Authors: Griff Hosker
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Military, #War, #Historical Fiction
Published by Sword Books Ltd 2015
Copyright © Griff Hosker First Edition
The author has asserted their moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
All Rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, copied, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the copyright holder, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
Cover by Design for Writers
The Norns had toyed with me, had played with me and had used me for their own purposes and pleasures. They had cost me one of my oldest friends and comrades, Cnut, and they had riven my family apart. My son and daughter were estranged and Wolf Killer now lived two valleys away. And now, as we recovered from a year filled with death, destruction and pain, they seemed to be ignoring me again. We were enjoying a short time of peace. The good news was that my son's wife had given birth to Ragnar. I had a grandson and my blood would live on. The Norns had given the smallest of crumbs back to me having taken so much. The previous year had been an angry year and we had destroyed three fortresses: one in On Corn Walum and two on Ynys Mon. The people who had dared to attack me and my people would remember us and they would be wise not to threaten us ever again.
And now that we had returned with blue magical stones we had discovered in Wales, my daughter and my Galdramenn had divined my dream but would not tell me what it meant. I was Jarl Dragon Heart and they were keeping a secret from me. Despite the peace we had had I was restless. It was at times like this that I missed my dead wife, Erika, the most. She had been the only one with whom I could speak. The Spirit world was all around me and yet, for some reason, they communicated with Aiden and my daughter. I felt alone. Perhaps it was the loss of Cnut, one of my oldest oathsworn or perhaps something else. I knew not.
As I looked across to my old home which had been destroyed by the witch and her followers, I could see it gradually being reclaimed by the forest. Only my wife's grave and my steam hut remained. They were tended on a regular basis. Kara and I took flowers when they were in season or evergreens in winter. It showed that we still had her in our hearts. In many ways that suited me for I could go there alone and be content with my own company. I began to withdraw into myself. Everyone else had hopes and plans: my Ulfheonar had all realised their own mortality and all but my newest warrior, Ulf Olafsson, had married and were enjoying domestic life. My daughter and her women were busy with their potions and spells which healed our people. My son and his warriors were carving out their own homes. I sat alone. Oft times I would stare at Old Olaf in his mountain and try to divine what he was thinking. Or I would bathe in Cyninges-tūn Water and pray that my wife's spirit would speak to me but all I heard were the thoughts rattling around in my head.
My only solace was spent speaking with Bjorn Bagsecgson, my blacksmith. He had his smithy on the western side of the water and far enough away from the homes so as not to fill them with his fire and his smoke. I would visit with him and we would sit on a rock by the Water. He understood me better than most. He had been the only survivor of the raid which had taken my mother and his father. It was something we shared. He also seemed to understand my feelings for my son and my daughter which were complicated.
One evening we were sat watching the sun go down behind Olaf and drinking a new batch of ale made by his wife. He smacked his lips in appreciation of the fine brew. "You should raid, Jarl Dragon Heart. It is what you do. You are a warrior and you will pine away to nothing here."
I shook my head. "I was not born to this life."
"No you are more than just a jarl. You were made into the warrior you are." He pointed to his forge. "I take iron ore from our mountain and we metal it and make it into iron. It is just a lump. It does nothing. I then choose what I make it into. It could be a bridle or a horseshoe. I could make a pan or a brooch, or even a plough. Perhaps I could make a weapon. That takes longer. I have to heat the fire as hot as the hottest volcano. I have to bend and fold the iron to give it strength. I have to temper the iron with water and then I start again and even when the blade is made it is not finished. It must be sharpened and polished. That is not the end for the pommel and the hilt must be fashioned to suit the owner. And that is not even one of my best swords; the one you have has been through blood as well as fire."
I know all that Bjorn Bagsecgson and you make fine swords."
"I do but my swords are not meant to sit in a scabbard or adorn a warrior hall. My swords cry out to be used in battle."
I smiled, "I know all of this, old friend. What is the point you are trying to make?"
