A Bittersweet Farewell
Saying his final farewells to Thorir and Asdis would be hard enough, but what the old warrior dreaded most was having to say goodbye to his grandchildren. Bera was much too young to understand why he wanted to leave. Hogni had already decided that he would not tell her the real reason he was traveling to the Land of the Franks. He would simply tell his granddaughter that he was going on a great adventure, and leave it at that. When she was old enough to comprehend the the meaning of what he had done, his son Thorir could tell his daughter the truth.
Hogni most regretted the fact that he would never see Yngvar grow up. He wondered, as he gently pulled on the reins to make his horse navigate a small turn in the road, what the boy would grow up to be like. The incredible amount of possibilities were almost limitless. In one instant he saw his grandson as a large muscular man wearing in battle dress, and leading a band of Vikings on a raid on English soil. In the next moment the image changed and Yngvar became a farmer who lived a simple life with a wife by his side, and children at his feet. What hurt the old warrior the most is that he would never know which would be his fate !
As Hogni spotted his village up ahead his despair and anxiety turned to anger and frustration. It was not fair ! He had tried to live a good life . He had been a good husband to his wife, and had done the best he could for his son. Yes, he might have been away from home for part of his son's childhood, but the gold and silver he had earned with his own blood during his raiding days had given them a comfortable life, and a higher status, than many in the village. And he had been a good warrior. A damned good warrior !
Thorir and Asdis were working in the vegetable garden clearing out weeds, when they heard footsteps come up from behind them. Thorir, who lived by Odin's words from Havamal, always had his weapon within reach, and swung around with his dirk in hand ready to strike at the intruder. Hogni smiled at his son. " Will you stab your own father ? " he asked. Thorir laughed. " If you creep up on a warrior, on his land, that is a possibility father ! " his son replied. Asdis, who was on her knees digging out a root, looked up at her father - in - law. " Welcome home father ! " she told him as she shaded her eyes from the morning sun. Hogni' s smile disappeared. He looked his son in the eyes and placed his hand on his shoulder. " I would like to speak to you both. " he began. " Why don' t we go inside ? " he then suggested to them. Asdis and Thorir gave each other a questioning look before following their father into the house.
Being the good host as always, Asdis immediately went over to a cask and poured out three horns of ale. " Here father you must be thirsty from your long ride. " she told him as she handed him a drinking horn. Hogni took the horn and nodded his thanks. " Where is Bera ? " Hogni asked. Thorir pointed to the right wall of the longhouse. " She is on the side of the house playing. " he replied. Hogni took a drink from the horn. " Good ! Please sit ! " he said as he pointed to the bench on the other side of the table. This time Asdis and Thorir gave each other a worried little frown. Before Thorir sat down he asked : " What is it father ? What is it you want to tell us ! ? "
Hogni had decided to come right out an tell them the truth, but he waited until his son had seated himself. " I am dying . " he said in a matter of fact tone that surprised even him. Asdis could manage only a gasp, but Thorir stood up immediately. " What ! " he shouted. " Are you certain ! ? " he asked in a gentler tone. Hogni looked his son in the eyes. " Yes ! I am sure ! I visited the village healer a few weeks ago, and Hildigunnr examined me. There is no doubt ! " he told them. Asdis looked up at her father - in - law and began to cry. She tried to speak, but the words did not come. Instead, she got up and ran around the table, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and hugged him tightly. Thorir came out of his stunned silence and found his voice. " I am so sorry father ! " he finally managed. " Asdis and I will take good care of you father. We promise ! " he added.
" No ! " Hogni shouted loudly. Asdis was so startled by his outburst that she let go of her embrace, and stepped away from her father - in - law. " You do not want us to care for you ? " she asked in a surprised and hurt tone. Hogni shook his head. He realized that his sudden outburst had startled his daughter - in - law. " It is not that I don' t want you to care for me Asdis. I simply do not want to die a pitiful sick old man who has to be taken care of like a child being cared for by his mother. " he told her in a rather gentle and quiet voice. Then Hogni looked directly at Thorir. " I want...., no.... I will die in battle ! " he told his son in a determined tone.
