Read the first chapter:

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.

Arnulf's heart was pounding and the blood began to pump so fast that he was bewildered. Helge! Helge had returned! He looked into Frejdis’ shining eyes and burst out laughing. He uttered a shrill yelp and jumped up into the air.

"Come, Arnulf!" Frejdis grabbed his hand and seemed to forget all about the one-horned cow. Arnulf started running so fast that he had to drag her behind him. He clasped her hand as if he was already wrestling with Helge, and she wailed.

At the top of the hill, he could see that the darkness really was about to envelop the sound, but the ochre-yellow woollen sail from Helge’s longship shone through it, like a star on the water. Down by the beach, people crowded together excitedly, and the air resounded with shouts and laughter. Those women who had had to do without their men for such a long time pushed forward, children cheered and waved to the ship and tried eagerly to distinguish fathers and kinsmen in the deepening dusk. The tension was palpable, and more than one person seemed to be standing and mumbling a prayer to the gods, for not always did all the men return home or have their health and limbs intact.

Stridbjørn walked briskly along the plank-coated road that led down to the water dressed in his best embroidered kyrtle, his splendid crimson cape around his shoulders. His chest-long gray beard was carefully combed, and there was a wide silver chain around his neck, for Helge should be met in style. In his hands, he held his shiny bronze-plated drinking horns, the mead sloshing about in them; the other men laughed and patted his back. There was always a feast whenever Stridbjørn’s Helge returned home. It was a certainty. For when Stridbjørn held a feast, it ensured no one had anything to complain about afterwards, for he was rich. Rich from all the treasures his son brought home with him and generously allowed the family to share.

Trud had also quickly thrown off her woollen brown dress and put on her blue dress with silver buckles that she kept for special occasions. The large amber necklaces shone against her chest, and her solid, twisted bracelets jangled. No man’s wife was prouder than Trud. Stridbjørn laughed at her and lifted his drinking horns in the air.

Arnulf didn’t care in the least about how he looked. What did it matter if his kytle was white or gray as long Helge came home! It was just a pity that the ship was coming in so late! It would be night before the roast was tender, the thralls could have the evening stew.

Aslak Shipbuilder’s journeymen lit torches, and Trud stood with her head held high at Stridbjørn’s side and jingled the keys on her belt. Out on the longship, the torches were answered, and as it came closer, the darkness came closer, but the yellow sail shone like the full moon itself.

Rolf, laughing, joined Stridbjørn and Trud and stroked his blond beard expectantly. Stridbjørn handed him one of the mead horns and flung out his arm. Rolf has also changed out of his everyday clothes and had washed himself scantily because although Arnulf doubted that he had longed for Helge half as much as he himself had, it always pleased Rolf to receive his highly admired brother.

The torches on the strand flared, and their glow was reflected in the bronze jewellery and moist eyes. Arnulf felt Frejdis lean in to him, he put his arm around her tightly and hugged her. It was nice that she was there and good that Helge would see them together as he was disembarking from the ship. Was there a better place to be found to lay your arm than around a warm-blooded woman?

Following the voyage with Helge he would go to her father's house with his newly acquired riches and put them on the table as proof that he could support Frejdis. She should be his, and Stridbjørn should plead his cause, even if he would have to strangle his father with his gray beard! That Stridbjørn was named after both battle and bear didn’t scare Arnulf and he smiled. The village people often looked sideways at him because of his firey mind and his thoughtless deeds, but once he had proved his real worth and been on the voyage, then they would think better of him. Frejdis should not want for anything. She should have as many amber and silver chains as she could wear around her neck and her pantry should burst with pork and game! And she should have so many thralls that she need not do anything all day but comb her golden hair and share her loveliness with him on a bearskin by the fireplace.

”Shouldn’t you go down and welcome your brother?”

”I should...” Arnulf turned towards her and took her face in his hands. He wanted to tell her how happy he was that Helge had come home and how strongly he felt for her, tell her that his whole body trembled and that he wanted to scream and jump, but instead he kissed her with such passion and hunger that it made her teeter and giggle. He let her go and ran down the hill and out over the sand, wading out into the water to bypass those in front, to get to where the ship’s bow would come aground.

”There you are!” Rolf lashed out at him and slapped his fist into his with a clap. He did this when he was in a good mood and he liked when it stung and slapped Arnulf’s hand back, but Arnulf could now stand up to Rolf and his brother noticed it.

"Well, you overgrown foal, do you have a skaldic verse ready for your brother? Sing, you are good at it.” Stridbjørn ruffled Arnulf’s hair, for today he was proud of all his sons.

