Viking warband, p.1

Viking Warband, page 1

 part  #19 of  Dragonheart Series

 

Viking Warband
 


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Viking Warband


  Viking Warband

  Book 19 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

  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

  Book 18 Viking Storm

  Book 19 Viking Warband

  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

  Ragnvald Hrolfsson

  Brothers in Blood

  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

  The Welsh Marches

  Irish War

  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

  Wings over Persia

  Combined Operations 1940-1945

  Commando

  Raider

  Behind Enemy Lines

  Dieppe

  Toehold in Europe

  Sword Beach

  Breakout

  The Battle for Antwerp

  King Tiger

  Beyond the Rhine

  Other Books

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

  Adventure at 63-Backpacking to Istanbul

  Prologue

  My wife died a year to the day after the wolf, Úlfarr, sacrificed himself to save my great grandson and grandson when the Saxon assassin tried to kill them. It was a year, to the day, after Sámr killed his first enemy and began his journey as a warrior. It was a year, to the day, since I had sworn vengeance on Æthelwulf, King of Wessex. I had always thought that I would be the first to go to the Otherworld. I had almost lost my life many times.

  My wife, Brigid, had become ill almost as soon as we returned home to Cyninges-tūn. Kara, Aiden and Ylva, our healers, had put it down to the upset, the journey and the weather. It may have been. She worsened, day by day. She was dying. I could see that but she did not. Her faith in her god, the White Christ, made her believe that she would recover. The illness seemed to eat at her. I was so close that often I did not see how much she had worsened. When my son and his family visited they were shocked. When it became obvious that she was seriously ill my wife made a momentous decision. Rather than allowing Kara to heal her she insisted on travelling to Whale Island. They had a church there and a priest. I loved my wife and I acceded to her demands. She seemed happier for her children and grandchildren were there but she still worsened.

  I could not leave her. I could not do as I wished and that was to take my ships to Wintan-Caestre and sack it. I waited knowing, as each day passed, that she was closer to death. I watched as death took her body, slowly, gradually, painfully. The day she died it seemed almost a relief for she was free of pain. Her emaciated body looked like a woman twenty years older. Whatever had killed her had not been kind. Her god had not given her relief and she had refused the medicine of what she called, the pagans. She was buried in the small Christian cemetery near the church she loved. I had a stone carved with her name upon it.

  I took comfort in my family during that most difficult year. I had Sámr, Ulla War Cry and my youngest grandson, Mordaf Gruffydson. We played and, while we did, I taught them. I gave them the skills I had been taught by Old Ragnar in Norway over fifty years earlier. I now knew, better than ever, why the old man had invested so much time in me. He lived through me. He had become the father I had barely known and liked even less. The Saxon who had sired me had taken my mother and beaten me. He was not a father to celebrate. Ragnar more than made up for him. He was strict and he was hard but he was also kind and patient. I tried to be all of those things with my young charges.

  Sámr was the eldest. He had now seen ten summers and his body was filling out. In that moment when he had used the fruit knife to slit the Saxon’s throat he had changed. After that he laughed less and took his training more seriously than Ulla War Cry. Ulla became almost a big brother to Mordaf Gruffydson. The three of them got on well together but Sámr was closer to the time he would go to war with his father and his great grandfather. For that reason he seemed to be closer to me than the other two. If I am honest I was the one he wished to raid with. The reason was simple, I was old. Bri
gid’s illness made him realise that my time in the land of the Wolf was limited. He wished to raid with me before I went to the Otherworld. I did not feel old. We were not a vain people and we had none of the shiny mirrors my servant, Atticus of Syracuse, had told me about. Nonetheless, when I caught my reflection in the water I saw a greybeard. I had not gone to fat but I was losing my teeth and my hair was growing thin.

  The day that we buried my wife, in the small Christian cemetery by the church I went alone to look out towards the south. My wife had been born there in the south of the country they called Dyfed. I had become a jarl and a warrior on the island that was Man and my enemy, Æthelwulf lived even further south. I mourned my wife but I was relieved that she was now free from pain. I would now begin to plan my raid on Wessex.

