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Prodigal Knight
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May 16, 2006
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Revan 86 Presents:


Being the Saga of the heroes of the Bútnari line, the descendants of Geirr hinn Blezaði
Who landed as one of Hvítserkr’s great host on the English shore
And whose fate was marked by the Weavers of

Hail traveller, and welcome to Bloodsnake and Battlewolf, a Crusader Kings AAR using v. 1.103 with the Old Gods DLC. As usual, all comments here are welcome. Please be forewarned that this AAR may involve some racy and violent content, ‘cause we are dealing with freaking Vikings here - still, I’m going to try and keep it PG-13 or so. I am starting off here in the Christian year 871, holding only the Chiefdom of Jórvík (County of York) as vassal to the Petty King of Jórvík, Halfdan Hvítserkr. I’ve got a weakness for the north of England, having family roots in Yorkshire myself, having grown up on All Creatures Great and Small, being an avowed fan of the older elements of Britain's (pre-Blair) Labour Party and having written a Durham AAR as my first foray into CK fanfiction - guess I just can’t keep away!

My character (as his stats would seem to indicate) is not a custom creation, but rather the result of an event I got when playing as Hvítserkr. I decided it would be more fun, instead of playing as a well-known historical king, to play instead a hapless Viking kid with a silver tongue but not much else to recommend him. So I gave him a fief and restarted as him.

My goals in this game are fairly modest:
- Continue the Botner dynasty, naturally
- Hang onto the old ways as long as possible without reforming - though conversion is kind of inevitable in the long run, and the Danes were notably pragmatic about their religious preferences
- Likewise, retain Norse culture in the Botner dynasty and spread Norse cultural characteristics in England
- Unite the North of England, whether under my own rule or under Hvítserkr’s

Rules are pretty basic - no cheats, no save-scumming. So far I’ve reloaded the game only once, and I think that for a fairly understandable reason: a freak accidental game-ending death some seventy years on, when the Botner line had bottlenecked dangerously. That’s my Mulligan, though. From now on, no reloads. I’ll try to be consistent in my updates here, but be forewarned that they might be a bit sporadic to start as I’m still finishing up my Bavarian AAR, Day of the Doves.

I have been reading the Hávamál and the Prose Edda, as well as brushing up on my Beowulf, so my narrative style here might be a bit more... stylised and kenning-laden than it normally is. I readily and happily admit Lord Durham’s AAR The Sons of Ragnar Lodbrok as another significant stylistic influence on my writing here.
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Part I. The Reign of Halfdan Hvítserkr (867-894)
One. Some Dane
Two. Wolf’s-Head over Leicester
Three. Dunholm’s Great Blót
Four. Apardjón
Five. The Awe-Helm
Six. Break for a Sandwich
Seven. The Chest of Andreas
Eight. Merkismaðr
Nine. Bane of the Lærkrá
Ten. Like Father, Like Sons
Eleven. A Better Burden Can No Man Bear
Twelve. The Taking of Leicester
Thirteen. Three Marks
Fourteen. Under the Blood-Waves
Fifteen. Raising a Bautasteinn
Sixteen. The Best of Enemies
Seventeen. White Shirt and Bloody Shroud

Part II. The Reign of Ragnarr Halfdanarson (894-900)
Eighteen. For Troth to Live, for Troth to Kill, for Troth to Die
Nineteen. Run to the Hills
Twenty. War and Wedding
Twenty-One. The Battle of Hjartarpollr
Twenty-Two. A Son for the Væringjar, a Lord for the Einherjar

Part III. The Reign of Dan Ragnarsson (900-917)
Twenty-Three. Two Fires Kindled…
Twenty-Four. Skrobborg
Twenty-Five. The Children of Úlfhildr
Twenty-Six. Forging Chains in Love and War
Twenty-Seven. The Battle of Caerloyw
Twenty-Eight. Blood Bound
Twenty-Nine. Four Kings at War
Thirty. Freedom and Blood
Thirty-One. Wolf Hunts Fox
Thirty-Two. For Vigraborg and the Crown

Excerpt from Gæiringa Skamsaga
The Guest

Part IV. The Reign of Geirr hinn Blezaði (917-933)
Thirty-Three. Elting the White Hart, Snaring the Green Wyrm
Thirty-Four. Bane of Two Kingdoms
Thirty-Five. Bedufjörðr
Thirty-Six. Wolf, Lion and Wyrm
Thirty-Seven. The Battle of Bogaland Fells
Thirty-Eight. The Battle of Kýrfen
Thirty-Nine. Of Dunholm and Dýri
Forty. The Blessed
Forty-One. King of All England
Forty-Two. We’ll Always Have París

Part V. The Reign of Dýri Bragason (933)
Forty-Three. The Forty Days’ King

Part VI. The Reign of Bragi hinn Tryggvi (933-974)
Forty-Four. A Troubled Son
Forty-Five. Bonds of Blood and Thought
Forty-Six. Blood and Shame
Forty-Seven. Betrayal
Forty-Eight. Wanderer
Forty-Nine. North of the Ymbra
Fifty. Unanswered
Fifty-One. Rheged
Fifty-Two. Handfast
Fifty-Three. Keeping the Line
Fifty-Four. Kin, Less than Kind
Fifty-Five. An Unkith Stone
Fifty-Six. Answered at Last
Fifty-Seven. The Systkinbarn Snare
Fifty-Eight. The Ten Thousand
Fifty-Nine. To the Strands of Myrkvafjörðr
Sixty. Blessing in Blood
Sixty-One. Midsummer’s Child and Éadweald’s Rising
Sixty-Two. The Fall of Mön
Sixty-Three. Dynbær and Fifi
Sixty-Four. The Death of Þórgil af Lonborg
Sixty-Five. After-Wending
Sixty-Six. Gæirr’s Betrothal
Sixty-Seven. Wrack of Blood and Breath
Sixty-Eight. The Worth of Danish Blood
Sixty-Nine. Tall Tale
Seventy. Two Dane-Heres on Irish Earth
Seventy-One. The Mighty Axe of Gygg +2
Seventy-Two. To Holmgarðr Bidden
Seventy-Three. True to the End

Part VII. The Reign of Gæirr hinn Réttláti (974-1005)
Seventy-Four. The Wrong Oath-Breaker
Seventy-Five. Luck of the Irish
Seventy-Six. The Foresight of Þórðr
Seventy-Seven. Battle-Begotten
Seventy-Eight. Homeward
Seventy-Nine. Three Blood-Eagles
Eighty. Staves and Tokens
Eighty-One. Undertaking
Primary source excerpts from Gæirr 2.’s sack of Rome
Eighty-Two. For the Fallen
Eighty-Three. Good Goði Æmunðr
Eighty-Four. Bring the Hammer Down
Eighty-Five. Folkvangr Awaits, with an Excerpt from Gæiringa Skamsaga
Eighty-Six. The Death of Arnoul de Bourgogne
Eighty-Seven. The Battle of Hróarskelda
Eighty-Eight. Braghæ Snepæl
Eighty-Nine. Miklagarðr Waning
Ninety. The Rise and Fall of Balde Jatvarðsson, Dróttinn of Jórvík
Ninety-One. Stórasystir Asløgh
Ninety-Two. The Second English War for Danmörk
Ninety-Three. The Twins af Agðir
Ninety-Four. Wald of the Kolfingar
Ninety-Five. The Last Elting

Part VIII. The Reign of Braghæ hinn Spaki (1005-1023)
Ninety-Six. Called to Wrack
Ninety-Seven. Danmörk Burning
Ninety-Eight. The Three Wyrms
Ninety-Nine. Elting the Wind
One Hundred. Woe of the Heathen
One Hundred and One. A Danish Frith
One Hundred and Two. Hetlandseyjar
One Hundred and Three. The Rising of Gutingi
One Hundred and Four. Austurskaginn Overture, Deila 1. – First Sight
One Hundred and Five. Austurskaginn Overture, Deila 2. – Litaneia
One Hundred and Six. Austurskaginn Overture, Deila 3. – Spurned
One Hundred and Seven. Austurskaginn Overture, Deila 4. – Greek Fire
One Hundred and Eight. Austurskaginn Overture, Deila 5. – Hidden Blade
One Hundred and Nine. Austurskaginn Overture, Deila 6. – Foreleading
One Hundred and Ten. Austurskaginn Overture, Deila 7. – Flight
One Hundred Eleven. His Dusky Dís of the Sea
One Hundred Twelve. Ecgfrið’s Rising
One Hundred Thirteen. Garðar-Guest
One Hundred Fourteen. Asunder
One Hundred Fifteen. Heathen to the Last

Part IX. The Reign of Æmunð Braghæsen (1023-1028)
One Hundred Sixteen. Wrong
One Hundred Seventeen. Witness
One Hundred Eighteen. Pridbiørn’s Rising
One Hundred Nineteen. Here-Tog
One Hundred Twenty. The Best Teacher
One Hundred Twenty-One. Loose-Geld
One Hundred Twenty-Two. Øxnannafjörðr
One Hundred Twenty-Three. Mörkinsteinn
One Hundred Twenty-Four. Agapē
One Hundred Twenty-Five. Lindseyjarfaranna



House Botner
Geirr, called hinn Blezaði, dróttinn of Jórvík
Úlfhildr Helgadóttir, wife of Geirr

Their progeny:
Bragi Geirsson, their eldest son
Friðrekr Geirsson, their second son
Ellisif Geirsdóttir, their eldest daughter
Alvör Geirsdóttir, their second daughter
Björg Geirsdóttir, their third daughter

Progeny of Bragi Geirsson:
Geirr Bragason, his eldest son by Þóra Ívarsdóttir
Rixa Bragadóttir, their eldest daughter
Úlfhildr Bragadóttir, their second daughter
Dýri Bragason, their second son
Björg Bragadóttir, their third daughter
Ása Bragadóttir, their fourth daughter
Bragi Geirsson, called hinn Tryggvi, his grandson by Geirr Bragason and Gunnhildr af Plougonven

Progeny of Friðrekr Geirsson:
Knútr Friðreksson, his eldest son by Agaþa, goði of Leirmörk
Þórsteinn (Tóti) Friðreksson, their second son, goði of Leirmörk
Þórbrandr Friðreksson, their youngest son, twin of Þórsteinn

Progeny of Bragi hinn Tryggvi:
Ingibjørg Bragadóttir, his eldest daughter by Sigrid Steinsdohtor af Hjartarpollr
Ylva Bragadóttir, their second daughter
Þóra Bragadóttir, their third daughter
Guðrún Bragadóttir, their fourth daughter
Þórdís Bragadóttir, their fifth daughter
Gunnhildr Bragadóttir, their sixth daughter
Gæirr Bragason, their son, King of England, called hinn Réttláti
Gyla Bragadóttir, their seventh daughter
Freyja Bragadóttir, their eighth daughter

Progeny of Gæirr hinn Réttláti:
Braghæ Gæirsson, his son by Ragnfríðr Sigurðsdóttir
Sigríðr Gæirsdóttir, their elder daughter
Jólinn Gæirsdóttir, their younger daughter

Progeny of Knútr Friðreksson:
Oddi Knútsson, his first son by Eðla Steinsdóttir af Hjartarpollr, goði of Leirmörk
Kjartan Knútsson, their second son
Friðrekr Knútsson, their third son
Starkaðr Knútsson, their fourth son
Eðla Knútsdóttir, their daughter
Asløgh Oddsdotter, his granddaughter by Oddi Knútsson

Progeny of Braghæ Gæirsson and Asløgh Oddsdotter:
Æmunð Braghæsen, their son
Ragnfrid Braghædatter, their eldest daughter
Svanhild Braghædatter, their second daughter
Þórveig Braghædatter, their third daughter

Progeny of Æmunð Braghæsen and Pelagia Rigatina:
Harald (Arkhelaos) Æmunðsen, their son
Þýra (Theodōra) Æmunðsdatter, their first daughter
Æstrið (Eustolia) Æmunðsdatter, their second daughter
Ellisif (Elenē) Æmunðsdatter, their fourth daughter

The Sons of Ragnarr
Hálfdan Hvítserkr, King of Jórvík
His progeny:
Sigfrøðr Hálfdanarson
Guðfriðr Hálfdanarson
Ragnarr Hálfdanarson, King of Jórvík
Þórbrandr Hálfdanarson
Ingjaldr Hálfdanarson
Dan Ragnarsson, son of Ragnarr Hálfdanarson, King of Jórvík
Ragnarr Danarson, son of Dan Ragnarsson and dróttinn of Vigraborg
Sveinn Ragnarsson, son of Ragnar Danarson and husband of Ose Ingadóttir of the Austr-Englar
Dan Grímsson, great-grandson of Ragnarr Danarson and dróttinn of Vigraborg
Arngrímr Guðfriðarson, son of Guðfriðr Hálfdanarson and dróttinn of Bretangamiðmörk (mentioned only)
Þórðr Arngrímsson, a grandson of Guðfriðr Hálfdanarson and dróttinn of Bretangamiðmörk
Stúrla Þórbrandarson, son of Þórbrandr Hálfdanarson and jarl of Lonborg
Þórsteinn Stúrluson, son of Stúrla Þórbrandarson and jarl of Lonborg
Snorri Þórsteinsson, son of Þórsteinn Stúrluson and jarl of Lonborg
Hallsteinn Birghirson, a grandson of Þórðr Arngrímsson and husband of Rianon ferch Guengarth
Birghir Fastason, a great-grandson of Þórðr Arngrímsson and dróttinn of Bretangamiðmörk

Ívarr hinn Beinlausi, King of Skotland
His progeny:
Sigtryggr Ívarsson, King of Skotland
Barid Ívarsson, jarl of the Austr-Englar
Þóra Ívarsdóttir, wife of Bragi Geirsson
Bragi mac Íomhair, King of Skotland
Búi mac Íomhair, marshal of Skotland
Ùisdean mac Íomhair, King of Skotland
Sæmundr Kolbjarnarson, jarl of Loðen
Valdimárr Sæmundarson, his son by Ríxa Stórr
Ingifríðr Valdimársdóttir
Refr Valdimársson

Björn Járnsíða
His progeny:
Eiríkr Bjarnarson, his great-grandson and husband to Ellisif Geirsdóttir
Braghe Biarnarson, his great-grandson and king of Svíþjóð

Ubba Ragnarsson

Sigurðr Ormr í Auga, King of Danmörk
His progeny:
Sigurðr Knútsson, his grandson and King of Danmörk, known as hinn Bölvaði (the Accursed)
Sigurðr Fastason, his grandson, son of Fasti hinn Digri (the Fat) and King of Danmörk
Ragnfríðr Sigurðsdóttir, his daughter, wife of Gæirr Bragason
Áleifr Knútsson, grandson of Sigurðr hinn Bölvaði and hopeful for the Danish throne

House af Lonborg
Þórgil af Lonborg, house-carl under Geirr, later jarl of the Austr-Englar
His progeny:
Ástríðr Þórgilsdóttir, his eldest daughter by Úlfhildr Bragadóttir
Ingi Þórgilsson, their son and jarl of the Austr-Englar
Þóra Þórgilsdóttir, their second daughter
Ose Ingadóttir, daughter of Ingi Þórgilsson and frú of the Austr-Englar
Biörg Sveinsdóttir, daughter of Ose Ingadóttir and Sveinn Ragnarsson, frú of the Austr-Englar

House af Grantabrú
Álfgeirr af Grantabrú, dróttinn of Skrobborg (mentioned only)
His progeny:
Úlfr Álfgeirsson, jarl of Mörkfolk under Bragi hinn Tryggvi
Siggeirr Álfgeirsson (mentioned only)
Styrbjørn Álfgeirsson, called hinn Svarti (the Black)
Oddr Úlfsson, jarl of Mörkfolk (mentioned only)
His grandsons
Álfgeirr Siggeirsson, son of Siggeirr Álfgeirsson
Valdimærr Styrbiarnarson, son of Styrbjørn hinn Svarti, jarl of Brúnsvík
Suni Oddsson, son of Oddr Úlfsson and jarl of Mörkfolk and Brúnsvík

