Viking weregeld, p.1

Viking Weregeld, page 1

 part  #17 of  Dragonheart Series

 

Viking Weregeld
 



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Viking Weregeld


  Viking Weregeld

  Book 17 in the

  Dragon Heart Series

  By

  Griff Hosker

  Published by Sword Books Ltd 2017

  Copyright © Griff Hosker First Edition

  The author has asserted their moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

  All Rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, copied, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the copyright holder, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

  Cover by Design for Writers

  Dedicated to Roger B Saphore (USA): thanks for the research information and Dave Powers for being such a great reviewer.

  Book List

  Ancient History

  The Sword of Cartimandua Series (Germania and Britannia 50A.D. – 128 A.D.)

  Ulpius Felix- Roman Warrior (prequel)

  Book 1 The Sword of Cartimandua

  Book 2 The Horse Warriors

  Book 3 Invasion Caledonia

  Book 4 Roman Retreat

  Book 5 Revolt of the Red Witch

  Book 6 Druid’s Gold

  Book 7 Trajan’s Hunters

  Book 8 The Last Frontier

  Book 9 Hero of Rome

  Book 10 Roman Hawk

  Book 11 Roman Treachery

  Book 12 Roman Wall

  The Wolf Warrior series (Britain in the late 6th Century)

  Book 1 Saxon Dawn

  Book 2 Saxon Revenge

  Book 3 Saxon England

  Book 4 Saxon Blood

  Book 5 Saxon Slayer

  Book 6 Saxon Slaughter

  Book 7 Saxon Bane

  Book 8 Saxon Fall: Rise of the Warlord

  Book 9 Saxon Throne

  The Dragon Heart Series

  Book 1 Viking Slave

  Book 2 Viking Warrior

  Book 3 Viking Jarl

  Book 4 Viking Kingdom

  Book 5 Viking Wolf

  Book 6 Viking War

  Book 7 Viking Sword

  Book 8 Viking Wrath

  Book 9 Viking Raid

  Book 10 Viking Legend

  Book 11 Viking Vengeance

  Book 12 Viking Dragon

  Book 13 Viking Treasure

  Book 14 Viking Enemy

  Book 15 Viking Witch

  Book 16 Viking Blood

  Book 17 Viking Weregeld

  Norman Genesis Series (820-1020 A.D.)

  Hrolf the Viking

  Horseman

  The Battle for a Home

  Revenge of the Franks

  The Land of the Northmen

  The Aelfraed Series (Britain and Byzantium 1050 A.D. - 1085 A.D.)

  Book 1 Housecarl

  Book 2 Outlaw

  Book 3 Varangian

  The Anarchy Series (England and Palestine 1120-1180)

  English Knight

  Knight of the Empress

  Northern Knight

  Baron of the North

  Earl

  King Henry's Champion

  The King is Dead

  Warlord of the North

  Enemy at the Gates

  Warlord's War

  Kingmaker

  Henry II

  Crusader

  Modern History

  The Napoleonic Horseman Series

  Chasseur à Cheval

  Napoleon’s Guard

  British Light Dragoon

  Soldier Spy

  1808: The Road to Corunna

  Waterloo

  The Lucky Jack American Civil War series

  Rebel Raiders

  Confederate Rangers

  The Road to Gettysburg

  The British Ace Series

  1914

  1915 Fokker Scourge

  1916 Angels over the Somme

  1917 Eagles Fall

  1918 We will remember them

  From Arctic Snow to Desert Sand

  Combined Operations 1940-1945

  Commando

  Raider

  Behind Enemy Lines

  Dieppe

  Toehold in Europe

  Sword Beach

  Breakout

  The Battle for Antwerp

  King Tiger

  Other Books

  Great Granny’s Ghost (Aimed at 9-14-year-old young people)

  Adventure at 63-Backpacking to Istanbul

  Britannia 831 A.D .

  Weregeld, also known as man price, was a value placed on every being and piece of property, for example in the Frankish Salic Code. If property was stolen, or someone was injured or killed, the guilty person would have to pay weregild as restitution to the victim's family or to the owner of the property.

