The Bastard Son
The Journey Home
Oski had arrived, in his mother's womb, into the land of the Rus on a longship. As his journey began he soon wished that he had waited a year to build ships of his own to sail back to Norway, for the land route through the Northern Rus into the region inhabited by the peoples of Finnmark was brutal indeed. Every day there seemed to be freezing rain, snow, or high winds to contend with. Adding to their misery the carts became stuck in the mud, or lost a wheel in the thick muck. One wagon even had to be abandoned when the rear axle broke.
After they passed through Aldeigja they entered the land of the Chuds. Igor, as Oleg had promised, helped negotiate safe passage through their ancient lands. The name of Rorik was still respected throughout southern Finnmark, and the Chud chieftain, in a show of great respect and kindness, gave the Rus warriors a military escort up to the next territory, which was ruled over by the Suomi.
The Suomi King was equally as gracious, even going so far as to hold a great feast that lasted late into the night. The next morning the Suomi king saw them off, and even allowed two of his people to travel with the Rus as guides. The long journey through the Suomi lands was cold and uncomfortable, but fairly uneventful. The weather remained dry until they reached the lands of the people known as the Kvens. Here the snow began to fall heavily, and the winds blew in hard from the sea to their west. The further north they traveled the deeper the snow became, and the more their hardships grew. The horses began to have trouble with their footing, and the carts and wagons far too often found themselves becoming stuck in snow drifts, slowing their progress to a crawl.
The Kvens were a suspicious people. They cared little about the memory of a man named Rorik, and they demanded tribute from the Rus to allow them safe passage through their lands. This form of blackmail was repeated from territory to territory as each local chieftain demanded a tribute of gold and silver coins to allow the Rus to continue on their way. Oski was powerless to do much about this situation. His men were cold and tired, and they were not in any shape to fight an enemy they knew nothing about, in a terrain they were unfamiliar with.
After weeks of great hardships they finally reached the end of the great sea that separated the lands of the Finnish peoples, and the kingdom of the Swedes. It was here that they turned and headed west. And it was here that the weather was at its worst !
It began as a few flurries that turned into a gentle snow. Eydis thought it a beautiful sight as it painted the trees a lovely shade of the purest white. No one, however, saw its beauty when the snow began to pile up higher and higher. Soon the carts became immobile, and the horses refused to move any further. Then the winds began to blow out of the north.
They started as a gentle breeze, but soon intensified into a howling gale. The beautiful falling snow that Eydis had admired only days before was in a matter of hours turned into a stingy, blinding, blizzard. They made their camp, or more correctly were forced to make their camp, by a small grove of evergreen trees. It was here that they tried their best to take shelter from the storm, and build fires to ward off the bitter frigid cold.
The stormed raged through the night, and well into the next morning. Despite protecting themselves in makeshift shelters, by morning, when they awoke, most were partially covered with snow, and some were showing early signs of frostbite, and hypothermia. While his men did their best to keep the fires going, Oski went around and inspected the damage the storm had caused to his equipment.
Eydis was relieved when Oski told her that they had only lost a few horses in the night to the intense cold, and that the carts and wagons had fared well despite the brutal winds. She was especially glad to hear that none of the warriors, or their wives, had succumbed to the frigid temperatures. Eydis smiled, and with a shaking finger stroked her son's face.
" If we cannot be defeated by a storm such as the one that has just tormented us, than how can Alfrekr ever hope to destroy us ? " she asked with a brave smile.
Oski kissed his mother on the forehead, and held her for a moment to comfort her.
" We will win mother ! Nothing can stop us ! " he told her confidently.
The weather remained cold and bitter, but days went by before the next threatening cloud darkened the skies above them. At some point, as they hugged the coastline, it became apparent to all in the army that they were no longer heading due west, but had begun to head south west. This meant of course that they had left the land of the Finns, and were now traveling in the Swede's land.
Gradually, over days, the weather began to moderate somewhat as they trudged further and further south. At every small village they stopped and met with the village chieftain, and the elders. Most of the chieftains were suspicious of this rag tag band of warriors until they were introduced to Igor, and told that he was the son of the great Rorik. Afterwards they were more than happy to share food, and information with the Rus. As they slowly made their way through the land of the Swedes a few warriors from each village decided that they wanted to join in the great adventure that lay ahead for the Rus, and asked Oski and his commanders if they could join their army. Oski, Albrikt, and Kiartan were more than happy to allow the Swedes to fight alongside their Rus warriors. By the time they reached Uppsala the Rus had enough Swedes in their ranks to make up a small division of mercenaries.
The Rus army was stopped a few miles from Uppsala by King Svein's army. The king was suspicious of the intentions of the Rus, and had Oski and Igor brought to the temple complex under guard. Igor spoke to the king of the Swedes in an eloquent and respectful manner. He explained that he was the son of Rorik, and that he was escorting Oski's Rus army to the Norwegian border at the request of King Oleg the Seer, the new ruler of the western Rus lands.
With his concerns alleviated by Igor's calming diplomatic dialogue, King Svein allowed the Rus army to camp just outside of the temple complex. The king also ordered a great feast to be held in honor of his new friends. Igor, Oski, Eydis, and all the division commanders were invited to the king's great hall for a night of great food, drink and entertainment.
The king may not have felt threatened by the presence of the Rus army any longer, but he did have his spies keep an eye on their activities. Svein, despite the assurances of Rorik's son Igor, felt it a little unsettling to have a foreign army practicing their fighting skills within the sight of his great hall !
By the time Oski was ready to leave almost another hundred Swedish warriors, along with a few Finns, had joined his army. With every passing day Oski felt more and more confident that he could defeat his father and claim the throne of Ranrike, which he felt rightfully belonged to him.
The night before they left King Svein entertained the Rus with another great feast . This time he held the festivities right in the Rus camp. The king was happy to see Oski and his warriors leave, and spared little in the way of food and drink for their last night in his care. It was a splendid affair that lasted well into the early morning hours, and some continued to drink until the break of dawn !
The king, however, decided to leave around midnight. The Rus had become a little too loud, and raucous for his taste, and the king felt it beneath his dignity to stay any longer. Before he left King Svein wished Oski and his warriors all the best of luck, and told Oski and Eydis personally that he would hold a ritual the next day in their honor.
" I will sacrifice nine of my finest cattle to the Gods so that they will protect you in your war against King Alfrekr ! " Svein told them before mounting his horse and returning to his great hall.
The king had arranged for a longship to take Igor back to the land of the Rus in the morning, and he was eager to be on his way. Before he mounted his horse to join King Svein he spoke to Oski and Eydis one last time. They thanked Rorik's son for his help, and for enduring such great hardships on their behalf. Igor nodded and told them it was a great honor to have escorted them home. Igor then reached into the pouch that hung on his waist, and pulled out a necklace. Igor held it up to the moonlit night before handing it to Oski. In the dark Oski could easily make out the unmistakable shape of a Thor's hammer.
" I give to you this sacred symbol out of great respect for you Oski. May Thor's hammer help you to rain down mighty blows upon your enemies ! " he told the Rus commander before mounting his steed and riding away.
As Igor disappeared into the distance Eydis turned to her son and smiled.
" We should sleep now my son, for we still have a ways to travel before reaching our final destination. " she told him.
- End Chapter 8
- Next Chapter 9 : Forewarning !
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2016.