Stephen B. Pearl's Bastard prince series books - Fate of the Norns litRPG

Stephen B. Pearl

Novels

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The Mistletoe Spear

he Mistletoe Spear novel - Norse, historical fantasy adventure, historical fantasy, litRPG

Bastard Prince series - historical Norse fantasy - fantasy, paranormal.

Learn about Norse culture and way of life in the 900s during an adventure quest.


Book Cover

     Newly returned to Orkney from their mission to liberate the Horn of the Kraken, Fjorn, the bastard prince, and his band are dispatched to secure another item of power before the forces of the white god can confiscate it to serve in their war against the Norse way of life.

     The Mistletoe Spear, that slew the god Baldur, is hidden somewhere in Northumbria. The artifact promises victory to whoever holds it.

     Fjorn must guide his people through a world trapped in Fimbulwinter before they can even begin their search.

     Can Fjorn’s band triumph against the might of Wessex, bolstered by a mercenary army of trolls?

     Will old foes become new allies, or will Fjorn’s generosity to the dead lead them all to ruin?

     What secrets does Jolnir, a newcomer to the group, hold and will this endanger the quest?

Chapter 1 A Mixed Blessing

     Munin screeched, black wings spread wide, eyes glaring at the seven burly men in tunics and trews forming a half-circle before her. The woman, on whose golden-haired head Munin perched, whimpered. Her pretty features were pale and drawn with terror.

     “A bit of extra sport. Ten skatt says I can pluck the raven from her head.” A huge blond man hefted a throwing axe.

     “Too easy a bet. You’re the best with a throwing axe of any of us, Obasi, and you know it. Still in all, you hit the bird. I’ll give you ten skatt for a drumstick,” said a man to Obasi’s right.

     Munin squawked louder but didn’t move.

     “Right then, black chicken for dinner it is.” Obasi made ready to throw the axe.

     The woman’s head was secured through a hole in a heavy plank of wood by her braids which were tacked away from her head.

     “STOP!” Sigurlina’s voice riveted the crowd like a breath from the grave. The pretty, blond teen drove through the common room using her staff to thrust men twice her weight out of the way. A chill emanated from her, and it was almost like she absorbed the light from the flickering torches and fires that illuminated the great hall. Ice crusted the outer surface of the heavy wool cloak that hung from her shoulders. A black skeleton, armed with a staff, flanked her, pushing men to the side. Sigurlina and the skeleton moved to stand beside the raven.

     “Thank Frey,” whimpered the woman Munin stood upon.

     “We’re here now, Eir.” A trace of warmth entered Sigurlina’s voice as she spoke to the woman, then her gaze turned to ice as she scanned the men before her.

     “Get away, witch. This has nought to do with you.” Obasi hefted the throwing axe in a threatening manner.

     Sigurlina’s eyes flashed, and the great hall of Orkney seemed to grow colder. The men and women sitting and standing on the wooden platform that surrounded the dirt floor in the middle of the hall paused in the activities of life, mending nets, weaving cloth, grinding grain, and watched the scene in silence. Only the howl of the storm, which shook the walls and forced the cold of Fimbulwinter into the great hall, could be heard.

     Sigurlina remembered how her mother and grandmother had dealt with men like Obasi and tried to emulate the posture of those, now passed, Seithkona. She pulled herself to her full height, taller than half the men in the room, and fixed her eyes on her opponent. “I choose to make Eir my affair, so she is my affair! You had best learn this, Obasi. I take what I take, and I protect those I choose. I am Seithkona.”

     Over half the guardsmen that stood by Obasi drifted away from him.

     Obasi took half a step back. “All I see is a silly little girl with a stick. Run along and let the men get back to our sport. She’s only a thrall.”

     Sigurlina glared at him. “Skeleton, at…” She stopped herself mid-sentence. A frigid smile spread across her face.

     “Obasi, you do not know how lucky you are that I have arrived.” The voice was deep, resonant and came from immediately behind Obasi.

     Obasi spun around and found himself staring directly into the throat of Audun Bear Friend. Obasi looked up into a wide face framed by wild, red hair and a thick, bushy beard. A snow-encrusted cloak was wrapped around the huge man’s left arm. He fingered the hilt of his battle-axe with his right hand.

     “I am one of Jarl Erik’s guards. To attack me is to attack the Jarl himself.” Obasi stepped back and felt a chill run up his spine as he neared Sigurlina. The chill was worse than staring up at the big man.

     Audun looked to the other men in the crowd. “Has anyone attacked him?”

     The crowd of men collectively shook their heads.

     “What in Niflheim is going on here?” demanded a new voice. It belonged to a handsome, late-teens man with a well-trimmed beard and a lean, muscular build. Snow and ice adhered to the heavy, blue cloak he wore. Fjorn pushed into the area around Eir. His hand strayed to his sword when he saw the bound woman. “Who has done this?”

     “She’s only a thrall. We were having some sport, my Lord.” Obasi spoke with a tremor in his voice.

     “Obasi, I ordered you to leave her be.” A short, clean-shaven man with boyish features and brown hair that peeked out from under a cap helm moved to stand beside Eir. Chain mail could be seen through the gap in his wool cloak. A long sword rested in a shoulder sheath at his back. His voice was soft but intense and so sharp it could cut meat.

     “Just because she’s your playmate doesn’t make her a freeman. The wench spilt my mead and needed to be punished.” Obasi looked down at Jolnir, but a tremor in his voice made a lie to the larger man’s bravado.