House Austmaðr
Karl Austmaðr of Bedufjörðr
His progeny:
Birghir Karlsson, son of Karl Austmaðr and dróttinn of Bedufjörðr
Gnúpa Birghirsson, son of Birghir Karlsson and dróttinn of Bedufjörðr
Refil Gnúpuson, son of Gnúpa Birghirsson and dróttinn of Bedufjörðr
Eilífr Birghirsson, son of Birghir Karlsson and merkismaðr for Gæirr Bragason
Biærgh Karlsson, called hinn Sigrvegarinn (the Conqueror), dróttinn of Djúpnaðr and grandson of Birghir Karlsson

House af Hamarinn
Hólmgeirr af Hamarinn, dróttinn of Borgundahólmr (mentioned only)
His progeny:
Ørvar Hólmgeirsson, his great-grandson and King of Danmörk
Knød Ofeghssen, a Væringi under Udde of the Varangian Guard
Einarr Ofeghssen, jarl of Skánn, slain by Byrhtnoþ Einersbana
Pridbiørn Ørvarsson, son of Ørvar Hólmgeirsson and King of Danmörk
Gregers Einarsen, elder son of Einarr Ofeghssen and jarl of Skánn
Máría Gregersdatter, daughter of Gregers Einarsen
Dagh Einarsen, younger son of Einarr Ofeghssen
Margrét Dagsdatter, daughter of Dagh Einarsen

House Stake
Ragnarr Stake, jarl of Norðrland, known as hinn Skírlíf (the Chaste)
His progeny:
Þórbjörn, husband of Björg Geirsdóttir and younger son of Ragnarr
Biørn Hakansson, konung of the Svíar, known as Þrædje-ok-Þrisvær (Third-and-Thrice)
Ænløgh Biarnarsson, his son, konung of the Svíar
Rane Eilifsson, husband of Sigríðr Hrafnsdóttir af Agðir

House af Agðir
Hrafn af Agðir, dróttinn of Veisafjörðr, betrothed once to Þóra Bragadóttir but wed to Guðrún Bragadóttir after the former’s death
Ketill af Agðir, brother of Hrafn af Agðir
Progeny of Hrafn:
Sigbiörn Hrafnsson, elder son of Hrafn af Agðir
Sigríðr Hrafnsdóttir, elder daughter of Hrafn af Agðir and gyðja for Gæirr Bragason
Asbiörn Hrafnsson, younger son of Hrafn af Agðir
Progeny of Ketill:
Sefa Ketilsdóttir and
Ragnhildr Ketilsdóttir, twin daughters of Ketill af Agðir

House Æþelwulfing-Reginar
Æþelwulf of Wessex, king of Wessex and Hwicce
His progeny:
Æþelræd Æþelwulfing, king of Wessex and Hwicce, known as the Drunkard
Wulfhild Æþelwulfing, his daughter, queen of Wessex and Hwicce, known as the Ill-Ruler
Æþelræd (Beornhardson) Æþelwulfing, her son, king of Wessex and Hwicce
Hloþhere Æþelwulfing, son of Æþelræd Beornhardson and prince-consort of Fíona mac Uallgarg of Gallgaidelaib (Galloway)
Fíona mac Uallgarg, ban-diùc of Gallgaidelaib
Lutbert Æþelwulfing, grandson of Æþelræd Æþelwulfing, king of Wessex and Hwicce

The English Saints (mentioned only)
Ølban the First-Witness
Kuðbjartr the Wonder-Worker of Lindseyjarfaranna
Beda the Are-Worthy
Are-Worthy and God-Bearing Guðleikr Einsetumaðr of the Krylland Fens
Holy Witness and Right-Believing King Ásvaldi of Norðymbraland
Holy and Right-Believing King Auðmundr of the Austr-Englar
Our Father amongst the Saints Kyndigjörn af Glasgow

Other Rulers
Steinn Kráka, bæjarstjóri of Vestmærrland and Lauðrá
Hæsteinn of Bertangaland
Bacsecg the Jute of Jylland
Burghred of the Mörkfolk
Ælfgar Hwicce of Leicester under Burghred
Gandálfr Hárde of Leicester under Bacsecg
Leofweald of Kent
Hereweard of Essex
Hröríkr of the Rus’ (mentioned only)
Karl of East Francia, known as the Bald
Causantín mac Cináeda of the Piktar, known as Ill-Ruler
Karl Helgason the Geat, husband of Alvör Geirsdóttir
Lothaire (Hlöðhar) 2. of the Miðfrakki
Anarawd ap Rhodri ap Merfyn of Gwynedd, known as the Wicked
Sigtryggr Refr of Heimtún, known as the Fox
Áki Styr of Álfheimr
Oddr Ákason of Álfheimr, his son
Gunnhildr Størkaðsdóttir af Plougonven, high dróttning of Deheubarth and wife to Geirr Bragason
Áli Þórbjarnarson of the Finn-March, son of Björg Geirsdóttir and husband of Rixa Bragadóttir
Louis Karling, prince of West Francia
Alphonse Karling, Louis Karling’s son
Alix Karling, Louis Karling’s daughter
Ástríðr of Herrfjörðr, great-granddaughter of Burghred
Karl af Leirmörk of Djórabýr
Vatr of Lindesege (mentioned only)
Rerir, legendary khagan of the Huns in the Völsunga Saga (mentioned only)
Vølsungr, son of Rerir (mentioned only)
Bersi Hallsteinsson, dróttinn of Heimtún under Bragi hinn Tryggvi
Hloþhere of Veðrafjörðr, dróttinn of Veðrafjörðr
Wulfmær Æþelwoldson, dróttinn of Mön
Þjóðot Hröríking, descendant of Hröríkr of the Rus’, lord of Holmgarðr
Svantipolkr, lord of the Red Towns of the Rus’
Helgi Karlsson, called hinn Bölvaði (the Accursed), jarl of Smáland (mentioned only)
Kolbiørn Karlsson, son of Karl af Leirmörk and dróttinn of Djórabýr
Ólrekr Róstensson, konung of the Vestr-Gotar (mentioned only)
Paschalis 3., Pope of Rome (mentioned only)
Atto Davides, also known as the Wicked, king of Langobardia, Liguria and Tuscany
Hajjī Khumārawayh ibn al-Hamad ibn Tūlūn, Sultān of Egypt (mentioned only)
Eberhard Etichonen, hertog of Holland
Ordgar Beohtricsson of Hwicce, known as the Cruel
Maria Welf, comitissa of Veglia
Arnoul Carolingien, her husband
Borgh Gormsdóttir, wife of the þegn of Feðjar, descendant of Haraldr Hilditönn and dróttning of Danmörk
Þjóðrekr 2. Mistizleifsson, called Digr-Þjóðrekr (the Fat), jarl of Pommern
Ioustinianos 3. Koupharas, Basileus of the Romans
Antipatra Koupharina, his sister, komēssa of Dorylaion
Oddketill Hrólfing, jarl of Hlaðir and Þröndaløg
Guttormr Fróðason, dróttinn of Hetlandseyjar
Ansvar af Hánnover, dróttinn of Breda, later jarl of Brúnsvík
Þjóðot 2. Helgason, grandson of Þjóðot Hröríking, former jarl of Holmgarðr, husband of Ragnfrid Braghædatter
Fasti Norðmann, called hinn Aðall, dróttinn of Austrfrísland
Þeudemar Karling, former king of the Bæjara and husband to Lucinetta Davides
Augustine Ærinbiörning, king of the Bæjara
Dorothea Ærinbiörning, lady of the Bæjara
Melik-Shah (Melekhshakhēs), Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem
Uluç 2. Beylerbeyuli, Christian Sultān of Turkish Kartli
Malkhazi Anchabadze, Mep’e of Kolkheti
Turgut, Bishop of Daghestan in Turkish Kartli
Demetre, Hegumen of Motsameta Cloister in Kolkheti

Refil af Rikfjall, þegn of Rikfjall and friend to Geirr
Tyke af Konungsborg, a goði and also a friend to Geirr
Arnlaugr af Skardaborg, a veteran and leader of hosts of Jórvík
Refil, steward of Jórvík
Aslaug, spymistress of Jórvík
Alain, a Breton of Dol
Áfríðr, midwife of Dol
Ælfric of Jórvík, a carpenter
Nothwulf the Locksmith
Swæfræd, bishop of Álley
Gyrþ, bæjarstjóri of Bjöðreksverðr
Borkvarðr Red-Whiskers, bæjarstjóri of Konungslán
Guðfrið, bishop of Nýstaðr
Biörn Steinwari, a stonecutter
Sigurðr, a húskarl in the hirð of Jórvík
Eiríkr af Aldeigja, spymaster of Jórvík (following Aslaug)
Arnlaugr, captain of the Væringjar
Kjalvör, an elderly völva
Cynyr, marshal of Gwynedd
Steinn af Hjartarpollr, a destitute nobleman, mentioned in the Skamsaga Gæirings
Cyneswiþ [Konusviþ], wife of Steinn af Hjartarpollr
Agaþa, the lowborn Angle wife of Friðrekr Geirsson
Gintaras, an Østling mercenary
Cuþbeorht, Saxon bishop of Wealdham
Leofweald of Hlóþwerstoft, marshal for Æþelræd Beornhardson
Ealdwine, bæjarstjóri of Woking
Hæsteinn Hæsteining, grandson of Hæsteinn of Bertangaland, marshal for Geirr
Aindrea of Rosbrog, warrior of Bragi mac Íomhair
Cailean mac Griogair, warrior of Bragi mac Íomhair
Petre, the bairn-eating Bishop of Baðum and Wiells
Eimar de Guisnes, a Burgundian mercenary
Sergonis, an Østling mercenary and head pirate of the Like-Dealers, known as the Careless
Skúli af Skardaborg, a famous skald
Sigrid Steinsdohtor, called Knarrarbringa, eldest daughter of Steinn af Hjartarpollr and Cyneswiþ
Eðla Steinsdóttir, second daughter of Steinn af Hjartarpollr and Cyneswiþ
Ívarr Yngling, third husband of Gunnhildr af Plougonven
Hemming Þórbjarnarson, son of Þórbjörn Stake and Björg Geirsdóttir
Þórrædr, an Angle bondi who rose up against Dýri Bragason, King of England
Æþelwold Fisc, one of Þórrædr’s men, later dróttinn of Mön
Máel Muire, called the Accursed, a Skottish mercenary
An old wanderer believed by Bragi to be Óðinn
Iselwyn, an old Cumbric farmer
Bran, his granddaughter
Melpatríkr, a þegn of Gunnhildr af Plougonven
Týki, goði of Steinnvík
Cynric, an old Angle poet (scop)
Basing of Upplabýr, a rune-master
Gerþryþ, midwife to Sigrid Steinsdohtor
Éadweald, an Angle bondi who rose up against Bragi, King of England
Ríxa, second wife of Þórgil af Lonborg
Gunnarr, bæjarstjóri of Hróksborg
Frírekr af Kyrkmikjáll, a Gallgaelic house-carl under Bragi
Rædwulf, bæjarstjóri of Pennrýþ and spymaster for Bragi
Frelaf af Uppsalir, húskarl of Þjóðot Hröríking
Fáilbhe na Moichéirghe, an Irish mercenary, head of the Irish Band
Echmarcach Gruamdha, second-in-command to Fáilbhe na Moichéirghe, later head of the Irish Band
Swærcir Steinson, youngest son of Steinn af Hjartarpollr and Cyneswiþ, stívarðr for Gæirr Bragason
Al-Fadl, an elderly Muslim guardsman at Bouna
‘Amrū ibn Hamdūn ibn ‘Abd-al-Wāhid ibn al-Jattāb, court historian for Hajjī Khumārawayh ibn al-Hamad ibn Tūlūn
Theofredus, marshal to Paschalis 3.
Holta-Guþfast, a jarl of England with lands near Jórvík
An unnamed elderly völva
Æmunðr Súrr, goði of Valka, Bævaland and Skygna
Biörn, stallari for Gæirr
Byrhtnoþ Einersbana, bæjarstjóri of Pennrýþ and stallari for Gæirr after Biörn’s death
Udde, foringi of the Varangian Guard
Hiælmar Kolbiarnarson, son of Kolbiörn af Leirmork dróttinn of Djórabýr, and a Væringi under Udde
Hælghe Karleson, a Swedish Væringi under Udde
Eiríkr Gnúpuson, called Norðmaðr, a Væringi under Udde
Balde Jatvarðsson, a descendant of Refil af Rikfjall and leader of an uprising against Gæirr hinn Réttláti
Swen af Upplabýr, a húskarl of Gæirr hinn Réttláti
Aumunðr af Norðbarrvík, a húskarl of Gæirr hinn Réttláti
Sigurð, goði of Magilros
Ulf Ingiældssen Nerking, a Væringi from Svíþjóð, also called Smjør-Ulf
Hrafn, foringi of the Varangian Guard
Pelagia Rigatina, kommōtria to Antipatra Koupharina and wife to Æmunð Braghæsen
Pankratios, an Elder of the Right-Believing Kirk of Greece
A mad teacher of the Eukhitai
Symmakhos the Eukhitēs
Rigatos, father of Pelagia (mentioned only)
The mother of Pelagia, an Irish-Norræne bawdhouse-þræll (mentioned only)
Haustin fitz Ogier le Normant, a Christian Væringi
Poumyathon, a Greek watchman
Anthē, his wife
Sightrygg, bæjarstjóri of Pennrýþ
Rianon ferch Guengarth, wife of Hallsteinn Hvítserkr and friend to Pelagia
Lucinetta Davides, a high-born Langbarð gisel in Jórvík
Valentin, a Danish Orthodox priest in Norðhymbra
Sighwarð, a Danish Orthodox bishop in Magilros



