This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Snow covered the partially-rebuilt town of Eid, falling thick and often. Daylight dwindled
until there was none, even at noon. Sharp wind and gritty snow lashed against furry
winter jackets and thick wool hats.
Halfdan had unofficially ruled the town, and the kingdom, for almost three months.
Many local fighters had joined his army.
Life in Eid was returning to normal, after the disasters of conquest and fire.
Halfdan lived with Yngvild and her mother.
Almost every day, even when snow was falling, Yngvild and Siv would bundle
themselves in furs and high boots and leave their temporary shelter for a walk. Arm in
arm, they walked the shovel-scraped streets to the newly-rebuilt docks, where teams of
ship-builders were working. Sometimes the women would rest on a log bench by the
docks. Yngvild would look out at the pale grey-blue water of the fjord, the dancing of the
waves, the sea-gulls circling.
With the sharpened hearing of the blind, Siv listened to the sounds from the docks.
Sometimes she heard the rattling of oak-planks on sleds. The jokes and complaints and
occasional chanted poem from the working men. Sometimes, the men grunting or panting
or cursing. The loudest sounds were from axes chopping into cold wood and hammers
hitting onto iron splitting-wedges and the long saws.
Sometimes a ship-builder on a rest-break would walk to the women to chat. Sometimes
these men would share their bread or sliced onion or salt-milk with Yngvild and Siv, who
were both well-liked and respected.
The ship-building was supervised by a local master and his crew of skilled carpenters.
Teams of less-skilled, less-paid workers went on foot into the forests to chop down the
biggest and straightest oaks, then stripping off the branches and bark. The inner-bark was
saved to make rope; the rest was burned. Teams of horses would drag the naked logs on
sleds out of the forests and to Eid, where the master ship-builder would chop them by
eye-measure into the shapes of keels and stern-posts and bow-posts and ribs. Other logs
would be sawed from end to end for planks.
The pieces of the war-ships were propped up on the beach and fastened together with iron
spikes. After the skeleton of the ship was in place, it would be covered with overlapping
layers of planks. The planks were held in place not with spikes but with bark-rope, which
made the ships flexible in rough water. The outer sides of the planks were smeared with a
thick layer of tar (made from boiled spruce-tree roots) to seal any gaps.
On Tyrsdays and Freyadays, Eid's central market was open. Yngvild would take her
mother there, where Siv enjoyed listening to folk and smelling things. Yngvild would
guide Siv through the crowds and across the slushy ground from booth to booth,
describing rolls of cloth and iron tools and soap-stone utensils and walrus horns and bees-
wax and slaves and sharpening-stones and furs and amber jewellery and salt and wine
from the south and Frankish glass. Food-booths sold pickled herring and salt-milk and
dried eels and cheese and smoked fish and root-vegetables and dried meats and barley
and dried fruit. Siv would sniff a piece of dried whale-meat, or touch a roll of cloth, or
pick up a flaky-skinned onion. Wonderful, vivid smells. Sometimes Yngvild would trade
a sliver of silver for two pieces of warm herb-bread.
The shortest and darkest day of the winter was called Yule. "Yule" was also the Old
Norse word for "sun". It was said that at Yule, the sun had rolled so far away from the
world that it might never return -- a frightening thought. To convince the sun to wheel
herself back to the world, bringing spring, Norse folk would offer gifts.
Yule was the biggest fest of the year. A bronze vat of special mead -- brewed with magic
herbs, and only drank on this one day of the year -- was carried by slaves into the small,
temporary hall that had been built on the site of the old one. They put the vat on a table in
the middle of the room, beside a carved, arm-length, walrus-horn statue. The booze was
for the men, the statue was for the women. Men would wait in line for a chance to dunk
their faces into the sweet brown honey-booze, gulping as much of it as they could before
taking breath. Yule-mead was known to give luck to those who drank it in large amounts.
Many poems were sang about men who died from drinking too much of it. Only women
were allowed to touch the old walrus-horn statue, which was carved in the shape of a
hard penis. Women would rub the nipple of a bare breast on the statue, while making a
wish to Freyir, the god of male lust, or his sister Freya, goddess of lasting love. Yngvild
wished for a divorce.