     “One of them pushed me. I couldn’t help it,” whimpered Eir.

     “Silence, thrall!” snapped Obasi.

     Jolnir’s hand strayed to his sword hilt. Fjorn’s steady voice stilled the action short of the blade being drawn. “Obasi, you have been told before. My father and I decide who is punished and how in this hall. This is our responsibility, given us by Jarl Erik. You show my house dishonour to ignore our laws.”

     “My Lord, she--.”

     “NO! When Jarl Erik left you and your fellow guardsmen here to reinforce our garrison, he placed you under our seat. To dishonour us is to dishonour the Jarl. I will not have Erik Bloodaxe dishonoured in my father’s hall.”

     “Yes, my Lord.” Obasi fell to one knee and looked down, but his face reddened with rage.

     “Audun, please unbind Eir. Obasi, we are fresh back from patrolling the gates. I think we need an extra patrol outside the palisade. I’m giving you the duty. Sigurlina, your slender friend should accompany Obasi with orders to bring him to safety in case the cold becomes too much for him.”

     “My servant would be happy to oblige.” Sigurlina’s smile was as brittle as ice.

     “I… But the evening feast will be starting soon,” objected Obasi.

     “So it shall,” Jolnir added his words to Fjorn’s.

     “As you command, my Lord.” Obasi half snarled at Fjorn then left to get his cloak.

     Audun finished lifting the board from around Eir’s neck as tears dried on her cheeks. She threw herself into Jolnir’s arms. “I was so scared.”

     Jolnir held the slender beauty and gently stroked her golden braids. “Shh. It is over. You are safe.”

     Eir pulled a little away, and the two kissed. “Thank you.” She turned to the others. “Thank you all. And you…” she faced Munin. “Extra liver and kidney tonight for you, my brave bird.”

     “Good bird, good bird.” Munin nodded her head.

     “Jolnir, a word before my father comes to table.” Fjorn’s voice was firm.

     Jolnir nodded and moved to stand by the Karl's son.

     “Can you control your men?” Fjorn spoke softly.

     “In battle, yes. When I am present, yes. You can’t think I would ever--.”

     Fjorn shook his head. “I know you care for Eir. That’s part of the problem. Obasi is trying to strike at you through her. Jolnir, I love her too. She is the kindest person I have ever known. She stood with me when my mother succumbed to the dark sadness after the first year of Fimbulwinter. I… I am with Sigurlina now, but for years, I pursued her, and I will always have a warm place in my heart for her.”

     “Then it is good you found Sigurlina. I’d hate to have to challenge a friend to a blood duel.” Jolnir was grim-faced.

     “And I’d hate to face you in real combat. The bruises from the wooden training swords are bad enough. I’m telling you my feelings so that you know what comes next is for noble reason. If you cannot keep Obasi in line, I’m going to send Eir up island to keep her safe.”

     Jolnir’s soft features flashed through anger to resolve, then he sighed. “It is good she has a friend like you. I’ll keep Obasi in line. He knows he is no match for me with a blade. Will your father reconsider selling Eir to me?”

     Fjorn shook his head. “He made her father a promise. Only to the man that swears oath to her will he surrender his right, and that right will be her dowry. It was a promise made to protect her that now does the opposite, but it is binding for good or ill.”

     “True, I must have the Jarl’s permission before I can give her my oath, or I must leave the royal guard.” Jolnir shook his head.

     Not for the first time, Fjorn wondered how a man that looked so soft could rise so high in the king’s guard. When he and his companions returned from the raid on Winchester, he’d found that Jarl Erik had left fifty swords from his personal guard to reinforce the Orkney defence. In the weeks since his return, Fjorn had come to see the new defenders as a mixed blessing. Most were warriors and acted as such. Some, like Jolnir, were true men of honour and added to the household guard's training. Others, like Obasi, hated being in a ‘backwater harbour town’ and fermented strife wherever they went.

     “I’m sure permission will only be a matter of asking.” Fjorn slapped the other man on the shoulder. “We should have a hot drink while we wait for dinner.”

     Jolnir smiled. “Wouldn’t you rather spend time with your lady? Sigurlina is one woman I wouldn’t want annoyed with me.”

     Fjorn glanced at Sigurlina, who was helping Eir slice liver for Munin by the hall’s central fire pit. With her staff set aside and the skeleton on patrol, she looked nothing more than a slender maid, pretty with a clear complexion, but no more extraordinary than that. “You’d never guess the force within.”

     “The Norns have plans for you. A team like yours doesn’t just happen, my friend,” said Jolnir.

     “Maybe?” Fjorn shifted uncomfortably, remembering a promise made during a battle at his father’s gate not long ago. “Audun wants to take ship as soon as the storm breaks.”

     “That could be trouble. I--.”

     A blast of cold air caused the torchlight to dance against the hall’s walls. A hulking figure in a thick cloak moved into the common area. A second figure, the size of a child, moved to the first one’s side. The smaller figure threw back her hood, revealing a rich head of dark, brown hair. She hung her cloak on a peg on one of the support pillars unveiling a body that was anything but childlike, clad in a snug, blue dress.

     “Speaking of trouble, here’s Ragna,” quipped Fjorn as Sigurlina rushed from the fire to hug the small woman.

     “Would we want her any different?” Audun walked up from the shadows.