"That you are a sword. You have been fashioned and moulded through your whole life from Ragnar and Butar through to Rolf and your Ulfheonar. You are not a bridle, a pan or a plough share; you are a weapon. That is why you were made."
The sun had set. I stood and threw a pebble across the Water. "I grow tired of raiding. I find no pleasure in taking slaves and stealing books."
"Then go to sea. Find a new land. Find someone with whom to trade."
I laughed, "You wish me out of the way?"
"No Jarl Dragon Heart. I would have your heart beat again and the blood course through your veins. You are too young to become an old man. You must live and you must be the Viking which still hides within you."
I sighed, "You are right old friend. I do not like your advice but I know that it is right. I have much to think on."
The talk with
had set in motion thoughts and ideas which now raced through my head. I had been feeling sorry for myself. Bjorn had not said that but it had been in his heart. My wife and friends might be dead and my family split asunder but I still had a land to protect and a people to care for. One morning when the cold was not as bad as it had been I took Aiden and, without warning him of my intentions, set off for
There was still a chill feel to the air and I wrapped myself deeper within my wolf cloak. I did not speak with Aiden. Since he and Kara had hidden the meaning of my dreams from me I had been a little distant. I would tell him our purpose soon enough and if wished, to ask me then I would tell him. We had just entered the woods after leaving the Water when he broke the silence. "We are going to sea again, Jarl?"
I smiled to myself. He could still read my mind. "We now know it is not safe for Siggi and Trygg to make long voyages. The men of On Corn Walum and Wessex have closed the passage to Frankia and London for us. The Vikings of Dyflin and Mann are a threat too. The captains of the knarr need my ship to protect them. We will see our captains and Erik. I have sat on my backside too long."
"You have earned the right for some peace."
"The Gods grant you peace, Aiden, but the Norns can decide that you no longer need it. This is neither the Gods nor the Norns speaking; I am making this decision for myself. If we are to find new markets then I need to be with my captains."
Aiden brightened for he had an enquiring mind. "You wish to travel to the east? The fabled city of Miklagård?"
We had travelled there before with Erik's old mentor Josephus. It had brought us great riches but, more importantly for Aiden, it had brought great knowledge. "Perhaps but it is a long way and there are many dangers along the way. We may try a shorter voyage this time." In truth I did not know where I wished to sail but the main purpose was to find a way of avoiding our enemies at the other end of Britain.
Since our ship had been damaged by raiders, Erik and the other captains had now built a small settlement close to their ships. Bolli, our shipwright, had also brought his family there. It was a unique community for they were all involved with the sea. Those who live on the Water had now become farmers, smiths, and herdsmen. They could still fight but the sea was just in their blood and not in their hearts.
We heard banging and the sounds of construction as we approached the shipyard and the moored ships. The neighs of our ponies made all heads turn. The three captains and Bolli stopped what they were doing and approached me. They nodded, deferentially. I was not king but they respected me as their leader. I was their Jarl. I waved a hand around the three ships. "How goes the preparations for sea?"
Erik grinned, "I could sail tomorrow, Jarl."
Siggi laughed, "If his pretty young wife would let him." Erik nodded. Now that he had a family he was changing from the lively ship's boy and becoming a responsible man. Josephus would have been proud.
Trygg, Siggi's cousin, said, "We are all ready Jarl but are we ready to sail further afield than Orkneyjar and Dyfed?"
It sounded like a criticism but baring in mind the words of Bjorn Bagsecgson they were justified. "I am ready," I smiled, "the wolf has left his lair and is hungry once more."
If I had had any doubts they would have evaporated with the warmth of their smiles. They too were eager to be away.
"Then I will see if Pasgen wishes to send his ship with us then I will return to tell my men that they must kiss their wives and go A-Viking once more."
They looked excited until Aiden said, "And where do we sail, Jarl?"
I nodded. "A fair question for you will need to know which charts to take." Aiden collected any charts which we could find and he was constantly updating the ones we had. The old Roman charts were the best. He had a fine collection. "Bring all the charts we have."
