Viking dragon, p.1

Viking Dragon, page 1

 

Viking Dragon
 


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Viking Dragon


  Viking Dragon

  Book 12 in the

  Dragon Heart Series

  By

  Griff Hosker

  Published by Sword Books Ltd 2016

  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

  Prologue

  We had battled against many foes and enemies and we had prevailed against overwhelming odds. We had slain my nephew, Jarl Erik Eriksson on Man and scoured the island of all those who opposed us. Thorfinn Blue Scar and Gunnstein Berserk Killer now safely ruled Dyflin and Ljoðhús. The north and the west were safe and yet, since we had discovered that we had a traitor in our home, I could not sleep. We had discovered, from one of our enemies, that there were those in my land who wished us harm. I would almost have lost the battle than that. I had believed that all those who lived in the land others called 'Land of the Wolf' were loyal; now I knew that this was not so.

  Brigid my wife was with child and I hated disturbing her as I tossed and turned, sleeplessly. I had taken to sleeping, or spending the nights, at least, before the fire of my hall. All that I knew was that someone had taken messages to Jarl Erik Eriksson on Man and they had raided my knarr. I could not divine who it might be. I trusted all of my men. Aiden, my galdramenn, and Kara, the volva who was my daughter, would normally have used their powers to help me but my granddaughter Ylva occupied both their time and their powers. It was as if their thoughts and their eyes looked within. When my granddaughter grew she would be more powerful than either of them. Wyrd.

  It would soon be the time of the new grass. Already the snows had disappeared. I had to do something soon. Our ships were laid up for the winter but already their captains and my shipwright would be preparing them for sea. Someone was a traitor. I could not believe that it was the captain of one of my ships and yet we had heard that a message had been sent to Man. How could that be? I needed help. There was a link back to Man. Old Olaf the Toothless had been the friend of Ragnar the old Viking who had trained me. He had died on Man but we had named the mountain which overlooked the Water after him. His grizzled face seemed to protect us. I would seek his help. I was no galdramenn but I had an affinity with mountains. Snaefell, on Man, had always been somewhere I felt close to Ragnar and the gods. I would go there and seek help.

  Part 1 The Saxons

  Chapter 1

  My journey was delayed for before I could leave my wife gave birth to a daughter. My son, Gryffydd, now had a sister. It was Brigid who named her. "We call her Erika in honour of your first wife. From her two children I know that she was a good woman. And I know that you all believe her spirit protects this land. It is good. This completes the circle."

  My wife was a Christian yet even she had seen the power of the spirits. I was happy with the name and I kissed them both. Kara and Aiden came with their daughter, Ylva and my hall felt complete. While the two women fussed over the new baby I took Aiden outside, to the Water.

  "I need to find the traitor. We cannot have our enemies knowing our secrets."

  "I am sorry, Jarl Dragonheart. I have been distracted of late. I will put my mind to it."

  I shook my head, "It is something I must discover. I go to Old Olaf and see if he can give me inspiration. When I lived on Man I often climbed the mountain to be close to the gods. I always found both peace and inspiration there. I have grown lazy of late. I will climb Old Olaf."

  "Kara and I have not sensed danger. Perhaps the traitor has died."

  "Then I would know who it was. No he is still here. Perhaps there is more than one; who knows. The isle that is Man may no longer be a threat but if the traitor lives then he can bring harm to my land."

  "Will you take someone with you?"

  "If I cannot travel to the top of a mountain which I see every morning then my land is, indeed, not safe. I shall go alone."

  I waited seven days to ensure that the Norns were not in a malicious mood. Sometimes they allowed a baby to be born only to take them a day or so after their birth. This time they smiled on us and Erika thrived. I left before dawn. Gryffydd begged to come but I needed to be alone and he would struggle to climb the mountain. I promised him that soon I would take him with me. The lower slopes were relatively easy to climb and I wanted the sun to rise and help me crest the peak. It was how I had done it on Man and there was a connection.

