sometimes and with Christians at other times, I will only practice the faith when I am with Christians.”  The locals were satisfied with that, so Oddi was baptized.  The Vikings settled in and stayed there for a while.

After a while, Oddi asked Sigurd and Gudmund if they would come with him to find his Uncle Roller in Normandy.  “We like it here,” they replied, “more than anywhere else.  And the women here like us too.”

“Then I’ll have to set out on my own,” said Oddi.

“You said you wanted to lay low in Frankia,” said Gudmund.  “This seems as good a place as any.”

“I’ve been bored because nothing ever happens here.”  He didn’t ask them again and, one day, he just left of his own accord.

And when Oddi was leaving the city, he saw a large group of people heading towards him.  A man was riding an ass while others walked about him.  These people were all dressed well and no one was carrying weapons.  Oddi stood at the side of the street as the group walked past him.  Then Oddi saw four men rush up carrying long knives in their hands.  They ran up to the man who was riding and they stabbed him and cut off his head.  Then they ran back past Oddi, and one of them had the man’s head by the hair and it swung and sprayed them as he ran.  Odd figured they were up to no good, so he ran after them but they charged into a forest and entered an underground earth-house like Oddi had seen in Ireland.  He chased after them into the ground chamber.  Oddi attacked them with his sword, but they fought fiercely, four long knives against one long sword in a very crowded room.  But he battled with them, using the Tonstone pommel of his sword to batter them until he had killed them all.  He then took their heads and tied them together by the hair and went out with the four heads together in his left hand and the one they had carried in his right.  Oddi went back to the city and he saw there were others who had returned to the church with the body of the man who’d been killed.  Oddi took all the heads into the church and said: “Here is the head of your man of the cloth and I have avenged him with the heads of those who had slain him.”  The people of the church were very thankful and thought very highly of the deed he had accomplished.  Oddi asked who he had avenged and they said he was their bishop.  “I’m glad I killed them then,” Oddi told them, but now they kept an eye on him because they didn’t want him to go.  He was now more bored than ever and things were worse because they kept a watch on him.  He waited for a chance to get away and when that chance came, Oddi vowed to do no more good deeds on the way out.

He headed northeast until he reached the Seine River.  He took off his plate-mail shirt and his clothes and walked into the river and washed himself.  Then he got out of the river and let the warm summer sunshine dry him off and he got back into his clothes and his special shirt that Olvor had made and repaired for him.  It felt as powerful as ever. He put his quiver on his back and followed the Seine to Paris.  He marveled at the city walls and they reminded him of Gardariki and he thought about what his father had told his uncle when they fled Angleland from King Frodi.  “Find Bishop Prudentius and tell him he owes me a mark of silver,” he had said.  He decided to find Bishop Prudentius, but when he checked at a cathedral as to where he might find him, he was told that the good bishop had died seven years earlier.  Oddi then asked where he might find Sister Saint Charles, the nun that the Viking had saved, but nobody seemed to know.  He then told the priests that he was the recently converted Viking who had avenged the killing of a bishop in Aquitane, and he had an audience with the nun that afternoon.

“You told Father Pieter that you avenged the death of Bishop Rancier of Bordeaux, young man,” Sister Saint Charles said in perfect Norse.

“I wish I could have saved the Bishop, but his assassins were very fast,” Oddi started.  “I am also the son of the Viking that saved you.”

The sister perked up instantly.  “You are the son of Prince Erik?” she asked.  “I’m so glad to meet you.  I hope you are staying in Paris,” she added.  “I’ll give you a tour of the city.  It has changed so much.”

Oddi looked at the nun and he imagined her as being twenty years younger and he thought she may have been pretty.  “I talked to my father, Erik, about you.  He told me you were strictly business and a great teacher of languages.  The Latin you taught him saved his life.  The Emperor Theophilos of Constantinople wrote out a death warrant for my father, then had him deliver it to King Louis the Pious in Ingleheim, but my father read the message on the way and changed it to a letter of introduction and it saved his life.”

“And they say Latin is a dead language,” the sister laughed.  And the sister kept her word and gave Oddi a tour of Paris that would hold him in good stead in the future.  “They are building walls around the island portion because of your grandfather, you know.”  And Oddi watched as great stone blocks were being craned up to the top of the walls in progress.  “I am going to Flanders in a few days”, the nun explained, “and I was wondering if you would have time to come along?  There is someone there that I would like you to meet.”

“I was planning to meet my Uncle Roller in Rouen tomorrow,” Oddi answered.

“Perhaps some other time then?” the nun asked.

“Yes.  I shall be here for a while and I plan to visit Paris often.”

“You know, there is a train of Hraes’ Trading Company wagons going to Rouen tomorrow morning, yes?  Perhaps you could ride with them?  They travel often between Paris and Rouen.  There is no Hraes’ trading station here in Paris…the king won’t allow it…nor Viking ships, but your uncle has set up deliveries.  He is so…innovative.”

Sister Saint Charles walked Oddi over to an Hraes’ Inn and dropped a few names and the inn manager gave Arrow Odd the guest suite to rest in until the wagon train was ready to roll.  The next morning, Oddi caught a ride with the Hraes’ Trading Company wagon train and it took him to his Uncle Roller in the City of Rouen, north of Paris.

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

23.0  THE CITY OF ROUEN  (Circa 870 AD)

“When Virgil wrote The Aeneid about Prince Aeneas,

  He was presaging the retaking of Troy (Constantinople).”

Brian Howard Seibert

(869 AD)  Arrow Odd overwintered with his Uncle Roller in Rouen and the duke introduced him to many fine and beautiful young women of the city and Oddi grew very close with several of them, but he waited patiently for spring and his next visit to Ireland to visit with his wife and daughter there.  Princess Olvor had become friends with Princess Blaeja of York, Oddi’s wife in Angleland and she’d agreed to come to Dub-Lin for a Guild healers conference in the spring and the two wives wanted to surprise Oddi with the visit when he came.  King Frodi had returned to the east, to Kiev, for the winter, but his Great Heathen Army remained in Angleland under command of one of his Angle generals, Guthrum, so it was not safe for Oddi to go anywhere near York, so Princess Blaeja and her daughter by Oddi, Hraegunhild, would come to Ireland.  But spring was a long way off, so Oddi borrowed a small river ship from Duke Rollo and a few young ladies and Norman officers joined him for a cruise up the Seine to Paris before the Yulefest.  Oddi had left his ship, Fair Faxi, in Aquitaine, even though it had been fully repaired, because the ship was being watched all the time, but the river yacht was well equipped and had bright red awnings that could be quickly lowered if the weather turned, but the good weather held and the men rowed while the women sat beside them and drank wine and encouraged their fine strokes and when a breeze came up, so did the sail, and the men drank some wine as well.

In Paris Oddi met with the nun and they made plans to sail up to Brugge, in Flanders, to visit with her son, Oddi’s cousin, Baldwin.  Oddi would pick Sister Saint Charles up on the morrow and take her back to Rouen with him and from there sail by sea to the low country.  Once Oddi and their party had gotten all their shopping done, the prince took them all to the finest inn in Paris where he had booked lodgings and the feasting began.  The couples had paired up on the way to Paris and they shut down the dining hall before retiring to their rooms.  They were all a little hung over when they picked the sister up at a quay on the Seine, and she had come early and they arrived a little late, so Oddi decided to impress everybody with a little Raven Banner Hrafnista magic.  He stood upon his rowing bench and looked off in the direction of Rouen and said, “This is a little trick the Hrafnista men showed me,” and he put out his arms and a gentle breeze came up from behind them and his officers yarded up the sail and they were off.

“That’s very impressive,” the nun told Oddi as he sat on the bench by the rudder and steered.  His girlfriend sat on the bench with him and Sister sat backwards on the bench ahead and watched the young couple and it took her back.  She could see Erik in the eyes of Oddi and it took her back to their trip down the Dnieper River past Kiev when she and Prince Erik spent their days together sailing and teaching each other languages and nights together keeping each other warm.  “They say that Paris got its name from the local Parisii tribe of Gauls that live nearby,” she started, “but that’s not what your father, Prince Erik, told me.”  She could see that they were both a little tired and hung over from too much wine and a little too much keeping each other warm.

“What did he tell you?” Oddi asked as his girl just smiled and held onto his arm with both of hers.

“He told me that the people here picked the name Paris from Prince Paris of Troy of Trojan War fame because the Romans were giving all the cities Latin names after Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, but the Romans said it was too close to the Gaulish tribal name of Parisioi, so they named it Lutetia.  When the Romans left Gaul, the Franks allowed Parisians to openly call their city Paris after the Trojan Prince and in spite of the Parisioi.  Erik also told me that Julius Caesar hadn’t planned on conquering all of West Gaul, that he didn’t have enough troops for it.  He had only brought three legions north to punish one southern tribe for its transgressions against Rome.  This was just before the time of Christ,” and the nun made the sign of the cross, “and Caesar learned that Danes and Goths and Viking tribes had been conquering the Gauls of eastern Europe from the north, so he decided he had to conquer all of western Gaul from the south before the Vikings did.  So he did it.  He conquered all of western Gaul with just three legions against the equivalent of ten Gaulish legions or more and that’s what made him famous.  And, to other Romans, dangerous and that’s what got him killed, murdered in his own Senate.

“Your father also told me that the Scandinavian Germanic tribes originally hailed from Aran and followed the Aran tripartite gods religion, but when they settled in the Baltic lands in the Bronze Age while trading for Briton tin via the riverways of Scythia, they became the Aesir, the northern branch of the eastern Aran religion.  So the Danes were originally Persians and they worshipped the same gods as the Trojans and Greeks.  Eventually the northern Danish Aesir and the western Vanir Greeks collided and the Aesir triumphed over the Vanir, sacking Troy in the long final siege and battle.  The Greeks became Aesir and Erik said that according to the great Roman writer, Virgil, Rome was founded by the Trojan refugees of that war.  It took the Romans a thousand years of conquering all before them before they finally re-conquered Troy, which had become the Aesir Greek city of Byzantium and Emperor Constantine made the city the new capital of Rome and he named Troy Constantinople, after himself.  Your father says that the Aesir, Vanir, Aran and Brahman tripartite gods religions are the one same religion with different gods names and they are all religions of conquest.  He says that for the thousand years that Rome fought to regain its old capital, Troy, in every century the Romans could count the years they had not been at war on one hand.  They’ve been conquering and plundering peoples ninety five percent of the time for the last millennia.

“So, the northern Persians, the Danes and Swedes and Norwegians, ended up fighting the western Persians, the Romans, over who got to conquer the Celts of Germany, Gaul, Britain and Ireland.  The Scandinavian Vikings ended up winning by conquering all those lands when Rome abandoned them and then Viking Goths, Vandals and Longobardi took over in Italy, Spain and even North Africa.  Rome had fallen and only the Eastern Roman Empire eluded them, but the Romans didn’t care because they had their beloved Troy back, their Constantinople.”  The nun had been enjoying her talk in the Anglish Danish tongue, it was rusty, but was flowing back to her.  She paused because Oddi seemed to have a question.

“A decade ago,” Oddi began, “Prince Erik led us on an attack upon Constantinople.  Was this an extension of that old Aesir Vanir conflict?  Because he claimed it was for a better trade agreement, a written contract, and my grandfather, Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’, claimed that his sons wanted to conquer Constantinople without him to one up him on his conquest of Paris fifteen years earlier, so he helped me and my ship of boys follow the Norwegian fleet across the Mediterranean to the Golden Horn.  A storm came up and King Frodi and Prince Erik lost a lot of ships to it, but we still managed to get a trade contract out of it, but the city didn’t come close to falling.  I later heard that their Christian bishops dipped holy vestments into the waters of the Bosporos and raised the storm.  Is that possible?”

“First off,” Sister answered, “if Erik said he was after a contract, that was likely what he was after.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but The Prince isn’t very religious, one way or the other, so an Aesir Vanir conflict wouldn’t interest him at all.  But he is a very shrewd businessman and a good contract certainly would.  Secondly, our Christian God is known for his miracles, so, if the Orthodox Christians dipped holy vestments into the Bosporos Sea, then God probably did raise a storm to save them.  I know that you, as well, have no interest in religion, but you should at least consider preliminary baptism as a Christian and see if it appeals to you.”

“I have been baptised,” Oddi replied, and the girl on his arm suddenly looked pleased and she squeezed his arm with both of hers.  “I was baptised in Aquitaine.  They begged me to get baptised after I avenged their bishop.  They kept bringing their young women to my room to bless me and preach to me and sometimes even sleep with me.  Well, quite often, actually, I must confess.  I told them I would convert but that I would only practice the faith when I was in Christian lands and I would practice no religion when I was in heathen lands.  They seemed to be happy with that because girls kept coming to see me.  They tried to convince me to stay in Aquitaine, but I’d already promised The Prince that I would visit you in Paris and lay low with Uncle Roller in Rouen.”

“So you’ve been going to church?” Sister asked.

“With Michelle here,” Oddi said, and he gave her arms a squeeze with his free arm and adjusted the rudder with his other.  “Some Sundays I miss church because of business, but Michelle keeps me going quite regularly.”

“He’s trying hard,” Michelle piped in.  It was the first time Sister had heard her talk and she had a sweet voice.

“Perhaps we can all go to church together in Rouen tomorrow?” the nun asked.  “I believe it’s Sunday tomorrow.”

Sister Saint Charles was correct about the day and so they went to mass with Duke Rollo the next day and left for Brugge in Flanders the next day.  The young ladies and officers all came along, but it was no longer a river cruise in friendly territory, so they took a full longship, a fast warship, with a full crew of marine warriors, and they were in Bruges in two days.  Sister introduced Oddi to his half-brother, her son, Prince Baldwin.  Oddi was surprised at how much Baldwin looked like their father.  He had the same dark hair and dark eyes and Sister laughed and said, “When you stand together, you both look like Erik and Roller standing side by side!”  They all laughed about it, but Oddi had mixed feelings about someone looking more like his father than he did.  Not only had Prince Erik gladly acknowledged Baldwin as his son, but he had made Baldwin the managing partner of the Hraes’ trading station in Brugge serving all of Flanders, while he had barely acknowledged Oddi as being his son.  It was his Uncle Roller who had uncovered the proof of Oddi’s birth and it was the duke who seemed to be supporting him most.  Prince Erik seemed hesitant to admit that his son by Gunwar was even yet alive, as though he feared something, and then it hit him like a ton of bricks.  It was the curse, Witch Heid’s prediction that a snake would crawl out from under the skull of Faxi and strike him dead.  The Prince had always thought that the curse was meant for himself and then, when Witch Heid had repeated the same prediction to Oddi, The Prince then realized that the curse was meant for his son.  He had already lost his son Helgi once and now he was fated to lose him again.  Perhaps if he didn’t acknowledge too vigorously that Oddi was his son, perhaps the curse would not strike him down.  Prince Erik had gone through his whole life with that axe above his head, that blood-snake at his leg, and just when he was at the age to start believing that old Heid was wrong, to learn that his long lost son was actually the target of the curse, to have to restart wondering when the axe would fall, the snake would strike, perhaps it was too much for him.  ‘Fock!’ Oddi thought.  ‘That focking witch!’

“Are we going to the feast tonight?” Michelle asked Oddi.

“I asked Baldwin and Sister if they’d go to the feast,” Oddi answered, “but they’re going to a late mass tonight.  I thought I might join them, but you go ahead and I’ll meet you there after mass.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Not at all.  You cover for me until I get there.”

Brother Baldwin was not at all like Oddi.  He had worked for the Hraes’ company in Brugge his whole life and he was a brother in the local church and, while Oddi had killed so many men he couldn’t even take a stab at just how many, Brother Baldwin had likely not killed a one.  And his mother, Sister Saint Charles, had gained her fame by turning her Varangian captors into her Viking saviours, through patience, and diligence, and the grace of the Christian god.  In her story of ‘The Viking and The Nun’, was the theme that, no matter how bad things seemed, a good Christian could turn them around into something good, and it was a powerful message that gave hope to the enslaved and had enabled the conversions of many Vikings to Christianity, or so was the belief.  Oddi did not see anything powerful in Christianity, but yet here was the nun, free and strong, and here was her son, very religious, but successful, nonetheless.  His thoughts about his father and Faxi’s curse had depressed him enough that he deferred a banquet so, he decided to spend some time with his brother and see the mettle of the man.

After the mass, the boys walked the mother to the convent she was staying at and then Oddi walked Baldwin to his home and wife and children, more because it was along the way to the banquet hall than any other reason, but to be polite he did ask Baldwin if he cared to join him at the hall for a bit.

“I know that you think I’m too religious,” Baldwin answered him, “but my mother’s a nun and I do so love her and all that.  Still, my father is a Varangian and a Viking, and, quite frankly, I consider myself more a Norman than I do a Frank.  I train with the sword and, though I’ve never fought for my life, I’m quite proficient with it.  I’ll come to the feast,” he said, “just let me tell my wife so she doesn’t worry about me.”

They stopped at his longhall, a fine Danish style construction, and Oddi met her briefly.  She was a beautiful pale blonde Flemish girl and she apologised that their three children were already in bed asleep, but she said she would stay up until Baldwin returned.  As they walked to the banquet hall Oddi asked Baldwin if he cared to train with him the next day.  “I can teach you a sword pattern Jarl Brak taught me from the orient,” he offered.

“I know quite a few sword patterns,” Baldwin told him, “and I’m quite proficient at them.”

“This one is special,” Oddi countered.  “Jarl Brak learned it from a Katana master in Damascus.  Now the Katana is a single edged sword from the land of the rising sun in the farthest east, and is a very deadly weapon, but Brak forged the master a double edged sword to his Katana requirements and, in payment, the master taught him a secret Katana pattern and they worked together on it and converted it to a double edged weapon pattern.  Once you become proficient at it, nobody will be able to best you.”

“Jarl Brak is father’s foster father in Rouen, the man who married Witch Kraka after King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ sacrificed himself to Odin, right?”

“Married might be a strong word to use around The Prince and Duke Rollo.  They prefer to think of it as Jarl Brak and Princess Aslaug pledging themselves to each other.”

Baldwin laughed and said, “You Aesir are so complicated!”

“I am Christian when I’m in Christian lands,” Oddi corrected him, “and when I’m in Aesir lands I believe in no gods.  And Prince Erik is an Aesir who believes in no gods all the time.”

“I’m sorry,” Baldwin said, shaking his head, “it’s just that Aesir atheists are the most complicated of us all.”

They went to the banquet hall which was at the inn that Oddi and his group were lodged at and Oddi showed Baldwin the warship he had brought from Rouen.  “It looks fast!” Baldwin said as he studied it in the moonlight.  “Is it yours?”

They walked down the quay and along the boarding plank and onto the deck of the ship a little way from the two crewmen who were on guard.  Oddi nodded to his men and they nodded back.  “No,” Oddi admitted.  “Duke Rollo loaned it to me along with a crew.”

“Well, I’m sure that someday you will own your own ship,” Baldwin told him encouragingly.

“Oh, I’ve had many a ship,” Oddi assured him, “and I’ve lost many a ship in battle.”

“I’m sorry,” Baldwin repeated.  “How many have you lost?”

“Hundreds of them, maybe near a thousand, not all of them mine, mind you.  A lot of them were Duke Rollo’s back when he was King Roller of Norway.  But most of them were King Frodi’s and he’s really pissed about it.”

Baldwin sat down on a rowing bench.  He knew it was more than just lost ships that Frodi was pissed about.  He’d heard many times about the Duel on Samso and how his brother, as Arrow Odd, had deprived their king of a dozen grandsons.  “Is that why we’re not allowed to talk about you?”

“You can talk about me, but you should call me Helgi, not Prince Helgi, just Helgi.  And never call me Arrow Odd.  While I work in Rouen for the Hraes’ Trading Company, I am just plain old Helgi, not a son of Prince Erik.  Either should you be.  You might be mistaken for me.”

“Oh, I don’t think anybody’s going to mistake me for you.  We’re kind of opposites if you’ve noticed.”

“You’re all the parts of Prince Erik that I’m not and I’m all the parts that you aren’t.”

“I know!  It’s quite amazing.  If you put us together we’d make a whole Erik!”

“I think it would take four of us to make a whole Erik,” Oddi said.

“He’s that good?”

“He’s that good!”

When they went into the banquet hall, Michelle came running up to them, half cut, and she pulled them into the ring dance their group was into.  A skald was reciting verses and playing a lyre and a drummer was beating his hand drum and the line dancers were all repeating the chorus loudly.  Oddi had a lot of drinking to do to catch up and Baldwin, surprisingly, kept up to him until he had to leave.

“Where do you want to train tomorrow?” Baldwin asked Oddi, as he got ready to depart.

“It has to be somewhere very private.  It’s a secret pattern and I’ll have to swear you to secrecy before I show you it or Brak will have my hide.”

“We can train in my back yard,” Baldwin offered.  “It is very secure and private and then you can meet my children and Michelle can meet Anya.”

Oddi agreed to his place and he watched Baldwin as he walked up the road.  Michelle joined him at the doorway and tucked herself under his arm and they watched Baldwin walk away together.  “How do you like your new brother?” Michelle asked.

“I didn’t,” Oddi confessed, “but there’s more to him than I first thought.  He’s my older brother, but I think I’m going to like him better as a younger brother.  I think I’ll be teaching him a bit about the world and I’m hoping I learn a bit in the teaching.”

Michelle was a little drunk and she took a while to process his words then said, “I like a teacher who is willing to learn.  Let’s go to bed.”

Michelle was a Frankish girl who helped maintain the reputation of Frankish women all over the world.  She was blonde and beautiful and had a surprisingly strong leanness about her that made her an exceptional lover and they were always learning new ways to express their growing love.  “Yes,” Oddi answered, only half cut, “let’s go to bed.”

The next day Oddi and Michelle arrived at Baldwin’s longhall and Baldwin introduced his wife, Anya, to Michelle and his three children, two boys and a girl, to both of them.  Oddi had brought a couple of his swords with him and two training bucklers, lighter shields that allowed one to train longer without exhausting oneself.  They both had the new lipped bosses that duellists were starting to use.  Oddi usually cruised with a half dozen swords of various construction, but the two he brought were Stavanger blades of the old pure Swedish iron that was baked with carbon, not the newer Indian steel blades that Brak had learned to smelt inside stacks in Damascus.  The old San Mi tri-steel blades were still the lightest and strongest in the world, matched only by the Katanas from the east, which were also of pure iron, but the carbon was forged into them in long red hot strips that were dusted with carbon and folded over on themselves many times over before just the right amount of carbon was hammered into the iron to make strong flexible steel blades.  Oddi’s favourite sword was one he had called ‘Leg-Biter’ but he was still depressed about the Curse of Faxi and he no longer liked the name as much.  He offered the blade to Baldwin.

“I already have a fine Frankish sword,” Baldwin protested, and he showed it to Oddi.  Oddi held it and looked down its length and felt its heft.  “It’s half sharp,” Oddi said, “and a few Roman ounces more than it should weigh.  That slows you down.”

But Baldwin wanted to use his own sword so, Oddi used ‘Leg-Biter’ and they parried for a bit and Oddi swept ‘Leg-Biter’ across at an odd angle and it bit into Baldwin’s blade and took it right out of his hand and the blade flew across the yard in two pieces that banged against the six foot high wattle fence that surrounded the yard.  The women heard the tings from inside the longhall and they went to the back door and watched.  Baldwin accepted the sword ‘Leg-Biter’ from Oddi without argument this time, then Oddi took an oath from Baldwin to keep secret the special oriental pattern.

“I swear to never show or divulge Brak’s secret pattern to anybody, live or dead, and I would like an oath from you as well, dear brother Oddi, that you will not kill me in this training session.”  Oddi’s few strokes with ‘Leg-Biter’ had shown Baldwin that he was being trained by a master swordsman, probably unlike any swordsman he had seen before.

“I’m here to train you only,” Oddi assured him.  “If I put so much as a scratch on you, I’ll have failed in my own training.  Just try not to accidentally stab me.”

They parried a bit with the Stavanger blades and Baldwin could hear the difference in the tinging of the steel and he could feel that the few lighter ounces made him just a bit faster.

“Speed is everything!” Oddi said, and he parried with Baldwin and every time they parried, Oddi’s blade would end up stopping just short of Baldwin’s throat.  “All the power of a blow comes from the speed that you put into the blade,” Oddi said.  “Very little power is transmitted from the wrist into the blade.  Strength is used for control.  A slight person with fast reflexes can generate a faster stroke than a person with strong arms, but a strong quick arm, a surprisingly rare combination, works best.  Always work on speeding up your reflexes when not working with your sword and you’ll see an increase in your sword stroke speed when you do work with it.”  Oddi was explaining these basic concepts as they were parrying because a lot of them seemed common sense, but were seldom really understood.  Acceleration put four times more power into the blow of the blade than strength did.  The two were very similar, in that it took strength to put acceleration into the blade, but the training for it was quite different.  One built up strength by training with a heavier sword but one increased speed by swinging a lighter sword so, one had to train with both and most warriors trained only to work with heavier swords and their speed stayed the same.  Giving up a few ounces of weight for an increase in speed gave the best result.  Speed was everything with swords because the razor sharp edge, the odd, was so devastating upon flesh.  Whoever drew first blood usually won, not necessarily because of the initial wound, but because it usually indicated who had the faster blade.  “Speed is everything,” Oddi said as he drew Baldwin into a faster pace without Baldwin even realizing it.  “Always repeat this to yourself as you train.  Shout it!  Speed is everything!”

“Speed is everything!” Baldwin hissed.  He was too gassed to shout.

The women were now watching from the back porch.  They’d closed the back door to keep the children inside.  “He is very quick for a big man,” Anya noted.

“I’ve seen many great warriors come through Rouen,” Michelle agreed, “but none are as fast and strong as Oddi.  Some are as strong, but nobody is as fast.”

Baldwin rested on the pommel of his sword as Oddi showed him the oriental pattern and he did it at top speed and much of the time Baldwin couldn’t even follow the blade.  It flashed here and glinted there and every time it changed direction it quivered and sometimes it moved so fast that Baldwin could hear it cutting through the air, almost as if the ether was screaming.

“I’ll go through it slowly now,” Oddi told Baldwin.  “Have a seat while you rest,” he added.  “You only rest on your pommel to receive a death blow.”  Baldwin had looked for a moment like Prince Angantyr when he rested on the pommel of Tyrfingr to receive his death blow from Hjalmar ‘the Brave’.  A lot of bad memories seemed to be stirring up lately.  Oddi could hardly wait for spring to come so he could visit his wife and daughter in Ireland.  He had good memories in Ireland, except for the one really bad one.

Oddi went through the pattern slowly and explained that it progressed through a distinct set of strokes and strikes that allowed an increase in speed to be generated as the pattern progressed, and it incorporated every conceivable stroke or strike that could be made with a blade.  Then he went through it again slowly and then once more at full speed.  Then he had Baldwin do it slowly a few times, explaining that the pattern was composed of four quarters that covered the four aspects of swordsmanship.  Once Baldwin had completed a few slow repetitions of the pattern, he rested and Oddi gave him a runestick that had runes for each stroke down one side of the square stick and up another then down the third and up the last side.  He was a little surprized that Baldwin could read the runes, but Baldwin reminded him that he often felt more Norman than Frank.

Then Oddi taught Baldwin how to pace his speed.

“Count out the seconds in the old Roman manner,” Oddi said.  “Secundus, secundus, secundus, secundus,” Oddi counted out.  “The Romans used to calibrate their water clock orifices by counting Primus, Secundus, Primus, Secundus, Latin for One, Two, One Two, for one drip each secundus, but some technicians found it more accurate to just count out secundus, secundus, secundus and that is where we get the Anglish word seconds from.  There are sixty secundus in a minute part of an hour and sixty minutes in an hour.  At quarter speed we can do the pattern in a hundred and twenty secundus or two minutes and at full speed it should take thirty secundus or half a minute.  It will take time to work down to that.

“For the speed of each stroke or strike we can count in fractions of a secundus, a stroke being half a secundus and a strike a quarter secundus.  Certain movements we try to get to one eighth of a secundus which is about as fast as a blink.  We can get about eight quick blinks into a secundus and when you can get a movement to under an eighth of a secundus, it becomes very difficult to see it and therefore to defend against.  Roman gladiators were taught not to blink, because some arenas fighters could kill in the span of one eighth of a secundus.

“We can tally the secundus on our fingers, folding one finger per secundus and then raising it and once we go through our fingers once we hold down a finger to mark the ten and then a second to mark the next ten and on and on until we get to thirty for full speed, sixty for half speed and a hundred and twenty for quarter speed.”

“If we can only tally to one hundred using our fingers,” Baldwin started, “how do we tally to one twenty?”

“That is why the gods gave us two feet,” Oddi said.

