Viking Blood 2: Secrets (Paperback)
Second book in the series “Viking Blood” by Marianne Slot.
Publishing House MARI’
In Stock – available
It is a large, nugget of amber, smoothed by sand and stones in the sea, and golden like the sun. In a few hours, the tide will once again cover the tiny beach, and take back the glowing treasure.
Hauge bends down, picking up the amber. He turns it slowly, watching it sparkle in the sunlight.
Certainly, this must be a gift from the Gods!
Three years after the attack on Styrbjorn’s village his brother, Sven, has been elected their new chieftain and the village has been rebuilt.
After a successful summer voyage to Ireland the ships have returned and everybody enjoy the celebrations and heroic tales of the voyage.
Sven decides time for vengeance has come, and that the best surprise attack on Haakon’s town will be by going on horseback. Lauge Longsight and Hauge are allowed to come too.
Before setting off they practice archery and combat techniques. Suddenly the monks, Peter and Hannibal, return, and Hauge enjoys the company of his friend again.
However, the raid of vengeance does not go as planned…
The book has an appealing, colour illustrated cover.
Can be read from the age of 9 years.”
“The story is still filled with drama and strong emotions, and beautifully illustrated with lots of expressive pen drawings by Pia Falck Pape.”
“I wonder how Styrbjorn’s village is faring?” Odin mused, watching those fighting on the battlefield outside Valhalla.
Not long ago did Haakon Gilmarsson attack the village and kill many of the inhabitants and the Chieftain, Styrbjorn.
So Odin called on his two ravens, Hugin and Munin, and bid them leave for the village immediately.
The following days the two ravens soared above the small village in southern Norway; then reported home what they had seen.
Finding the village had not been difficult, since one could hear it from miles away. Great trunks were felled in the woods further up the countryside. The humans toiled and worked to bring these trunks to the beach. There they hammered and hacked, chopped, and cut, while a huge, fierce man energetically roared and barked orders to them.
“That’s Sven, Styrbjorn’s brother. He’ll get the village back on its feet. But tell me, my little messengers, what did you see of Hauge, son of Chieftain Styrbjorn?”
Of him they told, that he was often to be found in the mountain near his father’s grave, mainly in the company of his friend Lauge Longsight, and that he is growing into a tall, handsome boy.
Odin told the ravens to keep a sharp eye on the boy. So, in the following years the ravens often reported news of the Chieftain’s son. Having grown to be fifteen, his wanderings in the village was often accompanied by the giggles and shy stares of the girls.
However, his mother, Aasa, gave no hint to let go of her son, and made no effort to find him a decent girl.
That would come in time; but she had enough on her mind as it was. The humans still reckoned her their mistress, even though they had elected Sven as their Chieftain. The ravens often heard whispers about those two.
Humans aren’t always as smart as they ought to be, Odin thought. Better lend young Hauge a hand.
1. A Gift from the Gods
There, right in front of him it lies shining in the sand!
It is a large nugget of amber, smoothed by sand and stones in the sea, and golden like the sun. In a few hours the tide will once again cover the tiny beach, and take back the glowing treasure.
Hauge bends down, picking up the amber. He turns it slowly, watching it sparkle in the sunlight.
Certainly, this must be a gift from the Gods! Never before has he seen a nugget of amber like this. So big, so beautiful! Over the years, he has found many small pieces. Some have become jewellery for his mother, and some were exchanged for other things when traders came by.
But this…! This is precious! No one must see it. Not now, at least, and definitely not uncle Sven. Fortunately, he’s not at home at the moment, even though it probably won’t be long before he is.
“Hauge! Hauge, where are you?” It’s Torleif, Lauge Longsight’s younger brother, looking for him.
Hauge quickly hides the amber in the small leather pouch he has beneath his tunic.
“Oh, there you are!” The round, red-haired head of Torleif is looking down at him from the cliffs above the beach. “Lauge asks for you. He’s got something to show you, I think.” Torleif is flat on his stomach on the rock. “What’re you doing?” he asks curiously.
