CHAPTER I: SON OF A HERO
Few now live who remember these tales so pen must be set to page...
Many have said that Westgarde was a land of wooden towns and iron men. First settled by Leif the Great around the year 1000 as Christians reckon time it had become a haven for pagan Norse departing the ever christianizing Europe. In the two centuries that had passed since it's discovery and first settlement Westgarde had grown and prospered greatly till it thrived in the Christian year 1220.
It was not a unified land, but a region of small realms ruled by jarls and chiefs. A land of trade and war there pagan and Christian, Norse and Skraeling lived, mingled, battled and bred without prejudice for faith or race. It was not an idyllic land but it was a free land where deed was often more important than birth and a man's accomplishments spoke more loudly than his fortune.
The bane of Gadifriald Lokkasson was that his fortune was great yet his deeds small and his accomplishments were few while his birth was both high and famed. He was the recognized bastard son of the great hero Lokka Longstridesson whose deeds were known across all the lands of the known world and the daughter of the Jarl of Stoneshoreland. He was the heir of two jarldoms, the only son of Lokka Longstridesson and had been born and grown up with more expectations of greatness than a dozen others combined.
Stoneshoreland was Gadifriald's homeland. It was a large island off the north end of the Balder's Finger peninsula that formed the southern boundary of the Sea of Odin and was to the south and west of Vinland where Leif the Great had first settled. It was a rugged land of stony shores, rolling hills and valleys, mountains and forests.
Stoneshoreland however was situated perfectly to dominate the trade between the Odin River Country and the realms around the Sea of Odin to the north and Freyrland and Anitilia far to the south. On a bay near the north cape of the island sat the capital and chief town of the jarldom, Northholm. Northholm was a bustling port town of several thousand right on the bay defended by an earthen rampart and wood walls that boasted both pagan temples and a Christian cathedral all of wood.
The only stone building in Northholm was the palace of Jarvik the Bold, Jarl of Stoneshoreland. Jarvik was the most powerful ruler in Westgarde and so had built a sprawling palace of stone that though it was three storeys and had near a hundred rooms had a thatched roof. Built in rectangular Antilian style the palace was centered around a massive central courtyard that was where on a blustery spring day Gadifriald Lokkasson stood under the shining but not warm Westgarde sun.
Gadi as he had been known since boyhood was a tall young man just shy of his twentieth summer. Tall even for a Norse, he stood three inches over six feet with long, black hair, piercing blue eyes and a clean-shaven, handsome and youthful face that did not yet show the hardness it someday would. He was lean of build and long of limb yet broad of shoulder and, while his build was Norse, his hair and slightly dark skin showed that his mother was half Skraeling.
Clad in laced-up boots and black, doeskin trousers Gadi was stripped to the waist, his hard-muscled, hairless torso and back glistening with sweat. His hair was pulled back in a tail and in his hands the young warrior held a long, tapering-bladed sword and a round buckler both of gleaming Odin River steel. The sword was sharp as was that of the man Gadi faced, but as his opponent and teacher had often told him you learned better when nervous.
The man Gadi faced was nearly as tall as the young man and heavier of build. He was a great bear of a man with white hair that was long where he wasn't bald and a neat white beard that covered a wrinkled face centered upon shrewd gray-blue eyes. Jarvik the Bold was near to seventy years of age but was still fit of body and the mind that had built Stoneshoreland into the power of Westgarde was as keen as it had ever been.
His grandfather had raised Gadi since Lokka had rarely even seen his son and Jarvik had taught his grandson the ways of war and ruling. Gadi was Jarvik's pride and joy but that did not keep him from swinging a swift blow at the young man's head which he deflected with his steel buckler and Gadi's love for his grandfather did not keep him from launching a thrust at the older man's body. Neither was trying to kill the other, yet they only held back the slightest bit as they sparred.
Jarvik was a master of the newer style of fighting with steel buckler and sword and had schooled Gadi in it from a very young age. Gadi was younger, stronger and faster than his grandfather but the old man was wily, more skilled and had far more experience so more often it was he who stopped a blow short of killing or wounding his grandson. Round and round they went trading strokes and thrusts as they had been for hours. Despite the cool air both men were sweating heavily and though he was the younger Gadi was actually breathing harder than the Jarl of Stoneshoreland.