They spent the whole afternoon going through the minute details of the oriental pattern and its intricate training regime and it became apparent to Baldwin that the whole process was devised to build up speed in a recognizable manner.  One could monitor and record the improvements and Baldwin brought out a quill and ink and parchment and he began recording some of it in the new Miniscule Font of Alcuin, Saint Alcuin of York in Northumbria, who devised the font to replace runes with Roman letters to record liturgy and history in the Anglish Danish of the Angles of Jutland who made up the Anglo portion of the Anglo Saxons of Angleland of which Northumbria was a very scholarly component.  Alcuin had spent the last part of his life teaching the font in the royal court of Charles ‘the Great’ as he was known in Anglish or Charlemagne as he was known in French, the Roman Gaul of the Franks.

Baldwin was surprised to learn that Oddi could read the Font of Alcuin and Oddi told him he had been taught it as well as the runes while living at Hraegunarstead in Stavanger Fjord.

“I thought that you were the long lost son,” Baldwin said, “and here you were living right on King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’s stead, being raised where our father was raised, without even knowing Erik was your father, and here I was known to be Erik’s son and I was being raised in Frankia and Flanders and hardly ever saw any relatives outside of my mother.”

“Pretty focked up, eh?” Oddi replied.

“Pretty focked up,” Baldwin agreed.

“Now I’m going to repeat this pattern one hundred times at the full speed of thirty secundus each, so, if you could count off the hundred for me using your fingers in the pattern’s manner and stop me at a hundred, it would be appreciated.  Get comfortable.  This will take about an hour.  Oddi went full speed into his pattern and his sword quivered and gleamed and was a blur for much of it and by the time Oddi got into his tenth rep, Baldwin was mesmerized.  By the twentieth rep, the girls had come down from the porch to watch it and were sitting beside Baldwin on his bench.  By the fiftieth rep, sweat was flying off Oddi and the quivering blade would catch sweat droplets and shatter them into the afternoon rays of the sun and little rainbows would form as the aerosol settled.  By the seventieth rep, Oddi was struggling for control and the blade was threatening to take over the pattern and by the ninetieth, Oddi was completing each pattern even more quickly, twenty nine secundus, twenty eight, twenty seven, twenty six and then twenty five till he hit the hundredth rep and Baldwin called for him to stop.  Oddi was flushed and wet when he stopped and Michelle ran up to him with a dish cloth and began wiping him down.  It was soaked in no time, so Anya ran up and gave her another.  Oddi was bent over with his hands upon his knees and was breathing in great rapid gulps while the women fanned him with their towels.

Baldwin sat on the bench amazed.  His brother was a killing machine.  The Romans had a name for such a warrior and it was Morta Machina, Vitae Terminus.

“If you can do thirty patterns full speed,” Oddi said, sitting down beside his brother, “You’ll be able to kill ninety percent of the warriors alive.  Only Berserks and duellists could cause you grief!”

“Can Prince Erik do this pattern?” Baldwin asked.

“He can do thirty for sure, but I doubt if he can do a hundred anymore.  Uncle Roller used to do a hundred years ago, but he’s slowed down since converting.”

“If you gave me your sword ‘Leg-Biter’,” Baldwin asked, “what do you call the one you have?”

“I think I shall call her ‘Frodisbane’,” Oddi answered.

“Oh…” Baldwin said, crossing himself.

The next day, Oddi and his entourage returned to Rouen and Oddi borrowed a river ship and took Sister back to her nunnery in Paris.  He brought in the Yulefest with Michelle and friends in the court of Duke Rollo and they celebrated Christmas as Christians mid Yule.

(870 AD)  In the spring, Oddi returned to Aquitaine to visit with Gudmund and Sigurd, who were still very happy with their new Christian Frankish wives there.  He picked up Fair Faxi and sailed for Ireland to visit Princess Olvor and his daughter, Hraegunhild, and was surprised to find Princess Blaeja of York and their daughter Hraegunhild waiting for him as well.  Oddi visited with them for a month and they all had a fine time before Oddi returned to Frankia to lay low once more.  This became Oddi’s life for the next few years, laying low and staying out of trouble.  Once in a while a fleet would come out of the east and it was King Frodi’s troops searching for traces of King Roller of Norway.  King Frodi had been informed that Arrow Odd had died in the Newfoundland and he only had the Norwegian King Roller who had supported him yet to deal with.

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

24.0  GEIRROD THE GIANT AND OGMUND  (Circa 875 AD)

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

                             And his followers were called the Hraes’.”

                        Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler;  Skaldskaparmal.

(875 AD)  One day in Frankia Oddi walked to the edge of a forest.  He was tired, so, he sat down under a big oak tree and, as he leaned back against it, he saw a man in a blue-flecked cloak walking by with high shoes, gold emblazoned gloves and a reed in his hand.  He was average height and gentlemanly in looks, but he had a lowered hood that covered his face.  Oddi could just make out a big moustache and long beard, both of them red.  He turned to where Oddi sat and greeted him by name.  Oddi welcomed him and asked who he might be.  He said he was Grani, called Raudgrani, then he said, “I know all about you, Arrow Odd.  It seems to me that, since you are a great Viking and an accomplished man, you have few followers, and travel rather like a pauper, and it is bad that a man like you should be so reduced.”

“It is true,” Oddi said, “that I have not been a leader of men in a while.”

“Will you swear an oath of brotherhood with me?” Raudgrani said.

“It’s hard to deny such an offer,” said Oddi, “and I will take it up.”

“You are not yet totally luckless,” said Raudgrani, “for I know of two champions in the east of this country and they have twelve ships.  They are sworn brothers; one comes from out of Denmark and is called Gardar, and the other, Sirnir, comes out of Gautland.  I know of no better men on this side of the Baltic and I will bring you into brotherhood with them, yet you’ll have the most say of all of us, although you’ll find that following my advice will be most helpful.  But where would you want to sail if this is arranged as I have now said?”

“I would like to find a killer named Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock, so if that could be arranged while we are raiding…”

“Stop, stop,” said Raudgrani.  “You don’t want to find him, because he is not a man of humankind, this Ogmund, and if you meet him again, you will get far worse from him than before, so just put that idea out of your mind.”

“All I wish to do is avenge my son, Vignir, and my blood brother, Thord, and I shall never give up until I do.”

“I’ll tell you,” said Raudgrani, “how Ogmund was born.  Then you’ll see there is no chance that he will be killed by mortal men.  It is said that Prince Erik ruled all of the Nor’Way when you made your Viking raid into Bjarmaland, and you will remember what damage you did to the giants there before you left.  You half blinded their king and you fully blinded his daughter and killed his wife who had just given birth to a son.  Once you had gone, they felt bitter about what you had dealt them with your Gusir’s Gift arrows and they wanted revenge, if they could get it.  And this was how they got it, they had the boy sprinkled with water and gave him the name Ogmund.  He was unlike most mortal men from an early age, as you’d expect from his birth, and when Ogmund was three years old, he was sent to Finmark, and he studied all kinds of magic and sorcery, and when he was fully trained, he went home to Bjarmaland.  He was then seven years old  and as big as a full grown man, very powerful and hard to deal with.  His looks had not improved while he was with the Lapps, because he was both black and blue, with his hair long and black, and a tussock hanging down over the eyes where a forelock should be.  He was called Ogmund Tussock.  The giants meant to send him to meet you and slay you; although they knew that much would be needed to bring about your death.  They strengthened Ogmund with witchcraft, so that no normal iron could bite him and they sacrificed to him and altered him so that he was no longer a mortal man.

“Eythjof was the name of a Viking.  He was the greatest of berserks and an unparalleled hero, and he never had fewer than eighteen ships when raiding.  He never spent time on land and stayed out on the sea, winter and hot summer.  Everyone was scared of him wherever he went.  He attacked Bjarmaland often and forced them to pay tribute.  That’s when Ogmund got his eight comrades, and they all dressed in thick black woolen cloaks, and no iron bit them.  They were named thus: Hak and Haki, Tindall and Toki, Finn and Fjosni, Tjosni and Torn.  Then Ogmund joined up with Eythjof, and they went to war together.  Ogmund was ten years old.  He was with Eythjof for five winters.  Eythjof was so fond of him that he could not refuse him anything, and for his sake he freed Bjarmaland from tribute.  Ogmund rewarded Eythjof no better than to kill him while he slept in his bed and then he concealed the murder.  It was easy to do because Eythjof had planned to make him his adopted son.  He left Eythjof’s men to do as they pleased, but Ogmund kept two of their ships, fully crewed by his eight comrades and only the finest of Eythjof’s men.  He then became Ogmund ‘Eythjofsbane’ Tussock and that same summer he attacked you at Tronuvagar and Ogmund was then just fifteen years old.  He hated getting no vengeance against you, and so he murdered Thord ‘Prow-Gleam’, your sworn brother.  Then he went to meet the giantess, his step-mother, who was Grimhild when she was with humans. But often she used her witchcraft to transmute herself into a finngalkin.  Then, she looks human as far as her head, but like an animal further down and has remarkably large claws and a tremendous tail, and with it she kills both humans and livestock, animals and dragons.  Ogmund coaxed her to get you, and now she lives in the forests with animals and has reached the north of England and is looking for you.  Now I have told you plainly of Ogmund.”

“I can see,” said Odd, “why most men find him hard to fight, if he is as you say, but I still want to meet him.”

“He is worse now, though,” Raudgrani said.  “He is more wraith now than man, so I think that he won’t be killed by humans.  But let’s go down to the ships first,” and so they did.  And when they came to the sea, Odd saw where many ships floated.  They went aboard.  Odd saw two men who stood out from the rest.  They stood up and greeted Raudgrani as their blood brother.  He sat down between them and told Odd to sit.  Raudgrani said, “Here’s a man who you sworn brothers will have heard told of, called Arrow Odd.  I wish that he be sworn into our blood brotherhood; he shall be the one to lead us, because he is most experienced in warfare.”

Sirnir asked: “Is he the Odd who went to Bjarmaland?”

“Yes,” said Raudgrani.

“Then we shall benefit,” said Sirnir, “if he is sworn in as our brother.”

“I like the idea,” said Gardar.  They bound themselves with the mixing of blood and promises.  Then Raudgrani asked where Oddi meant to go.  “Let us sail to Angleland,” said Oddi, “but first I must tell my Uncle Rollo and my Michelle that I will be raiding over the summer.”  Once that was done they sailed across the Britain Sea and they put up awnings over their ships and they sent raiding parties out into Sussex for a while.

One day fine day, Sirnir and Gardar went ashore to shoot and throw weights and play sports with a leather ball.  Many men joined them in these activities, but Oddi stayed on his ship.  Raudgrani was nowhere to be seen.  The weather was very warm, and the blood brothers and many others went swimming in a nearby lake.  There was a forest by the lake and they saw an incredibly large animal come out of the woods.  It had a human head with immense fangs and its tail was both long and stout and its claws were remarkably large.  It had a sword in each claw and both were large and gleaming in the sunlight.  When this finngalkin came at the men, she howled menacingly and killed five men in the first attack.  She cut down two of them with her swords, a third she bit with her teeth and two she struck with her tail.  Within a few minutes, she had killed sixty men.  Gardar grabbed his sword and dashed  out naked against the finngalkin and he struck her with a blow so hard that it smashed one of the swords from her claw and way out into the lake, but she hit him with the other sword, and he fell, injured.  Then, as she jumped on top of him, Sirnir rushed in with his sword that never failed, named Snidil, best of all blades, and he struck the beast, and knocked the second sword into the water.  The finngalkin then trampled him until he was unconscious.  Men who escaped ran to the ships and told Oddi that the foster-brothers and many others had been killed and said that no one could stand against the beast.  “Please, Odd,” they cried, “save us and sail away from this place as quickly as possible.”

“That would be a great shame,” said Oddi.  “To flee and not avenge my sworn brothers, such valiant heroes?  I’ll never do it.”  He took his quiver and went ashore and when he had gone but a short way, he heard a frightening noise.  A few steps more and Oddi spotted the finngalkin.  It was an ugly and bestial looking being, but certainly not as large as his men had claimed.  He put one of Gusir’s Gifts to the bowstring and shot it into the eye of the monster and out the back of her head.  The finngalkin charged so fast that Oddi could not use the bow.  It clawed at his chest so hard that he fell on his back, but the shirt kept him from being killed.  Swiftly he drew his sword while rolling to the side of her and cut off the beast’s thick tail when it was going to strike him.  He kept one hand up so she could not bite at him as she ran toward the woods screaming horribly.  Oddi then shot another of Gusir’s Gifts.  It hit the beast square in the back, right in the heart and through the breast and the finngalkin fell forward quite dead.  Many people ran up to the monster then and hacked and hewed, those who had not dared come close before.  The beast was struck asunder.  Oddi suspected that the brute was a transformed witch, a shape shifter, and he burned the remains so it could not be revived by magic and he had the sworn brothers taken to Fair Faxi to be healed.

They found Raudgrani and the survivors left Angleland and overwintered in Denmark.  Raudgrani knew that by staying in King Frodi’s Denmark, Arrow Odd was hoping that Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock would feel compelled to attack him there, but Ogmund never showed.  It may have been because Oddi spent much of the winter season in Rouen and in Dub-Lin.  With spring came raiding, so he and Gardar and Sirnir went to war and as they were getting ready to sail, Raudgrani joined them.  He asked Oddi where he wanted to go and Oddi said he wanted to search for Ogmund ‘Eythjofsbane’ Tussock.

“It seems to me that you search for sorrow,” said Raudgrani.  “Every time you come up against him you lose those dear to you.  It’s unlikely that Ogmund has changed since you parted.  But I know where he has gone and I can tell you if you’re interested.”  Oddi nodded.  “He went east to the giant Geirrod in Geirrodargard and has married his daughter, Geirrid, and both are the worst of trolls, and I advise you not to go there.”  Oddi said he was going anyway.

Then they readied their ships to go east, the sworn brothers, and when they reached Geirrodargard, they saw a man fishing in a boat.  It was Ogmund ‘Eythjofsbane’ Tussock  and he wore a shaggy cape.  When he had escaped from Oddi, he travelled east and he became the son-in-law of Geirrod the giant, and he claimed tribute from all the kings of the Baltic such that they would each year send him their beards and moustaches.  Ogmund had used them to make the cape that he wore.  Oddi and his men headed for the boat, but Ogmund retreated, rowing strongly.  The sworn brothers jumped into a boat and rowed rapidly after him, but Tussock rowed so powerfully that the blood brothers could not gain on him.  Then Ogmund ran ashore and Oddi was chasing after him, followed by Sirnir, then Gardar, all after Ogmund.  But when Ogmund saw them catching up, he spoke, and recited:

“I pray to Geirrod            for the gods’ favour,

greatest of warriors,             grant me assistance

and my wife              quickly to others,

I need now all                       the aid they can give.”

Geirrod soon showed up with his people, and there were fifty of them in all.  Gardar and the rest caught up and then began the greatest of battles.  Geirrod hit hard, and in minutes had killed fifteen men.  Oddi pulled out one of Gusir’s Gifts and nocked it on the bowstring and shot.  It hit Geirrod in the chest and came out at the shoulders, but Geirrod kept coming and he killed three more men before he fell, dead.  Geirrid was also a threat because she killed eighteen men in a short time.  Gardar turned to her and they traded blows, but Gardar lost his life in the exchange.  When Oddi saw it, he was furious.  So, he nocked another one of Gusir’s Gifts and shot it into the right armpit of Geirrid and it came out the left.  The shot didn’t seem to do anything.  She rushed headlong into battle and killed five men in no time.  Oddi then shot another of Gusir’s Gifts.  It went into her stomach and out one thigh; she died after that hit.

Ogmund, too, was hard in battle, having killed thirty men in a short time before Sirnir turned on him with the sword, Snidel, and they fought hard, and Sirnir was soon wounded.  Oddi saw Sirnir giving ground, so he turned that way, but Ogmund saw him and fled in disarray.  Sirnir and Oddi went after him and both of them were running very fast.  Ogmund was still wearing his fine cape, but when they were almost upon him, Ogmund threw down the cloak and recited:

“Now must I cast      away my cloak,

which was made      of kings’ beards,

and embroidered with         moustaches,

I am grieved              to give it up,

But they chase me               at full pelt,

Odd and Sirnir,         from the battle.”

Now that Ogmund had a lighter load, he pulled away.  Oddi steeled himself and ran quicker than Sirnir and, when Ogmund saw that, he turned towards him, and they fought.  They were grabbing and punching frantically; Oddi was not as powerful as Ogmund, but Ogmund could not knock him off his feet.  Then Sirnir came up with his sword, Snidil, and tried to strike at Ogmund, but when Ogmund saw it he turned and thrust Oddi between them.  Then Sirnir held back the stroke and so it went again, that Ogmund used Oddi as a shield and Sirnir had to hold back his strokes.  Then Oddi braced both feet against a very solid boulder and grabbed Ogmund’s wrists so hard that he was forced to his knees and Sirnir hacked at Ogmund who had no opportunity to parry the blow with Odd.  The stroke hit him on the buttocks and took a chunk out.  Sirnir cut so great a slab out of Ogmund’s backside that no mule could carry more.  Ogmund was so pained that he sank down into the earth where he was.  But Odd was determined to stop his escape and grabbed his beard with both hands with so much force that he tore it from him, beard and skin down to the bone, and much of his face with both cheeks and right on up his forehead to his tussock, and they parted their ways as the ground opened up for Ogmund and the boulder held for Odd.  But Oddi kept what he held, dripping with gore as the earth closed above the head of Ogmund and he disappeared into the underworld.

Odd and Sirnir went back to their ships, but they had lost many men and the greatest sorrow was the loss of Gardar.  Raudgrani was also gone, and Odd and Sirnir never learned what happened to him during the battle.  It was true that he seldom faced danger, but some of the men saw him struggling with giants.  He had always given the best advice and never more so than with his last warning, but the sworn brothers never saw Raudgrani again.  Men think he may have actually been Odin.  The sworn brothers both overwintered in Rouen, since Denmark reminded them too much of their losses.

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE

25.0  THE BARKMAN  (Circa 880 AD)

“Venom-filled snake              shall sting you

  From below the                  skull of Faxi.”

  The adder will bite               from below your foot,

  When you are terribly            old, my lord.”

From The Saga of Arrow Odd

(880 AD)  Oddi and Sirnir were again overwintering in Rouen, but as winter dragged on, Oddi became very depressed.  He kept revisiting the tragedies that he had suffered at the hands of Ogmund Tussock.  He no longer wanted to risk his blood brother’s life in his fight with Ogmund, because, as Raudgrani had said, all those close to him wound up dead.  He thought his friends had suffered losses enough already.  He formed a plan to steal away one night in Fair Faxi and to explore the Nor’Way once again.  He had his quiver on his back and his sword at his side and a few trusted crewmen.  But before leaving Rouen he visited Duke Rollo to tell him where he was headed.

“Have you told Prince Erik that I now know for certain that you are his son?” Duke Rollo asked.

“No, I haven’t,” Oddi replied.  And when the duke began shaking his head, he added, “How can I tell the richest man in the world that I am for certain his son based on the conversations you have had with the spirit of his dead wife, Gunwar, after the two of you have made out?  He’ll think that I’m after his estate and worse, that you’re focking his wife.”

“It’s not as bad as that,” Roller answered, looking down at his boots, “after all, she is a ghost.  And she only visits me when she’s saving your ass, so it’s not my fault.”

“I know,” Oddi admitted.  “I’ll tell The Prince when I’m in the east.  I also want to look up Gudrun and Sigrid while I’m there.  Are they still in the east with their father?”

“I found out that your girlfriend, Gudrun, and her sister, Sigrid, were really into the Freedom Movement and I told their father about it when he came back from trading that fall and he got all pissed off at them and moved them all to his Hraes’ trading station in Polotsk the next spring.”

“What was he pissed off about?”

“I think they admitted that they were in the Freedom Movement and Polotsk was right on King Frodi’s slave route, so he was making a lot of gold off the trade they were trying to stop.  I also heard a rumour that both girls were in the way, knocked up, but it was just a rumour.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Like I said, it was just a rumour…a rumour their father was busy quashing.  I just assumed you knew about it.  Besides, you were off in Ireland getting married to Princess Olvor.  I visited Dub-Lin last year and little Hraegunhild is going to be a beauty,” Roller said, trying to change the subject.

“I can’t go to Polotsk,” Oddi complained.  “Frodi’ll have my head.”

“Well, if you’re looking up illegitimate children,” the duke began, “you could visit Princess Blaeja in York.  Hraegunhild is growing up and I’m told she is quite the little cutie.  York is much closer than Polotsk and you’re not as likely to lose your head.  You might even get some.”

“I was going to visit Princess Blaeja on my way east anyway.  I promised her I would ask Kraka about Ragnar’s curse.”

“And what did your grandmother tell you?”

“Not good news, I’m afraid,” Oddi answered.  “The curse was a challenge for his sons to avenge him, but it applies to grandsons as well, and great grandsons.  And Kraka called me Bjorn when I said goodbye…Bjorn Ironshirt.”

“Oh…that was me.  Brother Gregory told Grim that he had a preference for your name to be Helgi, but that Erik should name you.  I told Kraka that Erik had promised King Bjorn of the Barrows that he would name his son after him, so we’ve taken to calling you Bjorn of the Ironshirt because you wear your armour all the time and it drives her crazy.”

“It’s not really iron,” Oddi said.  “It’s a Roman scale armour made of linen glued over wood, so it floats and it’s warm and it’s stronger.  It only has ring-mail under the armpits and down the sides a bit where it laces up,” and Oddi raised his right arm and tapped the rings with his left hand.  “I could never wear it all day if it was all iron.”

“Bjorn Ironside, then?” Roller offered.  “I’d like you to go by that name while you are lying low in Frankia.  Helgi is too close to your real name.”

“My mother named me Helgi.  It is my real name.”

“Exactly.  Much too close.”

“What am I going to tell Blaeja?” Oddi asked.  “You’re okay by the sons of Ragnar, but watch out for the grandsons?”

“Well, if the curse is an ongoing challenge, you have to warn her.”

“I guess,” Oddi said, taking it all in.  “I’ll tell her.”

“Is there anything else?” Roller asked.  “Out with it.  No secrets.”

“When I go up the Nor’Way, I have to visit Hildigunn in Giantland to tell her that our son, Vignir, is dead; killed by Ogmund Tussock.”

“That’s a tough one,” Roller said.

“And now I have to go to Polotsk and see if Gudrun and Sigrid were pregnant when they were dragged out of Norway.”

“You can’t go there.  It’s too dangerous.”

“I can’t go now, but I have to check sometime, for Asmund.  If it was Sigrid who was pregnant, then that will be Asmund’s child.  And that child would be the only connection I have left with him.”

“And if Gudrun was with child you’ll have an even stronger connection because the two babies mothers are sisters.”

“Is there anyone else you may have fathered children with?”

“When I was in the Newfoundland the first time, I stayed with a native tribe that lived along the great Gitchee river inland.  When King Frodi chased me up that river the second time I was there, I asked the King of that native tribe for help and his daughter showed me a handsome little boy and she said it was ours.”

“And did they help you?”

“I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t.  And she was pregnant again when I left her the last time as well.”

“So that’s it?” Roller asked.  “Any other troubles?  Any other news?”

“I think so.  I haven’t killed anyone lately.  Ohh…except for four assassins in Aquitane.  But I told Sister Saint Charles about those thugs.  They murdered some Bishop she knew and I avenged the Bishop, so she was pretty happy about that.”

“Did Brak get you your load of Stavanger swords for Bjarmaland?”

“He did.  He hammered them all out here in Rouen.  You know…he never gets old.”

“I know.  He’s an Alchemist like your father.”

Then Oddi was off to Dub-Lin to visit with Queen Olvor and his daughter, Hraegunhild, followed by a stopover in York to visit with Princess Blaeja and their daughter Hraegunhild.

Fair Faxi was bobbing in the waters of the River Foss just outside Princess Blaeja’s castle.  “I checked with Kraka,” Oddi started, “and she said she thinks that Ragnar’s curse might be perpetual, carrying over to grandsons and great-grandsons.”  He got out of bed and got dressed, peeking out from under the awnings.

“So you tell me this the morning after we’ve made love all night long?”

“I’m one grandson you don’t have to worry about.”

“You’re the only grandson that keeps plundering me,” she jested.

“Only with your permission, my love.  Besides, look at the beautiful daughter we’ve been blessed with.”

“She is beautiful,” Blaeja said wistfully, sitting up in bed.  “Where are you off to next?”

“I’ll be visiting Grim in Hrafnista, then I’ll be doing a bit of trading in Bjarmaland.  “Shall I visit on my way back through?”

“Please do,” Princess Blaeja answered.  “Maybe I’ll have a son waiting for you this time.”  For a Christian, Princess Blaeja took Ragnar Lothbrok’s pagan curse very seriously.  She had Hraegunhild under her arm and they both waved bye to Oddi as he sailed Fair Faxi down the River Foss to where it forked into the River Ouse.  Blaeja rubbed her belly warmly with her free hand.  “Ragnar”, she whispered to herself.

“What mommy?” Hraegunhild asked.

“Nothing,” Blaeja answered, then she knelt down and faced her daughter.  “I was just wondering if you wanted a little brother.”  Eventually the River Ouse would fork into the Humber and take Oddi to the North Sea.

Oddi sat becalmed on the North Sea at the mouth of the Humber and he relaxed and warmed himself in the hot summer sun; he was in no rush he told himself, but finally, he stood up, looked to the north, and spread out his arms.  He soon found a slight breeze at his back and Fair Faxi’s sail barked a bit, like a dog that knew it was going somewhere soon with its master.  Oddi didn’t want to overuse this gift that the men of Hrafnista were blessed with, but too much sun wasn’t good either.  He visited with his foster-father Grim at his stead on Hrafnista, where he found Gudmund and Sigurd, who had grown tired of Aquitane and Christianity in general and had rejoined the ranks of the Hrafnistamen.  Then he raised his arms again, as those men often did, and he summoned Fair Faxi a strong Nor’Way storm that took her all the way past Varanger Fjord and Kandalaks Bay to the mouth of the Northern Dvina.

Oddi and his men traded with the Bjarmians once more; sharp steel swords with Tonstone pommels for blades of silver with pommels of gold.  Then they set up camp on Varg Island and Oddi left his men there and he swam under cliffs that took him into a cave to Giantland.  He carried with him gifts and some of his son’s personal belongings, and he found Hilder in his kingdom and he found Hildigunn and he told them both what had happened to young Vignir.  Hilder was angry and Hildigunn cried.

“Ogmund Tussock shall pay for this crime!” Hilder shouted.  “Nothing good has come out of Geirrod the Giant’s line.”

“We all loved Vignir so much,” Hildigunn cried.  And in private she professed her undying love for Oddi.  “I know that I gave you your freedom,” she started, “and gave you my love unconditionally, but please spend some time with my father and please, once again, play with me.”

At evening-time King Hilder showed Oddi to his room and when the reed torches were extinguished in the palace, Oddi tip-toed his way into Hildigunn’s room and lifted the bedclothes from her.  She asked who was there, and Oddi told her it was him and he wanted to play.  “What do you want?” she said. “I want to water my steed at your wine-well,” he said.  “Do you think it will be possible, my pip?” she said; “it is not used to the sort of springhouse that I have.”  “I’ll lead it there,” he said, “and push it deep, if it does not want to drink.”  “Where is your foal, sweetheart?” she said.  “My steed is between my legs, my love,” he replied, “and you may touch him, but quietly, since he is very skittish.”  She took hold of his steed by the mane and stroked it and said,  “It is a nimble foal, but rather straight at the neck.”  “His head is not very well placed,” he said, “but his neck curves better when he has had something to drink.”  “See to it all, now,” she said.  “Lie as it pleases you,” he said, “and keep calm.”  He now watered the foal rather generously, so that it dove in completely.  The princess was very startled at that, so that she could hardly speak.  “Aren’t you going to drown the foal?” she said.  “He shall have as much as he can take,” he said, “since he is often unruly when he is not able to drink when he wants to.”  He continued as long as he wanted, and then rested.  The princess wondered where the wetness had come from, which she had in her cleft, since the whole bed was a lather underneath her.  She said, “Could it be that your foal has drunk more than is good for him, and has vomited up more than he has drunk?”  “Something is wrong with him,” he said, “since he is now as soft as an eel.”  “He must be ale-sick,” she said, “like some drunkard.”  “That is certain,” he said.  They enjoyed themselves now as they wished, and the princess was sometimes on top, and sometimes underneath, and she said that she had never ridden such an easy-going foal as this one.  After a lot of enjoyable play, she asked him to sleep with her and ease her pain.