     “Diwon seems to be keeping her occupied. You have to admire the old man’s stamina.” Jolnir gestured towards the hulking man that had entered with the diminutive woman.

     “I wish Sigurlina didn’t talk to her so much. I… well. When I first met Sigurlina, she hadn’t even been kissed. Now… she knows things. I mean, only in theory, but still.” Fjorn blushed crimson.

     Audun and Jolnir laughed and slapped Fjorn on the back hard enough to make him stumble forward.

     The hulking man with Ragna doffed his cloak revealing that he was of late middle years with a beard that had yet to surrender the last of its gold to silver. He had a warrior’s build and moved with an economy of motion that spoke to years of training. His thick, gold-streaked, silver hair fell to his shoulders, and a band of cloth covered the space where his left eye should have been.

     “I hope Diwon is in the mood to tell a tale.” Fjorn watched as the big man bent down and kissed Ragna, then pulled Sigurlina into a one-armed hug. Diwon spoke, but the words were lost to the distance. Sigurlina blushed.

     “A skald that wants to share the audience. Are you ill?” Jolnir looked at Fjorn, amazed.

     “I’m wise enough to want to learn from the best. Diwon can tell a tale like no other. His voice can trick the mind and make a man believe that day is night and black is white. It’s as if he took a quaff of Fjalar and Galar’s mead from the source.”

     “He does have a gifted tongue.” Hearing his own words, a blush rose to Jolnir’s cheeks. The other men failed to notice.

     Munin flew across the great hall and came to rest on Diwon’s shoulder. The big man laughed, then, taking Ragna’s hand, moved to join Fjorn and the others.

     “Hail, my friends. ‘’Tis a storm worthy of icy Jotunheim out there. Am I early for the feast?”

     A herald’s voice filled the hall. “Announcing Karl Geldnir Storm Rider of Orkney. Let all gather for the feast.”

     Fjorn’s father walked to his seat at the middle of a table at the end of the great hall just before the private chambers. Geldnir was an older man with a bald head and a heavily muscled upper body. The cane that supported his left side was gnarled oak. Fjorn had seen the old Karl fell men with a single blow of that staff, despite his crippled leg.

     Fjorn moved to Sigurlina’s side. “My lady.” He offered her his arm and escorted her to their places at the table to the right of the Karl. Jolnir took a seat to Geldnir’s left; his men fell in beside him.

     “There was an incident,” Geldnir commented when Fjorn settled himself.

     “I dealt with it, father.” Fjorn tried not to flex his knuckles.

     “I saw.” Geldnir laughed. “I was about to take action when that raven appeared. Well handled. I’m glad you saved me the trouble. From you, the Jarl will put off any insult as the brashness of youth. From me, he expects more.” Geldnir dropped his voice. “Make sure all know that you have powerful friends. All of you. So long as you are together, none would dare assail you. Together you can sleep easy. On that note, where is your wolf?”

     As if on cue, the door opened at the far end of the hall admitting a weather-beaten, muscular man with dark-red hair.

     “Vidurr prefers to keep his own company. I think crowds bring back memories,” explained Fjorn.

     “As long as his sword and his teeth are in your service, my son, he can spend his days baying at the mo… I miss the moon, but baying at whatever he wants to bay at.”

     Vidurr made a per-functionary dip of his head to the front of the hall, pulled a wooden bowl from his pack and lined up to get stew and bread with the rest of the household.

     Eir deposited a small portion of salt pork on the board of each of those at the head table.

     Another thrall followed her, filling tankards with weak mead. A small piece of bread and a few boiled root vegetables were added to each board.

     “I’ve been using that bag you brought to increase our supply of honeycomb. It won’t be long before we’ll be drinking better mead than this troll’s piss. Wonderful thing that bag,” remarked Geldnir as the meagre feast wound down.

     “Lord Geldnir, good people one and all. Might this poor skald share with you a tale to reward the hospitality of my hosts?” Diwon stood in the middle of the floor in front of the high table.

     “Speak good skald. As if any could stop thee,” Geldnir chuckled.

     Diwon bowed, lifted his arms dramatically and gestured for all to pay heed. The fire itself seemed to settle. No knot popped, no torch sizzled out of turn. Even the most talkative in the room fell silent.

     “I will tell you a tale of fair Asgard. A tale of woe, and a tale of doom. A tale of a father’s grief and a God’s rage.

     “As you all know, Odin Allfather has drunk deep from the well of knowledge. To know ’tis a noble thing, but to know too much can be a weight too heavy for even the strongest to bear. Imagine, if you can, the burden of knowing the days to come, of seeing the twists and turns of fate, but being unable to turn destiny aside. Of being constrained to watch helpless as all you have wrought is overthrown.

     “When the sun and moon still shone in the skies, Asgard was a noble realm, and Great Odin knew joy. He was husband and father and had a father’s pride, especially in his son Baldur. Baldur, fairest of the Gods. Baldur, like a day when honeysuckle drifts upon the wind, and the sun kisses the cheek and soothes winter’s ache from the bones. Baldur, whose voice was as the babbling stream rushing from the winter’s melt.”

     Fjorn could swear that he could smell honeysuckle and feel the warm kiss of the sun on his skin. Most of his mind appreciated the story, letting it carry him away, but a small part watched Diwon, noting his posture, the subtle drop of tone, the cadence of his voice, which rose and fell like the babble of a flowing stream. Fjorn was a student at the feet of a master, hungry to learn all that master could teach.