"Pace yourself boy," Jarvik advised in his gruff old voice, barely sounding like he was exerting himself. "Half of a fight is having enough stamina to finish," the old warrior said.
Gadi grunted at his grandfather's words. "Easy for you to say!" he panted in a deep but youthful voice. "You make me work twice as hard on each pass!" the young warrior pointed out as they circled each other with bucklers raised and swords held with pommel at the hip and point toward the opponent.
"That's what we call skill my boy," his grandfather said with a laugh, then drove a low thrust at Gadi that the tall warrior had to knock wide with his buckler followed by a punch of his own buckler that knocked the younger man on his rump with his ears ringing.
As Gadi sat on the hard packed earth shaking his head trying to remember how he had gotten there an almost musical feminine voice said, "Careful old man, if you knock out my son's teeth or break his nose I'll put a curse on your manhood."
Jarvik laughed a deep laugh that echoed in the courtyard. "Would you curse your own father for giving your son a knowledge bump witch?" he demanded.
Gadi's mother laughed a soft laugh. "If you ruin my boy's good looks I most certainly will make you limp as a wet rag," she informed her father.
"Tell your mother you're fine before she unmans me boy," Jarvik told Gadi as after sheathing his sword he reached down to haul the young man to his feet. "Bedding my slave girls is one of the few pleasures I have left at my age."
"That and drinking till the late hours," Lady Brynhilde said as she pushed her much larger father out of the way to inspect her son.
Gadi's head was still ringing and he stood on unsteady feet as his mother, who stood half a foot shorter than he, poked at the lump on his forehead. Brynhilde had the same dark, black hair and light, dark skin as her son, but her eyes were the black of her Skraeling mother. Only sixteen years Gadi's senior his mother was a beautiful woman in the summer of life who was slender and shapely of build, lovely of face and keen of mind. Jarvik's only child, her mother had been a Skraeling princess and Brynhilde was a witch woman of great skill and was also her father's chief advisor.
Dressed in the latest fashions brought north from Antilia, Brynhilde's gold embroidered purple wool cloak was parted to reveal a clinging gown of colorless transparent silk that accented rather than concealed her full brown nippled breasts, smooth belly, round hips and slim bar of black nether hair. Such a sight would have stirred lust in Gadi, but she was his mother and not the most lusted after woman in Northholm to him.
Then Gadi heard her declare, "Enough war play for today, I'm going to see Gadi healed."
"Bryn you're going to unman the boy mothering him at this age," Jarvik pointed out plaintively.
Bryn shot her father a dark look. "You said that about me and his tutor teaching him magic and he's still man enough to keep the slave girls that aren't warming your bed busy old man," she shot back.
"I'm fine mother," Gadi finally managed to say, though his vision was swimming a bit.
Bryn snorted softly at that. "No you are not," was her reply.
"I've had worse without having it tended to by a witch," Jarvik said, though he did not sound like he was going to really challenge his daughter on this.
Gadi shook his head to try to clear it, which turned out to be a bad idea. "Honestly mother I am fine," he stated as his vision swam even more.
"Right, Gadifriald you are coming with me," Bryn declared and taking his sword and buckler from him she handed them to Jarvik then took Gadi's hand to lead him out of the courtyard.
Gadi might have protested but his head hurt and his mother knew what she was about. She had, as much as Jarvik had, groomed him from childhood for greatness, teaching him magic and arcane knowledge of both the Norse and the Skraelings. What she had not been able to teach him she had called upon an old wizard named Fym to teach Gadi. So when Gadi had not been learning the ways of war, rule and sailing from his grandfather he had been learning just about everything else from his mother, Fym or someone else.
Gadi had a sharp mind like his mother and grandfather so he had taken well to his lessons. Still, he often wondered why he had been taught half of the things he had and wondered why everyone insisted upon his eventual greatness. He had always thought himself rather ordinary save for his parentage and status, but everyone else seemed to think he was the heir not only to Stoneshoreland and Freyrland but also to the legacy of his great and heroic father.
Lady Brynhilde held that belief beyond any other and his whole life had pushed him toward, shaped him for and told him of his future greatness. She had always been hard on him, yet at the same time spoiled him completely. So their relationship had always been a little odd but very close.