Arnulf did not answer but looked towards the ship, where the sail was being taken down. It was close now. So close that he could begin to distinguish the men aboard and hear the rhythmic splashing of the oars. The ship glided as proudly as an eagle on the water, but its golden dragon head at the bow had been taken down and the figure which stood in front of the Vikings was wider than Helge’s.

Arnulf stared, then his eyes began to water. It was Halfred, Helge’s helmsman who was standing there! Arnulf bit his tongue and felt the blood drain from his cheeks. Was Helge not with him? Why was Halfred in his place instead of sitting at the helm? Was Helge still at the royal seat? He should have sailed with them, the king had had him long enough. Was he engaged with his housecarls? That wasn’t inconceivable.

The disappointment gripped Arnulf with an icy hand, and behind it, the fear. Halfred raised his arm and shouted to Stridbjørn and Stridbjørn answered his greeting. An uneasy murmur ran through the crowd, but Helge’s absence at the bow did not hamper the joy from all those who now recognized their men and kinsmen behind the ship's shields adorning the shieldrim.

Arnulf waded out into the water up to his knees and felt it sucking greedily at his feet. Halfred’s eyes were dark, and the weather-beaten warriors behind him kept their smiles and happy reunion to themselves, as they glanced at Stridbjørn. Several of them had wounds and bloody bandages, like they had recently been in combat, and Halfred had a nasty gash across his forehead. They were not good signs and Arnulf’s woollen kyrtle felt clammy. Halfred jumped ashore and grabbed Stridbjørn's outstretched hand.

Arnulf could not really breathe. His chest was so tight and hard that his vision became blurred. Stridbjørn's eyes burned like liquid iron, and his face was as white as snow. Trud stepped forward and grabbed Halfred’s arm, as Stridbjørn’s mead horns fell to the ground. "Where is Helge? Is not he with you? Is he sick?" Trud’s voice was shrill. Halfred looked at her, and his rugged face twitched, "Helge is dead, Trud! He died. Killed on the way home in Sælvig yesterday morning."

The words cut Arnulf like a knife. Everything went black before his eyes and he thought he was going to faint. His vision swirled, but he heard Trud’s painful screams slashing through the darkness and over the sound and he felt Frejdis’s warm hand in his. Dead! Was Helge dead? Helge, his beloved brother. Helge, who would return home to take him on a-viking. Helge, who would give him a sword. It wasn’t true, it could not be true!

Frejdis hugged him as hard as she could, but Arnulf's hand was limp and he was gasping for breath. The pulling of the sea and the rippling of the sand under his feet caused him to waver.

Halfred’s words triggered a great lament for Helge, and many of the women by the ship burst into tears, but Stridbjørn stood like a rock and maintained eye-contact with Halfred, though his lips quivered, "Killed, Halfred? By whom?"

Halfred pulled at his braided beard. Trud sank, groaning, and pulled the amber necklace from her neck, while the weeping women flocked around her. "By a Norwegian chieftain, Øystein Ravenslayer from Haraldsfjord. Helge had lain with his daughter against her will after drinking at a market place, and Øystein resented him for it. He spent half the winter waiting for us near the royal seat and followed us to Sælvig."

Halfred brought forward a sword that Arnulf recognized as Helge’s. Serpenttooth it was called, after the interlaced serpent adorning it. It was a hefty blade and inlaid with silver. The sword was without scabbard, and Stridbjørn's hand shook as he accepted the precious weapon. Halfred sighed deeply, "It fell on the deck when Helge’s arm was hewn off by Øystein, but Helge himself ended in the sea and sank. That is why we could not bring him home."

Arnulf’s stomach turned, and he felt a fierce stinging in his throat. Frejdis put her arm around his chest, as she wanted to support him, and Arnulf could hear his own anguished groans. His eyes burned. His lips quivered. He freed himself from Frejdis, clenching his teeth and his fists so strongly that they trembled. By Tyr if he would stand here, blubbing before the eyes of thralls and women like he was a child! His brother was a warrior, and he had fallen in battle, and with that fate he could not be displeased.

Stridbjørn spoke not a word. Halfred let go of his beard and continued, "Helge fell in single-combat and we avenged his death and killed Øystein and all his men and burned their ships. We took his son with us as a thrall. If you or Trud seek more revenge, you can take it out on him."

Halfred waved, and two men from the ship threw a young man over the shieldrim and flung him at Stridbjørn’s feet. He was distinguishably dressed in a dark blue embroidered kyrtle and his hair and beard were brown and well-kept. A Thor's hammer hung around his neck on a thick silver chain and heavy silver bracelets wound up his arms. His hands were securely fastened, his gaze, defiant and furious as he looked up and tried to stand.