  It was no longer winter but it was cold. I had wrapped up well and wore my wolf skin. I also had Ragnar's Spirit on my belt. It did not make the climb easy but it was important that I carried it. The sword tied me to the past and to the gods. I carried it always. I paused at the blue water to drink. Aiden had told me that it had powers. I knew not if it was true but it did not hurt to make the connection with the earth. The path was easy to follow for we had mines on the lower slopes and were worn by daily footsteps. As I began to ascend to the top the sun peered over the hill near my first hall and the grave of my wife, Erika. I paused to take it in. I could see the tiny specks that would be the first flowers of the year. Erika had loved flowers. It was going to be a fine day. I allowed the first early rays to bathe my face.

  Turning I ascended the last one thousand paces to the peak. The path twisted and turned as it climbed so that the view of my water was hidden from me. By the time I turned the last corner and reached the peak the sun had risen to bathe my water in blue light. Perhaps it was a trick of the sun but the snowdrops on Erika's grave seemed clearer to me and that was good. I sat on the top of Old Olaf and took out Ragnar's Spirit. I plunged it into the ground. I turned from the east and looked south. It was such a clear day that I could see, not only Úlfarrston, but also Man. I was meant to be here.

  I knew not what I expected but I had all day. I just stared at Man. It was not a threat to us any more but the answer to my dilemma lay there. We had been told that Jarl Erik, my nephew would sail out to meet, at sea, with the traitor. That meant someone sailed from my land. And yet I trusted all of my captains. When Olaf had been the captain of the drekar on which I had sailed he had been free with a knotted piece of rope he constantly carried. If I made a mistake, and I made many, then he would hit me on the back of the head with it. I suddenly felt as though I had been struck from behind. I was a fool! It could not be a drekar captain or the captain of a knarr for the whole crew would have known what they were about. I actually laughed out loud at my own stupidity.

  I suddenly saw then clearly both literally and metaphorically; I saw the fishing boats as they left Úlfarrston. Some had crews of one or two but others just had a single fisherman. They would be out all day seeking the shoals of fish in the rich waters which lay south of us. I shook my head, "Thank you Olaf. I still learn from you."

  I pulled my sword from the ground and, sheathing it, headed down the path. Something still nagged in my head. Then I had it. Was the traitor in Úlfarrston working alone or did they have a confederate? I would keep my own counsel until I knew more. As the raiding season was upon us I would have good reason to visit Coen ap Pasgen in Úlfarrston. I found myself smiling as I headed down the path. My sleepless nights had been for nothing. I had feared that someone I had trusted in Cyninges-tūn, had betrayed me. I was wrong. There was
a traitor or a spy in my land but they were not of my people and I would find them.

  When I reached my home Kara and Aiden were there with my wife. They looked at me expectantly. I smiled and Kara said, "Well, father? Do we have to drag it out of you?"

  I smiled, "You normally know what goes on in my head."

  Aiden nodded, "We know that you have learned something when you were on the mountain but we cannot yet read it."

  "We know that the messages were sent by the water to Man. I have worked out that the traitor cannot be the captain of one of my ships and Old Olaf pointed me in the direction of those who leave Úlfarrston to go fishing. I can discover their identity but I fear there may be someone here, on the Water who also aids them."

  Kara shook her head, "The spirits have not told us that. Úlfarrston is far from here. They are not of our people. It is hard to see into their minds."

  Aiden nodded, "I will come with you, Jarl Dragonheart, when you visit Úlfarrston. I have indulged myself with Ylva long enough. It is time for me to be galdramenn once more."

  Now that I had one problem identified I could think about sailing the seas and raiding once more. I sent word to my Ulfheonar that we would be raiding by the middle of Ein-mánuðr. That would give them time to prepare. I also sent riders to my jarls and hersir that if they wished to raid with me then that would be when we would sail. I ordered no man to follow me. Jarl Sigtrygg Thrandson had chosen not to raid the previous season. My son, Wolf Killer, had also missed out two years since. I was no king. I was gratified that, normally, they did accompany me.

