Tag Archives: Saxons

Gods’ Cauldron – A Viking Saga


For anyone who is familiar with my writing, (and, if you’re not, bloody well get yourself over to Amazon and familiarise yourself with it!), you will know that I normally write contemporary fiction. Here though, is a departure from the norm, as I have had a stab at writing historical fiction. A viking saga set in the 9th century when Danes and Norse controlled vast swathes of north eastern England.

So, anyone not remotely interested in that kind of story should back away now.

The story centres around karl Ulf, a freeman, and Asta, a shaman priestess as they go in search of Ulf’s wife and children who have been kidnapped and held hostage by Jarl Vidar for Ulf’s failure on a mission. Things get spicy on the bargaining front because Asta is also Jarl Vidar’s woman, who he believes is dead and Ulf is responsible.

The reason for posting this first chapter is because I’d be interested to hear from people who do like reading this genre, whether a) it is convincing in style (historical accuracy), b) whether you liked it, and c) whether you know of publishers who accept this type of work.

So, have a goosey, if it tickles your fancy and let me know what you think.

Oh, and by the way, as you can probably imagine, it contains grisly violence from the beginning.

 

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 GODS’ CAULDRON

By DMC

CHAPTER ONE

Asta’s long, white gown dragged in the mud. Her hair was as black as the tar pits and clung to her cheeks as it lay lank in the drizzle. Her hands were bound with rope at the front. I knew her feet were naked, but they were hidden beneath the hem of her coarse hessian frock, toes squelching in the filth and cattle dung.

The Christians were taking Asta to meet her maker. Or, rather, their maker, as they had the pomposity to presume. The Christians didn’t believe there was room in the heavens for any other gods but their own. Whereas, we pagans, have lots of gods. All fighting and drinking and singing battle songs in the great hall of Valhalla. Asta’s crime was that she was a witch. Which she isn’t. She is a völva, a wand carrier. She is a shaman and a seer. She also uses the ancient pagan art of crafting the ingredients Mother Earth provides to heal people. The Christians said this was sorcery. If they’d had any sense they would’ve asked Asta to teach them her medicinal magic. But they preferred to put all their faith in their one god. Who, as far as I could tell, didn’t actually do anything to heal or protect them at all.

The priests sloped in front and behind Asta, their long brown robes, tied with thick braid around their waists, also dragging in the mud. They were swinging brass orbs on golden chains, filling the air with their foul-smelling incense, all the while droning incessant incantations. The priests were flanked by spearmen. Six in total. Two either side of Asta, two fore and rear. Their long ash shafts with gleaming silver spear tips stabbing the dark grey clouds. A few villagers had gathered to jeer and throw rotten vegetables at her. She remained impassive as they cajoled her. She had healed most of them of one ailment or another at some point during their miserable existence. In fact, the only people who didn’t enjoy a miserable existence were the priests and bishop who lived in the palace, as they liked to call it, at the top of Girig Rygg.

They were leading Asta to a pyre they had constructed the previous day just outside of the village’s palisade. The priests had insisted the pyre be constructed outside of the village so that the smoke from the witch’s flesh would not contaminate its inhabitants. The pyre stood in a meadow, its dark wood gleaming with the slick rain.

The procession trudged through the long grass, beyond which was a line of trees – the edge of Lyre forest, where I sat with one hand on the pommel of my saddle, the other on the hilt of my sword. I watched from behind the closed cheek-plates of my helmet. When closed, they restricted my vision, but they also afforded me disguise and protection from spear thrusts. The distance between the tree line and the pyre was about two hundred paces. No distance at all for a stallion built for war like mine. But once I broke cover it would allow the spearmen enough time to slay Asta before I had time to get there.

