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
Dedicated to Sam Polito one of my American readers who passed away recently, his wife said he was 80 and had enjoyed life.
There had been a time when we had had allies in many corners of the world. We had been favoured by the Emperor of the Romans. The King of Wessex had been an ally. We had traded with the Welsh and earned their trust. We had traded with Amalfi and we had even had an alliance with the Duke Seguin I Lupo of Vasconia. Now we heard that the Duke had been deposed and his land swallowed up by the Holy Roman Empire. The Emperor who had favoured us and his sons had been usurped and the other allies had turned against us. The King of Wessex saw us as implacable enemies and even the Welsh had shunned us even though we had bled and died for their cause. We were now an isolated island surrounded by many enemies. To other people this would have seemed a disaster. We cared not. My people were wealthy and our warriors were undefeated. We were a land of pagans surrounded by the followers of the White Christ. I was Jarl Dragon Heart of Cyninges-tūn and I was the Wolf Warrior.
As the snow left our land and we prepared our drekar for the sea I was as happy as I had been since my dear wife, Erika had died. I had thought I would end my life alone as Ragnar, my former master, had done but the Norns had other plans for me. I had rescued the illegitimate child of King Arthfael Hen ap Rhys. The King had shunned her and she had returned with me to my home by the Water. My daughter had spoken with my wife’s spirit and it seemed that Brigid of the Welsh was to be the woman who would share my bed with me.
. And I was happy. It had been some years since I had enjoyed the company of a woman and in the long winter nights my bed had seemed cold and lonely. I had comfort and peace in my hall which was a home once more.
Now that the weather was improving our thoughts turned to the sea and to revenge. A young man from Lang’s Dale I had had served with me. His name was Magnus but he had earned the nickname Foresworn for he had betrayed our people. He had cost warriors their lives and he had been banished by me. My men said I should have had him killed; perhaps they were right. While I had been fighting in the south he had raided the lands of Jarl Sigtrygg, one of my oathsworn, and killed some of his people. My warriors, the Ulfheonar, wished to sail the seas to seek him and end his life. I should have killed him when he betrayed me but I am not of Norse blood and such ruthlessness does not sit easy with me. Perhaps the blood of the old people of the land had affected my decision. The next time I met him then he would die.
I said goodbye to Brigid as I left on my horse with Aiden to visit my ship. It had been some years since I had had to say goodbye to someone who had shared my bed. Brigid was totally different to Erika and I found the experience of bidding her farewell strange. She kissed me, embraced me and gave me an enigmatic smile. “I will see what changes I can make to your home while you are away.”
I frowned, “I do not like change and I will only be away for one night.”
“Then I cannot do much can I?”
Aiden and I rode with Haaken along the road which bordered the Water. Haaken was married now and had two children. He laughed at me having witnessed the farewell. “You are tamed Wolf Warrior! She will be fitting a ring through your nose before too long!”
Aiden said, “Do not listen to him Jarl Dragonheart. You have not been this happy and content for years. When you are in a contented state then the spirit world is happy and nature is too. Did you not notice that the winter was mild and we had no deaths? Our animals prospered and babies were born healthy. That is not luck that is due to your state of mind. Even though this Welsh Princess is a follower of the White Christ she has brought balance to your life. You have brought balance back to nature. This is good, this is
I could see that his words had made Haaken think. My second in command nodded thoughtfully as we rode south to the sea.
I changed the subject. “And have the spirits told you where Magnus the Foresworn is hiding?”
“Not yet but it should not be beyond our wit to make a good guess.”
Haaken snorted, “If we are to take the ‘
Heart of the Dragon’
to sea to seek him we need more than a good guess. There are too many enemies out there for us to try to stumble upon him.”
Aiden enjoyed a challenge such as this and, as we neared the forest road he began to tell us where he thought our enemy might be. “He came by sea and we did not pass him when we returned from the land of the Welsh. Therefore he is either in Hibernia, Mann or north of here. If the Jarl sails first to Mann we can see if his ship is there. Sigtrygg’s people said it had a red sail in mockery of yours.”
“And Mann is not a safe place either.” Haaken knew of the treachery which abounded in our former home.
“But think, Haaken One Eye, if Jarl Dragonheart sails around the island it will show the Vikings there that he does not fear them. They know the legend of the sword; let them fear the legend that is Dragonheart.”
I nodded, “I fear not those on Mann. Aiden is right. As for Dyflin, it is time that we found out exactly who rules there. Sihtric Silkbeard is dead. Who knows, we may have allies there. We did trade with some last year. It may be that we can find friends there. Perhaps this is a good thing.” Haaken nodded. What I had said had made sense. “And then Aiden, if Magnus is in neither of those places where would we search?”
“We would sail along the coast north. The islands of Orkneyjar have many places where a drekar could hide. And it would be good to see if the people there are willing to trade. Their seal oil is valuable and we have weapons and iron which they need.”
My galdramenn’s words made both Haaken and me silent as we pondered them. Aiden had an ability which all the gold in the world could not buy. He could see beyond the world around him. Sometimes it was through the spirits and sometimes… well I know not how he saw what he did. He had always been an enigma. Taken as a hostage when a child he had chosen to stay with me. Perhaps the gods had made that choice. I never ignored his advice.
When we reached the shipyard where the shipwrights and Erik Short Toe worked on my drekar I saw that it was drawn out of the water onto the bank and the weed which had gathered on her hull during winter was being removed. Her strakes were being caulked to ensure they were watertight and the sail was being examined for damage.
Erik grinned when he saw me, “I wondered when you would come. The sea calls eh, Jarl Dragonheart?”
“The sea calls indeed Erik. When will she be ready?”
“By the time you return with a crew she will be in Úlfarrston chafing at the bit.”
