“- and if you only opened your heart to the love of my God, and his son, Jesus -.” He got no further.
“I follow the God of my own choice and he is Tyr, my god of Justice. My justice is by my sword!” and the monk was dead before he hit the ground. “Squab!” he shouted.
An underweight, scruffy, middle-aged man bowed before his master but winced at the sight of his one time brother in God. “See him to the bog. I can just see him trying to turn Odin to his God! Hah! Hurry man, he bleeds on my grass!” The Thrall lugged away the body “Wait!” Siward pulled free his waist knife and prised free two rubies from the bible at his feet. “Here! See it with him. I would not like it said that I denied him his book of belief in his death!” and he went into his hut. As he passed the window the sight of his Thrall piteously making a meal of lugging his ex-friend ever onwards had him watch. He threw the wattle shutter further open. “And if that muttering is your damned prayers you shall receive fifty lashes or join him in the bog, your choice!”
“My Jarl, Siward!” fawned his steward, Blafot.
“Get on with it, Blafot!”
“A visitor without -”
Damn all visitors! You told me that Monk wanted to see me and he ended boring me!” The heavy tone advised care and Blafot was aware of this. He had spent years ensuring the smile was glued to his face. “Well, who is it now?”
“Radnōr, the Swede.”
Siward rose from his bench, “Why did you not say that first?” he thundered. “Have him in!” He greeted his friend with relief! “I had suffered fools before your arrival, Radnōr. Forgive my anger!”
“And there was me thinking you had lost your wits!” he laughed, “I bring you nothing much except adventure.”
Siward saw him sat in comfort. “Ah, but I have suffered so many monks I may berserk!”
“It would do all a favour! To business, my friend! I and forty others take a Knarr to the Kingdom of Lothar, well the shores at any rate, then to Breton and back via Jorvik: maybe a clash or two along the way to ease the monotony?” He wheedled. The blade work of Siward of Ribe was legendary. Such a suggestion had urged Siward to such adventures before. “Here you are sat in this village like an old crone or you go around aiding so many others at their Things! Who aids you? None save Radnōr the Swede!”
“What you say is true! Where is the ale?” Thrall!” the loud demand had two slaves appear together. “Where is Squab?”
“Dead, he had a knife in his throat, master!” bowed one.
“See he is in the bog with his friend. You! Get us ale; the good stuff!”
Radnōr said nothing until they were once more alone. “There are two matters in no particular order. You need to keep Skull-crusher in good order condition. A blade needs blood not an oiling whenever the mood takes you! Secondly, Othar of Jorvik wishes to see you!”
“What? I thought we had agreed to part on good terms for fear of gutting the other!”
“Whatever, he sent me this!” and he handed over a folded vellum sheet. Siward read:
“If you can get him, bring Siward, maybe ten years has calmed him down. His reputation goes before him and we could do with him in Jorvik. Tell him not to mind the minks. In Jorvik they mind their own business or we slaughter them!”
Siward laughed. “Has it really been ten years?”
“He taught the three of us, remember? All we ever knew!” he noticed a steely look pass through his friends eyes. “Forgive me; the mourning of your twin must still be painful!”
“It fades faster than I wish!” and that was very much that. “So, who else throws in their lot?”
Radnōr knew that drip feeding information always had him success where others failed. “There are six Knarrs in all. Frjdtjolf goes for the amber, gold and furs and the others because one Knarr holds 200 men!”
“Dear Gods! And there I was thinking it was a jolly adventure. This is Raiding by any name!”
“Aye!” he grinned. “Think of the wealth!” He was nearly salivating. “Six months until the next Thing. Gods aid us: you will run full mad before then!”
“You know me very well! You intend to make me go!”
“Come Siward! How long has it been since you and I used a blade to get gold?”
“And Othar expects me to survive to reach Jorvik?”
“No sarcasm, my friend! We are not fools and all go to wiser than before; in your case along with great respect. Say yes, and come and feel some excitement.”
“I say this: if the Seer gives a good report I shall come!”
“And if not?” he asked over his ale mug.
“Then Othar must come to me!”
Liot cast the rune covered sticks onto the deer skin. “Good Jarl much bothers you regarding a matter you keep hidden. It does not help me see clearly!” he complained.
“That I can not help; what lies ahead for me?”
“So you look to travel, a raid, and expect me to advise you!” he stated bluntly, not taking his eyes of the sticks. He idly threw two to one side. “I see you shall not leave until I am heard out – in full!”
“True Liot!” he laughed, “you are too experienced a Seer for me to be angry at your honesty. Yet, I would care to plan well for this trip. What can you see for me?”
Liot picked up a stick that only bore a few runes. “Over prepare!”
“Prepare for now or later?”
“Later of course, I know you well. See here –.”He pointed to a rune. “Distrust a friend and trust a friend you distrust.”
“That is what the runes say! Be dismissive, good Jarl, and the Runes shall pay you back!”
“I am chastened and apologise!” He dropped two silver coins into the payment bowl.
“Aye, just like Rollo! Now -.” He continued: fortunate as Siward’s hand had fallen onto his blade hilt. “See here: rough seas.” Siward only saw Eihwaz. “A bow: a yew bow, now that has some significance! The Yew holds the mystery of life and death. Wisdom: Patience: Death and Renewing: Doing the right thing. You have sights on a reasonable target which you can get, Siward of Ribe. You know this! You can turn any situation to your advantage. There is a link here to the past. Something close can be successfully resolved.” He paused. You keep the Eihwaz amulet close to you still?” he watched a Siward removed it from under his jerkin. “Still on the leather I gave you, I see!” He looked closely at the rune stick. “Jera: Someone looks to repay your talents and I see their relief: legal matters; ever thus, eh, Siward?” he glanced briefly up and returned his attention back to the sticks. “Beware Nauthiz: hardships – not good but you can make certain others fare worse. There are those who will test your patience, if they have not done so already. Be honest good Jarl and more so be honest with yourself. Once you are upon your path stick to it. Luck waits along it.
Gebo: Hospitality and generosity await you with warmth you do not expect.
Wunjo: Glory, Siward
Sowelo follows: A woman: your honour: the reaching of your goal.
Ah, ever so! Tiwaz: Stability: order: organisation. That has been your way since a small lad. Commitment once made is binding, Siward, remember that!
Othila: Why Othila now? See, it is reversed! Why does inheritance bother you, Jarl?” His voice fell to a mutter as he looked at the runes, as if he was intent on what only he could see. “It is long gone. Done! Wear blue! Light or dark!” he announced suddenly.
“Beware the hanged man Siward. You may have not hung him but he can do you damage yet! Keep Yew wood by you; even it is a bow on your shoulder. They fear Yew. It causes them distress.”
“Who are ‘they’?”
“You will know! Yew protects you.”
“So I should go then?”
“Do not rush, good Siward! There is much I see and I need to understand it before I utter anything that may alter your fate badly! I would not wish that on you, so sit on this stool whilst I read!” he flicked away the rune stick as if it meant nothing. He looked up and considered Siward carefully. “I have always thought of you as a friend despite our different lifestyles. You appear to want me silenced. Why, because Rollo was thought, in error, to be the youngest twin? Why did you let him know; it had not bothered him? Ah, Siward, I know many secrets of many men. I keep them so well I lose them in my mind: and still you think me shallow enough to tell all I know!
You are a good Jarl and a wise man. This you could not have been had Rollo taken his true place. It would have meant misery and poverty and that was only to himself.
Odin has seen all this from Lydskelf: if he has not had you punished there could not have been much wrong done!” He reached across to take up a stick and fell back as though burnt.
“Siward of Ribe, Jarl of Ribe, Thing Advisor – go to Groix, land and you shall die from burning! Stay upon the water and you shall find the gold you search for.
You may find yourself in Jorvik faster than you thought. Know who your friends are. I have already warned you of this! Learn this lesson fast or your blade shall not help you even with your skill.
But – Jorvik, Siward! Refuse to enter Jorvik! Stay without! It will save your life whilst others lose theirs. And there is a dog. A black dog: a Grim!”
“I never did like dogs!”
“No!” he replied slowly, “The runes tell me that, they say he died slowly. Whatever that means the sticks say you understand?” Siward’s face told him nothing. “This black dog looks like a deerhound with a scar across its muzzle. Do not remain alone with it. Othar does not own this dog but he knows who does and this man you must see dead.