That’s why I closed my cheek-plates and had tucked my long blonde hair beneath my helmet. My mail coat gleamed over a burgundy leather jerkin over which I wore a tunic emblazoned with the crest of a Christian lord that I had taken from a warrior I had slain. From close up, one could see the bloodstained gash in the fabric where I had thrust my sword under the man’s ribcage up into his lungs and out through his shoulder blade. But from this distance, I would look like one of the lord’s messengers on official business. I left my shield hidden by an oak tree. The round shield bound with an iron rim and boss was too much of a giveaway that I was a Dane. The ash boards painted with a snarling wolf’s head was my talisman. So, instead of galloping from beneath the shelter of tall oak branches, I calmly walked my stallion out towards the congregation.

A spearman pointed towards me in alarm, but seeing that I appeared to pose no threat, carried on with his duty. The livery of a red eagle clutching a cross beneath its talons on my tunic told him I was friend rather than foe. They had reached the pyre now and I needed to cover the ground before they tied Asta to the giant centre stake. Fighting six spearmen whilst trying to untie her would prove troublesome, but my horse, Alsakr, was taking our ruse a little to heart and was plodding about as languidly as a warhorse could go without actually stopping to chew the grass. I dug my heels into his flanks to hurry him up and he responded immediately.

The priests looked up from their task of man-handling Asta toward the pyre when one of them slipped on a greasy timber and clattered into the logs sending several of them falling to the ground. He was a skinny looking fellow with a pate and pallid complexion. Another priest hooked him by his elbow to help him to his feet. The priest seemed shaky and clutched a grubby hand to a gash on his forehead where blood seeped through his fingers. This accident had worked fortuitously in my favour, as they had now let go of Asta and were unsure whether to turn their attention to the embarrassed clergyman, or to me.

I drew my long sword that I had aptly named Spirit Slayer and drew it down onto the head of the first spearman who had his back to me. My sword split his helmet and skull in two sending a spray of blood down Asta’s white gown. I slipped my short sword from its scabbard and handed it, handle first, into her outstretched fingers. I swiftly drew my sword over Alsakr’s neck and stabbed its pointed tip into the face of a second spearman. He screamed in agony, clutching his bloodied face, falling to the ground. I pulled the reins of my great war horse sharply to the left and he barged into two spearmen sending them sprawling in the mud. I parried a spear thrust, then chopped down savagely into his shoulder. His spear fell to the ground as he wailed like a banshee. The final spearman, seeing that he was the last man standing edged away whilst keeping his spear angled toward the chest of my horse. He was joined by his two comrades who Alsakr had bundled over, but seeing me in my finest armour, they knew I was battle-hardened, coupled with the knowledge that I had swiftly dispatched three of their companions, they turned and fled back to the safety of their palisade.

Asta had cut the ropes that bound her wrists and was pointing my seax menacingly towards the priests who were still staring in shock at what they had just witnessed. The seax was a Saxon short sword, ideal for fighting in a shield wall where a long sword would be too cumbersome to wield. It was about the length of a man’s forearm with a doubled edged blade and sharp, stabbing tip. Asta was concentrating her rage on one particular priest – a tall, straggly man with brooding black eyes and a sloped mouth.

“Is he the one?” I asked her.

She didn’t turn around to acknowledge me, but simply nodded.

“Then make it quick,” I said, craning my neck toward the village to make sure the spearmen hadn’t summoned reinforcements.

Asta stabbed the seax into the priest’s chest just beneath the sternum and sliced downward towards his cock. Blood spewed from the man’s lips as his gown fell open and his intestines spilled out into a steaming pile in the mud. The other priests gasped and crossed themselves. One even passed out. Asta stepped to one side to avoid the flailing priest landing on top of her.

The ground was red with blood. It had been a good morning, despite the rain. I had killed one and wounded two other warriors. And Asta had taken revenge on the man who raped her.

I reached down and pulled Asta on to the back of Alsakr and pointed my sword at the remaining priests. Two of them dropped to their knees in the mud, clasping their fingers before themselves whilst mumbling prayers to their one god. “Your god tells you to ‘turn the other cheek’. Instead you rape and burn women…”

“She’s a witch!” One of the priests said.