  Prologue

  I had a great grandson! I never thought I would live long enough but Ragnar and Astrid Mother had married and I now had a great grandson. Sámr was named for the shock of black hair he had when he was born. Astrid told me her father had had such a head of hair. It was a good sign. He brought joy to Brigid, my wife, and to me. They did not live as close as I would have liked, they had a hall at Whale Island, but it meant my wife left Cyninges-tūn occasionally to visit them. She was happy about the birth of a great grandson for, as she said to me, “You are now a whitebeard. You can lay down Ragnar’s Spirit. You can let others go to war. This is the time for bouncing Sámr on your knee and making him giggle.”

  I had not answered my wife. I knew that she did not like me going to war but it was what we did. I was the head of the Clan of the Wolf. I had a choice. I could lead or I could hand over the leadership of the clan to my grandson, Ragnar. He had grown both in body and mind. He could be the leader. It was not just me who was growing old: Haaken was the same age as I was and Olaf Leather Neck was not far behind. We were still warriors who men feared to face in battle but, although we had the skill, we did not necessarily have the strength of the younger warriors. Wounds and injuries now plagued us. I spent many hours in the steam hut to ease my aches and pains. Where once a wound had been an inconvenience, now it needed nursing and care.

  We had defeated Harald the Great and scoured Man of our enemies but it had been at a great cost. We had lost men and Úlfarrston had lost a great leader in Coen Ap Pasgen. His brother, Raibeart ap Pasgen, now ruled in his stead. His wife, Yngvild, was the daughter of Haaken and it was a sign that our clan was changing. It was not just Viking blood which ran through the clan’s veins. Many of my men had married former slaves from Frankia, Hibernia, Strathclyde and the land of the Saxons. Many of the people who had lived here since before the time of the Romans had also taken wives from our clan.

  As the new grass grew and my grandson began to eat porridge rather than his mother’s milk I felt I had wrestled enough with my dilemma. I summoned Haaken One Eye, Olaf Leather Neck and Beorn the Scout. Alongside Karl Word Master these were the oldest Ulfheonar and shield brothers who remained to give me advice.

  “What say you we go hunting in the Dale of Grize?”

  Haaken frowned, “You have a wish to be eaten alive by flies?”

  Olaf punched him good naturedly, “You are an oaf Haaken One Eye. Considering you have fought alongside the jarl longer than any you do not know him. The hunting is immaterial. He wishes to speak with three old friends.” He spread his arm around us, “We are the four greybeards in the clan now.”

  Haaken sniffed, “Blame it on the fact that I am surrounded by women! I hoped for a grandson and I was given a granddaughter! The No
rns still curse me for flouting their authority.”

  Beorn smiled, “And yet the Jarl has flouted them more than enough. He has a son, a grandson and a great grandson. Perhaps it is that which dangles like a piece of dried fish between your legs which makes women.”

  Many warriors would have taken offence at that but Haaken laughed, “You may have a point there! Perhaps the gods gave me my wonderful songs to compensate for the lack of sons.”

  We set off with pack horses and provisions for an overnight stay. The Dale of Grize was far enough from our home to necessitate a night under the stars. My son, Gruffyd, was not happy that he was not allowed to come. Olaf laughed at his protests, “You wish to spend a night in the forest with four old warriors who will spend the night telling boring stories and then belching and farting until dawn?”

  “Aye and getting up two or three times a night to pee. Stay here my son, you will not be missing anything.”

  As we left to head down the eastern side of the Water, Kara and Aiden came to speak to me. I could hide nothing from them and they read my mind as easily as a priest of the White Christ reads his holy book.

  “This is wyrd father. The spirits feel the new grass coming. They are in the air all around us. Listen to them.”

  Aiden nodded, “That is if Haaken One Eye lets them get a word in.”

  Haaken affected a hurt expression although he had known Kara since she was a child and he knew that he owed his life to Aiden who had once cut open his skull, “I can be thoughtful when I wish.”