“Nothing,” Hauge answers quickly, climbing up to meet him.
2. By the Burial Mound
“When do you think they’ll be home? The ships, I mean,” Torleif asks as they walk up the mountain.
“Don’t know. Probably soon, though. Fall is coming.” He points at the yellowing leaves of the willow trees.
Hauge stops. They have reached the burial mound.
“Oh yeah,” Torleif says, looking at Hauge. “That’s your Dad, there. How long has it been, Hauge?”
“Three years.” Hauge replies quietly. The memories leave him with a lump in his throat.
“So your Dad’s in Valhalla now?”
“Yes. Yes, I’m sure of that. He’s been there for a long time. Sometimes, though, I can feel his spirit here. And that’s nice!” Hauge speaks more to himself than to Torleif. Then asks: “How old are you, Torleif?”
“Eight. So, I don’t recall much of it. Just that it was very scary, and that the houses burned. Not ours, though.” Torleif has turned around, looking at the village.
“The village is nice now.”
True, it is nice, and bigger, too. The newly turfed roofs shine in the sunlight. Hauge can see his own house clearly. Sven has helped them build it. It’s bigger than the old one, and there’s more space around it. It’s next to the wooden road to one side, and to the small stream on the other. The stream is now fenced with wood. That way it’s easier to control it when, in spring, the glacial torrents rush down from the mountains.
They head up the path behind the burial mound. Torleif skips and jumps ahead of Hauge. Suddenly he stops.
“Hauge, look! Look at that flower!” He’s pointing at a tiny plant growing in a crevice in the rock.
“What’s about it?”
“It’s one of those Astrid always collects.”
“Astrid?” Hauge asks, surprised. He hasn’t seen much of the mute thrall-girl lately. After the burial his mother gave her to Sigrid, Lauge and Torleif’s mother.
“Didn’t you know?” Torleif relish the moment; he knows something Hauge doesn’t.
“Astrid collects lots of plants and dries them. My mother says that she learnt a lot about plants from that strange man. The one who was here, you know, back then, when it all happened! He has a very odd name.”
“Whom are you talking about?”
“Oh, you know; the one who was with that awkward man. He was a warlock of some kind, or something.”
“Ooh, you’re talking about Hannibal?”
“Exactly, that’s his name! A lot of people didn’t like them. But my mother says that that Hannibal guy, he was all right! Anyway, Astrid is really good with all that plant stuff. Last time I had a sore throat, she healed it. My mother told me it was a magic potion. But I think she just said so to make me drink it.”
Torleif chatters on, but Hauge isn’t listening. Where might Hannibal be now? He often thinks about him. Wonder if he’s still with that monk, Peter? He did promise to return, but maybe he was just saying so?
3. Magical Runes
“Good to see you, Hauge!” Lauge greets with a smile, patting the ledge beside him.
“Spotted anything yet?”
“Nah, not yet,” Lauge points across the sea. “There is nothing, except those nasty looking black clouds.” He points towards the horizon.
True enough, the sky is turning rather dark.
“I think a gale is on its way”.
“You wanted to show me something?” Hauge asks. “I don’t suppose it is the weather?”
Lauge smiles a strange smile. “Eh, well – maybe not,” he says in a secretive tone. Then turns to Torleif commanding:”hey beat it. Get out of here.”
“I want to see it too; it’s unfair, it is! I found him, and brought him to you! While you just sat here!” he utters sulkily.
“Go home!” Lauge orders. “Now!”
Torleif reluctantly gets up. He climbs off the ledge. Very, very slow. Once he’s finally out of reach, he turns and yells up at them defiantly:
“I’ll just tell mom you hit me, I will!”
“Scram it, you little rat!” Lauge yells back. “And you will not breathe a Hel-bound word to her, or I’ll send the Silvans after you! They’ll make you whimper so much that even Loki will pity you!”
Once Torleif has left, Lauge smiles again and carefully pulls out a piece of wood from beneath the fur he is sitting on.