Oddi spent a week in Giantland, sailing with Hilder and playing games with Hildigunn.  He told them of his plans to anonymously patrol the Nor’Way to ensure that there was no slave transport being carried out on it.  He told them that he would also be searching for Ogmund in his travels, but that Ogmund was foremost man for King Frodi, the most powerful king in the world.  Ogmund sheltered under his king’s authority so it would be difficult to confront him without being discovered.  So, Hilder and his daughter offered to provide Oddi with some Giantland magic.  Hildigunn made him a masked helm of birch bark and overclothes of the bark to go with it and she stitched them up with spirit thread so that they fit over his Roman plate-mail shirt and his gold headband.  They had the bark costume steeped in magic elixirs and blessed by dwarves.  “When you wear the bark over your clothes,” Hilder started, “even your own father will not recognize you.  But you will not stand out as a stranger either.  You will seem as though someone who belongs, yet is of no importance.  Wear it in your travels along the Nor’Way and even Ogmund will not know who you are.”

Oddi bid the giants farewell and promised to stop in often during his patrols.  When Oddi returned to Varg Island he had his men pack up their awnings and gear into Fair Faxi and they resumed sailing up the Northern Dvina.  When they came upon merchant ships, Oddi would introduce himself as a Hraes’ Way Ranger and would ask the captain of the fleet for his Hraes’ pass, a velum scroll provided by the Hraes’ Trading Company that detailed merchandise that was to be traded and tithe rates required for that particular product.  The pass also forbade the trade or transport of slaves on the Nor’Way as per the trade treaty that Prince Erik Bragi Ragnarson had negotiated with the local Hraes’ Slav peoples that lived along the way.  King Frodi had torn up the treaty when he took back the Southern Way, the Danepar, but Prince Erik adhered to it for his Nor’Way trade.  And the bark costume Oddi wore seemed to be working, because he recognized many of the captains he was checking on, but none of them recognized him.  He patrolled up and down the Nor’Way anonymously, making sure that the Hraes’ sanctioned traders and merchants plied the ‘Way safely.  As the early trading season was ending, Oddi had his men sail south and they kept sailing until they saw the farms and settlements around Gardariki.  A great farm stood nearby, but there was a smaller farm closer by.  Oddi thought he would try the smaller farm and he saw a man there chopping wood.  The man was short with white-hair and he welcomed Oddi and asked him his name.  “My name is Barkman,” Oddi said gruffly, “and what is your name?”

He said he was called Jolf.  “Would you like to stay the night?” the man asked.

“I would,” said Barkman.

“The large farm next over will accommodate your ship and your men if you wish,” the old man said, so Oddi signaled his men to row over there.  Now he followed the man into his house where his wife sat alone on a chair.

“We have a visitor,” said the old man, “and you shall entertain him, as I have much work to do.”

The old woman grumbled and said that he often offered people hospitality, but never had anything to offer his guests.  The man got back to work and the woman sat with Oddi.  In the evening, when Jolf came in, there was a table set with just one dish in the center, but on the side Barkman sat at, he had put down a good knife.  Two rings were on the handle, one gold, the other silver.  When Jolf saw it, he reached for the knife and examined it.

“You have a good knife, Barkman,” said Jolf.  “How did you come by this little treasure?”

Barkman said: “When I was a youth, we made salt by the ocean, but one day a ship was wrecked nearby.  It broke to pieces on a reef offshore, and the men were washed up onto the beach and they were either dead or very weak, so we quickly finished them off, and I got this knife as my share of the plunder.  But if you, Jolf, have any use for it, then I will give you the knife.”

“Well, thank you, and may fortune bless you,” said the man and he showed the woman his knife.  “This is a good one,” he said, “much better than the one I had before,” and he passed the woman his old knife.  They shared their supper, and then went to sleep, and Oddi slept all through the night and into morning and did not wake until Jolf was away working.  When he got up, he asked the old woman if she’d rather he ate breakfast elsewhere.  The old woman told him that Jolf wanted him to stay in his home.

It was almost noon when Jolf returned and Barkman was on his feet.  Then the table was laid.  There was a dish on it and the old man put down three arrows with stone heads.  These were large arrows and well-wrought, so Barkman thought he had seen that kind of arrow somewhere before.  He took one up and looked at it.  “This arrow is well made,” he said.

“If you think,” said the old man, “you like them, then I will give them to you.”

Barkman smiled at him and said, “I like them.  These are arrows from Giantland.  Is there a reason I should carry these stone arrows from Giantland in my quiver with me?”

“You never know, Odd,” the old man cautioned, “when you might need them.  I know that you are called Arrow Odd and are the son of Grim Hairy-Cheek from north in Hrafnista.  I know, too, that you have three arrows called Gusir’s Gifts, and they may fail you when you go against the magic of Ogmund Tussock, but these stone arrows are impervious to his powers.”

“Since you know that my name is Odd, and also that I have the arrows called Gusir’s Gifts, it could be,” said Oddi, “that you are right in what you said before.  I may need these arrows so, I shall accept them,” and he put them in his quiver.  “Should I be thanking King Hilder for them?”

“Let us just say that your bark suit still works and that I was expecting you.”

Oddi laughed and said, “Perhaps it’s time to give this bark a bite.  What do you have for a king in this land?”

“We have a very fair king,” said the old man, “and he is called Olmar.”

“Who are the noblest men with him?” said Oddi.

“There are two foremost men,” said Jolf, “one called Sigurd, and the other Sjolf.  They are the chief men of the king, and the best of all fighters.”

“Does the king have children?” Oddi asked.

“He has a beautiful daughter named Silkisif.”

“Is she very beautiful?” Oddi asked further.

“Yes,” said the old man, “there is no one as beautiful in Gardariki or any other place.”

“How would they receive me, if I went there and did not tell them who I am?”

“I won’t tell them,” said the man.  So they went to the royal longhall, but the old man stopped outside it and refused to go in.

“Why do you stop?” asked Oddi.

“Because,” Jolf said, “If I go inside, I will be beaten.”

“Because they’re royals?” asked Oddi.  “We shall go in together, and I will protect you,” and Barkman grabbed him by the arm and they entered the hall.  When the king’s retainers saw the old man, they moved in to stop him, but Barkman pushed them out of the way.  They barged into the main hall and came up to the king.  The old man greeted the king humbly and the king received him and asked whom he had brought along.

“I can’t tell you,” said Jolf, “but he may.”

“My name is Barkman,” Oddi said.

“Who are you?” asked the king.

“I am called Barkman,” Oddi repeated.  “I am old and addled and I have lived outside in the forest much of my life and I ask you for winter lodgings.”

The king inquired, “Are you at all skilled?”

“No,” he said, “because I am clumsier than most.”

“Will you work a little?” asked the king.

“I do not work, since I am incapable of work,” said Barkman.

“Then it doesn’t look promising for you here,” said the king.  “I have made a vow to take in only skilled men.  But we are progressive here in Gardariki and we maintain a poor house for the bereft.”

“Nothing I ever do,” said Barkman, “seems to benefit anyone.”

“Well, you certainly don’t look bereft.  You must know how to collect game for hunters,” said the king.  “Perhaps I will go hunting sometime.”

“I can do both,” Barkman answered.  “I can hunt and collect game.  Where do you want me to sit?”

“You should sit far down the back benches there, between the freemen and the slaves,” said the king.  Barkman led the old man out of the hall, then went to a bench among the slaves.  There were two brothers nearby and they introduced themselves as Ottar and Ingjald.  “Come over here, Barkman and you shall have the bench between us,” so Oddi joined the freemen.  They sat close on either side and made sure he felt at home.  They quietly asked him about other lands he had visited.  He hung up his quiver and birchbark staff on pegs above his bench but he kept his club under his feet.  They asked him to put away the quiver, as it seemed to only attract attention, but Barkman said he would never let it be taken away from him, and he went nowhere unless he had it with him.  They offered him bribes to take off his bark outer clothes and offered to give him good clothes, but he refused.

“I can’t do that,” Barkman said, “because I have never worn anything else, and hopefully always will.”

Barkman usually sat at the end of his bench and had a few drinks after supper, then stretched out on his bench, pulled a fur blanket over himself and went to sleep.  So it went until the men began to go hunting in late summer.  One evening Ingjald said, “We must get up early tomorrow morning.”

“Why is that?” Barkman asked.  Ingjald told him they were all going hunting.  Then they all went to sleep early that evening, but in the morning the brothers rose and tried to wake Barkman but he was fast asleep, and he did not wake up until almost every man who was going hunting was gone.  Barkman woke and asked, “What’s happening, is everybody getting ready?”

Ingjald answered, “Ready and gone.  We tried to wake you all morning.  We’ll never shoot any animals today.”

Then Barkman asked, “Are they good hunters, this Sjolf and Sigurd?” as he got dressed.

“They are the best,” said Ingjald as they left the longhall.  “No one can compete against them.”

Soon they came to a mountain, and a parcel of deer ran past them, and the brothers drew their bows, and they shot at the deer but missed every time.  Then Barkman said, “I have never seen anyone shoot as badly as you two.  Why are you so poor at it?”

Ottar said, “We have already told you that we are clumsier than most,” and Ingjald added, “We were late getting ready this morning and now all the animals we’ll see are those already stirred up by others.”

Barkman said: “I do not believe that I could be worse than you, now give a bow and I will try.”  And so they did.  He nocked an arrow and drew the bow but it snapped in half.  They passed Oddi the second bow and they told him not to break it, but he pulled the arrow to the tip and that bow snapped into two pieces.  “Now you’ve done it,” Ottar said, and Ingjald added, “It is unlikely that we will shoot any deer today.”

“Things have not gone well,” Barkman agreed.  “But with the draw weights on your bows, it’s unlikely we would have killed any, anyway.  But do you think my bark staff will work as a bow?  And are you not curious about the type of arrows I might have in my quiver?”

“Yes,” they chirped.  “Show us.”

“Then spread out your thick cloaks, and I will empty it out.” So, they took off their cloaks and laid them on the grass and Barkman dumped the quiver’s contents onto the cloaks and it turned out to have been full of arrows.  Then he took his walking staff and began peeling the birch bark away and underneath they saw a fine yew bow with golden trim and a silken string dangled from one end.  He bent the powerful bow across his back and hooked the string’s free loop to the other tip.  The brothers could see it was a very powerful bow.  Barkman nocked an arrow to the string and drew his bow and shot the arrow far over the heads of the men at the hunt and he hit a deer.  So, that’s what he did all day, shooting at the deer that Sigurd and Sjolf were going after.  He shot all his arrows except six, the stone arrows he got from the old man, and Gusir’s Gifts.  He did not miss a deer that day, and the brothers ran and fetched his game, and great was their enjoyment watching his display of shooting skill.

In the evening, when the hunters all came home, all the men’s arrows were brought before the king, and each man identified his arrow marks, and the king noted how many deer each man had killed over the course of the day.  Ottar and Ingjald said, “Go up there, Barkman, and get your arrows off the table before the king.”

“You two do it,” he said, “and say you both own the arrows.”

“They won’t believe us,” they replied.  “The king knows how badly we shoot.”

“Then we’ll all go together,” he said.  So they went before the king and Barkman said, “We claim these arrows with our marking upon them.”  The king looked at him and praised his archery.  “Yes, sire,” he said, “because we often shoot animals to eat.”  And after that they went to their benches and ate and drank.

One evening, after the king had gone to bed, Sigurd and Sjolf went over with horns to offer a drink to the brothers, Ottar and Ingjald, and they asked them to take the horns and drink from them.  And when they’d finished, they came with another two, and offered them to the brothers.  Then Sjolf asked, “Does he always lie down so early at his bench?”

“Yes,” Ottar said.  “He thinks it wiser than drinking himself senseless like we do.”

Then Sjolf asked, “Is he really a good archer?”

“Yes,” Ingjald answered,  “It is a gift.  He has many talents.”

“Do you think he can outshoot the both of us?” Sigurd asked.

“I reckon he can outshoot anybody in Gardariki,” Ingjald replied.  “He shoots much farther and straighter than anyone we have ever seen.”

“We must wager on it,” said Sjolf, “and we will bet a bracelet worth half a mark against your two rings of equal weight.”  So, it was agreed that the king would be there with his daughter to see their shooting, and they were to hold the bracelets and rings and give them to whoever the winner was.  The next morning, when the brothers woke up, they apologized to Barkman for making the wager.  “The bet seems risky to me,” he said, “because even though I can shoot deer in the field, it is quite another thing to shoot in competition against such great archers, but I will try my best since you have staked all your wealth on this bet.”

First the men had drinks, and afterwards the people went out, and then the king wanted to see the shooting.  Sigurd went first and shot as far as he could, and a spear was stabbed into the ground where his arrow had landed, and then a courtier went up to it placed a gold chess piece on the butt of the spear, and Sjolf shot and hit the rook, knocking it off the spear, and it seemed to everyone that this was excellent shooting and he said that Barkman need not bother trying to beat that shot, as the courtier replaced the rook.  “Good luck often alters bad,” said Barkman, “so I must try.”  Barkman nocked one of Gusir’s Gifts and stood where Sigurd had stood and he shot straight up in the air, so that the arrow remained out of sight for a long time, but when it came back down, it went straight through the center of the rook and into the spear shaft so that the chess piece did not move.

“The shot last time was great,” said the king, “but this shot was much better, and I can say truthfully that I have never seen such fine shooting.”  Now Barkman took another Gusir’s Gift and shot it so far that no one could see where it came down, and it was agreed by all that he had won the match.  Then Princess Silkisif awarded the brothers the bracelet and rings.  They offered the bracelet to Barkman, but he told the brothers to keep it.  A few days later, the king had gone away on business, and Sigurd and Sjolf went with a horn each and offered them to Ottar and Ingjald, which they drank.  Then they brought them another two.  Then Sjolf said, “Still Barkman lies at his bench there and doesn’t drink.”

“He is better mannered than us in everything,” said Ingjald.

“I think,” said Sjolf, “that he has rarely ever mixed with noble men, and he has lain often out in the woods like a poor man without entertainments, but does he swim well?”

“We’re sure he is good at all sports,” Ottar replied, “and we think that he is a very good swimmer.”

“Can he swim better than both of us?”

“We think that he is a better swimmer,” said Ottar.

“We will make a bet on it,” said Sjolf, “and we will stake another bracelet worth a mark, but you shall stake two rings, a mark apiece in weight.”

It was again agreed that the king and his daughter should see their swimming contest, and all was set up as it was the first time.  In the morning, when they woke up, news of their bet had gone round the benches of the hall.

“People are saying,” Barkman started, “that you accepted another bet last night?”

“Yes,” the brothers replied and they told him all about the bet.

“Now I think it looks even riskier than before,” said Barkman, “for I am no great swimmer and it’s a long time since I’ve been in cold water.  Have you wagered much silver?”

“Yes,” they said, “but you don’t have to swim unless you wish to.  It would serve us right if we had to pay for our own foolishness.”

“That shan’t be,” said Barkman.  “I’ll try my best, since you treat me with honour and respect, and the king and Princess Silkisif will certainly see me go for a swim.”

The king and his daughter were invited to judge the swimming competition and the people went to the water, a big lake nearby.  When they came to the beach, the king and his retinue sat down and relaxed and the competitors went swimming in suitable clothes, but Barkman wore the guise that he was accustomed to.  Sjolf and Sigurd swam at him when they came from the shore and they tried to push him under but the bark he was wearing was buoyant and he would pop back up.  They held him under for a long time, but their strength waned and he popped back up and they took a rest.  They tried to double up on him a second time, but he reached out for them and took them by the scruff in each hand and forced them underwater and held them down so long that it seemed unlikely that they would come up again.  He let them up for air then took them under a second time and held them longer, and then for a third time he held them under for so long that no one thought that they would come back up alive.  But he let them up and out of their nostrils spouted the royal blood of these nobles and it seemed that they would need help back on land so the Barkman took them and cast them ashore.  Then he went on swimming and put on a show of games and tricks, and the royal retinue was glad to watch the display of swimming.  Later, he went ashore to meet the royals and the king said, “You are a better atheling than the rest, both at shooting and swimming.”

“You have seen my skills,” said Barkman, “and my name is Odd, if you would like to know, but I will not tell you anything about my family.”  Princess Silkisif gave him the bracelet and rings and said she admired his skills.  Then they went home.  The brothers said that Oddi should have all the rings, but he refused and told them to keep them as he passed them over.  The king seemed very anxious about who the man, this Odd, in bark might be.

One day, a man named Erik returned to Gardariki from Novgorod, and the king had great respect for him.  He was an older man and he had fostered the king’s daughter.  The king talked to him about the Barkman, but he said he did not know him and thought it likely that Odd came from a noble family.  It happened again, when the king had gone to bed, that Sjolf and Sigurd went up to the brothers and they brought two horns, and they drank from them. Then Sjolf said, “Does Odd ‘the Great’ sleep?”

“Yes,” Ottar replied.  “It is more sensible than drinking yourself witless like we do.”

“That could be because he is more used to sleeping in forests with lakes than to drinking with people in halls, or is he a great drinker as well?”

“Yes,” Ingjald said.  “He is a fine drinker of meads and ales.”

“Would he be a better drinker than us both?” Sjolf asked.

“It seems to us,” said Ottar, “that he could drink more than all of us.”

“We must wager on it,” said Sjolf, “and we’ll bet this gold bracelet, which stands at twelve ounces, but you shall stake your own heads.”  The brothers drank some more and the glittering gold caught up their eyes and they bound the wager with the noble warriors just as they had in the past.

The next morning, Oddi saw the sheepish looks of his friends and asked what was said and they told him.  “Now you’ve really made a mindless bet,” said Oddi, “and you’ve increased the stakes and now risk your heads, but it is not certain that I shall be the greater drinker though I am bigger than those two, but I will take them on in a drinking match.”  Then the king was told about the drinking competition, the bragarful, and that the king and his daughter were invited to sit in and judge, and Erik, her foster father as well.

Sigurd and Sjolf went up to Odd and said, “Here is a horn,” and poetry came to Sigurd’s his lips:

“Odd, you’ve never              split mail coats in battle

when helmed warriors,                    in Odin’s fetters fled;

while battle sweat flowed,              and fire razed the town,

when our king won,             victorious over the Wends.”

Sjolf brought him another horn, and told him to drink it and recited:

“Odd, we didn’t see you                  at the sword clash,

we dealt the king’s forces               death on a plate;

I took sword cuts,                 six and eight,

while you were begging                  your food from boors.”

Then they returned to their benches, but Oddi got up and went before Sigurd, bringing him a horn and another to Sjolf, and he recited a verse to each of them before he went away:

“I shall serve to you             my sweet nith song

Sigurd and Sjolf,                   on benches too long,

you both need word-mead              for your fine poetry,

a couple of pansies             the pair of you be.

You were, Sjolf,                    yet on kitchen floor

whelp lacking deeds,                       undaring doer

while in far-off                       Aquitane

four assassins                      I had slain.”

They drank from their horns as Oddi went to sit down.  Then they went over to Odd, and Sjolf gave him a round, then laid this verse down:

“You, Oddi, have been                    with beggars before

Getting scraps and tidbits               from the table,

While I all alone                   bore from Ulfsfell

my hacked shield                 in my hand.”

Sigurd bore him another horn and recited this:

“Odd, we saw you not                     out there with the Greeks,

fighting Saracens                with battle reddened swords;

we made the hard            din of Odin,

we felled fighters,                 in the red folk flame.”

Oddi now drank from the horns as they went to sit down.  Then Oddi rose and went with his horns to each of them and he recited thus:

“You were giggling, Sjolf,               with all the girls,

while keen flames                swept the fort in dancing swirls;

we slew the hard                    Hadding there,

and Olvir’s life                       we did lay bare.

You, Sigurd, lay                    in the lady’s sweet vice,

while we battled hard                      the Bjarmians twice;

warlike heroes                      with hawk like minds,

while you slumbered in the hall,    closing the blinds.”

Oddi went back to his bench, and they drank from the horns, and everybody thought it a great entertainment and were giving it a good hearing.  After that they went before Odd and offered him two horns.  Then Sjolf said:

“Odd, we saw you not                     on Atalsfjalli,

when the fen-fire                  we had gathered;

we the berserks                       bound up there,

of the king’s troop many          a warrior was killed.”

Oddi drank from the horns, and they sat down.  Then Oddi brought them horns and said:

“Sjolf, we saw you not,                    where all was wet

ring-mail byrnies                  washed in battle sweat;

spears dug deep                    in chain-mail sarks,

but in the king’s hall                you’d rather lark.

Sigurd, we saw you not,                  when we cleared decks

of six high-pooped ships                off of Haukaness;

we saw you not                    in Angleland’s west,

when Skolli and I                  ransacked a king’s nest.”

Oddi sat down and they brought him horns but no poetry.  He drank of them, but they settled down.  Then Oddi brought them horns and recited this:

“Sjolf, we saw you not,             when we reddened our brands

sharp on the Earl                   off Laeso Island;

but you stayed there                 at home, torn between,

the cuddlesome calf            and the slave maiden.

Sigurd, we saw you not,                  on Zealand where I slew

the battle-hard brothers,                 Brand and four more too:

Agnar and Asmund,               and Alf and Ingjald;

but you in the hall                the king’s tall tale skald.

Oddi sat at his bench and they brought him two horns.  Oddi drank both and he brought them two horns and then recited this:

“Sjolf, we saw you not                     south at Skane,

where noble Kings                  knocked helms in the rain;

dabbled in blood,                 we became ankle deep;

I was slaying men,                 passing out battle sleep.

Sigurd, we saw you not                   at Svia Skerries,

when we took Halfdan’s                   fleet of slaver ferries;

where sword hacked upon             battle-hewn shield,

And Sotti fell too,                     both refusing to yield.”

Now Oddi sat down and they brought him the horns and he drank them back before they sat down.  Oddi then brought them the horns and he said:

“We sailed our ash-ship          through Elfar Sound,

content and happy,             at Tronuvagar;

there was Ogmund       Eythjofs Bane,

tardy to flee,              with two ships.

Then we showered                 linden shields

with hard stones                   and sharp swords;

Only three of us lived                and nine of them.

Captive rogue,                      why so quiet now?”

Oddi then sat at his bench and they brought him two horns.  He drank both down and offered them two more and said this:

“Sigurd, we saw you not                 on Samsey Island,

when we received                strokes from Hjorvard;

two of us,                   but twelve of them;

I seized victory,                     you sat quietly.

I went over Gautland                       grim in mind

seven days I went,               until I met Saemund;

I took then,                before I travelled,

Eighteen people’s                lives away,

but you took,                reeling your way

through the blackness of night,                 a slave girl to bed.”

Cheering rang in the hall as Oddi sang, and they drank from their horns, but Oddi sat down.  The king’s men basked in the tales, immersed in the verses.  They brought Oddi two more horns, and he finished both quickly.  Then Oddi stood up and went to them and he saw that the drink had the best of them.  He gave them the horns and recited this:

“You will never                      be thought worthy,

Sigurd and Sjolf,             company for a king;

I think of Hjalmar,                 Hjalmar ‘the Brave’,

who swung his sharp sword             more briskly than any.

Thord forced his way forward          and broke shield walls,

when we were in conflict,               that heroic thane;

we laid Halfdan low             upon the deck,

and all of his             fellows and allies.

We were together, Asmund,            often in childhood

sworn brothers together                  many a time;

I often bore                in battle a spear,

where kings                clashed in the fray.

We smote the Saxons                     and raided the Swedes,

Ireland and England                 and once Scotland

Frisians and Franks                and Flemings too;

I smote them all                    I was like a plague.

I’ll list them now                    all of them;

those fierce warriors             who followed me there;

never again                   will we ever see

such brave warriors             go into battle.

Now I’ve listed                      all the deeds,

That so long ago                      we had done;

Rich in victories,                     we returned to our homes

to sit in our highseats;              so now let Sjolf speak.”

After that Oddi sat at his bench, but Sjolf and Sigurd fell back on their benches and quietly fell asleep.  Done with their drinking, they now began snoring, but Oddi kept going for a long time.  Then all retired and slept the night.  In the morning when the king came to his highseat, Oddi and his companions were already outside.  He went at once to the water to wash.  The brothers saw that the bark cuff was torn on one of his hands and there was a red silken sleeve and red gold rings on the arm, and they were not narrow.  And then they ripped off his bark.  He did not try to stop this, and underneath he was clad in a scarlet robe of velvet, and his hair lay down to the shoulders.  He had a golden band on his forehead and he was the most handsome of all men.  They took his hands and led him into the longhall to the highseat of the king and said: “It seems that we did not fully appreciate whom we have had here in our care.”

“It may be,” said the king, “and who is this man who has so hidden his identity from us?”

“I am named Odd, which I told you months ago, foster-son of Grim Hairy-Cheek of Hrafnista from the northern Nor’Way.”

“Are you the Odd who travelled to Bjarmaland a long time ago?”

“It was not so long ago that I was there.”

“It seems not so strange now that my nobles did badly with you in all sports.”  The king now stood up and welcomed Oddi and invited him to sit on the highseat with him.

Oddi sat with King Hraerauld and asked him, “Are you also known as King Olmar?”

“That is my Slavic name, when I was king of Kiev many years ago.”

“And you are the grandfather of Prince Erik?”

“Yes.  It took me many years to learn that,” King Olmar admitted.  “Probably more years than it should have, but he is my grandson by my daughter, Princess Boddi.”

“Then perhaps you know if Prince Erik fathered the son of Princess Gunwar; was he here in Gardariki with her, or was he locked up in Constantinople?”

“He was here,” Olmar reassured Oddi, suddenly showing a marked interest.  “She was pregnant with Helgi, that’s what she wanted the baby named, before the Prince went to Constantinople for aid.  And the Romans turned on him, imprisoning him in a dungeon in the Emperor’s palace.”

“So there is no chance that Brother Gregory may have fathered the child?”

“Certainly not!” King Olmar exclaimed looking about his highseat hall.  “Brother Gregory took the child up the Nor’Way to be raised in the west, but they all died in the Nor’Way crossing.  We had Sami witnesses.  Brother Gregory was Prince Erik’s best friend.  He was duty sworn to take his son to King Roller of Norway, but they never made it.  It was a great loss.  The baby was never found but the Sami said there were wolf tracks out on the ice where the ship was found icebound.  Many of the men had been dragged off by wolves and eaten, and, no doubt, that was the baby’s fate as well.  We never told Prince Erik that Brother Gregory had been tasked with taking little Helgi to the west.  It would have destroyed him.  We told him that both the wet-nurse and baby went missing during the fall of Gardariki, that she had taken him.  He searched and searched for her, but looking was better than knowing, hope was better than fate.”

“What if I told you that Brother Gregory made it to the west and died on his return to the Eastern Realm?  And that he left a baby in the west that he passed off as being his own?  And that the Prince had paid for the upbringing of that child in the west, believing him to be the orphaned son of Brother Gregory, and that I am that son.”

“But Brother Gregory had no son,” King Olmar said slowly.  “You are Helgi?”  Tears came to the old king’s eyes as he realized just who it was that was sitting with him.  “We must tell Prince Erik.”

“I’m afraid to,” Oddi admitted.  “He suspects I am his son but he doesn’t want to admit it because of the Curse of Faxi,” and Oddi explained to the king about how Prince Erik had borne the curse for much of his life, that ‘Venom-filled snake shall sting you from below the skull of Faxi’, but when the same witch repeated the curse for me at my naming, The Prince suspected that I was his son and that the curse had really been meant for me.  He is afraid that if he acknowledges me, he will be precipitating my death by snake bite.”

“And understandably so,” King Olmar said, “but it must be done.  I spent years knowing Erik was my son, but not believing, not saying.  My own mind tricked me, lied to me.”  It was the curse of Homo Sapiens.  The Giants, Homo Neanderthalis could not, but the next evolution of Homo Erectus had become very proficient at doing just that…lying to others and themselves until even they believed their own untruths.

They sent word to The Prince’s palace in Gardariki that he was required at the highseat hall of King Hraerauld  and when he came they changed their seats and Oddi sat next to the king, and Prince Erik moved from his usual place to a high stool before the king, and the three talked for a long time in low hushed tones.  After the talk, Prince Erik and King Hraerauld showed much respect to Oddi, and they valued no man more than him.

In the fall, Nor’Way ships began returning from their trade missions to Constantinople and Baghdad and parts further east, a few at first and then by the hundreds.  It was time for Oddi to don his birch bark threads once again and begin patrolling the Nor’Way.  He had a last long talk with his father, Prince Erik, and he bid farewell to his great grandfather, King ‘Hraerauld’ Olmar, and a fond farewell to his grand-aunt, Princess Silkisif, who was far younger than he.  The brothers, Ingjald and Ottar, accompanied him through the streets of Gardariki and he caught a ship at the docks that took him down the Kuban River to the farm of Jolf and his wife.  He bid them goodbye and rejoined his men at the large farm next over.  His men hadn’t been idle over the summer.  They had been busy selling their Bjarmian silver swords for silver Dirhams and gold Byzants and then using the money to buy silks and spices for trade in Frankia.  His sea steed, Fair Faxi, took them to the mouth of the Kuban then north across the Sea of Azov and into the mouth of the Don River.  He checked the Hraes’ passes of the merchants he passed as he sailed up the Don and made sure that they had paid their tithes for the silks and the spices and the silver and the gold they were taking back north to trade in their homelands.