Thorir sat back down, and shook his head. " Father you are an old man now ! " he told him slowly. " How will you be able to fight warriors that are not even half your age ? " he asked. Hogni looked at his son as if he were stupid. " At first I am sure that I will be able to hold my own. And afterwards......, well .......the idea is to die in battle as a proud warrior, my son. " he explained.
Asdis came up from behind her husband and placed her hands on his shoulders. " I do not understand this father ! You should stay here with us and be cared for ! " she told her father - in - law in a harsh tone. Thorir placed his hand on his wife's and pulled her around to his side. " Enough ! " he shouted at his wife. " I do not like what my father is doing, but as a warrior myself I certainly understand it. " he told her. Asdis narrowed her eyes. " The Christians say that the notion of Valhalla is mere nonsense, and that we all go to heaven no matter how we die. " she said to her husband in a lecturing tone.
Hogni stood up and pounded his fist on the table spilling the contents of his drinking horn. " Christians ! " he screamed in disgust. " These Christians are like foreigners in our land. They mock our Gods, and dishonor our ancestors with their tales of this White Christ ! " he said angrily, admonishing his daughter - in - law for her words. Thorir shook his head in agreement. " The sick and the old go to Niflheim. Only the warriors who die in battle are allowed to sit on the golden benches of Valhalla and feast with Valfather . " he told his wife quietly. " And I will hear no more of this Christian nonsense in my house ! " he told his wife sternly.
Hogni got up and walked over to Asdis who had begun to cry again. He placed his arms around her, and hugged his daughter - in - law. I have only today and tomorrow to be with my family. And today is almost gone. Let us enjoy these last moments together as a family. " he told her in a whisper. Thorir stood up and placed his arms around both his father and wife. They remained embracing each other until Hogni broke the silence. " Now where are my grandson and granddaughter. I very much wish to see them ! " he told them. Asdis looked up at Hogni. " And what shall we tell Bera about all of this ? " she asked. Hogni gave Asdis a little smile. " A half truth my dear. " he told her softly. " We will tell her that I am going on a great journey. " he explained with a little chuckle. Hogni spent the rest of the night talking to his son, daughter - in - law, and granddaughter. The adults were extremely careful not to mention anything about Hogni' s illness.
The next day Hogni played with little Bera, and Yngvar until he had exhausted himself and the children. The old warrior came to the realization that he had not been as good of a father as he should have been to his son. He had never had much time to spend with Thorir, and after the children were fast asleep he told his son as much. Hogni, Thorir, and Asdis, talked until the early morning before turning in.
The next morning as the sun rose over the distant mountains Asdis made her father - in - law a wonderful breakfast of oatmeal, and pickled herring. Thorir, who did not usually eat much for breakfast, sat with his family and ate everything his wife offered. There was not much talk at the table that morning, but each gave the other long glances as though they were setting the images to memory. All had a sense that the end had finally come.
After breakfast Thorir saddled his father' s horse, while Hogni made himself ready for the ride back to the coast. As Hogni dressed he tried to take in everything one last time. But time is a constant and does not wait for anyone. Soon, too soon, Thorir brought his horse to the front of the longhouse. Hogni took a long deep breath and knew that it was time for him to go.
Hogni held little Yngvar one last time, and gave little Bera a big hug, and a kiss on her forehead. The old warrior kissed Asdis on both cheeks, and gave her a half hug as she was holding the baby. As he did he whispered in her ear: " No father could be more proud of his daughter than I am of you ! " Asdis tried to hold back the tears, but they flowed freely despite her best efforts. Then Hogni turned to his son, and embraced him for the last time. Thorir patted his father on the back, and whispered in a low voice : " May the valkyries take you on fast wings to Valhalla father ! " Hogni hugged his son tightly as though he were trying to make up for all the years he missed. He wanted to say so much more but could only manage : " Thank You for everything ! "
As Hogni mounted his horse, he looked back at his family for the last time. Asdis held up Ygvar for him to see, while little Bera waved her hands back and forth to say goodbye. Thorir simply nodded proudly to his father. Hogni turned his horse and waved goodbye as he galloped away. He could not stay any longer, for he did not want his family to see the tears falling from his eyes.
- End Chapter 5
Next : The Land Of The Franks
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2015.