“Silence!” I bellowed at him. “She is a healer!” I could feel Asta’s slender arms around my waist gripping me tightly.

“I am Ulf,” I said. “Know what that means, priest?”

Despite me pointing Spirit Slayer at one particular priest they both shook their heads.

“It means ‘wolf’!” I said. “And if I have to come back to this god-forsaken shit-hole again I shall rip your entrails out with my teeth!”

The priests bowed their heads, I sheathed my sword, turned Alsakr and we galloped into the forest.

 

We rode hard till midday, until I was sure that we were far enough away from the village for a search party to follow us. Then, I let Alsakr pick his own path between the dense woods. I trusted him to choose his own footing. I had named him after Sol’s horses that drove her sun chariot across the sky: Arvakr was very strong, and Alsvin was very quick. As my horse was both fast, and quick, I decided to combine the two.

The rain had eased, so we rested by a beck and I gave Asta some dried bread and salted fish from my saddlebag. She had not said a word since I had rescued her. She sat with her back against an oak tree, knees drawn tight to her chest as she chewed on the hard bread. I had no ale in my flask so I took a chance on the water from the beck not being poisoned by a dead animal upstream as is often the case. It tasted fresh, like a blue sky on a winter’s day, so I filled my flask and offered it to Asta. She shook her head, her cheek bulging with bread. I lifted her chin and her brilliant cobalt eyes looked forlorn. I gave her a small smile to show that I understood. I pulled my coarse woolen blanket from Alsakr and draped it around her shoulders. She pulled it tight under her chin.

I decided it was safe to light a fire as we would not be followed and it was at least a day’s ride to the nearest fortified Saxon burh. That would mean two, two and a half days before a war band would be assembled and on our heels. The wood I collected was all sodden, so I stripped down the bark with my seax, Wolf Fang. I set the pile of kindling in front of the still-huddled Asta and lit it with tinder and flint. A warrior always carries a pouch of dry tinder for the very conditions we found ourselves in. It took a while for the flames to take hold because of the still damp kindling, but eventually I succeeded and I could see that it pleased Asta who stared into a space beyond the flames, probably seeing messages from the gods.

I stripped Alsakr of his saddle and bridle and let him drink his fill by the water’s edge and chew on the rich, long grass on the low bank. I had no need to tie him to a tree, as he would not venture far.

Asta Käredottir was Jarl Ulvkilsson’s woman. Her name means ‘divine beauty’. And indeed, she was both divine and beautiful. She spoke to the gods. She read the runes. She could foretell the future. She could heal the sick with her potions. And, by Thor’s hammer, she was beautiful. She was slight for a Norse woman. Some might even say frail. But she was swift and strong, as her skill with my seax had proved. Her raven hair framed her slender face and pointed chin. I was convinced the reason she walked and sat with her head bowed slightly was so that men would not glimpse her paralysing blues eyes. It was almost as if they glowed.

After she had eaten, she curled up beside the fire and closed her eyes. I wanted to say something to comfort her but I knew it was not my place. I was merely here to protect her. And I had failed miserably in that task. And, I would probably pay for that failure with my life.

I began to ruminate about my fate and how the three Norns had wound their threads and brought us together. Asta had not come with us on the voyage over from Daneland. Jarl Vidar Ulvkilsson had deemed it too dangerous for her. But after we had victory after victory, and felt safe enough to shelter behind the great walls of Jorvik, he sent for her. Vidar had dispatched me with five men to escort her from the harbour on the Humber estuary back to him. Everything went as planned and we didn’t encounter any war bands along the way. We had to be as wary of Norsemen as we did from Saxons or Angles. Norsemen are mercenaries. They just want gold, silver and slaves, and they don’t care who they get them from, especially if they haven’t committed an oath to a jarl.