“What’s that?” Hauge asks curiously. “A piece of wood? What have you made now?” Lauge spends a lot of his time on his post carving various things in wood: spoons, little bowls, and platters. Sometimes, he makes fancy handles for various tools. He’s getting pretty good at it.
Proudly Lauge hands him the little piece of oak-wood. It looks like an ordinary slap of wood. Why is he so proud about that? Guess it could make quite a big plate one day?
“Turn it over!” Lauge says eagerly.
“But – those are – runes!” Hauge exclaims astonished, the strange, pointy symbols, which so very few know how to do! Lauge has been sitting up here on his spot – burning runes in a piece of wood! Hauge is speechless – and a little frightened. He knows that those strange signs mean something; that they gain power when they are used.
“How did you – ? I mean where, where did you get them?”
Lauge smiles secretively. Then he leans towards Hauge, whispering, as if the mountain has ears:
“Sigurd, the bard, you know! He’s the one who taught me!”
Sigurd! Yes, of course!
Sigurd arrived with Sven, Vagn, and all the others, after the attack. Before then, no one here knew how to burn runes. Sigurd is the only one who masters the burning and use of runes!
“Why did he show you?” Hauge asks. It’s not what you’re expecting the lookout to concern himself with.
“I don’t know, actually! He said the more who knew about them, the better. Apparently, a lot of people in Daneland know them. While the rest of you were busy in the fields this summer he came up and showed me. He said I was a good, fast learner, he did!” Lauge says proudly.
“Do they mean anything?”
Lauge points at the various symbols, while slowly reading out aloud:
“Lau-ge – burned – these – runes – for – Hau-ge, – son – of – Styr-bjorn.”
Hauge can’t help but be impressed. To think that these strange signs on a piece of wood could mean so much!
“You can do it in stone, too,” Lauge says eagerly. “I was actually thinking that we could raise a stone in honour of your father. I can do the runes.”
Hauge looks at his friend, astonished. “Actually, we could do that!” He pauses: “but I’ll have to talk to my mother first, and probably, Sven too.”
“Sven, Sven, Sven!” Lauge sneers. “If everything was up to Sven, and that Vagn, then…“
A cold gust of wind cuts Lauge off. They both look up.
4. Fury of Thor
Big, dark, heavy clouds have blocked out the sun, and the sea is foaming. The violent clouds draw breath, ready to release tempestuous winds and mounting seas. A distant lightning tears blindingly a zigzagging rift between the sky and the sea, a roll of thunder following.
“Thor is angry,” Lauge mumbles. “Wonder why?”
Hauge clutches his leather pouch. Could it have something to do with him and the big nugget of amber? Wasn’t he meant to find it, after all? Should he give it back to the sea?
He grips the pouch tightly. He can feel the nugget. Should he show it to Lauge and ask him? He’s just about to take it out, when Lauge cries out:
“The ships! They’re out there! On their way in! And in this weather!”
Lauge is already up. Hauge scans the sea, but can’t see anything except foam and waves out there. Then, suddenly – all the way out where sea and sky meets, he sees a small dot. Then it’s gone again. There, there it is again! Now there aretwo!
“There!” Lauge points. “And there!”
It continues like that for a while. They appear and disappear again, and again. Two dots, then three; for a brief moment, even four!
“The waves must be pretty big out there,” Lauge says. “It will be difficult for them to cross in between the reefs and the beach.”
“We’ve better get down and spread the news,” Hauge says. “Then we can help them in.”
They hurry down the mountainside. While they’re still a good way from the first houses, Lauge starts yelling:
“The ships are coming! They are ontheir way! They’ll be here soon!”
Reaching the houses they separate, each running their own way, shouting the news into the houses.
Soon the streets are filled with frantic men and boys rushing towards the beach. The women and girls start preparing for the great welcoming feast: they butcher chickens and a few sheep, fetches vegetables and herbs. The meat is cooked in ovens. Finally, they start preparing the Long House for the celebration.
5. Dangerous Landings
Hauge joins the others on their way to the landing place on the beach. It is in a small cove south of the village. Normally, the cove is well sheltered from the wind and seas, but today the vicious force of the storm spills over the reefs. Cascades of frenzied foam and water crash onto the shore, whipping and soaking the group preparing to help the ships land on the flat beach.