Halfred grabbed the rope tied in a noose around his neck and pulled him down again, but the Norwegian fought hard to stand and only knelt when a a knife was pressed into his neck. Halfred spat contemptuously at him, "You need not fear retaliation from the men in Haraldsfjord, Stridbjørn, for all tracks are erased and they will never find out where their chieftain ended his days. And never has a man fought so bravely as your Helge. When he lost his arm, he swung the axe in his left hand and shouted that there was no reason to hold back just because he had cut himself, and when Øystein’s sword cut him off from life, he asked me to take his greetings home and apologised that the reunion would take a little longer. Then he himself sought the sea, and I struck Øystein down before he was given time to brag too much of his misdeed."

Stridbjørn nodded. His knuckles were white against the pommel of Helge’s sword. Trud sobbed, heartbroken, and threw sand in her hair. Rolf stood silent and livid, his thumbs in his belt, his breath hissed as he stared out at the black water that had swallowed his brother.

Arnulf looked at the sword in his father’s hand. Helge had promised him a sword like that! Now there would be no eventful voyage, no fighting and no looting; now Helge’s new ship would never carry his brother to fair deeds at the front of the bow, and he would not win any valuables to lay in front of Frejdis’ father. His body felt like a vessel which had been shattered and everything inside seemed to flow out and disappear into the sand.

Halfred threw the thrall’s rope on the ground and put his hand firmly upon Stridbjørn’s shoulder, "Helge is among the Einherjar now and when the gods rally warriors for the last battle at Ragnarok, he will be at the front."

”Thank you, Halfred.” Stridbjørn's voice was maudlin but firm, "And thank you for everything you have done for Helge. He never could reproach his men for anything, you have always served him faithfully and bravely."

He looked around and raised his voice, "My son is dead, but we will have a feast nonetheless! We will drink in his honour, and rejoice that his place in Valhalla no longer stands empty!"

His words were greeted with loud cries and Halfred drew his sword and began to beat the flat side rhythmically against the bow of the ship while he shouted Helge's name. All those bearing arms around him drew them and struck them against something that gave sound while they intoned his cry; even Rolf struck his hand against the ship.

The sand seemed to shake from the thunder and cries and Arnulf straightened himself and took a deep breath. He wanted to scream and punch or run away and hide in the darkness. Every muscle quivered as the pain in his chest took hold; it felt like he was being hit by a splintered arrowhead of ice, but he went quietly over to Stridbjørn and Rolf.

Now that the grim message had been delivered, the joy began bubbling uninhibitedly around them. After some yelling, the returning warriors sheathed their swords and began laughing and swinging wives and children around in the air. Men greated each other with manly, strong-armed clasps and gifts were found and shared, while a few had to be helped ashore as they were limping.

Trud, weeping, stumbled away supported by the women, and several began walking towards the village with their arms around each other's shoulders or carrying bags and chests from the ship.

Stridbjørn walked over and put his hand on the ship as if it were a beloved horse, "You carried him well," he said softly, "I owe thanks to you, too!" Then he glanced at Arnulf, "Tie the new thrall in the empty thrall-hut, Arnulf, and tell the others over there that I will beat to the death anyone who goes near him."

If Helge had not died, Arnulf would immediately have refused, believing the task to be below him, but now he obeyed silently and grabbed the thrall’s rope. The Norwegian sent him a fiery look; Arnulf tossed his head. The prisoner stood and seemed willing to follow without resistance and Arnulf noticed that he had difficultly standing on one of his feet.

Stridbjørn turned and placed his hand of Rolf’s arm and they began to follow Trud, as more village folk fell in behind them and called Helge’s name again. Stridbjørn held Serpenttooth out in front of him, his arm straight. It was the least honour he could show his deceased son. Arnulf followed them with his eyes and Frejdis gathered up Trud’s fallen amber beads and looked at him sadly before she took her leave. She knew that when something serious happened to Arnulf, he would rather be alone.

Arnulf didn’t rush the badly limping North Man but began to slowly walk away from the ship and along the water to the end of the village where the thrall’s huts were squeezed in by the forest. It was good to get away from the others, good to get out of the torches’ reach and into the concealing darkness where no one could see his face. His legs were heavy and suddenly every step felt unsure and new, as if Helge’s death had, with one feld swoop, changed the world’s pace.