We had happened upon the village of Girig Rygg about halfway through our return journey, when Asta had witnessed a sickly looking woman and child. She had insisted that we stop so that she may help them with her magic ways. When other villagers had seen her administer her special kind of medicine, they had queued – much to the displeasure of the priests – for her help. So she demanded that we stay for a few more days so that she could help more of them. This made me nervous. Christians make me nervous. They hate pagans. And if they couldn’t convert us, they wanted us gone. Or dead. Whichever was easiest.

By the third day, I was becoming increasingly anxious. The priests were becoming progressively interested in Asta’s pagan ‘ways’. And I was concerned that Jarl Vidar would think we had been ambushed and send out a search party for us.

I had been patrolling the ramparts of the palisade when I spotted two riders in the distance by the tree line. They were wearing burgundy uniforms of some kind. Whose, it was impossible to tell at this distance. They were heading south and had me curious as to where they were headed. Were they going to, or from a fortified burh? If any of the local farmers happened to mention that there were Vikings in Girig Rygg we would find ourselves easily outnumbered by professional soldiers. As battle-hardened as my warriors were, six would be no match for a phalanx of thirty or forty. So, I decided that I would follow them from a safe distance to see how far they were going. At first, Asta protested. As did Ragnar Mortensson, who felt it would be better if I sent someone else. Failing that, for someone to accompany me. I was becoming agitated at being cooped up for so long. Danes aren’t used to staying in one spot. Even Alsakr was becoming restless in the stable. So, it was my own selfishness that refused to listen to the wise counsel I was receiving.

Although the village had a twenty-strong garrison of Saxon soldiers, I did not worry for Asta’s safety. I knew that five Dane warriors would be more than a match for twenty farmers, blacksmiths and butchers who had happened to don a helmet and pick up a spear. Most of the Saxon burhs and villages were protected by the fyrd – a militia made up from freemen who worked in the village and surrounding area. My men were battle-hardened warriors who had learned sword craft. They knew how to cleave a man’s skull with an axe, how to rip his shield from his hand or parry his inexperienced spear jabs.

So I set off in pursuit of the two horsemen, safe in the knowledge that my charge would be safe. In hindsight, as Alsakr weaved his way through the forest, I realised I should have sent one of my men on the errand instead of undertaking it myself. I was, after all, the leader of the group. But I needed to occupy myself whilst Asta worked her magic. With nothing to do at the village I was becoming concerned that if we did not return soon, that Vidar would vent his fury on my wife and children because of my failure to deliver his woman. Not that I had ever failed Jarl Vidar before. I had sworn an oath to him. To fight in his army, to share in his plunder. We had sailed from the flat lands of the Danes to seek wealth, slaves and glory on the rich western islands where the Saxons, Angles and Jutes had settled after the Romans had left.

I had fought in his shield walls and acquitted myself well. Many Saxons had died at the edge of my sword, Spirit Slayer. I had plundered towns in Northumbria, Mercia and Anglia. We had amassed wealth, slaves and I had many silver arm rings to show my prowess in battle and prove my loyalty. No lord gives arm rings to a man unless he has proved himself. I am a karl – a freeman.

Perhaps it was because my mind was elsewhere that I failed to spot the obvious signs of a Saxon raiding party lurking in the underbrush. Before I knew it, half a dozen spearmen had surrounded Alsakr, who bridled at the silver points. I knew there was no point drawing Spirit Slayer as either I, or my horse, would be dead before I could unsheathe it. These were not the men I had been following as there were no horses that I could see.

They dragged me from my horse, stripped me of my weapons and bound my hands with rope. As we marched through the forest on a well-worn path, I noticed that my captors all wore the same red tunics over their mail coats. Each one had an embroidered symbol of an eagle carrying a cross in its talons.

“Who is your jarl? Your lord?” I asked.

“Shut it, pagan!” I felt the butt of a spear shaft between my shoulder blades.

