A Short Story
Today is the last day of Norsevember, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’ve written a short story that I really hope you’ll enjoy, or at least find mildly entertaining.
I just want to note, I’m not an author nor has this story been professionally edited. It is purely written as a bit of fun. Despite the inevitable mistakes and room for several redrafts and edits, I also acknowledge I could make it better if I had a little more time – there’s certainly lots of depth I could add so it doesn’t seem as summarised. Despite this, I hope you enjoy reading it and read with an open mind! Thanks, and Skål!
My ravens left with the coming of three strangers.
Strangers were of course common in our modest yet busy village of Skellbørg during the warmer months and the onset of spring had seen an influx of diverse traders and settlers stopping through on their way to the larger settlements to the South.
There were four however, who’d stood out amongst the throngs. The three brothers arrived on Sunnudagr afternoon bearing exquisite trade goods on a huge cart. Villagers spoke about receiving items from them in exchange for local gossip and tellings of the sagas. Treasures the local farmers and fisherman had never laid eyes on before were exchanged for crude carvings of the Gods.
As far as I remember, the three were readily welcomed, although some of the elders were a little wary of their intentions. For the children and many of the less cynical adults, they were an exciting addition to village life who brought us beautiful objects in exchange for mere words or worthless objects. As chieftain, my father received a stunning golden arm ring as a gift, while I was given a toy boat about the length of my finger that I had no use for. I didn’t share the excitement of the other children and I refused to acknowledge these men who’d scared away my friends.
I wasn’t known for being popular with the others my age, but I was sneaky and I enjoyed learning secrets from the adults, crawling under the longhouse tables and hiding in the haystacks outside. I told my secrets to the ravens and they brought me shiny trinkets in return. I wasn’t interested in more shiny objects from these three strange men, but I was mightily angry that my two favourite birds had flown away on their arrival.
The brothers stayed until Óðinsdagr evening, after which time we never saw them again.
The three of them left every evening despite the offer of cheap lodgings. I don’t think anybody really cared where they went to begin with; each day brought new treasures and it was easier not to ask questions. They continued to return with their ornately carved combs, expertly forged wood cutting axes and perfectly embroidered cloaks, so there was a reluctance to question anything. Despite the town’s gratitude, there was something off about them. They drank little and ate less. Their smiles felt false. Every day they returned with new items despite the lack of anywhere to stay outside the village perimeter. Their cart just never seemed to empty.
Then the rumours began. One of the thralls was convinced he’d seen them emerge from an old barrow mound behind the eastern perimeter, growing in height as they arose and scaled the earthy bank under the fading moonlight one morning.
A trader claimed to have seen a strange blue glow through the cracks in the doorway of the abandoned huntsman’s cabin, on his way to the village. He claimed to have heard inhuman laughter and mischief coming from within. Both were investigated, before the trader was discredited and the thrall punished for leaving his duties to spread nonsense; scaremongering is rarely good for morale. The whispers intensified nonetheless.
On Óðinsdagr morning, I overhead my father relaying his concerns to mother when he thought I was playing with my bone men.
“I have scouts already on their way, looking for clues amongst the wilderness off Leif’s Road and signs of activity by the old barrow. I have several spaced out in various other directions. I want to know where those three have been going at nightfall.”
“Why do they trouble you?” asked my Mother, “They are bringing us prosperity. Follow them tonight if you really want to know.”
“I cannot risk being caught, exactly for that reason; I don’t want to become a disturbance to this new optimism amongst the village folk, but I need to know. And it troubles me because a thrall or a tired, half drunk trader can be ignored.
My seasoned warriors and lookouts cannot. Even the seer tells me to send them away, but she talks in those damned riddles whenever I ask a question!”
My father rubbed his temple and sighed, “My men give me reports of magic, of shapeshifting, of ancient ash and elm trees plucked from the earth as if mere saplings and left in a neat pile not a morning’s ride away! I cannot go vikingr this season and leave my family with such reports gathering speed.”
