Arnulf stood on the top of the hill and gazed out across the sound. The sun had gone down, but the sky was still rose-coloured where it had left the horizon, and the water was lapping gently. A shoal of fish twinkled at the water’s surface as
Arnulf searched every ripple intensely, but not even the smallest of boats was out to upset the evening calmness of the sound. He snorted with disappointment. A light evening breeze whispered through the fresh spring grass, and darkness began to creep out from the forest behind the village.
A dog barked, and Aslak Shipbuilder called to his journeymen on the strand where the sound of the axes was dampened by the newly-clefted oak keel. The evening’s stews were cooking over the many fireplaces in the houses, and the day's chores were amicably divided and completed between the households. Weaving and baskets were lifted in, the last of the firewood was split and the fish-catch of the day was hung to dry, while the blacksmith finished up hammering an axehead in the forge. A group of boys threw their wooden swords on the ground and began to tease some girls who were carrying meat from the storage hut and Finn Bow slapped his wife on the behind as he strode past with three freshly caught hares over his shoulder.
Trud stood, her arms akimbo, scolding her youngest thrall, but old-Olav gently intervened, and Trud’s anger waned, as the thrall hurried away, stooping. No one seemed to be in a hurry to go indoors and eat, for the air was intoxicatingly mild, and the newly sprouted greenness a soothing sight after the gray-white winter.
Arnulf pulled a lock of his long hair from his face and squinted. It was too late now for Helge to come gliding home on the black water. He would wait, let the sunlight shimmer on the men's chainmail and weapons and shed light over his newly acquired wealth.
On arriving home from plundering and looting, Helge would always stand at the bow of his dragon ship, his cape thrown dashingly over his shoulders, his outspread arms loaded with silver, as he proudly called his father's name. Stridbjørn would greet him with his great bronze-plated drinking horn full of mead, and they would drink to each other as soon as Helge had set foot on land. Helge would then catch Rolf in a manly embrace and lift up his mother, as if she weighed nothing, while the eyes of the village women would glow and their cheeks turn rosy. Children would flock to the returning warriors and admire their conquests and new scars, and the thralls would busy themselves, frying and boiling.
Stridbjørn’s longhouse would resound with song and laughter, and Helge would sit in pride of place and give his full, detailed report of this year's voyage, so the youngest, shuddering, would have to seek out their mothers for comfort. And long into the night, when everyone was finally sated and drunk, with stomachs distended from bacon and beer, Helge would turn to Arnulf, offering him his sword arm and they would wrestle.
Last year, Helge said that he believed Arnulf's grip would be skilled enough by spring, and he had promised to bring him home a real fighting sword. He sighed. It was not to be today! Overwintering at the royal seat was dragging out, but never before had a man of Stridbjørn’s lineage been invited to the feast of the king himself, and Helge had to protect his reputation and increase his honour. The snow was long gone, lambs and calves were once again suckling in the field. No other cold spell had seemed so long and gloomy to Arnulf as this year’s!
A last gull-cry was heard over the waves. He followed the sea bird’s low flight with his eyes and noticed how its call caused his blood to flow faster in his veins. It was the sea that drew him, the sea which filled his limbs with burning salt-water and it was his restless longing for the sea that frayed his composure. His heart was already out on the waves. Best to follow his heart and throw himself out with the tide, and best to go with the storm away from the coast and the long-winged seabirds. The gulls had screamed loudly this spring. They egged on the daring journeys of fire-minded men, they called on will and bravery, and they shouted to each other that now it was Arnulf's turn to plough the waves.
He clenched his fists hard. Together with Helge he would rally out and turn his back on Egilssund, together with Helge! Arnulf closed his eyes and flared his nostrils. The salt-air was crisp and there was a force in the herbs and earth. His heart was pounding.
He was about to turn and go, when he caught sight of Frejdis down at the cows, on the salt meadow, on the other side of the hill. She sat with her back to him, milking the one-horned cow with an experienced rhythm. Her blond hair flowed down her back like gold, and she had pulled her shift up over her knees so as not to stain it with the squirting milk and rolled up her sleeves to her elbows.