The light had almost gone and we had still not left the forest. The sergeant-at-arms told his men that they would make camp for the night. They tied me to the foot of a fir tree as they readied a campfire and went about making a supper of rye bread and barley porridge heated over the flames. They swigged watery ale from their flasks which made me salivate. They spoke in hushed tones as they sat around the fire, occasionally glancing over at me. I had hoped that my hosts would share whatever scraps were left in their wooden bowls, to no avail. My stomach howled with hunger, which made the soldiers laugh.

The sergeant left a sentry while the rest of his men slept around the fire with blankets gripped tight to their throats. I asked if they’d throw my own blanket over me that was tied to the back of my saddle, which only elicited a boot in the ribs.

The heavy forest canopy meant that the night was pitch black except for the orange glow from the embers of the fire. The moonlight, if there was any, was blocked by the great oaks that loomed all around. The sentry was on edge, flinching at every wolf howl or owl hoot. The forest would be home to at least one pack of wolves if not more. Wolves liked to roam a large territory and they weren’t too keen on sharing. They tended to avoid humans if at all possible, even if their pack was as large as eight or nine adults. Humans don’t split off when they are being circled – they stick together. And if anyone should know that there’s safety in numbers, it’s a wolf pack. Wolves attack herds that splinter, singling out the weakest and the slowest. Humans huddle together and bristle with spear tips and sword blades. There would be much easier prey for them than us. Not that this sentry knew this.

I stayed awake all night waiting for my chance, as each soldier took his turn as sentry. I was hoping that one of them would fall asleep. It was only when Mani carried the moon in his chariot into the dawn did the gods look favourably upon me. The sentry had fallen asleep standing up! He was leaning against a tree, gently snoring. I drew the single-edge knifr from the inside of my left boot and sawed at the ropes that bound my wrists and at the one which coiled around my waist and bound me to the tree. I had seen the sergeant wrap Spirit Slayer and Wolf Fang in a blanket and bind it with string. The package was leaning against the tree nearest him. I walked as softly as I could trying to avoid twigs and fallen branches in the near blackness. I cut the string and unsheathed my weapons. I had to try and even the odds before any of them awoke. The most ready to respond would be the sentry. I knew they had discarded their mail for sleep. Mail coats are heavy, even when you’re not moving they sap your strength. Not only that, they attracted the cold and made for a miserable night’s sleep. I crept up behind the sentry, quickly stifled his mouth with my forearm and drove Wolf Fang through his back and up into his heart. His body went limp in a heartbeat. I lowered him gently to the ground and moved back toward the group of soldiers. The next man I would take out was their leader – the sergeant-at-arms. Without a leader, men soon panic and chaos ensues. I put my boot on his mouth and pushed Spirit Slayer down through his chest bone into his heart. The crack of bone made the soldier next to him shift restlessly. I carefully lifted his seax scabbard and moved it out of an arm’s reach, knelt beside him, clasped my hand over his mouth and nose, and sliced Wolf Fang across his throat. This was a mistake. His eyes burst open wide and he kicked and struggled as I knelt on his chest waiting for life to escape him. Blood was bubbling up from the gaping wound while his hands pulled at my forearm. I thrust my blade under his ribcage and twisted. He was still. Wolf Fang made a sucking noise as I withdrew her from his chest. A soldier across the fire stirred, yawned and opened his eyes, which widened in terror when he saw me with Wolf Fang and Spirit Slayer dripping with his friends’ blood. I lunged across the glowing embers and thrust my long sword into his face just above the bridge of his nose. His skull crunched as Spirit Slayer slipped through his soft brain and out the other side. The two remaining men scrambled to their feet, drawing their swords. They moved apart so I had one on either side of me. These weren’t fyrd troops gathered from the barley fields. These were professional soldiers who were trained in the craft of war.