Erik shook his head, "We are not Aiden, Jarl, we cannot read your mind. Where?"
"I would sail beyond Syllingar Insula towards
Olissipo. Perhaps we might even venture into the Blue Sea too."
They nodded and Aiden counselled, "Olissipo is ruled by the Arab and the Berber still."
"But they are willing traders. Besides we have to try somewhere new or we stagnate."
Satisfied they nodded and we left for
Úlfarrston. Pasgen was also delighted that I had stirred and he had a ship ready to sail. It was captained by his son, Coen ap Pasgen. He would be a good captain for he was a fine warrior too.
It was late in the afternoon when I reached my home but I had my slaves convene my Ulfheonar in the warrior hall. They came so quickly that I knew my absence had intrigued them. They gathered in silence. It was sad now that only Haaken One Eye remained from my original warriors. Young Snorri who had been one of my ship's boys was now, along with Sigtrygg, one of the more experienced warriors who had served alongside me for some years. There were just twelve of them left now. It was not enough to crew my drekar, '
The Heart of the Dragon
'. They would, however, be the core of the crew. They would occupy the benches closest to Erik and they would be the ones who would determine our speed and our resolve. They were as vital to me as the ship itself; they were the power which propelled us through the seas.
"We go A-Viking!" They all began banging the table hard. I held up my hand for silence. "We leave in three days from now. You need to leave your wives with something to remember you by for we will be away for a long time."
Haaken, as my most senior warrior asked, "Where do we sail?"
"Towards Olissipo but we may venture into the Blue Sea and find new places." That really pleased them for there was nothing they liked more than seeing somewhere for the first time. In their minds every new place was not filled with danger but with treasure. "We take three knarr with us. We will be the shepherd."
They were suddenly deflated. "They will slow us down and we will not be able to raid as easily."
I shook my head. "Olaf Leather-Neck, we will. The difference will be that we will not need to return here with our prizes each time we raid. What we do not trade we keep on the knarr. Three knarr can hold far more than one drekar!"
Sigtrygg struck Olaf on the back of the head, "Fool! You should be called Olaf Thick Head! Have you forgotten that our Jarl has a mind like no other? We are successful because he does not do things the way others do them."
Olaf nodded, "I am sorry, Jarl Dragon Heart."
"What of the rest of the crew?"
"We take whoever wishes to go with us."
"Then we will need a bigger drekar!"
I nodded, "If you believe that the final selection will be made by you. I will be visiting my son for he will need to watch our lands whilst we are away. I will return tomorrow night and you will have the crew ready to march down to Úlfarrston. You have two more nights at home! Use them wisely!"
I then went to Scanlan. "We go to trade on the morrow. Have trade goods sent to the knarr. Have we much to trade?"
"Aye Jarl. There is copper, slate, some poorer quality iron that Bjorn Bagsecgson does not want to use. There are sheepskins and hide. We also have some spare weapons such as seaxes, spear heads and short swords. In addition there are some bone combs and needles."
I nodded. That was a good balance. "While I am gone I look to you to see that we thrive. My daughter will watch the people but she knows little of animal husbandry and mining."
"I will do so. We could use more slaves, Jarl. The mines seem to eat them. They do not kill them but they only last half a year and then their work rate diminishes." He shrugged, "They can be used to herd animals but it is mining the metals which bring us the most profit."
"I will do what I can."
That night I spent in my hall with just Aiden for company. He had spent some time talking with Siggi and Trygg about our trading opportunities. After we had eaten he took me through some of them. "I am afraid that the Norse and the Danes, and even some Rus have begun to raid the coast of Frankia. Our old friends who lived there and traded with us now close their ports to all knarr and dragon ships."
I had hoped we could have used them. It would have made a good start to our trading. "So we go further afield?"
"From what I have learned some of the lands to the south west of the Frankish Empire have rebelled. There is a Duke of Vasconia called Seguin Lupo who sounds as though he might trade."