Arnulf smiled and felt light on his feet. Frejdis’ cheek was pressed up against the side of the spotted cow, and her winter-pale skin glowed against the earth’s fresh green grass. Her hips were round beneath her shift, and Arnulf felt himself swelling with pleasure. He could never look at Frejdis without his manhood stirring and standing like Odin's spear. Freja had given her those hips just so men would aspire to grasp them!
Arnulf stepped back quickly and ran with agility down the mound to get to her. Frejdis had not seen him; the wind rustling and the cows munching and rummaging in the grass made it easy for him to sneak up on her. She hummed. He knew the tune for he himself had made it. Her shift dress had almost slipped completely off one shoulder and the sight of it made Arnulf’s genitals throb fiercely. The gentle spring sun had not yet touched her vulnerable, pale skin, and softer skin than Frejdis’ was not to be found! It even made a swan's down seem rough.
He hunkered down. The one-horned cow turned its head and looked at him questioningly, and Arnulf jumped like a lynx, before it could reveal him. Frejdis let out a whine when Arnulf grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her down onto the grass, causing milk to splash on her legs. He pushed her to the ground and caught her flailing arms effortlessly. Frejdis’ eyes flashed, and she angrily shook the hair from her face and tried to free herself, "Let me go, you horny colt!"
Arnulf laughed and sat astride her hot, wriggling body: "I wanted some milk!"
"You are stark raving mad! Now the milk is wasted! Free me this instant!" She tried to bite him but could not reach and had to settle for lying there, furious and snorting. Arnulf let go of her hands and looked at the neckline of her shift, which revealed her well-endowed, shapely womanness. He reached for her breasts, but Frejdis smacked his hand away, "You're heavy, I can’t breathe, move!"
"I feel wild every time I see you!" "You were born wild, Arnulf Stridbjørnson!" Frejdis pushed him with all her might.
"Feel here how wild I am!" Arnulf slid off her and onto the grass and pressed his groin into her. Frejdis sat up and pushed him away, annoyed, "Stallion blood runs in your veins, but I'm not your mare!"
He grabbed her wet feet with a firm hand and licked the milk off her ankle, "Young stallions mount those mares that stray from the pack!"
Frejdis tried to pull her foot away, but Arnulf held it tightly and let his tongue run up to her knee. "I didn’t stray from the pack! I was milking, and now you have poured half the milk out of the bucket! My mother is going to be angry! And you can stop all that! What if someone sees us, your brother, for example?"
Arnulf greedily sucked the milk from her skin and nibbled her calf, "My brother? His ship has not yet been seen in the sound."
Frejdis grabbed his hair and pulled his head away from his leg, "Not Helge, you sulking-calf. Your other brother, Rolf."
Arnulf freed himself and let his finger follow the curve of her knee, "You mean my boring, responsible, reputable farmer brother? To Helheim with him!"
”Arnulf!” Frejdis’ eyes were reproachful, but her hand was gentle as it stroked his hair, "You're not the only one who has an eye for me, you know."
Arnulf sighed and rolled over onto his back. He frowned and softly he composed a ballad:
Stridbjørn’s sons Proud of two
One of sword One of field
The grey bear Grimly buzzes
The last son Makes woe of worth
Kinsman of the wild Path freely chosen
Wandering limbs Wayward words
Honour stealer Walks alone
Of wolf’s kin Begat
"Sssh!" Frejdis lay on her stomach beside him, and Arnulf grabbed a lock of her long hair. He ran his fingers through it and rolled over to bury his face in the rest of her golden mane. ”Do you know that you offend the gods with your beauty?” he muttered lustfully. "Even Freja doesn’t have such long hair, such sea blue eyes and such round legs!"
She laughed and pulled her hair away from him, "Now you are truly a bonehead! And your father has good reason to be proud of Helge and Rolf, few men have such good sons to boast of as he. And if he's mad at you it’s your own fault. It is not two days since you lamed his best stallion."
Arnulf rose up onto his elbow and pulled a blade of grass from its roots, "It needed to be exercised after the winter."
”You broke the plough!”
”Only because my arms are too strong for thrall-work!”