That evening, my father was in a foul mood. The scouts had all returned, though no new information had been found. The only thing to report had been a huge patch of dead earth some of the men argued had held an immovable boulder, but that was neither here nor there. The three men hadn’t even left any wagon tracks and there was no evidence of where they’d gone. He relented and started to make plans to have them followed the following night. They left as usual and on Thórsdagr, they were gone.
The villagers returned from the marketplace deflated. There had been a huge storm in the night, the crashes and rumbles louder than batte. The marketplace was partially under water, but the brothers had already driven the other traders away, either outcompeting them or trading such eye catching goods that the traders had rushed on to sell them at big profits in the neighbouring towns. The marketplace was lifeless with only three or four essential stalls set out around the outskirts of the deep patches of stormwater. No shining garments or intricate jewellery were for sale. Only meat, cheese and a few baskets of summer berries.
The guardsmen spoke about their exchange with the night watch, who recalled one traveller who’d braved the weather and took refuge for the night soon after the icy sleet had subsided. He stood tall against the dark night with a bound package in his hand and approached the gatehouse covered in mud and slush. Apparently, he’d greeted the men with a huge smile and declared, “My good lads, I require a hot bath and a bottomless barrel!”
There was something about this stranger the usually suspicious guards instantly warmed to. His smile was infectious and the guards relaxed. They’d expected the man to bring trouble, but he had them reassured within a few moments. By the time they reached the bath house, they said it felt like they’d been shield brothers for 5 summers. After waking a thrall to run a steaming tub and bringing the man mead, they’d left the thrall to make him up a soft straw bed.
It took until midday, but his bulky frame arose and stepped into the courtyard, stretching and massaging his arm muscles. Within an hour he’d made friends with half of the village, having children and adults alike cheering, singing and playing games. He made them laugh with his crude jokes and made them laugh harder when he was challenged to a game of riddles, only for his clues to make absolutely no sense.
By mid afternoon, the barrel of ale that had been brought out was empty, most of which had gone into his drinking horn. He’d drank a further 7 horns of mead for every round of flyting he’d lost. The crowd weren’t sure whether he’d been intentionally bad or had just wanted another excuse to knock back another drink.
My father returned soon after, and asked this intriguing man for a private audience back at our home, in the hope of finding out any information about the brothers. He bid farewell to the villagers and returned with us to our home.
My father soon learned the man’s name was Haldor, though was disappointed he hadn’t seen the three men on the road. Haldor explained he’d been sent by his father to recover some important heirlooms. The two men talked for what felt like hours, and became more relaxed as the mead flowed. I was asked to set the table for this stranger who’d already built the sort of rapport with my father he’d usually reserve for seasoned warriors he’d spent years drinking and fighting alongside. I stirred the stew, and offered Haldor a bowl.
“What’s the meat, lad?” he enquired.
“It’s goat…” I started, and the man looked momentarily horrified before resuming his easy smile.
He raised a hand dismissively, “gratitude for your hospitality but I’m saving myself for the roast pig in the longhouse later!” He licked his lips and grinned.
“So, these heirlooms?” asked my old man.
“There were five in total and let me tell you, I expect the remaining two to be a lot cleaner to retrieve! You have one of them on your arm, Jarl Dagmer.”
Haldor’s expression changed to a more solemn one. My father looked quizzical, then frustrated.
“You come into my home, demanding a treasured possession!”
“It is surely a treasured possession. Of my father’s. Do not mistake me for a thief or charlatan though my lord Jarl. I believe you’ll find my proposition more than pleasing.”
My famously short tempered father was calmed by Haldor’s words almost instantly, and he chose to listen quietly. This was a first for Jarl Dagmer of clan wolf shirt.
Haldor smiled gently, and asked us to bear with him as he opened the long pack he carried with him.
First, he produced an arm ring of equal beauty to the one of my father.