If you must face Othar do not do so in Jorvik. The fact that you are reaching Jorvik earlier than expected shall offer you a few days grace. Just remember NOT TO STAY IN THE CITY!” he let out a long breath of pain. “Oh, the anger, Siward: the longing to see you dead! It was too much for me!” He leant back against the post. “Too much!” he muttered as Siward looked on wondering whether to interrupt in case the man had lost his wits after all these years. Liot closed his eyes and seemed to be almost asleep. The sudden opening of his eyes surprised even a brave man like Siward. The Seer’s voice was misty, vacant. “Three sticks: three Norns. Choose a stick!”
Siward bent down and touched the middle stick without hesitation. With his own voice, Liot commanded offhandedly, “Now that was a big mistake!”
“So you are coming then?” Radnōr asked
“You must be aboard my Knarr! It will be like old times!”
“Aye, it shall? Well?” He laughed at Radnōr’s blank look. “The date? When do I have to be ready?”
“Expect my Knarr one month from today! We look to join the fleet as they turn to pass lower Norway. Oh, and bring a large sack for the gold!”
They parted amicably and Jarl returned home thoughtfully, greeting the Chieftain and the wealthier villagers as he went. Liot’s statement on the middle stick was causing the deep thought.
“Ebbe still loves you!” Liot had said
“Too late, too long ago and for a forceful woman she let her father choose badly!”
“But that does not mean she has stopped caring for you. You know Ebbe is in Jorvik?” No, he had not. “She does not love care, or want him, Siward. Your fate will lie in your justice and your justice shall decide your fate. Recall what I have said. You did not hang him but he can damage you. He can damage you because of Ebbe!” He swept up the rune sticks.
“What of the other sticks?”
“What of them? They were not chosen.”
“What did they say?”
Liot smiled. “No.”
“No! You chose the middle stick without hesitation. Had you dithered I may have compared the two but you did not. You chose your fate awaiting you, Siward. Take whatever comes as a boon!”
“You know what comes? You are infuriating! Why will you not tell me?”
“Because if I did tell you would stay at home and take up the loom!” His voice held gentle sarcasm. “What would you have needed go for? Fate is cruel but allows a chance, the chance to reach the fate by whatever means or manner we choose.”
“Yet the fate remains the same.”
“And I should accept whatever comes as a boon?”
Siward dropped a gold coin into the bowl. “A fair reading so I shall undertake this journey.
“I always knew you would!” admitted Liot shaking the skin free of dust.
“I shall have all safe for your return, my Jarl!” Blafot fawned.
“You had better! Ensure the slaves do not inflict anyone with their religion” He gave his steward a long look, “I trust you have not succumbed?”
“My Jarl!” he sounded deeply offended. “Worship a man from a far land who merely hung on a wooden cross and then died when I know Odin hung from the World Ash Tree over the bottomless abyss, for nine days and nights and survived to rule us wisely?”
“I expect to return and still find you in this true thought! You have packed all the clothes as I demanded?”
“I still think grey tunics suit you best! You are more of a target in blue!”
“Your opinion on my dress sense is not appreciated, Blafot! Have you also packed my boiled leather jerkin?”
“And had your shield repainted. They shall know you are coming, my Jarl!”
“Good!” He locked the box. 2You have enough coin to see all managed until my return. See it suffices.”
“My Jarl!” he bowed.
“And I would like to see some left!”
“Be ensured that I shall see it is so, my Jarl.” And no doubt have to cut down on some of the comforts usually available when the Jarl was home. “I shall go and see if the Knarr has been sighted.”
Siward itched to leave but wanted to stay. He was by no means a coward, but the comfort of home meant a lot to him whilst he began to feel weary of making other’s decisions for them. But, he considered, this was his meat and ale! Who would he be if he sat at home all day nothing but a rich titled man? Radnōr had been right. This trip south was needed. No, welcomed. A few clashes of blades and glitter of gold and he would feel like a new man. The Knarr announced Siward set off to meet the boat with a Thrall following who carried the chest on his back.
It was a large Knarr that was coming along side the jetty but not as large as the one that sat out in the bay, keeping it company.
“Come aboard!” called Radnōr waving like a lunatic. His face lost the laughter. “Gods – is that slave so weak?” he asked as the slave managed to drop the chest. Two nearby fishermen picked up the box and had it ashore in moments. Bowing, they returned to their fishing rods. Siward sent the slave such a punch that he was sprawled upon the wooden jetty making a wood joist creak. Siward stepped onto the boat and was shown to a sheltered spot which also was his rowing position and was in the process of securing his shield to the side of the boat as a further wave board when there the jetty lost two planks and sent the hapless slave into the sea. “See the repair cost to me Siward! This has sent me off in a happy heart! He settled onto the chest “Ah Radnōr, always my rowing companion!”
“Aye, we must always row side by side, it is a tradition for a good haul!”
“I am a Jarl now!” the tone was a touch stuffy.
“So? Can Jarl’s not row then? Besides you need to keep your arm muscles strong!”
“Weak excuse!” he laughed. “So, when do we hit the high waves?”
“What do you know, worthy Jarl Siward?” called down the Staerbord man with a grin.
“He has an excellent Seer!” laughed Radnōr.
“Jarls can also speak up for themselves!” Siward’s tone held sharpness.
“Well, we do not need to row just yet what with this wind and I shall wager anything you like that you will be singing along before the day is out! Dorestad is our first stop.”
“You really are looking forward to this aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am!” He opened his mouth to sing as a large heaving wave slopped water over the shields and straight into Radnōr’s open mouth. Everyone laughed except for Radnōr who choked and coughed.
“I will not be singing yet if it is all the same to you!” laughed Siward as he huddled into his cape and gazed up at the mast. Above the great grey sail flew a flag bearing the picture of a wolf’s head. “That is our battle banner I take it?”
“Aye, good Jarl,” replied the Staerbord man as Radnōr still spluttered. “So that we know where we are in the middle of a scrum.” He must have received a silent order for he shifted the course and they were soon joining the larger Knarr. “Guttorm still demands it in battle. I say everyone for them-selves; it gets them back to the right ship, but no, not Guttorm.”
“Guttorm is the raid leader? Radnōr, you did not say anything about Guttorm!”
The sharp comment from his friend had him wince, but he had known Siward for many years and his friend’s manners now clearly reflected his high status; he coughed up the last of the water and brushed down the front of his cloak. “Guttorm has put up most of the money and hired most of these ships Did I truly not tell you?” He asked innocently.
“No, you did not! Does he know I join you?”
“And he said what?”
“He was pleased. And before you ask he said he is glad you did not marry his sister. Baugheid has turned into a shrew which, by the by, is why her husband Stenkill is with us!” he laughed. “Guttorm claims you had a very lucky escape!”
“Really: so, Stenkill also joins us! That, my friend, is very interesting!”
“In what way?” he asked puzzled. Since Siward had taken over the Jarl from his father he had changed though he, himself, claimed otherwise: he saw danger in all manner of men.
“Stenkill, Radnōr, is Guttorm’s man because he thinks he can worm money from him. He is wrong. Guttorm uses Stenkill to do his dirty work. If Guttorm’s blade has seen blood then Stenkill was carrying it!
I did not marry Baugheid because Guttorm found he could not control me. He disliked that and so has ensured that his and my paths do not cross. If he now seems pleased at my return – then I am rightly suspicious!”
“Oh come on, Siward-.”
“No! My enemies are enemies and stay so, Radnōr. It has been so since I care to remember and it shall remain so!”
“Well, he is on the boat with the eagle flag, they will not bother us!”
“Yet they know you are on this boat and you will have urged me on here too: under the sign of the wolf. On a confused battle field -.”
“Not so!” Radnōr protested, They want money and gold, not your hide! Now, stop fretting! See! The food is coming round! Oh-!” and he spent the whole eating time throwing up over the side.
The wind was with them and the journey itself was pleasant. Hugging close to the land the tide sent them past Fresia’s many islands at some speed. For Siward this part of the journey was fruitful as some men knew of him and asked for clarification of legal matters before a Thing was due. Siward obliged and went well paid for his words.
Radnōr’s stomach appeared to settle for he began to swallow his ale and meat with more relish. He sat and watched in fascination as Siward explained more than once all the complaints and legal matters. Yet to Siward this was everyday matters and simply dealt with. It was only when he saw the interest of Law cross his friends face that Radnōr knew Siward was in his true element. No matter how tired of the notoriety and the demand for his law skills Siward claimed to be, it was all-binding. He would never stop it. These raiding parties would slip by the wayside of life and Radnōr knew he would dearly miss his friend.
