Honour is All.


Chapter 1. Bad Omen.



May 947.


            There was nowhere to hide. Two men, neither of whom I wished to meet, came riding, each with their own hird in tow. One standard bore the silver cross on a red and green background: Archbishop Wulfstan, an honour but not one I coveted. With him a chieftain whose standard bore a black raven in full flight. I had heard rumours that Eirik Haraldson, the one they called Bloodaxe, was back in Northumbria. Here he was with Archbishop Wulfstan, the self-appointed king-maker for Jorvik. And they were headed for Becklund, my farm.

I sighed and levered myself out of my seat. I was close to confinement and huge. At least nobody was going to ask me to fight for them. Not that Wulfstan would anyway. He was horrified that I, a woman, carried sword and shield into battle at the head of my own group of warriors. As for Eirik, one time King of Norway and once for a short spell King of Jorvik, he was my mother’s half-brother and, on the sole occasion I met him, he imprisoned me with the aim of using me as a peace weaver in an arranged marriage. All this was a long time ago but I had no reason to believe that his appearance at my farm was good news.

            I went out to greet the visitors. I put one hand on the small of my back, partly for support, partly to exaggerate my condition. If I thought that would make them cut their visit short I was wrong. The Archbishop beamed with jovial pleasure when he saw me.

            ‘Sigrid Kveldulfsdaughter, I thank the Good Lord that I find you looking so well. I note you are in a blessed state. Don’t bother to kneel, please.’ He presented his hand with the ring I was supposed to kiss. As usual I ignored it. He knew I would and his smile didn’t change. ‘We shall not impose on your hospitality for long. Oh ale, good. Thank you, thank you.’ He emptied the horn I handed him, wiped the froth from his clean shaven chin with the back of his hand and sighed with pleasure.    

My other visitor dismounted and drank of the replenished welcome-ale. His beard had turned grey but with his thin nose and bored expression he was as I remembered him. I made a weak attempt at a curtsy and he nodded.

            ‘Welcome, Uncle,’ I said.

‘Thank you, Niece. I’m afraid I fail to recall if we’ve met before.’ I didn’t believe him but if that’s how he wanted to avoid embarrassment between us that suited me fine. He looked around.

‘Who’s that?’ he said, nodding towards the stable where Varg came out, limping on his wooden leg, leading one of our young stallions. Eirik’s narrowed eyes told me that he knew the answer so there was no avoiding the question.

‘Varg the Varangian he’s called. He’s my sworn man.’ Eirik made no comment but his lips were pressed together in a thin line. Oh Varg, I thought, what part of your past has just caught up with you and why have you not told me?




Make a free website with Yola