Aldinborg – Oldenburg, Germany
Apardjón - Aberdeen
Aparkýrnagr - Abercorn
Arnardalr - Arundel
Arnulfsborg - Eynesbury, St Neots
Álley - Ely
Ásvaldsborg - Itzehoe
Baðum - Bath
Bamborg - Bamburgh
Bedufjörðr - Bedford
Bertangaland - Brittany
Bjarnardal – Barnsdale
Bjarrókkfjälla – Berkshire Downs
Bjöðreksverðr - Bury St Edmunds
Bogaland, Bogalöndfjalla - (Forest of) Bowland, Lancashire
Bokkingaheimr - Buckingham
Bótólfssteinn - Boston
Bretangamiðmörk - Perfeddwlad
Brúnastaðr - Bristol
Bryggja - Bruges
Bævaland - Beveland
Danmörk - Denmark
Djórabýr - Derby
Djúpnaðr - Devon
Dofras - Dover
Dóná - Danube (River)
Dritvík - Droitwich Spa
Dunholm - Durham
Dynbær - Dunbar
Dýrnauðringtún – Darlington
Dørdraga – Dordrecht
Eiðinaborg - Edinburgh
Elfarborg - Lauenburg, Holsten
Ermarsund - the English Channel
Erningagötu - Ermine Street
Éljúðnir - the icy palace of the goddess Hel
Feneyjar - Venice
Flárdinga – Vlaardingen, Netherlands
Fólkvangr - in Norse mythology, an afterlife and the abode of Freyja
Frakkland - West Francia
Fuðarnæs - Furness
Ganda - Ghent
Gannisborg - Gainsborough
Garðarríki - Kievan Rus’
Granta - River Cam
Grantabrú - Cambridge
Gullinnborg - Peterborough
Guttormsgötu - Goodramgate, a street in York
Guðmundingaheim – Goodmanham, east of York
Hareflöþ – Harfleur
Hárlóheimr – Haarlem, Netherlands
Heiðabýr - Hedeby, Denmark
Heimasteinn, Maccelsfeld - Macclesfield
Heimtún - Northampton
Herrfjörðr – Hereford
Hetlandseyjar - Shetland
Hjartarpollr - Hartlepool
Hljóðhellir - Ludlow
Holmgarðr - Nizhny Novgorod
Horsanæs - Horsens, Denmark
Hrafnsgat - Ramsgate
Hróarskelda - Roskilde
Hróksborg - Roxburgh
Hvítærinn - Whithorn, Galloway
Hǽþfeld - Hatfield Forest
Iuddeu - Stirling
Jórvík - York
Jótland - Jylland, Denmark
Jøfursheim - Evesham
Kantaraborg - Canterbury
Kílfjörðr - Kiel Fjord, Holsten
Kofratré - Coventry
Konungsborg - Conisbrough
Konungslán - King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Krímskagi - Crimean Peninsula
Krylland - Crowland, Lincoln
Kænugarðr - Kiev
Lauðrá - Lowther
Legacæstir - Chester
Leirmörk - Leicester
Lindseyjarfaranna - Lindisfarne
Ljúfmunkstaðr - Leominster
Loðen - Lothian
Lonborg – Lancaster
Lundr – Lund, Sweden
Lærkrá - River Lark
Magilros - Melrose
Magonsætan - an Old English subkingdom between Hereford, Worcester and Wenlock
Miklagarðr - Constantinople
Mön - (Isle of) Man
Mörkfolk - Mercia
Munkastali - Newcastle
Múspellsheimr - the mythical abode of the fiery ettin Surtr
Myrkvafjörðr - the Firth of Forth
Niðurlønd - the Netherlands
Norðbarrvík - Berwick (Lothian)
Norðflæms - Northern Flanders
Norðfolk - Norfolk
Norðymbraland - Northumbria
Nýstaðr, Óðinnsnýstaðr - Newstead
Nýverk - Newark-on-Trent
Óðinnslódal - Wensleydale
Presttún - Preston
Púlgaraland – Bulgaria
Réadinga – Reading
Rikfjall - Richmond
Rodanborg - Sluis
Rúðuborg - Rouen
Sandvík - Sandwich
Saxelfr - River Elbe
Segeborg – Segeberg, Denmark
Signa - River Seine
Sikiley - Sicily
Sjáland - Sjælland, Denmark
Skánn - Scania, now in Sweden
Skardaborg - Scarborough
Skírrviðr - Sherwood Forest
Skygna - Schouwen, Netherlands
Skotland - Scotland
Skrobborg - Shrewsbury
Snottingaheim - Nottingham
Steinngötu - (Low) Petergate, a street in York
Steinnhof - St Peter’s
Steinnvík - Carlisle
Stöðfjörðr - Stafford
Suðríkingaverkr - Southwark
Svínaborg – Svendborg
Sæviðarsund - Bosphorus
Søl – Sylt
Temsá – River Thames
Tinangaheim - Tyninghame
Tishlíð - Teesside
Upplabýr - Appleby
Vaklingaborg - St Albans
Vaklingagötu - Watling Street
Valhöll - Valhalla
Valka - Walcheren, Netherlands
Varðarsteinn - Ward’s Stone
Véborg – Viborg, Denmark
Vébýr – Aarhus, Denmark
Veðrafjörðr - Waterford, Ireland
Velskerland - Wales
Vestmærrland - Westmorland
Vestr-Velskerland - Cornwall
Vigraborg - Worcester
Værvík - Warwick
Ymbra - Humber
Þjóðfjörðr - Thetford
Þolen - Tholen
Þresk - Thirsk
Þýðverskaland - East Francia
Ægisif - Hagia Sophia, Constantinople
Øngullsey - Ynys Môn (Anglesey)
Østland - Baltic Coast
Østmarr - Baltic Sea
Øxnannafjörðr - Oxford



Frermánuðr - November / December
Mörsugr - December / January
Þorri - January / February
Gói - February / March
Einmánuðr - March / April
Harpa - April / May
Skerpla - May / June
Sólmánuðr - June / July
Heyannir - July / August
Tvímánuðr - August / September
Haustmánuðr - September / October
Gormánuðr - October / November


N O R R Æ N A _ O R Ð A S A F N

ái - great-grandfather
álfröðull - elf-glory, an epithet of the sun
ambátt - bondwoman, handmaid
bautasteinn - standing-stone, menhir
bjargrýgr - midwife
blezaði - byname meaning ‘blessed’
bóndi, bændr - peasant, serf
bróðirdóttir - niece
bæjarstjóri - town chief, mayor
drótt - war-band
dróttinn - lord, chief
dróttkvætt - ‘noble verse’, a poetic form used by skalds
dróttning - lady, chieftess, queen
faðir - father
fljót - river
fjörðr - firth, fjord
föðurafi - paternal grandfather
föðuramma - paternal grandmother
föðurbróðir - paternal uncle
gestr - guest, man-at-arms
góð Jól - good Yule
goði - a rite-leader, the closest the Northmen had to a formal clergy
gyðja - a female rite-leader
gæfa - luck, fate
herrmaðr, -menn - soldier
hirð - a small group of companions of a jarl or dróttinn
hirðmaðr, -menn - a member of a hirð
hlautbolli - a sacrificial bowl used in blót
hof - temple, holy space
hólmganga - ritual duel
Hvítakristr - Jesus Christ (‘White-Christ’)
hörgr - temple building
í víking - a-raiding, a-viking
jarl - lord, earl
jötunn - giant, titan
karl - commoner, townsman (poetic plural: karla born ok kerlinga)
kirtisvein - page
knarr, knerrir - a round-hulled Danish trading vessel
konung - king
konungbarn - crown prince
kransen - a high-born maiden’s crown, a token of her virginity
lendir-mann - a man of the hirð in close confidence with the lord
lögsögumann - law-speaker
merkismaðr - flag-bearer, chancellor (CKII separates this into two different offices, one real and one ceremonial)
mjóbeinn - byname meaning ‘slim-legged’ or ‘effeminate’
mórk, merkur - mark (unit of weight, about 220 grams)
mundr - bride-price, money owed by a groom to the bride’s kin
naðr, nöðrur - adder
nefi - nephew
níðingr - unmanly, craven, dastard
níðr, níðar - curses, abuse
oskilgetinn - bastard
ragr - unmanly, effeminate
seiðkona - witch (not a very flattering term)
seiðr - witchcraft
seið-skratti - of a man, an effeminate practicer of witchcraft
skald - court poet
sighöfundr - Lord of Victory (an epithet of Óðinn)
spá - prophecy
stallari - marshal
stívarðr - steward
svinfylking - boar-snout (wedge military formation)
systkinbarn - cousin
tengdadóttir - daughter-in-law
tæring - tuberculosis
urðr - a person’s fate or karma, written by their actions and woven out of the ørlög
vámr - loathsome person
vargdropi - warg-begotten
vargr - wolf, warg, bandit, fierce man
völva - witch
þegn - thane, retainer
þræll - bondsman, slave
ægishjálmr - a symbol used in seiðr magic, said to confer invincibility in battle on the bearer
ørlög - in heathenry, the primal rule underwriting the cosmos
Last edited:
Sounds good.
One. Some Dane

Looking inland on that day, late in what the followers of Hvítakristr would call the year of their lord 870, one would see only a great grey sea of mist, through which the black crests of earth-waves with their slope-seaweed poked like helmets from behind a shield-wall. A beardless boy, barely old enough to know one end of a spear from the other, found himself staring up the Óðinnslódal along the river Jór, on the road which led to the village the Angles who lived here called Mæssa’s Ham. The seeping drizzle reminded the boy, Geirr, all too much of his home on the other side of the whale-road, but these hills were far taller than anything he knew. He had heard the call of Halfdan Hvítserkr and had run to the ships oar in hand four winters ago, with nothing but a spear, a cracked old round wooden shield with fading red paint, emblazoned with a sea-green wolf’s-head, his name of Bútnari, and an eagerness to make something of that name in this land.

With him were two older men, Refil af Rikfjall and Tyke af Konungsborg. Of the three of them, Refil was the eldest, and the closest to their king, Halfdan Hvítserkr. Refil had proven himself in the invasion of Norðymbraland, and already he had been granted by that breaker of rings the stead that lay just to the north of here, and made one of his þegns. Though his crown was balding, his hair was neatly groomed and braided down either side of his beard, and he made for an impressive figure. Geirr, the youngest of the three, trailed the two – a large boy, but no great fighter, with more fat on him than muscle, he was often the brunt of Tyke af Konungsborg’s jibes. Even more so because of his lack of a beard and the shaggy dark-brown locks which hung either side of his head, now lank and sodden from the chill winter drizzle. The three of them happened upon a small stead by Mæssa’s Ham, seated upon the crest of a hill at the end of a short dirt track, on the edge of a small but healthy stand of oaks. The three of them slogged toward it, boots squelching in the mud. Several swine crossed their path, followed by their drivers. Englar. Angles.

The Angles’ tongue was close enough in kinship to their own that Geirr could make out snippets of what they were saying. The goði Rikulfr said that these Angles had themselves once hailed from just beyond the Dane-March and had offered sacrifices to Freyr and Njörðr, before they sailed here at the word of the British kings, in dread of invasion from the north and west. Geirr could not believe it himself; these people seemed so beaten, so weak in resignation to their fate – how could they share any kinship with the Danes?

‘You! Angle!’ shouted Refil to one of them. ‘Who lives on that stead?’

‘I do,’ the man muttered wearily, shuffling to face them. ‘But we have nothing here but what few animals we have left.’

‘I don’t like your tone, Angle,’ Tyke growled at him, moving his hand to the sword at his side. ‘You have no courtesy in you – you should smile when greeting your guests. Perhaps I can cut you a new one, that you do not forget your manners again!’

‘Enough, Tyke,’ barked Refil. ‘We are not here to rob you, Angle – for that you may thank your Hvítakristr or whatever manner of god you pray to, and also the mercy of Halfdan your King. We need only a place to keep our heads from the rain a few hours and wait for news.’

The three of them trudged up to the cottage and made their way into the house, where an Angle woman was cleaning up about the hearth. Geirr sat and leaned his spear and shield against the table edge on one side. Tyke sat in another chair and groaned. ‘Týr’s hand, these Angles! Give them just a bit of leeway and they turn barefaced on you. Geirr, why don’t you, ah, make yourself more familiar with that fellow’s wife over there? It would be only hospitable of him, yes?’

Geirr’s face reddened and he lowered his gaze in shame. ‘Get stuffed, Tyke.’

‘Now you wouldn’t mind getting stuffed, now, would you, wench?’ Tyke called to her. The poor woman made no reply, but merely busied herself a bit more frantically with her work – not for nothing did she fear the men of the north. Tyke laughed. ‘Come, teach our shy and high-strung lad here a thing or two!’

‘By the All-Father, Tyke, could you at least try not to abuse our hosts?’ Refil chuffed in disgust. ‘We can’t afford such distractions anyway – Halfdan King said he would send his rider this way, and we need to know which of the three of us will be summoned to Jórvík, now that Ragnarr Halfdanarson has started on the whale-road to Miklagárðr.’

‘Well, it’ll be you, won’t it?’ Geirr said matter-of-factly. ‘Halfdan King trusts you most and best.’

Refil shook his head. ‘As a good and ready fighter, yes. That’s all I ever sought to be, lad. If the pricking of my thumbs is anything to go by, he will be looking to one of his host rather than to one of his kin. But he’ll be looking for something else in whomever he makes his chief in these lands, whether it’s Tyke’s ear for the ancient ways, or that silver tongue of yours, Geirr, which I know you have even when you’re not busy biting it – if not simply your youth.’

They waited several hours in the cottage, until at last they heard from without the sound of hoofbeats carried over the mist. They strode outside to meet the rider, who glanced over the two strapping, blond and bearded men and then to the dark bare-chinned youngster behind them. He paused for a moment and then began:

‘By your fealty to the mighty name of Halfdan Ragnarsson, King of Jórvík, speak! Which of you is Geirr Bútnari?’

The two blond men grinned and each grabbed one arm of the brown-browed lad behind them, and thrust him forward toward the herald. Geirr stiffened and gulped. Some Dane I am, Geirr found himself thinking. By the look on his face, clearly the King’s man on the horse was thinking the same thing.

‘H-here I am.’

‘Your King bids you to Jórvík at once, Geirr Bútnari. If you are found worthy’ – again that sceptical look – ‘the overlordship of Jórvík and its surrounding lands shall be placed in your hands. But all three of you, as close companions to our King, are welcome to join Halfdan’s ale-feast in his great hall. Góð Jól to you!’

Góð Jól,’ replied the three of them. ‘Týr shield our King!’

As soon as the King’s man was out of earshot, Refil turned to Geirr with a clap on the shoulder. ‘See? What did I tell you? The King wants young blood to guard this march.’

Tyke gave Refil a sideways grin. ‘You know what this means, don’t you, Refil? We’ll soon have to swear our fealty to this beardless pup, and call him “dróttinn”!’

‘Now there’s a scary thought,’ laughed Refil.

The overland journey eastward over the dales to Jórvík was an easy one for the three companions. This time, it was Geirr who took the lead of the three of them. Refil fell in quite easily – if Geirr did not know better, he would have thought Refil was relieved not to have been chosen for the honour. Tyke was a different story; clearly he thought he was better-suited to the position, but was far too proud to admit it. Instead he treated it the whole thing as a great joke straight from the mouth of Loki – Geirr as his lord? What next, a goat? Geirr admitted to himself that Tyke might not be mistaken in his doubts. When he had come to the English shores seeking his fortune, he could not have dreamed that the King to whom he had sworn himself would so quickly hand it to him – an honour not all would agree was deserved, and which would have to be defended with every erg of might and cunning he had.

‘Have no fear,’ Refil told him, as though guessing what was running through his mind. ‘Halfdan King is a brutal warrior, pitiless to our enemies, and has a wolf’s temper, but as a breaker of rings he is easy. This is not the first time he has given a fief to such a green one of his host. After all, not three years ago he made another Northman newly arrived on these shores, Steinn Kráka, bæjarstjóri of the town of Lauðrá and lord of all of Vestmærrland.’

‘And what of him?’ asked Geirr. ‘Was he not yet seventeen when he was granted this honour?’

‘Ah,’ Refil said. ‘No. He was three-and-thirty. But truth be told, he was no more of a fighter than you, and low-born into the bargain.’

That made Geirr feel more sure. It was not much longer before the timbered stockades and the town of Jórvík came into full view, with its close-pressed thatched-roof homes and its timbered docks, with wide-hulled, bright-sailed knerrir coming and going at fevered pace along the Ouse waterfront, to do trade with shores as far afield as Miklagarðr. The three of them were hailed at the gates and allowed within, up the narrow crowded streets to Castlegate – very soon they had entered the Long Hall there and each had a horn of ale in his hands. The warmth from the roaring Yule log restored feeling to their cold, wet and aching joints, and the smells of broiled fish, of spiced mutton and pork, of candied fruits mixed with that of the brew in the grand hall; only then did Geirr and his companions realise how truly hungry and thirsty they all were. Refil raised his horn and Geirr and Tyke brought their own to his.

‘To Óðinn sighöfundr, may he grant every victory to Halfdan our King!’ Refil roared.

Refil, Tyke and Geirr shouted a hail, then sloshed a bit from their drinking-horns onto the Yule-log as proper piety to the Hanged God demanded, and downed the rest as the spilt portion hissed and frothed in the fire. The breaker of rings himself gave a gesture of gratitude for the toast. He was in high colour and had been busy telling a bawdy story to his brothers, the wise Ívarr, Björn, Ubba and Sigurðr, and to the visiting Hæsteinn King of Bertangaland, who had brought with him many of his own host. But the King of Jórvík broke off when he saw the young boy before him. Geirr hastily wiped the rain-wet from his brow and brushed his shaggy hair over his ears more presentably.

‘Just the man!’ Halfdan chuckled. ‘You – Geirr Bútnari. This hall, this town, this march are yours from henceforth. Wield your spear in my name and rule wisely. Come, take my pledge, boy!’

Halfdan then tossed the ring to Geirr, who managed after missing it with his hands to catch it with an awkward swoop in the crook of his elbow. The men around him roared with laughter – and Geirr himself couldn’t help it after all. He joined them, and made a gesture of gratitude and fealty in his king’s direction.

‘Hæsteinn, my friend!’ Halfdan shouted. ‘Why don’t you introduce our new Dróttinn of Jórvík Hall to that pretty young half-Breton gyðja of yours? The two of them can be tight-lipped together! What say you?’

It had clearly been Halfdan’s and Hæsteinn’s intent to arrange them. Behind the King of Bertangaland, an auburn-braided girl no more than two years his elder, with handsome cheekbones upon a round face, a long mobile mouth and the blue cloak with catskin trim which marked her for a seeress, drew herself up to her full seated height, blushing furiously. But there was no mistaking that she had watched closely as the king had thrown the signet of the hall of Jórvík to the boy standing before her. Suddenly mindful of a burning sensation just above his stomach, Geirr looked around frantically for his comrade Refil, who merely gave him a half-grin and a shooing motion in the girl’s direction. Geirr then put his horn to his lips and quaffed his drink for courage and a looser tongue – and watched as she did the same. Heartened somewhat, he approached her.

