Glendalough Fair: A Novel of Viking Age Ireland (The Norsemen Saga) (Volume 4), страница 1
A Novel of Viking Age Ireland
Book Four of The Norsemen Saga
James L. Nelson
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
Fore Topsail Press
64 Ash Point Road
Harpswell, Maine, 04079
All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by U.S. Copyright Law.
Copyright © 2016 James L. Nelson
All rights reserved.
To my beloved Abigail, my little Viking, my beautiful daughter, with a father’s pride and love.
Glendalough - (pronounced Glen-da-lock) means Valley of Two Lakes. Located in the Wicklow Mountains, Glendalough was founded as a hermitage by St. Kevin in the latter sixth century and soon developed into one of Ireland’s most important medieval monastic cities.
(For other terms see Glossary, end of book)
Table of Contents
The Saga of Thorgrim Ulfsson
There was a man named Thorgrim Ulfsson who owned a large farm in East Agder in Vik in the country of Norway. The farm had rich fields and every year they yielded an abundant harvest. Thorgrim also had a substantial herd of cattle as well as many servants and slaves.
Because Thorgrim was frugal and clever and worked as hard as any man, and harder than most, the farm prospered. Thorgrim was liked and respected by his neighbors and by the people in his household, and his opinion was often sought. Sometimes, however, as the night came on, he would fall into a dark mood, and then none would dare approach him. It was thought by some that Thorgrim was a shape shifter and because of that he earned the nickname of Night Wolf.
Years before, when Thorgrim had first grown to manhood, he had gone a-viking with the jarl who ruled in East Agder, a man named Ornolf Hrafnsson who was known as Ornolf the Restless. The two men became close during their many voyages and when they returned home Ornolf offered his daughter Hallbera to Thorgrim in marriage. It was a good match and Thorgrim and Hallbera were happy with their lives on the farm. Hallbera bore Thorgrim four children, two sons named Odd and Harald and a daughter named Hild and another named Hallbera, who was named after her mother.
Thorgrim’s wife was past her thirtieth year and no longer a young woman when this last child was born, and she died giving birth. This broke Thorgrim’s heart and when Ornolf asked Thorgrim to once again go a-viking (for Ornolf was never content to remain at home with his shrewish wife) Thorgrim agreed to go.
Thorgrim’s oldest son, Odd, was married by then and had children of his own, and a farm which Thorgrim had given him. Thorgrim did not think it was right for Odd to leave his family then, so he did not ask Odd to accompany them. But his second son, Harald, was only fifteen and was eager for voyaging, and so Thorgrim brought him along. Though Harald was young, he was stronger than many grown men and had spent much of his youth training for battle, sometimes in secret, and so he proved to be a good warrior and a well-liked and respected member of the crew. As he grew older his strength increased and soon he earned the nickname Broadarm.
Ornolf sailed his ship Red Dragon to Ireland. For some time the Northmen had been going to that country to plunder and had even set up longphorts at Dubh-linn and other places. The raiding was still good then, despite others having gone before, and Ornolf and Thorgrim and their men, around sixty in number, earned much plunder for themselves. Things in Ireland were very unsettled, for the Irish were not only fighting the Northmen but fighting each other as well. Ornolf and Thorgrim and Harald found themselves entangled in a great intrigue that revolved around Tara, the seat of the Irish king of Brega, and it was only through hard fighting and the help of the gods that they were able to get away with their lives and with considerable treasure.
During that fight Thorgrim was wounded, and once he had recovered from his wounds he took a crew aboard his ship and left Dubh-linn, determined to return to his home in East Agder and go a-viking no more. But the gods, who delight in playing tricks on men, damaged his ship during a storm and he and his crew were forced to sail into the longphort of Vík-ló. There, the lord of the longphort, a man named Grimarr Giant, took a liking to Thorgrim, but soon turned against him and wished him dead. This led to considerable trouble for Thorgrim and his men, but in the end Grimarr was defeated and Thorgrim was made lord of Vík-ló. This was the year following the time that Olaf the White sailed with a great fleet from Norway to reclaim Dubh-linn from the Danes. By the Christian calendar it was the year 853, and Thorgrim and his men had then been in Ireland for more than a year.
It remained Thorgrim’s only desire to return to his farm, but he could see that whenever he tried to do so, the gods prevented it. Thorgrim had a good friend named Starri Deathless who was a berserker. Thorgrim did not often ask advice of Starri, because he knew that the best advice was not to be had from berserkers, but in this matter he thought Starri might have some knowledge.