A flag was raised on Guttorm’s Knarr. Dorestad had been sighted. In the other boats swords shield and axes were added to battle dress. They were held off aided by a friendly wind and tide until night when they rode up the shingle onto the beach. Then they began the march inland to Dorestad. There was a bitter silence. No weapons hit the other, no shield crashed into another. Dawn began to lighten the skies and Dorestad sat silhouetted against the brightening sky. When they reached the stockade a low throaty rumble turned into yells and blades thrashed against shields in threat.
The men left the stockade amidst horns blowing and the usual harrying that urged all out to fight for their village.
“Thor watch-out for you!” called Radnōr as the first swords began to clash.
“Likewise!” replied Siward, lowering his beautifully etched helmet with the eye protectors. He began to apply him-self to those who faced him. After some two or three men he found he was facing a young lad. He turned the attacking blade with ease. “Go home lad!”
“I am a man! I am eighteen!” he took a two handed grip on the pommel.
“You look twelve!” and he sent the Friesian lad’s sword was sent to the ground and the lad began to cry. “Pick it up! Come with me!”
“What – . What!”
“Come with me!” They were soon on the edge of the yelling and screaming. “Your swordplay is a disgrace! You need some fast learning!” The lad looked as if he were dreaming or at least frightened to wake up. “Now for your grip: that blade is too heavy for you!” continued Siward.
“It is my grandfather’s.” he said with pride.
“Not good for you though. What has your father taught you? Where is he?” The lad indicated the blades and shields. “There is always hope!” he said almost blandly. “Grip, just there! Good! Now, swing it back and forth. Can you feel the weight moving its position?”
“Aye!” he watched as a man rushed up behind the oddly friendly Viking raider, sword raised above his head.
Siward raised his own blade to counter the blow and sliced into the man’s head. “Always use reflection in sword, shield or your opponent’s eyes, lad. A useful tip! What is your name?”
“I am Jidse of Dorestad!”
“Well Jidse, never let a man interrupt neither a lesson nor a fight. It is not at all polite behaviour upon his part. Now then, raise your blade and -.”
“You – just -.”
“I merely returned the blow he wanted to give me. Pay attention! Drop the tip of the blade! Good! Now you can force off most slashes! Let us try it!”
“Will you kill me?” he asked tears welling.
“This is a lesson. If I kill you it will be an accident – on your part!”
“You are not a normal -.”
“Thug?: probably not. I am Siward of Ribe!”
“You are the Laws man!”
“I am gratified! Now, pay attention! And for some time they practices as the battle went on beside them and, at one point, around them. Eventually Siward rested his sword. “That lad is a basic lesson. The first I ever had. Remember it; it shall save your life!”
“But – but I can not leave them to die and then return home! It would be cowardice!”
“Lad, as to looking brave, I shall give you a wound that shall not kill but shall have you look a hero. Just fall to the floor after a failed lunge. Oh! And this will hurt!” He brought the sword up and down so swiftly that Jidse felt nothing; he then fainted as the pain spread down his left arm. Siward gave a mock sad sigh and went to join the confusion that was the battle.
The sound of a horn raised its voice over the battle. Both sides fell back, some men taking up the blades and spears of the fallen. Not many Dorestad men remained.
A bloodied man stepped forward and raised a hand. “Leave us some men!” he pleaded. “We are Farmers; we have nothing you could want!”
“How much to see we go?” called a voice from amongst the raiders.
“We have sheep cattle, goats-.”
“And a church, churches have gold!”
Ah, thought a blood splattered Siward that was Guttorm all over.
“It is yours!” called the desperate man. “Just leave us be!”
Amongst the detritus of the blood field a group of forty men headed by Guttorm followed the blooded Chief into his village. Siward knelt by the lad. “Can you hear me? No, do not move. It is no more than a bad cut, trust me! No one can say you did not fight a Viking or failed your village.
Crawl back home, once darkness has fallen, with a brave tale. Now as a Viking, I plunder: what have you in that pouch? It turned out to9 be a brass coin and a lock of golden fair hair. “I shall take the brass coin and leave you the hair. Live well, Jidse” and he moved off.
The victorious mean left the village burdened with crosses and books, platters and chalices and one man even carried a cloak laden with gems and an unhealthy amount of blood. Siward spent a while searching for Radnōr, he was not amongst the dead and dying so maybe he was at the boats. Radnōr was seen by the large Knarr talking on some earnestness to Guttorm. Interesting, thought Siward, I could have sworn those two did not like each other much: not enough for that kind of a conversation at any rate. He joined them clicking his sword into its scabbard to break into the conversation.
“Siward, you are alive!” Radnōr sighed in relief.
“Guttorm of Stavanger!” Siward offered a tiny bow, hardly worth the effort.
“Jarl Siward!” he bowed lower, knowing his wealth was a nothing compared to wealth AND a title. “I was telling Radnōr here that you, of all men, would not be seen shirking a battle!” he scoffed but his eyes were hard.
Radnōr paled. “UI was asking Guttorm if it was true, that was all!” he sounded nervous.
“Well, to satisfy you both, I did not shirk battle as the blood on my sword would testify. I did however teach some Frisian lad how to use a blade before I ended him. I refuse to fight an indifferent opponent!”
“There! That would explain everything!” smiled Guttorm, his grin like a wolf, “We had a fair haul, good Jarl, but a little more would not go amiss. I think a visit to Walcheren perhaps. A hit and run. Nuns and monks there! We shall meet again at Walcheren!”
Siward waited for him to go out of earshot. “What were you doing talking to him? I thought you swore on that severed horses head as you would not waste your breath speaking to such a donkey brain again!”
“I did! But he caught me in passing. He laughed, saying as you were seen playing with a Friesian lad when you could have been killing real men!”
“I ended three, wounded more than I should have and cut down the lad – if any want to count!”
“Stenkill was found among the dead, head cleft in two!”
“Ah! My preference! They turned to their ship. “What is wrong with your leg?”
“I caught a shield to the knee as the man fell. I thought I had broken it but it keeps my weight. I shall need some cream for this bruise!”
“We leave when?”
“Once our dead have been pyred. It was part of the agreement.”
“Did we lose any from our boat?” using an ebbing wave to jump into the boat.
“Just the one, the old man, he ended three before he went to Asgard. I was told by our Staerbord man.”
“Siward sighed, “What Is our Staerbord man’s name?”
“No, ow, idea!” he let himself gently down onto his chest. “I would, ow, prefer a cut. At least I can see where it hurts!” He cautiously rubbed his knee.
The night was lit up by two great pyres on the beach. The air tinged for a while with roast pork and then the wood took over the senses.
A woman’s scream broke the men’s attention to their companions rise to Valhalla.
They all looked to where a torn and dishevelled woman wavered, blood running down her legs. “Rape, He raped me!” She fell against the gate post and sobbed.
Guttorm who had been looking for a good nights’ sleep or what was left of the night, let out a curse. “Who was it?”
She pointed behind her and fell to the ground. A drunken face peered almost comically round the gate post.
“Get here, you!” Guttorm thundered, even more angered to see the folk of Dorestad following him out. The man staggered drunkenly towards him;, clothes askew and failing to keep his leggings up around his waist. “Rape,” Guttorm sneered. “you fool!” and the blow sent the unsteady man to the ground.
“Rape is punishable by death!” called a voice which came progressively closer. “It is frowned upon! We all know this!”
“She wanted it!” the man slurred, wiping a bloody lip.
The new arrival turned to her. “Did you urge him on?”
“No! He trapped me by the church!”
“He should die!” Siward turned to Guttorm, lowering his voice. “I know he is a favourite of yours. We all know that, yet our laws state for rape he must die! It is right!”
Guttorm was related to the idiot on the ground so let out his frustration in a hefty kick. “You kill him then, Siward.”
“No, that would not be right by law. But I know someone who would do it! You, lad, stop looking as if you want to faint! Here is a Viking to end! See it done if your village agrees?” Of course they agreed. It was unanimous, what had he expected? He turned to a quaking Jidse and pushed him on, whispering, “The stab! Hate the bastard! Go on!”