They took it in turns to probe my defences. I parried their thrusts as I edged backwards. Up until now they had lunged separately, but to drive home their advantage they would have to attack simultaneously and force me to choose to defend one or the other. So I didn’t give them the choice. I kicked red-hot embers up into the crotch of the soldier on my left – panicked, he stumbled backwards. I lunged to my right, my sword thrust was parried by the other man, but as he had no shield, it allowed me to swing Wolf Fang around and down into the man’s neck. I heard him scream as I spun around to face my final foe. He was a grizzly brute with a red beard and a square face. He stabbed, I parried. I moved backwards leading him to his fate. He swung his long sword down in an arc, I raised my short sword high to block him then ducked beneath his sword to thrust Spirit Slayer up under his ribcage diagonally until it burst through his collarbone. He coughed blood into my face. I could smell the stale ale on his breath. I twisted the blade and thrust up as hard as I could. He dropped to his knees then slumped onto his face. My sword had gone so far inside the man I had difficulty freeing her from his body and had to press my boot onto his sternum to prise it out.

The soldier I had stabbed in the neck was crawling through the dew-covered leaves, leaving a trail of blood behind him. I used the toe of my boot to roll him over onto his back. He was pale with blood loss. His straggly blonde hair matted to his skin with sweat. “Who has your oath?” I pointed Spirit Slayer down at him. He seemed confused so I pointed to the emblem on his tunic. “Whose banner is this?”

Now he understood. “Lord Godwine,” he choked.

“How far?”

One hand clutched the wound at his neck while the other pointed south down the track we’d been following the day before. “Half a day.”

“A burh?” I asked. “Or stone walls?”

“Burh.” He was becoming weaker. His spirit was escaping his body with every breath.

“What’s it called?”

“Doncastre,” he whispered.

“How many men garrisoned there?”

He mouthed something inaudible.

“How many men?” I shouted. But he had spoken his last. I would have stripped him of his tunic as it hadn’t been pierced by my sword. Unfortunately, the man was not my build. The only person who seemed a similar match to me was red beard, so I took it from his corpse. I thought it might be useful if we ever attacked this Doncastre place and I needed a disguise to gain entry to the town.

I gathered up as many weapons as I thought Alsakr could carry and wrapped them in a blanket and tied them tight. Normally, I would have stripped them of their mail coats too as they were expensive to make and would fetch a handsome price at market or to other warriors needing a replacement. But I knew it would be asking too much of Alsakr to carry me, weapons and mail coats too.

As I rode back toward Girig Rygg I was tormented by my failure to have reached Jorvik on time. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was. Or where Doncastre was. We had headed west along the banks of the Humber with Asta and should have turned north at Selerby before we were waylaid at Girig Rygg. I was guessing that I was due south of both Selerby and Jorvik. I dug my heels into Alsakr and galloped toward Asta. I hoped to reach her before nightfall. Before another day had slipped by and Jarl Vidar Ulvkilsson looked upon my children, not as being under his protection, but as hostages. With luck, he would be happy with my news of Doncastre and the potential riches on offer there.

Although I had made good time on the Saxon track, by the time I reached the edge of the forest where Girig Rygg lay beyond in the open pastures, night had almost fallen and Mani was dragging the moon back into the sky in his chariot pulled along by his faithful horse, Alsvinder. I could see the faint orange glow from homesteads and the thin palls of smoke were just visible in the darkening sky. The Christian church atop the hill in the centre of the village was silhouetted against the blue-black heavens. I reined Alsakr in at the edge of the tree line to catch our breaths and survey the village before entering. It was dangerous to approach a palisade in the dark just in case one of the sentries skewered you with his spear or tip a basket of rubble on your head.