The water sloshed quietly against the shore and the moon was almost full over the sound and the forest’s black crowns, and it shined with all its power, as if paying tribute to Helge. Its silveriness poured over the sea that now was his grave. Arnulf's trousers were wet up to his thighs, he shuddered and fought the urge to just sink down and give way to the tears. Helge was dead. His brother was dead. Everything was gone for him now. It was not only Helge, it was his whole life, his voyage, his burning urge to travel, his wanderlust and all his hopes of winning Frejdis.

The North Man's shoulders stooped as he limped through the sand, and Arnulf stopped and looked out over the water. A sail could no longer be seen out there no matter how bright it was. Now Helge would never get to launch his new ship. Arnulf knew exactly where he would have been sitting in the row of men. Aslak Shipbuilder had been so pleased with his help, he had given him permission to carve an eagle in the plank of the very oarlock. And Trud had worked on the sail with the thralls throughout the winter. At the very least Stridbjørn should have been allowed to cremate his son's lifeless body on the ship. Helge should have had it with him in Valhalla, it should have been burned with him, filled to the brim with horses and weapons, but Helge himself had sought the sea with his mortal wound. Why?

A sudden jolt tore the rope out of Arnulf’s hands. The Norwegian had taken flight and jumped like a hare towards the forest. His feet had not failed him in the least. Arnulf roared and took off in pursuit, anger sweeping through him and giving his leg wings. By his blood should the thrall trick him like that and hide in the woods in the dark! He would teach the miserable son of a stinking murderer to know his place!

The prisoner ran quickly for he had everything to gain, but Arnulf was familiar with every rock around the settlement and was mad enough to be the swiftest of the two. The bright moon illuminated everything clearly.

He found the Norwegian at edge of the forest and threw himself on him, so they tumbled to the ground in the withered leaves. The prisoner tried to bite him but he could not defend himself with his hands tied behind his back and Arnulf took hold of the rope and stepped on it, forcing the North Man's neck down to the ground. He jumped up, the anger making his eyes see red. Helge was dead, and the prisoner's father was to blame for the killing. He shook with uncontrollable rage and slammed his foot into the stomach of the North Man who uttered a stifled cry and writhed in pain.

Arnulf would take his revenge, take revenge for the pain in his heart that bit like a serpent, revenge for Trud’s crying and for Stridbjørn’s hidden despair. Such terrible sorrow could not be contained in the body, it had to be let out, have air, revenge!

The Norwegian wailed and Arnulf screamed, and felt the tears flowing down his cheeks like liquid iron. He kicked the man again, this time in the ribs, and so much that it hurt his foot. The prisoner tried to protect himself, but Arnulf kicked him again, this time in the side, unable to rein in the raging fury that tore at him. Everything around him disappeared and rage and grief coursed through his body like a spring tide. Revenge! He must have revenge! Halfred may have already killed Øystein and made him pay for his atrocity with his life, but Arnulf also had the right to avenge his brother, and Rolf had it, and this wretch at his feet had certainly earned every kick he could plant on his poor body.

The Norwegian gasped and tried desperately to roll away while he looked up at him, his face convulsed. Something in his gaze made Arnulf pull himself together and, with an effort, he ceased his violent attack and his surroundings returned to him. His kyrtle was soaked in sweat.

The North Man lay crumped on the forest floor, gasping as though he was about to give up life. Arnulf stepped back with a firm grip on the rope and, breathless, let his anger ebb a bit. The prisoner, groaning, rolled around onto his knees with his forehead on the ground, his breathing rattling. The moon shone so strongly between the bright green branches that Arnulf could see him clearly.

He could not be more than twenty years. From Norway. Helge had talked enthusiastically about Norway. About fjelds. Fjords. Rivers. But Arnulf could only hate this North Man. The prisoner began to get his breath back, now he groaned mostly from pain. "Get up, you dog, and be glad that I don’t cut your throat!"

Breathless, the North Man lifted his head, "You have broken my ribs!"

"I won’t cry myself to sleep over that tonight! Get up!"

The prisoner struggled to his feet, but he was weak and he had to lean heavily against a tree, still bent over. Arnulf waited, for he would not carry him. The North Man recuperated slowly and looked at him. There was no harm in his bright eyes, rather deep despair and sadness, he coughed painfully and closed them for a moment. "Let me go, Arnulf." His voice was hoarse and Arnulf looked at him, astonished, "Go? Are you mad? I lost my brother! Your father just killed him, and you ask me to let you go! As if you deserve anything other than to be beaten for the beast that you are!"