     Diwon looked directly at Fjorn. His blue eye seemed to sparkle as a smile touched the old skald’s lips.

     “Baldur was fairest and beloved of his mother and father. So beloved that when dire prophecies threatened Baldur, Odin rode to the halls of Hel to consult volva seers. So the all-father passed from the living worlds to discern the future of his beloved son. In this way, Odin learned that Baldur would be slain by treachery and be consigned to the frozen realm of Niflheim. The All-Father concealed this prophecy from Frigga. Sadly, the Norns care little for the comfort and joy of Gods or men and so did take it upon themselves to shatter fair Frigga’s illusion of peace. As Frigga, mother of mothers, queen of the Aesir, slept, a dream came to her that Baldur would be slain. Waking in a panic, she swore that her dream would not stand. She would brace against the Norns themselves, so her beloved son should not know death before her. So, he would not become the plaything of Hel. Frigga traversed the nine realms extracting a promise from all to never do the Good God Baldur harm.

     So loved was Baldur that all in existence agreed to this pledge. Nought would harm Baldur by deed or omission. Nought would still the warm spring breezes or bring sorrow to Odin and Frigga with his passing.” Diwon’s voice dropped and seemed to hold a hitch as if sorrow sought to emerge, and he fought it back. The fire flickered. The coiling smoke almost shaped itself into images of spring. Diwon’s voice continued.

     “But Odin was not satisfied and wished to test the pledge. Thus, he gathered the Aesir, and they all did cast things at Baldur and watched them twist away lest they scratch the Good God. It became great sport to so carry on.

     “All was well, but destiny is tricky and has many tools, not the least of which are treachery and deceit.”

     Sigurlina felt a shudder run up her spine as Diwon’s voice took on a timbre as cold as any shade’s. She watched the skald. A trick of the fire cast shadow onto his face and made his eye glow like a red coal. She swallowed. She’d faced draugar and held her courage, but for that moment, she would rather have faced all the armies of Hel herself than Diwon. He continued in a voice equal parts the cold of anger and the fire of rage.

     “A beast stood among the Gods. One Odin called brother and gave every courtesy. One who supped with the Aesir, sharing their bread and mead, while in his dark heart, he plotted their fall. Loki, in envy of what the Aesir had wrought, sought to destroy them. His desire was to suck all joy from the world and cast everything into shadow.

     “And so, Loki, the trickster God, did take the form of a Goddess and travelling to Fenslir, Frigga’s hall, did so speak to Frigga.”

     Diwon’s voice became wheedling with an irritating undertone.

     “Great Frigga, great mother, are you truly certain that Baldur is safe? Did all take oath that they would do him no harm? I only ask so that I might stand in his defence should the need arise, for I too love him.”

     The old bard’s voice lightened, becoming softer, not truly feminine, but there was no mistaking his intent.

     “Dear lady, I assure you. All in the nine realms do love Baldur. All have sworn to do him no harm,” answered Frigga.

     The voices shifted back and forth with the speaker as if two occupied the body of the single skald.

     Loki spoke. “I rest assured that it is so in Asgard, home of the Aesir Gods.”

     Frigga replied. “Yes, all in Asgard have so sworn.”

     “Have all in Vangard, home of the Vanir Gods, so sworn?”

     “Yes, all in Vangard have so sworn.”

     “Have all in Alfgard, where the Lios Alfar dwell, so sworn?”

     “Yes, all in Alfgard have so sworn.”

     “Have all in Svartalheim, where dwell the Svart Alfar, so sworn?”

     “Yes, all in Svartalheim have so sworn.”

     “Have all in Nidavellir, the Dvergar’s realm, so sworn?”

     “Yes, all in Nidavellir have so sworn.”

     “Have all in Muspelheim, where the fiery Muspel Jotuns roam, so sworn?”

     “Yes, all in Muspelheim have so sworn.”

     “Have all in Jotunheim, home to the icy Rime Jotuns, so sworn?”

     “Yes, all in Jotunheim have so sworn.”

     “Have all in Niflheim, Hel’s frozen realm, so sworn?”

     “Yes, all in Niflheim have so sworn.”

     “Have all in Hvergelmir, where serpents rule, so sworn?”

     “Yes, all in Hvergelmir have so sworn.”

     “Have all in Midgard, the realm of mortal men, so sworn?”

     “And here did Frigga pause. All in Midgard save a little shrub that grows upon the mighty oak, have so sworn. I forgot the mistletoe as I travelled the realms, but it is such a small thing. I see not how it could pose a threat.”

     “You have been most thorough, Great Mother. Baldur is truly blessed,” said Loki hiding poison behind a honeyed tongue.

     “And so, as the Aesir feasted, Loki slipped away and made his way to Midgard. He walked across the realm of man until he came upon a mighty oak. Nestled in its branches, was the humble mistletoe.”

     “Oh, plant evergreen that braves the winter’s winds when most have hidden their leaves in slumber, I greet thee,” flattered Loki.

     The mistletoe nestled on its branch and replied to Loki, for despite all, Loki is a God and has a God’s power. “I am glad to be appreciated for something, good traveller.”

     How Loki must have smiled at the sullen tone of the little herb. “What vexes thee, strong one that braves the winter’s chill?”