‘Good gyðja, in Gullveig Fair-Tears’ name, what is yours?’ asked Geirr.

‘Úlfhildr Helgadóttir,’ she replied simply. ‘Of Dol.’

‘Dol? Where is that?’

‘South,’ she said simply. ‘Across the Ermarsund. It used to belong to my mother’s folk.’


The two of them shared a silence, trading the occasional glance.

‘When did you become a gyðja?’ he asked.

‘As soon as it became known that I had a gift for prophecy, and for the changing of weather and battle-tide,’ she explained, beaming suddenly. ‘Hæsteinn King’s goði praised the depth of my foreknowledge and my remembering of the great sagas, and recommended me specifically to tend the great Bautasteinn at Dol with my devotions.’

Geirr, whose own knowledge of the lore could not be considered lacking, began discussing it with her at length, and she obliged him gladly. They began to breathe easier together, but after they had been conversing for a couple of hours or so Geirr became aware with a throbbing in his callow loins of just how close they were. Seated close as they were he couldn’t but notice Úlfhildr’s firm, round hips, and where their thighs were nearly touching. He looked into her dark eyes, and a dread urge, hotter than the Yule log and overwhelming to his senses, gripped his heart and fastened upon it ruthlessly, sending blood to his face. She also blushed, and paused.

‘A new Dróttinn of the Hall would need an ale-bearer at his side,’ she mused, holding his eyes with hers.

‘Absolutely he would—I would, I mean,’ Geirr agreed.

Úlfhildr drew another inch nearer. How was it that a mere touch upon his thigh could feel like a spear flung straight at his heart? ‘This is madness,’ she warned, unconvinced and unconvincingly. ‘I’m your elder; you’re still just a boy. And a gyðja like me has spirits as well as kin to avenge my dishonour at your hands—’

It was unclear then, and Geirr and Úlfhildr would argue about it for scores of years to come, who truly began the kiss. Nothing at all was clear to Geirr at that point, except the feel of her lips upon his, tasting of fermented barley, spices and arousal, touching his powers of mind like an axe-blow to the back of his skull, but with a bliss as far removed from pain as Álfheimr is from Miðgarðr. Clumsy and wet those first few gestures were, but they drew in ever closer, under some strange and unknown force. Only after Úlfhildr remembered where they were did she break away, her breast heaving.

‘Geirr, no. For the sake of your own life, I beg you, do this rightly,’ Úlfhildr told him. ‘Offer the bride-price to my father Helgi. You’re a dróttinn now; he won’t refuse me to you. Go!’

Geirr, who had a born forthrightness – or was it merely that he lacked the will to lie? – which made him seem much bolder than he was, made plain his intentions both to the King of Bertangaland and to Helgi in his service that very night. The better for him! The dark-eyed man, far from being affronted to the point of drawing steel upon his daughter’s swain, indeed welcomed the idea of his daughter wedding a lord, and Hæsteinn, having planned the whole thing, was very easy about the whole affair. After the bride-price was agreed upon and witnessed, it was decided they would wed right there in the hall at Jórvík, the Friday after next, as was traditional. Halfdan King was certainly well-pleased with the agreement; the Yule feast would go on only for another week, but any grounds for making further merry – and no longer at his expense, now that his young betrothed vassal was lord of this Hall – were welcome grounds to him!


Thus was laid before Geirr Bútnari a road, and upon that road two long journeys he had not thought to make for a long time yet. When he had come to these shores, he had only in passing thought of wedding, and that as something far off yet. Never had he dreamed of the dróttinn’s wreath! Úlfhildr, now standing before him and the goði in her bride-crown, even with all her powers over his body seemed far less daunting than the hall they stood in, and the power over the lands outside it represented.

After the ceremony had finished, the toasts to Þórr and Óðinn and Freyr all made, and the feasting had resumed, Geirr sought out his comrade Refil af Rikfjall.

‘Ha! There’s my dróttinn!’ Refil, cheeks flush with drink, slapped young Geirr on the shoulders. ‘What does the great Geirr bid of his loyal þegn?’

The young boy answered, ‘Only to guide me in how to run a stead – and such a large one as Jórvík itself!’

‘Bah,’ the balding tow-headed man waved one thick hand. ‘Let your servants worry about running the stead. No one here asks you to be the All-Father! Merely hold your ale well and hold your spear better when your King needs it; what more than that could be asked of the chosen slain?’

Refil slung one arm over Geirr’s shoulders and lifted his horn in toast, ‘To your Úlfhildr! Freyja willing, she shall weave peace upon your house and bless it with many sons and daughters!’ The two of them crashed their horns together, locked arms and downed their drinks.

Several rounds later, a woman Geirr recognised as one of Hæsteinn’s female Breton þrælls approached him. ‘Dróttinn, your bride has made ready; she is waiting for you in your room.’

A chorus of guffaws and a couple of whistles greeted this announcement. Refil nudged him off with his elbow and gave him an unmistakeable wink. ‘To her, lad! Don’t be too soft with her; you’ll spoil her that way!’

Geirr gave one last toast and drained his horn to the bottom. He left the hall and made his way to the lord’s chambers, with drink and lust and terror driving his heart to hammer in his ears. After having slept in the hull of a long-boat as one of the host of Hvítserkr and Ívarr at the age of twelve, barely old enough to hold an oar, and having made his bed on a wood cot or on his cloak where he could since, he had not yet gotten used to the idea of a down mattress, let alone swiving on one! Yet now awaiting him there would be his wife. He gave a bashful nod to the maidservants as they were leaving, took a deep breath and swung open the door to his room.

Immediately he let it out again, as suddenly as if he had taken a blow to the stomach. There was Úlfhildr, bare as the day she was born and fairer than the year-counter, auburn braids draped over her shoulders, sitting perched taut on the edge of the bed. Geirr could feel the heat rising to his cheeks and watched as her own turned a brilliant shade of pink. Still, despite their bashful dread, they were drawn toward each other, by that same force that had driven them to embrace two weeks ago; somehow, by fits and starts, he found himself touching her, holding her close in spoons fashion.

‘No, not there,’ she told him as they fumbled together. ‘A little higher—ah! Au—ugh!’

She stiffened against him in hurt; Geirr tried to withdraw in bewilderment, but she grabbed his hand and held it to her breast, urging him on. She eased slightly, though peering around at her face he saw her red brows still knit and her long lips still grimaced in suffering. In the meanwhile, Geirr was drowning in a whale-road of fleshly enthralment to her, ashamed at his wife’s hurt yet unable to stop himself; suddenly with one thrust his head knocked heavily against the headboard and he let out a gasp of hurt.

‘Are you alright?’ Úlfhildr asked, biting her lip. ‘Keep going—’

It was not long before Geirr had done. Úlfhildr rolled onto her back, breathing raggedly. Her hands clutched her hips and she let out a groan. Her groom looked on in worry, and moved to touch her, but she shook her head and turned away.

‘No need, my dróttinn. I’ll be well; I just need rest,’ she said.

She did not speak to him again before falling asleep. But Geirr lay awake for a long time after, in spite of the weariness of his loins and the aching of his bruised head. He found it hard to believe Refil now, whom he now cursed in silence. Don’t be too soft with her, indeed. He’d made it sound so easy – not just being husband to Úlfhildr, but being a landed lord and running a stead. But if even his husband’s right, which ought to be joyful, was so daunting, how much more so would his dróttinn’s right be? Some Dane I am. Such were the thoughts that overran and taunted him in the hours before he set adrift on a stormy dream-sea.
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BelgiumRuler: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!

Two. Wolf’s-Head over Leicester

When Geirr awoke, Úlfhildr was no longer in her bed, but had gotten up and busied herself at a loom, where she was weaving threads, dyed blood-red. She chanted as she worked – clearly she was working her spells and enchantments upon whatever she was doing, but (thank Freyr!) her voice did not sound anguished or hurt. Geirr knew well enough not to ask what she was working on; this was her wifely domain and men had no business in it. She would tell him of it when she was ready. Instead, Geirr washed his hands and face in the basin nearby, combed his hair and clothed himself decently, and went outside to the hall, where he was greeted by Refil af Rikfjall and Tyke af Konungsborg.

‘Well, dróttinn! How was your first night as a man?’ asked Tyke.

Geirr did not speak. He hated even to think of it – he had slaked his thirst of her, but if he’d hurt her, given her powers of prophesying the ørlög and weaving enchantments, it would not bode well for their marriage or his sanity.

‘Oh, leave off, Tyke,’ Refil drawled tolerantly. ‘The lad our dróttinn’ll be back at it before long. But tell us this at least – was she still a maid?’

‘How would I tell?’ asked Geirr.

‘Well,’ Tyke said, grinning lewdly, ‘if she were a maid, there might have been blood. But she would not have enjoyed it, at least to start.’

‘Oh, so that’s what it was,’ the newlywed mused. Relief flooded him. Perhaps he had not done anything wrong after all?

Refil chortled with triumph and jabbed Tyke in the arm with his fist, which he then unfolded in waiting; Tyke frowned and took some silver from his scrip and dropped it into Refil’s hand. ‘But she’s a witch…’ Tyke grumbled.

‘You’d best begin to make ready the men of your Hall,’ Refil told his dróttinn. ‘The wedding-feast will be over soon; and then we will rain weapon-weather down upon the Angles again, and drive them before us like their swine. Bacsecg the Jute seeks the realm of the king Burghred of the Mörkfolk, – and the Hvítserkr will be at Bacsecg’s side with all his armies, to take it for him!’

‘The life of a Dane gone í víking,’ Tyke added. ‘Enjoy it!’

‘It will be over soon,’ Refil waved one hand. ‘Burghred’s grain-sheaf will melt at the mere sight of our steel, and he will flee rather than fight us.’

‘But think of the silver!’ Tyke gave a bearded grin. ‘The churches of their Hvítakristr and his mother might have had some loot up here, but these wretched northern shit-farmers barely have shoes to their feet, more’s the pity. Not so with the Mörkfolk, I hear!’

And so the flaxen-bearded men talked at length, with their dróttinn standing between them, of the fine plunder that awaited them in the south, begging to be taken. Geirr composed himself, wondering what he should say to his men once they had gathered outside the hall. But soon Úlfhildr, a worthy hostess now, had poured him a horn of the wedding mead, from which he drank greedily. He stood behind the high table at the host’s seat, by the guest-of-honour Hvítserkr’s side, gave three toasts – to a good Yule, to a good wedding-feast, and to his guest and King’s great victory at Bacsecg’s side – and then sat. He made a proper host and had a fine and booming voice, but it tired him to listen to the fell-throated shouts of dozens of other lords and þegns. With Refil and Tyke seated so far down, even amongst this throng he felt very much alone and out-of-place.

The fiery chariot rode across the heavens quickly, however, and drink and good food had prevailed over the dróttinn’s sullen tongue. Now merry and in good humour, he asked for his ninth horn of mead, only to find himself faced with a certain auburn-braided someone, dressed demurely in a white cap and a hostess’s dress.

‘My dróttinn,’ Úlfhildr spoke. ‘May I have a word with you?’

Geirr raised his empty horn in Refil’s and Tyke’s direction with a wink, and got up to follow his wife into a corner where they could not be overheard.

‘This, Geirr, is what I was weaving this morning.’

She had worked quickly! Or else she had enchanted her shuttle and loom to shunt at twice the speed of mortal woman. She handed him one of the two broad fabrics she held, which he unfolded. It was a quarter-sun banner complete with rays, which looked as though it had been twice dipped in slaughter-dew – the top edge and the left edge were both the deepest red, as were the rays which dangled from the round edge. But emblazoned upon the banner were –

‘Cats?’ Geirr said in chagrined disbelief, glowering at the three svelte golden beasts. ‘What Angle would fear a battle-banner sporting the steeds of Freyja, of all things?’

‘Not cats,’ Úlfhildr chuffed. ‘Lions. The symbol of this Hall from when the Angles possessed it; I spoke over it and wove into the threads enchantments for the plenty and safety of our wall-steed, and prayers to Frigg for many healthy children. But perhaps this one will be more to your liking.’

Another quarter-sun banner, this one fully red! And upon it in green, the glowering and fearsome face of a grim wolf, sharp fangs out and tongue panting. It was the emblem of his kin, from when they had lived in the Dane-march. Geirr felt his face soften, and saw Úlfhildr straighten in pride of her handiwork.

‘How did you—?’ he began.

‘When I was… making ready for you, that night,’ she told him, ‘I noticed your old shield in the corner, and burnt that image into my mind. Into this banner I wove my prayers to Týr and Þórr, that your hand may be swift and the steel of your spear keen, and that no foeman can stand before your gaze and live. I—I want to tell you something,’ she said.

‘What is it?’ asked her husband.

Úlfhildr paused, biting her lower lip. ‘But I fear to tell you. The ørlög, once known to men, enthrals your minds and bodies, because you cannot understand it or because you cannot understand yourselves. Still, I want you to hear and know.’

‘Know what?’

‘At the Bautasteinn at Dol, when I was seated before it, and touched it with my hand, I felt the earth sink away from me, until I was drowning in a great sea of the slaughter-dew of sheep offered in blót. The Bautasteinn sank within it; I tried to clutch at it, but it slipped away beneath the bitter iron waves. My skin was dyed red; I was just about to give over my breath in despair when I saw a boy’s hand come down. And a young boy’s face. When you first entered the Hall and I saw you that first time, I knew that it was your face. Geirr Bútnari. Wave-walker and raven-shooter. Truth-teller and law-speaker. Swede-father and Skot-cleaver. King-foe and two-kingdoms’-bane. Æsir-cursed and Æsir-blessed. Your fate is marked, my husband. And my spá-sight showed that it could also be mine.’

Úlfhildr’s words struck fear into his heart – and he had only to gaze into his wife’s raven eyes to know that she was speaking the truth. He knew the power of knowing the ørlög, of the gyðja’s intuition, and also that it meant madness and doom to men who knew too much. He yearned to know more, but dared not ask.

‘Thank you, Úlfhildr,’ he contented himself with saying.

‘I am your wife,’ she chided him, ‘and you are the Óðinn of my home! What are you thanking me for? Thank me by coming back laden with silver and fame, under that banner I wove for you.’

The feast ended and the men assembled, all eager to hike southward. Geirr Bútnari, standing under the wolf’s-head banner his wife had woven for him, gazed out over them with a grim look. Given the great hosts he had crossed the whale-road with, those now swearing fealty to him, including Refil and Tyke, were weak in number: not even five full lines of a proper shield-wall stood before him now, that he could tell at a glance.

‘Was this truly all that could be managed?’ asked Geirr of Arnlaugr, town provost of Skardaborg.

‘These men were all I could find to volunteer, Geirr,’ Arnlaugr said ruefully.

He was not surprised. To most of them, he was still a beardless pup and not a proper dróttinn. Very well, he forced himself to think. The fewer the men, the fewer the ways to split the spoils, and the more for each! Those who fight under my wolf’s-head this day and live shall be sure in their troth!

‘Danes!’ Geirr let loose his full throat, ‘Halfdan Hvítserkr is leading his hosts to the west; we shall not be following. Instead, we shall board our ships on the Ouse and put out to the Ymbra. From there we row up the Trent and strike south into the lands of the Mörkfolk! Mind this, we are not to begin taking loot and þrælls as long as we are under Halfdan’s sway – even the Angle-folk of Lincoln are under his shield. But once we have rowed past Ægir’s swells and entered Burghred’s lands, we shall go ashore, take what we can and lay waste what we cannot – and we shall not stop until we have reached Leicester itself and set it ablaze! May the All-Father grant us the victory!’

The four-odd lines gathered before him raised their own great shouted hail, readied their weapons and marched out from the hall at Jórvík together with the great host of Halfdan Hvítserkr and Bacsecg the Jute, but instead of crossing the Ouse to the Micklegate as Halfdan’s men did, Geirr led his men to the docks to board the long-ships and put out to the Ymbra. Refil had been right about Halfdan King – as breaker of rings he truly was easy, having given Geirr’s four lines his blessing to raid straight south under the wolf’s-head banner, as he and Bacsecg forged south and west to meet the great bulk of Burghred’s men in battle. But as the men of Geirr were taking up the oars on their seven shallow-hulled longships and hauling anchor to join the trading vessels on their downstream voyage, the voice of Úlfhildr rang in Geirr’s mind’s ear as though she were standing next to him.