”And I have lost my father!” The Norwegian opened his eyes and tried to stand up straight, "I lost my father and several of my friends." He paused abruptly and groaned, but continued, "My uncle was also aboard the ship. Your grief is not half as great as mine, and it was not me who killed your brother. Let me go!” He leaned his head against the tree and looked very worn.

Arnulf spat bitterly, "Should my father have lost his son and so afterwards let his murderer’s cursed offspring run free?"

"My father lost his life!" The Norwegian had fire in his eyes again, "And your damned brother ravished my sister, so now she is carrying a child she does not want!"

Arnulf felt his blood boil with renewed fury. How dare he! "Stridbjørn will soon get answers out of you! And only if you beg on your knees, will I stay quiet about you trying to run away and demanding your freedom. Do you not know the penalty for a thrall that flees?"

The Norwegian's eyes flashed and he straightened himself, "I am no-one's thrall! And I have a name just like you, Arnulf! Toke is my name. Toke, Øystein Ravenslayer’s son. That name is known far beyond Haraldsfjord, and more men than you know will be so full of grief upon learning of Øystein’s death that they be willing to avenge him!"

Arnulf snorted disdainfully and was not impressed, "Thrall is what you are and Trud will determine your name."

Toke shook his head but did not give up, "Loosen my rope and say I escaped from you. You will not regret your deed, and I will reward you richly the day you visit my fjord."

Arnulf felt an amusing urge to kick the Norwegian again, but he stopped himself, "Helge was coming home to fetch me. Are you too stupid to understand that? We were supposed to go a-viking together. He had a sword for me. I have helped Aslak to build his new ship and now he's dead!"

Toke bowed his head for a moment, "You must really hate me!"

"Of course I hate you!" Arnulf shouted it. He was furious at the thrall’s insolent speech and that he’d lost his temper and let a stranger see his tears. "If you want to go a-viking, then there is all the more reason for you to release me, for my ship is in Norway just waiting for me to pick men for my first voyage without Øystein," exclaimed Toke, "Come with me, Arnulf and let your grief remain here! I will go west this year. An Icelander told me about a good place with much silver."

Arnulf shook his head and squinted with rage, "Should I turn my back on my family and run away with a thrall? Who do you take me for? Toke Øysteinsøn you will go out and sail as much as I, and once Stridbjørn has time to grasp his thrall-whip, he will break your pride, so you crawl in the dust before him."

He pulled the rope so Toke nearly lost his footing. The Norwegian was silent as he focused on following Arnulf, for he walked quickly, full of anger. No more words were voiced on the road to the thrall’s huts and Arnulf shed no more tears, but he felt as if the heart would burst out of his chest and he wanted to get rid of the mad Norwegian and all his talk as quickly as possible.

It was empty in the thrall’s end of the village for they were all preparing the festive food for the returning Vikings, but Arnulf found an oil lamp on a door pillar that he used for light and he pulled Toke with him to the smallest of cottages. It was used for barrels and pots. Arnulf shoved Toke brutally against the centre post that supported the leaky roof: "Sit!"

The Norwegian looked sharply at Arnulf but obeyed. Arnulf loosened the rope from his neck and used it to bind his arms securely to the post. Toke looked up at him, "Think about my proposal, Arnulf. Many would appreciate the offer to sail with my longship and they trust that I have inherited my father's luck."

Arnulf put his fist on Toke’s chin, "Your father’s luck? Any more of that talk and I’ll knock your teeth out! Better you think of getting used to what I have told you about a thrall’s life, for you decide how painful your life here will be!" He blew out the lamp and deigned not to give Toke any further attention but went out of the hut, slamming the door on his way. Oh that Helheim would fetch that North man tonight! That man was utterly intolerable! Hassle, that was all you got out of keeping thralls, squabbles and hassles.

Arnulf spat bitterly. That he should find himself quarreling with an unfree man, when he had just learned of Helge’s fate! He would go home to the longhouse now, go home and listen to what Halfred and the other warriors were recounting about their stay in the royal seat. He would drown his grief in mead and he would, for a moment, try to forget that he had lost a brother.

Perspiration flowed down his back even though the air was cool and his legs felt as soft as boiled cod. Arnulf bit his lip. His body shook. Shook so much that he almost couldn’t use his hands. He spat again and clenched his fists so tightly that his knuckles cracked, but the tears would not stop. They wanted to overpower him and force him to the ground, writhing in pain. Damn! Men didn’t cry, they drank!

Arnulf forced himself up on his feet and started to walk away from the thrall’s huts, but they did not go towards Stridbjørn’s longhouse, they were taking him back to the sea and they began to run. He gave in. Slowly at first, but soon he was running like a charging bull, running so hard that his heart throbbed, his lungs ached and he could taste blood in his mouth.