For a brief moment it seemed as if the boy would fail and the drunken man grinned at his friends. His grin began to fade as he looked down. The blade was twisted and pulled free. Had he drunk less he would have felt more pain. The villagers had made good beer but he would not live to tell anyone. He was bound for freezing Hel.
“Well,” said Guttorm as Siward watched the lad return to the welcome of his village, “That stab smacked of a certain Siward of Ribe!”
“Aye, I told him how to do it, therefore I please the village and uphold Viking honour”
Guttorm nodded. “You are a just man, Jarl Siward. I honour you!”
“Thank you but I do not care for fools to blacken the name that Vikings already labour under!” he turned back to the ship. “You do not need men like that, Guttorm. Find one with sharper wits. That one did you no favours.”
Guttorm stared in amazement. No one had ever spoken so to him. He watched Siward walk off and wondered if the man was touched by the Gods. A man blessed to walk the Earth. That was a frightening thought and not one to fight against. He therefore ordered the dead man to be thrown on the pyre and that was the sign for all to return to their boats.
By dawn the bay was a distant speck and they were making their way to Walcheren. This time the weather was not with them. The wind had dropped to a merest blow and a mist was starting to gather. By the time of the fog the skills of the Staerbord men came into their own.
“Are you going to wear blue again?”
“Why do men suddenly notice my clothes?”
“You always wear greys.”
“I felt like a change, happy?”
“Aye, this fog is lifting and we are closer to Walcheren. And we may have to row!”
“A happy man!” he laughed, “How is the knee?”
Radnōr had taken to leaving off his breeches and taken to wearing a tunic that finished just below the knee. Raising the tunic an inch or two showed a knee that was black. “It hurts!” he stated simply. “Hot as Muspellheim!”
“Only you would know that!” and as Siward laughed the boat lurched.
“There is your high sea, Siward!”
“Aye, he is good is Liot!”
“What has Guttorm offered you for Dorestad?”
“Three reasonable rubies.”
“From that dead monks cloak? You were undervalued, my friend!”
“It was enough for me! What did you get?”
“I was handed two gold chalices!”
“You are right! I am undervalued!” He gave a short laugh. “I am content. Dorestad was not the most exciting battle I have ever taken part in.”
“Walcheren has been promised as a hefty haul for us all: a free for all.”
“A large church then?” asked Siward with light sarcasm.
“Just think a monastery full of monks to use our blades on and gold by the handful!”
“I saw Frjdtjolf was off fairly sharpish.”
“He won’t want to lose and men. Once loaded up he will want all men to the oars!”
It started to rain.
The monks fought with whatever they had to hand: garden hoes; bits of wood; but it was useless. The raiders had sharp metal swords, pikes and axes. No contest.
In the church Siward found himself impressed by the gold goblets and plates that he threw into the sack. He bent to retrieve a gem encrusted book when an arrow thudded into a joist just above his head causing him to use the Alter as cover. The arrow flights were buzzard feathers and Radnōr had such arrows. Well, he thought ironically, at least it was not alight! When he thought he had stayed hidden long enough he ran to the door and cautiously looked out.
The monks were dying one after the other expect for the younger ones who had run off to spread the news. The Abbott had died before the church doors and was even now speared to them a long bladed sword thrust through his stomach and on into the wood. The rain continued to fall and Siward, who preferred not to fight in pouring rain, made back for the boat. He was not the first back, for Radnōr lay sweating and moaning covered in a soaking cape.
Well, considered Siward, unless his friend was good actor he could not have sent the arrow and have got back so quickly and in such a state. He pulled the sodden cape of his friend and replaced it with a leather one that lay protecting a crate nearby. The sound of wailing had him look up, “Lars Eriksson! Are any of those monks a Healer?”
“I, sir, can dispense medicine!”
“I shall buy him from you, Lars!”
“”Aye, go on, Jarl Siward! You can have him for three gold coins!”
“Two!” He corrected, “Radnōr is ill!”
“Go on then! He is fat and will take much feeding!”
The monk made a great effort in climbing aboard and was immediately to Radnōr’s side.
“Who said I would feed him?” He flicked the coins to his fellow raider. “Tell me, Lars, why slaves? They cost so much to keep.”
“I live on my farm far from anywhere – if they die they die!”, he shrugged and tugged the monks onwards.
Siward returned to his stricken friend and whilst the monk did what he could, he rifled through Radnōr’s trunk for anything to keep him warm. As he drew aside a tunic his hand was cut by a blade unnaturally removed from the quiver.
Siward’s hand grasped the Monks as the sign of the cross was being made over the prostrate Radnōr. “No prayers, no crosses. He is a son of Odin and shall die one! If he dies you die, it is simple so do something!”
“I can not the leg is beyond help. I have some poppy juice which may aid – .” The blood began to seep heavily through his robe as he went over the side.
Siward eased a little poppy juice through Radnōr’s lips. “We can not part like this! If you should die it should be glorious and have you bound for Asgard!” He pulled free his waist knife.
Finding Groix was turning into a night-mere that had everyone at odds. Five days later found the wolf boat as all the others.
“This is the last time I ever follow Guttorm!” mumbled the Staerbord man, tugging a piece of Iolite from his cloak fold. “Damn all Ice Giants, we are far off course!” he swung the Staerbord round until they were pointing back the way they had come. One by one the others followed suit.
Four days later, short of food and fresh water they arrived at the island. One boat had fell victim to the sharp rocks and only a handful of men had been rescued from the heaving cold water. Indeed, as men jumped ashore they were landing on the floating bodies from the stricken boat. The tide brought in what remained of the boat and this was dragged ashore and used as a great pyre base.
Those in the village of Groix could make out the smoke that rose even in the damp air. The brave abbess went down to the pyre’s remains. No man touched her and Guttorm ordered Siward to speak to her as she was simply dressed and not rich enough to attract his attention. Besides, she was a woman.
He got down to the important matters immediately. “Woman, they intend to sack your church’s lands and kill any who try to stop them. I warn you now!”
“Are you a Christian?” The look on his face was his reply. “Yet I bless you for your warning! Tell them we offer them food drink and warmth and they should follow Me.” and she turned away.
“Go after her! She offered food drink and warmth. I need to see to Radnōr.”
As he passed, Guttorm half sneered. “You waste your time! He will die.” As Siward made no attempt to leave his friend, he sighed. “We will send down some food and drink for you who remain!” And soon there were only Siward and the boat watchers left on the beach. He spent much of the time bathing the knee wound with salt water for he did not trust the fresh. He was cautiously pleased when Radnōr opened his eyes.
“Have you saved me from Hel?”
“Yes.” He dabbed again where he had cut to let out the poisoned blood. At least the leg was not veined or had turned green like old Ole’s who had finally died in some agony. “I hope so!”
“Then thank you. I owe you!” He winced.
“Where are we?”
“We took seven days before our own Staerbord man took matters into his own hands.”
“What is his name?”
“I have been far too busy with you to ask him. Now, sleep. I think I have removed the bad blood but I can not be certain until we have you to a Healer in Jorvik!”
“I shall be dead by then!”
“And ruin all my guess work? Besides, drawing your blood gave me time to consider who sent one of your arrows at me when you lay on the boat half dead!”
“No!” He tried to rise and failed. “I shall sleep” he conceded and was true to his word.
Siward sat thinking for a while the fog wreathed around the boats. He finally dug into hi own chest and took out his father’s yew bow and the quiver of arrows with the eagle-wing tips. He slung it over his shoulders and hung the arrows at his waist as the fog whorled over the side of the boat.
“- raider, are you there?”
“Who is that?” his hand fell onto his sword hilt.
“I am a nun, from the Nunnery. This is for you, from my Abbess in thanks.” She threw a large lumpy bundle into the boat. “For you she has sinned. She made us lock the raiders in the hall and have set it alight. Please, go now!” she turned and her figure disappeared into the swirling fog.
Siward knew when he was a lucky man. “Can any here get us to Jorvik, even in this fog?”
“Aye, I can, good Jarl!” called a voice.
“Is that Henning?”
“It is! In my own boat too! If we all agree to leave very soon I can have us all away!”
They soon had Radnōr into the boat and all the luggage they could gather. It was positively comfortable.
“If any survive let them come after us. You, no, man! No shields! I’ve had her sail through more with no protection. Besides, I have already helped myself to some things from the other boats!” He and four others pushed the boat back into the sea and they floated out with the tide. There at the Staerbord was Knut. Siward and he grasped arms in a greeting that had all amazed but Henning. “If they survive we can say we were captured and fought to escape!”