King-foe and two-kingdoms’-bane…

And suddenly he began to doubt himself. Was it his fate to betray Halfdan King? Would Óðinn and Baldr and Þórr sow hatred between him and his liege? Was it truly a mistake to take on this raid southward? He shook his head suddenly – down that river lay only madness, the madness of knowing too much of one’s fate and too little of oneself. He had no doubts that whatever his wife had told him would come to pass one way or the other. But he would stand fast before it as he was.

Geirr’s Danes let the current carry them out to where the Ouse and the Trent merged to form the salty Ymbra; the port sides and starboard skipper then steered their longships one by one up the Trent, the fljót whose fickle course was infamous for its changes. Geirr offered up a prayer to Ægir of the seas and the tides for safe passage over his waters as each Danish long-ship in turn dropped its oars and began to go viking upstream.

They passed Skuma’s farmstead on their left, one of the few Danish-speaking outposts between here and the Angle stronghold at Snottingaheim, and continued their way southwards over Ægir’s day-swells. It would be when the waters no longer rose and fell in the river, by the town of Gannisborg, that they would drop anchor, land on the right bank opposite the town and attack any stead they could find. It was not many hours before Gannisborg itself came into view on the left, with its great earthen embankments and its grand wall-steeds – this was still the great town which Ceorl of Durham had made his seat before Halfdan King had forced him to accept his overlordship. The river was the traditional boundary between the lands of Ceorl on the one side, and Ælfgar Hwicce, sworn man of Burghred King of the Mörkfolk, on the other.

‘Drop anchor!’ Geirr shouted, donning his byrnie and wishing he sounded less like a boy and more like a man. ‘Move fleetly; strike swift and hard! Let Burghred quake in fear at the very sound of our names!’

Geirr grabbed his spear and shield, and leapt over the shallow edge of the longboat and plunged into the still-icy shallows of the Trent. Refil and Tyke followed after him, and then all of his three hundred men, save those needed to guard the ships and whatever loot they could pile into them. They walked, keeping to the wooded areas where they could, for three miles to the west of the banks of the Trent before they came to a small village. Geirr gave his men the signal, and they burst forward out of the trees with axes and swords and spears held high, raising mighty cries which would shake the heavens. The Angles of the village, caught by surprise in their toil, fled before the blood-red wolf’s-head banner like chaff in the wind.

Geirr darted forward up the dirt track with spear and shield, and deftly pinned an Angle peasant who had dared to raise his pruning-bill against him, leaving his life-streams to ebb away from him in the dust where he fell. He managed to catch up the woman who burst from his house and tried to flee, grabbed her wrists and held her pinion as she shrieked and sobbed and tried in vain to wrest herself free of his grasp. He noted briefly that her skin beneath her struggle-tousled dirty-blonde hair was fair and unblemished, and that the shoulders which battled against him were sinewy and strong – as a þræll she would fetch a fine price. Behind him, his Danes had axed down the doors of the hovels behind him and were sweeping into sacks any small tools, meat, cheeses, raw wool or furs they could find, anything of value, but from the sound of things this village had precious little by way of silver to be taken, let alone of gold. Geirr handed the woman he’d captured to Refil, who would lead her back to the ship to be shorn, trussed and collared.

The Danes ransacked the last of the houses and brought out the last bit of loot; then set the village ablaze. Crackles burst into roars as the tongues of Loki began to devour the thatched roofs; black smoke billowed into the air above the crimson-stained dust and mangled bodies of the slain and above the moans and sobs of those some dozen who had been captured as they watched their homes buckle and shatter in showers of sparks, so much hearth-fodder to the fires of the Northmen.

And thus also fell a half-dozen more villages to Geirr’s raiders, all up the Trent on both sides until the Trent veered west at Nýverk and the tall earthen ramparts of Snottingaheim came into their view through the trees. The great bulk of the loot they had taken had been in þrælls and workaday goods, with perhaps a couple of brazen and silver heirlooms from the wealthier families they’d raided; it was the desire of many of his men to break into Snottingaheim and take something more substantial. But Geirr knew simply at a glance that a mere four lines of a shield-wall would not be enough to take a great town like Snottingaheim.

‘Leave the ships, my Danes! We make south for Leicester.’

They left the longships on the left bank of the Trent, hidden by a stand of trees from the walls of Snottingaheim, and again went ashore through the bare branches of the mighty oaks and spindly white birches of this shire’s woods. Due southward they trudged through the forests; after about five miles they came upon a forester’s cabin. Geirr nodded to Tyke, who smashed in the door of the cabin, dragged the poor bastard outside, along with two young daughters, and forced him to his knees before the young Danish lordling.

‘How far from here to Leicester?’ asked Geirr.

‘Go to hell,’ the forester spat.

‘A brave one, I see,’ Geirr laughed. ‘I like that. Listen to me, Angle – I have no quarrel with you, and as Týr sees me I have no desire to steal the small bread from your mouth or burn the roof from over your head. But for the sake of your girls,’ he said as the Danes holding them, as if upon an agreed signal, tugged their hair upwards and pressed their sword-edges to their throats, ‘I would suggest you loosen your tongue, and swiftly. Now, Leicester – which way? How far?’

His daughters were staring at him in quiet, wide-eyed entreaty, too frightened even to whimper or shed tears. Hatred still smouldering in the forester’s eyes, he raised a hand and a finger due south, in the very direction they had been heading. ‘That way. Twenty mile.’

‘Very well,’ Geirr nodded, signalling his men. The Danes threw the girls roughly to the ground. ‘You shall find I am a man of my word, Angle. I shall spare your girls.

‘Danes – this abode you may not enter, nor steal anything from under its roof, nor strike any creature living under it. Your dróttinn so bids you! Southward!’

Some of his men had grumbled at that – the girls themselves would have made fair þrælls – but even they had to admit that such a poor forester would have had little else of value within there in any event. They continued their journey through the woods, with little but the company of birds and the rustling of creatures in the brush. About fifteen miles on they came to a lea, however – they kept to the edge of the wood, but they were apparently spotted. One arrow whistled across the lea and embedded itself in a tree behind them. All the Danes wheeled and faced into the lea. Another arrow – this one struck true, and felled one of the Danes where he stood with a wordless cry.

‘Shields!’ Geirr yelped. ‘Run them down! Their numbers cannot be great!’

The feeders of ravens needed no reminding. With a mighty roar that resounded over the lea like the wrath of Þórr, the Danes charged into the open, brandishing battle-axes and swords and spears as they descended upon the foolish and luckless Angles who had dared to fight back. Danish steel worked quickly upon the men of Ælfgar Hwicce, opening up great fountains of crimson sword-foam from the wounds they inflicted. In all, the feast of eagles and wolves of which the Danes had made such short work numbered fewer than forty; little there was by way of fame in such a slaughter.

The Danes left the lea and continued those last few miles to the walls of Leicester. The walls of that town loomed above them, and the Angles there within looked out upon their assailants without fear. Geirr brought Arnlaugr forward.

‘What make you of our chances here?’

‘These walls are far too long and well-manned,’ said the listener of many weapon-dins. ‘With a mere four lines we can do no more than sit as they mock us there within, just as with Snottingaheim.’

Geirr turned to his assembled three hundred. ‘Back to the ships! These walls will not fall to us today.’

There was some more grumbling amongst his men at the meagreness of frost and fire they had plundered, but all too many of them were relieved to be bound for the warmth of the hearth after spending all of frigid Þorri out on the open fljót or beneath the barren winter boughs. The battle at the lea outside Leicester would be remembered in neither story nor song, but as Geirr’s first taste of wound-wind it would remain forever burnt into his mind.
For clarity, I've added a list of names and Norse place-names, as well as a calendar, to the table of contents. Hope this helps!
Many thanks, GulMacet! Just wait 'till I get to the bad days at the office, heh.

And many thanks also to BelgiumRuler, Jarren, Lord Durham and KaiserMuffin for following! I realise there are rather a glut of Viking AARs at moment, and this one's rather slow to get moving, but I really appreciate you guys giving this one a chance.

‘Dunholm’s Great Blót’ should be coming up later this evening, if all goes according to speed. Hope y’inz enjoy it!
Three. Dunholm’s Great Blót

As Geirr’s Danes rowed back up the Ouse to Jórvík, Þorri was turning to Gói, and new green shoots were beginning to appear through the winter mists on the trees and in the grass, bright sparks in the midst of smoke. They returned with minor triumphs to the great hall, selling their plunder to the clever Jórvík merchants to be shipped to the Dane-march or to Bertangaland, or even further afield to Holmgarðr. Geirr was simply happy to be back in the great Hall, to put his feet by the hearth. He was joined there by his friends Refil and Tyke, as usual.

‘Not the glorious raid I’d hoped for,’ Tyke remarked, stretching his broad shoulders.

‘Striving for glory is well, but for me, I could use some rest for my arms and legs,’ Geirr replied, groaning and sinking into the lord’s chair at the high table.

‘Maybe so, but don’t get too snug,’ Refil warned his young dróttinn. ‘Rather sold as a þræll to the Saracens than chained to your bed!’

It was at that point that Úlfhildr approached them with ale, from which they all drank deeply. The three friends talked and laughed together for a long while. Refil regaled the younger men with tales from his veteran’s travels, not just with Halfdan and Ívarr but also the great expeditions to the east. He told them of having met the red-bearded Hröríkr, the great explorer who, in the years since Refil knew him, had wrested sway over Aldeigja from the Slavs and built a grand new settlement at Holmgarðr. Geirr sat entranced at these tales of a man who was to become the great hero of the East. It was several hours, though Geirr had not so much as thought to mark the passing of the time, before Refil and Tyke made for their beds. He rose to his feet stiffly and shuffled off to his own.

Úlfhildr was already awaiting him. Geirr had wondered, after that awkward and aching first time, if his wife would willingly allow him to her again; perhaps it would get easier. But the sight bludgeoned him and curled his toes just as it had before, of Úlfhildr Helgadóttir, bare of back and leg, kneeling upon the bed and holding out her arms to him. As he drew near, a hot raw animal smell wafting off of her, clearly some kind of seið-magic, bewitched his senses. She drew his face toward hers, and all was lost. ‘Don’t keep me waiting any longer,’ she breathed.

He didn’t. After a long ride more enjoyable by far both to rider and ridden than their first, Geirr and Úlfhildr slept deep and sound, entwined in each other.

In spite of his green youth, Geirr was coming into his own as a dróttinn as well. He sat at the lord’s high seat now with a lordly bearing of which mere months before he would never have believed himself able. He took great joy in meting out the spoils of the war against Burghred, meagre though they were, fairly amongst his loyal men. Such was the Danish way – when it came to weighing each man’s worth before the Chooser of the Slain, the highest king and meanest karl would be judged alike; so should it be also with the just lord!

It was still with the men unknown to him, the strangers to Jórvík’s great Hall, that his tongue tended to tie itself in knots. He had been thrust by the workings of fate into the overlordship of these lands, yet still it could not be denied that he was still more boy than man, and even as a man he might never truly be at ease as host to a great throng of men. It was true what Refil had said of him: he had the gift of Bragi, a skald’s tongue and heart, when he chose to use them. But he had ever only used them when in great need, or else among friends who did not need his sway.

The year rolled past, spring into summer and summer into fall; and Halfdan Ragnarsson and Bacsecg the Jute returned north victorious, with Bacsecg the Jute having taken the sworn oaths of the lords of the Mörkfolk, including Burghred, to himself as their king. Some, including Ælfgar Hwicce, had taken to their heels and sought refuge with their cousins among the West Saxons and the Jutes of Kent to the south. Geirr welcomed them back to Jórvík, but they did not stay long. Bacsecg returned to his newly-taken kingdom in the southwest whilst Halfdan continued onward to his stronghold at Dunholm.

In the meantime, Úlfhildr’s belly had begun to swell with child. Both Geirr and she were main glad of their blessing from Frigg, but she had also grown much more moody, by turns wroth and sombre, weeping or striking her hapless husband over the smallest of matters, by turns refusing to eat and pining after pickled herring. Refil advised the bewildered Geirr to merely keep his distance when she wanted, and offer her comfort when she needed. This was the burden, Refil had said, that all new fathers have to bear – beginning with the madness of their wives before they bore their children.


Still, for the most part, it was well with the Dróttinn of Jórvík, and Refil had spoken true: there was little need for him to worry overmuch about the stead. Refil af Rikfjall himself aided young Geirr in hosting all manner of men at the Great Hall, which came as great relief to the boy. Arnlaugr af Skardaborg oversaw the muster of men to go í víking. Tyke af Konungsborg, with his great memory for the sagas, served as the goði and offerer of sacrifices at Jórvík. Aslaug, the wily daughter of one of the Jórvík merchants, had a gift for flushing schemes out into the open, which on the advice of Refil Geirr had bidden to the Hall’s aid. And another Refil of Jórvík was given charge of the silver-hoards, of taking taxes and giving gifts.

Even when she was near to giving birth, Úlfhildr would not let any other to attend the sacrifices at the bautasteinn at Dol in Bertangaland in her place. She would leave Jórvík every autumn to return to her charge in Dol, the great stone there, erected by the Keltar of that land, upon which the blood of slaughtered creatures would be offered in sacrifice to the Æsir. Geirr accompanied her there to watch over her and the child, who was no more than a month from its due day; they put out to the Ymbra and then southward across the Dogger Bank and round Norfolk and Kent to the Ermarsund, which Geirr gazed at for hours from the port prow when he was not tending to his wife and unborn child. There were dunes and cliffs and inlets by the dozen along the coasts of the land of the Frakki, from which any proper Dane gone í víking could mount a truly lucrative raid, unlike their disappointment in Leicester.

They landed at a small village the locals called Gwivir, and proceeded southward around a small hill. Úlfhildr and her husband passed through the village of Dol, where the men and women, Breton and Northman alike, bowed before her brazen-shod seeress’s staff and had the way to the bautasteinn cleared for her, holding her in high regard in spite of her youth. Because Úlfhildr’s belly had grown to a the roundness of a knarr’s hull, her feet and back were ever aching and unsteady – but the men and women of Dol had already given this thought. The dirt track up to the great standing-stone and the holy peace-yard enclosing it, had been picked clean of stones, her meal already prepared, the blanket and soft pillow for her seance already laid out and the sacrificial beasts already trussed and awaiting slaughter. Here she would read the threads of ørlög for the year’s approaching harvest in Bertangaland.

‘Geirr,’ Úlfhildr told her husband, ‘you must leave. What happens here no man may see or hear.’

The father of the gyðja’s child did as he was bid, and withdrew from the peace-yard. One of the Breton villagers of Dol who had accompanied them said, ‘Come, my lord; it may be some time before she is ready to come out to us. If you would share our coarse bread and meat, we would be happy to place you at the seat of honour.’

‘M-many thanks,’ Geirr stammered.

The Breton led him back to his home in the village, a simple thatched-roof affair with a hearth at the centre. He indeed placed Geirr at the head of the table; The fare that the Breton had mentioned some stew served with bread, and a good-sized cask of wine. He tapped the fine red liquid and poured Geirr a tumbler-full before serving himself. Geirr noticed the silver crucifix hanging about his neck.

‘Did Úlfhildr always live in Dol?’ asked Geirr.

‘She did, until late,’ the Breton said shortly with a meaningful look at Geirr. ‘Úlfhildr always had an affinity for her father’s people and ways. But it wasn’t until Hæsteinn’s raiders came up from Nantes that she was able to seek patronage as his gyðja.’

‘So Helgi has been here a long time?’

‘Oh, long enough,’ the Breton considered, rubbing his blunt, thinly-bearded chin. ‘He wintered here in Dol before the Alain you see before you had any grey hairs. Our Elys crossed his path then. He took her; she carried the child and gave birth. And she must have loved him, for she was the one who gave her a Northwoman’s name.’

‘You don’t approve?’ Geirr asked. ‘It sounds like a good match to me!’

‘Ah, but she would not have us baptising the lass,’ Alain said ruefully. ‘Even for her soul’s sake. Of course, now we can’t even if we wanted.’