“They’re coming!” someone shouts.
The first of the ships rounds the point and enters the cove. It’s Vagn’s ship, Hauge can tell. The men on the beach have strong ropes ready for them. From the ship they throw several lines towards land, but they’re still too far out. Hauge and a few of the older boys start fighting their way through the waves to grab the lines. The ship tilts dangerously, nearly turning sideways in the crushing waves as it enters very close to the low, sharp reefs at the mouth of the cove.
“Pull!” The men heave with all their might. Slowly, they turn the ship. Then a breaking wave catches it and lifts it towards the beach. Battered and bruised the men onboard jump and crawl from the ship, as it is pulled further up on the beach, where it keels over and rests on one side.
“Welcome home!” someone shouts.
But right now, there’s no time for anything except to make sure the remaining three ships are pulled safely ashore, too.
By the time the fourth and final ship appears around the point, everyone is almost completely exhausted. This one is commanded by Sven himself and it barely clears the reefs at the mouth of the cove.
“This is bad!” Lauge shouts. He runs out into the water, trying to catch the lines. A monster wave pushes the ship towards the reefs. The next moment there is a crashing sound. Another wave now presses the ship towards the largest of the rocks. Many have now entered the water; some swimming to the ship. Then, it heals over, waves ramming it repeatedly against the reefs.
The men on the ship throw themselves overboard, swimming frantically towards land. Some of them are so exhausted that they have to be pulled in.
Sven is among the first to reach the shore.
“We must bring that ship in!” he yells, angry and desperate.
“Yes, but how?” Vagn asks, out of breath.
“Figure it out! It has to be saved!” Sven yells. “Get some of those empty barrels!” He points to some barrels further up on the beach. The ones they usually store salted fish in. Quickly, they roll them to the edge of the water, tie them together and push them out.
Some of the men then fight their way out to the ship with the ropes. They barely manage to do so, but finally, but with great difficulty they pull the barrels through the waves; tie them to the sides of the ship, and climb onboard.
Meanwhile, Sven commands the men on the beach:
“Tighten that up! Pull, damn you! Get that ship ashore! PULL!”
The ship creaks and screeches, then suddenly, with a loud squeak, it tears free from the reefs.
Now they are all pulling as hard as they can. The barrels keep the ship afloat, and after a short time of heaving, a great wave throws it the rest of the way onto the beach.
“Careful now! Watch the bow!” someone yells.
Too late! As the ship keels over the long prow breaks off with an ear-splitting crack.
They pull all the four ships a good way up onto the beach. Then, finally, it is time to greet the homecoming men properly.
And the joy of seeing them safely back again is greatindeed.
6. A Party and a Tale
That night the moods run high in the Long House. The returned men eat as if it’s their first meal in weeks, and drink just as much. But then, it has been a while since they have had anything proper to eat.
“Those last days, we had nothing, but bread and dried fish left,” one of them says, while devouring a sheep’s rib.
“We ran out of mead the day after we left the Hebrides,” Vagn grumbles.
“Where did you go this time?” Aasa asks, sitting next to Sven.
Sven is still chewing on a piece of meat when hebegins the story:
“We would have stayed in the Orkneys, but then we heard that some kinsmen had settled on a big island, further south, which they call Ireland. It was said that there was good trade to be done there.”
He cleans his teeth, and continues:
“It took us five days to get there, but then we only sailed during daylight; at night we anchored in the fiords. A few times we went ashore, too.”
“Did you meet anyone there?” Hauge asks.
Sven hesitates before answering. Then says with a swagger: “well, we met a few, hmm…” This makes some of the others grin and yell strange things at him.
“Shut up!” Sven exclaims, and promptly the jesting stops. “They weren’t all equally welcoming, though. Every now and then we had to convince them to let us stay.”
“What do you mean?” Aasa asks.
“Oh, you know: a few struggles and some loud talk.”