Oddi established a checkpoint at the Don-Volga portage and inspected passes for ships pulling into the portage quays and also ships that were continuing up the Don into the Hraes’ hinterland.  When the last of the Nor’Way ships arrived at the portage, Fair Faxi followed them across to the Volga to Hawknista and a quick stopover in Giantland.

King Hilder was angry with Oddi.  “You were playing with Hildigunn again,” the giant complained.  “She is in the way again and due in the spring, just in time for your spring trade.”

Oddi apologized to the king but told him he hoped it would help her get over the loss of their son, Vignir.  “I hope it does too,” Hilder admitted.  “But you’re so puny.  She calls you her little pip.  I just don’t see how you two can even make it work.  Your father must have blessed you.”

He spent another week in Giantland and he played with Hildigunn some more.  “Your steed sure likes getting his fill of water,” she jested, as Oddi felt the bump of her belly.

“My father, Prince Erik,” Oddi began, “claims you will have to find a giant to marry someday.  He says it’s not good for your race if we continue to have half-trolls.  Your race will die out.”

“How does he know this?” Hildigunn asked.

“He knows everything…he has visions.  The past, the present, the future, none of the three norns is a stranger to him.  The men of Hrafnista are related to us…to the Hraes’, and the Hrafnista men are all half-trolls or quarter-trolls and they’re proud of it.  They command the winds and waves and are stronger than other men.  But my father says the interbreeding tends towards stronger men and not weaker giants.”

“Our Vignir was strong,” she argued.

“Strong compared to me!” he laughed.  “But not compared to your father, Hilder.”

“That’s quite true,” she admitted.

Oddi visited with Grim in Hrafnista on his way back to Frankia and stopped in at York to visit Princess Blaeja and her daughter Hraegunhild and then stopped in Dub-Lin along the way to visit with Queen Olvor and her daughter Hraegunhild.  When he arrived in Rouen in the late fall, his Uncle Roller had bad news.  A certain Prince Alf of Kiev, son of King Frodi, had led a small fleet of Danish ships into Frankia over the summer and may have learned something about who was operating the Hraes’ Trading Company stations there.  It would lead to more ships snooping about and they would eventually be found out.

CHAPTER TWENTY SIX

26.0  THE SIEGE OF PARIS OF 885

“The Monk Abbo Cernuus wrote:  King Sigfried (Sig-Frodi) came to the

 dwelling of the illustrious Bishop Gauzelin and said, “Have compassion

 on yourself and on your flock that you may escape death.  Allow us only

 the freedom of the city. We will do no harm…”

The Bella Parisiacae Urbis of Abbo of Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Home.

A place of refuge.

A sanctuary of learning.

Arrow Odd had laid low for many years, but King Roller of Norway had a profile that was harder to hide.  The Great Kagan of Kiev, King Frodi, eventually learned that the treasonous former King of Norway was to officially become Duke of Normandy of the Holy Roman Empire, and was being given lands and titles in exchange for protecting the northern coasts of Frankia from attack by other Vikings.  So, King Frodi put together a fleet of three hundred ships, half from Kievan Hraes’, led by his son, Alf, and the rest from Denmark and the Anglish Danelaw, and he attacked Count Roller and drove his Norman troops south from Flanders to Rouen.

“Our position here is indefensible,” Count Roller explained to his lieutenants.  “We’ll have to stall King Frodi and Prince Alf while we evacuate the city.  They are here for slaves for their eastern trade.”  Later he told Oddi, “He’s after my head now…unless you’ve got something to tell me.”

“Wasn’t me,” Oddi replied.  “I’ve been keeping my head down.  I think King Frodi finally figured out who the famed Duke Rollo actually is.”

“It’s actually Count Rollo,” his Uncle Roller corrected him, “I’ve gone by Duke Rollo because that is what most Franks call me, but I won’t be officially Duke Rollo until they break Normandy away from Flanders and officially assign me my lands and title.  Meanwhile, we have to keep the Franks thinking this is just another Viking raid.  They’re already calling King Frodi by the name Sigfried and his son, Alfgeir.  We do not want to correct that.  I could lose my Dukedom before I have even been awarded it.”

The Great Kagan of Kiev sent Prince Alf forth from Liere with a small fleet to scout out Flanders and Frisia several times, then entered the mouth of the Seine with his armada of three hundred ships.  Predictably, King Frodi followed the Hun practices for handling hosts and set up proper supply lines, giving Count Rollo plenty of time to save the citizens of Frankia as he retreated towards Paris.  Prince Alf and his troops entered Rouen and, finding it abandoned, burned the city to the ground.  King Frodi didn’t even leave his longship; he just sat in it and watched.  The Great Heathen Army continued rowing up the Seine towards Paris.

The Normans, as the followers of Count Rollo were called, withdrew to Paris with a fleet of one hundred ships full of the citizens of Rouen and sought the protection of the Franks, who were suspicious and thought the Normans were attacking them, so they barred the gates to the city.  Fortunately, Count Rollo knew their defences and had his men drag their ships around one of the low bridges blocking the river that flowed around the island city.  Count Oddo of Paris only had two hundred troops with which to defend the city, so he could not pursue them, but he immediately started building twin wooden towers at the far ends of each bridge so they would not be able to portage around so easily on the way back.  He did not know, at that point, that the Normans were being pursued by King Frodi and the Hraes’, but, at least, now he would not be surprised by them.  The Normans had tried to offer aid, but the Franks were too suspicious, so Count Rollo warned them of the coming fleet and carried on upstream with their refugees.  Some of their larger ships could not be portaged, so they left them anchored on the Seine, leading King Frodi, on his arrival, to believe the Normans were taking shelter in the city.  He laid siege to Paris.  But the Franks had built high walls and ramparts around Paris after Ragnar ‘Lothbrok‘s sacking of the city decades earlier and now Paris could not be stormed.  King Frodi lost many men trying to scale the city’s grey stone walls, and it did not seem to matter how many Franks he killed in attacks, they were always replaced by fresher tougher fighters.  It was a mystery to the Danes, but it was not surprising that Count Oddo, on losing half his men, suddenly became more accepting of Norman aid.  The siege was meant to keep the Parisians within, so it was quite easy, under cover of darkness, to sneak in Normans from without.  Once the Normans had settled their refugees in several cities upstream of Paris, they returned and Count Rollo and Oddi wintered in Paris defending its walls while King Frodi and Prince Alf spent the cold winter in tents, outside the walls, trying to get in.  It was during the defence of Paris that Count Oddo, in the name of their king, made Roller the Duke of Normandy and Count of Rouen.  Duke Rollo jested that, had he known he would end up being the Count of Rouen, he would never have allowed King Frodi to sack the city.

By spring the Danes became unnerved by the fact that Count Oddo’s two hundred men still held the city even though the Danes had killed at least four hundred of them.  When a Frankish relief army arrived from Saxony, King Frodi’s troops wasted no time in destroying it, yet the defenders of Paris never seemed to have their numbers diminish no matter how many fell in attacks.  King Frodi even fired the ships the Normans had left on the Seine and drove them under the wooden bridge and burned part of it, isolating twelve Franks who were defending the twin towers Oddo had built the previous fall.  Frodi demanded the twelve men surrender, but they couldn’t, for they were actually men of Normandy and Frodi would have killed them as traitors once he learned that they spoke not French, but Norse, so they fought like heroes, preferring to die in battle than be hanged, and they held the towers for many days as the people of Paris watched supportively.  Finally King Frodi ordered the towers burned and three survivors came out of each tower as it blazed and they joined together on the remnant of the bridge and fought the Danes to the death in the waning winter light and their shadows could be seen falling one by one in the sunset.  With the towers and the bridge burned, it seemed as though Paris would fall, but the citizens were bolstered by the stirring display of courage their fellow ‘Franks’ had displayed and even the most fearful took to the walls in defense.  Even Duke Rollo was inspired and he dressed up a dozen men to look just like the twelve from the towers and he had them paraded around the stone towers at the Paris end of the bridge and this really unnerved the Danes.  The next morning, they were gone and Duke Rollo and Count Oddo were the heroes of Frankia.

Oddi knew that King Sig-Frodi would never let Duke Rollo rule in Normandy unscathed, so he decided to follow the advice Queen Olvor had given him years before and he became determined to kill King Frodi.

CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN

27.0  HAVE SWORD — WILL TRAVEL  (Circa 886)

“6388-6390 (880-882) 886 AD. Oleg (Helgi) set forth, taking with

him many warriors.  He then came to the hills of Kiev, and saw

how Askold and Dir (Angantyr Frodi) reigned there. He hid his

warriors in the boats, left some others behind, and went forward

himself.  Askold and Dir (Angantyr) straightway came forth.  Then

all the soldiery jumped out of the boats, and Oleg (Helgi) said to

Askold and Dir (Angantyr Frodi), that he was the son of Rurik (Erik)

and he killed Askold and Dir (Angantyr Frodi, ‘the Hanging God King’).”

Paraphrased From The Hraes’ Primary Chronicle

“Blade with whom I’ve lived,               blade with whom I’ll die.

 Serve right and justice                   one last time, one last try.

 Seek one last heart of evil,                 still one last life of pain.

 Cut well old friend and then           farewell, till we meet again.

Sir Orrin Neville-Smythe, The Flight of Dragons  (Paladin)

(886 AD)  Arrow Odd called out the cadence of the rowing by stout young Danes from the new Duchy 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 told 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 Dan Par 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 Scythian 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 Normans 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 a giant that looked like Ogmund ‘Eythjofsbane’ Tussock, but Oddi could not tell because he had strapped on a heavy black iron Vanir helmet that had but a horizontal slit for the eyes and a number of vertical slits below it for breathing.  Then Oddi recognized his movements and they both rushed forth to meet each other.  Oddi and Ogmund stopped dead in their tracks and 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, including 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 Gorm 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, Erik ‘Bragi’ Ragnarson.  It is a starstone blade forged from a falling star that Erik 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.  Oddi realized that Ogmund thought he had come to kill him, not King Frodi, and he decided to use that to his advantage.  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 used his imparted momentum and 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 after 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 the heavy helmet 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 giant’s hands moved and grabbed the iron helmet and twisted it, popping the neck back into place with a grinding crack.

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 through his helmet slit 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 have been 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 Scythian 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.  Prince Erik had been busy building this tribute to his wife, Princess 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 Walled Island City, but on the landward side the walls seemed even 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 Erik in baggy red velvet trousers and a white silk shirt with elaborate red silk piping.

“Hoi, Oddi, my son!” Erik shouted.  “I thought you were staying with your uncle, Count Roller, in Flanders.”

“It is called Normandy now, father,” Oddi shouted, leaping from the ship to the dock, “and Count Roller is now Duke Rollo.”  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, Erik had skipped down the stone stairs of the tower.  “Last year King Frodi attacked Count Roller and the army of the Franks.  We stopped him at the gates of Paris.  He withdrew to Liere, and then back 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?” Erik whispered, stopping suddenly.  “The Southern Way shall die with him.  Come.  We must make preparations.  I no longer have friends in Kiev.  Like Ragnar in The Vik, I have only 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.”

Erik 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?” Erik 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.”

“It is good that it was quick,” 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, Roller, Duke Rollo of Normandy.  His growing fame became hard to hide.”

“King Roller,” Erik corrected.  “He is still the rightful King of Norway, to my mind at least, not that usurper, 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 in from without.  Your brother as Count Rollo and I as Bjorn ‘Ironsides’ 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 your brother Duke Rollo of Normandy and Count of Rouen.

“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 Vikings 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 your brother rule in Normandy unscathed, so I became determined to kill him, and I’ve done just that.”

“Prince Alf is in Denmark,” Erik 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,” Erik 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 after slaying their king, but instead he seemed to be including him in future plans.

“I need you to represent me in Baghdad,” Erik 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!” Erik 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,” Erik 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?”

Erik 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, Erik 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 Roller 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 Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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.”  Erik 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,” Erik 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.” Erik started.  “She was tall, with long blonde hair and blue hazel eyes touched by Odin.  You remind me of her.”  Erik 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 Erik 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,” Erik 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 Erik 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, Erik 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 Erik 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?” Erik 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…wore…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 by their Danish overlords.

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,” Erik thought as he welcomed her to Gardariki.  “Princess Eyfura,” he started.  “Our city is your city.  Please….welcome.”

“Thank you, Prince Erik,” she replied quite regally.  “Thank you for making my people feel so welcome.”

“Do you mind if I join you?” Princess Gunwar asked as she joined Duke Rollo 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 Erik 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.

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT

28.0  KING ALF ‘THE OLD’ FRODISON  (Circa 887)

“The king wants to collect back tribute from a land called Bjalka (Kiev),

 ruled by a king named Alf (Frodison) and nicknamed Bjalki.  He is

 married to a witch named Gydja, and they are both great for sacrifices

 and offerings.  They are so powerful as magicians that they could hitch

 a horse to a star.  They have a son called Vidgrip, who is a mighty warrior.

 King Herraud (Olmar) has tribute to collect there that has long been unpaid.”

Arrow Odd’s Saga (Chapel)

(887 AD)  Prince Erik often talked with Oddi about the situation developing in Kiev.  Oddi wanted the Southern Way slave trade stopped.  He had promised Gudrun that he would stop it if she and Sigrid and their sons would join him in Gardariki and she had arrived quite suddenly with her whole family and father and most of the Polotsk Hraes’ Trading Company people just ahead of the northern rebellion.  Oddi put the sisters and sons up in his longhall in Gardariki and The Prince looked after the rest.

“This is Odd,” Gudrun said, introducing her son by Oddi, “And this is Asmund,” Sigrid said, introducing her son by Asmund and they were both fine looking young men and both twenty four years old.  Oddi had somehow been expecting boys.  And these two young men were already experienced traders of the Hraes’ Trading Company of Polotsk.

“Are you the same Oddi who went to Bjarmia a long time ago?” Odd asked, shaking his father’s hand vigorously.

“Traders still talk about the gold you made in Bjarmia,” Asmund added.

“It wasn’t really that long ago,” Oddi said, looking at Gudrun.  “At least it doesn’t seem that long ago.”

Oddi took the two sisters and his son and foster-son on a tour of Gardariki that concluded at Prince Erik’s palace and a great banquet welcoming the Polotsk branch of the Hraes’ company.

“So what do you think of Odd?” Gudrun asked Oddi the next morning in bed.

Oddi raised himself up on his elbow and kissed her gently.  “He is so much like me,” he answered, “it almost floored me.  I was looking at myself.”

And what did you think of Asmund?” Sigrid asked.

Oddi rolled over and raised himself up on his other elbow and said, “He is so much like Asmund.  I’ll have to tell him all about his father,” and he kissed Sigrid gently.

Oddi then rolled onto his back and both women dove onto his arms and they all hugged warmly.  It took Oddi back to his freedom days fighting slavers with Asmund and he was glad he made that port stop in Polotsk before killing King Frodi.

Prince Erik was overjoyed to see his son, Oddi, so happy, even though the people of Gardariki thought that Oddi was perhaps happier than one ought to be.  Multiple wives and multiple concubines were common in Gardariki, especially with all the different religions that were tolerated in the city, but there were no marriages in Oddi’s longhall and these women were free to come and go as they pleased.  But Oddi and Gudrun and Sigrid were at an age where they really didn’t give a shit.

One day, Princess Silkisif was alone with Oddi in King Olmar’s highseat hall and she asked Oddi if he cared for her at all.  “I only ask,” she said, “because it always seemed to me that when you were here as the Barkman, you were always trying to impress me.  I thought perhaps that you intended to court me.”

“I did intend to court you,” Oddi admitted.  “But I didn’t know that I had a son and foster-son with two sisters that I love very much from my past.”  Oddi then told her about that period in his past when he was battling slavers with Asmund, and Gudrun and Sigrid were their Freedom Movement confidants and lovers and Silkisif was swept up in the story and she saw him and these women in a totally different light.  “When I was the Barkman,” Oddi concluded, “I used giant magic to anonymously battle slavers on the Nor’Way and I was very much trying to impress you.”

“You never stop,” Princess Silkisif said.

“Stop what?” Oddi asked.

“You never stop impressing me.  I was impressed when you barged into father’s highseat hall and you stopped those guards from throwing poor Jolf out, and I’ve been impressed with everything you’ve done since.  And the story you’ve just told me…now I wish to meet these sisters of yours.”

Oddi was discussing the Kiev situation with his father one day and then he asked him if men hadn’t vied for the hand of Silkisif.  “Many men have asked for the hand of Silkisif,” Prince Erik answered, “but my grandfather has always turned them down.  She wants to be impressed.”

“I want to impress her,” Oddi said.  “How can I really impress her?”

“By impressing her father,” Erik said.  “He used to rule Kiev.  Now he rules the city that Gunwar and I built.  He thinks that King Alf is slowly destroying Kiev.  He knows that Kiev can be so much more, not just a seedy slave route to Baghdad.  Alf is married to an Aesir witch named Gydja and they have begun making blood sacrifices in the city.  Their son, Vidgrip, is a powerful warrior who protects them but sacrifices others.  King Hraerauld would like King Alf gone.  That would impress them both.  But Prince Alf inherited all the power of King Frodi and it would take a very large army to take him out.”

 “So, if I could take him out with a small force,” said Odd, “the king may want to give me her hand.”

“My grandfather is a wise man,” said Erik, “and I think Silkisif is already impressed with you.”

A proposal was brought before the king, and it was agreed by all that Oddi would lead an army and recapture Kiev for the Hraes’ Trading Company and bring all the northern towns from Chernigov to Polotsk back into the Hraes’ fold, and if he was successful, he could ask for the hand of the king’s daughter, and he promised Princess Silkisif that he would do this in front of many witnesses.

Prince Erik put Oddi in command of a legion of his Tmutorokan Cataphracts, five thousand strong, as well as a thousand mounted archers equipped with both horn and foot bows. and when he was ready to go, the king and Princess Silkisif saw him off.  “There is a costly treasure,” the king announced, “that I will give to you that may help.”

“What is it?” said Oddi.

“It is a she, a shield-maiden called Lagertha, who has been a shield for me in every battle.”

Oddi replied, “I have never had the need for a shield-maiden, but I’ll take all the help I can get.”  The King and Oddi parted and Silkisif gave him a silk kerchief and tied it to his arm for luck.  Oddi and his army travelled north until they reached the Don River which was in the midst of its spring flooding and was raging, and Oddi crossed it on his horse.  The shield maiden was next after him, but her horse became frightened and balked at the raging flood.  Odd shouted back, “Why have you not followed after me?”

“I was not prepared,” she said.

“Well then,” he yelled, “prepare yourself.”  She spurred on her horse and it ran into the river and was swept away by the current and so it went too with the rest of the horse troop, that most made it across, but some did not.  Oddi sent back home the third of his troop that could not make the crossing, saying, “it is better to have a staunch few than a wavering many.”

Odd then went on with his remaining troop and sent scouts on before him, and they came back with news that King Alf’s son, Prince Vidgrip, was leading a very large army against them.  The two armies met on a plain where the Orel River forks into the Dnieper, but it was too late in the day for fighting.  Prince Vidgrip rode out with some officers and they staked out hazel poles marking the field of battle.  Oddi sent two of his Cataphract officers out to adjust the field of battle to be a bit narrower and they returned to their army and Prince Vidgrip waved acceptance of the change as Oddi watched him carefully.

The armies of the Kievan and Tmutorokan Hraes’ both set up their camps at their respective edges of the plain, and Oddi kept watch that evening for exactly where Prince Vidgrip had his camp followers pitch his campaign tent.  The archers of Gardariki were grumbling and the Cataphract officers agreed that they were outnumbered and could have sure used the help of those Odd had sent back home.  When the men had fallen asleep, save for the watch, and all was calm and quiet, Oddi got up and snuck out of camp.  He carried only a sword in his hand as he ran, half crouched, across the plain.  When he got to the enemy camp, he evaded their guards and was soon in front of the huge campaign tent where Vidgrip and his officers slept, and he stood in the shadows for some time, and waited for a man to come out of the tent.  At last, a man walked out to relieve himself, but it was very dark and he almost walked into Oddi waiting there.  “Why are you standing out here?” he said.  “Go back into the tent or go do your business.”

“I have,” Oddi said, “but I can’t remember where I placed my bedroll in the tent earlier this evening.”

“Do you know whereabouts it was in the tent?”

“I am sure that I was one man this way from Vidgrip, but as it is now, I can’t find my way to it.  I will be every man’s laughing-stock if you do not help me.”

“Okay,” said the other, and he popped back into the tent.  “Vidgrip lies on his bedroll right by that pole,” and he pointed it out in the shadows.

“Thank you,” said Oddi, “and I’ll be quiet going over there, because now I see my bedroll clearly.”  The man walked out again to take care of his business and Oddi walked in, going up to the bedroll of Vidgrip to confirm that he was the leader he had seen placing the hazel poles the day before.  He recognized the prince and he stuck a peg through the tent wall where Vidgrip slept.  After that he went out and almost ran into the man he had asked for directions.  “I got so worried about not finding my spot, I forgot to take care of my business!”  The other man laughed and entered the tent.  Oddi waited a bit to give the man time to hopefully go back to sleep, then he went to the wall of the tent where the peg was pushed through, and he lifted the tent side and pulled Vidgrip out quickly and cut off his head with his sword.  He pushed the body back into the bedroll and smoothed out the tent wall, replacing the tent peg as though nothing had happened.  He took the head and returned to his camp, erecting the countenance on a pole, then he went into his campaign tent and lay down and whispered to himself, “a staunch one is better than a wavering many,” and he went to sleep as if nothing had happened.

The next morning, when the Kievan host all rose, they found Vidgrip had lost his head and was in his bedroll quite dead.  It seemed to some of them that some kind of witchcraft had been perpetrated, and to others it seemed that they had a traitor in their midst, but one thing was certain: the man who had directed a strange warrior to the bedroll of Vidgrip the night before was minding his own business the next morning and told no one of his odd encounter the night before.  The captains all talked together and it was decided that they would take one of themselves as leader and give him Vidgrip’s armour and banner so that none would know that their leader was dead.

Oddi woke up next morning, armoured himself and sauntered out of his campaign tent to find a group of his complaining captains discussing how Vidgrip’s head got onto a standard pole in the middle of their camp.  “I’d recognize Vidgrip anywhere,” one stated adamantly, “and that’s his head!”.  Oddi had his captains arrange their standards so that Vidgrip’s head was at the center of them.  As the two armies drew up against each other, Oddi and his standard bearers rode out ahead of his legion and he saw that he had a much smaller force.  Oddi called out to the Kievan Hraes’ force and asked them if they recognized the head that was borne beside him.  The Kievan force then looked to the Vidgrip armoured man at the head of their host and grew suspicious and one sergeant knocked the helm from him and they saw it was an imposter, so they dragged him from his saddle and began beating him, thinking he was some usurper who had used magic to behead their prince.  And with the prince dead, many of the Varangian mercenaries began to wonder who would be paying them and why the Kievan officers were trying to deceive them into battle.

Oddi gave them two choices, either to fight against him or to join him and get their pay from Prince Vidgrip’s baggage train and a second payment from his own baggage train if they would follow him against Kiev.  Oddi welcomed the mercenaries that joined him and he accepted the surrender of the Kievans that were no longer in any position to fight him.  But a third option arose for Varangians that didn’t want to fight without pay but didn’t want to go against King Alf of Kiev.  Oddi offered these mercenaries full pay and a second payment to take the Kievan prisoners to Gardariki and from there they would be provided sea transport to Constantinople so that they could join the Varangian guard there.  Since many Scandinavians had left the north in the hope of joining the Roman Varangian guard, this offer was hard to turn down, so Oddi sent them off to Gardariki at the head of a column of prisoners that were to be held captive until Oddi returned to Tmutorokan.

Oddi now led a respectably sized army of four thousand Roman Cataphracts, five thousand Varangian foot soldiers and several thousand mounted and marching archers.  And he took them and all their camp followers and headed to the capital, Kiev, where King Alf ‘the Old’, the son of Frodi ‘the Peaceful’, awaited him.  Both armies now had great numbers of troops, but again Oddi had fewer than Alf.  The battle started just before the eastern gates of Kiev, and it was so fierce that Oddi was dumbfounded by the slaughter taking place on both sides of the shield wall.  Oddi battled his way towards the banner of Alf but could see him nowhere.  Then one mercenary who had been with Vidgrip before said, “I’m not sure what stands before your eyes, but King Alf is standing just behind his banner and he never leaves it and he is using witchcraft, because he shoots an arrow from each finger and kills a man with each shot.”

“I still can’t see him,” said Oddi.

Then the mercenary raised his hand above Oddi’s head and said, “Look here from under my hand.”  And then Oddi saw King Alf and saw that everything else the man had claimed was happening, really was.

“Hold your hand there for a bit,” said Oddi, and he felt for a Gusir’s Gift and took one out of his quiver and put it to the string, keeping his eyes on Alf the whole time, afraid to lose sight of him again and he took his shot, but Alf put up his hand and the arrow hit his palm and did not bite.  “Now you shall all go,” said Odd to Gusir’s Gifts, and he shot both remaining arrows, but neither one bit, and he could see all of Gusir’s Gifts lying in the grass before the king.  “I am not sure,” Oddi said to the Varangian, “but maybe the time has come to give Jolf’s stone arrows a try,” and he took one of them and nocked it and shot at King Alf.  When he heard the whine of the arrow that flew at him, Alf again raised his palm but the arrow flew straight through it and his eye and out of the back of his head, taking his helmet off with it.  Odd quickly took another stone arrow and laid it to string and without it even slowing him down, he thought about the five berserk brothers on the Island of Zealand and how they had tumbled off of their horses and he could see the dust rise as they crashed to the metaled road and he shot at the king again.  Alf quickly put up his other palm to protect his remaining eye, but the arrow passed right through it and through that eye and out of the back of his head.  Still, Alf did not fall, though now blind and holding both hands in front of his face.  Then Oddi shot the third stone arrow, hitting Alf in the gut, and then he fell, and all the old man’s stone arrows vanished, as he had said they would because they could only be shot once and then would not be found.

Once King Alf had fallen, the fight was quickly over.  The enemy was routed and the survivors retreated through the city gates.  Queen Gydja stood at the center of the gates and she shot arrows from all her fingers, just as Alf had done, to cover their retreat.  She held the one gate until her men were through but retreated into the city as Oddi’s men, close after them, overwhelmed the gates and swarmed inside.  Near the city were shrines and temples and Oddi had them set on fire and he burnt everything outside the walls.

Then poetry came to Gydja’s lips:

“Who is causing this blaze,                this battle;

  who on the other side                     arrows rattle?

  Spear Odd to Arrow Odd         did giants turn.

Shrines are blazing,             and temples burn.

“I harried the gods       fainthearted two,

like goats from a fox            they ran anew;

evil is Odin                    as a close ally;

it must not continue,            their devilish cry.”

Oddi and his Varangians now attacked Gydja and she retreated into the city with her personal guard behind her.  Oddi and his men chased her retainers and killed them all, but Gydja fled to the main temple of the city and took sanctuary inside.

Then she said this:

“Help me gods          and goddesses,

aid me, Powers,       your own Gydja.”

Oddi came to the temple but his men would not go inside so he went up on the roof and saw where she was hiding through a clerestory window.  He then tore off a large square stone from the battlement and threw it through the window and it hit her on her spine and smashed her up against the wall, and she died there.

Oddi and his men continued to battle throughout the city and he finally came to where AIf had been taken, for he had not been quite dead, then Oddi beat him with a club until he was.  Soon Oddi accepted the surrender of the city and he set up his lieutenants as the new Polis officers.  His army occupied the city and Oddi sent messengers and ships back to Gardariki with great wealth and riches and a request for reinforcements with which to conquer the northern towns, for his losses had been great and the Kievans had fought well.

When his messengers returned, he learned that old King Hraerauld was dead, and he was requested to return to Gardariki at once.  When he got back, the king had already been laid to rest in a mound.  Oddi at once ordered a funeral ale for him , and it was prepared, then Prince Erik betrothed to Oddi, Princess Silkisif, and the people of Gardariki drank the funeral ale of King Olmar, then started into the marriage ale of his daughter, Queen Silkisif, for at that feast Oddi was given the name of king, and they both now ruled his kingdom.