Thorgrim said, “Whenever I have tried to leave Ireland the gods have thrown me back. Now I have been made the Lord of Vík-ló. Do you think that if I determined to remain in Ireland the gods would allow me to leave?”
Starri spent some time thinking about that, and then he said, “Thorgrim Night Wolf, you are blessed by the gods, but for men like us, who reside in Midgard, sometimes their blessings are hard to understand. I cannot say what the gods are thinking any more than another man, but what you say makes sense to me, and the trouble the gods have sent your way seems to prove your words right. I think you should indeed remain in Ireland and see if the gods will favor you enough to let you leave.”
Thorgrim considered Starri’s answer and in the end took Starri’s advice and decided to remain in Vík-ló in hopes that the gods would then allow him to return home.
Here is what happened.
I have traveled on the sea-god’s steed
a long and turbulent wave-path.
Varonn, the time of spring work, had come to the longphort of Vík-ló after the long, dark months of winter. For the Northmen it was like waking from a deep slumber, and their fancy turned to thoughts of mayhem, bloody and violent.
Starri Deathless heard it first, as he so often did. They were sitting in Thorgrim’s hall, the biggest building in Vík-ló, with a main room that approached thirty feet on each side and rose to a peak twenty feet above their heads. It was raining hard that afternoon, the steady downfall forming a curtain of sound like surf, the note rising and falling as the wind gusted and drove sheets of water against the clay and wattle walls. The fire in the hearth crackled and popped.
Thorgrim and some of his men were gaming, and the click of the game pieces and their low murmured conversation were nearly lost in the steady drone of the rain. Thorgrim’s son, Harald, sixteen years old, lay snoring on a pile of furs on a raised platform against the far wall.
Starri sat in a corner, sharpening weapons that were already as sharp as anyone could hope for, and the scrape of his stone added another layer to the sounds of the day. When it came to sitting, which Starri did not often do, he preferred to be high above everyone, perched at the mast head of a ship, for instance, or in the rafters of a hall. Or, barring that, he chose to be down low. The middle that most men occupied held no attraction to Starri Deathless.
Thorgrim was losing at the game he played, but he was only vaguely aware of it. He rattled the dice in a leather cup, spilled them on the table, moved his pieces in a mechanical and thoughtless way. His mind was far from the game table. He was thinking of the ships down by the river, one already in the water, the other two needing only the proper ceremony and sacrifices before they could follow the first in. The smaller of the remaining two was even now sitting on its rollers.
It had been an extraordinary effort, but they had done it, had built the three longships from the keel up. And they were good ships. They were well built and Thorgrim knew they would take the seas the way a good ship was meant to do.
He was less sure about the men. They were coming apart, the ropes that bound them as a single unit rotting and falling away. It was a race now to see if they could get to sea, to begin raiding, to find some outlet for their frustrations before the internal divisions, which he had struggled through the winter to hold together, finally tore them all apart.
Thorgrim looked over at Starri, who was staring up toward the roof, his ear cocked. “Yes?”
“Trouble, I think,” Starri said. “Fighting.” Starri was a berserker, in some ways completely mad, and one of the things that set him apart from normal men was his extraordinary hearing.
Thorgrim stood fast enough to knock his seat over, and some part of him was pleased to have something to do other than waste his time on a pointless game. “Harald! Wake up! Turn out the guard!” he called, but Harald was already half way to his feet. When Harald slept he slept like a bear in hibernation, but a call to arms always roused him in an instant.
The others at the table stood as well. Starri, whose movements were somewhere between those of a cat and a squirrel, seemed to gain his feet with no effort, as if the wind had lifted him. Godi, big as a tree, and Agnarr leapt up from their places by the fire. More men appeared from one of the rooms at the far end of the hall. These were the household guard, so designated by Thorgrim when he had assumed his place as lord of Vík-ló. His son, Harald Broadarm, he had put at the head of them.
“Come, follow me,” Thorgrim said and turned for the door, but Starri spoke again.
“Thorgrim, I hear steel…”
Thorgrim paused. There had been fighting often enough during the winter months, but those brawls had never involved weapons beyond the occasional sheath knife.
“Swords?” Thorgrim asked. Starri nodded.
“Very well, you men grab your shields. No time for mail.”
The household guard scattered and grabbed up their shields. They were wearing swords already – the Northmen would no more go about unarmed than they would go about naked – but they had not bothered to take up shields. None of them had thought this altercation would warrant it. But if swords were out then they knew this could be something more than a drunken free-for-all.