  When we reached the shipyard above Úlfarrston we could hear the sound of men working. Erik Short Toe, the captain of my drekar, had Thorir Svensson and the others from his crew scraping the weed from the hull. When that was done they would coat it in the liquid Aiden had made. It stopped the worm from eating into the hulls. The other drekar were also being treated in this fashion. We now had a fleet. As I had expected Erik had almost readied my ship, 'Heart of the Dragon'. He wanted to be ready to sail at a moment's notice. The others would not be long behind him.

  I took him to one side, "Erik, you know that we discovered there is a traitor somewhere in our land?"

  "I heard, Jarl Dragonheart, and I was disturbed for I could not believe that a fellow captain would be so disloyal."

  "And you were right. I have worked out that it must be a fisherman from Úlfarrston. They come and they go. They sail alone; each fisherman guarding the secret of where they fished. It would be easy for a couple of traitors to sail to Man and pass on information. Tell me, is my idea reasonable? Could someone do as I said?"

  He nodded, "I had not thought of that but it makes perfect sense. They see us coming and going. They are small and fast. We do not hide the fact that we sail. It takes time to prepare a drekar for sea. They could easily sail the day before and reach Man. Now that you say it then it becomes obvious. How will you catch them?"

  "I do not know. I will speak with Coen." I looked at Erik, "Can I trust him?"

  He nodded, "He has the most to lose should you not be the Jarl of this land."

  "Then I will speak with him. I have said that we will raid in the middle of Ein-mánuðr. My warriors will gather then."

  "How many drekar?"

  "I know not."

  "And where do we raid?"

  I smiled, "Lundenwic is a rich city. It is now the jewel in Wessex's crown. Egbert has sent enough assassins north to kill me and I would like to repay the favour."

  "It is a rich city. We would need Siggi and his knarr."

  "Aye. I hope that our brethren will join us for we would be rich men if we succeeded."

  "And Aiden?"

  "I come with you," Aiden smiled.

  Erik Short Toe looked relieved. "Then I am happy. With a galdramenn we have more chance of success and he knows how to read maps."

  "Keep this to yourself, Erik, and watch out for any you might suspect."

  "I will Jarl."

  As Aiden and I made our way to the walled settlement I found myself looking at those we met and wondering about their loyalty. They smiled at me but was the smile in their hearts too? The thought of a traitor caused disharmony. We could not have that. Instead of going into the hall Aiden and I walked to the shore where we could see out to sea. It was late afternoon and the fishing boats were returning with their catches. They had all left together but the nature of fishing meant that some arrived home sooner than others. Some were lucky and some were not.

  As the first few fisherman landed their catches and bowed as they passed us I searched their faces. Aiden would be using his own particular magic to determine what was in their hearts.

  Coen ap Pasgen joined us. "Jarl Dragonheart, what bring you here to the shore?"

  I smiled, "Come my old friend. Let us walk. I need to speak privately with you." When we were away from any who could overhear us I said. "We discovered that someone was taking messages to our enemies. They have been giving information about our ships. It explains why so many have never returned home."

  He looked confused, "And who do you think is doing this?"

  Aiden said, "Jarl Dragonheart is not certain but we believe there is a chance it is some of the fishermen." He explained my logic.

  Coen shook his head in disbelief. "I find it hard to accept that some of my people could do this but it would explain much. We have lost knarr unexpectedly. What do we do?"

  "Aiden and I will be here for a few days seeing to our ships. If you would grant us hospitality then Aiden can use his mind and I can use my eyes. I promise that we will speak with you before we accuse anyone."

  "You are a fair man, Jarl Dragonheart. You are not used to hasty and rash judgements. Come we will go to my hall and I will have my people make you comfortable."