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE

29.0  THE SECOND SIEGE OF KIEV  (Circa 888)

“Oleg (Helgi) set himself up as prince in Kiev, and declared that it should

 be the mother of Gardar Hraes’ cities.  The Varangians who accompanied

 him, were called Hraes’ (Rus’).  He commanded that Novgorod  should

 pay the Varangians tribute to the amount of 300 grivny a year and

 this tribute was paid to the Varangians until the death of Yaroslav.”

Paraphrased from The Hraes’ Primary Chronicle

(888 AD)  The quays of Kiev extended a mile both upstream and downstream of the city and the main quay led to the howe of King Frodi with roads on either side leading to a main gate in the centre of Kiev’s massive wooden riverside wall.  The gate, itself, consisted of a steel portcullis set between two stacked log towers and the walls extending outwards from the towers were huge heavy palisades regularly interrupted by more stacked log towers.  The Hraes’ navy still had longships in the Dnieper just off the quays, but the land walls that surrounded Kiev were, in turn, surrounded by the armies of the Poljane and Drevjane and Radimichi.  There were five hills inside the city walls and at the top of each one was a massive stockade fort, with the valleys between the hills teaming with wooden houses and buildings and barns.  And the chinking and the whitewash for the logs were all the same ochre clay, a clay that made the logs impervious to fire, so the city of Kiev had a red dusky hue in the fall air.

In order to test if a material is impervious to fire, take a sample of that material and throw it into a campfire.  When the fire goes out, see what is left of your sample.  If your sample remains there amongst the campfire cinders, it is impervious to fire, if it no longer remains there, it is not.  King Frodi should have tested his ochre painted logs in this fashion, for King Oddi’s lieutenants and troops were soon to learn the difference.

Try as they might, the rebel troops could not storm the high palisade walls.  The storm of arrows that would erupt from the double story parapets was too fierce for even the bravest warriors to weather.  So, they fired back volleys of arrows of their own, fire arrows that could not set the tall log walls alight.

The Poljane warriors scoured the countryside for heavy wagons and wains and loaded them up with firewood and lined them along the only road that had a slight downward slope toward the Kievan wall at the eastern gates.  They set a wagon ablaze and rolled it backwards down the road and six men with shields strapped to their backs guided the wagon by its tongue, sometimes pushing and sometimes being pulled along, until the wain crashed into the wall, then they ran back up the road for their lives, as the shields on their backs danced with darts.  Then the next wagon was set ablaze and a fresh team guided it into the wall.  And the next, and the next and then more, until all the wagons that had lined the road were burning at the base of the high palisade.  A stone wall would have cracked under the heat of that conflagration, but at least it would have had a chance to remain standing.  The log wall, ochre clay or not, had no chance at all.  The next day, when the fire died down, all that was left of the gate towers and the palisade were the steel spikes and the portcullis lying red hot in the embers.

The Poljane and Drevjane entered Kiev as King Oddi’s lieutenants and men withdrew to their ships at the quays of Kiev and fled down the Dnieper back to Gardariki.  The Radimichi didn’t even enter the city…they went home to prepare for winter fur trapping.  The Poljane sent emissaries to Constantinople to set up treaties and re-establish slave-less trade.  The Drevjane complained that they, too, should be allowed emissaries.  But Prince Erik had already re-negotiated his treaty with the Romans and it did not allow for any Greek trade concessions with the Slavs.  All trade would be conducted through the Nor’Way and it would follow Hjalmar’s rules—no slaves.

The fall weather in Tmutorokan was mild as the last of the Nor’Way ships left the quays of Gardariki and made their way down the Kuban for the Sea of Azov.  The trading season was lasting longer each year as a centuries’ old warming cycle was reaching its peak.  Five hundred years earlier, Erik had explained to Oddi, it was so cold that the Nor’Way sea remained frozen all year round and the Glassy Plains became impassable to trade.  A final migration was made by King Eormanrik and his Goths as they marched south in search of food and land, because their northern fields could no longer sustain crops.  Erik’s father, Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’, was the first to capitalize on the end of the cooling cycle and the return of the warming.  When the Nor’Way sea started to break enough for a trading season, he was there with his warrior merchant fleet, and when it wasn’t warm enough for the ice to break, they would raid: Angleland, Frankland, Ireland, Scotland.  If his fleet couldn’t trade for Roman gold, it would ransom cities for silver.  The fickleness of the warming cycle led to the sporadic pattern of Viking raids of that time.  Trading was always safer than raiding, but often, not by much.

“You wish you were going with them?” Princess Eyfura asked.

“No, not this late in the season,” Erik replied.  “It will be starting to freeze by the time they clear Kandalak’s Bay.”

“Nor this late in the season of our lives,” Eyfura added.  “And speaking of late,” she further added, as she slipped her hand into Erik’s.  She had news for her husband to be, but she wanted to be sure.  She went to see a healer before telling Prince Erik the good news.

“It is a good thing you came to me,” the healer told Princess Eyfura.  “Your period is late because you have started menopause.”

“I’m not old enough for menopause,” the princess protested.

“You are still young and very beautiful for your age,” the healer said, “but you are well within the age for menopause.  “Having a baby now will be very difficult, but I have several fertility potions and spells I can give you.”

“I have used this potion and spell before,” Eyfura said, passing the healer a rune stick.

“This potion is for four sons,” the healing witch said.

“I used it three times.  I had twelve sons in under three years.”

“And are they all healthy?” the healer asked, shaking her head.

“They are all dead.  But it had nothing to do with the potion.  They were all killed in a holmganger,” the princess said sadly, and it looked as if she would cry, but she raised her head proudly and announced, “They were the finest of sons.”

“I’m glad the potion worked well for you in the past, but if I give this to you now, at your age, it will likely kill you.  Let me see what I have here,” she said, going through her rune bag.  “This will give you one son, if it works for you.”

CHAPTER THIRTY

30.0  RECONQUERING THE SOUTHERN WAY  (Circa 889-891 AD)

“6391 (883). Oleg (Helgi) began military operations against the Derevlians,

 6392 (884). Oleg (Helgi) attacked the Severians, and conquered them.

 6393 (885). Oleg (Helgi) sent messengers to the Radimichians.  Thus Oleg

 established authority over the Polyanians, the Derevlians, the Severians,

 and the Radimichians, but waged war with the Ulichians and the Tivercians.”

“Viking warship, go fock yourself!”

Paraphrased from The Hraes’ Primary Chronicle

(889 AD)  King Oddi had been in Baghdad placating the Caliphate when he received the news that Kiev had fallen to the northern rebels.  He had been overseeing silk-route trade on the Caspian Sea and had just returned to Baghdad to explain why there would no slave trade via the Nor’Way when Hraes’ traders brought him the news.  But he still wanted to carry on further and visit Jerusalem and the River Jordan over the winter.  His friends in Frankia would want him to complete his pilgrimage.  Duke Roller had shown him a silver plate exposure of his father and he had learned of a guild in Baghdad that could do such a thing and he wondered, if he had enough gold, would they travel. 

Oddi had spent much of the summer at the estate of Fadlan Ibn Ahmad, the son of Ahmad Ibn Yakut, the Baghdad merchant that Erik had met in Constantinople.  Fadlan had helped guide Oddi through several meetings and a treaty with the Caliph of Baghdad.  But it was now late fall and the trading season was over and Fadlan had promised to contact the Alchemists’ Guild that handled silver oil emulsion imaging.  True to his word, an alchemist soon arrived with several assistants and two large box-shaped devices were set up in the courtyard.  Fadlan had two tall chairs set up in front of the courtyard colonnades and he and Oddi posed for the pinhole cameras.  The chemist spread a thin film of asphaltic paste over two silver plates and placed one in each box so that the beams of light entering through the pinholes in the boxes targeted the full plate diameters.  Oddi posed seated, with his weapons, sword and shield at his knees, a yellow tunic covering his broad chest and the long blonde hair that framed his handsome face was held in place with a gold head band.  He sat back and relaxed as did his host and occasionally they would sip orange juice out of silver goblets.  Then the alchemist would come out from between the boxes and quickly adjust their poses, then return and monitor the exposures.  After two hours he put clay seals on the pinholes and covered the boxes with heavy black drapes.

“Our fathers posed like this thirty years ago,” Fadlan stated, “but the imaging could only be done in black and white.  The Alchemists have had some success introducing some reds and yellows into the emulsions, so your outfit should really stand out.”  

The night before Oddi was to leave for Jerusalem, he and Fadlan celebrated their summer’s successes with a feast.  Following the meal, Fadlan rose and went to a sideboard and retrieved two silver plates and presented Oddi with one and placed the other on a wall beside the exposure of their fathers that had been taken decades before.  “They were delivered this afternoon,” Fadlan explained, and Oddi could see they were identical exposures of the two of them posing in the courtyard.  The pictures were incredibly detailed in various shades from black to very light gray, but the yellow of Oddi’s tunic and the gold of his hair and headband stood out and flesh tones had a myriad of hues.  Again, the courtyard features were outstanding, the colonnades were finely fluted and the architectural details were extremely clear.  Static items seemed very clear while the subject faces and extremities were slightly blurred but very recognizable.  “The alchemist who exposed the plates is our foremost optical scientist and an expert in light sensitive oils and chemicals.  He has developed oil films that react faster to light and register some colours.  While these exposures have been treated to no longer react to light, it is still best to store them in darkness,” and Fadlan presented Oddi with a polished wood chest with a black velvet lining in which the picture could be stored and special inks with which the picture could be touched up.

“I’ve checked with our Alchemist and he does have a man that can travel to Jerusalem with you.  But he will only take one pinhole housing and he will make a number of his own exposures while there.  My company shall cover all costs and the Caliph has offered you a place in the next merchant caravan going to Jordan and Jerusalem.”

Arrow Oddi went to Jerusalem and got the exposures he had promised Duke Rollo of Normandy.

(890 AD)  The Eastern Roman Emperor wanted to give the Poljane a chance to re-start Southern Way trade, but Prince Erik would not allow any relaxation of his treaty restrictions.  The Romans would have liked to give the Khazars a chance to re-establish their control of the Southern Way.  Anybody but the Varangians who had nailed a war shield to the main gates of Constantinople, anybody but the Bragning Prince who seemed to have a special relationship with the Alchemists of Chaldea, the Bulghars of the Volga, the Khazars of Atil Kazaran, the Xungarians of the Silk Road, the Arabs of the Caliphate of Baghdad.  Erik knew there was a centuries old conflict smouldering between the philosophical sciences of the Alchemists Guild and the Roman Engineers going all the way back to the Roman conquest of Greece.  The studies and teachings of Plato and Socrates and Archimedes that had evolved in cooperation with Babylonian and Indian and Oriental Schools of Alchemy were being sampled and cannibalized by the Imperialis Machina that was Rome…the conqueror, Rome…the enslaver.

The crude science that evolved out of Roman military engineering ruled the world as the Romans knew it, but the world was much bigger than that.  And the science much more complex.  When Emperor Titian sent the chief scientist of Rome to study Mount Vesuvius and see what Roman engineering could do to stop the impending eruption, Pliny the Elder was caught up in the conflagration that was Pompey and it cost him his life.  Their science served the empire.  The sciences of the Alchemists served mankind and there were many facets of it that were forbidden to governments and empires.  The Eastern Romans, the Byzantines, had pried the terror of Greek fire from the Alchemists of Chaldea and Constantinople would pay for it centuries in the future when the iron tubes Erik had envisioned would spew fire and smoke and balls of steel against her cold stone walls until the city would finally fall.  And further in the future, Erik saw the New Romans in the Newfoundland pry the terror of Democritian theory from their state scientists and use it on their enemies in the Orient.  They too would send their scientists to study their own Vesuvius, and many of those scientists would die in the ensuing conflagration.  Those that do not study history are doomed to repeat it, but those who do study history must study and understand it, not just memorize the dates.  Erik understood the history of the Romans and their blood link with the Khazars, so he called for ambassadors from Khazaria to go to Constantinople and argue his case for him.  The Khazars were profiting from the existing Nor’Way trade and Erik promised them profits from the reopening of Southern Way trade. 

When the Slavs of Kiev, Chernigov and Smolensk learned that the only Southern Way trade going to Constantinople would have to go through the Varangians, they made it known that were willing to talk.

During negotiations it became known that a king who had seized control of Holmgard-Novgorod had, seven years earlier, rebuilt Staraya Russa, and that mysterious king was called Quillanus.  The southern Slavs said he was somewhat strange looking because he wore a mask over his face, like King Frodi was wont to do, and that no one had ever seen his bare face.  Even the northern Slavs thought this strange.  No one knew his family or ancestry  or even the land where he was from.  The people of the north talked about this a great deal and the news eventually spread, and it came to Oddi’s ears when he returned to Gardariki from Jerusalem.  It seemed very strange to Oddi that he should not have heard about this man during his many travels.  One night at a Bragarful in honour of his return, Oddi got up in public and made a solemn vow to reconquer Kiev and the northern towns and to learn who now ruled the kingdom of Holmgard in the north.  Prince Erik put together an army for him and he soon left for Kiev.  He sent word to Sirnir, his blood-brother, to meet him in the summer at Surazh on the Dvina east of Wendland and Oddi and his troops left for Kiev in the spring and they started working their way up the Dnieper in one hundred and thirty ships, fully equipped.

When King Odd arrived at the quays of Kiev, the Slav ruler Kaenmarr fled north, leaving the city to the Hraes’.  Oddi sent messengers to Gardariki with the news that Kiev had been retaken, then he pushed on north to Chernigov and took that town back from the Drevjane rebels by force, overwhelming the defenders in a matter of days, causing Prince Chernmal to flee north as well.  King Odd then took back Smolensk from the Radimichi rebels and then Surazh from the Krivichi rebels.  He met up with his comrade Sirnir there who told him he had taken Polotsk on the Dvina, forcing King Paltes to flee inland.  His sworn brother added forty ships to the fleet that portaged across to the Lovat River and sailed for Novgorod.  Now the Lovat drained into Lake Ilman and Staraya Russa was on its southern shore, but it had been burned by Prince Arngrim years earlier, so King Odd had to rub his eyes twice when he saw that it had been completely rebuilt.  He sailed up to the town with his fleet and he found the town gates locked and warriors upon the walls.  He learned from a local woodcutter that the town supported the northern rebels but were not prepared for a siege because local crops had failed and the people of the town were near starvation.  Oddi saw the town as being of no real strategic importance, so instead of attacking it, he ordered his men to offload a dozen barrels of flour and leave them at the town gates.  “It was the home of Vadim the Brave,” Oddi told one of his lieutenants.

Gardar is a vast land and many of its kingdoms were vassals to King Quillanus of Novgorod.  Marron was the name of one king and he ruled Murom.  Rodstaff was the name of another king, and Rostov was the city he ruled.  Eddval was the name of a king who ruled in Sursdal and Holmgeir was the name of the king who had ruled Holmgard before Quillanus.  Paltes and Kaenmarr and Chernmal were in Novgorod as well, having fled the forces of King Odd.  All these kings and princes paid tribute to King Quillanus.

Before Odd had even imagined coming to Novgorod, Quillanus had been busy mustering troops for the last three winters, preparing for the Slavic uprising.  Some thought that he had somehow gained foreknowledge of Oddi’s coming.  All his tribute kings were with him in Novgorod.  Svart Geirrid was also there.  He was so-called after his father, Ogmund ‘Eythjofsbane’, had disappeared years ago.  There were also hosts of Karelia, Tafestland, Refaland, Virland, Estonia, Livonia, Vitland, Kurland, Lanland, Ermland and Poland.  Quillanus’ army was so large that it could not be counted in hundreds and men couldn’t imagine how it could have been gathered, let alone fed.  When Oddi’s army beached their ships on the riverbank of the Volkov, he sent messengers to Novgorod to challenge King Quillanus to a tournament.  Quillanus responded quickly and went forth to meet him with his army.  He wore a mask on his face, as he was wont to do, and when they met, they immediately prepared for a tournament in the new Eastern Roman fashion.  They both had long strong lances, but they broke four of them in the first four charges.  They jousted for three days and they both failed to unseat each other.  “It seems to me,” Quillanus said, “that we’ve tested each other and I believe we are equals.”

“I believe you are right,” said Oddi.

“It seems to me that we agree,” said Quillanus, “and should fight no longer.  I wish to invite you to a banquet.”

“There’s just one thing,” said Odd, “that I must know first.”

“What is that?” Quillanus asked.

“I made a solemn vow to my people that I would learn who is king in Holmgard.”

Then Quillanus took off his mask, asking, “Do you know who owns this ugly face?”  And Oddi realized that this man was Ogmund ‘Eythjofsbane’ Tussock, because he bore the scars given him when Oddi had torn off his beard, his face and forelock in Bjarmaland.  The skin had healed over most grotesquely and no hair grew where his famed black tussock had been.

“No, Ogmund,” he cried, “I will never come to terms with you.  You have done so much to harm me, and I challenge you to battle on the morrow.”  Ogmund accepted the offer, and the next day their armies met in battle on a nearby plain.  It was violent and brutal, and as the day wore on, many men were killed on both sides.  Sirnir fought valiantly and killed many men, because his sword, Snidil, bit hard all that stood before him.  But when Svart Ogmundson faced him, they battled very hard, but Snidil just wouldn’t bite, even though Svart wore no armour.  The duel concluded when Sirnir, with much honour, fell dead.  Oddi killed all the vassal kings of Quillanus, shooting some, and hewing down others, but when he saw Sirnir fall, the anger boiled up in him, as it seemed to be happening all over again, a personal loss of life at the hands of Ogmund and his company.  He nocked an arrow and shot at Svart, but the youth put up the palm of his hand, and it would not bite.  He shot another and a third and while shooting, he felt great loss now Gusir’s Gifts were gone, so he grabbed up his club and went to battle against Svart with it and Odd struck him with the club again and again and did not stop until he had broken every bone in Svart’s body and left him there dead.  Quillanus had been busy, as well, and he shot arrows out of his fingers and a man was killed by each one, and with his men he killed every man of Oddi’s.  But many had fallen on Quillanus’ side, too, so many that he could not count the dead.  Oddi was still up and fighting, protected by his Roman plate-mail shirt.  Night fell upon them, and it was too dark to fight, so Quillanus and his men went into Novgorod, about sixty in total, all tired and wounded.  Oddi retreated to his ships and was greeted by the small force he left there as guards and he carried with him the body of his sworn brother Sirnir.  After this battle, Ogmund garnered the byname Blaze, Quillanus ‘Blaze’, and he ruled in Novgorod for a long time.

(891 AD) Oddi had barely enough men to sail one ship and he returned to Gautland in Fair Faxi, carrying the body of Sirnir, and he erected a howe over his friend there.  On his way back to Kiev, he passed through Polotsk and he wondered how the two sisters were doing in Gardariki.  He had married Princess Silkisif, but he would often leave the palace and visit the sisters and his sons in his longhall.  As Duke Rollo had told him years earlier, his life was complicated.

At Surazh, he was approached by an embassy as he prepared to portage Fair Faxi overland to Smolensk.  King Quillanus sent Oddi rich gifts of both gold and silver and many valued objects and with them messages of friendship and reconciliation.  He told Oddi that he had withdrawn from Novgorod and would remain in Staraya Russa if that would end the enmity between them.  Oddi accepted the gifts, being, at last, wise enough to see that Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock, now called Quillanus Blaze, had also lost so much and was unbeatable, being no less a wraith than a man.

Then Oddi and his men sailed back to Kiev only to find that Prince Erik and Princess Eyfura were there settling in, Eyfura claiming King Frodi’s inheritance from her dead brother, King Alf.  King Oddi told the Prince what had transpired in the north and that the Southern Way was ready to be re-opened.  And Prince Erik told him that Queen Silkisif was pregnant, but being tended to by the sisters, Gudrun and Sigrid, so he needn’t rush to get back.

CHAPTER THIRTY ONE

31.0  THE BIRTH OF IVAR THE BONELESS  (Circa 896 AD)

“Erik came to me in a dream and he said, ‘Ivar the Boneless

is Prince Igor of Kiev’, so I researched Ivar the Boneless.  It was said in

the Sagas that he had no bones in his legs.  Then I researched Prince

Igor of Kiev, hoping to find a similar nickname, but I could find none.

‘Show me,’ I pleaded with Erik.  ‘Show me.’  He came to me in a

dream again and repeated ‘Ivar the Boneless IS Prince Igor of Kiev.’

So I researched further and read of Emperor John Tzimiskes telling Ivar’s

son Svein what had happened to his father:  ‘on his campaign against the

Germans, he was captured by them, tied to tree trunks, and torn in two.’

But Prince Erik said, ‘Prince Igor of Kiev IS Ivar the Boneless.’  Perhaps

he did not die from the trap.  But even if he did, he still would have been

called ‘the Boneless’ post-mortem anyway.  It was the Viking way.”

Comment on:  ‘The History of Leo ‘the Deacon’  as read by B H Seibert

(896 AD)  King Odd had been spotted returning from the north in his longship, Fair Faxi, so a great crowd of Hraes’ people were on the quays of Kiev to greet him.  A harbourmaster had brought the message to Prince Erik in his palace and soon he would explain to Oddi that over the winter he had married the mother of the twelve berserker brothers that Oddi had killed, and that they were now trying to have a baby together even though it was a little late in life for children.

“I’ll have to leave for Gardariki immediately,” Oddi stated quite emphatically.  “It is her family duty to avenge the deaths of her sons, not to mention her father, King Frodi!”

“Princess Eyfura has assured me she has no intention of seeking vengeance,” Erik repeated, as Oddi stepped down from the highseat he was sharing with his father and searched the hall for spies, checking behind draperies and statues.  He could find no others in the hall, so he rejoined his father on the second highseat.

“You are in love,” Oddi said, “and blinded by it.  Princess Eyfura is a royal and will not give up her right to vengeance.  That is not how royal bloods operate.  They hold all the rights and give up none.  They not only support slavery, they depend on it.  A free man wouldn’t wear a king’s yoke if he did not have a slave wearing his own yoke first.  Where there are royals, there are slaves.”

“You are now a royal, yourself, King Odd, and Princess Eyfura is not like that.  She is the spitting image of her mother, and Alfhild was not like that, not vengeance minded.”

“I saw vengeance in the havoc her nails wreaked upon Frodi’s face as he perpetrated his foul deed.  How could I have seen that?  I have always felt connected with Queen Alfhild somehow…I don’t understand it, but I do understand I cannot stay here!”  Oddi again searched about the hall, prodded the tapestries, for a spy.

“There is no one here, son.”

Oddi had arrived late evening in Kiev and Erik had sent everyone away from the hall of his palace.  Only preparers of food and purveyors of wines entered and left the hall and none were presently in the chamber.  “I told all to leave us alone.  I wanted to be the first to tell you of my troth with Eyfura.  She is the love of my life.  She is Alfhild and Gunwar as one.  I am afraid I have failed you again.  I cleared this with Eyfura, ensuring that she bid you no ill will, but I should have cleared it with you as well.  For that neglect I am sorry.”

“You have not failed me,” Oddi reassured his father.  “I am glad you have found love again.  I hope you have found a love such as I have for Queen Silkisif, or a love such as Hjalmar had found with Princess Ingibjorg.  But he paid with his life for that love.  Angantyr didn’t kill Hjalmar; your famed blade, Tyrfingr, did.  Your arrow of the gods.  It bit into Hjalmar sixteen times and, each time, the poison in that blade worked its evil magic on my friend until he could barely stand in the end.  Had Angantyr not fully exposed himself to Hjalmar’s final death stroke, Hjalmar would not have had the strength left to kill him.  Angantyr deprived me of my victory, deprived me of all twelve berserker brothers.  I was so angry I almost didn’t bury the boys.  But I promised the brothers full burial with weapons, so I built them a howe and Angantyr sleeps atop Tyrfingr.  I’m sorry, I should have brought the blade back to you.”

“I gave the sword to King Frodi,” Erik explained, “and he gave it to Prince Arngrim, and Angantyr was given the blade expressly for the holmganger.  So, I guess it is fitting that it should rest with him.  Tyrfingr is not evil.  It is just dangerous.  I forged it out of a starstone metal that radiates intense energy like a fire radiates heat.  The energy is the poison and any cut from the blade will never heal and will result in death, no matter how slight the wound.  I’m sorry it bit your friend, Hjalmar.  Tyrfingr is best left buried with Angantyr on Samso Isle.”

“Angantyr told us before he died that he had no interest in Princess Ingibjorg.  That he just wanted my head for King Frodi.  Hjalmar and Ingibjorg were in love and both died because King Frodi wanted my head.  What makes a man do what Angantyr did just to impress his king?”

“You must not blame yourself,” Erik said.  “They didn’t call him ‘the Hanging God King’ for nothing.  Angantyr Frodi.  Hanging Tyr Frodi.  I called my sword Tyr’s Finger, Tyrfingr, after the god of justice.  I conquered many lands with that sword for King Frodi, and I did it because I loved his sister, Princess Gunwar, your mother.  I am so glad I finally learned the truth of your birth.  It is best you buried the thing.  The crushing burden of that blade was wearing on me.”

“Then I’m glad it rests between the shoulder blades of Angantyr on Samsey,” Oddi stated, seeming a little less perplexed.

“You left it in its sheath, I hope.”

“Yes.  It seemed to glow without it.”

“You could see the glow?  That is good.  Most people can’t.  It is best left buried.”

“But I must leave here.  I must return to Gardariki.  It will always be your city, yours and my mother’s,” Oddi said.  “But I cannot stay here.”

“If I can stay here,” Prince Erik said, “then you can stay here, for I too have a connection with Queen Alfhild.  Her spirit visited me soon after she had died.  She came to me on the battlefield and she warned me that a witch was planning to poison Gunwar and that she was pregnant with you at the time.  The witch, Gotwar, had already terminated eleven of Gunwar’s pregnancies and you were to be the twelfth and final one, dying together with your mother, in revenge for my slaying the witches twelve sons and for razing the House of Westmar.  I rode back to Gardariki to save your mother and we lost the battle against the Huns while I was gone.  I never told your mother this, but I slept with the spirit of Alfhild as repayment for her warning.  I would do it again to save you both, but I fear that Kiev is haunted by Queen Alfhild’s spirit, and I don’t want to be here.  I told Eyfura this, but she wanted to come live in Kiev anyway.”

“I shall make time and stay for a day or two,” Oddi told his father.

“Timing is the soul of soldiery,” Erik started, “and your timing is perfect.  We have just received a delegation of the Poljane and Drevjane and they are cooperating with the reopening of the Southern Way.  Without the wealth of the Way trade, the Slavs are turning on each other.  They do not want to miss another trading season.  I would like you to help with the negotiations.”

“Southern Way trade without slave trade, right?”

“They would have it no other way.”

As Erik and Oddi went through the details of the new Southern Way trade, Oddi would occasionally look about the hall as if expecting to find spies lurking in the tapestries, but he should have looked up.  High above the highseats, in amongst the heavy ochred oak rafters, where the blackened war arrows rested, laid a red war shield, and curled up on it hid Hervor, Princess Eyfura’s young handmaiden.

“Now that you have told me all that was said between Oddi and my husband,” Princess Eyfura started, leaving a long pause, “there is something I must tell you of your birth.  Your mother was my handmaiden, but your father was not a slave.  He was my eldest son, Prince Angantyr.  When your mother died following your birth, I had you raised in our household, but, for your own safety, I kept your true lineage a secret.  Your father was too drunk to remember your conception, but your mother would not spare me the details.  You must avenge your father’s death, as I must avenge mine.  You shall begin training in the morning.”

Hervor, a lithe young woman with green eyes and auburn hair, was happy to learn that she was not slave spawn, but of royal blood.  She reached out to her grandmother and Eyfura hugged her coldly.  “We must keep the truth of your birth a secret until we have avenged our fathers.”

Oddi stayed in Kiev a week before they had a contract hammered out with the Slavs, then he and his crew left for Gardariki in his longship, Fair Faxi.  Right after he left, Hervor’s training as a shield-maiden began.  The more skill she gained, the more independent she became and she would often squabble with Eyfura’s household slaves.  When handmaidens refused to believe Prince Angantyr had been her father, Hervor went to her grandmother for support.  “My son was drunk when he raped your mother,” Eyfura started, “and your mother tried to kill herself afterwards.  I saved her and kept her close while she carried you and after you were born she did kill herself.  Is that what you want me to tell them?”