“Good! To Jorvik then: via a place where we can get a good Healer for Radnōr!”
“To Denmark then; only a small hop to Britain!”
“Not Denmark! Not a Danish Healer! Oh Gods, I shall die!” he called weakly but in far more comfort than previously. He fell back to sleep.
They left him in Ribe under the care of a Healer of great power and after taking on fresh provisions they made for Britain and Jorvik.
“The Ouse shall take us straight into Jorvik!”
“No! Apologies, no, I need to stay out of Jorvik at least until the threat is over.”
“My sister lives in Copmanthorpe. We can drop you off in Jorvik under cover of darkness, hire us two horses and have us out. Copmanthorpe is an hours walking but once we get through Miklegate we can gallop. I know the way well enough.”
The river water slapped against the Staithes. All seemed quiet though a few boats were drawn up with drunken crew sleeping off the local brew. Henning made a swift disappearance and to take his mind from then wait, Siward packed a leather saddle bag with clothes, wealth and changed swiftly into a deep blue jerkin and a brown cloak His trusted blade he ensured sat snug on his belt. Finally after what seemed forever, Henning appeared and they made their way through the dark streets, the newly begun Minster at their backs.
The Miklegate Bar had been reached without meeting anyone and it took surprisingly little to bribe the guard to let them through so late. They put the horses into a trot until Henning said the time was right to gallop. “Knavesmire!” he said and pointed into the blackness to their left. “Horse fights!” and he laughed. But Siward could only rely on his comment. He could see nothing. They finally pulled their horses up as a palliated gate stopped them. “Holm, it is Henning, Lotte’s brother and a friend, a good friend and a trusted friend!”
“Come within then! It shall rain before dawn!”
Henning laughed, “He always says that! Come, my sister will still be up. It is not yet the mid night.”
They stopped dismounted and Siward patted his mount whilst he was announced. The door way let out a heat that reminded Siward just how cold the night was. Whilst Henning took the Horses to the back of the hut Siward was welcomed in.
“Sit, good Siward! A friend of our Henning’s is our friend also!” He was pleased to sit on anything that did not move. He handed over some meat from the boat. To have offered coin would have been considered an insult.
Henning reappeared and began the grubby lie of Siward being given house room. “He has enemies and needs to be safe away until they think him gone, Lotte.”
She passed them a shrewd look. “We can pass you off as a cousin, good Siward, it is not unusual, and we are a big family. How long so you wish to stay?”
But Henning answered. “He needs to stay until I return.”
Lotte nodded. “You had better tell Father.” She nodded towards the bed “He is awake but just as deaf as before.”
AS Henning bellowed his greetings Lotte turned back to Siward. “We are a broken family, good Siward, none of the men are married and my husband left me ten years since. What he did not know is that I took half his wealth before he left me and this we live on. No so much but there is only Father and I now. The rest, cousins and my other brother Bodvar, pass in and out throughout the year. No one asks what they do and we share the benefit. You could well find a hut full when you wake or just Father and I!” She smiled. Henning’s voice had her look over. “Henning would not take his usual crew this time round. Said it was too dangerous. I knew he would come home though, younger brothers eh?” She was clearly afraid for Henning but put on a brave and happy face as he rejoined them by the fire side.
“I shall leave at dawn. As you suggest Jarl Siward, I will put out the word that it was you I saw leaving my boat two days from now. Until then I unload what I need to and see it melted down.” He grinned “It is not much like your own home, Jarl Siward, but you will be warm and welcome.”
“I am certain.”
“What can I do to help? I have had things done for me for so long that I may have to be reminded!”
“Eat that!” and she passed him a steaming bowl of oats which had a ring of honey melting into it.
“I wish my slaves could cook this well.”
“Then I would sell one and buy a wife!” He visibly winced. “Come, Jarl! Women are little more than well cared for slaves. Even better if they produce some sons!”
This comment had Siward remember his mother. She had cautioned him upon finding a wife, not his father.
“If you like I can help in your garden?”
“Garden?” she laughed, “We have fields! Two! All the property we have left after the poor dealings with Othar of Jorvik! Ah, do not do business with that crook, Jarl Siward! To once think he even taught!” For the briefest of moments he thought she would spit.
“The very man I wish to surprise than be surprised by! He wants me dead!”
“There are few he does not!” She passed him a horn mug of ale. “He saw off all our friends who had power here in Copmanthorpe! He should either rid himself of his problems or someone should see us rid of him!” She shook her head. “Now then, this is your bed but it is only moss, not the duck down I am certain you use at home!” and she grinned just like her brother.
“I sleep on moss at home, not so many fleas.”
“And there are blankets I have made. Have a good night’s sleep- or what is left of it.”
For two days Siward helped out around the hut, repairing cross beams, replacing slats, arranging for the Smith to repair the cauldron and the cooper replace several buckets. His two days passed very quickly.
Radnōr sat up in a panic, having to think very hard whether he had dreamed or it had truly happened. “Healer!” and he poured out his demands.
“The answer was weary, “Yes, you may leave just do not put too much pressure on that leg or you will need a crutch and end begging on the streets!”
With as much urgency as he could manage, he brought himself a seat on a trading boat heading for Jorvik Staithes that very noon tide. There he spotted the Seal being loaded up and he hailed Frjdtjolf. “Have you seen Siward?”
“You look for him too? Very elusive is our Siward! I wonder how he has not yet been found, Jorvik is not that large!”
“Why does he need him so urgently?”
“It seems he expected him but Siward has vanished.”
“Radnōr laughed. “That is because he does not look for a man in blue!”, he waved a fare well and not until Lendal steps did he realise he should have kept his mouth shut. “Agh, Henning, where are you?”
He spun round so fast his knee objected and he all but fell into Henning’s arms. “Oh Gods, I have told Frjdtjolf about Siward wearing blue! Siward only wore blue because-.”
“Enough! I have done what I needed to do. You are coming with me to my sister’s – that is, if you are a friend of Siward’s and out to help Othar?”
“I do not deserve to be his friend! We must warn him! I love Siward like a brother!”
“Come then, there will be horses!”
“I can ride!” he stated sarcastically.
“I mean because of your leg!” and he sighed heavily.
Copmanthorpe thought Radnōr, was well below Siward. Yet he was very surprised to find the Jarl up a ladder hammering in some nails.
Siward descended. “So it is true! You do live!” and he accepted the hug. “What is the matter?”
“I told Frjdtjolf that you were wearing blue. It will be all over Jorvik!”
“But I am not there yet and am I not now wearing brown? Gods, love, get a drink down him Henning! I will finish this and then we can talk!” The door closed on a bellowed “not another one!” He smiled but the smile was not a kind one and the nails suffered his bitterness. He found Radnōr rubbing his knee with a salve from Lotte whilst she chided him. “There Lotte, all done. No more rain inside!”
“Oh Siward!” this made Henning cast a swift look between his sister and the Jarl. “I could have waited for Bodvar!”
“I could have done it!” Henning stated baldly.
“When, you will not climb your mast let alone a ladder!” and she giggled.
“Enough, please! What have I done Siward?” He put his face into his hands.
“You have told them little more than I am in Jorvik.”
“But they know I am here too!”
“What of it?”
“They have lured you here and used me to do it!”
“And this has just occurred to you?” he asked trying not to laugh.
“Yes! They knew I would urge you to the trip and I would persuade you to do whatever was wanted.”
“I see it this way, you can whine on forever or you can shut up and see my back covered!”
“I would die for you!”
“I am touched but prefer you alive. What do you have for me Henning?”
“Othar begins to think you have been floated down the Ouse. He offers a good reward for the return of your body.”
Siward thought for some time “Henning, I –.” he caught Radnōr’s expression, “-we need to enter Jorvik under the cover of darkness!” he had grinned that particular grin before.
It was commonly accepted that Jorvik rarely slept. Boats arrived at dusk and were unloaded until empty. There was always someone walking through the maze of streets but few in the wealthy district of Hungate. Henning pointed to a building that may well have originated in the Roman style but had reverted back to the British. Henning moved back into the shadows.
Radnōr did what he did best and that was pick locks. They were in without a warning light being lit.
“Why the bow?” he whispered.
“I want to!” was hissed back. “In here!”
They were out of the wattle windows as the whale oil ignited with a great gasp.
“Did we need to do that?” he asked as they made for Henning and the horses.