At this, some of the men grin at each other again, mumbling. Sven looks at them sternly before continuing:
“We left early every morning. Then one day, we crossed the sea between Scotland and Ireland.”
7. “The Fiord of Strong Current”
“So, did you meet our kinsmen?” Hauge asks.
“Not at first, no. We spent a few days making our way south before we heard of a fiord where strangers lived. We sailed into it through a narrow strait. The current is so strong there that the only way to enter it is at high tide. Later we learned that our kinsmen call it the Fiord of Strong Current.”
“You found them?”
The tension is palpable in the hall as Sven, after apause, finally says:
“We sailed far into the fiord. Once you are through the narrow entrance it expands, and turns into a large sea dotted with shallow banks and small, uninhabited islands! We almost ran aground on several occasions, especially when we sailed in the narrow straits between the islands.”
Sven pauses to take a deep drink of his mead, and then continues:
“Suddenly, the lookout on my ship yelled: ‘ground straight ahead’ and we felt the ship scrape across sanded seabed. Everyone had to work the oars hard to get us off. We didn’t notice anyone on the island until we slid out in deeper waters. Then we saw someone making strange gestures at us.”
“Who was it?” Aasa asks excited.
“Well, as we looked closer at them, we realised they were waving us in their direction. There was some sort of a landing there, with room for several ships. They yelled to us in our own language as they helped pull us ashore!”
Relief spreads through the crowd. Mumbling and small-talk all around, until Hauge, confused, asks:
“Do they live there? In that foreign land?”
“Yes, they have actually built a small village there, it turned out. They were very hospitable and helpful. We slept in their houses and they made sure we were well-fed. They told us of their journeys, and of all the good trading posts they have discovered. In fact, some of them so good, that they don’t want to leave again.”
“Why do they live on such a small and remote island, then?” Aasa asks.
“Oh, they have had their clashes with the Irish, but as their ships aren’t too seaworthy, they are left alone on their island.”
Now, they all answer lots of questions; there is cheering and drinking all around, and Sven is in a merry mood. Suddenly Hauge sees him lean close to his mother, putting his arm around her. Aasa draws back a little, but Sven simply pulls out something and hands it to her. Hauge can’t see or hear what they’re saying, but he can tell that his mother is happy, but also a little embarrassed, when Sven places a big, heavy, ring of twisted gold around her neck. Those who see it laugh and applaud approvingly.
“Hey, Hauge!” Sven shouts a little later. His voice is loud and his words slurred:
“Tchh-tcheers to your ol – your old uncle!”
Hauge picks up a drinking horn and looks questioningly at his mother, but she just nods and smiles at him. He is old enough, he supposes. So, he empties the horn in one big slurp, and it is immediately refilled.
Soon a strange, bubbling feeling fills his body. He feels light-headed and free, his thoughts soaring. Happily and elated he participates in the talk with the returned men, listening and laughing loudly.
And so the party continues all night. The bard Sigurd sings songs of the journey, and praises the Gods for their successful return.
9. Disturbances at Night
Hauge awakes with a start the following morning. His head feels as if it’s been split into two, his body hurts all over, and the strangest of noises comes from the other bed.
“No – don’t,” his mother whispers.
“But Aasa, I thought – I mean: I thought you agreed,” It is Sven’s hoarse, slurred voice!
“Don’t!” Aasa repeats.
“You promised me” Sven begins.
“I promised nothing,” Aasa cuts him off firmly.
“You said that…” Sven’s voice is rising.
“Schh! You’ll wake Hauge!”
But he doesn’t let up: “Bah! Hauge drank so much it’s a miracle he could even walk, much less wake up now!” He does lower his voice, though, and so much so that Hauge can only hear a few of the words.
“When you… When we marry…”
Hauge barely dares breathe. He will definitely be in trouble if Sven finds out he’s awake. However, a pungent stench of puke, mixed with the smell from the animals in the other end of the house, makes his stomach turn and lurch, threatening to eject its contents. He constantly tastes bile. Oh, if only Sven would give in, so he can get outside in the fresh air.