“It is a perfect replica and is also made of solid gold. Take as long as you need to compare the two; I’m certain you’ll be unable to tell the difference.”
The two arm rings were indeed as beautiful as one another and looked exactly the same.
“Before you decide, Dagmer, I have more.”
Haldor pulled a number of small pouches from within the pack, which he shook with a wry smile. “Seeds!”
“Seeds?” My father looked puzzled.
“Spread these across any empty farmland tomorrow morning. These seeds and the plants that will grow from them are incredibly hardy. They’ll also yield four times the produce you’d usually expect, once per season. No need to plough, just spread them across the land. Barley, wheat, corn, rye and oats. Your people will never go hungry and you’ll have such a surplus you’ll have much to sell.”
My father was lost for words. “This cannot be possible” he said.
“Just trust me,” reassured Haldor. “Anyway, for my final gift.”
He carefully unsheathed a magnificent Ulfberht sword, runes adorning the flat of the blade and the pommel covered in swirling patterns. The blade itself shone with a shimmer that memorised us both. He handed it to my father, who tested the weight and admired the craftsmanship.
“How could you come to possess such a blade? And you offer this too, in exchange for this arm ring? You have one the same as this, why go to all this effort?”
Haldor opened his arms and shrugged, “Let us just say, I know a blacksmith. A very good one. I’m afraid I cannot reveal why this particular arm ring is so special to me and my father but it has significant value to us. I’m hoping since you cannot tell the difference between the two, you’ll weigh the other treasures I offer to you as a fair trade. And you won’t lose face with your men; they don’t need to know the arm ring has even changed. The sword is but a gift to a mighty Jarl from a grateful traveller.”
My father feigned contemplation for a few moments, before his eyes sparkled and he stood to grip the big Haldor’s shoulders. “A fair trade, more than fair indeed!”
The two men embraced and all was again well. With the trade made, Haldor unexpectedly turned to me.
“I would ask you a favour, young master,” he asked while looking behind me towards the fireplace. I’d left the folded toy boat discarded on the floor beside it.
“I see you have no particular fondness towards that small boat there, but I know a young man who would. Perhaps you’d be willing to trade. In my pack I have a pair of boots that won’t make a sound, no matter the surface you walk on. Perfect for hunters, or…” he paused, “eavesdropping…”
The boat was in my hand before he could even finish his sentence and traded without a second thought. He smiled his warm smile and placed a hand on my shoulder. In that moment I felt a reassurance, a confidence and a safety that I’ve never felt since, as if nothing in the world could touch me, as if I could take on armies.
“A drink to celebrate trades well made!? Let us make for the longhouse!” Haldor shouted.
The men and women all drank and feasted late into the night, and I was allowed to stay up. I’d began to fall asleep at one of the benches when I heard shouts of ‘Skål! Skål! Skål!’ and Haldor was surrounded by cheering villagers as he drank heartily, froth dripping through the copper hue of his thick beard. He threw the horn down he’d been drinking from and picked up the half full barrel he’d been filling it from, grasping the sides in his huge hands and to everyone’s disbelief, raising it above his head and downing most of the contents. A fair amount he doused himself in admittedly, but we’d never seen a drinker like him, before or since.
Haldor belched, let out his belt a notch and wiped his mouth. The crowd went wild. There were shouts of “raid with us!” And “this is no man, but an ox!”
Miraculously, he still stood.
“Axe throwing, anyone?” he suggested.
The villagers woke the next morning with sore heads and a foggy memory of the night before. We looked for Haldor to say farewell, but he’d already left.
Thirty summers later, our village is now a large, bustling town and the Ulfberht hangs at my sword belt. Some say the day my father left Midgard for Valhalla, Haldor returned outside the camp and shared mead in his tent before the bsttle. When we arrived home though, the locals reported seeing a heavy set, red bearded man tending to the crops and pastures outside the town walls. My father’s drinking horn stands empty, to be filled only should our beloved stranger grant us an audience once again.