Once news of the Way’s reopening got out, it spread like wildfire and many merchant ships returning from Baghdad and Constantinople took the southern route instead of the Nor’Way, paying a double tythe just to save time.  Once the fall trading season was complete, and all the merchant ships were plying their various routes, Prince Erik had more time to spend with Princess Eyfura.  She was so much like the Princess Alfhild he had known a generation earlier and he remembered watching his young queen with child walking with her King Frodi and he and Gunwar had been so envious.  He often wondered what would have happened had he not had that moment of anger so many years ago when Alfhild told him she needed a blooded king for a match, that he was not good enough for her, and he had lashed out at her mentally and struck a blow that had ended his love for her.  Then he realized that it was his greatest fear that he would repeat that mental bow with Eyfura and ruin it all.  That was why he had feared a confrontation between Eyfura and Oddi.  That was why he had allowed Oddi to go to Kiev without meeting his new wife.  He instinctively knew that his newfound love for Eyfura was a fragile thing that would need protecting, a protection that his love for Alfhild had not received.  Eyfura was as proud as her mother had been, perhaps even more so.  She had so much more to be proud of.

“What are you thinking?” Eyfura asked her husband as they rested on their bed together.  “You’re so deep in thought.”

“I was thinking, you have so much to be proud of,” Erik answered.  “You have survived so much in this hostile land.  I look upon you with so much pride.  Our child shall be lucky to have you as a mother.”

“I am afraid to be a mother again,” Eyfura confessed.  “What if the potion doesn’t work?”

“If the potion doesn’t work,” he said.  “Then we’ll just have to work at it harder.  There is an old Roman saying that goes…If you love your work…then your job must be…trying to get your wife focking pregnant!” and he pushed Eyfura onto the bed and kissed her passionately.  They made love on the bed and then they made love again.  As they rested, Erik said, “There are two kinds of sex.  There’s having sex while you’re trying your damnedest not to get your woman pregnant, and then there’s having sex while trying to knock up your wife, and I have to say that I, by far, prefer the latter.”

“I can feel the difference,” Eyfura agreed.  “You spout like a whale!”

The next morning, Eyfura asked her husband if he was still anxious about living in Kiev.  He told her that sometimes he could feel the presence of Queen Alfhild’s spirit in the palace.  He told her he was thankful that King Frodi and Queen Alfhild’s bedchamber down the hall was kept shuttered under lock and key.

“You must get over your fear,” Princess Eyfura told Erik.  “The ghost of my mother doesn’t haunt the palace of Kiev.”

“Queen Alfhild doesn’t frighten me.  I told you what happened to me on the battlefield of the Don plain many years ago.  We made love shortly after she had died and I still feel bad about it.”

“You shouldn’t feel bad,” Eyfura said.  “It wasn’t your fault.”

“I don’t feel that kind of bad…”

“What kind of bad do you feel?”

“I feel bad that she was so good!  Once you’ve had spirit, well…nothing comes near it.”

And Eyfura pummeled her husband, and then they had sex on the bed again.

“But seriously,” Erik started, as they rested after.  “She was my first love, your mother.  But she chose another.  A true king.  Your father, King Frodi.”

“And I’m glad she did.  If you were my father, I could not have married you….even this late in our lives.”

“And I am glad as well,” Erik breathed into his wife’s ear as he rolled out of bed.  “I shall stay in Kiev then, but I will depend on you to keep me safe here.”

“I will not trust my mother, Alfhild, alone with you,” Eyfura chimed.  “Not even her ghost!”

One night Erik held on to Eyfura as she slept, fitfully.  She tossed and she turned but was asleep when he heard an odd noise down the hall.  Erik slipped out of bed and crept into the hallway and he saw her….Alfhild.  She was young again, her wispy blonde hair catching up the light of the tapers as she spun and walked toward the king’s chamber, trailing a hand and a finger as though to compel him to follow.  When he entered the room, she was on the bed, so he closed the door behind himself.  They never said a word, he just brushed her hair back and kissed her and her silks fell open and he kissed her all over as if to consume her so she could never leave again.  He remembered that night on the bed in King Gotar’s high seat hall, with Tyrfingr sheathed between them, and all the nights since fell away like rose petals in the darkness of denial.  A lifetime of denying their truth, denying their young love, fell away with each kiss.  And they made passionate love for what seemed hours, what seemed days, then Alfhild fell asleep in his arms on the bed and Erik slipped his arm out from under her tender throat and he could see by the tapers that there were no strangle marks about her neck like the first time they made love in his campaign tent on the Don Plain, and he realised that she was younger now, from before she had died, and he slipped out of the room and returned to the bed of Eyfura.  She was still sleeping fitfully as though in a trance and Erik thought this must be a dream.

The next morning Prince Erik got up early to check King Frodi’s bedchamber but it was still locked.  He asked some of the handmaidens and servants if anyone had been in the room and they all answered not in years.  It was a dream, Erik thought.  Just a dream.  What a dream.

The next night Prince Erik went to sleep with Eyfura as before and he drifted off holding her in his arms and she woke him up with her tossing and turning once more.  Again, he heard an indistinct noise out in the hallway.  Erik slipped out of bed and crept into the hall and he saw her….young Alfhild.  She was at the door of King Frodi’s bedchamber and she was waving him to hurry to her and they entered the room together and she stripped off her silks, and as she slowly peeled away Erik’s linen bedclothes he could see she was even younger now and she wore her hair as it had looked when he visited her in her mother’s hall when the matron was sick and coughing in her room.  Again, they never said a word.  He just brushed his naked body up against hers and he held her and kissed her and then he hugged her and lifted her off the floor and he slid her onto himself and she touched the floor with her toes and she went up on her toe tips and she went back down then up on her toe tips and down again and she did this until waves crashed through their bodies and they held each other for what seemed hours and Alfhild fell asleep standing in his arms.  He picked her up and they disengaged and he laid her out upon the bed and he stroked her beautiful blonde hair and he stroked her beautiful young face and then he stroked her beautiful lithe body and he covered her in her shimmering silks and then covered her with a sheet and he left the room and returned to the bed of Eyfura, who was still sleeping fitfully as though in a trance.  Erik slid into bed beside Eyfura and he realised that this was not a dream.

The next morning Prince Erik got up early to check King Frodi’s bedchamber but it was still locked.  He asked the handmaidens if anyone knew where the key to the chamber was kept, but nobody seemed to know.  ‘It was not a dream,’ Erik thought.  ‘But it is not a dream that I don’t want to stop.’

The third night Prince Erik went to sleep with Eyfura as before but he didn’t drift off, staying awake as she fell asleep in his arms, and when she started tossing and turning as though in a trance, he slipped his arm out from under her and slid out of bed.  He stood by their chamber door until he heard that undefinable noise out in the hallway.  He stepped out into the hall and he saw her again….youngest Alfhild.  The Alfhild he had seen his first time entering the Vik when she stood high upon a headland and the sun played and danced with her wispy blonde hair and drove away the shadows casting in the cliffs.  She entered the king’s bedchamber and Erik did follow, and she kept her silks on and she stripped Erik naked and she led him onto the bed and she sat him against the headboard and she kissed his forehead and she kissed his lips and she kissed his chin and she kissed his throat ever so gently and she kissed his chest three times working her way down, and she kissed him and had him in her mouth, as much as she could take, and when he was wet enough she rose and sat astride him and took up the rest and she bounced high in her saddle like a princess riding out to a picnic in the woods and he exploded within her and hugged her so she would stop.  But she had a nice gait going and she was still riding Erik when Princess Eyfura walked into the room and saw her handmaiden, Hervor, riding her husband’s steed.

“Eyfura, you must leave the room at once,” Hervor cried, but the voice wasn’t her’s….it was Queen Alfhild’s.  And Erik woke and he pushed Hervor away from himself, as though he had seen a ghost, and Hervor said in Alfhild’s voice, “I tried to scratch his eyes out in this very bed, I clawed his face to the very end.”  Then Hervor awoke and she was a frightened young woman tearing away the silks and then pulling them around her again to cover up her nakedness.

“What have you done, Hervor?” Eyfura whispered hoarsely.  “You are possessed!”

Hervor sat upon the bed, hugging her knees and crying, with no idea how she had gotten there.

“It is the ghost of Alfhild,” Erik lamented.  “She has tricked me.  Please forgive me, Eyfura.  I should have never come to Kiev!”

“Hush, girl,” Eyfura cooed, trying to calm the young woman.  “How long has this been happening?” she asked her handmaiden, but the young woman had no recollection.

“I think it has been happening three nights,” Erik answered.  “I remember it happening now, as one recollects a dream.  Three nights!  I should have not come here,” and he sat on the bed with his head in his hands.  “Three nights in a row and you’ll get a Bo.  When did you last have your period, Hervor?”

Hervor answered in a weird Alfhild voice, “Three nights in a row and you’ll get no Mo.”

“Ask her!” Erik demanded.  “Ask her when she last had her period,” and Erik held out one finger on one hand and five fingers on the other where only Eyfura could see them.

So Princess Eyfura asked Hervor how long it had been.

“Just over two weeks,” she said.

Then Prince Erik recited this verse:

“Wait fifteen days,                then three nights in a row

             Fock your wife                     and you’ll have a Bo.

             Wait only days,                    and have your way,

             And a girl will come,           come birthing day.

“It is a Warlock Song,” the Prince said.  “And why did you wake up?” Erik asked Eyfura.  “You were tossing and turning like you were in a trance when I left you.”

“I remember tossing and turning, but then I stopped and I woke up and then I heard a noise in the hallway.”

“What kind of noise?”

“I don’t know.  It was just a noise.”

“Ghosts can’t make noises,” Erik explained.  “They can only make you think you’ve heard a noise, so it’s always just a noise, but can never be described.”

“We shall never talk about this again,” Eyfura said, as a shiver coursed through her body.  “Ever!”  And she sent Erik back to their room as she escorted Hervor back to the servants’ chambers.

When she got back she found Erik asleep in their bed, exhausted.  “Sometimes I think my mother was a witch,” she complained, sliding into bed next to her husband.

The ghost of Queen Alfhild did not return, but Princess Eyfura had no doubt that the affair was the work of her mother and bought charms and potions to keep her ghost away.  She loved her mother, but she loved her husband even more.

They all stayed in Kiev together over the winter; Hervor was with child and they wanted to keep it quiet.  Prince Erik went to Gardariki after the spring trading rush, but Eyfura stayed at home with her granddaughter as Hervor’s belly swelled.  Eyfura kept Hervor under lock and key, ‘for the good of the baby’, she claimed.  Princess Eyfura became inordinately determined that the child be born in Kiev and that no one learn that it was Hervor’s.  Secretly born in the summer, Eyfura passed the baby off as her own, naming the boy Eyfur, or Ivar, after herself.  And Erik and Hervor did not dispute her choices.  The Poljane Slavs around Kiev called him Igor Rurikslavich in line with the naming and they called him Prince Igor of Kiev because he was their prince.

When Arrow Odd got back to Tmutorokan from Khwarizm for the fall trading rush, he learned he had a younger brother named Eyfur.  And when he visited Kiev he noticed a distinct difference in the way Princess Eyfura addressed him.  It was ‘King Oddi Erikson this’ and ‘Prince Eyfur Erikson that’ and he was astonished at how her pregnancy had changed the princess.  She seemed to want to make sure that all knew they were brothers, even though there was a great age difference between them.  But he was still nervous with the princess being around him; he had, after all, killed eleven of her sons, and so was relieved when it was time for him to return to Gardariki for the spring trading season.

Back in Gardariki, King Odd learned that Queen Silkisif was again pregnant.  Their firstborn was a son named Asmund, after Oddi’s long lost best friend, and when their second child came, they named him Hraerauld Olmar, or Hilmar, after Silkisif’s father.  When Oddi had reopened the Southern Way, his favourite sisters, Gudrun and Sigrid, with their sons, had followed their father north, back to Polotsk and their family Hraes’ Trading Company station there, but they soon returned to Oddi’s longhall in Gardariki to take care of their little foster-sister, Silkisif.

“Our father is retiring,” Gudrun explained in bed, “and our sons are taking over the family’s Hraes’ station, so we must get back to help.”

“Prince Erik says hi to your father and please say hi to our boys for me.”

“We will,” Gudrun and Sigrid both chimed in.

“I talked to The Prince about your father, and Erik told me that he has been a member of the company right from the start, so we have decided that when our sons take over, it shall be as family, Hraes’ family.  So, The Prince has awarded our boys prenames and they shall henceforth be called Hraesmund and Hraevalodd and all their offspring shall have the right to Hraes’ prenames.”

“Thank you!” both sisters cried, and they both hugged Oddi.  The titles meant that Polotsk was theirs, that they could never lose their Hraes’ rights there, and they could never be fired.

CHAPTER THIRTY TWO

32.0  THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE OF 907 or T.B.B.T.N.W.

“When I was working in Gurguri, Pakistan, installing and starting

  up a gas plant I had designed and built in Canada, the Pakistani

  engineers who were helping called the local Pashtun people

  Germans.  I asked them why they would call the Pashtuns Germans?

  They said it was because the Pashtuns were offspring of the army

  of Alexander ‘the Great’.  Perhaps Emperor John Tzimiskes of

  Constantinople, but originally of Armenia, was also referring to the

  Pashtuns or Hazaras of Afghanistan as Germans.  Interestingly,

  the gas plant had been purchased by Magyar Oil Limited (MOL)

  of Hungary, the offspring of the same Magyars that had blocked

  the Dnieper River off from Prince Erik of Gardariki.”

Comment on:  ‘The History of Leo ‘the Deacon’  as read by B H Seibert

(907 AD)  “I remember when I was a boy,” Oddi said loudly, as his longship’s prow cut through Scythian (Black) Sea waves, “and you gave me Fair Faxi.  Uncle Roller shit himself.”

“Good thing he was wearing his brown britches!” Erik shouted back and they both laughed.

“Roller ‘Bruinbrok’, son of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’,” Oddi shouted back.  They hadn’t seen each other in a while, they were both busy building up the Hraes’ Trading Company and it had grown, so much so, that the Romans were alarmed and cancelling orders and changing treaty conditions.  It had been many years since they had both sojourned to Constantinople, Oddi via the Mediterranean route and Erik via the Scythian whale road.

“I’m not sure why it bothered him so much,” Oddi said, not quite as loudly.

“I guess he looked at it as a generational passing thing.  Time slipping away from us all.  Or perhaps he already suspected that you were my son and saw it as me passing along the curse?”

“So why didn’t you want to ride with the cavalry?” Oddi asked his father, changing the subject.

“Even when I was young, it was Frodi or Roller who would lead the cavalry troops on the flanks and I would lead the warriors and fight in the shield wall right up the middle.  I don’t mind horses….they have a leg on each corner and all, but today’s dragon ship has forty-eight legs and wings with which to catch wind as it travels over the waves.”

“And the dragon breathes fire!” Oddi laughed.

“Only the Greek dragons!” Erik laughed.

As they camped on the shore that evening, Oddi asked his father to recount the tale of how his father, Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’, had gotten those shaggy breeches he was wont to wear.  It had been ages since Prince Erik had sat around a fire and told stories of old, but he was still, at last reckoning at least, a skald, so, as his lieutenants gathered round and the ale started flowing, he began his story:

“Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ wasn’t the first to reopen the Nor’Way after the world-wide cooling had ended.  He hadn’t even planned on being a part of it.  He had promised Princess Aslaug ‘Kraka’ Sigurdsdottir that he would slay a fire-breathing dragonship in return for her hand in marriage.  Now, he didn’t have the name Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ when he went south into Scythia, but was called Gunnar when he sailed to the Kingdom of the Volsungs.  They were informed by an Arab in the House of Lanterns that the Greeks were sending the Khazars a hoard of gold, the Red Gold Hoard of Byzantium, with which to build a fortress on the Don River to choke off Nor’Way trade.  He was told that the gold hoard was on board a Byzantine bireme and the ship was equipped with Greek fire.  He was also instructed on how to attack such a fire breathing dragon ship.  And in exchange for this information, he had only to keep a small red book secure in his northern lands, as far from civilization as possible.  And to help him with this endeavour, he was assigned a Magi named Jarl Brak of Damascus, a Guild trained steel smith of some renown.  He spoke old Norse, having lived with Goths on the Scythian Sea coast, and he knew Greek fire, having been in the Alchemists’ guild responsible for supplying the Greeks with that science in the first place.  He also had several barrels of a certain type of sour wine, a special type of vinegar.  A half dozen Viking longships sailed across the Scythian Sea and up the Sea of Azov to the mouth of the Don River where their pace slowed as they had to row and keep watch for the Greek bireme.  They had been supplied with sheepskin rawhide awnings for one of the Viking longships, Gunnar’s ship, and rawhide breeches and coats for the men of that ship, Gunnar’s men, who were all berserks.   A week up the Don found them nearing a clearing and a quay at which were tied several merchant ships and Greek biremes so, they snuck past them and hid in creeks and waited for the arrival of the fire-breather.

“When they saw it coming up the Don they prepared to intercept.  Gunnar and his men set up their awnings while Brak poured his vinegar all over the hairs of the hides as they progressed.  He did the same to their shaggy breeches and coats as they donned their gear and tied hides over their shields.  When they attacked the fire-breathing dragonship it belched out a fiery flame with a thunderous roar of ‘Hraaaeee,’ and a huge stream of flaming liquid arced out over the waters and missed their longship.  As they neared, the captain of the Greek bireme fired again and another stream of fiery flames shot forth and hit the wine soaked sheepskin awnings and the flames rolled off of the awnings and burned and boiled atop the waters.  The captain of the Greek bireme threw his helmet down on the deck in anger and prepared his ship to be boarded.  “Gunnar’s berserks bit their Linden shields and went into their furies as Gunnar leapt upon the top strakes of his ship’s forestem and bellowed out “Hraaae” in a great roaring voice as the rage overtook him.  A few short strokes and the longship was cutting through the bireme’s portside bank of oars.  When it came to a stop, the Vikings threw up grappling hooks and lashed the ships together.  They then boarded the bireme and fell into combat with the Roman marines on the deck.  They were all in their berserk furies by then and Gunnar led them forward in a great cutting swath across the deck.  Roman soldiers were being mowed down right and left as the berserks rampaged both forward and aft.  Gunnar faced off against the Greek captain on the foredeck of the galley right by the firing tube.  Although the captain was well armed and armoured, Gunnar made short work of him.  Soon the deck was cleared and when they went below deck they found the hoard of gold.  They also found sixty slaves chained to their rowing benches.  The Orthodox Christians were against slavery, or so they claimed, but they always seemed to find enough criminals in Constantinople to power their fleet.

“Our forefathers called the hoard the Red Gold Hoard of Byzantium, because the Roman Emperor had debased the gold with copper and it gave the gold a reddish hue and they called Gunnar, Hraegunar because he had imitated the roar of the fire breathing dragonship and ‘Lothbrok’ because the shaggy breeches were all that survived of his clothing during the battle.  The prename was added to Ragnar’s sons’ names, making my name Erik, Hraerik in honour of my father.

“They soon learned that the red gold was cursed.  The Roman Emperor had added enough copper to his gold to give it a red hue, and that warned all that the red gold was the Emperor’s gold.  He added the copper to gold he was transporting to discourage theft as only Roman science and the Alchemists Guild knew how to get the copper back out at the other end of the journey.  So, Ragnar kept the Red Gold Hoard locked up in a cave at Hraegunarstead, so that none of his men would try to spend the gold in Constantinople and wind up executed by the Romans for having stolen gold of the Emperor in their hands.  I spent many years prizing the secret of getting copper out of gold from the Alchemists Guild in Baghdad, so many years, that I ended up becoming an Alchemist.  That is why there are so many Guilds in Gardariki.  I took the copper out of the Red Gold Hoard and I spent the gold in Constantinople buying marble and glass and chariots and built a city for my wife, Princess Gunwar.”

When the huge Hraes’ fleet arrived at Constantinople, they found a small Roman fleet hunkered in the Golden Horn, a long narrow port that stabbed inland up the eastern side of the city, protected by a huge chain across its mouth that kept ships from attacking them.  Prince Erik’s spies had told him that the main Roman fleet was out fighting on the Mediterranean and the Norwegian, Danish and Norman cavalry units provided by Duke Rollo of Normandy arrived from that direction a few days later.  The Duke, however, being old and newly married, chose not to come himself.

“How are we to capture the city?” Oddi asked Erik.

“And why would you want to capture Constantinople?  Will it help our Southern Way trade?”

“Why…no.  It would likely hurt it.”

“So, what exactly do we really want?”

“We want a trade agreement that works for us.”

“We want them to see things our way, not their way, so we have to do something to make them see things differently, from a different perspective.”

“How do we do that?”

“Well….right now they see their city as impregnable, its weakest point being the main city gate, but their little fleet protects the gate safe behind that chain across the Golden Horn.  If we neutralize that little fleet, we shall shift their perspective.”

“And how do we put their little fleet on ice?” Oddi asked.

“I shall leave that up to you, King Odd of Tmutorokan,” Erik answered.  “But I will give you a hint,” he added.  “Essoupi.”

“Essoupi?”

“Yes….Essoupi.”

Oddi thought about it for a full day then sent cavalry units out into the surrounding farms and estates to pillage.  They loaded livestock and valuables onto the farmers’ heavy wains and wagons and drove them into the shoreline camp of the Hraes’ fleet.  The goods were loaded onto ships, the livestock fed the troops and the wagons were modified to transport the small Nor’Way longships overland, just as some ships were portaged around a rapid of the Dnieper River called Essoupi.  Two weeks of pillaging and modifications led to two hundred Nor’Way ships being portaged from their shoreline anchorages through the surrounding village roads to the northern end of the Golden Horn port, thus bypassing the chain that barred the southern end of the port from the sea.  As the ships slipped into the water from the streets leading up to the port, the Greek fleet was caught by surprise.  The plundered livestock had provided rawhide awnings and garments for all the Nor’Way ships and teams of medical alchemists supervised the soaking of the hides with vinegar prior to the ships slipping into the waters.  Erik had been experimenting with the idea of attaching teams of medical alchemists with the army and the fleet.  The intent was to save lives after the battle, but here the attempt was to save lives during the battle by protecting the troops from the terror of Greek fire.  But their efforts were wasted because all the fire breathing biremes were at the other end of the fleet, facing the chained off sea, and in the congested harbour, they had no way of getting to the Hraes’ fleet that was attacking their rear.  The Nor’Way longships drove the Byzantine biremes away from the main gates of the city and a longship called Fair Faxi was tied off at the main quay of the gates.  Oddi leapt onto the dock and extended a hand to his father as he stepped over the top strake.

“That takes me back, son,” Erik said.  “I remember helping Princess Alfhild over the top strake when I first won this ship from her father, King Gotar.”  Erik tried to count the decades mentally, but the troops were surrounding their leaders in a shield wall, a Roman turtle, as they progressed up the quay.  Oddi nailed a shield to the left gate and Erik tacked the vellum  list of their demands, written in his best Greek, onto the shield.  The rest of the Varangian fleet kept the Byzantine fleet hemmed in at the south end of the port while Fair Faxi was sailed off to the north end of the port and was portaged back to the main Hraes’ camp.

The next day Erik and Oddi returned to the quay of the main gates and found a treaty tacked to the shield still nailed upon the left gate.  Two camp chairs were carried to the main gates and Erik and Oddi sat and went through the details of the treaty, which was written in both Latin and Greek, as the shield turtle sheltered them from the sun.  Erik crumpled up the Latin documents, even though he was more fluent in reading that language and he perused and signed the Greek documents.  The Greek held more significance to him, as learning to read the language had saved his life when he had been forced to escape the Romans through the Eastern Frankish Empire, again, so many decades before.  He then passed one copy of the treaty to Oddi, who tacked it to the shield upon the gate.

The treaty provided for twelve grivna per rowlock for the two thousand ships that were participating in the campaign, five hundred dragonships, five hundred Nor’Way ships and a thousand merchant monoxylan that had arrived for trade prior to the signing.  Special trading funds were to be set up by the Emperor for each major city of the Hraes’: Kiev, Chernigov, Pereiaslav, Polotsk, Rostov, Liubech and “others”, the others being Tmutorokan, Atil-Kazaran and Bulghar, typically cities involved in Nor’Way trade.  These funds would provide food, lodging and baths for all merchants from those cities while in Constantinople.  They were allowed to enter the city in unarmed groups of up to fifty under the care of a Byzantine officer or Emperor’s merchant.  Most importantly, all Hraes’ merchants were exempt from tithes or duties.

“Essoupi enough for you?” Oddi asked, as they returned to Fair Faxi.

“Essoupi enough,” Erik answered.

As they sailed back to the northern end of the harbour, Oddi marvelled at how his father had gone into enough details in his story of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ and the Red Gold Hoard to teach his lieutenants how to beat the fire breathing biremes of the Greeks.  He had once thought that his uncle, King Roller, was the wisest king he had ever met.  He knew now that his father, Prince Erik, was the wisest kagan-bek.  As they portaged back to the Hraes’ camp he looked out upon the Port of the Golden Horn and he wondered what would have happened if the fire breathing dragons had been facing in the right direction.  The hroar of the Greek fire tubes, and the great flames spewing, out across the waters, ships alight, warriors burning, the tales that would have grown out of that battle.  He shook his head.  Of all the battles that never were, this was definitely The Biggest Battle That Never Was.

But there still had been a bit of a fight and, once they were back in the main camp, Erik gave Oddi a tour of the hospital that had been set up by the Medical Alchemists’ Guild.  An estate had been commandeered and its many rooms were filled with the wounded and dying, but, more importantly, the saved.  Battling head to head with three foot long razor sharp swords, it came as no surprise that severed limbs made up a large proportion of injuries during battles.  Field medical teams were established to use nooses to cut off loss of blood from the injured limbs of warriors and get them to field stations equipped with hot irons for cauterizing wounds.  Once injuries were stabilized, the patient was transferred to the field hospital for recovery.  The medical alchemists were already developing prosthetics to hold shields or ride horses with to compensate for missing arms and legs.  And Erik had plans to establish special centuriatas of amputee warriors retrained to fight again.  Good Varangians were in short supply and losing them to a lopped off hand or a severed foot was not a price The Prince was willing to pay.

Oddi and his men returned to Gardariki, while Erik and his forces returned to Kiev.  The cavalry force that Duke Rollo of Normandy had sent decided to stay in Constantinople and serve the Emperor as mercenaries and they joined the Varangian Guard, even though, technically, having come by way of the Mediterranean, they were not Varangers, Way Wanderers.

When Prince Erik got back to Kiev, young Prince Igor was walking and his mother, Princess Eyfura, was doting over him while she monitored the training of her grand-daughter, Hervor.  Normally a young woman her age would have been trained in sewing and singing and playing a harp or lute, but she was being trained in archery and sword fighting, horse riding and sailing, the craft of warriors.  And she was very adept at it.  Training rigorously, her lithe form grew strong and well-muscled.  Her auburn hair was constantly tied back, and she often wore a man’s brimmed hat and passed herself off as a warrior.  She drank and she fought and she sometimes killed.  People around her began to fear her and they complained to their Polis officers, but Princess Eyfura always stood by her and protected her.

CHAPTER THIRTY THREE

33.0  THE TREATY OF 911 or THE WAKING OF ANGANTYR

” Beneath my back is laid               the bane of Hjalmar,

  All around it                         enwrapped in fire;

  In the world walking                      no woman know I

  Who would dare in her hand          to hold this sword?

The Ghost of Angantyr;  Arrow Odd’s Saga

(911 AD)  Four years after the Treaty of 907, Erik and Oddi once more led a fleet against the Eastern Romans.  This time it was a show of force.  Heavily armed longships accompanied the spring throng of merchants heading for trade in Constantinople.  The longships waited on the Bosporos while the merchant ships carried on with their trade in the city.  The full Roman fleet was home and on manoeuvres around the Golden Horn, so there was much belching of Greek fire and a number of target ships were burned in warning.  The Varangian Guard came out from behind the city walls to warn the Hraes’ to respect the existing treaty, but they ended up drinking and celebrating with the Hraes’ troops.  The standoff carried on for several weeks until, eventually, a large number of Hraes’ merchants and sailors were released from Roman custody.

The previous year’s trade was marked by numerous storms on the Bosporus and the Scythian Sea and a number of Hraes’ merchant ships sank or broke up on reefs and the survivors were often captured and enslaved by the Greeks and forced to work off their ‘saviour debt’ by rowing in the bellies of Roman biremes and triremes.  Varangians were prized as ‘debtors’ because they were born to the oar, and spent most of their lives rowing, and a trireme full of Varangers was the fastest warship on the seas.  So, the Roman Hraes’ Treaty of 907 became a fuller, more encompassing Treaty of 911, that included maritime laws protecting the rights of stranded and injured sailors and merchants of any nation.  Strand laws more favourable to those being shipwrecked were implemented, as well as mutual laws in the handling of crimes.  Asylum laws were also included granting rights of civil protection.

Once the treaty was concluded, Prince Erik returned to Kiev, but had extracted a promise of a visit from his son.  King Oddi had been mulling over a return to Hrafnista via the Nor’Way, with perhaps a stop in Giantland along the way, followed by stops in York and Dub-Lin and Rouen and then perhaps even a stop in Stavanger Province to visit Hraegunarstead and Berurjod before an extended visit with his father in Kiev.