“NO!” This time, Aasa is raising her voice.
Hauge can hear her trying to push Sven off.
“Then… Well, then you can… Bah, suit yourself woman!” Sven slurs insulted. He fumbles through the dark room towards the door. On the way, he hits his head on one of the beams, mutters a surprisingly complex and clear string of curses, which are suddenly cut off by the gurgling sound of mead escaping the way it entered. Soon after, the groaning, stumbling man makes his way outside.
Hauge stays in bed, struggling to control his churning stomach, as he waits for Aasa to fall asleep again. It sounds as though some of the thralls have awoken as well. They probably heard everything, too, but wisely enough they pretend to be asleep.
Marry? Does his mother really intend to marry Sven? He knows Sven has been interested in her for a long time, but from there to marriage? Aasa can have anyone, but him! Should she marry Sven just because he’s the Chieftain now, and Styrbjorn’s brother? Of course, he has helped them a lot, especially when they had to rebuild the houses.
Finally it sounds as if Aasa has fallen asleep again. The thralls are asleep too. One of them snores quietly. Hauge gets up, and picks his way through the house. He circles around the fireplace and moves towards the door. Suddenly, he slips in something slimy on the floor and nearly trips. He grabs hold on one of the beams and takes a moment to steady himself. By all the Gods, what a foul smell! His feet are soaked in puke. Suddenly the smell makes its way to his nose. His stomach, already churning, gives a violent lurch and Hauge has to make a dash for the door. He is barely outside of the house before he vomits convulsively.
10. Strange Sounds
Hauge hurries down to the stream. He kneels and washes his mouth and face. Then he sticks his stinking feet into the cool water, enjoying the refreshing feel for a minute. His head is still pounding horribly, but the cold morning air helps. Dawn brightens the sky as Hauge walks through the silent village, heading towards the beach. Here and there he can hear a few people still awake and celebrating.
When he arrives at Lauge Longsight’s house, Torleif suddenly appears, out of nowhere. He looks confused, but his face lights up when he sees Hauge.
“Hauge, come on! Hurry!” he says, obviously scared.
“What, what’s the matter?” Hauge asks.
Torleif doesn’t answer; he simply drags him along, out behind the houses, and towards some trees where strange noises emit. It sounds as if someone is fighting.
Torleif lets go of Hauge, when they suddenly find themselves looking at Sven, who has thrown himself on top of someone.
Hauge is about to separate what he believes to be two drunkards in a brawl, when he realises that it is the mute thrall-girl Astrid who is lying beneath Sven!
“What are you doing?” Hauge snarls.
“What do you think?” Sven mutters angrily. “Mutes can’t tell it to anyone, you know.”
“Stop it!” Torleif shouts. “She hasn’t done anything!”
“By all the Gods; done anything? No, she has done nothing, but she will!” Sven has torn some of the girl’s clothes off and holds her tightly by the wrists. Astrid grunts and whines beneath the huge man’s body, desperately tossing and turning, trying to free herself.
Hauge can’t move. Something inside him is boiling, but not a word crosses his lips.
“You can have her afterwards, Hauge,” Sven exclaims. “Should be about time you try this, too!”
Suddenly, Hauge throws himself at Sven, hammering his fists into his broad back.
“Let go of her! Leave her alone!”
“What do you think you’re doing? Are you meddling?” Sven yells. He lets go of the girl.
“She’s a bloody thrall! What’s the matter with you?!” Stumbling, he gains his footing and grabs hold of Hauge.
“Is the whelp trying to tell his uncle what to do?” he hisses, his face just inches from Hauge’s.
“No, no it’s not like that,” Hauge is still angry, but suddenly all fight has gone out of him. “I just… Well, just leave her alone, okay?”
“Is that it? You want her for yourself or what?” Sven lets go of him, suddenly very unstable, as if he’s about to fall over.
“If you breathe a single word of this to your – mother, I will make you regret it,” he whispers slowly.
“Same goes for the little pest there,” he points to the terrified Torleif. Then turns and staggers towards the houses with a grunt.