I heard it before I saw it. A horse’s hooves. Galloping fast in my direction. Shouts from the village. I couldn’t see the horse or the rider at this distance, he was camouflaged by the black land. Then I saw the horse’s breath rise into the night sky like palls of smoke. I had a bearing on him now so I edged Alsakr along the tree line to head the rider off. When he reached the horizon I could see his silhouette lolling in the saddle. I spurred the pace to try and cut him off. Whoever it was was approaching the tree line too fast. Entering thick woods at such a pace would dismount the rider. I was almost adjacent the horseman when he crashed into the branches and toppled from his mount. We were far enough away from the village for them not to have heard the commotion. I dismounted and drew Spirit Slayer from the scabbard slung over my shoulder and crept towards the fallen rider. The horse was neighing, scrambling away between the sharp branches. I could hear a gargling noise coming from the prone figure. I was almost on top of the man when I realised by his clothes that it was one of my own men. I rushed to kneel beside him. It was Thorsson, one of the youngest and fairest in our party. He was barely alive, his throat cut from ear to ear.

“Who did this!” I whispered.

Thorsson clutched both his hands around his throat and mouthed words, but only blood came out. He had terror in his eyes. I unsheathed his seax and prised his right hand from his throat. For someone so close to death he put up quite a resistance. But no matter how much he thought holding his throat might prolong his life, I knew that he was approaching the great hall of Valhalla. And if he didn’t go there with a sword in his hand the Valkyries would not take him. I forced the hilt into his hand and closed his fingers around the leather grip and squeezed mine around his. His body trembled as he continued to mouth unspoken words. Until, at his last, before he drew his final breath, I heard the name, “Asta.” Then, “raped”.

I knew the village would be on high alert and the palisade would be brimming with spear tips. So I decided to wait until morning before working out how to get Asta back. If, indeed, she was still alive.

 

“Are you afraid Jarl Vidar will kill you?” Asta said from across the flames.

I had been unaware that she had been watching me. I looked down at my hands. I’d been absentmindedly carving a piece of wood with my knifr. “I’m not afraid of anything,” I said defensively, knowing that I was afraid of what might have befallen my wife and children.

“It’s very pretty,” she said.

I looked at the wood as though seeing it for the first time. I had carved something resembling a doe.

“Is it for your children?” she smiled serenely, hardly lifting her gaze to meet mine.

I guess it was for my children. Although, I had hardly been aware of making it. My mind wandering about the recent turn of events and how the three Norns had spun their threads of fate. A wolf howled in the distance. Was that fate too? They were tricksters, the gods.

“It’s a good omen, Ulf,” she said, staring into the flames. “A wolf for a wolf.”

“Tell me,” I said. “How did a bunch of farmers managed to slaughter five Dane warriors?”

“It was the priests’ doing.”

“I thought as much.”

“They got them drunk on honey mead then slit their throats while they snored,” she said.

I wanted to be angry toward the priests for sneaking up in the dead of night like assassins to butcher my men, but I had done the exact same thing the previous night to the Saxon soldiers.

“They came for me,” she continued, “in the middle of the night and took me to the bishop’s quarters.”

“Where he…” I couldn’t say the words.

“Raped me,” she finished my sentence.

I twirled the doe in my fingers. “I’m sorry. I should have stayed.”

She rose like a spectre and came and sat beside me on the log. “You mustn’t blame yourself, Ulf.” She placed her pale, elongated fingers on my forearm. Her touch was almost imperceptible through my jerkin. “The Norns will have their way whatever we think we might do.”

And she was right, of course. The three Norns sit at the foot of the Yggdrasil tree in Asgard. The great Ash tree spans all nine worlds and the Norns are goddesses of the past, present and future. Urd, Verdani and Skuld spin their threads of life deciding the fate of every human, animal and even the gods themselves.

“Try and get some sleep,” I said. “Tomorrow, we ride for Jorvik.”

 

Glossary:

Karl – Freeman

Jarl – Lord

Burh – fortified town or village

Jorvik – York

Selerby – Selby

Doncastre – take a wild guess

Seax – short sword

Knifr – small knife

Fyrd – local militia

 

 

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