“Call it a warning. He will know it was me.”
“Do you remember that last summer before we drove him to Jorvik? I set fire to his hut.”
“It was an accident your father said.”
“That was exactly what I wanted Othar to think too!”
Radnōr could only stare astounded at his friend.
Othar had the lad pushed forward. “Well, message!”
“Siward of Ribe asks you to meet him but not in Jorvik! He wishes to meet you on common ground. He intends to meet you in Copmanthorpe. It is a -.”
“I know what it is! He snapped. “And I know where it is!” As to the burning of my hut – maybe the death of Siward shall be just as strange!”
The lad ran for his life, using a boat sail as cover as two men, lately seen standing by Othar’s side, peered into every boat they passed.
“Sit down or you will do that leg another injury!”
Radnōr stopped before his friend. “Do you so hate him that you want him dead?”
“He hates me more.”
“I know we wound him up tight as a belt -.”
“But I tied it tighter. I saw him for what he was,” he continued rubbing the sword stone along the sword edge making a pleasant hissing noise. “Scheming; twisted; an evil bastard; lacking taste; discretion and having only a love for coin, anyone’s coin!
I caught Othar robbing your excellent father and promised to get even one day. That Radnōr was what sent him running.”
“Father would never tell me anything other than Othar was a good teacher.” He sat in sadness. “He must have taken a lot of coin or my father would never have had to go on raids to make it up. A man of his age should never have gone. It is a young man’s work.” He sunk into unhappy memories.
“Your father was an excellent fight and I learnt more from him than I did from my own. I got nothing from Othar! Remember how our father’s met, on a raid?”
Radnōr had to smile. “He said that your father spoke like a country boy!”
“And mine said yours spoke like a hay seed!” He knew I would be safe when I stayed with you or you with me. Remember?”
“You always could make me smile about father!”
“He was a good man!”
He looked his friend in the eye. “Your father saw mine comfortable didn’t he, when he could no longer raid-.”
“Siward nodded. “Just once.”
“I can not repay that!”
“He wouldn’t have wanted you to. Come Radnōr, you were loved and doted on by two fine men!”
“It is right what they say about you.”
“Are you going to embarrass me?” he asked suspiciously, “What do they say?”
“You are Gods blessed.”
“No one is Gods blessed. To be so is impossible. The Gods would not waste their power.”
“Well that is what they say.”
“And what do you say?”
“That I was a better brother to you than Rollo!” he grinned.
Siward grinned, “You were and are. “He re-sheathed the blade. It made a low hiss as it settled into the silver scabbard. “Enough of this: would you trust Henning?”
“Yes. You have reason to think he plays us false?”
“I wonder, he gives me some very odd looks! And Radnōr laughed, “And what is funny?”
“He begins to wonder what goes on between you and his sister Lotte that is all!”
“How I -: Lotte and I are friends. It is possible to be friends with a woman.”
“You innocent lad, to see your face: even I have noticed the way you two look and behave to each other”
“I chose not to marry. I loved and lost Ebbe. There can be no other.”
Radnōr lost his smile, “Yet Liot says Ebbe is dangerous.”
“I am past Ebbe!”
“No, you are not! You get that ‘lost in thought’ look whenever any one mentions the name. She wanted to rule you house, home and purse, Siward. You would have been miserable, relieved to go raiding whilst she waited at home hoping you would not return so all that was yours was hers!”
“You look relieved to get that off your chest.”
“It was not only me who saw it. Love does make you blind it is true! Do not look at me as if you wish me dead! I’d be dead but the rest of the world would still see it!”
“I meant no such thing as killing you! You really were a better brother to me than my own!” He sighed, “I know she was a headstrong lass, that is what attracted me, but Othar had other ideas.”
“He wanted a son in law he could manipulate and you did not fit his requirements.”
“I still love her but in my memory, locked away ion a place I rarely go. Come,” he said, drawing himself together, “time to settle some scores.”
“I never knew what had Othar hate you so and I refer to just before you set burnt his hut down!”
“You do not want to know and it is best you do not. Watch my back and I will love you for it!”
“I would watch your back even if you did not love me!”
Siward clapped his friend on the shoulder. “Know that I only thought of you with suspicion when a buzzard wing-tip flight caused an arrow to miss me by not very much.”
“What, by Loki! I have not used Buzzard tips for flights since Liot told me buzzards protected me. I kill one I kill a friend. Buzzards protect my soul. I changed to goose feathers.”
“That is very interesting.”
“No, you have lost me again. You go down some very winding paths, do you know that?”
“Some times!” he said, putting the long bow across his shoulders and securing the quiver “to right a wrong you must go far out of your way. One day I may tell you why.”
Radnōr buckled on his sword and thought how truly exasperating his friend could be.
Henning pointed out the tree, “There, the biggest tree in the forest, rumoured to be the one Odin hung from.”
“Good. Go home, Henning, Lotte worries.”
“You are certain there is nothing between you both?” he asked cautiously.
“Why should that worry you?” he laughed. “No, I promise no, I swear, that she and I are good friends and no more.
“Good!” but he did not look that certain. His sister had warmed rather too quickly to the Jarl. He retraced his footsteps home but on the edge of the forest stopped.
Radnōr stood hidden a little way from Siward, his own bow already half strung, awaiting his target.
Siward stood elegantly against the tree. He could hear the dog coming, bounding through the scrubby undergrowth. It ran into the clearing, the sunshine falling onto the scar across it’s muzzle.. It sniffed the air and began to growl, each deeper growl accompanied by white teeth in ever growing numbers. With a surge it loped towards Siward but an arrow lodged in its head causing it to fall to the floor like a stone.
Othar entered the glade to find the dog hanging, turning gently as if on a spit. The three men with him spat and one cried. As one man they drew their swords.
“You need three men to kill me?” asked Siward appearing from behind a tree.
“No, these are for my own protection, it is a rough area. Why did you set fire to my home?”
“I did not and that is a very nasty burn you have. Your beard is full gone!”
“Never mind my burn! Of course the fire was caused by you, just as it was before.”
“I know the hatred you have for me, Othar. Is that why you forbade Ebbe to marry me?”
“Enough; kill him!” he went to stand well away from any blood.
Siward let go the arrow from his bow into the neck of the sobbing man, threw down the bow and drew his sword. “I may be a rich man but I will sell myself dearly!”
“Not alone!” said Henning standing by him.
The swords clashed and Siward and friends were far better fighters as they made fewer mistakes. Siward and Henning finally lowered their swords as a swish of arrow had Othar, knife falling from his hand, pinned to the Ash tree by the shoulders of his jerkin. Amazingly there was no blood.
“Radnōr!” yelled Othar incensed beyond any embarrassment at his present state, “I know that skill anywhere. Get out here now!”
“What will you do with him?” Radnōr asked as he appeared, brushing leaves off his sleeve.
“Liot told me, though not the name. We shall hang him!”
“That’ll please Ebbe, she’ll get his money!”
“You too?” Siward asked astounded.
“Common knowledge; she was here a week and all Jorvik knew what she preferred!”
Siward took the rope and made it into a noose whilst Radnōr held the struggling man. The noose was dropped around Othar’s neck and immediately Radnōr and Henning pulled him off the ground. They left him only after he had stopped gurgling, his eyes appeared to pop from his face and his skin had turned an odd blue. He and the dog were and odd pair.
There followed much housework as they cleared away anything incriminating including the arrow from the dog’s head. Goose feather flights were common use but Siward had argued for as few links to the ending of Othar as possible. The men on the ground were placed as though they had fallen out with each other.
A sudden crashing of bushes had them follow.
“Ebbe!” and Siward had to steady him-self against a tree as he watched her run into a hut and slam the door behind her.
“What will you do?” asked Radnōr.
“Ebbe has always been dangerous!” stated Henning. If anyone shall bring you down, good Jarl, it will be Ebbe!
And now she will think up her revenge. The Gods aid you!”
The young lad hammered on the door. “Ebbe of Jorvik, a message for you!”
A slave woman opened the door wide eyed and pale. She took the note with a shaking hand. “Tell who ever sent this she is as bitter as winter!”
Being a dutiful lad, he reported it back word for word.
“How dare he? I demand his life, he killed my father! He shall die! I shall send men to drag him back here in rags!”
“Madam, he is a Jarl!” dared the slave.