     “I am snubbed. When great Frigga roamed the realms asking all that they pledge safety to her son, she passed me by. I, who need him least, because I don’t hide my leaves away when the cold winds blow. I, who would have given my word without hesitation, had I been but asked. But no, she deemed me less worthy than the grass in the meadow. She begged the oak to never lend its limbs, roots or leaves to tool of harm against Baldur. But me? She couldn’t even bother to address me. I waited for her words, and they never came, then she walked away.”

     Loki shook his head and made a tutting sound. “Fair, brave herb that faces the winter’s dark, I hear your words. What insult was given you! How shameful that the Aesir should treat you thus when you bravely hold the memory of spring through the cold months. They owe you much. Even now they gather all manner of things to Asgard to have sport, casting them at Odin’s son. How unfair that humble rocks should see the golden halls, and you are denied.”

     “I have heard the stories, as I hold here against the wind and the storm while the other plants do sleep.” The white berries on the mistletoe grew red with rage.

     “This is not right. Come; lend to me your longest shoot. I will take you to Asgard, where you might see the golden halls of the ever-living.

     “It is not known if the mistletoe came swiftly to Loki’s hand or if it took more twisted words, but in the end, it surrendered its longest shaft. A stick shorter than an arrow.

     “Loki, in his mischief, was good to his word and brought the mistletoe shaft to Asgard. There he sharpened its end and wove enchantments around it. From that flimsy stick, he forged a spear, and enchanted it so that it would never miss its mark. A weapon of doom forged for a single purpose.

     “A merry day came to Asgard. All the Gods were deep into their horns; the mead flowed like a river. All was jest and dance. Many of the Aesir had gathered on the field of Idavoll and were making sport of casting things at Baldur; laughing when the items would turn away at the last, missing the God of light and warmth.

     “Hod, the blind God, Baldur’s brother, stood at the edge of the group.”

     “Good Hod, why do you not join in the sport?” asked Loki, who walked up beside the God of all things cold and dark.

     “Your jest is in poor taste, Loki. I cannot see to cast a stone. My brother has seen to that.” Bitterness oozed off of Hod.

     “I am sorry. I did not think. But come, if I direct your hand, surely you can join in the sport. Nought can strike Baldur. You can do no worse than the rest. Have a pitch; it will lighten your mood.”

     A rare smile came to Hod’s lips. “Thank you, Loki. Your courtesy does you credit.”

     “Take this trifle.” Loki placed the mistletoe spear into Hod’s hand. “Now, face this way.” Loki turned Hod to face Baldur. “Now over your shoulder and throw.”

     “It was a moment that lasted an age. Mighty Odin looked about and recognised the march of doom. His foreknowledge, once shadowy and indistinct as prophecy often is, became crystal clear. The malignant spear flew from Hod’s hand even as Odin screamed, “NO!”

     “Bound by Loki’s enchantments, the spear sped true, striking Baldur and piercing his heart. Loki saw the rage in Odin’s face and fled as the Allfather raced to his son’s side, embracing his beloved child as the life fled his form, and his spirit was swept into Hel’s frozen realm.

     “In his rage, Odin wrested the hateful spear from Baldur’s side and cast it away with all his might.

     “So powerful was the arm of the Allfather that the thing of wood, wound with the spells of doom, burst free of Asgard’s borders and sailed across the nine realms to split the very oak that housed the mistletoe from which the spear was made.”

     Diwon’s face was grey as if some old wound had opened. He sighed, and stillness filled the hall. He waited, letting his audience hear themselves breathe.

     “Odin, Allfather, had lost his favoured son. All was bleak and icy winds did blow, chilling Odin’s living heart. His grief was that of all fathers, but worse, because for him, there was no hope of reunion before all should end in Ragnarok. Tears flowed from his eye, and all the nine realms heard his cry.

     “At Frigga’s bidding, Hermond rode to Niflheim to treat with Hel, ruler of the frozen realm, Queen of the cowardly dead, daughter of foul Loki. Hel, the heartless maiden whose form is half corruption, did grant a boon from the frozen depths of her twisted soul. She said that if all in all the realms wept for Baldur, she would release him.

     “Thus, once more, Frigga sought out all that is. The mistletoe wept for the use it had been put to. Frigga found Loki, who claimed his foul deed was an accident and cried false tears in hopes he could turn Odin’s wrath. All things wept for Baldur until, in Jotunheim, Frigga came upon Thokk, a haggard old giantess living in a cave of ice. The Great Mother begged the hag to shed a tear, but the Hag replied, “I will weep only dry tears for Baldur. He was a disappointment while he lived, and after death, nothing has changed. Let Hel keep him. Have you wept for Ymir, your own blood, whom Odin slew? Have you shed a tear for Thrym, whom Thor laid low? Go, I have no tears for Aesir.”

     “And so, Frigga turned away broken-hearted, not knowing that the hag was Loki be-spelled and that those tears she needed were in truth already shed. Too late to make a difference, the Aesir came to know this. Now Baldur sits upon an icy throne at Hel’s right hand. All the world weeps for his return. A father grieves for the loss of his son that will stretch beyond the end of the worlds.”

#

     Diwon’s voice stilled. The light from the fire and torches dimmed. Fjorn nodded, noting how the old skald had moved so that his body subtly blocked the light reaching the head table. The room exploded into applause, and someone thrust a horn into Diwon’s hand.

     The old skald sipped at the horn and moved to the wooden platform at the side of the hall.

     Fjorn heard Sigurlina snuffle beside him and turned to see a tear trickling down her cheek.

     “What’s wrong,” asked Fjorn.