  After a mile or so we headed south. The forest to the east of our Water was immense. There had once been farms within it. Grize and Satter had been two such farmers. Raids and harsh winters had driven their families close to the Water or Windar’s Mere. Soon the forest would reclaim the land and the only memory would be the name. We had more than enough bottom land without farming the forests. It was good for the forest teemed with game. Wild pigs and deer were easily found. We had driven the wolves far from our homes and the pigs and deer profited from the lack of hunters both human and animal.

  For the first few miles I just enjoyed talking to my old friends. We spent the winters apart. We had news to catch up on and ailments to discuss. Aiden had had to take a piece of Haaken’s skull out once. It had been replaced by a metal disk. He was healed but there were times when he had pains in his head. Olaf had aches in his forearms and his shoulders. Winter was always a bad time for it seemed to make aches worse. Beorn’s feet were not those of a young warrior any longer. Years of clambering over rocks to spy out enemies had taken their toll. I had more scars on me than I could count. Each wound was a mark of honour but that did not stop them aching when the rain came. The Land of the Wolf was oft times wet!

  We began to climb up the steep slope which led to Grize’s Dale. It had been some time since I had ridden such a steep trail and I had to remember to lean forward. Already my calves and knees were complaining. They were not used to working so hard. My buttocks were equally unhappy. Once we crested the rise we stopped to allow our horses to breathe. I turned to look at Old Olaf across the Water. Beneath him my people went about their business. I saw the fishermen in their boats as they scurried up and down the Water. Smoke rose from Bagsecg’s forge as he and his smiths made the swords and mail which were so highly prized.

  Haaken said, “It is a good land, Jarl. We are prosperous and the people are happy.” I said nothing. I was enjoying taking it all in. “And yet you drag us from our comfortable fires to hunt in these fly ridden swamps. Could you not give us a hint as to why?”

  “Do not listen to him, Jarl Dragonheart. I am happy enough to be hunting. Haaken One Eye has become soft.” Beorn enjoyed the forests. It was where he was most comfortable. It was what made him a good scout.

  Haaken laughed, “Haaken One Eye has become old.”

  “You are a fool, Haaken. A white beard does not make a man old. It is what is in his heart that makes him old. If you decide that you are old then it will be so.” Olaf Leather Neck was the most dedicated of my warriors. It was one reason he had never taken a wife.

  I turned my horse’s head, “Come, let us ride. Beorn, where is a good place for hunting?”

  “The last time I was here the farm of Satter had many wild pigs.”

  Olaf nodded, “Aye, as I remember the old fool managed to lose a boar once. It bred with the wild boars. It produces fine meat but they are as cunning as a Dane.”

  “Good. Then we head for Satter’s Waite.”

  The trail was partly overgrown and all conversation ended as we followed Beorn. It took all of our skill to negotiate the track. I realised that was a measure of the peace we had enjoyed from the east. It had been some years since the last raiders had come that way. They had been Danes and their bones marked their route home. The last raiders to our land had come from Ireland and Man. The Danes had learned that there were much easier morsels than the Clan of the Wolf. Egbert held them in check at the moment but I knew the day was coming when they would clash. The land of the East Angles was almost theirs already. Mercia was weak although King Wiglaf had managed to break the treaty which bound him to Wessex. Perhaps Egbert’s supremacy was under threat.

  Satter’s old farm was now overgrown with ivy and brambles but we had somewhere we could pen the horses and we were able to make a shelter using the old walls and a large ash tree which had spread since Satter and his family had left. We made a gate for the pen where the horses would be kept. There was grazing and water for them. Then we took our boar spears and bows. We went hunting. I slung my bow over my back.

  There had been rain recently and Beorn found boar tracks immediately. I said nothing but I knew that we were meant to hunt the wild pig. It was the most dangerous of prey and the most rewarding. It was a close to hunting a man as was possible. The creatures were clever and they were vicious. They had sharp tusks and I had seen unwary hunters gutted with one swipe of their snouts. Beorn led us so that the wind was in our faces. We would smell them before they smelled us. He led but I was next. I was jarl and I would have the first opportunity at a kill.