He wept with his mouth wide open as he ran along the strand, past the village, past the ships and Aslak's boatyard, along the salt meadow and all the way to where the trout-filled brook entered the sea. Here he fell to his knees and curled up into a ball, rocking back and forth, wailing frantically while the pain washed over him like a raging fire, each flame worse than the other. Helge was dead. Helge was dead.

ARNULF page 414-417: The beginning of the battle in Hjørungevåg:

"War companions! Hirdmen! Precious sons of Jomsborg! Kinsmen and blood brothers, Einherjer and heirs to Valhalla!"

Vagn stood in the skeid’s bow with axe and sword held high over his head. The long hair stroked his shoulders under the helmet’s edge, and his eyes burned like coal. His mouth was wild, behind the chainmail black lava cooked, he was a warrior, a warrior in blood, in intention, in limb, a looter of life, the death realm’s generous provider!

The Jomsvikings turned their heads and were silent for as far as his voice could reach. "Before my sword sees its sheath again, will the bay here be drained by corpses! Before I lower my axe, will the screams of Norwegian women have frozen the sea to ice all the way to Vigen! My courage can be measured with Odin’s! My strength with Thor’s! Who here will follow me into battle against earl Hakon and win a greater honour than Jomsborg could ever before boast of?"

A roar made the ships quake waves in the water, and the Vikings pulled out their weapons and shook their shields as Vagn swung his axe, so the skeid’s figurehead almost left its life, "I am so proud to stand before you that my chainmail is about to burst! In Asgard the warriors beg Valkyries to gather better company, can you not hear Sigurd Fafnerslayers’s and Starkad’s cries? Will you toast with them with Heidrun’s mead before the sun goes down? Together we will rip the heads from the Norwegian goats and use them as knáttleikr balls, who will help me comfort widows and daughters tonight, who will bathe in loot and gold, and who here will help hold earl Hakon until all our force has used him like a woman?"

A new roar rattled shields and weapons against each other, and Arnulf screamed with them, Vagn held the heart’s pulse in a single grip. "You are shining like Surtr’s battle-folk! Hakon is already crying from the horror in his piss-wet pants, and he shall have more to weep over! Before the day fades, I will hang him up by the balls, and there he will be allowed to hang until he howls that he will kiss my ass!"

The laughter crashed, and the swords beat rumbles against the shield’s surfaces. Vagn’s will was an engulfing river, it took everything with it, breaths were drawn with one lung, weapons carried with one hand, Arnulf had faith, was faithful to the death!

The Ågeson tossed his head, striking his axe against the earl’s ship, "So beleaguered is Hakon that he has rocked the cradles free for infants, set sail on them and staffed them with dogs! Woe to you who stands at the back, you will only get cold flesh to hit! Kill! Flense! Murder! Slay! Do we feel pain?"


"Do we know fatigue?"


"Do we know what fear is?"


"Who wins the victory?"


"Who are we?"

"Sons of Jomsborg!"

Again, the dark warrior’s cries were drowned out by enthusiastic roaring and rumbling, but he quietened them again. Frantically he grew, throwing his shadow completely over Sigvalde’s dragon, froth sprayed and the listeners became obsessed with a madness like a burning disease while the bear-earl’s voice resounded all the way to Jötunheimr, "Fight with me! Bleed with me! Win with me! If I falter, scorn me! If I flee, kill me! If I die, avenge me!"

Arnulf cried tears in his throat. With shame the last remaining fear and hesitation left his chest, Serpenttooth had to dance among its kinsmen, the shield-wolves howled, pulling at each other, woe to the Norwegians, woe to earl Hakon, woe to all of Norway!

From Vagn to Bue, the Jomswarriors and hirdmen screamed and hollered with the earls’ son’s temper, ships blazed, and shields rumbled united in a single rhythm while the cries repeated Sigvalde’s name. Arnulf was a scale on the serpent, the fate ruled, Odin rode Sleipnir over the soot-dark rolling clouds, and behind him beamed the late sun in the Valkyries’ helmets. This was the day for honour and heroism, for bravery’s deed and great revenge, Bifrost was open to Valhalla, and murder was the water bearing the fleet, zeal the blood that hammered the arms as rigid as man’s spears and madness the breeze that drank sweat from the skin!