Prince Erik told Princess Eyfura that he had convinced his son to visit him in Kiev on his return trip from the Nor’Way.  Princess Eyfura told Hervor, “It is time.”

And Hervor said:

“As quick as you can           equip me in all ways,

   wisest of women,               as you would your own son!

 In dreams is told me           the truth only;

 No contentment      shall I taste here now.”

A longship was secretly prepared for Hervor and manned by stout young warriors of Kiev.  They sailed north up the Dnieper, past Chernigov to Smolensk, then portaged across to Surazh and were discharged into the Dvina.  They continued north down the river, passing by Polotsk, and kept sailing all the way across the Baltic until they reached Zealand.  It was late summer, so Hervor passed herself off as Captain Hervard, and she and her crew spent the winter in the harbour town that served the Royal City of Liere.  She spent time in the round fortress of her great grandfather, King Frodi.  Tales were still being told by skalds of a great battle upon the ice there and the fall of the House of Westmar.  Newer poems were being forged of a great holmgangr fought on the Island of Samso between Hjalmar ‘the Brave’, representing Sweden, and his second, Arrow Odd, representing Norway, against Angantyr of Holmgard and his eleven brothers, serving King Frodi the Peaceful, and representing Denmark.

In late spring Hervor gathered up her crew and they sailed to Samso and arrived at Munarvag Bay one evening, just as the sun was going down.  Fearing the spirits of that now infamous island, Hervor’s crew refused to leave their ship, so she had their four oared boat lowered into the water and she rowed herself to the beach of the bay.  She could make out the great howe on the beach that Oddi had erected for his own men and further up on the land, just outside the woods, she saw the howe fires glowing of what looked like her relatives’ barrow.

A local farmer saw the warrior and shouted:

            Who among mortals             moves on the island?

            Now flee you fast           to find shelter !

Hervor replied:

            Flee I will not            to find shelter,

            none do I know            of the native people;

            rather tell me             ere we turn away:

            where do the cairns lie        called after Hjorvard?

Then the herdsman said:

            Do not ask me —       you are not wise !

            Friend of Vikings,        you are far astray;

            fare us as fast as        feet can bear us —

            out in the open         all is evil for men.

She answered:

            We’ll not faint nor fear         at such fire’s crackling,

            though all the land           be alight with flame;

            men such as these              who matter too small

            to make us tremble–              let us talk further !

He spoke:

            Fool I call him              who fares onward,

            a man all alone                 in the murky night;

            fires are moving,            mounds are opening,

            burns field and fen —           let us faster run !

  And the farmer ran off home.  Hervor saw where the barrow fires burned and she followed the flames to the howe of her ancestors, ‘the Barrow of the Berserks’.

Then she spoke:

            Wake, Angantyr,                  wakes you Hervor,

            Svafa’s offspring,           your only daughter;

            the keen-edged blade         from the barrow give me,

            the sword dwarf-smithied      for Sigrlami.

            Hervard, Hjorvard,                Hrani, Angantyr !

            From the roots of the tree       I arouse you all,

            with helm and corselet,       keen-edged weapon,

            gear and buckler                  and graven spear.

            All but to dust                  have Arngrim’s children,

            men of evil,               in the mound been turned,

            if of Eyfura’s sons            no single one

            to me will speak             in Munarvag.

            Hervard, Hjorvard,                Hrani, Angantyr !

            May it seem to you all           within your ribs

            as if in mound of maggots      you moldered away,

            if you fetch not the sword      forged by Dvalin;

            it becomes not ghosts         costly arms to bear.

Then Angantyr answered her:

            Why do you hail me,            Hervor, daughter?

            To your doom you are faring     filled with evil !

            Mad you are now,        your mind darkened,

            when with wits wandering     you wake the dead.

            No father nor kinsman        in cairn laid me;

            It was our banes            who laid us in this barrow,

            they kept Tyrfingr,                the two survivors –

            one alone did                wield it after.

Hervor answered:

            You give me a lie !               May the god let you

            rest whole in your howe        if you’re holding not

            Tyrfingr with you;              unwilling you are                   

            to give the heirloom             to your only child.

            Even though child,        with your mother plot wild,

            a revenge on the          bane of your brothers.

            One survivor doth claim        you deprived him of fame,

            by baring your breast           to the other.’

With those words the barrow opened, and Angantyr spoke angrily:

            Hel’s gate is lifted,               howes are opening,

            the isle’s border                    ablaze before you;

            grim outside now                 to gaze around you –

            to your ships, if you can,     quick now, maiden !

She answered:

            No blaze can you light,         burning in darkness,

            that your funeral fires          should with fear daunt me;

            unmoved shall I remain          the maiden’s spirit,

            though she gaze on a ghost   in the grave-door standing.

Then Angantyr said:

            I tell you, Hervor —               hear my words out ! –

            what shall come to pass,    prince’s daughter:

            trust what I tell you,             Tyrfingr, daughter,

            shall be ruin and end          of all your family.

            You shall bear offspring     who in after days

            shall wield Tyrfingr               and trust in his strength;

            by the name Erik            known to his people,

            born the strongest                beneath the sun’s curtain.

Then Hervor said:

            A human indeed                    I was held to be

            ere I came hither                  your hall seeking;

            hater of mailcoats                from the mound give me,

            peril to bucklers                      bane of Hjalmar !

Angantyr answered:

            Beneath my back is laid      the bane of Hjalmar,

            All around it                           enwrapped in fire;

            In the world walking              no woman know I

            Who would dare in her hand     to hold this sword?

Then Hervor said:

            I will guard it                      and grasp it in hand,

            The keen-edged sword,      can I but obtain it;

            No fear have I                   of the fire burning;

            The flame grows less          as I look towards it.

Angantyr answered:

            Fool you are, Hervor,           in your heart’s daring,

            With eyes open                      to enter the fire !

            The blade from the barrow     I will bring, rather;

            O young maiden,                 I may not refuse you.

Hervor answered:

            Son of warriors,                      you do well in this,

            The blade to me                   from the barrow yielding;

            king, to keep it                        I count it dearer

            than were all Norway           beneath my hand.

Angantyr spoke:

            You see it not —                    you’re in speech accursed,

            woman of evil ! —                    why you’re rejoicing;

            trust what I tell you,             Tyrfingr, daughter,

            shall be ruin and end             to all your family.

Hervor spoke:

            I will go my way                    to the wave horses,

            chieftain’s daughter,               cheerful hearted;

            I care not at all                      O king’s companion,

            how my sons will                     strive hereafter.

Angantyr spoke:

            You shall keep Tyrfingr         with contentment long;

            the bane of Hjalmar             in hiding (sheathed) keep;

            touch not the edges —           in each is poison;

            worse than deadly,              doom-bringer to men.

            Farewell, daughter !             fain would I give you

            twelve heroes’ lives —            trust what I tell you ! –

            the goodly strength              and strong endurance

            that Arngrim’s sons                 left after them.

And now Hervor said:

            May you all lie unharmed        in the howe resting –

            to hasten hence                       my heart urges;

            I seemed to myself              to be set between worlds,

            when all about me                  burnt the cairn fires.

Hervor went down to the beach and curled up in a fur in her four oared boat and held Tyrfingr close to her breast.  With dawn came her longship, with a soft drawn-out scud, into the sand of the beach.  She showed her crew the hilts of Tyrfingr and pulled the sword free of the sheath and, in morn’s waxing light, some could make out a glow along the blade’s edges and some could not.  She sheathed the sword, they loaded up the boat and sailed back to the port town that serviced Liere.  With the last of the gold that her grandmother had given her, Hervor bought their supplies for the long trip back to Kiev.  It was summer’s end before Hervor’s ship slunk into a quay of the city.

“We must be patient,” Princess Eyfura told Hervor.  “Whenever it is that Arrow Odd returns to Kiev, you must cut him with the blade and let the poison do the work.  The bones of my son, your father, have kept the poison trapped within the blade, so it is stronger now than ever, thus, even in death, Angantyr shall play a part in avenging his brothers.  We do not want to kill Oddi.  Any blade could do that.  But the poison in this blade has been paid for by the blood of your father.  It is imperative that the poison of the blade, the blood of Angantyr, kill Oddi.”

CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR

34.0  THE PROPHECY OF ARROW ODD, Part One  (Circa 911 AD)

‘It is remarkable what may be accomplished through witchcraft and enchantment.  For on one occasion he (Helgi/Oleg) had made inquiry of the wonder-working magicians as to the ultimate cause of his death. One magician replied, “Oh Prince, it is from the steed which you love and on which you ride that you shall meet your death.” Oleg then reflected and determined never to mount this horse or even to look upon it again. So he gave command that the horse should be properly fed, but never led into his presence. He thus let several years pass until he had attacked the Greeks.’

Hraes’ (Rus’) Primary Chronicle

(911 AD)  King Odd had been long settled in his kingdom, and he’d had a long life there, and he had two sons with his wife, Queen 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 Oddi 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 knar 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 Erik 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 Erik, 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 Roller always speak fondly of you.”

“King Roller is a Duke now?”

“Yes.  A Duke in Frankia.  King Frodi pillaged Norway and set up a puppet king there, Harold Fairhair.  Roller 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 Roller?”

“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 Hilder 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 Hilder 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 another 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 Erik, 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.  You’re a grandfather now!”

“People keep telling me that,” Oddi complained.  “But she named our son Ragnar!  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 Ragnar’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 knar 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, Ragnar, was a young man in charge of all Hraes’ trading in Northumbria.

“What do you think of Ragnar?” 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 Ragnar?”

“To insulate them from Ragnar’s curse?”

“Yes.  And to expose them to Ragnar’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 of 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 Amarka 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 Stavanger Fjord.  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 knar 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.”

CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE

35.0  THE PROPHECY OF ARROW ODD, Part Two  (Circa 912 AD)

‘After he returned to Kiev, he thought of the horse through which the magicians

 had foretold his death. He thus summoned his senior squire and inquired about

 the horse which he had ordered to be fed and well cared for. The squire

 answered that he was dead. Oleg laughed and mocked the magician,

 exclaiming, “Soothsayers tell untruths, and their words are naught but

 falsehood. This horse is dead, but I am still alive. Let me see his bones!”

 He rode to the place where the bare bones and skull lay.  Dismounting from

 his horse, he laughed and remarked, “So I was supposed to receive my death

 from this skull?”  And he stamped upon the skull with his foot.  But a serpent

 crawled forth from it and bit him in the foot, so that in consequence he

 sickened and died.’

Hraes’ (Rus’) Primary Chronicle

(912 AD)  Princess Eyfura and Hervor waited through the spring trading season without a sign of Oddi.  They were hoping he would have visited Kiev and his father, but he had sent word that he was rebuilding Berurjod in Stavanger Fjord and would arrive in Kiev after the spring trading season.  Prince Erik was waiting on the main quay of Kiev, when Oddi sailed up in Fair Faxi.  He saw his father and leapt onto the dock.  As they embraced and hugged below the dragonhead of Fair Faxi, a slight hooded figure approached and pulled a long blade out from under a cloak.  The spectre thrust out the blade at Oddi, who instinctively blocked it with his wrist band, and he smashed the figure down to the dock and the spectre curled up in pain and lashed out with the sword again, and the edge bit Oddi’s ankle to the bone.  Then the sword went flying across the dock and clattered on the boardwalk and Erik saw right away that it was Tyrfingr.  Oddi pinned the assailant to the decking and pulled back the hood to expose Hervor, dazed but still breathing with a black bolt of lightning painted across her grey stained face.  Erik threw his fur cloak over Tyrfingr and saw Eyfura approaching from the longhall, so he rolled the sword into the fur and kicked it into the river.  “The water will protect us from the rays of the blade,” Erik explained to Oddi as his wife drew near.

“I saw Hervor quickly leave the hall,” Eyfura said.  “What has she done now?”

They returned to Oddi and Hervor.  Erik inspected Oddi’s wound while Eyfura revived Hervor.  Erik tore the white silk shirt from his chest and tore off a strip of it to tie around Oddi’s left leg.  He then stripped his belt of his seax and used the sheath to twist the silk strip tight around Oddi’s leg.  He pulled out the seax and told his son, “Your leg has to come off at the knee!”

“You’re mad!” Oddi cried, pulling his leg free of his father.  “This limb isn’t going anywhere.”

“The sword she cut your leg with is Tyrfingr.  The blade is poisoned.  If I don’t take it off at your knee, you’ll be dead within hours.”

Oddi sat down on the dock, hugging his legs to his body.  “I know.  I saw what it did to my friend, Hjalmar.  It’s probably too late already.”

“Let me take off your leg, son.  Please.  We can fit it with a prosthetic.”

“And I’ll join one of your Special Centuriatas?”

Eyfura had fully revived Hervor by then and both women watched the father arguing for the life of his son.

“No, father,” Oddi continued.  “It is too late.  I can feel the poison at work already.  I think the hours you gave me may have been overly optimistic.”  Oddi remembered watching Hjalmar die and he realized he was sitting just as Hjalmar had been sitting.  “I want to die with us holding each other in our arms.”

By now all Oddi’s men had come from Fair Faxi, gathered round their captain and began clamouring for Hervor’s head.  Eyfura huddled over Hervor as if to protect her from the throng.  Oddi ordered his men to respect the fine blood of the women and sat down on a bench below the forestem of Fair Faxi.  Erik sent for some camp chairs and fine wine from King Frodi’s highseat hall and they sat in the warm spring sunshine as Oddi’s strength waned.

Erik helped his son into a camp chair from the bench.  “Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked.

Oddi asked him to record in Latin the Death Ode of Arrow Odd and then said this:

1st (c. 912)

“Listen to me,                        to what I must say,

 you witnesses of                 my friends long gone.

 No need to hide it                nor conceal the way

 this forest ash                      could not take fate on.

2nd (c. 840)

 I was fostered early             by my father’s wish,

 to be brought up                 at Berurjod;

 I felt no loss                         of love or bliss,

 and took what Ingjald         could offer Odd.

3rd (c. 845)

 We both grew up                at Hraegunarstead,

 Asmund and I,                     through childhood,

 spear shafts shaping,        and ships a building,

 children fletching                arrows of wood.

4th (c. 852)

 A witch said, ‘You will        burn here at Berurjod.

 Venom-filled snake            shall sting you,

 from below the                     skull of Faxi,

 the adder will bite                just above your shoe.’

5th (c. 852)

 The seeress read                true runes to me,

 but no way could I,              would I, heed;

 Asmund and I buried Faxi,    Ingjald’s best horse,

 a visit to my father’s           estate we’d need.

6th (c. 852)

 I was given a ship               called Fair Faxi

 by my fathers both              foster and true.

 We followed the fleet          of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’

 on the Mediterranean        blue.

7th (c. 855)

 Asmund and I and              our ship of boys

 trailed up the rivers             of Moorish Spain.

 Ragnar took Seville             by sheer will,

 but lost men on the             way back again.

8th (c. 856)

 While Asmund my friend     did often say

 he’d travel the Nor’Way      whale road;

 I told Ingjald                         that we’d both go away

 and never come back;        but I’ve broken my word.

                    9th (c. 856)

 We hoisted our sail,            but we sat on the sea;

 till Hrafnistaman-like          we raised our hands;

 we sailed a fair wind          to that steep cliffed isle

 where Grim once had        his longhall and lands.

                    10th (c. 856)

 We got to the longhall       and were blithely greeted,

 till Grim welcomed              the boys of Berurjod.

 He gave Gusir’s Gifts         shared his arrows of gold,

 before I, the Nor’Way         whale road trod.

11th (c. 856)

 In spring I had heard          of the plan to raid

 the silver howes                  of the Bjarmiars;

 at once I told                        Sigurd and Gudmund

 I wanted to wander             the ‘Way with these warriors.

                    12th (c. 856)

 My two kinsmen                  were capable men,

 great leaders                       and warship captains;

 their brave crews                wanted to claim

 the silver offerings of          the Tyrfi-Finns.

                    13th (c. 856)

 In my Nor’Way ship            we made the crossing;

 Asmund and I were             Varangians now.

 we ravaged the Bjarmar     with fire and flame;

 and their slave led us         to the howe.

                    14th (c. 856)

 He showed us where         to find plunder,

 in that place                         we gathered a hoard;

 but that countryman saved        from being a slave,

 turned us in                          hoping for a reward.

                    15th (c. 856)

 The Bjarmians came,         quick to defend

 the silver howe,                   of their dead;

 we brought down                mighty warriors

 before the                 Tyrfi-Finns fled.

16th (c. 856)

 We quickly marched           down to our ships,

 but the slave brought         the Bjarmiars back;

 we traded their silver          and gold weapons,

 for our iron blades,             grey and black.

17th (c. 856)

 I quickly kindled                  a blaze in the forest,

 a burning beacon               upon the land;

 it brought back                     my two relatives

 and their ships,                    just as planned.

18th (c. 856)

 We saw splendid ships,     hasten to land,

 richly clad rowers                racing to shore,

 happy they were,                 it showed clearly,

 my kinsmen coming           to greet us more.

19th (c. 856)

 Forced to leave                   our lives to fortune,

 we let our ship                     sail it would where:

 we carried silver soil           in sacks on deck,

 river washed sacks of sand,    till we saw it not there.

20th (c. 856)

 We came upon an island    beyond steep cliffs

 in late summer,                    then reefed our sails;

 making haste we                 hauled up ships

 upon rollers and whisked    them onto trails.

21st (c. 856)

 We raised awnings,           and camped in our ships.

 With Gusir’s Gifts                I hunted dread bear;

 And on Varg island             we lit a good fire

 in the mouth                         of the dead bear.

22nd (c. 856)

 Then a giantess came        and threatened to throw us

 off of the island;                  and into the waves;

 I shot that giant through    the mouth of the bear

 right in the eyes                   and chased her to her caves.

23rd (c. 856)

 We feared none                  when we stayed there,

 we weren’t afraid                of anything;

 some of us stacked             on the cliff above

 a mighty log wall;                in a ring.

24th (c. 856)

 I went out hunting               with Gusir’s Gifts

 for the giants’ cave,             just to find strife;

 I shot in the eye                   the king of the trolls,

 but in the heart,                   I shot his wife.

25th (c. 856)

 There I got a byname,        that I craved,

 Arrow Odd through the      crags they wailed,

 Arrow Odd, Arrow Odd,      give him wind by god,

 and with a fair wind             we all sailed.

26th (c. 856)

 Some sailed back               Hrafnista bound,

 but Odd sailed upon,          the Nor’Way;

 through Permian lands      and Volga strands,

 to the Don and the              great Azov Bay.

27th (c. 856)

 In Tmutorokan                     Odd became a rich man,

 trading silver                        Bjarmiar swords;

 for their weight                    in gold, then

 he met Prince Erik,             the Gardariki lord.

28th (c. 857)

 On my way home                I met a vulture,

 it flew with me                      ‘cross Giantland,

 until it came to its                nest on the crag

 and let me rest,                    its chicks near at hand.

29th (c. 858)

 Then came Hilder               to save me,

 that giant enslaved me,      took me home,

 he let me stay                      for many months,

 his daughter let                    my steed roam.

30th (c. 858)

 I helped Hildigunn              ride my steed,

 winsome girl,                        she rode it well.

 A fine brave son                  she carried for us,

 as I bartered my way          out of Giant hell.

31st (c. 858)

 I promised Hilder                a big bear as a dog,

 and on Varg Island             he grabbed hold.

 The bear made him            king of Giantland,

 and next spring he              gave me much gold.

32nd (c. 859)

 The wealth that I made      in Bjarmia land,

 with my Nor’Way ship        gave me fame,

 but the Romans were         brewing up trouble

 in Khazaria                           once again.

33rd (c. 860)

 I was given a ship               called Fair Faxi,

 by my fathers both              foster and true.

 We followed the fleet          of King Roller

 on the Mediterranean        blue.

34th (c. 860)

 Asmund and I and              our ship of youths

 saved lives while                fighting the Romans.

 Constantinople won’t fall   because of its wall,

 but the treaty we made      gave good omens.

35th (c. 861)

 We Varangians still            ruled the Nor’Way,

 but the Southern Way        fell to the Slavs.

 King Frodi lost Kiev,           retreated to Zealand,

 for refusing to stop              selling slaves.

36th (c. 861)

 In The Vik I met Gudrun,   she took my heart;

 Asmund met her sister,      Sigrid was his delight.

 Both were in the                  Freedom Movement,

 and brought us trouble,      when captives took flight.

37th (c. 861)

 We met Halfdan,                 a slaver at Elfar Skerries,

 many folk had he                murdered or enslaved;

 with three ships                   against his thirty,

 we cut him down                 and his captives we saved.

38th (c. 861)

 Back in The Vik                   we lingered,

 with our sisters                    of delight.

 They wore us down            just out of town,

 Then found us                     our next fight.

39th (c. 861)

 We next met Soti                a slaver off Skane,

 many folk had he                murdered or enslaved;

 with five ships this time      against thirty,

 we cut him down                 and his captives we saved.

40th (c. 861)

 Back in The Vik                   we lingered again,

 with our sisters                    of delight.

 They taught us things        to do with swings,

 Then found us                     our next fight.

41st (c. 861)

 We next sailed south         along the coast,

 all on watch for                    Hjalmar and Thord;

 searching for plunder,        in lives of men,

 we scoured the                    Elfar Skerry fjord.

42nd (c. 861)

 Found at last off                  the Swedish coast,

 two great champions,        Hjalmar and Thord;

 they soon asked                  which we’d rather,

 to fight or to choose           friendship as reward.

43rd (c. 861)

 We fought a bit                    then counselled together,

 Thord thought it foolish      fighting over our wealth;

 a band of Norse and          a band of Swedes thought

 to band together      seemed the best stealth.

44th (c. 861)

 But Hjalmar set some         Viking laws that all

 agreed to follow:                 No uncooked meats,

 no robberies,                        and on pain of death,

 no women taken on ship   against their entreats.

45th (c. 861)

 We sailed our ships            to any shore

 that promised a                   chance of plunder;

 we fought in our ships,       chieftains or kings

 and tore other                      warships asunder.

46th (c. 862)

 Prince Erik of Gardariki    convinced the Slavs

 to call back the Hraes’       and King Frodi left Liere;

 but he wanted my head     in his hall,

 before going to Kiev,          before leaving here.

47th (c. 862)

 Raging and wrathful           when Frodi was gone,

 we went to Zealand,           found five berserks there;

 I killed the five                     with Gusir’s Gifts,

 and Hjalmar took                 the berserks’ six knar.

48th (c. 863)

 We were in The Vik            when we heard the news:

 It came out of Angleland     came out of York,

 King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’          Sigurdson had died.

 There was talk of snakes,   there was talk of pork.

49th (c. 864)

 King Roller of Norway         took me aside,

 and warned me that           King Frodi still wanted my head.

 He sent me away                to green Ireland to

 find Saint Brendan’s            Newfoundland instead.

50th (c. 864)

 We sailed from The Vik     west in speeding ships,

 across the Irish                    whale road, and

 when we went there,          the folk fled away,

 terrified, out of                     their houses they ran.

51st (c. 864)

 Exploring on land                were Asmund and I,

 when a bow did thrum          and an arrow did fly,

 and it hit Asmund               deep in the chest.

 He died in my arms             and I asked myself why?

52nd (c. 864)

 I rushed along a                  wide wagon road,

 towards where the              arrows were doled;

 to have Asmund back        I’d give all my wealth,

 I would gladly give              all of my gold.

53rd (c. 864)

 I saw them at last,               the archers gathered,

 stout men standing             by their wives;

 so I showed all four             how to really shoot,

 and helped them to             lose their lives.

54th (c. 864)

 There I caught the hand      of Princess Olvor,

 and she promised me         a plate-mail shirt;

 that would keep me warm    and above water,

 and would keep me            from getting hurt.

55th (c. 864)

 Unlike a byrnie with            steel blue rings,

 ice cold about                      my iron sides;

 was on my flesh                  a padded silk shirt

 sewn with gold                     next to my hide.

56th (c. 864)

 I began my mission            for my king,

 And with Olvor I read          what Saint Brendan planned;

 she wanted to come           but her brothers were gone,

 so I set off to find                the Newfoundland.

57th (c. 864)

 In eight hundred                 and sixty four,

 we sailed across                 the ocean blue,

 New Ireland, Scotland,      and Angleland,

 Brendan’s Newfoundland   was true!

58th (c. 864)

 I met a native                       princess there,

 she helped me                     to explore,

 when I brought her             home with child,

 her kingly father                  showed me the door.

59th (c. 864)

 Back in Ireland,                   Olvor had a girl,

 and Hraegunhild                 she was named.

 Olvor said after                    Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’,

 my grandfather,                   she claimed.

60th (c. 864)

 We sailed south for             the Anglish Sea,

 in King Roller’s                    fleet of twenty ships.

 Looking for slavers             we found Skolli there,

 with forty ships but              no captives or whips.

61st (c. 864)

 He swore before                 eight witnesses,

 he was offshore to              avenge his kin,

 killed by King Edmond       for farming land.

 He was there to fight          and with help would win.

62nd (c. 864)

 Hjalmar and Thord              agreed with me,

 so we took the field            and battled three days

 before Edmond fell             and we made Skolli king.

 He gave us thanks             and we parted ways.

63rd (c. 865)

 Off King Frodi’s Danmark  we found our slavers,

 Hlodver and Haki setting   off to Kievan Hraes’.

 Ten ships came at us,        they had twenty more,

 but hard it was to send ten    to the eagles’ claw.

64th (c. 865)

 Out came twenty more,      warships all,

 chock full of warriors,         fearsome as hell.

 We weren’t after slavers    they were after us,

 we won but were so few    one ship served us well.

65th (c. 865)

 With Denmark after us,      we met Ogmund Eythjofsbane,

 half giant at Tronuvagar,   with two ships in full array,

 under black awnings          we fought all day ‘til only

 three of us remained,         and of them, nine sailed away.

66th (c. 865)

 Ogmund warned me           King Frodi wanted my head,

 and everyone around me    would wind up dead.

 Later we were crushed      to find Thord Prow-Gleam

 slain, and out his side          stuck Ogmund’s arrowhead.

67th (c. 865)

 We searched for Ogmund   but could find him not.

 In Uppsala the barrow        of Thord we built near;

 but back in Sweden           we found there was dread,

 Ingibjorg had been wooed   by Prince Angantyr.

68th (c. 865)

 Princess Ingibjorg loved    Hjalmar ‘the Brave’,

 but Angantyr and                eleven berserk brothers,

 bairns of Prince Arngrim    and Princess Eyfura,

 King Frodi’s daughter,       cursed her as promised to others.

69th (c. 865)

 Holmganger on Samsey    is what they challenged,

 we met the tainted              berserk brothers;

 and while Hjalmar               battled Angantyr,

 I killed eleven of the           coupler mothers.

70th (c. 865)

 But Angantyr was strong     and carried a poison snake,

 Tyrfingr, a famed blade,     a biter of ‘the Brave’;

 it hacked Hjalmar’s byrnie     sent poison to his heart,

 but Hjalmar gave the prince      the death he so did crave.

71st (c. 865)

 Bury the berserk brothers    I did as we’d agreed,

 Tyrfingr with Angantyr,       blade gone gave some relief.

 Took Hjalmar to Sweden   and he shared his howe,

 with his Ingibjorg                 because she died of grief.

72nd (c. 866)

 King Frodi did not               take too long,

 after hearing his                  grandsons were dead,

 to attack Norway and         then Angleland.

 Before his armies                we all fled.

73rd (c. 866)

 Men thought me a gallant   warrior at the rain of spears,

 when battle sweat flowed    like the Bravellir bad,

 and Stikla was shieldmaiden,    center of the wedge, when

 Odd the Way Wanderer     fought the Battle of Stiklastad.

74th (c. 866)

 The shield maiden, Stickla     was at my side, when

 I led an army in the             Nor’Way north and

 we stopped Ogmund          his foremost man,

 so after me they                  named Halogaland.

75th (c. 866)

 But in Angleland                 we couldn’t stop Frodi,

 his armies were too            great to withstand,

 we fled across the               Atlantean Sea,

 to try our luck in the            Newfoundland.

76th (c. 866)

 We sailed past                     New Ireland,

 we had no chance              to pause,

 we sailed up the                  Gitchee River,

 chased only by the             Kievan Hraes’.

77th (c. 866)

 We visited the village         of the Mississaugans,

 there I saw Watseka           and finally met our son,

 her father, Ahanu               welcomed me inside,

 I warned of King Frodi        coming to kill everyone.

78th (c. 866)

 We learned that the            Hraes’ of Tmutorokan

 sailed past New Scotia      to New Angleland;

 the two fleets were              separated, so to

 attack the Kievan Hraes’   is what we planned.