I nodded and then a thought struck me. "Where have I heard Lupo before? Do I know him?"
Aiden smiled, "His name, Lupo, it comes from the Latin, Lupus… it means wolf!"
! Then it is decided. We will try to trade with this Lupo!"
"And if that fails then we can try some trades with Asturias."
"Is that not a Muslim caliphate?"
"It is but Siggi thinks that they might trade with us for we are not Franks."
We left just after dawn for the ride to my son's home. I did not see him as much as I wished for I felt like an intruder. His wife, Elfrida, welcomed me with open arms and much affection. Not so my wayward son. To be fair to him he had made a fine job of using the old Roman fort as his hall. He would be able to defend it from enemies. The Danes were increasingly occupying the lands to the east and the south. In places the local eorls paid tribute to them and not to the King of Northumberland who now ruled a small kingdom north of the old wall. We had not been bothered by Northumbrian Saxons for some time. It was now the Danes who were the danger here and not the Saxons.
I sighed when my son frowned as we dismounted. He could not even put on a friendly face for me. It was sad for it contrasted even more with the effusive Elfrida. "Father! How lovely to see you! You should have warned us. Tell me that you will stay the night!"
"That may not be possible." I glanced at Wolf Killer.
"Arturus, insist that you father stays!"
"If he has to return…" That decided me. I would return this night.
She shook her head and led me by the arm into the hall. "How is my grandson, Ragnar?"
"Loud and always hungry!" She kissed me on the cheek. "You will eat with us at least. I will see to the food." She leaned in and said quietly, "Your son will return to you, Jarl. I believe it in my heart."
"I hope so."
Wolf Killer and Aiden entered, "Well, Jarl, what brings you here?" He gestured for me to sit. His words told me I was his jarl and not his father.
"I take my drekar and three knarr; we go A-Viking. We go to trade and, perhaps, to raid. I will need you and your warriors to keep an eye on my people."
"They have Kara. Why do they need me?"
I was becoming impatient, "Because I ask you and there was a time when they were your people too or is the help just in one direction? Do we just come to aid you?"
I realised I had been shouting when Elfrida came back in and my son coloured. He waved her away. "You are right, Jarl… Forgive me." I leaned back in the chair to calm down. "I must be honest I need to take a drekar raiding myself. Many of my young men become restless."
"Then when we return why do you not escort the knarr and raid then?"
"I would like the freedom of being a raider."
I shrugged, "I can understand that. Well, when we return I will have Aiden make charts for you and we will tell you of the places where you might find success."
"Good. And how long will you be away?"
"That is like asking how deep the ocean is. It depends upon the trades, the tides, the winds, the Gods, the Norns but if all goes well we will just be away for half a year. I too have restless young men. This might assuage their hunger for adventure."
We left on slightly better terms but I left a piece of my heart in his hall. How did you lose a son? What had I done wrong, which caused this chasm?
Aiden, of course, read my mind. "It is not you, Jarl. He bites and snaps but it is Kara who has hardened his heart."
"And you are saying he may never come around."
"I am." It was what I expected from Aiden, honesty.
Our meal with my son and his family meant we did not get home until well past dark and we both retired; Aiden to pore over manuscripts and me to stare at the moon and wonder why my wife did not speak to my mind.
The next day we had our ponies packed with all that we would need for our voyage. My seax and Ragnar's Spirit had been kept sharp but unused. The larger blue stone sat proudly in the pommel of my sword while the smaller one resided in the top of my seax. My wolf cloak I wore but not my mail. I had no need in my land. My shield and helmet, along with my spear rested on my spare pony.
The crew were gathered. My Ulfheonar had chosen twenty one young men. I smiled when I saw the ship's boy who stood next to Haaken. "Cnut Cnutson! Does your mother approve?"
Cnut's red eyed wife nodded, "Aye, Jarl. I cannot keep Cnut's son at home and Haaken One Eye has promised to watch over him."