  Not all of the trees had their leaves. The oaks and the ash just had buds but the sycamores, birch and chestnut were all showing growth. It made for a dappled light as we passed beneath areas which, in high summer, would be much darker. It was the bushes where we would find the wild pigs as they snuffled around them for food. I could smell them. They were close and this was confirmed when Beorn stopped and knelt. He picked up a piece of dung. It was wild boar. He handed it to me. It was still warm, almost hot. I held my boar spear in two hands and I followed in Beorn’s footsteps.

  The trail was narrow. My nose was suddenly assaulted by the smell of pig and before I could react I heard a squealing from my right. The boar hurled himself at Beorn. Sometimes you just act and do not think. I rammed my boar spear into the boar as it hurtled towards Beorn. I struck it behind the shoulder. It did not kill it. It just annoyed the beast and it turned its anger and desire for vengeance on to me. The sudden turn tore the spear from my hand and I had no other weapon to hand. I did the only thing I could do. I grabbed his tusks in my hands and tried to pull him to the ground. Despite his wound, he was still powerful. I forced my leg beneath his scrabbling hooves and managed to get him on his side. He swung his head from side to side as he tried to throw me from him. I knew that if I lost my grip his teeth and tusks would end my life.

  Olaf rammed his spear into the belly of the pig but it still fought. Finally, Haaken drove his spear through the eye of the boar and into its brain. The body twitched and shook but it was dead. I was covered in blood. My men were shocked. Their jarl had nearly died.

  Beorn shook his head, “I am sorry, jarl, I am slipping. I should have smelled him.”

  “And I was too slow jarl. If you had died….” Olaf was equally apologetic.

  I stood, “But I was not killed. This is wyrd .” I walked up to the boar and patted its head. “Thank you. You have shown me that I am not too o
ld. You were cunning and you were quick but the gods still watch over me for I was quicker! Come, let us take it back. We will enjoy the heart, kidneys and liver tonight!”

  We rammed two spears through its mouth and out of its backside and Beorn and Olaf carried it back. Once at the farm Beorn used his sharp seax to tear open the guts and take out that inside. We took out the heart, liver and kidneys and then skinned the beast. The wild pig would be cooked back at my hall but we would have the choice parts immediately.

  As we watched the meat cooking on the fire Olaf said, “Come, jarl. You have been as close to death as any man. Surely you can tell us now why you brought us here.”

  I nodded, “Brigid thinks my raiding days are done.” I saw Haaken begin to speak and I held up my hand, “Let me speak first.”

  “Aye, Jarl.”

  “Now that Ragnar is a father she thinks that he should lead the clan. I have a decision to make. Do I cease raiding and allow Ragnar to become the Jarl or do I keep raiding?”

  Haaken said, “We can speak honestly?”

  “Of course. That is why you are here.”

  “Then I wonder at Brigid’s motives. Ragnar is not her son. She makes no secret of the fact that she does not wish Gruffyd to be a warrior. If you make Ragnar Jarl then what will Gruffyd think?”

  I had not thought of that. There was some truth in Haaken’s words. I was silent. Olaf went to check on the heart. He sliced a sliver from it and ate it. “Not long now.” He came back to join us. He had a skin filled with mead. He took a swallow and handed it to me. “Of course, you could do both, could you not?”

  “Both?”

  “Aye, let Ragnar lead but go on the raids with him.”

  I shook my head, “That would not be right.”

  “You do not need to tell him that he leads.”

  “What do you mean Haaken?”

  “When Prince Butar was alive he was our leader yet he allowed you to be at the fore when we fought. We could raid but you could let Ragnar be the warrior who is the point of the wedge. He is not Wolf Killer. He is no berserker. I have watched him fight and he is a thoughtful leader. Let him lead the men under your hand. If he is successful, and I think he will be, then you can let him lead the clan.”

 
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