Thorgrim threw opened the door and stepped out into the rain, a manic downpour. The wind lifted his long hair and whipped it off to leeward, it tugged at his beard, and before he was half way across the plank road he was soaked down to the skin. He was, however, quite accustomed to this, having been more than a year in that country, and so he did not pause as he crossed over to the hall that stood opposite his on the other side of the road. He pounded on the door and shouted, “Bersi! Turn out! Turn out your guard! Trouble!”
He did not wait for a response, but waved for his men to follow and headed off at a jog for the river. He could hear the fight now, the shouting and the clanging of weapons, and he knew it was coming from that direction. He had no doubt Bersi would be right behind with his own contingent of men.
Bersi Jorundarson had been second to Grimarr Giant, the former lord of Vík-ló. When Grimarr had been killed, Bersi might well have claimed the mantle for himself. But Bersi was not the sort who relished leadership, or so Thorgrim had come to understand. Instead, Bersi had convinced the others that it was Thorgrim who should command there, and so Thorgrim did.
But Bersi still had his following, particularly among the men who had once followed Grimarr, and Thorgrim was careful to include the man in his council and let him give voice to any concerns he might have. What’s more, Thorgrim had come to like Bersi.
He hurried on, wiping the water from his eyes, the footfalls of the men behind him inaudible in the driving rain. Down the plank road, past the small houses and workshops, so familiar to him now after all these months gone by. It was all dismal to look at. Color seemed to have been banished from the land. Everything - the houses, the ground, the sky, the road, the distant sea - was brown or gray or black, and it matched Thorgrim’s mood exactly.
The shouting could be more clearly heard now, and the familiar ring of weapons striking weapons, but Thorgrim could not see the combatants yet. The rise and fall of angry voices, muted by the rain, sounded like big surf on a shingle beach.
Anger, rage, frustration had all been building within the walls of the longphort for months now, dormant but growing and strengthening in its subterranean place. There were near three hundred men in Vík-ló, warriors accustomed to the release of battle or the mellowing effects of women, but they had neither.
The winter rain had been nearly constant, the wind vicious and cold. It had kept them shut indoors when they were not working, and when they were it made that work a misery. In all of the longphort there were only two dozen women, and half were married or old or both. There was, however, an ample supply of wine and mead and ale. In the same way that rot will grow in the dark, wet places in a ship’s hull, so the fury of the Northmen found a perfect environment to flourish that winter in Vík-ló.
Thorgrim Night Wolf had done everything he could think to do to stop it, but it felt to him like trying to claw a ship off a lee shore; he could use all his skill and all his knowledge, but he knew the wreck would happen anyway, and there was little he could do beyond delaying the moment when it came.
The tricks that Thorgrim had used to stave off disaster were varied, and for a while, effective. Hard work was at the heart of it, because he knew that there was nothing better for keeping passions in check.
The previous summer’s fighting had left them with only a single longship named Fox which could carry no more than thirty warriors, so building ships became the chief priority They had built three during those long months, crafting the fine vessels that Thorgrim envisioned with ax and adz, chisel and drill. Other men were sent into the woods miles from the safety
Still others were set to repairing the earthen wall that encircled Vík-ló, which in better days had formed a substantial barrier, but now consisted of a crumbling earthwork and rotting palisade. That was miserable, filthy, exhausting labor, and when the short hours of daylight were over, the men had little energy for anything other than eating, drinking, and then falling asleep. That was how Thorgrim preferred it.
He tried to be fair to all the men under his command, Norwegians and Danes. No one was kept at any one task for long. Each man took his turn in the shipyard, at the woodcutting and at the wall building. Save for those with special skills, such as Mar the blacksmith or Aghen the master shipwrite, each man worked equally at each job. It was as just as Thorgrim could make it. And the men growled and complained about it all, with the same unremitting constancy as the rain.
Work, Thorgrim knew, was the best means for preventing discontent, much like salt poured in a ship’s bilge would stave off rot, but he knew as well that work alone would not do the trick. He could not make women appear, but he did make certain there was food enough and plenty of feasts that included all the men of the longphort.
On the proper night in midwinter he staged the blót, one of three such celebrations held by the Northmen each year. The midwinter blót was aimed at convincing the gods to make the soil fertile when the planting season came. It was a raucous affair, as such things were wont to be. Cattle were slaughtered and, as the meat cooked over a roaring fire, Thorgrim, as lord of the place, splattered the animals’ blood on the walls and floor of his hall, which served as their temple. Horns of mead were lifted in celebration, and for that night at least the men forgot the winter’s misery. But then the blót ended, the wild bacchanal over, the new day began and the work started all over again.