”And you let the sheep run wild!”
”It’s not manly to herd sheep. It’s a boy’s job. My sixteenth summer is starting now, and when Helge returns and takes charge of his new ship, he’s taking me with him on the next voyage.” Arnulf tiddled Frejdis on the neck with the blade of grass. She caught it between her teeth, ”Against your father’s wishes!”
"Veulf, the Woe of the Wolf, Stridbjørn calls me and Veulf will I remain! Since when have I followed his will? He should just rejoice that his eldest son now gives his youngest an opportunity to be split in twain."
Frejdis dropped the blade of grass, her eyes growing dark, "Don’t say that! Helge has gathered men to go a-viking over many springs. He’s taking you with them because he considers you ready."
Arnulf smiled and lay on his back again. The grass was wet with dew, and though the air was warm, the ground was cold. For a while he stared up at the rose-coloured clouds that floated across the sky, like sea foam. Then Frejdis lay her chin intimately on his chest, "You have missed him a lot this winter, haven’t you? It’s the first time he’s been away so long."
Arnulf turned his head towards her. Had he missed Helge? He had missed him so much his bones were frozen with longing! It was almost a year now. Helge had only been home for a short time during the harvest, when he had to set sail again to trade his newly plundered wares and then had been summoned to the king's royal seat. "Rolf has always done what my father said, and my mother loves him because he would rather plough and tend to animals than go sailing and fighting, but there is more to the world than seeds and bacon. I want out, Frejdis! Away from this village! To go out and look around, try my luck, win glory and silver!" The words made his longing tear at him like a roaring spring current.
"Helge has brought your father enough silver," she replied quietly. Arnulf looked at Frejdis’ white forearms and felt his desire flare up again. His fingers glided over her arm, "What has Rolf said to you recently?"
She laughed and pulled back her arm, ”Rolf? He talks. He shows me what he is doing and tells me about his plans with seeds and animals. Everything succeed in his hands."
"Now I'll show you something that will make you forget about Rolf and his seed!" Arnulf grabbed her hand and brought it down to his hardness.
"Agh, you only have one thing on your mind."
Arnulf was hoarse, "You just have to feel it. Then you’ll never think of my brother again!"
Frejdis giggled and gave in. Arnulf closed his eyes with a sigh, as her hand slid under his kyrtle and into his trousers. Frejdis nodded with a teasing smile, "Yes, it's handsome. But it doesn’t get the corn to grow and it won’t bring prosperity home from across the sea."
He lowered his voice: "Come closer, and I will whisper to you what it can get to grow! In its company you’ll never be bored, and that could easily happen with a man who only cares about his ploughshares and heads of cattle!" He grabbed her by the calf and found his way under her shift. His fingers bored deep into her soft buttock.
"Ow! You’re pinching!"
Arnulf relaxed and fumbled with the buckle. Frejdis rolled onto her back, "Keep your trousers on! Grim will soon be finished eating and then he’ll be here to keep watch over the cattle. He’ll see us!”
"A thrall who gossips risks getting his eyes gouged out. Grim won’t betray us!"
Frejdis pulled her shift down to cover her ankles and Arnulf gave up, "Fine, fine, but then promise me you’ll come to the forest will me tomorrow! We’ll find a clearing that even the animals don’t know about."
Frejdis’ eyes laughed, but she shook her head, "I'm freezing, it's still too cold to be rolling around in the grass now, and are you not supposed to be helping Aslak with the ship tomorrow?"
Arnulf shrugged his shoulders, "He can easily do without me. I worked for him for months on Helge’s new ship, but there is no honour in building a knarr."
"Honour? Wealth is wealth whether it be looted or traded!" Frejdis got up and walked toward the one-horned cow that had moved further up the hill. Her hips swayed seductively. Arnulf jumped up and ran after her. He had to get those hips! They swayed so invitingly, he couldn’t help it.
"Ship! Ship! A ship is coming! Frejdis! Arnulf! A ship is coming, a ship is coming!" Little Ivar stood on the mound, winded, and waving his arms, as he pointed out on the sound with spiky fingers. Then he ran.