The Norwegians also appeared to be whipped into action, their jaws howling from their limbs, and Sigvalde saw no reason to wait any longer. With a god-like roar he flung his spear towards earl Hakon and sacrificed the Norwegian fleet to the Aesir Lord, the oars were put into use, and the two forces approached each other, as inevitably as the increasing tide and the closer the Norwegian axes showed their newly-sharpened edges, the louder Arnulf shouted along to drown out the enemy’s spouting!

He saw everything from the thwart, everything. The countless country's defenders, many of whom had nothing more to place between blows and skin than layers of leather but whose hatred thickened the air, the spiky spears which roofed Hakon’s fleet like a hedgehog’s back, they squeezed their weapons, which for some were simply nail-tipped clubs, pointed sticks and firewood axes; the unpainted shields, and far behind the Norwegian force, a cow on a hillside shook flies from its neck with its muzzle in the grass. It was so peaceful! When the conflict was over and lineages had fallen, it would still stand there, only the night could disrupt its endless munching and patiently slouching tail.

Vagn commanded bows and slings be prepared, but before the arrows and stones were laid ready, a horn sounded from Hakon’s red ship, and the next moment hissing swarms of arrows swirled in high arches over the water. Arnulf raised his shield, ducking behind it. Serpenttooth hissed so strongly that he had completely forgotten the initial skirmish, but Svend laughed when the Norwegian earl blundered, his attack reaching only the water between them and none of the Jomsvikings lifted anything to guard them other than snide laughter.

Embarrassed Arnulf lowered his arm, but soon after the danger was threatening enough and Vagn stretched his sword in the air to give the sign. The arrows were awaited with eerie tension, more cowardly weapons did not exist! Even the finest warriors had to pay with their lives to men who out of luck succeeded with their blind shots, and all toil and ingenuity stood in vain against randomness, against a single toe long iron tip even Bue and Vagn could not do anything!

Both fleets tensed their bows and simultaneously released, and Arnulf curled, shuddering, into a ball of yarn behind the high raised wolf-shield when a hail of iron speckled the skeid like a full beard. It slammed against the shield, an arrow slipped by while another penetrated several hand-lengths through, and the edge was torn up by a tip that ended its fall with a dull clatter against his helmet.

The hood mitigated the blow, Vagn shouted again, and Arnulf snapped the intruding arrow, daring a quick glance. The archers were scantily shielded by their companions, but the exposure was dangerous, and it was about getting the arrows in the air before Hakon’s men loosened their strings. It sang and hissed, warnings barked, the North men had to stay in cover, and even before the bows were lowered, Vagn sent stones over the enemy.

That rain was hardly so deadly, but men were beaten unconscious and bones crushed, Sigvalde would be satisfied, and the rowers strained themselves on. Hakon’s second volley flew close, it was difficult to achieve full shielding and the Vikings at the oars were not spared, although many turned with raised shields.

The Norwegians also shot burning arrows at their guests, but it was easy enough to extinguish incipient loose fires as long as close combat had not begun, and the cleared ships did not seem to be easily flammable. Svend jumped up, throwing his shield to Arnulf while he yelled for protection, for now he would row!

Short of breath Arnulf returned Serpenttooth to its sheath and crawled to a free oar, while the soaked hair bristled the helmet from the scalp in sheer fear of arrows in the back, and only at the last minute did he manage to get both shields lifted before the ships were made to a drum-skin and chastened by the North men’s anger.

"It is a dry rain falling from the fjelds, it does not give many crops!" Svend's face shone with excitement as he helped a wounded rower aside and pulled the oar as if he alone would ram Hakon earl’s fleet. Stones splintered the skeid, damaging the thin planks, and surprisingly powerful flint hammered the highest shield against his shoulder.

Arnulf turned it a little to protect them both, and Svend managed some strokes between the forces’ exchanges of shots, so swarms of arrows rattled against each other over the water, falling ill-timed and missing their target, and now Vagn shouted for heavier weapons, the buggers should get spears; flea bites alone would not fell them!

The Bueson looked back, sweat pouring into his eyes, and Arnulf suddenly remembered the two seas that broke the bow on Denmark’s northern tip. Soon, very soon, the warring would run stakes through each other's lives, then the currents would break necks, and water and blood would mix with salt!

Behind the shields along the shieldrim short javelins were held ready, grips secured and weight proportioned, while archers scattered, sustaining their shooting, as long as there were still arrows to find on the deck. Death, death and darkness, was a fiery heart ever truly prepared to give up its life for another man's cause? Why were they here, the Danes and the Norwegians, when until recently they had shared a king in brotherhood?

Despite the danger Sigvalde stood far ahead in the dragon, and on the outside of the north flank Bue the Digre’s voice persistently poured splendid spite and curses on their opponents that Svend Silkenhair had to chuckle, shaking his head under the shields.