At midnight, men dressed in beast-masks and beast-costumes ran in through the front
door of the new hall, carrying a big bronze statue of a boar-pig. (This was a new, smaller
one than King Lambi's, which had been taken stolen by King Njal.) The disguised men --
Haki was one of them, in bear-mask and bear-furs, and Atli, in owl-mask and a suit
covered with thousands of sewed-on owl-feathers -- stomped with high kicks into the
hall, chanting, "Yule! Spin back the sun for spring! Yule! Spin back the sun for spring!"
They placed the fire-glittering bronze idol in the middle of the room, near the mead-vat
and the walrus-horn statue and the Yule-tree. The branches of this pine -- cut from the
forest near the sacred waterfall -- were decorated with bits of silver foil and shiny iron
bells and sea-shells. The Yule-tree was topped by a seven-pointed star of hammered
silver. The base of the Yule-tree was covered by a pile of cloth-wrapped gifts, which
Halfdan handed out after midnight.
In the late morning after Yule, a Torsday, a crowd of Eid-folk gathered by a small frozen
bog-lake a short walk from the town. Many of them brought children, who played around
the legs of the adults and munched on sweet Yule-snacks.
This sacred part of the swamp was near where iron-ore was strip-mined.
Ice was thick over the muddy water of the little lake. Brown plant-stalks with dead leaves
stuck up through the surface of the ice. Cold, sharp wind. No hint of sunlight.
Halfdan stood on the ice, blue paint smeared around his eyes, wearing thick and
expensive boots and jacket. He was armed and armoured, a shined helmet over his
tangled black curls. His battle-hurts had all healed, and his finger-stump was covered
He was not Fjordane's king, just a temporary war-chief, but Halfdan would rule the
government and religion of Fjordane until a king was elected at the yearly Assembly this
At Halfdan's boots, two men lay belly-down on the ice, ankles and wrists tied with bronze
wire. Their heads were covered with grey-furred wolf-masks. Each of them lay near a
hole cut in the ice. Between them on the ice lay a pair of bent and fire-blackened swords
and two similarly-abused shields.
These two men were spies, captured last week near the docks. Under torture, both had
confessed to coming to Eid from Sogn to get information about Halfdan's plans and, if
possible, to set fire to the half-built war-ships.
Halfdan made a speech to the crowd about the evil of King Njal and the threat posed by
Sogn to the traditional freedoms and rights of the folk of Fjordane.
"The outlanders want to hurt us all!" he concluded. "But they can't! Because the gods
above are always on Fjordane's side! And why is that? Because in Fjordane we give
generously to the gods!"
With that, Halfdan bent to pick up one of the ruined swords.
"Take this, Tor!"
Halfdan tossed the sword in the ice-hole, splashing out some freezing water and floating
ice-chunks. It sank to the unseen muddy bottom.
"Take this, Freyir!"
Tossing in the other sword.
"Take this, Freya!"
Now a shield sank down into the grey swamp-water.
"And take this, Baldur!"
The other shield was tossed in.
The crowd cheered.
Yngvild and Siv were close by, with Yngvild describing the action.
One of the wolf-masked captives on the ice sometimes wriggled.
The other was still.
People in the crowd around Halfdan chanted, "Feed the gods! Feed the gods!"
It was near noon.
Halfdan shouted, "Death to Sogn! Death to Sogn!"
The crowd roared as they watched Halfdan bend and grab the back of the jacket of one of
the captives, the one who was moving on the ice. Halfdan dragged him towards the ice-
The noise of the celebrating crowd drowned out the sound of frantic screaming from
under the tooth-grinned mask as the captive tried to wriggle away from Halfdan's strong
grip on his jacket.
Children squealed in excitement.
"Wolves can't swim!" someone yelled loudly, making many others laugh.
"Give it a bath!"
"Feed the gods!"
Halfdan yelled, louder than anyone, "Take this, Odin!" as he held the face-down head of
the captive over the hole in the bog-ice. The crowd went quiet, and for a moment the
captive's mask-muffled screams could be heard, then Halfdan dunked the wolf-head into
the ice-hole and held it underwater.
When the struggling stopped, Halfdan dragged the other captive over. This one did not
resist. "Take this, Odin!" And the sacred swamp drank the life of another sacrifice, as it
had done for many generations.
When the ritual was done, Halfdan handed out gifts of sweets and toys to the children.
Everybody was happy.
The dead captives were flopped onto sleds by slaves and pulled to Eid, where their meat
would be cut away and boiled into Yule stew, the traditional meal that marked the end of
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?