Monday, 10 December 2012

A raid on the fat monastries of Ireland turns sour for three Norsemen.

The Curse of Summer



The door of the hut swung open. Wind howled in through the opening, blowing a swirling spray of snow into the dark smoky room. Bright yellow flames trashed wildly sending the shadows of the men hunched around the fire, dancing around the walls like a frantic, ritual dance of ghosts. Two figures entered, the last put his weight to the door and slammed it shut. Four of the five seated men looked up at the newcomers, who were now pulling off their heavy fur cloaks and caps and shaking the snow from them. The fifth, an old grey-beard, showed no signs of interest, his head remained bowed, his gaze fixed on the fire in front of him.

“Welcome, Bjorn,” one of the men said. “Come warm yourself by the fire.”

Bjorn nodded his thanks and clapped his companion on the back. “This is Erik Olafson, a trader from Birka.”

“You are welcome to share all we have, Erik.” Plates of meat and bread were quickly passed around to the two men, along with drinking bowls filled with ale.

“Will you give us a tale for our guests, Harald, tell us of the old days?” the host asked the old man. At first there was no reply, for a long while he did not even move. Eventually he shifted, he sliced a piece of meat from the haunch he held on a plate in his lap. He crammed the meat into his mouth, juice dribbled down his chin disappearing into the thick wiry hair of his beard. He rubbed greasy hands into his breeches.

“A tale? You would hear of heroes and adventure, of raids and great battles?” Although he spoke quietly, without even looking up, his audience was captivated, mesmerised by the voice that sounded like rolling thunder.

“Aye, Harald. Tell us of the old days, of the Viking days.”

Harald rubbed a hammer shaped amulet at his throat. “What was it to be a Viking? It meant being scared a lot, scared and drunk. Wondering what it would be like to have your guts spilling from your belly, or to have some ersling split your head open from behind with a sling shot. Wondering was it your neighbour in the shield wall that just shat himself or was it you. The smell of war is the smell of piss and puke. I’ll give you a tale, a fine Viking adventure.”

“It was the time of Sigurd Skull-Splitter; we sailed with three ships seeking plunder and slaves. The fat monasteries of Ireland were easy picking, so much undefended treasure with only a handful of fat old men to stand in our way. They put their faith in their White Christ. For a while, he abandoned them.”

“We attacked a church north of Dyflin, killed all the priests and livestock. Before we could load up the treasure, word came to Sigurd from one of the scouts that a local lord had gathered his men at arms and was heading our way. Fighting unarmed priests was one thing, but few of us had the stomach for looking down an eight foot pike with an angry Irish peasant on the other end. The call went out ‘back to the ships.’ So it became a race.”

“Sometimes in the confusion of flight it can be easy to become separated. And that’s what happened to me and two others, Halldor Larsson and Hrodgeir Rolfson. By nightfall we had not caught up with the main party and started to get concerned, what if the ships sailed without us? What if we had to face the Irish on our own?”

“Just after dark, we found a house on its own at the edge of a wood. There was nothing else there, just this house. A typical structure made from wattle and daub with a thatched roof. We crept up with caution, nothing stirred. We kicked in the door and burst in, three heavily armed Vikings, shouting and roaring.”

“There was nothing inside, except one cot and one sleeping figure on the cot. A woman! Halldor grabbed her and dragged her outside. We all laughed when we saw her in the moonlight, she was beautiful… More than beautiful, she was a vision, beyond compare. A gift from Wodan, we thought. The Norns were truly laughing at us that night. Hrodgeir kicked her to the ground, while Halldor pulled at her dress. But to our horror and disappointment she fell down dead.”  

“We left her body where it fell and made a camp, none of us wanted to sleep in the house. That night I dreamed of her, she came to me and woke me, taking me by the hand she led me into the trees, the sun was shining, the forest teemed with life, the wildflowers where extraordinarily bright, the beauty of her face brought tears to my eyes. ‘Harald you watched while the Queen of Summer died. By Samhain your world will be forever in darkness.’ I fell to my knees for I knew I had been cursed.”

“When I woke my face and beard were wet from my tears. I looked over to where we had left the woman, her body was still there, just as we had left it. Although none of us spoke about it I knew the other two had had similar dreams.”

“One by one I lost the others, first Hrodgeir fell from a cliff, we could tell his back had been broken, we left him there hearing his cries for help and his curses. Then we were attacked by a bear, both Halldor’s arms were ripped from his body. I ran, his screams ringing in my ears.”

“But you made it, you survived,” Erik said, his words coming out in a whisper.

Finally the old man looked up, Erik gasped, when he saw the milky white eyes, two sightless orbs sunk into a deformed face of criss-cross scars.

“No one escapes the wrath of the gods, boy.”


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