  By the time it was dark all of the fishing boats had returned and the catches were either being sold or the fishermen had taken them to their smokehouses. The ones who had the foresight did not sell their whole catch but preserved some for the times when the sea was against them. I did not see any clues as to the traitor. More annoyingly neither did Aiden. He could not focus on the thoughts of the traitors. They were stopping Aiden, somehow.

  We ate, that night, with Coen and his family. We did not mention our true purpose but spoke of our new babies. Coen's wife was keen to visit and we said that she could come back with us. The closer the ties between our people the less likelihood there was of treachery. When Coen's family had retired we went through what we all knew. It was Aiden who had ideas. "I do not think that it will be anyone who has a family. I have no evidence for that but just a feeling. I think it will be someone who sails alone or perhaps with one other. It may well be that they do not come from here but arrived sometime in the last couple of years."

  Coen leaned back. "That helps for it narrows it down to a few fishermen. Tomorrow we will watch them as they sail and I will identify them."

  "If we could examine their homes when they are fishing then it might help us."

  "We will do that."

  With that out of the way Coen pressed us to escort his ships when next we sailed. "We are now used to trade. We are more prosperous. Losing ships to pirates hurts us."

  "With whom would you trade?"

  He looked a little shamefaced, "I am afraid that they may be your enemies: the men of Corn Walum and Dyfed."

  "I do not mind; trade is trade but we will be sailing further east than that. They would either have to wait for our return or risk sailing alone."

  "I will speak with them."

  The next day the three of us were up before dawn and watched as the keenest fishermen were preparing their boats. Coen gave subtle nods when a suspect or suspects came to their boats. They sailed before the sun had risen. We hurried to the houses of the fishermen whom Coen had identified. There were six suspects. We decided to try these first. We still had a day or two before we needed to return home. I had no idea what we were looking for but we searched them all anyway.
The six huts were all similar in construction. There was a double row of stones with willow uprights. Daub filled the gaps and they each had a coned roof. You could see that these six had only recently come for their homes were not weathered and were apart from the rest.

  Inside they were all identical but for one. It was the last one we searched and, until we searched it, I was beginning to give up hope. It was Aiden who found it. It was a Thor's Hammer and was laid beneath the bedding of one of the two men who lived there. It was the only evidence we had found. I think Aiden was directed there by the spirits for I knew not how he could have found it otherwise. We took it outside to examine it.

  "This is Danish, Jarl Dragonheart."

  "Whose hut is this one, Coen? Did you know they were Danes?"

  The headman shook his head, "They are two brothers, Thrand and Finni Karlsson. I did not know they were Danish. They have been here for almost two years. They said they had fled Orkneyjar; some sort of blood feud. They said that they were not warriors but fishermen. They are quiet and everyone likes them. They keep to themselves. I think you may be wrong about them, Jarl."

  "As I said before, Coen, I will not judge without words first. I will ask them questions and Aiden will listen to their responses. If they are innocent then we will know. But you should know that the men of Orkneyjar are Norse like us and not Danish. There are Danes who visit there and sometimes stay, but Danes like their own people. They are, however, mercenaries. My nephew was cunning. He may have paid the Danes to spy. If he had used his own people then we might have been suspicious."

  Coen left us and we headed upstream to our ships. "They are guilty, Jarl. I felt it when I touched the hammer. They lied to Coen. Only warriors wear the hammer. We know that."

  "Perhaps that is why they hid it. But you are right. The fact that they hid the evidence of what they are condemns them."

  When we reached the drekar we found Haaken One Eye, Snorri and Beorn the Scout. Haaken was always keen to sail. His wife, Unn, was lovely but Haaken tired of her after a winter in his hall. She would be with child again and Haaken would profess to pangs of regret when we were at sea. Nonetheless he was always the first to board and the last to disembark. He rubbed his hands when he saw us. "When we heard that you were here we decided to follow. Where to this time?"

 
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