The sweat dripped off Arnulf, and his mouth was as dry as cracked wood. Whoever hesitated, died first. Whoever lost overview, was killed. The enemy, their sight bound, was not dangerous. Blows would not necessarily kill. Agile shield wielding, light foot changes, do not look the enemy in the eye, never cross your legs. The first block was the sword’s, the next the shield’s and lastly his body dodged. It was so easy to remember it all on the banner ground’s evenness, but now sense was failing, the limbs were heavy and stiff and soft, while fear sneaked around the body like a black wolverine hunting for sudden vulnerability. Fenrir! With Fenrir at his back he need not tremble, the wolf should have blood, saturated from Norwegian victims, and just with that thought the jötnar animal’s ears pointed.

Vagn let the heavy weaponry go, and it was not weaklings who cast them, only the strongest arms let go of spears, and they made nice holes in Hakon’s heap of men! Both on the red warrior’s iron whale and on Øgmund the White’s snekke people tumbled over the deck and shieldrims and those ships lying behind drove forward from their need for revenge while the answer immediately rushed the other way, and if the arrows had caused reasonable damage, the spearheads stack much deeper. The sound was obscure, the sight tremble-inducing and the arms stiffened in spite, the nips of Helheim would not stop Svend’s oar strokes!

From the snekke Øgmund slung weight into his shaft, Åse’s redress, and how he knew that the bearer of the wolf-shield had been the first to defile only Freyr could answer, the spear caused Arnulf to tumble back over a thwart into The Bueson’s shoulder, its point broken by the shield, deadeningly, releasing a sharp pain in his upper arm. A short scream escaped his throat, so his jaws bit furiously together, the weight of the shaft pulled the point out of the flesh when the shield tipped, and by Odin's eye was it time to whine! Blood kisses were a warrior’s ornament, Arnulf was up immediately with the Jomsman’s support and his arm obeyed, it was no worse!

Svend’s gaze blazed watchfully, but Arnulf snorted, still wielding the shield in both hands, so The Bueson collected himself to follow his row-companions’ oar-pulls and the next bunch of spears struck elsewhere. The pierced shield was heavy, so Arnulf supported its edge by slanting it against the nearest thwart, to pull out the spear could cause life-threaten exposure.

Despite the noise and the cries the blood rushed in his ears, and through the wound his blood was poisoned with an bestial anger, fear gave way, the pain pulled together, now he knew why Ulfhednir cut themselves before battle! Fenrir’s pulse pounded in his temples but Jomsborg’s warrior-will kept madness in an ice-grip, he, who acted in anger during combat, drove the blade in his chest himself!

Vagn’s men began to rise, rallying along the shieldrim at the foreship, those in front with scale-laid shields, throwing hooks and free sword, and behind them the long spears and broad axes were held ready. Closely, the Norwegians rowed forward, so close that the oars struck each other now and then when the current pulled awry and the iron whale and vassal’s snekke seemed each lay their long side against the skeid’s shieldrim to squeeze the tallow of Vagn’s crew.

Bjørn the Bretlander gave the sign from the Black Snekke to attack the blue iron whale from the opposite side and Little Ketil yelled cheerfully from his Blood Fox while Haug and Kjartan clinked axes in their hunger for wounding. Although arrows and spears still flew scattered through the air, both fleets seemed to be making ready for close combat; threats, howls and weapon-roars thundered across the bay like never before, and Sigvalde shouted his last orders, foaming at the mouth. Immense was the strength of the gathered warriors!

The water level rose up the fjelds with a crushing pressure, never had greater whales romped along the Norwegian coast, never had such sharp keels clefted the archipelago to strips! The square on the deck was cramped and the thwarts were treacherous to fight over, much allowance for movement was not made, but the men apparently knew to keep together without clumping.

Svend wanted to go to Vagn and let go of his oar. He snatched a stray shield and spear, nodding encouragingly to Arnulf, then in a few leaps he was among the warriors waiting at the bow and stood with one foot on each thwart to be part of the game over his companions’ heads.

Arnulf groaned. He was embroiled in a din and if the straps had not been fastened, the helmet would have washed into the neck from sweat. He threw away the broken shield, drew his sword, waiting on trembling knees behind the shield wall. The last armfull of sea water retreated between the forces, while Bjørn howled to Bue's son that he was offering his neck to the enemy and should step down immediately, but Svend stood, and roars and screams put icicles on the ear-piercing noise of weapons, now, now, now! Now the fight against earl Hakon began in earnest!

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