  I saw the drekar bobbing on the water. Which ones would I take and who would be the warriors I would lead? My thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of my son, Gruffyd, and grandson, Ragnar. My nearest kin sat next to me. “How are you, grandfather?” There was concern in Ragnar’s voice.

  I looked at Ragnar. He was older than my son and now the leader of the clan. He still deferred to me on most matters but my plan had been to enjoy a quiet life in Cyninges-tūn. The Norns and the Saxons had ended that dream.

  “How am I? I have buried two wives, a son and a grandson yet I am still alive. I am sad and I feel an emptiness inside that grows. If it were not for Sámr, Ulla War Cry and Mordaf Gruffydson then I would be the hollow man.”

  “We would not have you sad.”

  “I know, my son, and yet I am. Nothing that you can do or say will end that sadness. Time alone will make the pain lessen.”

  There was silence broken only by the sea breaking on Whale Island and the cries of the gulls. Some said the cries were the dead who had not died with a sword in their hands.

  “You still think of vengeance.”

  My grandson’s words had startled me. “Of course. Your sons were almost killed.”

  “But had we not raided Lundenwic and Essex then Æthelwulf would not have sent those killers. It must stop sometime.”

  I looked at them both. “All of us married Christians. That changes a man. Perhaps I am luckier than you two. Erika was my first wife and she was not only Viking, she was a volva. We cannot change our nature. The wolf that hunts sheep and lambs cannot stop hunting and cannot stop killing. If that were not true then Úlfarr would still be alive and Sámr and Ulla War Cry dead.” I saw that my grandson was battling with himself. I smiled, “I do not ask you to come with me when I take my vengeance. I will offer oars on my drekar. I had planned on taking all of them but it may be that others feel as you do. There are easier targets than the Saxons. The Hibernians, Welsh and the Picts are easy to defeat.”

  “You make it sound as though we are afraid!”

  “I know, Ragnar, that you are not. You have a family. Your family is larger than my own ever was. Your wife fears for your safety. All of that is perfectly clear to me. I ask you to understand that I have a wolf inside me. If you hurt me or my family I will have vengeance. If you threaten me or my family then I will punish you. Egbert knew that and his son does too. We will not be safe just because we do not raid Wessex. So long as I live then killers will come for me. I have lived too long and been a thorn in the side of the Saxons for more than forty years. When I am gone they may forget the Land of the Wolf but that is your curse. You live with Jarl Dragonheart. You live in the Land of the Wolf which is guarded by the Wolf Warrior. I am sorry if you find that hard.”

  Gruffyd shook his head, “We just worry about you. You are no longer a young man, father.”

  I laughed, “And that makes me unique. Haaken One Eye and myself are the last of the warriors who came from the land of snow to take Man and build this home here in the Land of the Wolf. When we are gone we will be just stories told to make the young wonder if they were really true and, eventually, they will become just fragments, legends which are not truly believed.”

  Ragnar shook his head, “But they are real and we know them!”

  “They have changed already. Haaken and I were the only ones who were there when my sword was touched by the gods. Aiden, Haaken and I were the ones who fought with the Norns. When we pass what then?”

  We had returned to the hall for the warriors of the stad would celebrate Brigid’s life in ale. That was the way of the Viking and I would drink, close my eyes and see the young girl I had saved and made my wife.

  Part One

  Queen Osburga’s Crown

  Chapter 1

  I sent word to all the warriors who lived in the Land of the Wolf that I would be leading a raid on Wessex. I gave them a moon to join me. That gave me enough time to work with Erik Short Toe and ensure that ‘Heart of the Dragon ’ was ready for sea. It also gave Aiden time to make new maps for me. He was now aided by the Greek I had rescued from Lundenwic. Atticus of Syracuse was a clever man. We had found maps in Lundenwic and he also had knowledge of the wider world. The two of them spent days poring over the documents we had found and the maps we had discovered. The writings were just squiggles and marks to me. Aiden had realised that and he used colours on the map to help Erik and I find the targets we sought. The new maps were unique for they were made for me.