‘Her soul is a mighty one,’ Geirr said thoughtfully. ‘It takes great self-knowledge to know the workings of fate, as she does, and not run mad. If she’d needed saving, she would have been so long ago.’

‘I don’t know so much about that,’ Alain murmured. ‘But I do know there’s only two fates in this world for man or woman – one above and one below. And I fear those devils she communes with will drag her down.’

Geirr shook his head. Alain could not understand the shiver that ran down his spine every time he heard a skald sing songs of grief and vengeance, or the triumphal roar that greeted the tales of men who had done glorious deeds in life. He could not fathom the need to stare the great dark gulf in the face, and stand steadfast before inevitable wrack. And he could not know the fright that had gripped Geirr when Úlfhildr had told him of his fate. Úlfhildr, who bore the weight of that knowledge each and every day – how could her soul face any graver test?

Still, the elder Breton did understand good spirits and good company – and very soon the two of them were swapping their songs and tales over their second cask of wine, the follower of the Æsir and the follower of Hvítakristr both. Geirr quickly came to know Alain for a good and true man in spite of the jealous god he served, but it was there that Úlfhildr, her séance and prayers at the bautasteinn finished, found her husband, merry but not yet drunk, trying his best to sing along to an old Keltic ballad that Alain was teaching him. She leaned against the doorpost and clapped slowly.

‘A brave undertaking, Geirr, but you still can’t pronounce the “w”,’ she noted sardonically.

‘I’ll get it eventually,’ Geirr waved. ‘Just you—’

A groan from his wife as she slumped against the post brought both Geirr and Alain to their feet. ‘The child,’ she said weakly. Geirr lifted Úlfhildr under her arm and supported her as best he could, and Alain ran as fast as his legs would carry him to fetch the village midwife, before telling Geirr to put the gyðja on his wife’s bed. Geirr looked with worry upon her knitted brow, now beading with sweat, and looked into her eyes.

‘Do not fear, Úlfhildr,’ Geirr told her, grasping her hand and holding it hard. ‘Hold on. The midwife will be here soon!’

Úlfhildr lay her other hand on her belly, voice straining. ‘A good harvest—this year—’

Geirr soon found a thin, middle-aged Northwoman at his side, carrying a basin, a towel and a pair of clean shears which she lay with care at the foot of the bed. She smiled down at his wife. ‘Here I am, Úlfhildr. It’s Áfríðr bjargrýgr, remember me? Don’t hold back now. Turn onto your hands and knees, that’s a good girl. You, lad – you’ll be her Geirr, then? I won’t make you leave, but if you’ll just stand back…’

Geirr did as bid, and listened in loin-hurt fellow-feeling as Úlfhildr struggled and grunted and howled to free the young thing from her womb, which she did for many minutes. Geirr stiffened in fear at every sound she made; in spite of her seat of honour here, her body was still merely that of a girl of eighteen winters, and child-bearing was known to try the lives even of women in their full flower. But Úlfhildr was strong in both body and soul; when at last she fell forward with a gasp, having been lightened, Áfríðr had the babe in her hands, and cut the last thread connecting it with its mother. She gave it a thump on the bottom, and it began to cough and squall blindly; this done, she lay it in the towel, cleaned it and handed it to Geirr, who took the wailing newborn with care. Áfríðr then turned Úlfhildr onto her back, brought her forward by her legs and placed the tub under her.

‘Geirr… Geirr…’ Úlfhildr murmured in exhaustion. Her husband hurried to her side.

‘His name. Name him,’ she mouthed.

Geirr knew not what foresight had given her to know he was a boy, but one look proved that it certainly had not led her astray. ‘Bragi,’ he said at last.

‘Bragi,’ Úlfhildr grinned sleepily as she stretched out her arms to hold her son. ‘Well-named, husband – the god of poem and song! May you grow to have the tongue and the heart of a skald, my little one.’

Áfríðr had taken the afterbirth into the basin and emptied it into the grass outside; she came within along with Alain to have a closer look at the boy she had delivered into the world. ‘Skald’s heart or no, he’ll have his father’s nose and mouth,’ the midwife grinned appreciatively. ‘And his mother’s eyes. He won’t need songs and poems to break hearts and cause daughters’ fathers no end of dread, that one!’

The three of them, Geirr, Úlfhildr and little Bragi Geirsson stayed in Bertangaland long enough for Úlfhildr to finish the year’s ørlög-readings, then all returned together to their home in Jórvík. Bragi slept soundly as their ship set out to open sea and did not cry at all as long as they were on water; indeed, he looked around him with great interest. In spite of his Breton birth, already he was a true Dane! They plied up the Ymbra and the Ouse, disembarked and set out toward the Long Hall. No sooner had they arrived, however, but Refil af Rikfjall was there to greet them. After spending several minutes admiring the healthy young boy Úlfhildr carried on her shoulder, he spoke to Geirr:

‘A messenger arrived not here two days ago, from Dunholm. He brought news that Halfdan our King wishes to hold there a great midwinter blót this year at his Hall in that town, and invites all his host to attend the feast.’

‘We would be honoured to attend! And to have you with us, old friend.’

‘It won’t be just me,’ Refil remarked with a grin. ‘Tyke will be coming as well, as will be Arnlaugr af Skardaborg and Gandálfr af Steinnhof!’

‘That is well!’ Geirr exclaimed. Truly he would be delighted to be in the company of his close friends; that was added pledge that he would not feel alone and wasted, no matter how many he did not know were there.

They prepared several cattle and sheep each to drive northward, and set out on the journey overland north from Jórvík to Dunholm. It was only three days’ walk, passing Upplabýr to make rest at Þresk, then onward to the Angle settlement Dýrnauðringtún, and on the third day reaching Dunholm by evening. As the party of Danish warriors and their families set out from Jórvík, Geirr could not help but continue to stare at the scenery. He had come to these lands when he was twelve winters, but in the time he’d been here he had always been thunderstruck with the wild, stony fairness of these dales and moors and wolds, the heath-covered crags and vast slopes rustling and shadowed by an evergrey sky, and shot through with dark brush wherever they came across a shepherding pasture. Failing stone walls appeared at various points, and of course the ruins of Roman roads which attested to this land’s tameless holiness – a fit land indeed for the heroes of the north, long after the haughtiness of Rómsborg had faded to nothing.

At last they came to the fords of the wending, writhing rain-dragon Wear; at the first one south of Dunholm it became clear that the second one within the great city itself would not be far ahead. The light of the sky-candle showing like a pearl through the grey drifted off to their left as they made their way toward the walls, and they were welcomed within and given a hearty hail of ‘Góð Jól’ by the Danes on the wall. They followed the Wear down through its curves until the oaken stockades and the Long Hall came into view atop the castle hill. The small procession: Geirr, Úlfhildr and Bragi Bútnari, Refil af Rikfjall and his red-headed young wife Linda, Tyke af Konungsborg, Arnlaugr af Skardaborg and Gandálfr af Steinnhof, were each in turn greeted at the door by Halfdan Hvítserkr’s rosy-faced daughter-in-law, Björg. They joined the lords and their families from all other corners of Halfdan’s kingdom, and were led out into the castle yard by Halfdan himself, who led them to a grand gnarled old oak, beneath which lay a great stone and were trussed the young cattle and sheep each man and woman there had brought for slaughter.

As the learned Rikulfr had taught him, Halfdan began singing in honour of the gods Óðinn, Þórr and Freyr as one by one he slew each beast in turn, reddening the ground beneath him. He dragged the corpse of each to the stone and let it to drink of the blood, and took staves, dipped them in the blood and sprinkled the entire crowd with the hallowed letting. He then handed the knife to a þræll, who went to work skinning each animal and draping the hides from the tree in token of the sacrifice, and then cutting the meat to be boiled in great cauldrons in the yard. Halfdan’s þræll then went to work preparing a rope noose as the king himself called for several petty thieves, debt-þrælls and murderers who could not pay the were-gild to be brought before him. These were strung up promptly by the king and his strong þræll, and hung from the oak’s gnarled boughs alongside the calfskins and sheepskins.


This done, Halfdan turned to all of his vassals in the yard with a great roar of ‘til árs ok fríðar!’ – ‘to a good year and peace’ – which Geirr and all his fellows returned with zeal. They retired into the mead-hall and passed around an ale-horn to drink first to Óðinn for Halfdan’s victory, then to Njörðr for peace and to Freyja for plenty, and then they began to feast upon the meat of the sacrificed animals, leaving apart portions for the gods.

Geirr realised then that he was incredibly hungry. He speared a leg of mutton with his knife and gave it to his wife to eat (she needed the nourishment for feeding Bragi as well as for herself), before taking a great chunk of the ram’s flank for himself. The meat was savoury and tender; he tore into his portion with relish and downed it with the Yule ale; however, he found upon looking up from his meal that he could not even begin to match the gluttony of Anundr, the bæjarstjóri of Hjartarpollr seated around the corner of the table from him, who had already by the look of things already downed the entire hind part of the calf before him, and was on his eighth horn of ale, some of which was sloshing down into his dark beard.

With a lurch, however, he stood from the table and began to sprint straight toward Geirr, who pulled his stool inward toward the table instinctively. He didn’t get as far as Geirr, though, or even around the corner to his side – his stomach emptied itself onto the tunic of Oddr, the goði of Steinnvik on the Skottish March. Geirr glared at Anundr with disgust, before returning to his own meal at a more measured pace. Oddr, however, laughed, stripped off his tunic and tossed it aside to be washed, and continued to eat. One of Halfdan’s she-þrælls came to his side with a basin of water and a look of sympathetic concern on her face, and Oddr happily began to joke and flirt with her as she began washing him; Geirr paid this no mind. He turned his attention back to where Úlfhildr was playing with little Bragi, tweaking his nose and pinching his cheeks, rewarded with the child’s wordless mirth and toothless smiles. Returning the expression, Geirr joined them. As he was playing with them, he saw suddenly a brooding look on Úlfhildr’s face. It brought to mind how much, in spite of how as husband he basked in her, he feared her foreknowledge of his fate far more than he dared to admit. Was this seeress at his side to weaken him or aid him, to be his help or his wrack?

Above the babble of feasting voices, however, there shot through the room a knock of wood against wood as though someone were banging the tables against each other. And then another, and then another, followed by a great cry of ‘oh!’ Heads began to turn toward where the sound had come from.

Úlfhildr clucked wryly, ‘Looks like those two are enjoying themselves.’

Geirr gazed down the table to the corner – Oddr of Steinnvik was now not merely bare-chested but bare-legged as well, holding before him the waist of the serving-girl who had been washing him earlier, herself wearing nothing but her þræll’s collar and a wide-eyed gape. Again she cried out in rapture each time Oddr bucked against her, shivering at the knees, tensing and grasping and clawing at the table to keep her failing balance. By this time, their noisy swiving had caught the attention of everyone else in the room, and Oddr and the serving girl both stopped, abashed. She took up her own gown and draped as much of herself as she could with it, before taking Oddr’s hand behind her and leading him out of the hall. Mutters and chuckles echoing Úlfhildr’s remark, along with a couple of cheers and whistles, followed the two of them out.

‘By the All-Father,’ Geirr grumbled.

‘Oh, what are you on about?’ Úlfhildr laughed. ‘Don’t tell me you wouldn’t think of it. Didn’t the two of us meet at a Yule ale-feast?’

‘Aye, but I never went further than kissing you,’ Geirr straightened staidly.

Úlfhildr gave a silent ‘ah’ and an oh-so-knowing smirk, and went back to her eating. She’ll be my wrack, Geirr thought as he returned with to his own food. Halfdan sent around several more ale-horns to the gods, from which each of his guests drank in turn. He then enjoined his guests to spend the month at the blót until all the meat had gone, to make merry with Óðinn and Þórr and Freyr and toast to their honour for their blessings in all that time. But soon enough, Jól turned to Þorri, and the guests began to set out for home.

Úlfhildr carried Bragi upon her back as they all crossed the Wear once more and set out southward from Dunholm. Geirr did not speak much to her that first day on the road, but she asked him:

‘And will you again spend the summer í víking?’

‘Yes,’ Geirr answered.

Úlfhildr sighed. ‘And which way will you head?’

‘North,’ Geirr decided. ‘“Skot-cleaver”, you said? Sounds like our blades will be guided well there.’

Again Úlfhildr gave him that look, that maddening look – she knew more by far than she would let on. ‘I shall not stop you,’ she told him. ‘I want the Hall to ring with worship of your name every bit as much as you do. But weigh my words with greater care, husband, and don’t tempt your own fate.’
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And now, back to the grind. Grinding the enemies into the dust, that is. I wonder what his next raiding is going to be like...

"Come on, let's speed this up a little. At least skip all the raping. *sigh* I promised the wife I'd be home for dinner, and if she hears of what we... oh, another peasant village. Joy. *yawn*"
GulMacet: :D Well-spoken indeed for a Cardassian! (I say this as a great fan of Marc Alaimo, Casey Biggs and especially Andy Robinson myself.) Hopefully the next chapter will be more to your liking!

Four. Apardjón

Geirr stood on the prow of the shallow-hulled longship as it plied northwards over glass-green waves, out along the Forn Deeps as the Angles’ lands to their left began to be replaced by Skottish ones. Even the character of the land changed; moors and forests began to be replaced by heath-covered crags and rocky outcrops. The wind again picked up, billowing out their sails; they passed the Firth of Forth and the wind pushed their pine northward up the coast toward the point where another river flowed out to the sea. The eighteen-year-old dróttinn gazed across the sea-foam at the blackened crags, upward toward the northern Skottish town of Apardjón, that was their goal. They would land outside the town and take whatever they could from the surrounding farmsteads, and proceed to sack the city if their men were enough for the task.

These lands had once by right belonged to Ívarr hinn Beinlausi, but one among the number of his vassals, the jarl of Moray, had taken his men and risen in revolt against his Northman lord along with a great number of the faithful followers of Hvítakristr. They had restored the great kirk at Apardjón, the one erected in the name of their saint Machar, and were using it to rally their troops for attack. This was not merely í víking, though it certainly was that too – this was a boon to the noble brother of his lord. Well, thought Geirr recklessly, we shall see if these Skotar truly do know how to defend their towns.

The longships pulled up their sails and rowed in close by the shore, so as not to draw attention from further up the bank. Readying their arms and armour, they leapt from the ships and climbed the crags, shields on backs. They emerged mere ells away from a small fishing hamlet south of Apardjón, which they promptly struck, looted and torched – a far richer village, this, than the ones they had raided on the Trent! The silver alone was worth it indeed. But also it was better-defended, for soon a number of mail-clad men in woad, carrying spears and swords, appeared before them and began to clash in clouds of weapon-weather. These men were not mere pushovers.

Geirr leapt toward the nearest Skottish warrior with his axe and drove him backwards relentlessly, smashing through his opponent’s shield and cleaving it in twain, rendering it useless. The wild-maned painted Skot tossed the splintered wooden fragments to the side and gripped his sword with both hands, swinging it like a man gone berserkr, as the young lordling frantically tried to ward off each incoming blow with his own shield and cast about for an opening. Just as he was being pushed back toward the burning wall of a thatched hut, and felt the tongues of Loki nick at his heels to devour him, Geirr leapt up and swept mightily downward into the Skot’s neck, finishing him. He was bathed in a plume of his foe’s slaughter-dew. Skot-cleaver, indeed! Geirr thought with a wild laugh. And I haven’t yet truly begun! Geirr turned his gore-spattered face and gazed back proudly at where his sanguine wolf’s-head banner blazed against the smoky sky, for all of this land to look upon and dread!

The mangled bodies of Dane and Skot alike had kissed the earth to feed the wolves, Geirr noted as the battle faded, the Skotar fled and he gazed over the wrack of the village, but it seemed that two Skots had fallen for every Dane they’d taken. The Danes piled their takings into the ships waiting below, and proceeded up the hill to the town of Apardjón proper. The inhabitants had already taken what valuables they had, and themselves as well, and fled south to take refuge within the fortress at Dún Foither, which they had already passed on their voyage up the Skottish coast. Precarious though it appeared, perched on its outcropping of rock above a turbulent ocean, it was well-enough shielded against the Danes, who would need a much greater force to even hope to overcome it.