“There is no hurry. I will visit with Coen ap Pasgen this night for I wish to speak with him.” I looked around for Siggi and his knarr. “Where is Siggi?”
“He sailed to Sigtrygg. He wished to try out his new sail.”
“Good. I would have him sail with us.”
“So, you go to trade and not to fight?”
I smiled, “Perhaps both. Remember, Erik, the wolf is a cunning creature. In a world of enemies we have to use every weapon at our disposal.”
Coen ap Pasgen was the headman of Úlfarrston. His father had been our oldest ally. He had recently died but Coen was a stout friend too. He had sailed with us before now. They were farmers and traders rather than warriors but we had made their defences strong and improved their skills with weapons such that few would think they were sheep to be shorn. Because they were not Vikings they were still able to trade further afield than we. The Saxons would all trade with them for they were of the old people, the ones who had lived in the land when the Romans had left. Some called them Welsh but they were not.
He and his sons were at their ship when we reached the settlement. His face told me that he was pleased to see me. Winters here could be harsh and we often went months trapped in a world of ice. “Jarl Dragonheart, it is good to see you.”
“And you, my friend. Could we impose on your hospitality this night? I need to speak with you.”
“Of course.” He turned to his son, Coel, “Go and tell your mother we have three guests.”
The youth ran off. “A fine boy and he has grown.”
“They do. Why it seems but a short time since your son, Wolf Killer was but a child and now he rules as a jarl. Time passes us all by.”
I pointed to the wooden walls of his settlement. “Your father built those walls. They are a measure of how time makes us all stronger if we use our skills well.” He led us towards his hall. “Where will you trade this season?”
“Wessex and Mercia both demand as much stone and metal as we can sell them. I was going to ask you if we could buy some of your surplus. There is great profit in it.” He hesitated, “I know that you and the Saxons are now enemies. I would not wish to offend you.”
I put my arm around his shoulder, “You do not. It is good that you trade with my enemies. We profit and you profit. Trade is trade.” We entered his palisade and those within waved at us. To them we were not the wolves from the sea, we were friends. “That is one of the reasons I have come here. There are too many ports closed to us now. You will have to be our eyes and ears. I would have you bring us news of the world outside. I need to know the way the world moves.”
“We can do that.” He waved over a slave to take our ponies. “Come we will wash and then I will broach a new barrel of ale. A visit from Jarl Dragonheart is a reason to celebrate.”
The visit proved illuminating. I discovered that the men of Wessex were on the rise. King Egbert had conquered the lands of On Walum. That did not surprise me. The king there was weak. We had bloodied his nose before now. He was now fighting the Mercians. We had fought them before and they were not a match for the men of Wessex. King Egbert was an implacable enemy. My son had stolen his young bride, Elfrida, some years earlier. Hitherto we had been beyond his greedy grasp but if he defeated Mercia then he would be our near neighbour. That information was worth storing. Coen, however, could add little to our knowledge of the whereabouts of Magnus the Foresworn. It seemed that, following his abortive raid on Sigtrygg, he had disappeared. I wondered if he had tried to sail west to the lands beyond the seas. There were legends and stories of a wonderful land there with no winters and fine game; where gold and silver lay on the ground to be picked up. I did not believe in such a place but Magnus might.
As we made our way home the next day and we discussed where he might be Haaken said, “Perhaps he sailed off the edge of the world.”
I said nothing but looked at Aiden who closed his eyes. We were passing the start of my Water and there the power was great. Old Olaf and his mountain seemed to increase my galdramenn’s skills. He opened his eyes, “He lives still. I can feel his malevolence.”
“Then he is near.”
Aiden smiled, “You are becoming skilled, Jarl. Aye he must be close or I would not sense him so quickly.”
“Haaken when we reach Cyninges-tūn tell the Ulfheonar that we sail soon. Find out if there are others who wish to join in this venture.”
“And do we gather trade goods?”
“Yes, tell Scanlan that Coen ap Pasgen will be buying stone and metal and tell Bjorn Bagsecgson that there will be opportunities for profit for him too.”
Bjorn was our blacksmith. He was the richest man in Cyninges-tūn for he was skilled in the art of sword and armour making. It was he who had forged my sword but, as he admitted, it had been the gods who had made it the mighty weapon it was.
Three days later my drekar slid through the water towards Mann. We could have taken many times the number of warriors than we could carry. Haaken and Snorri had sifted through those who wished to come. We wanted the best. Siggi was still in Úlfarrston loading with trade goods. When we had scouted Mann we would return and escort him to Dyflin. We would not trade with those on Mann. They were untrustworthy.
Cnut, who had been one of my oldest friends, had died and his son was one of the crew of the Heart. This would be his last voyage as a sailor for he had said that he wished to be a warrior like his father. When Haaken began to chant the song of my sword I saw Cnut Cnutson swell with pride. The chant always helped us to sail faster for it spoke of how the sword had become magic. It was the stuff of legends. The rowers became as one when we chanted. It was always the first chant we used. My men were superstitious and this always acted as a good omen.
The storm was wild and the gods did roam
The enemy closed on the Prince's home
Two warriors stood on a lonely tower
Watching, waiting for hour on hour.
The storm came hard and Odin spoke
With a lightning bolt the sword he smote
Ragnar's Spirit burned hot that night
It glowed, a beacon shiny and bright
The two they stood against the foe
They were alone, nowhere to go
They fought in blood on a darkened hill
Dragon Heart and Cnut will save us still
Dragon Heart, Cnut and the Ulfheonar
Dragon Heart, Cnut and the Ulfheonar
The storm was wild and the Gods did roam
The enemy closed on the Prince's home
Two warriors stood on a lonely tower