Bryn led him into the palace and up two flights of stairs to the third storey to her private quarters. Specifically, she brought him to her study, which was the room where she practiced magic. The room was filled with strange objects, scrolls, books, charms, potions and ingredients for the simple yet effective magic the lady practiced and was warmed by a great fireplace that was currently ablaze.
"Sit," Bryn commanded, pointing at a stool before the fire as she took off her cloak.
While Gadi sat with his back to the fire she prepared a foul smelling unguent by mixing powders, pastes and liquids in a silver bowl with a silver pestle. This she rubbed thoroughly over the lump on her son's forehead while chanting softly in her mother's tongue. It was a simple folk spell that a great wizard or sorceress might have scoffed at but soon Gadi's head was clear and free of pain and the lump on his forehead was gone entirely.
"Good as new," the witch woman said with a deep satisfaction as she wiped the unguent from his head with a cloth afterward.
"Was not a healing spell a bit much for a lump on the head?" Gadi asked, knowing that his mother had given some of her own vital energies to heal him.
"Would you rather have the lump and headache back?" his mother wanted to know, smiling at him softly.
Gadi smiled back. "No, thank you," he said quite firmly.
Just then a knock sounded upon the corridor door of the study. "Enter," Bryn called in response.
The door opened and through it came one the palace thralls. He was a short, dark-haired man who glanced nervously about the study, taking in it's mystical contents with wide eyes. He was dressed simply and marked as owned property by the leather collar around his neck and his short hair.
"Pardon Lady Brynhilde," the man said, bowing low. "But a guest has arrived who insists on seeing you immediately."
"Is this thrall new?" an aged, yet strong voice demanded from just outside the door, before adding, "I thought I was well known at this palace."
Gadi knew the voice and knew the man well that it belonged to. Pushing in behind the thrall came an old man of medium height with wispy, long, white hair, a long, white beard and eyes grey as a storm-filled sky set in a wrinkled face. Clad in a grey, wool robe with battered, old, bearskin boots on his feet and a yew-wood staff in his gnarled hands he looked like a crazed old hermit, but was a wise old wizard. Fym was an old friend of Gadi's mother and father and had taught the young man many things on many subjects as his tutor before leaving for other lands three years before.
"Leave us," Bryn told the thrall and smiling at the old man she said, "Yes that thrall is new."
"Thought so," muttered the old wizard who liked to come and leave as he pleased rather than be bothered with any sort of formality.
Gadi chuckled and asked, "What brings you back to us after all these years?"
"Three years do not qualify as all these years my boy," Fym informed him.
"For one as old as you no, but for one as young as my son yes," Bryn said with a small laugh.
Fym grunted at those words. "What about for one as young as you Bryn?" he wanted to know, running an admiring gaze over Gadi's scantily clad mother.
Bryn preened a little under the wizard gaze and purred, "Not so long that I'd forget you old man."
The wizard laughed and told her, "Nice dress girl."
"Thank you," the lady of Northholm replied warmly. "Now what does bring you barging back into the palace?" she then demanded.
Fym shook his head as if to clear it of the lust he obviously felt toward Bryn and his eyes grew serious. "Grave matters my young friends," he declared. "Grave matters in deed!"
Those were certainly ominous words and after Gadi pulled on a linen undershirt and long sleeved soft wool blue tunic a thrall brought from his quarters he joined Fym and his mother in her sitting room to hear it. Bryn of course insisted on feeding the old wizard and Fym was never one to turn down a meal. So Gadi with patience rare for one his age sat next to his mother on a low Antilian style couch while the old man gobbled down an entire platter of roasted pig and cheese before speaking.
"Northholm's hospitality is still as good as I remember," Fym stated with a belch and guzzled down the last of his fine Antilian white wine.
Not able to stand it any longer Gadi finally demanded, "So what are these grave matters?"
"Patience my son," Bryn told him with a fond smile. "But do tell us what brings you here old friend," she encouraged Fym.
Fym dabbed wine from his beard with his sleeve and nodded. "Yes, yes ... down to these grave matters," he agreed, then fixed Bryn with a serious look and asked, "Do you remember why I left your service as Gadi's tutor?"