Geirr sent a scouting party northward toward the river Ythan, to see what kind of defences the fortress on that river had, and if they were any more easily breached than Apardjón was. Sadly, there was no hope of breaching the Ythan fortress either, so Geirr and his men continued to plunder and burn the surrounding countryside of whatever fire and frost they could lay hand on, and pile it into the ships. They continued thus, by turns rowing and raiding up and down the Skottish coast, for the four summer months from Sólmánuðr to Haustmánuðr. But some of the painted men whom they had driven off in their first attack on Apardjón had apparently raised a hue and cry against the Northmen raiders, and had swiftly put together a force four hundred strong to drive them out – or so Geirr’s scouts told.

Geirr did not allow fear to cloud his heart, but instead assembled his men along the south bank of the Don river from which this place took its name, very near the bridge across it from whence the Skotar would draw near. His Danes readied their spears and brandished sword and axe, pressing down their helmets and grinning beneath their beards beneath the wolf’s-head banner; as the painted Skotar came over the bridge they would be slaughtered to a man! A great battle-yell arose from the other side of the bridge, and the first Skot appeared in his mail and woad, wielding a spear, which he lowered. Instantly, the air became thick, a black wind of deadly feathers aimed at the Danish line.

‘Shields!’ Geirr cried. But his warning came late – already a dozen Danes had been felled by Skottish arrows. The Skotar poured across the bridge; at first it seemed as though Danish spears and Danish might would take care of the whole skirmish, but the Skottish archers were too deft, and their aim too true. Handily they cleared the bridge’s southern landing of its Danish holders, and kept thinning the Danish line of men. The ravens were circling high above them, awaiting the feast that was soon to come. The wolf-feast of the Skotar at the southern landing of the bridge was growing, but not as quickly as that on the Danish bank of the Don. Already outnumbered, the Danes quickly found that they were facing their doom from this Skottish band, who had already placed foot on solid ground on the south bank and were already breaking through the Danish line.

Geirr would not believe that he was bound for wrack here upon this bridge; what of the ørlög he had heard from Úlfhildr’s mouth? Could it be that his wife had read it wrong? No – that could not be, she was far too knowing to make such a mistake! Or was she leading him through her seið-witchery to his ruin and the death of the Bútnari line? Half his men had fallen to Skottish string-hail before he roared out,

‘To the ships! Withdraw!’

The Danes began to flee, shields held behind them, and the Skotar gave chase with a mighty roar. The string-hail continued to rain down upon them, bringing still more Danes close before the Choosers of the Slain. Downriver they raced to where the longships were anchored, and hauled up as soon as all left standing were aboard. The Skotar came in hard on their heels, but were too late by then to stop the Danes from leaving. The cry of triumph from the shore was the final humiliation for the beaten and bloodied Danes, of whom only one in three had reached the ships.

Still, they had their takings, and not small takings, these! Gold and silver aplenty there was, to be divided amongst the living when they returned to Jórvík. Refil af Rikfjall, who had finished in the rigging, came to Geirr’s side as the Skottish shoreline shrank away in the dwindling daylight, and Tyke joined him.

‘My dróttinn,’ the bald man asked, ‘why attack the Skotar here? And why did we not leave as soon as we had done with our raid?’

Geirr, feeling the guilt of having lost so many men, unburdened what he knew upon his friends, both of whose faces took on grim casts as he told them all of what Úlfhildr had told him of his fate – both the curses and the blessings. Refil and Tyke exchanged a dark glance.

‘Geirr,’ Refil began, ‘she’s a seiðkona. A witch, with the power to ensnare the senses and quell your memories, even bring a curse upon all of your blood. It was she who wove this wolf’s-head banner with all its spells, and beneath this banner we suffered a great loss. Even the truths she whispers in your ear, she can twist to make you her þræll. Witches have done the same and worse to far greater men than you!’

‘Refil speaks well,’ Tyke agreed. ‘Remember the words of the High One:

The speech of a maiden should no man trust
Nor the words which a woman says;
For their hearts were shaped on a whirling wheel
And falsehood fixed in their breasts.

Breaking bow, or flaring flame,
Ravening wolf, or croaking raven,
Routing swine, or rootless tree,
Waxing wave, or seething cauldron,

Flying arrows, or falling billow,
Ice of night-time, coiling adder,
Woman’s bed-talk, or broken blade,
Play of bears or a prince’s child,

Sickly calf or self-willed þræll,
Witch’s flattery, new-slain foe,
Brother’s slayer, though seen on the highway,
Half-burned house, or horse too swift—
Be never so trustful as these to trust.

Geirr listened and thought over their words. True, the wisdom of Óðinn said that the words of women were not to be trusted, and the wisdom of Óðinn was not something lightly cast aside, but still he could feel the truth in what Úlfhildr had spoken, both the good and the ill. Still, had she not told him herself, ere he’d ever set out, that he must weigh her words with greater care? Had she not told him himself that he must not tempt his own fate? He could not but see the wisdom in her own words also. It was in just such a self-embattled mood that he went the rest of the day, even as he took his place at the oars he could not stop his brooding over this failure.

The longships reached Jórvík just as Gormánuðr was beginning, and Geirr took his place at the high seat to distribute their takings amongst the one hundred remaining, which included something more than mere workaday goods! Those one hundred gave cheers of thanks to their open-handed king, but beneath those cheers Geirr knew lay sorrow for those two hundred who could not now give thanks. Geirr, sensing this, stopped midway and raised his ale-horn.

‘To the slain!’ he intoned gravely. ‘May Valhöll rejoice as they enter its hallowed gates!’

A solemn hail went up from the Danes of Jórvík, and they offered their ale to their fallen fellows. Geirr’s men then lifted a toast in honour of his loyalty to them, staying as long as he could under the Skottish assault – perhaps his failure at the Don Bridge could be forgiven. A third toast to the Dróttinn of Jórvík’s kindness, and Geirr again took up fairly spreading the fire and frost amongst them. Úlfhildr, bearing the ale at his side and pouring it as his men had need, took note of all, Geirr knew. It was only after his men had left the hall and returned to the garrison on Jórvík’s walls that Úlfhildr at last spoke to him.

‘I told you, my dróttinn, to weigh my words with greater care,’ his wife scolded him haughtily. ‘I did not swear you victory. Do not raise the wrath of the Æsir against you by daring them so to shield you, whether from Skot or from Dane!’

‘Then why did you tell me of my urðr in the first place?’ Geirr griped.

Úlfhildr flushed deeply as he fixed his glare upon her, and it seemed to him that she turned away a thought in hurt. ‘You know I have such high hopes set upon you; it is well that you know what lies in store for you. Surely you do not think that I am wrecking you by telling you these things? The Hávamál would have you not believe a word I say, and yet all these things I do and say not only for your sake but mine as well. Am I not your wife, who has borne you a son? Is my own urðr not tied up with yours? What wish would I have to ruin myself as well as you?’

That outburst quenched Geirr’s thirst to know for the time being. But Úlfhildr knew now that he did not wholly trust her; there was a hurt and wrathful look upon her face, her wide lips trembling as she left the hall, and he knew her still too haughty a being to show him the tears that he knew even now were streaming down her face.
I'm not sure what's more impressive, the amount of research you put into this AAR, or the prolific speed you are writing it. I really like the style you chose. Very descriptive and saga-like. Even mundane things like the Blot and childbirth were deftly handled and made interesting. And you even managed to include the Hávamál ;). Well done. I look forward to the next update.
Lord Durham, many thanks indeed! I'm very glad the style meets with your approval, and especially that you found the mundane details interesting. I was worrying, actually, if I was spending too much time on them rather than on the neck-gouging and skull-splitting and berserkr rage largely expected from Viking AARs!

As for the speed - I'll cop to the fact that I'd been researching and drafting this AAR for a bit less than a month before I started publishing it here (which is how I knew what the names of the first six chapters would be).

I'll be leaving on a hiking trip for a few days, out of internet range, but I should get the next chapter up before I go.
Five. The Awe-Helm

However heartily they’d feasted and drank in the name of the gods for a good year and peace at the great blót at Dunholm last year, there were some threads within the weft of the ørlög which not even Týr and Óðinn could change. The peace between Hvítserkr and Bacsecg the Jute could not last. Between two such kings, all too rarely is either one content to share his blessings with the other, and so it was in the English north. Hvítserkr with Norðymbraland and Jórvík to his name and Bacsecg now lord of the Mörkfolk, each sought after what the other had and each readied himself for the battle that was soon to come. And Bacsecg, king not only in England but also in Jylland, had the upper hand over Halfdan, whose sole honour was upon this isle. Which of the two began the war only the two could know, but both men each desired all lands the other held.

A herald from Dunholm came to urge Geirr Bútnari to make ready the troops to place under his king’s command, which he did heartily. Halfdan Hvítserkr was a hard man, but fair indeed to him – though Geirr was not so dull that he could not understand why Hvítserkr had chosen him in the first place, and had chosen to place him here as the Dróttinn of the Hall at Jórvík. Far from a mere kindness, it was both sound and shrewd in him to choose to place a border-march against the Mörkfolk under the shield of a youngster whose thanks and whose troth could be thus easily assured. It would not be so amongst his sons, the squabbling lot that they were! Yet even so, Geirr’s thanks and his troth were assured, and his men also to march under the raven banner against the Jute.

At Jórvík, Úlfhildr called for a leaving-ale for her husband and his remaining men-at-arms. Geirr was astounded – he had thought his wife still cross with him. But this… never would he have guessed that such an elaborate feast would be laid before him and his men! Savoury steaks of spiced beef and mutton, fresh-slaughtered at the end of Haustmánuðr, roaches fried to perfection and wafting their sweet river-scent all throughout the hall, whole golden plovers plucked and glazed and baked to a mouthwatering brown, pungent fermented herring to be eaten whole, boiled duck-eggs in vinegar, raw walnuts and hazelnuts, fruits both fresh and candied, including great fat sweet black mulberries, raspberries, lingonberries and tart round red hawthorn berries glazed in syrup (Geirr’s favourite since he was young), fat white carrots and radishes, pickled cabbage, fresh-baked barley bread with its warm and soothing scent tempting all its own, even were it not to be accompanied by the richest of butters and cheeses, including the creamy soft rennet-curdled variety from the east end of Sjáland which Geirr particularly loved.

It was too much for Geirr’s sense of self-restraint to bear. Nay, it would be a grave wrong against his Hall’s cook and against his lady to forswear from eating! He grabbed a loaf of barley bread, sliced it open and began to load it down heavily with venison and beef. He bit heartily into bread, meat and all, savouring the sauces; his hunger whetted to a keen edge, he tore into fish and plover, carrot and cabbage, hawthorn and egg each by turn, well past when his stomach was sated. And especially he enjoyed the richness of the Sjáland cheese – a mere sliver of the soft stuff was nothing less than a foretaste of Valhöll. He had not yet the same depth of hunger that Hjartarpollr’s bæjarstjóri had shown at Halfdan’s blót, and he doubted he would ever have, but he gave Anundr a run to make him sweat that evening!

Clearly his men felt the same, for they drank and ate their fill as he had, and toasted their hostess Úlfhildr repeatedly for her giving. She returned the gestures demurely, but it was clear that she exulted in their hails. Still, Geirr noted, there was a sadness in her eyes. Once all had eaten and drunk their fill, Úlfhildr pulled her husband aside and out into the courtyard, where she slew a dog with due honours to Óðinn and dipped her fingers in its blood. She placed them on his dumbstruck forehead, daubing four lines like the spokes of a wheel upon it, forking each end four times and at last encircling the hub.

Ægishjálmr, the awe-helm, is now upon you, for your shielding,’ she spoke, and draped a wolfskin mantle around his mailed shoulders. ‘My thumbs prick, my husband. When you march out on the gate north, do not let Bacsecg’s men take you, whatever else, or all is truly lost.’

Geirr nodded. It did not bode well that his seeress wife was so afraid. Though he still did not wholly trust her, the sign he knew was now marked upon his face in dog’s-blood was a mighty spell indeed: it would make him proof against weapons and the sight of his enemies. Truly she feared for his life in the coming war against Bacsecg. He gave her a brief nod, and donned his helmet to join his men. He told them that they were bound northward for Dunholm, there to gather for a mighty war against the false king Bacsecg – and that this would be a true test of their nerve and their honour. They lifted their fists then and shouted to shake the heavens, setting out from the Hall along the castle gate and then northwest along the river.

They cleared the stockades of Jórvík and trudged northwest past the peace-yard at Steinnhof, where the goði Gandálfr held sway. The late autumn air nipped harshly, and the rain tinkled off of their helmets and ran down their cheeks into their beards. Sodden they squelched northward on the road to Þresk, where they would at last join the troops of Hvítserkr.

But was there, looking through rain-clouded eyes up from the bank toward the smoke-grey sky pouring itself out upon them, that they looked about and saw themselves surrounded by Danes – not friendly ones, either. These flew the setting-sun banner of Barid Ívarsson, who had sworn his troth to Bacsecg, recognisable even in this downpour! As they descended the hill, so great were their numbers that Geirr knew at a glance they were grievously outnumbered, perhaps eight-to-one. Still, he gave the order, and his men readied their shields. They had no ground. They were trapped against the north bank of the swollen Ouse. They had no choice but to stand; any who dared flee across the river would be shot by Barid’s archers atop the hill, to drown or bleed to death in their flight.

‘Ægishjálmr I hold between my brows,’ Geirr murmured to himself in dread of his life as the wall of raven-feeders descended upon him. ‘Ægishjálmr I hold between my brows. Ægishjálmr I hold between my brows.’

The moment of dread had passed, and soon Geirr was locked in a tousle on the riverbank with a great hulking Northman his equal in height and double his age, in no way weaker than he and in many ways his better. The din of weapons, the crash of axe against wood and of sword against mail and flesh surrounded him. His sight narrowed and heightened as the blood pumped through his ears and face, reminding him that he was a man who could bleed as the rest were bleeding. Geirr’s axe sailed true down upon his opponent’s shield, and he managed to block each of his sword blows but one, and that one came crashing down upon his helmet, which flung itself from his head, cutting him across the skull and making his own blood join that of the sacrificed dog plastered across his face.

‘Ægishjálmr I hold between my brows!’ Geirr roared. His foe seemed thunderstruck for a moment, but a moment was all Geirr needed to bring the blade down tear a deep cleft beneath his mail between his neck and his shoulder. Sword-foam spurted from the wound as his foe sank to the ground, spattering Geirr’s already-sanguine shield.

‘Ægishjálmr I hold between my brows!’ Geirr leapt as if in a frenzy upon the next of Barid’s men, felling him with three short strokes of the axe.

A yell came from high above him. ‘It’s Fenrisúlfr! Shoot the wolf down!’

String-hail came searing down through the rain upon him; Geirr ducked beneath his shield, which bucked beneath the weight of some dozen deadly shafts. Geirr looked on as four heavy steel heads punched their way through his father’s shield. Geirr gave a roar and charged up the hill. Before Barid’s men could again draw bow against him, he was already upon them, and had parted three of their heads from the shoulders to which they belonged. More of Barid’s men engaged him, and pressed him back – but there was a look of dread in their eyes, as though they were not fighting a man but some fiend. To Geirr’s surprise, the swords and spears and axes shook in their hands. What had they to fear so from a mere boy with more fat than meat upon him? Was this somehow the work of Úlfhildr’s witchery?

He had no more time to think on it, for the first man came rushing at him with not so much a battle-cry as a fearful wail; his trepidation was the end of him, though, as Geirr caught him along the thigh, so deep that the man would surely bleed out. Surely he could not again raise sword. The second again came at him; that skirmish was also over as quickly as it had begun. Six men had now fallen to Geirr’s axe, and no arrow had yet found its mark upon him.

‘Ægishjálmr I hold between my brows!’ Geirr laughed, gone nearly wood from the toil of battle and from this mystifying turn of luck. Yet still they pressed him back, away from the river-bank and toward the way he had come.

He had not known it, but they had approached the peace-yard of Steinnhof, where the aged wrack of one of the Angles’ temples to Hvítakristr still stood witness to this holy place. Neither Barid nor his men would dare befoul this place with blood of foes, or show iron in defiance of the gods who watched over all who gathered here to sacrifice. Yet still they kept pushing forward even as Geirr dropped his weapon into the grass and entered the holy enclosure of the peace-yard.