     “I… I feel sorry for Odin. He must have really loved his son.” Sigurlina smiled. “Diwon is very good.”

     “That he is.” Fjorn looked at the form of the big man fading into the shadows at the edge of the hall. “Very, very good.” Signalling Eir over, he bent close to her ear. “Take Diwon a horn of mead from the barrel I keep in my private chamber.”

     “The good mead, my Lord?” Eir sounded surprised.

     “Let us just say, I’m not taking any chances.” Rising, Fjorn escorted Sigurlina towards the rest of their friends, who had formed a little group around Diwon.

#

     “F U TH A R K G W H N I J Y P EO S T B E ML IN D O,” Sigurlina looked at the runes scraped onto the back of an old goatskin with a charred stick and made the sound she’d learned that went with each rune. Fjorn sat beside her on his bed in the small, private room his station as the Karl's son afforded him. The floor beneath their feet was wood. A lamp flickered in a sconce on the wall.

     “Good. Now try putting them together.” Fjorn used the charred stick to scrape four Runes on the goatskin.

     “Ken Is Segul Segul.” Sigurlina struggled to match the sounds to the letters. “K…i…s…s… Kiss. Kiss.”

     “Good.” Fjorn proceeded to match his action to his text. Sigurlina’s hands rested against his chest as he stroked her back. Pulling away, Sigurlina reached down and undid the clasp on Fjorn’s belt.

     “Really,” breathed Fjorn.

     Sigurlina blushed prettily. “I…” She looked down shyly, then kissed him and grabbed the sides of his tunic, helping to pull it off over his head. She stepped back to admire his lean, well-muscled form. “I think I want this. I… It’s a thing of life. I’ve seen too much of death.”

     “So, it isn’t me?” remarked Fjorn.

     “Of course it’s you. It’s many things. I…”

     Fjorn kissed her to erase the frown his words had put on her face.

     “I will pledge myself to you,” Fjorn stated when the kiss broke.

     Sigurlina rested in his arms and was reaching for the tie on his trews when the curtain door jerked aside.

     “Fjorn, your father commands your… Oh…” Ragna smirked from the doorway. “I could say it took a while to find you.”

     Sigurlina pulled away, blushing. “Ragna…”

     “Just remember what I told you about lily root.” The diminutive woman winked. “Unless you want to trap him that way.”

     “I’d never!” gasped Sigurlina.

     “Wouldn’t be able to say that if I’d come a little later.” Ragna’s smile widened.

     “Ragna, why are you here?” Fjorn didn’t manage to keep the annoyance from his voice.

     “Your father has ordered the crew of the Apenhet to the council chamber. That’s all I know. Your father sent me to find you two. I didn’t have to think too hard to figure out you’d be here. Audun is collecting Vidurr.”

     Fjorn practically leapt from the bed and scrambled to pull on his tunic.

     “Not bad, Siggy. Pity you saw him first,” Ragna commented towards Sigurlina.

     “I.. I.” Sigurlina stammered, a blush tinting her pale cheeks.

     Fjorn rolled his eyes as he buckled his belt. “We should go.” He turned to grasp Sigurlina’s hands. “For now.”

     Sigurlina blushed deeper and looked to the floor with a shy smile. Ragna nodded vigorously behind Fjorn’s back. When Fjorn led the way out of the room, Sigurlina shot Ragna a smile and a wink.

     Fjorn stopped at the council room door where Vidurr and Audun waited. Glancing at his companions, he could see they were as confused as he was. Taking a deep breath, he pushed open the door, stepped into the room beyond and froze mid-stride.

     Jarl Erik Bloodaxe loomed over the map table that filled the centre of the room. Karl Geldnir sat staring at his monarch with Kadar, his bondsman, at his side wearing a suit of chainmail bearing the royal crest. Erik was a robust warrior with dark hair beginning to grey.

     Kjorn swallowed, gazing at his king.

     “You lost the Horn!” Erik stated in an angry voice.

     Fjorn bowed before speaking. “Yes, your Majesty, but we did take it from Hakon and sink a good portion of his fleet.” Fjorn felt sweat bead on his forehead.

     Erik’s lips trembled, then he let out a guffaw and moved to pull Fjorn into a bear hug. “That you did, boy. By the Gods. When I heard the news, I couldn’t believe it. I would have paid good skatt to have seen Aethelstan’s face when he came back to Winchester and twice as much to have watched what he did to that bastard Hakon.” Erik pushed Fjorn roughly away, but the smile stayed on the Jarl’s face as he pointed forcefully at the younger man. “You have a price on your head in Wessex; the rest of you as well.” He expanded the gesture to include the crew of the Apenhet. “Nicely done, all of you. Nicely done!” Erik grinned. “That’s three smiles for a Jarl to your credit. You’re making a habit of it, Fjorn.”

     Fjorn stopped himself from breathing a sigh of relief and tried to match his king’s jovial tone. “I can but try, My Jarl.”

     “All of you come around the table. We have much to discuss,” ordered Jarl Erik.

     The crew of the Apenhet took places standing around the table. Audun looked down at the map that was rolled out. It depicted Northumbria through to the Orkney Islands. He recognised his handiwork.