79th (c. 866)

 We took the fight                to King Frodi,

 we almost kicked                his royal steed,

 we hid our ships,                 sank them in the Gitchee,

 and rowed our boats          for better speed.

80th (c. 866)

 We left them downriver,     the Kievan fleet of ships,

 but they gained on us,       on a Gitchee lake with squalls,

 it turned back into a river     before they could overtake,

 and then the fast river        became the Nia-Gara Falls.

81st (c. 866)

 Watseka and her people   met us at Nia Gara,

 and helped portage our boats    past the raging water walls.

 The Kievan fleet of Frodi     was not so nearly blessed,

 when Witchee dragonships          came ‘gainst Gitchee Falls.

82nd (c. 867)

 We wintered in                    the Newfoundland,

 Watseka and our son         showed me the Mississipp,

 and the Valley                     of the Mounds, then

 we raised our fleet              and made our return trip.

83rd (c. 867)

 Before we got to Europe,    we saw an island called Iceland,

 discovered by my Floki,     after our first trip to the west.

 There I found my son,        Vignir, I had with Hildigunn,

 And he told me where        Ogmund Eythjofsbane was at rest.

84th (c. 867)

 He said: ‘he’s waiting         at a Newfoundland fort,

 I can’t see him missing you,          being half warlock’.

 So back we went                to New Ireland,

 and we fought                     Ogmund Tussock.

85th (c. 868)

 Ogmund sent a whale       to destroy our ships,

 but Vignir steered us          through his beast.

 I clubbed his eight men      to death, for steel didn’t bite,

 but Ogmund killed Vignir     then ran for the east.

86th (c. 868)

 I visited with Olvor               in Ireland,

 and spent some time          with Hraegunhild,

 then went with kin               to Aquitane,

 and avenged a bishop       who was killed.

87th (c. 869)

 In Paris I visited a nun       famously saved from slavery,

 In Flanders she showed    me my half-brother,

 The Viking and the Nun,   none saw that one coming.

 In Rouen I was with Duke Rollo,     Norway’s Roller.

88th (c. 869)

 Frankly, I found Frankia    boring as Christian hell,

 so Odin sent Raudgrani      to hone Odin’s hawk,

 he sent me the Vikings,       Gardar and Sirnir,

 To help fight Ogmund,       the fierce warlock.

89th (c. 870)

 In Angleland we found       a Finngalkin of his,

 and we killed the beast      with Gusir’s Gift well shot,

 then we searched for         Ogmund Eythjofsbane,

 and in Giantland                 we finally fought.

90th (c. 875)

 In Geirrodargard we           found him in shaggy cape,

 woven from the beards      of tributary Baltic kings.

 Warlock cloak we thought,    and giants came to aid him.

 Geirrod the giant fell first,    Gusir’s Gift death brings.

91st (c. 875)

 But his wife, Geirrid,             then took Gardar’s life,

 so I shot her down              when Gusir’s Gifts twirled.

 Ogmund tried escaping       so I grabbed him by the beard,

 and ripped his face off       as he fled to the underworld.

92nd (c. 880)

 After, I dreamt it fitting       to take my brother, Baldwin,

 to Gardariki, so Erik            could meet his secret son.

 As King Frodi of Kiev         was still looking for my head,

 I thought it best to               wait on that one.

93rd (c. 881)

 My life laying low                was again getting boring,

 So I planned once more      the Nor’Way to fare.

 I started by visiting             Duke Rollo in Rouen,

 and went by my name        of Bjorn Ironside there.

94th (c. 882)

 I went to Ireland to see      Olvor and Hraegunhild,

 I went to York to see          another Hraegunhild and bring

 Princess Blaeja bad news:    the curse of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’

 still endangered                  all AElla’s offspring.

95th (c. 884)

 I saw foster-father, Grim,     before I went to Giantland,

 with bad news for Hilder      and his daughter, Hildigunn.

 I had to tell her our son,     Vignir, died in Helluland

 at the hands of Ogmund      Tussock Geirrodson.

96th (c. 884)

 Hilder was angered,                       and Hildigunn was hurt.

 She still loved me she said    so we played games,

 childish games, and she      watered my steed at her

 well of life and we               talked of daughter’s names.

97th (c. 884)

 I told her that I wanted to   Way Wander for a while,

 and search for Ogmund    as I kept Nor’Way slaver free.

 Since my head was wanted          by the king of Gardar,

 she sewed a birchbark suit,      so people couldn’t see me.

98th (c. 884)

 I went to Gardariki,             got stone arrows from Jolf,

 I knew Sigurd and Sjolf      thought they were the best;

 they knew not who I was     when I said I was Barkman,

 so in Olmar’s highseat hall     they put me to the test.

99th (c. 884)

 I shot bow better                  than those two hunters,

 as Ingjald and Ottar            gathered up my deer;

 then I outswam                    those two swimmers,

 and Olmar’s daughter,       Silkisif, gave a cheer.

100th (c. 884)

 Prince Erik returned             from Novgorod, when

 they challenged me             to a bragarful.

 I outdrank them both          as we recited our tales,

 Mine were bright                 and theirs were dull.

101st (c. 884)

 I asked King Olmar,            grandfather of the Prince,

 If Erik and Gunwar   had a baby and he said yes, just one.

 So I told him I was              Helgi Bjorn Arrow Odd,

 Prince Erik’s             long lost son.

102nd (c. 884)

 I asked King Olmar             to help me tell the Prince

 that I was his long lost son,      and he was spellbound.

 Back in Frankia, my uncle,           Duke Rollo told me that

 Prince Alf, King Frodi’s son,    had a fleet snooping around.

103rd (c. 885)

 The trading season done,   King Frodi led a fleet to Rouen,

 three hundred ships strong,          and all well-equipped.

 We took our ships up the    Seine and rowed right past Paris,

 We tried to warn the Franks,    but the gate locks were tripped.

104th (c. 885)

 King Frodi and Prince Alf  laid siege to the city of Paris,

 Ragnar Lothbrok                 sacked the city forty years past,

 so now it had high walls    of stone to keep the raiders out.

 But the Kievan Hraes’        and Danes were twenty thousand vast.

105th (c. 885)

 King Charles and Count Odo    had two hundred fighting men,

 so they were more              accepting of our help,

 when they had gone           through half of them,

 so wintering in Paris,          were Duke Rollo and his whelp.

106th (c. 885)

 King Frodi grew concerned    about the men upon the walls,

 for no matter how many died,    their numbers never fell,

 so, come spring trading,    he returned to Konogard

 with the Kievan Hraes’       merchant fleet from hell.

107th (c. 886)

 I told my Duke of Rouen     that my blood snake had a lust,

 And my dragon wished to travel       along the Southern Way.

 Fair Faxi was a ship of men    at the quay of Kiev, when

 I wounded Ogmund Tussock    and King Frodi I did slay.

108th (c. 886)

 I fled the quay of Konogard      as fast as oars could row,

 and ran the Dnieper rapids      in a ship, the first time ever,

 then we sailed to my father      in Gardariki, Tmutorokan,

 and told the Prince             the king was dead forever.

109th (c. 887)

 I travelled to Baghdad        still laying low, then west

 until I reached the               City of Jerusalem, unnerved

 I was taken to the water,      dipped in the River Jordan,

 and then I saw clear how      Christ might best be served.

110th (c. 887)

 In Gardariki, I asked           Prince Erik how I might best

 earn the right to ask for      the hand of King Olmar’s Silkisif.

 He told me to finish            what I had started in Kiev,

 to end King Frodi’s             son, King Alf, end the bloody tiff.

111th (c. 887)

 I was given a legion           of Tmutorokan Cataphracts,

 and we went to war             on Kiev and King Alf.

 His son, Prince Vidgrip,       sallied forth to meet us;

 I took his head                     and captured his army myself.

112th (c. 887)

 Felled by my sword             were many a warrior

 when we fought Alf             before the Kievan gates;

 I shot Alf Bjalki there          with three stone arrows,

 I beat the gate beams        with stones of great weights.

113th (c. 887)

 Queen Gydja used magic      to defend her gates,

 she shot arrows from each finger    just as Alf had done,

 she fled into a temple         and I stoned her from the roof,

 the Kievan Hraes’ fought well    but finally we won.

114th (c. 887)

 We returned to Gardariki,      to find the king was dead,

 so Prince Erik offered             me her hand instead;

 I married Princess Silkisif      King Olmar’s daughter,

 And together we ruled,      South Hraes’ we led.

115th (c. 888)

 But with all the men lost     in all of the fighting,

 we couldn’t hold Kiev,        it fell to the Poljane,

 and the Slavs who              fought against slavery

 trusted us not, and who can    blame them, the Danae.

116th (c. 890)

 We worked out a deal        to share Kiev with the Slavs,

 and end slaver traffic          on the Southern Way journey,

 but a new king had arisen     in the north called Quillanus,

 so I with an army went       and had a jousting tourney.

117th (c. 890)

 Quillanus, like Frodi,           wore a mask upon his face,

 we competed for three days    and jousted to a draw,

 so we agreed to part our ways    but first I had to see his face,

 and when he showed it      Ogmund Tussock is who I saw.

118th (c. 890)

 Instantly the war was on,   and his vassal kings fell to me:

 King Marron of Murom       and King Rodstaff of Rostov

 King Eddval of Sursdal      and Paltes Junior of Holmgard,

 Prince Kaenmar of Kiev,    and Prince Chermal of Chernigov.

119th (c. 890)

 But again I couldn’t beat    Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock,

 the half giant, Geirrodson,     he was my nemesis.

 He gained the name           Quillanus ‘Blaze’,

 all of Novgorod                    was his.

120th (c. 890)

 Quillanus sent me               gifts of gold and

 took Staraya Russa,           leaving Novgorod free,

 sent offerings of peace,       when he told me he was,

 Vadim the Brave,            that was good enough for me.

121st (c. 896)

 Silkisif gave me a son,       Asmund he was named,

 and Prince Erik and            Princess Eyfura had a son.

 They named him Eyfur        after her, and all lived in Kiev,

 while I ruled in Gardariki,     Silkisif gave me another one.

122nd (c. 907)

 In nine oh seven we laid      siege to Constantinople,

 Fighting Romans for our    trading rights, we portaged ships

 around their harbour chain,    tacked a treaty to their gates,

 which they signed, it kept      our, slave and duty free, trips.

123rd (c. 911)

 In nine eleven we laid siege    to the Romans once again.

 Without slaves to row their ships,   they kidnapped our men it seems,

 our ships that foundered     on their Scythian Sea shores,

 soon found our sailors rowing    in the bellies of their triremes.

124th (c. 911)

 The siege was amicable,     for a siege, that is,

 trading carried on still,        while dragons belched their fire.

 Finally, after weeks,            our men were released,

 And maritime laws              to which all nations could aspire.

125th (c. 911)

 After the siege                     I told Silkisif,

 I wanted to return                to Hrafnista and get,

 the wealth I had buried      there, and see who lorded,

 over my family’s                  northernmost islet.

126th (c. 911)

 I went up the Nor’Way       in Fair Faxi and a knarr,

 And I tracked down            the dwarf Durin, and told him

 who I was, and thanked    him for helping my mother, Gunwar,

 he told me I was Erikson,    a well-earned patronym.

127th (c. 911)

 Next, I went to Varg Isle    and visited Giantland, where

 my Hildigunn had a baby     and she called her Hraegunhild,

 after my grandfather          and her father, King Hilder,

 she was beautiful and       we were thrilled.

128th (c. 911)

 Next was Hrafnista,             and I met Gudmund there,

 we dug up all my treasure     and I shared it with my friends,

 we feasted for a fortnight,     then people brought me gifts,

 we loaded up the knar       with silver, gold and gems.

129th (c. 911)

 Then I visited Olvor,            in lovely Ireland,

 and saw my daughter        Hraegunhild, all grown,

 and then I went to Frankia     to see a nun in Paris,

 her Baldwin in Flanders    and Duke Rollo in Rouen.

130th (c. 912)

 Next, I stopped in York      to see Princess Blaeja there,

 her Hraegunhild was          all grown up, but she had

 a young son, Ragnar,          that looked a lot like me,

 I called him Little Ironside    he was a happy lad.

131st (c. 912)

 In spring we sailed to         Stavanger Fjord,

 and I saw Berurjod             and Hraegunarstead,

 they were deserted             and destroyed, so I left

 a crew to do repairs,           bring them back from the dead.

132nd (c. 912)

 On down to the fjord,          on the eroded bank,

 I saw Faxi’s greying skull    where Asmund and I had

 so deeply buried her,         to see if a snake was there,

 but nothing showed at all,     Heid’s prophesy was bad.

133rd (c. 912)

 So we headed off to           the quay of Konogard,

 My father waited for me     with his bride and youngest son,

 Queen Eyfura and Prince Eyfur,    but her grand-daughter, Hervor,

 slunk onto the dock with    Tyrfingr in her homespun.

134th (c. 912)

 She lashed out with            the poisoned blade,

 and I knocked her down,    but as she fell,

 she nicked my leg with      the blood-snake, Tyrfingr,

 its poison’s in my body,      my blood doth start to jell.

135th (c. 912)

 My father offered to            amputate my leg,

 but I just said no,                 the poison’s going to my head,

 I just saw Angantyr,            he warned his daughter,

 about the blade and           tells me she’ll soon be dead.

136th (c. 912)

 He’s asked me for a favour    to bring her to Valhall,

 my shield maid can enter    the warrior’s paradise,

 she can watch us battle,      then bring us our sweet mead,

 Asmund’s there, he does swear,    I see it and it’s nice.

137th (c. 912)

 I know I took the faith         of Christianity,

 but I had fingers crossed     when in waters they dipped me.

 Promise me young Hervor,   for you are soon to die,

 you’ll come with me to Valhall    in a burial at sea.

138th (c. 912)

 I bid you farewell father     and love you in my heart,

 And love you Prince Ivar,     Eyfura, you’d your chore.

 To Silkisif send love           and to my sons also,

 send them all my greetings,    I’ll go there no more.”

“Angantyr came to you?” Princess Eyfura came up close.  Prince Erik was transferring Oddi onto a great bearskin one of his men had laid upon the dock.

“Yes.  He came to me and added a bit of verse,” Oddi said weakly.  “Angantyr wants me to bring Hervor to Valhall with me.”  While Erik and Eyfura were attending to Oddi, Hervor was tearing off her clothing and she laid herself naked beside Odd.  She hugged him and tried to be him and she whispered, “I shall treat you so fine in Valhall, this I promise.”  Prince Erik could see a grey pallor to the skin of Hervor and it was a grey he had seen before.  He knew she was not long for this world.

Oddi took Hervor under his arm.  “Finally,” he said, “a shield-maiden here to my liking,” and she hugged him.  “If you ever go to Ireland, Father,” Oddi began, “could you stop and visit with my wife and daughter in Dub-Lin?  Tell them both I love them and was thinking about them at the end.”

“Anything else?” Erik asked, as more wine was poured.

“Yes.  Give my scale mail shirt to little Ivar when he gets old enough to fit it.  It has saved my life more than once.  Ragnar and Ladgerda left it with the king of Ireland and I got it from his daughter.”

Oddi’s forty picked men sat about, watched and listened.  They all knew they were witnessing a most famous death, a death foretold.

“Your brother, King Roller figured the prophecy out,” Oddi said weakly as he savoured the wine as if it might be his last.  “When the witch Heid foretold your future, Father, she said your son would die from the bite of a poison snake that crawled out below the skull of Fair Faxi.  Because Ragnar was in the room with you, everyone thought she was talking to him and that the son was you.  When I was twelve, you and Grim gave me your ship, Fair Faxi, and that same witch foretold that I would die from the bite of a poison snake below the skull of Faxi.  In Heid’s first foretelling, she was talking to you, father, not to Ragnar.  It is your son dying under the skull of Fair Faxi.”  And Oddi looked up at his ship and laughed, bravely.  “Tyrfingr, your ‘arrow of the gods’, is that poisoned blood-snake that crawled out under the skull of Faxi.  I am, indeed, dying below its weathered skull.  It has all been preordained.  Fate is all.  Of all the great things we have done, this will be the most famed.”  Oddi laughed again, but then he coughed and then coughed up blood.  He quickly drank more wine and this time it was his last.  Below the skull of Fair Faxi, from a poisoned blood-snake bite, he died.

Hervor was crying at Oddi’s side and Princess Eyfura was trying to console her.  She got up, naked, and began walking back up the quay toward the main gates of Kiev and when Eyfura followed and tried to cover up Hervor with a blanket, she pushed it away.  Erik had his men carry Oddi’s body into the hall and laid him out on his highseat and covered him with the blanket.  He went to Hervor, standing naked in the hall and he stroked her hair.  “Where is the scabbard?” he asked gently.  “We must sheath Tyrfingr.  The water will shield us from its poison, but it is still dangerous.”

“The scabbard is in my room under my bed,” Hervor blurted.  Erik and Eyfura led the shield-maiden to her room and Erik recovered the scabbard while Eyfura put Hervor to bed.  Erik went out to the dock and into the river to sheathe Tyrfingr.  The blade glowed dangerously until he got it in the leaden scabbard.  Trapped under the bones of Angantyr, the blade’s power had grown.

“Quiet, child,” Princess Eyfura whispered, as she tucked Hervor into bed.  “We wanted revenge and we got it.”

“But he died so bravely, grandmother.  And I feel so bad.  It’s all so sad.”

“It was our duty to avenge our fathers.  And we did it.  I’m proud of you, Hervor,” she said, hugging the girl.

Later, in bed, Erik told Eyfura that he suspected Hervor may have been overly exposed to Tyrfingr’s poison.

“How overly?” Eyfura asked.

 “She will likely be dead in two days.”

“I don’t know what caused her to do all that,” Eyfura said.  “Angantyr’s sword.  The lightning bolt painted on her face.  She stained her body grey.  It’s all so sad.”  She rolled over and went to sleep.

Erik watched the beauty of her form as moonlight filtered into the room.  The faint light glistened on her shoulder and followed along her side, dipping under the blankets to her waist and thrusting up to follow the curve of her hip then tapering down her shapely legs.  Perfection in form…if not in substance.  He wondered how much of the blade Eyfura had been exposed to. 

Duke Rollo of Normandy woke up in a sweat.  His wife, Poppa, was beside him asleep.  He listened for the sound that had awakened him.  It came again….a low whisper of wind, a sound without effort, but, still, a sound.  He rose out of bed and wrapped a robe about himself.  It was spring but it was still unseemingly cold.  He went to the door that led to the balcony and he opened it a crack.  Her figure seemed a wisp of smoke, beautiful as ever.  She never seemed to age.  Always as young as she had been when she’d fallen in battle.  The moonlight caught up in her hair and she looked toward him.  He hadn’t seen her in years.  He was married now, with children, but it mattered not.  He shifted the door and slipped out onto the cold stone deck.

“He is dead you know,” she said.  “My son is dead.”

“I know.  I had a dream of his death,” Rollo replied, then checked himself.  ‘Was this still the dream?’ he thought.

“Angantyr’s daughter, Hervor, cut him with the blade, Tyrfingr, and its poison killed him under the skull of Fair Faxi, as prophesied.”

“It was preordained,” Rollo responded, as if those words might help.

But they didn’t help, so he held her as she cried.  He stood and he held her for hours and he cried with her and he kept holding her as if he held her long enough, she would stay.  In the morning, Duke Rollo’s wife told him he had been sleep walking, that she found him standing on the balcony, frozen and shivering and wet and she’d led him back to bed.

Two days after Oddi’s death, Hervor joined him.  She had bequeathed her only possession, Tyrfingr, to her son.  Erik prepared a great feast and funeral for his son and Oddi and Hervor were burned together in Fair Faxi on the Dnieper River in a stone ship burial at sea.  Two months later, Prince Erik left for Gardariki and Princess Eyfura and Prince Ivar remained in Kiev to rule in her father, King Frodi’s name.

THE SAGA OF HELGI ‘ARROW ODD’ ERIKSON      .

THE END               .

To be Continued in:              .

The Varangians, Book 4, “The Saga of Ivar ‘The Boneless’ Erikson”

THE SAGA OF HELGI ‘ARROW ODD’ ERIKSON;  GLOSSARY

APPENDIX A:  HELGI ‘ARROW ODD’ ERIKSON GLOSSARY OF TERMS

Abbasid Caliphate–Arab dynasty that overthrew Ommayad dynasty in 750 A.D.

Aesir–group of northern gods of the Scandinavian pagan religion, including Odin, Tyr and Thor, in constant conflict with the Vanir, southern gods.

aett–the extended family, including those predeceased and those members yet to be.

althing–annual meeting, during pagan times, in which law was practiced and elections held.

Aurvandil–Thor carried him out of Giantland in a basket, but Aurvandil’s exposed toe froze, so Thor broke it off and threw it up into the sky, where it became a star.

arvel–funeral feast;  also, possibly arval.

atheling–warrior or noble.

At-Khazars–White Khazars, a tribe of the Khazar Empire of possible Roman origins, their leaders said to be Porphyrogenita, born of the purple, a bloodline of the Roman Caesars. They were Jewish in religion and may have finally settled in Poland.

Balder–Aesir god; son of Odin.

bane–death.

banesman–slayer; ie: Hundingsbane = Hunding’s slayer.

barrow–burial mound; also, howe.

berserk–warrior capable of attaining a manic fury in battle in which he is impervious to weapons but is overcome with weakness once the fit is through;  also, berserker, shape-changer.

Bjarmians–Finno-Ugric tribe of Northern Asia.

bireme–ship having two banks of oars each side.

bragarful–celebration filled with lively speech and brave boasts.

Bragi–Aesir god of poetry; also name of first Scandinavian poet; may also signify one eloquent in speech.

brand–sword; also, blood snake.

Branliv–Slavic byname meaning quarrelsome; possibly eloquent in speech.

buckler–shield; also, targe, leaf of leafy-land(sea).

Bulgars–Turkic tribe that migrated from western China to the Volga River with a second group moving on to Bulgaria; also, Volga Bulgars.

bulwarks–the side strakes of a ship; also, gunwales.

Burtas–Turkic tribe of the middle Volga River.

byrnie–coat of mail armour.

Byzant–gold coin of the Byzantine Empire.

Byzantine Empire–formed of the Eastern Roman Empire, following the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D., by mostly Greek citizens.  Fell to the Turks in 1453 A.D.

carl–freeman.

Disertus–byname of Erik in Saxo’s Fifth Book of Danish History, Latin for eloquent in speech.

disir–female guardian spirits.

drapa–Norse poem of twenty stanzas.

Dregovichi–Slav people of the upper Dnieper River.

Drevjane–Slav people of the middle Dnieper river.

etin–giant.

Fafnir–dragon who guarded the Rhinegold treasure; slain by Sigurd the Volsung.

fane–temple.

fell–mountain.

fey–doomed to die.

fleer–to mock or make fun of.

flygting–argumentive or abusive poetry.

Freya–Vanir goddess of fertility.

Freyr–Vanir god of fertility.

Fridleif–early king of Denmark; King Frodi III’s father.

Frigg–Aesir goddess; wife of Odin.

Frodi III–legendary king of Denmark; conqueror of Russia, according to Saxo.

fylgja–female spirit that accompanies each person.

ginungagap–the great abyss into which everything was created.

Greek fire–an incendiary mixture of petroleum spirits and chemicals that bursts into flame, possibly on contact with air.  A secret weapon of the Byzantines.

Ghuzz Turks–Turkic tribe found between the Aral and Caspian Seas.

hamingja–fortune or luck.

Havamal–poem telling the words of the high one (Odin);  Possibly written by Bragi the Old.

holmgangr–island duel.

howe–burial mound.

Huns–Turkic tribe migrated from Western China into Europe(c.370 A.D.), attacking the Gothic Empire of Eormanrik and threatening the Roman Empire.  Their leader, Attila, was poisoned by the Roman Emperor and the Huns moved on to Gaul. They were defeated at Chalons(451 A.D.) and retired back into Asia, apparently joining the Khazar Empire and settling north of the Caucasus Mountains.

Hymir–sea giant with whom Thor fished for the Midgard serpent.

Ibn Fadlan, Ahmad–Arab geographer and diplomat of the tenth century who recorded a trip up the Volga in which he met Varangian settlers.

Iconoclast–anyone against the veneration of religious pictures or icons.

Kara-Khazars–Black Khazars of the Khazar Empire.

kenning–metaphor or metaphorical rhyme.

Krivichi–Slav people of the upper Moskva River.

Kufa–silver coin of the Arab Caliphate.

Kvasir–god who invented mead.

Loki–Aesir god of mischief.

Magyars–Turkic tribe migrated from Western China to present day Hungary circa 830 to 890 A.D.; also, Turkoi; members of the Khazar Empire.

mead–alcoholic drink made from fermented honey.

mead-words–poetry.

Midgard Serpent(Worm)–snake that encircles the world, deep within the sea.

monoxyla–dugout bottomed ship with built up side strakes.

ness–headland or promontory.

nith-song–curse casting or derogatory poem.

norns–three female spirits representing the past, present and future, and controlling the fates of men.

Odin–chief god of the Aesir; god of hosts and battle.

Onogur–Turkic tribe of the Khazar Empire.

Permians–Finno-Ugric tribe of Northern Asia.

Poljane–Slav people of the middle Dnieper River.

pyre–bonfire used to cremate the dead.

Raes, Hraes’–theoretical nickname of Erik Bragi, from which the names Rus and Rhos may have been derived.

Radimichi–Slav people between the Dnieper and Desna Rivers.

Ragnar Lothbrok–early king of the Danes who slew a dragon in the east; his sons attacked England.

Ragnarsdrapa–ninth century poem by Bragi Boddison dedicated to Ragnar Lothbrok (or possibly Ragnar Sigurdson?).

Regin–blacksmith who helped Sigurd attack Fafnir.

ran–large Scandinavian house.

Rhinegold hoard–treasure robbed from the dragon Fafnir by Sigurd, who slew the dragon on the advice of Regin.  It is an eastern tale with a possible Black Sea locale, but the name of the treasure is, oddly, Germanic.  Perhaps Hraes’ gold evolved into Rhine gold as the tale moved west.

Rhos–early Greek name for Norsemen and Slavs of Russia.

ring-giver–king or prince.

runes–alphabetic characters of early Germanic writing.

Rus or Rus’–early Slavic name of Norsemen, from which is derived the names Ruthenians and Russians.

sark–shirt or kirtle.

Saxo-Grammaticus–Danish historian of the twelfth century who wrote The First Nine Books of Danish History aka Gesta Danorum; Erik’s Saga Bragi is based primarily on the fifth book about King Frodi III and Erik Disertus.  Books three and four of his History also contain the tale of Amleth, the earliest form of Hamlet.

Scald or skald–poet; also, thul.

scorn pole–pole carved with runes and topped with the head or skull of a horse meant to cast a curse.

shaman–priest or mystic of Shamanism, the spiritual religion of Northeast Asia and native America.

Sigurd the Volsung–slayer of Fafnir the Dragon for which he won the Rhinegold treasure.

Skaldskaparmal–Snorri Sturluson’s `Words of the Skalds’, a collection of ancient poems demonstrating kennings; second half of the Prose Edda.

skerries–reefs or sandbars.

Snorri Sturluson–twelfth Century Icelandic author of the Prose Edda and possibly Egil’s Saga.

sound–marine passage connecting two bodies of water.

Sovar–Turkic tribe of the Khazar Empire.

strait–narrow passage between two bodies of water.

strake–a row of planks running the length and forming the sides of a ship.

strand–seashore or sandbar off a coast.

thing–assembly (see althing).

Thor–Aesir god of thunder; possible son of Odin.

thrall–slave.

trireme–ship having three banks of oars on each side.

troll–giant; also, etin.

Tyr–Aesir god of justice.

Valkyries–handmaidens of Odin who selected those to die in battle. Also, may have been women who fought in early Germanic battles or worked behind the battle lines slaying the wounded enemy.

Valhall–dwelling place of Odin, where those slain in battle are rewarded.

Vanir–southern gods in constant conflict with the northern Aesir.

Varangians–early Greek and Slavic name for Norsemen in Russia.  May have been derived from Varangers, possibly meaning way-ranger or way-wanderer.

Viatichi–Slav people of the upper Don River.

Vik–bay area of present day Oslo.

Vikar–legendary Norwegian king who was sacrificed to Odin by the warrior giant Starkad.

wain–wagon.

Wends–a main branch of the Slavic peoples; also Poles.

withy–plaited willow twigs used as rope.

worm–dragon or snake.

Ygg–nickname of Odin.

THE SAGA OF HELGI ‘ARROW ODD’ ERIKSON;  MAP            .

APPENDIX B:  MAP OF EASTERN EUROPE OF THE NINTH CENTURY