‘Ægishjálmr…’ Geirr murmured into the rain, tired and weak, ‘I hold…’

And then Geirr stumbled and fell forward into the rain-sodden earth as everything around him blurred and faded into utter nothingness.

Geirr first became aware of a throbbing in his head and behind his nose, a burning that lowered down into his throat and scalded his entire body, followed by a dread chill that cut him to the marrow. A few moments passed before somewhere in his addled mind he drew the threads together and reasoned that he was alive and still had all his limbs, even if he were not fully sound and hale. Barid’s men had seemingly not wandered back across the marks of the peace-yard to kill him where he lay. He then realised that he was in a warm place, and the crackle of a healthy fire reached him in his ears, and the wordless burbling of his toddler Bragi. At home, then, and safe! The warmth brought the feeling back to his arms and legs, then his hands and feet. He let out a groan and made to sit up, finally opening his aching eyes.

‘He’s awake,’ came a voice just behind him. It took him a couple of blinks to place it, and for the firelight to bring itself together in the shape of a bearded face: that of Gandálfr af Steinnhof.

‘Yes, but not well,’ came another very nearby him, very known. With effort he opened his bleary eyes and saw Úlfhildr’s deep brown eyes gazing into his own. She was daubing his face with a rag which had been soaked in warm water. Soon the sweet warmth filled his head and shot down his spine. Gandálfr handed her a piece of scrimshaw with runes carved with care into it; this Úlfhildr took into her hands and placed it beneath Geirr’s brown head. The dróttinn’s eyelids were too heavy a burden, however; he closed them. ‘Let him rest, and let these healing runes swiftly make him hale again.’

‘I have a rider to send to Halfdan King yet,’ Gandálfr told her. ‘What should I give him to say?’

‘Say truth: that our Geirr fought until he could no longer stand, that his foemen drove him into your peace-yard, and that most of the men who marched out with him were killed or taken by Barid Ívaring.’

‘Perhaps I should leave out the part where your seiðr of dog’s-blood turned him into a ghastly wolf before the eyes of Barid’s men,’ Gandálfr smirked.

‘What you will, it’s up to Halfdan to believe it.’ Úlfhildr bit her lip. ‘I ought to have given him shielding seiðr from illness ere he set out, not just from the men who would be his bane.’

‘Don’t take so much upon yourself, lass,’ Gandálfr said. ‘Even you cannot foretell all.’

‘You oughtn’t speak lightly of my knowing, Gandálfr,’ Úlfhildr held forth in her high and haughty manner. ‘This is my husband and your dróttinn; I know more of him even than his father and mother do. And I tell you this – if he should go to feed the ravens before his urðr can be fulfilled, it shall mean wrack not only for me and him, but for the great throng all across this isle of ours.’

Gandálfr snorted, but from his pause bethought him better before speaking again. ‘Very well. Care for him as you must, Úlfhildr. I shall send word to Halfdan.’

Geirr slipped into forgetful slumber and out of it again, each time he was being dipped by his spine into boiling lead, and afterwards plunged into ice. The inside of his mouth was dry and his nose was fiery and raw with the marks of his illness. His skin became clammy and pale, and he could feel the beginnings of beard on his face begin to grow into a scratchy tangle. Yet all the while, the auburn-maned gyðja at his side tended him with further healing runes, cold and hot wet cloths as the fever or the chill took him, and plenty of ale and water to quench his deathly thirst. If this was some sort of wager on her part to win his trust, Geirr had to own that it was working.
Six. Break for a Sandwich

Geirr leapt from the longship into the shallows and the chalky white sand, the salt water of the Ermarsund splashing against his boots and leggings, battle-axe and round shield at the ready, as the Danes behind him did. These were the lands of the Frakki, but the sons of worthy Karl had since their father’s death fallen to quarrel with each other. Some of their counts, indeed, felt strongly that they were better striking out on their own, and swore their troths to no man nor master. With the followers of Hvítakristr so busy hewing each other apart with axe and sword, what better time was there to stake out their own share of the spoils?

The spring wind blew warm and fresh upon Geirr’s face as he beheld through bright filbert eyes the sandy heath above the fair hills where they had made anchor. But the wind would be all the sweeter when to it was added the smoke and ashes and smell of blood which heralded their victory! Geirr was now a man of twenty-three, mostly grown out of his puppy fat and into a tall, broad-shouldered frame; and these Danes at his back followed him not merely out of their troth but from their hearts, out of awe for their dróttinn. Soon they would add to that whatever they could take from these Frenchmen, and surely this time, they would fare far better than they had against the Skotar! But it was Refil who took him aside as his men went ashore.

‘Geirr,’ he said, ‘I would have you again hear Aslaug’s words. If we do not take more silver on this summer’s faring than last, some among Halfdan King’s kin, and even among your own host, would see it as weakness in you. They will not dare quarrel straight with you – some might use seiðr-craft against your rule and against your flesh. Will you not take her wise rede to heart? Even just one house-carl to guard you in the night!’

‘No,’ Geirr told him once again. ‘We did not fail here last summer, and we shall fare further and fill our hulls deeper than we did then. And you already trust me to split it fairly, yes? Then none shall say I am not a true dróttinn. The words of Óðinn do indeed tell men not to trust too easily, but a true dróttinn is no þræll to fear! Besides, my lady is a powerful witch in her own right. I’d like to see the seiðr that can touch me!’

‘My dróttinn,’ Refil af Rikfjall shook his head gruffly. ‘Are you truly sure you can trust her, or the strength of her seiðr? Your little Friðrekr was born cursed and sickly – you must think of your line.’

‘I do think of my line,’ Geirr retorted sharply. ‘I am not so ill a son as to forget my name and what I owe my kin! But Úlfhildr has shielded me from harm where her arts let her to. And can it truly be said of my Bragi she birthed, that he shames my line or my hall?’

Refil’s brow unwrinkled at that, and he laughed. Refil could not hide his true liking for the son of his lord, a strong and healthy boy who enjoyed playing with the tried-and-true warrior whenever he could. ‘The man whose tongue says that, I myself shall spit upon my blade like the swine he is. Though to speak truth, your Bragi is too choosey an eater, not at all like his father! You ought to have set him straight on that; let him eat hearty and drink deep!’

Geirr laughed at that as he and his friend and þegn set off together. The red wolf’s-head banner was flying high here, and Geirr was sure in his heart that this day, it would not fall. Geirr and his men traipsed down the strand; they had passed the cliffs at Hvítnef and Svartnef on the Ermarsund – cliffs Geirr knew well by their fame; for thirty years had Danes and Nóregr-men from the old lands set their sights on this strand when they had gone í víking, and in the summer past also Geirr had led his men to plunder these very shores. It had not gone so wrong as Refil had fretted: so much fire and frost had they taken from that faring that Geirr had been able to hire the Angles to build up earthen walls around Jórvík. This time as well, the sea on their right, and the dunes on their left, they set inland, uphill over the cliffs, upon the first village they found.

No sooner had the red banner been sighted by the villagers but they were gripped with dread, and those who were able grabbed what they could and fled for their lives from the Northmen, southward toward the fortress at Boulogne-sur-Mer. Those who could not flee, Geirr’s Danes swiftly ended. Whatever silver and goods there were in the village soon made their way upon Danish backs into Danish hulls, to be shipped back to Jórvík and split amongst them. No able men came to make sport of weapons with them; no doubt they were all holed up by now at Boulogne-sur-Mer, where their trothless and faithless count sat watching them from behind his walls of stone. Not that such was a worry to Geirr! Geirr’s Danes plied down the cliffs around Boulogne, their hulls growing ever-heavier with each landing.

This time they fared even further south, to Eu and past; the sandy white shoreline loomed ahead of them away to starboard, and the mouth of the great gold-hoarding rain-dragon Signa gaped slowly as they drew nearer, beckoning them inland. The Danes slipped their oars into the water and plied upriver on the Signa, rowing past the town of Hareflöþ. They rowed until they reached the town of Rúðuborg, in the realm of Karl the Bald, King of the Frakki, and leapt ashore ere they reached the walls. Each of the villages in turn outside the walls of Rúðuborg fell to steel and fire under the wolf’s-head banner, but the walls of the town itself they still could not hope to breach.

But the men of Rúðuborg were no cravens. Unlike the men who served the count of Boulogne, they did send men out to meet the Danes for play of spears. And these Frakki were truly bold! They numbering not half of Geirr’s host, who themselves did not quite number four hundred, but still these French feeders of ravens came down to the sandy riverbank of the Signa, brandishing spear and axe. This time, the Danes with their backs to the river were not caught unready! The shield-wall rose and showed its iron as the rain of steel and feathers fell upon them, and as the Frakki charged down upon them, their close-cropped red beards ushering forth great war-yells invoking the aid and shielding of Hvítakristr. The Northmen stood ready, awaiting their foes to come within reach of sword and axe. Geirr silently mouthed a prayer to Óðinn and to the souls of his forefathers, and gritted his teeth as he awaited the crash of steel waves upon their wooden shore.

‘For Christ! For Charles! For Francia!’

And then the thunder of weapon-weather swallowed them all; Geirr behind his bucking shield struck out with his axe, biting through Frankish mail and into Frankish flesh, drawing Frankish battle-sweat, gleaming red and steaming upon the head of his weapon. He struck out with his shield, pummelling down one of the Frakki, whose head he then cleft from his shoulders. Wave upon wave of the thunder of swords rolled over their shield-wall, but the weapons rolled off Danish pine like rain. They stood firm as the wind blew over them, bending at the ends and lashing out where the wind let up, and did not falter.

When the thunder rolled away and the war cries for Hvítakristr and Karl and Frakkland were replaced with moans and cries of dread and calls to withdraw, only then the Danish battle-trees dropped their timber and let out a mighty roar of victory. Only three Danes in that shield-wall had gone to meet the Chooser of the Slain, whereas at their feet, the harvest of eagles, forty Frakki lay hewn apart and broken at their feet. Steel not being cheap, they stripped the mail, helms and blades from their fallen foemen and loaded these also into their waiting long-boats. Not daring to wait for more Frakki to thwart their raiding, they set off again out into the Signa – this time downstream.

‘My dróttinn,’ Tyke af Konungsborg whispered to him as they emerged into the Ermarsund, ‘what are you doing? Think of the silver further upstream on the Signa, in the great town, the seat of Karl himself! Would we not be fools to turn back now?’

‘If we cannot breach the walls of Rúðuborg, we surely cannot hope even to touch París,’ Geirr bethought aloud for Tyke’s sake. ‘But we can indeed strike at Kantaraborg yet this summer!’

The Signa opened up again onto the blue Ermarsund, and once again the briny winds blew over them as Geirr’s small fleet let down its sails and plied across the waves, north toward the steads of the Jótar in the far southeast of the English isle. Here Æthelred Æthelwulfing of Wessex held sway through his eorl, Leofweald of Pleshey. It was not long ere the sandy dunes of the northernmost shores of Frakkland faded away and the great gull-white cliffs of the Kentish coast thrust themselves out of the water like so many spears of pure ice, frozen forever through this summer and through every summer until the Ragnarøkkr.

The ships moved up the coast until they came to the very bay at which the Saxar had landed upon this isle, and anchored themselves at the mouth of the Stour. Moving west and into the lush green inland up the coast toward Sandvík, they found a couple of hamlets ready to plunder, but before they could move out of the orchards, now ripe with autumn fruits, to plunder and torch them, their rear scout gave a shout of alarm. Geirr loped to the rear and peered out toward the bay. He saw the ships had moved off, and that the oarsmen’s shields were on their perches, to fend off the arrows which even now he could hear being loosed. They had not moved swiftly enough – Leofweald had taken notice!

‘Forward!’ Geirr yelled, letting his youthful voice soar out over the strand. ‘Forward, Danes! Hack your way to the ships!’

The Danes charged from the woods, shields up and steel out, toward the mouth of the Stour. But between them and the ships lay a quarter thousand Jótar. Leofweald himself stood at their head, smiling from his thin beard even as the Danes were near upon them. A craven Leofweald of Pleshey was not! He called out to the Danes, in a booming voice loud enough to be heard even from where Geirr was standing:

‘Come then! Have ado with us as long as you like! Do you think God does not shield us? For as sure as sun shines upon these shores, Æthelred King is not blind to you here! He marches in force upon you – one thousand six hundred strong! Do you still dream of standing, of carrying off your ill-gotten loot? We’ve a halter, and we’re drawing it about every one of your heathen necks!’

‘Heed not his rede!’ Geirr cried. ‘He lies! Cut them down where they stand!’

His feet pounded down the sand as string-hail flew past and above him. The Saxons before him to a man, he and his Danes would make them eat their falsehoods upon their steel, and split open their bellies for the ravens to feast upon. They leapt upon the Saxon grove before them and began felling battle-timber with great crashes and shouts. The sand was soon flecked dark with sword-foam as Saxon and Dane fell together into it. Geirr himself soon found himself face-to-face with a dark-bearded man, a hand shorter than he but with a burning gaze. With a start Geirr found that this face before him, he knew.

‘Ælfgar of Hwicce!’ Geirr grinned, panting. ‘It is long since I faced your men at Leicester, though happy I am to find you now! You’ll be worth a fat lump of gold!’

Ælfgar laughed, catching Geirr’s axe-head upon his blade and swinging it away from him. ‘We’ll see if you’re as happy spit upon my blade! The only fire you’ll be taking from me will be from the furnace of Hell!’

‘The lies these þrælls of Hvítakristr tell you!’ Geirr grunted as he swung in again. ‘You forget Éljúðnir is a hall of ice!’

Thus back and forth they struck, for thirty bouts before at last Ælfgar fell, and Geirr hauled him away from the fighting that he could be held for ransom – the more if he was unharmed. The whole day they fought, until the ground was littered with the slain, as many as stones, and great red streams stained the strand on their way into Pegwell Bay. All the while, the Danes’ ears were pricked for the call of the horn that would mean their wrack at the hands of the son of Æthelwulf. But the horns never sounded. The Saxon line broke and faded; shields turned to show the backs of byrnies as the men of Kent forded the Stour in rout. Refil af Rikfjall sent up a sharp whistle, and the long-ships slipped their sculls into the sound and began to paddle into shore.


It was only then that the horns went up from the grove behind them. The living Danes piled what they could into their ships, hauled up their lines, let down their sails and put their oars out, leaving Æthelred’s men standing thwarted on the strand, unable to do ought but fling arrows and taunts ere the Danish long-ships pulled out of earshot.

They kept the strand on their left as they hauled pine northward along the whale-road, around the long bend of the coast of Norðvík and up around the Dogger Bank, until Ymbra came into view at last. The autumn breeze nipped shrewdly as they pulled their long-ships onto the piers and began hauling up what they had taken from Frakkland and from Kent: þrælls, coin, rings, brooches, hack-silver, armour, blades, worth nearly one hundred and sixty merkur of gold in all. And, of course, the downcast Ælfgar of Hwicce, who would fetch a hefty ransom from his wealthy kin, or else hang as ransom to Óðinn. Geirr led his men in triumph to the hall, where all would be shared fairly. As he took his seat, however, with Úlfhildr ever the seemly hostess standing straight at his side, he noticed a pair of scrimshaw blades hanging over his seat. Each rune had been marked and burnt into the whale-bone with a fine hand – every one marked right, and in every one a prayer for his hale homecoming in wealth and fame. Even he could not read the depth in them, but he knew their meaning.


Geirr laughed in understanding, and turned to his wife, who kissed him briskly. Truly Úlfhildr had come by some new hobbies in the time he was away. Their second son, Friðrekr, was upon her shoulder, looking far more healthy than when he had left. Brown, bright young Bragi Geirsson, a fine young lad now of seven years, trotted boldly up to his father and asked to be lifted and set on his lap – as Geirr did gladly.

‘Men!’ Geirr boomed as he held aloft his horn of ale, sloshing several drops onto the hearth. ‘To Óðinn sighöfundr! May every faring he blesses be as glorious as this one!’

His men let out a mighty hail and drank to the one-eyed god. Geirr sat and leaned back. This summer’s faring truly had been blessed.
It's always nice to see a fellow Niner.

Viking life sure is fun, but I would start worrying about that Christianity thing. Norse life can't stand up to it forever, unless you do something.