Thought I’d do a snippet of the new novel tonight. Not sure how long it will take to publish it, but it’s essentially written. Probably going to my Publishing Gremlin tomorrow. lw
Part One: The Crying Stave
I recall it as the night of two visions. One vision was for the land, the other for me. Together they marked a turning place.
And neither was for the better.
We were feasting at Augvaldsness. If God blessed our efforts, matters would now be less tangled in the land. Jarl Erik Haakonsson, with whom Erling Skjalgsson could never be at peace, had returned again to England to serve his lord, Prince Knut the Dane. This freed Erling to renew his friendship with Erik’s brother Jarl Svein, whom he rather liked. Svein sat now as lord of the north of the land, under Denmark. We were crowning their friendship by handfasting Erling’s son Aslak to Svein’s daughter Sigrid. The two were young, but such betrothals were common, and the young people liked each other well enough.
Baard Ossursson, steward of Augvaldsness, was a man who liked his boiled pork. It was his habit to take a chunk from the platter in his big hand, squeeze it so the fat ran out between his fingers, and slurp the greasy runnels off as they oozed out. He was playing at that as we sat side by side, just to Erling’s right at the high table in the hall.
“This is an important place, Augvaldsness,” Baard said to me between slurps. “The man who controls the strait here at Kormt Island can stop traffic up and down the North Way like a plug in a jar. The kings of Augvaldsness in olden times were the mightiest along the North Way. You can run outside the island, take the sea way to the west, but the weather out there’s chancy.”
“I’ve heard of King Augvald,” I said. “The one who worshipped his cow.”
Baard licked the last of the fat from his fingers and opened his hand, surveying the shriveled morsel of meat that remained with some distaste. Then he shrugged, popped it into his mouth, and chewed thoughtfully. He was a man of middle years, vigorous, with graying gold hair going sparse, a pointed nose, and sharp blue eyes. He was not tall, but built broad and strong.
“Augvald’s forefather Vidfarna was a greater man,” he said. “Not in wealth, of course, since trade was less in his time, but he traveled far in the world and did mighty deeds for the Romans.”
“Oh, aye. Many Norsemen went south to the German lands to enlist in the Roman armies there. That’s how Vidfarna came to serve in the Holy Land.”
I rocked back a bit in my seat. “A Norseman served in the Holy Land?”
“More than one. Has no one told you this? Ah, the old tales are dying out, and just at the time you priests are bringing the true faith back to the land.”
“Back to the land?” I asked. “What do you mean by that?”
“Have they never told you there’ve been Christians in Vestland for ages? This is one of many ways we Rogalanders are better than the rest of the Norse. Our fathers lived long in German lands, serving the Romans. Well, some of our fathers did. Then they were made to fight the Romans, under Jarl Atlithe Hun, and Odoacer. No one has told you this?”
“I strongly suspect you’re tugging my leg.”
“Ask the old men. They’ll tell you. I suppose they tamp the tale down at Sola, since Erling’s family springs from Hordaland and does not share in this glory.”
“Tell me more,” I said.
“Well, when the Romans called on the German tribes to fill up the ranks of their legions, their own men being too softened by easy living and rich food to fight much anymore, it left great areas open for the taking in north Germany. So many folk from the northern lands headed south to settle there. That country was, of course, milder and richer than the Norse lands, if less so than the more southerly lands where the Germans had gone. Many folk from here in Rogaland made the move, there having been some bad harvests and niggling fisheries just then, and they settled down. They prospered and even learned to grow grapes.
“In time Jarl Atli the Hun came to rule them, and they must needs fight for him for a while. After his death the Rogalanders, who called themselves Rugians, moved further south to Lombardy, and in time they sacked Rome with Odoacer, who was in turn defeated by Theodoric. In the wake of all that, many Rugians thought it wiser to go home to the fields of their fathers, where God had planted them in the first place, and they made their way back to Rogaland. But – mark this – they were Christians by then. Which is why you’ve had such an easy time with your missionary work here. Many of us were Christian already. Look at this.” He fumbled in his shirt collar and brought out a bronze crucifix, which he dangled before my eyes. “This goes back generations in my family. It came from Lombardy at the first.” I examined it, and indeed it looked worn and corroded enough to have hung around many necks for generations. Which proved nothing, mind you, as goods pilfered all over the world wash up in Norway.
“Hm,” I said. “As I recall from the histories, the German tribes were Arian heretics.”
The platter of pork was going past, and Baard hooked out another handful. “Refresh my mind,” he said. “What’s the difference between an Arian and a Christian?”
“Well, it has to do with the nature of Christ—ˮ
“Never mind. Tell me later.” He licked his knuckles. “Anyway, I was speaking of King Vidfarna. He was a Roman soldier, and rose to the rank of centurion. Thus he came to be one of those who crucified the Lord.”
I choked on my own bit of pork.