     “Kjorn, fetch the keg we brought and horns for all, including yourself. We can drink while Fjorn tells the tale. I’d like to hear a skald’s account. Epically one who was in the thick of it. Way the rumours tell it, you stormed Winchester and carved a trail of blood to the treasure hall, then summoned a hundred Kraken to cover your escape. This after singing the dead back to life along the coast of Northumbria after a jotun set it to light with flaming spears.” Erik snickered and took a long pull from the horn in his hand. “I’ll mention before you start, King Cuaran has sent word that you are welcome in Jorvik as his honoured guest. In fact, that is part of why I am here, but later. When the drink has had a chance to chase the chill from my bones.”

     “I thought you were going to Islandia?” remarked Vidurr with an indifference bordering on insolence.

     Erik’s face soured, then, with a deep breath, he shook it off. “I am. My ship is harboured on the far side of the island. I left the Queen to govern most of my guard in my absence. By the way, girl.” Erik gestured towards Sigurlina. “She says to tell you ‘dear as sister’ that she is proud of you and to remember your arrangement.”

     All eyes turned to Sigurlina. She bit her lip before speaking. “The Queen is my friend. Please, Jarl Erik, tell her I appreciate her courtesy and will honour what we discussed.”

     The Jarl smiled at Sigurlina. “And so we have the truth of it. Even a jarl is nought but a messenger for beautiful women. I will carry your greeting.”

     Sigurlina blushed crimson and looked at the floor. “Thank you, My Jarl.”

     Erik turned his attention to the group, “In any case. I saw no reason to undo the good of your scheme, Fjorn. The seas are still dangerous, and sadly, Hakon still has ships aplenty. So, by all accounts, I was never here. I came by the landward gate under the premise that I was with Kjorn, who was coming home from bearing your dispatches. You will all keep this council. I like the idea of Hakon chasing his tail looking for me.”

     “Isn’t this an unnecessary risk?” asked Geldnir.

     “Less risk than staying on ship. The Queen, well. A dark moon brings out the worst in her.” Erik sighed heavily. “Best for us both if I leave her be for a day or three.”

     “Oh,” Geldnir nodded. “We will keep your secret as long as you need.”

     “She’ll be fine by the time I cross back to our port,” remarked the Jarl.

     Ragna released a little ‘humph’ sound, shook her head and rolled her eyes.

     Vidurr nodded. “My Elsa was the same. Take up trapping. I always checked the line when the moon was dark. Better for both of us. Though I’d give all even to fight with her again.” The ulfhnednar hung his head.

     Audun shook his head. “One reason I stay single.”

     “What?” asked Fjorn and Sigurlina in unison.

     “Be happy you don’t know,” remarked Geldnir.

     By this point, Kjorn had returned with a keg under his arm. He filled horns for everyone and passed them around.

     “Now, Fjorn, wet your throat and recount your exploits. I’m certain your exaggeration will not be so grand as those I’ve heard, and your telling will like put Kjorn’s to shame.” Erik turned to Kjorn. “You’re a stalwart sailor and guardsman, but as a skald; Bragi was not kind to thee.”

     “As you say, My Jarl,” Kjorn nodded.

     “Well then, Fjorn. Tell your tale.”

     Fjorn took a long swallow of mead before speaking. “I’ll start with when we left Alvaldshes….” Fjorn spoke in the sing-song voice of the skald, mimicking actions, making a story of his recent exploits and those of his friends.

     Diwon entered the room, but none took notice. He stood in the corner nodding in places as the tale was recounted. Geldnir listened as attentively as the Jarl and smiled at the skill his son demonstrated.

     “As the horn of the kraken sank into the sea, the ships parted, and Halla Sea Born guided the Apenhet through the gap. Then ship and crew vanished into the cold and dark of Fimbulwinter while behind them the harbour of Winchester burned, and kraken swarmed Hakon’s ships.”

     Erik drained his horn. “Well told. I’ll forgive you losing my horn. Surprising you made it out alive. Bit of luck they had. What did you call the fire sprite? Oh yes, a skui, to hand, but you used what the Gods gave you.”

     “Your Majesty, I promised the smugglers I would speak on their behalf. They would have pardon in exchange for the aid they lent us.” Fjorn pressed his case, hoping the Jarl’s favour would carry it.

     Erik nodded. “Done. It sounds like they are fair enough blades. I need every blade I can get.”

     “Thank you, Jarl Erik.” Fjorn bit his lip. “I know you want to keep your presence a secret, but there is another matter.”

     “Fjorn, the Jarl has been very gracious already,” cautioned Geldnir.

     “There is no harm in the asking.” Erik held his horn out to be refilled. In the corner, ignored, Diwon filled a horn from the Jarl’s keg and sipped its contents.

     “The boon is not for myself. Your guardsman, Jolnir, wishes to wed.”

     “Really?” Erik sounded surprised.

     “He has a great affection for one of my thralls, Eir. I am oath-bound not to release her to any, save the one she takes oath with,” explained Geldnir.

     “And is this Eir a pretty girl?” asked Erik.

     “Lovely,” Fjorn and Geldnir responded in unison.

     Erik sighed and puffed his cheeks. “Yggdrasil has many branches. I will grant my leave, if both desire to take the oath, fully knowing to whom they swear. The problem is, none may know I was here. Still…” Erik stroked his beard. “I will leave a writ that grants my leave that you may execute upon your return. I will be well away by then. Take Jolnir with you. …He should be good for this task.”

     “Task?” repeated Fjorn.

     “I am not here simply to praise thee. Before I sent you after the horn, there were rumours that the White God’s church was searching for something. Some kind of weapon that would ensure victory to any that held it. Supposedly, the Romans brought it to the Great Island. Geldnir, fetch in your pet monk. He might know what this thing is.”