"I would not say you were in my service, but yes," Bryn said with a nod. "You left to become the tutor of the King of the Triple Realm's daughter."
"Yes, I left to teach the Princess Carine magic and what not," the wizard confirmed. "The grave matters that I have come about are to do with her," he told them.
"And those grave matters to do with her are?" Gadi wanted to know, his patience starting to run out with this talking in circles.
"Well it's a long story," Fym said.
"That's getting longer in the telling," Gadi grumbled.
Bryn laughed a soft, delighted laugh and leaned over to kiss her son's cheek softly. "You must understand that when you're as old as dear Fym you take your time with things my darling," she said, then turning an arch look on the wizard told him, "But do get on with your tale before Gadi and I grow as grey as you."
Fym muttered something under his breath about impatient children and then cleared his throat. "Yes, the tale..." he stated and took a deep breath. "Well, for three years now, I have been the tutor of the young Princess Carine and she is an apt pupil since her mother is one of the otherfolk," he began, the otherfolk being the name for the various immortals and magical folk that still lived in the world.
"So I have heard," Bryn commented.
"Well Princess Carine is old King Canute V's only child and heir to the thrones of all three realms of the Triple Realm," Fym went on and earned a look from Bryn that said she was fully aware of the politics across the North Sea. "A crisis has come upon the Triple Ream in that the Church of Rome has called a crusade against what they call the northern heretics. The current Pope is an ambitious man who wants to reunite the Northern Church with the Roman Church and has resorted to force to do so," he told them, then went on, "The Normans of both Normandy and Sicily have answered the call as have many rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. Along with the fighting orders of the Roman Church these have formed a vast host that is preparing to launch a great war against the southern territories of the Triple Realm."
The lady of Northholm made a thoughtful sound. "I have heard a few tales of a war brewing in Europe," she said.
"A great and terrible war," Fym said with a shake of his head. "The Triple Realm is mighty but this Crusading alliance is vast and there are rumors of the Roman Church having ancient magics at their disposal."
"So what does this have to do with grave matters concerning the Princess Carine?" Gadi demanded.
Fym raised a finger. "Now we get to the current crisis!" he declared. "Carine Ariansdaughter took it upon herself to search out allies for the Triple Realm in Westgarde. She sailed with a strong escort aboard a cog from Jorvik six months ago with the destination of Northholm. As I'm sure you are aware the princess never arrived here and I fear that her fate is a terrible one," the wizard said with a heavy sigh.
"Do you know what her fate was?" Bryn asked curiously.
Fym's nod was grim. "Yes, her ship returned without her carrying a woeful tale," he answered before going on to explain, "The surviving crew said that they had gone off course and sailed near the Misted Isle that lies south of Stoneshoreland and been waylaid by the raiders from that island."
"Mengia and her filth," Gadi growled for everyone in Westgarde knew of the Misted Isle and it's dark mistress.
Mengia was a sorceress who had set up rule on the Misted Isle some five years before. She was a powerful wielder of black magic who was said to be of the otherfolk and had brought several hundred heavily armed Icelandic pirates with her. The Misted Isle sat in the middle of the shipping route between Northholm and Freyrland and the sorceress and her raiders exacted tribute from all who sailed those waters.
She was a nuisance more than a threat and neither Jarvik the Bold nor his brother, Eldric of Freyrland had found it worth trying to dislodge the sorceress and her minions from their island bastion.
"Yes, Mengia has taken Princess Carine captive," Fym confirmed with a heavy sigh. "There has been no demand for ransom and I fear my dear pupil is now a slave of that foul sorceress."
"So you came here looking for Lokka?" Bryn asked and pointed out, "Lokka has not been seen in Northholm for even longer than you have my friend."
Fym shook his head. "No, I came here looking for a few hundred warriors and him," he stated, pointing at Gadi with a broad smile.
"Me?" Gadi demanded.
"Yes, I cannot find Lokka and so I come to his son seeking aide," the old wizard told him.
Gadi blinked at his former teacher. "Why do you want me to help against a sorceress and her warriors?" he wanted to know.
"Because you are Lokka's son and your time for great deeds has come my son," Bryn answered for the wizard and there was both great pride and great sorrow in her voice.