“So?” Her anger had made her temporarily forget. She spat into the fire. “Meet him? He knows me too well to understand I would never fall for that! He killed his brother you know to get the Jarl. B*stard! Let him hide away in that pestilent slum, Copmanthorpe! I shall see him and it burn! It is my right!” she re-read the runes just as slowly as before. Her slave had read it out faster. When this is over, she thought, she would get a tutor and read easier. It was important for business.
“If you wish him dead, madam, you must go through the Thing, by law. And we know that Jarl Siward advises Things in the North lands. You would never win.”
“You are so wise, Ingrid!”, the tome was unpleasantly vicious.
“I was not always a slave, madam.”
“You were never a nun?” she scoffed.
“No! Freja’s love! I was the daughter of a rich man. I was taken during a raid on our fjord-side village.”
“He never tried to get you back then?” her tone was nasty. “Perhaps I can get him to pay for your release!”
“I doubt it very much as your father slaughtered mine!” she replied flatly.
Then you shall have to die, considered Ebbe, but there is so much to do and you must do it. I have better things to do.
Lotte opened the door, “Something from Ebbe.” She called into the dimness of the hut. “Come in, it is a cruel night!”
“Madam!” she acknowledged.
“I am no madam!” commented Lotte. standing aside to let her in. “But come in.”
“Love of Freja!” stated Radnōr, standing. “Ingrid Svensdottir! Why the Hels are you dressed like that? Lotte, see her settled. This is a woman of standing! Siward, this is one of Sven of Watterfjord’s daughters. Our father’s raided together though hers preferred trading?”
“I recall!” and he bowed.
“I am a slave, good Jarl, made to do her work: a note.” and she passed it over.
Siward read at speed. “So, it is to be taken to the Thing! – is she mad?” he asked cautiously.
“Aye.” And she thanked Lotte generously for the warm ale, cupping the wooden mug in her hands. “She has been mad for some time, even her father queried it. However, good Jarl, the whole of Jorvik has heard of you and such is your renown that few will follow Ebbe. I fear she will try to kill you and destroy Copmanthorpe, if she can, before the Thing. However, those who do follow her are not nice!”
“We can prepare Copmanthorpe. The village will not stand for another confrontation with Othar or his daughter.” He wrote a reply. “Here, take this back. She seems to forget how soon the York Thing will be held. Once handed over, run back here as soon as you can. Whatever happens, see to your self firstly.”
Lotte would not let her go until she had eaten a good meal and she fussed until the woman was seen out of the village.
“You are smiling!” teased Radnōr.
“I am not!”
“Shut up!” but he was still grinning.
The raiders who underestimated Copmanthorpe were driven off in short order. The Chief shook Siward’s arm. “We could not have reacted so swiftly without your good advice, Jarl Siward. You are truly Gods blessed!”
“But I am not!”
“Your modesty is a great gift!”
Siward gave an exasperated sigh.
The Thing seemed to swell by the minute.
“You!” spat a cat like voice, “should not greet the Thing master! You are a guilty party!”
“I know this man well! And you should not talk to me!” and he turned his back on her.
“A sorry matter but you see it out as is right.” He gazed at the spiteful face of Ebbe, “none like her, good Siward -.”
“I have heard of her reputation!” he replied shortly.
“I am sorry for it! We shall call you soon!” and he made for his scribes.
The gathering contained Radnōr, Lotte, Henning and to be honest, all of Copmanthorpe that mattered, thought Siward. They were all wearing their best clothes and there, beside Radnōr, stood a fine dressed woman who Siward finally recognised as Ingrid Svensdottir. I have support, he thought. How useful!
“The Thing calls Ebbe of Jorvik against Jarl Siward of Ribe!” and they were positioned side by side before the Thing Master.
The Master was clearly trying to be neutral whenever he looked at Ebbe. It was costing him a great deal, but it was ever so in such a highly honoured and powerful position. “Explain the reason for charging Jarl Siward!”
“He killed my father, hanging him by the Knavesmire, along with my husband’s dog.” There was laughter from the crowd. “Then he killed my husband with an arrow. Siward of Ribe also murdered his brother so that he could get the Jarl!”
“And what do you say in reply to this, Jarl Siward?”
Siward gave a loud exasperated sigh. “I did not kill my brother! How long are jealous folk going to insist on thinking that? I was no where near him as well as presiding at a Thing whilst it was claimed to have been done! Neither can I claim to have ended Othar! I saw him hung but I did not take part!” much, he added silently.
“Nor did he stop it!” she almost screamed.
“No, I did not stop it, for it was justice for theft from and the death of a father, as well as the ruination of more than one man in Copmanthorpe.”
“Do you have proof Ebbe of Jorvik?”
“My father was a good man of business!” this brought out a blast of sarcastic laughter from those standing nearby.
The Thing master called for silence. “Do you have proof, Jarl Siward of Ribe?”
“I have many here who have suffered from Other’s financial deals and land grabbing.”
Jarl Siward, thought Radnōr, you ARE enjoying this! And you ARE good at it!
“Othar was once my brother’s, mine and sometimes Radnōr of Stavanger’s teacher. He charged our fathers far too much for so little return. He was a poor teacher. Even we lads could tell that. In the autumn he would go raiding with the other men taking women from rich families and selling them into slavery or worse.
Othar of Jorvik stole 5000 gold coins from Ragnall of Stavanger, Ragnōr’s excellent father causing him to continue raiding into his fifties and thereby wearying himself into dying too early for his or his kin’s good. Othar took those 5000 coins and set himself and his child up in Jorvik where he was unknown and able to start afresh.”
“And why was that?” screamed Ebbe.
“Because I discovered the thefts and challenged him with them!” Siward returned calmly. “He was so innocent that he ran off to Jorvik with you. He only took you so that he could get a good marriage deal from you.”
“You stated Both thefts, Jarl. You have mentioned one.”
“He stole also from my honoured father, Thing master. 2000 Arab dirhams worth: a dowry from my mother of whom my father was fond.”
“You also claim that Othar of Jorvik saw folk ruined in the settlement of Copmanthorpe. I am aware of this village and know it has suffered. Explain what has occurred there, Jarl.”
“For confirmation I wish the Chieftain to go present.” Wearing his best clothes and holding him-self proudly as benefited his status, the Chief stood beside the Jarl. “It was told to me by this man and I do not believe he lies, as how Henning of Copmanthorpe, and his family, had argued over an expensive repayment to Othar and in the doing lost three fields to the man’s greed. Way over the payment when ten gold coins would have sufficed.”
“This is truth, Thing Master!” agreed the Chief
Siward continued,” All those who stood for Henning had their own loans doubled or were coerced into paying great deals of repayment until some were almost at the beggars door!”
“Rightly!” sated the Chief, “The good Jarl is correct. He has since offered good advice to our village and we look to right ourselves by it. We are here today to gain our rightful wealth back!”
“I can not bring back my father slain deliberately by Othar,” Ingrid’s gentle voice echoed in the silence as she joined them. “but I ask for my freedom from slavery and the return of the money taken by Othar, returned to where it belongs, with me!”
“To you -? Who gave you the wealth to wear those clothes? You are not worth it, slut!”
“That was uncalled for!” Siward commented quietly. He glanced at the Thing Master who was sitting in his dais chair thinking. “I can offer no more. I state again that I did not kill Othar!”
“Yet you know who did and will not own it?” The Thing master asked.
“I did not know them, I know few here.”
“It was those two!” she said pointing, “Henning and that burr that always sticks to Siward of Ribe, – Radnōr!”
“Do any here confirm that comment?” There was silence. “We must be offered stronger proof than you give, Ebbe of Jorvik. Have you no one to stand for you?”
“I was alone!”
“You claim to have been with your father?”
“And three men!” she paused “and a dog.”
“So you were not alone. Yet the bodies on the ground had fought between themselves. Jarl Siward says he does not know them. Would this be the truth?”
“He would not have known them, my father made certain -.” She stopped. “Siward did not know them!”
“I came across the glade on my way to meet Othar as he had requested. The men were dead.” Siward stated, looking Ebbe in the eye.
“You are a lying b*stard!”
“not much else will come from this, I see. You will both await my decision. It must be understood,” the Thing Master announced to the crowd. “This matter does not now just sit between Jarl Siward of Ribe and Ebbe of Jorvik but the rights and misuse which this matter has touched. Jarl Siward and his followers shall not leave the Thing and neither shall Ebbe of Jorvik!”