     “I’ll get him,” offered Audun.

     “Knock and wait to be summoned before you bring him in,” ordered Erik. “I need skin and ink to write the grant for Jolnir.”

     Geldnir extracted a shaved goatskin, stylus and inkpot from under the map table.

     Audun left the room.

     With an expression of extreme concentration, Erik scratched out Runes in a spidery script. After several minutes he sat back and looked at his clumsy, handy work. “You have your letters, don’t you, boy?” Erik asked Fjorn.

     “Yes, My Jarl. My father saw to it.”

     “Good. If you would rule, you must have open eyes. It is more important to be able to read so that no scribe can replace your words with his own, but to write is useful as well. A ruler who doesn’t know his letters is like a warrior with only one arm. It can be done, but you are always at a disadvantage.”

     “I will remember that, My Jarl,” agreed Fjorn.

     “Good. Now getting back to your exploits.”

     As they waited, Erik grilled the others on details of liberating the horn of the kraken. In minutes Audun knocked on the door.

     Jarl Erik lifted a hood from a peg on a support post and donned it, pulling it down so that it hid his face. He then stepped back into a corner of the room and assumed a posture like a guardsman. “Question him about the weapon, then dismiss him.”

     “Come,” ordered Karl Geldnir.

     Audun entered with a slender, bald man dressed in a patched robe. A simple wooden cross hung from a leather thong around his neck. Vidurr curled his lip at the sight of the man.

     “Hello, Agathe,” greeted Geldnir.

     “My Karl. I am told you wish my counsel.” Agathe inched away from Vidurr. He glanced around the room and swallowed. “Am I to die this day?”

     “Why? Have you done something to earn death?” asked Fjorn.

     “I am loyal in the things of this world to your house, Karl’s son.” The old monk looked directly into Fjorn’s eyes.

     “Then you have nought to fear from me in this world.” Fjorn made himself smile to try and ease the fear he saw in the monk.

     “We have a question about the White God. In the stories you tell of him, is there a weapon that would give victory to any who held it?” asked Sigurlina.

     The Godi smiled. “There is the jawbone of an ass that Samson used. That is a great story. I could--”

     “Where is it supposed to be?” demanded Geldnir.

     “Lost in the holy land. If it still exists. Samson was a long time ago.”

     “Something else, something that might be around here?” insisted Fjorn.

     “The true teachings of the White God are of peace. He was the lamb sacrificed for our sins who suffered on the cross, wounded by spike and spear…” the monk trailed off, looking speculative.

     “What is it,” demanded Fjorn.

     “The Spear of Longinus. When the Romans hung the White God’s son on the cross, one of the legionaries thrust his spear into our… I am sorry; my Lord’s side.”

     “Like Odin gaining the runes,” remarked Audun.

     “But this is re….” Agathe looked at the room full of Pagans. “Of course, you believe your stories are real as well. In any case. They say that whoever holds the spear will be victorious in battle. It was lost centuries ago, but rumour has it that it may be on the Great Island. There is a story amongst the Celts that--,” explained Agathe.

     “Thank you. I’m sure we can find a Druid or Bard to tell us the tales of the Celts. This spear sounds an interesting weapon,” remarked Diwon.

     All present simply accepted the one-eyed stranger being there and speaking as an honoured guest. Fjorn shook his head as he tried to think. A glance from the older skald and Fjorn’s thoughts slipped away.

     “That will be all, Agathe. You have proven yourself useful. You may return to your prayers.” Geldnir smiled at the monk who hurried from the room.

     “I wish he’d get over thinking that I’m going to kill him,” remarked Fjorn.

     “He doesn’t understand our ways. You have garnered quite a reputation, and there was no love between you before you left. He will, in time, come to see you as you truly are,” soothed Geldnir.

     “That information was worth the trip.” Erik removed his hood and stepped up to the table. “My spies tell me that the Crusaders think they know where this spear is. I need you to get there first and take it.”

     “Where should we start looking? The Great Island is vast,” commented Audun.

     “My spies tell me that the Crusaders are looking in Northumbria, close to Jorvik. That is another reason I am sending you. King Cuaran will greet you with open arms and aid you in return for past kindness to his people.”

     “I will assemble a crew. Can I draw from your guardsmen?” Fjorn looked Erik in the eye and saw his own face some twenty years on.

     Erik smiled. “Take those you need.”

     “Will I get to kill Crusaders?” asked Vidurr.

     “I would not insult you by asking you here if that were not the case. Kjorn has all the details. Now we had best get on our way.” Erik stood and walked from the room, with Diwon following behind.

     Diwon paused by Fjorn and whispered. “The trick is to listen to their voice and then match the rhythm so that they start to think your words are their thoughts. Practice, you’ll make a skald of yourself.”

The Mistletoe Spear

Location: Viking Age England.

Published by Pendelhaven Press.
ISBN-10: 1988051126,
ISBN-13: 978-1988051123,
ISBN-13:I978-1-988051-12-3 pdf.

20 chapters, ~212 pages, ~92,750 words.

Sequal Wolf Sun.

Available from: Drive Thru RPG - Fate of the Norns, Pendelhaven.
Amazon on line booksellers - including Australia, Canada, UK, USA, and other book store locations.

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Copyright © 2009, Stephen B. Pearl
by GISjoy