  Many men came to join my warband. Of my Ulfheonar only Olaf Leather Neck, Rolf Horse Killer, Haaken One Eye and Rollo Thin Skin chose to raid. Aðils Shape Shifter had a new wife and family and Cnut Cnutson’s old wound was giving him trouble. Beorn the Scout sent a message that he felt he would slow us down. I smiled when I heard that. I was twenty years older than Beorn. There were many others who chose to join me. Most were untried. They saw the chance of glory. They would raid with the Dragonheart. If they survived they would come back rich and if they died then they would be remembered forever in one of Haaken’s songs. They were largely single men. Some had seen just fifteen summers. They each had a sword and a shield.

  When I realised that I would not have large numbers of experienced warriors I changed the target. I had planned on raiding Wintan-Caestre. It was the home of Æthelwulf. I wanted to hurt him. That was not possible with an untried crew. I needed something which would be a punishment yet which would give my warriors who had neither mail nor helmet, a fighting chance. It was Atticus who supplied the solution.

  “Lord, the Queen of Wessex, Osburga is the mother of Æthelwulf ’s children. She had the fourth last year.” I cocked my head to one side and looked at him. He smiled. “I listen to the news which traders bring, lord. I met Queen Osburga when I served in Lundenburgh. She is a well-read woman. She is known to like books and she is deeply religious. Had she not become queen she would be a nun. One of the ships which traded last year had called in at a port on the island of Wihtwara. That was where her father had lived. The captain said that the Queen had ordered a new monastery to be built there in honour of her latest son, Æthelberht.”

  Aiden said, “That makes sense. Egbert had but the one son. I think that when Elfrida was taken his new wife was not as fertile. Or he was not. If the Queen has four sons then that bodes well for the Saxons.”

  “That makes sense but how does it help us?”

  “The monastery is on the island. The Queen likes to spend time there. If you wished to reap rewards and punish the King then you can do this by raiding Wihtwara.”

  I nodded. We had fought a sea battle near there and Eystein the Rock had died close by. “I know the island. It is the one the Romans called Vectis. Knowing it is on the island and finding it are two entirely different things.”

  Atticus beamed and took one of the maps which Aiden had made. He pointed to the one of Wihtwara. He jabbed his stylus at the north of the island. There was a blue line. I knew that Aiden used blue to indicate rivers. “This is the River Medina. There was an old Roman villa here. They have used the stones from the Roman villa to make a monastery.” He dipped his stylus in the red ink and put a blob at the end of the river. “There is the monastery. You can sail u
p the river, raid and be out at sea before they know.”

  Atticus hated the Saxons. It was not just that he had been ill treated by them but he had also found them both dirty and unpleasant to be around.

  Aiden nodded his agreement. “If the Queen has endowed it then it will be filled with rich objects and, as she is literate then there will be books for us to sell. Now that Dorestad has dried up the port of Bruggas is a good market for us. The Empire’s grip on that land is tenuous.”

  It seemed like a good plan. “Then make the maps. I shall assemble the crew.”

  Atticus said, “Lord, there is one thing…”

  “Yes?”

  “Young Sámr wishes to voyage with you.” He cocked his head apologetically, “I am sorry lord but young people have good memories and, when you were recovered from your wound you said that when he was as tall as his pony he could be a ship’s boy.”

  I remembered the promise, “Is he that tall already?”

  Atticus saw him every day for he was the tutor to the boys. They would be able to read and write. They would be able to understand both Latin and Greek. “He is lord; taller.”

  “Then I will have to keep my promise.”

  “Perhaps his mother or father will refuse permission.”

  “No Atticus. Ragnar would never do that for he was younger than Sámr when he first sailed to war.”

  I went to see Ragnar as soon as I had left the others. He was with his wife, Astrid. She was nursing their new daughter, Anwen. Ragnar knew something was awry when I entered. My grandson knew me well. “What is amiss, grandfather?”

  “I go to raid soon. Atticus reminded me that I had promised Sámr that he could come with me when he was as tall as his pony.”

  Astrid’s hand went to her mouth and then she looked down at her daughter. She knew better than to interfere. She might object but her husband would speak. Ragnar said, “He told me your promise. Perhaps you should have asked his father first.”

  “Perhaps but you raided with me when you were younger.”

  I saw him reflecting on that, “You are right but…”

  “But this is your eldest son and he came close to death once because of his grandfather and you would not risk him a second time.”

 
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