Siward bowed respectfully and left with a cordon of followers. Ebbe screamed after him “You shall pay, Siward! I know you killed your brother!” but no one was paying or paid her attention.
It was late afternoon when the Thing Master returned, dealt with a few small matters and called Siward and Ebbe before him. “This has been difficult and I have not had a matter like this before me for some years.
Ebbe, as you have raised the complaint I now advise you of my decision. I must tell you that I can not find Jarl Siward of Ribe guilty of your father’s death. Wait!” for she had begun to complain loudly of unfairness. “Wait!” This is the law, whether we like it or not woman! I have consulted with other men of law and they and I have reached the following decision.
Jarl Siward of Ribe is cleared of the murder of Othar of Jorvik!” the crowd gave a loud cheer. “We, the Thing, agree that Othar of Jorvik was killed by three unknown men who fell out amongst themselves.
All of Jorvik are aware of Othar’s love of coin and, though that may have made him a miser in some folk’s eyes, yet we understand your distress at the manner of his death.
However, the complaints have been listed and checked regarding the unusual manner which your father carried out his business deals. It ahs been decided that repayment needs to be made to those who have suffered or seen their livelihoods stolen from them!” Ebbe was so stunned that she opened and closed her mouth but no words would come out.
“And those who were put to slavery?” asked Siward.
“That must be addressed by the owner!”
“With respect Thing Master, he is dead. As the only surviving kin, surely Ebbe can answer my question?”
“Do you know what that bitch is worth? She can read and write!”
“What have you cost her?” asked Siward.
“Boh! She is free then, but she will see no money!” she pulled a face at the muttering this produced. “What?” she asked unable to sense the disquiet around her, “Look at her: better dressed than me! Why does she need money?”
“Because it was never Othar’s he stole it unfairly!”
“No!” Radnōr’s voice cut through her cry. “Raiders do not steal! They fight for it and winner fairly takes all. A raider does not go to a village, break into a hut of sleeping women, massacre all but one and take the coin chest without a blade strike against another man! That man is a –.” He floundered looking for the right term. He had lost his temper. “a – skreyja bacraut!” Several men looked embarrassed and many more women laughed at the name calling.
“I have spoken!” the Thing Master called, over the noise. “It shall be done and seen done! Go home!”
The men all bowed and the women nodded, all save Ebbe who screamed at the Thing Master that he would die. She stormed off followed by several Thing scribes and what seemed the whole of the Thing. No one wanted to miss the wealth paid back. This would go down in Jorvik history, well, at least until something more spectacular turned up.
The ill grace of Ebbe was noted by a scribe and the financial returns were started in earnest. As the scribes annotated each and every repayment and counter checked the freedom papers for Ingrid. They also checked the records of land and ensured the correct fields were returned to Henning’s father: who had heard every word. And to the joy of all the Copmanthorpe villagers, their payments were returned fastidiously.
“I know she was a mistake, but it still hurts!” he admitted gravely.
“Of course, just like when I told Irmgard that I had no intention of marrying her!”
“Yes, I remember her very angry father’s visit!” he laughed. “Tell me speaking of women; did you need to hold Ingrid’s hand all the way through the Thing?”
“I did not!”
“Oh, innocent lad! You did!”
He shrugged his embarrassment. “I am to escort her home to Stavanger.”
“I must warn her!”
“You will not! Maybe it is time I settled down.”
“You will ask her to marry you?”
“Do not sound quite so astounded, after all, I held her hand all the way through the Thing!” he laughed.
“You will live in Sweden then?”
“Will Siward miss me then?”
“I shall, but I can always visit and be the inconvenient singleton amongst those in married bliss! Have you asked her yet?”
“I have!” he said, manfully shy.
“And, she said-?”
“She said she would.”
“In front of more than three witnesses?”
“The whole of Copmanthorpe, in fact.”
Siward grinned, “Well-well you have grown up!”
“I worry about you though!”
“Why?” They had reached the stall selling ale. Siward brought them a mug each. “Not bad! To your health, may you be blessed with many a strong son!”
“Who shall be sent to their uncle in Denmark when they get too much for me!” he returned.
Siward gazed about them, he would be leaving soon. Jorvik would probably not appear on his horizon for some time if at all. “Look, there is my useful lad, Lad!!” the boy came up and looked enquiringly at him. “You have been paid already, but this is an Arab coin, a dirham.”
“I have seen an Arab on the Staithes!”
“Have you now? What would you say to this coin?”
“I would say I am your servant, Jarl of Ribe!” and he went of with the coin and the laughter of the two men at his back.
“You do lead an extraordinary life, Siward!”
“I do, I admit, yet I could not bear a dull one. He looked up at the sky. “Henning promised me a ride home.” He looked around to see Henning, Knut and Lotte arriving.
“I could not let you go without a fare well and pies and ale!”
“To Henning’s amazement Siward and Lotte hugged. “Henning, I task you with keeping your sister in a happy life or I shall see you for it! You must all visit me in Ribe, even your father, we may be able to find a Healer for his deafness!” there followed that pause in leave taking that always hangs heavily. “Well, Henning is aboard and I must follow. Radnōr let me know when the wedding is, I would not miss it for the known world! And Lotte-.” He took the Eihwaz from his neck “this is for you from me!”
“I shall treasure it!” She kissed him and turned to hide her tears. What was she thinking of? He was a Jarl? And she was still married to that fat lump who could not even die so she could become a decent widow. But this Rune stone was a great gift, one to treasure. He had offered a visit, she would see him again.
Radnōr hugged a fare well, whispering as he did so, “That gift is as good as a commitment!”
“May be, may be not!”
“If you are off down that long winding path, be off with you! Thor watch over you!”
“And you. Lotte!” and he smiled as the boat pulled away. .
Ebbe looked about the rat rustling hut. It was time to move on, but where? Jorvik and the settlements were out of bounds. Perhaps Frjdtjolf was heading some where warm or perhaps to the Baltic where she could make some money.
Frjdtjolf did not care for women, even aboard his Knarr, but he had plans. Well, he had to admit that he had offered his services before Siward had even started. After all, he was still owed money and she would have all the monies if she was moving on. It would not cover everything but it might do if there were one or two expensive things in that large bag of hers.
Ebbe chose a seat in the prow on the boards set there for the purpose, stashing away the bag below her seat. On the journey she sewed two dresses and for a price repaired the sailor’s clothes. Strange fish were now caught or seen swimming by the boat. It was getting warmer.
As they turned to Byzantium and night had fallen a splash made several of the men turn over in their drowsiness. If they missed the woman the next morning they said nothing.
What they had missed was the woman falling overboard from the stab to the stomach which soon brought out the triangular finned fish that all sailors refused to speak of but dreaded in their nightmares: the terrible Hai.
The arrival of the Jarl back home caused very little in the way of ripples other than the Chief welcoming him back Henning had been waved off with a repeat of the visit request and he had turned back to look at his hut. A slave appearing at the door saw him let out a squeal and soon Siward was sitting before his fire.
Blafot soon appeared in his oily manner, handing over the three gold and one silver coins. “I managed by cutting back on the slaves food!”
“Just go, Blafot!”
The next day the Jarl was to Liot’s hut.
“Well?” asked the Seer. “Was I right?”
“What was the meaning of the arrow cut but not sent from a bow?”
“You should have known better than blame Radnōr and rifle through his chest.”
“You are good! But there was no flaming arrow!”
“There would have been had you not warned that church woman off!”
“Yes, you are really good! Eihwaz protects some one else now!”
“I know, I felt the new owner. You know you have no chance there, don’t you? Do not look at me like that. I am forbidden by the Rules of Seeing not to tell you everything, else what would be the point of going? You shall have a good friend in Henning.”
“I know. Did you fore see the ending of Ebbe?”
“I had a bad dream of fish with sharp teeth; Hai, in fact!”
“The Frjdtjolf’s plan worked.”
“And Radnōr does still not guess?”
“No, I dropped some small hints but they must have been too small. I left it be.”
“Probably wise, he will be happy and you shall see more of him but there will be no more raiding for the both of you.”
“What of me? What waits for me?”
“Who can say?”
He sighed and shook a bag that clicked in a friendly manner. “Choose a tile. Throw it down!”
Ah, Raido: judgement, doing the right thing: acting honourably: telling right from wrong. For now the Things need you, Siward of Ribe!”
 Incompetent ass-hole!