~ Heathen Stories and New Myths ~
Half Shirts, Half Truths
With naught but the axes at their belts, and a sheepskin bedroll, they snuck out for Trondheim where great captains recruited for voyages of trade, exploration, and plunder. Bellies flat as their purses, they came to the docks at Trondheim, and to Captain Sven Hammerhand, named for the many foes he felled with his fist rather with than sword or axe. Hammerhand looked at the two farm boys, green as spring hay, without helms, sword, spear or shield, and shook his scarred head.
“Look lads, ye seem brave enough, and hardworking too, but ye don’t have a sword between ye, nor a shield to ward your bench-mates. I can’t have a man on my crew who cannot hold his place in line with a shield, nor strike down an armoured foe with sword or axe. Ye boys have ne’er even faced a drunken thrall, let alone an armed carl. Come back when ye have gear and experience, or I may as well toss you right to Ran’s net as take you aboard my Serpent.”
Depressed at being dismissed by Hammerhand, the two boys went into town, to see if they could find work for a meal, and maybe hunt up something better than returning home to their mother’s tears and their brother’s laughter. When they asked in the town, they were directed to the new temple of the southern Christ that the king had ordered built, where it seems you could get a meal, and a fine white shirt if you would take god oath to the southern god. Bragi and Hrolf looked at the shirts in wonder, for they were fine linen, and bleached white as the snow. Such a shirt would go far in raising them in the eyes of the village girls, and would be worth taking a god oath toward whatever strange god the southerners had.
They filled their bellies with bowls of thin porridge, and looked as the line of men and women went down to the water, where a black robed southerner with a bald spot dipped each person in the dirty river water, and handed them a fine white shirt. It really was as they had been told! Get dipped, say an oath, get a free white shirt as they had only seen on chieftain's sons and traders!
As they ate, a ghodi of the southern god was
shouting at everyone, telling the saga of Christr, who was somehow Baldr who
died and was risen again. Ragnarok happened and all the gods were dead except
Christr-Baldr who hung from a cross because they were bad, and now they don’t
have to burn in Hell if they take the oath.
Being boys, they grew quickly bored in the line, having learned from some of the people that had been through the line and sworn the oath two or three times, that the Queen and her pet priests brought up the tunics from the south, and that everyone was swearing the oath to get the tunics, sometimes a half dozen times! Casting their eyes around, they saw a slip of a girl at a trader’s stall, selling heavy oiled cloaks of wool, and glaring at the line and making curse signs. Wondering at the girl’s anger, and more than a little excited by her fine fiery form, they decided to have a word.
Introducing themselves, the boys asked what she had against the people getting the free shirts, although they could see it would hurt a weaver's trade like hers. The girl, who called herself Gudrun Helgasdottr swore that the Frankish priests were going to destroy her house. Her mother had taken the god oath, and been terrified her dead husband would be in hell, and had sold half their land already to give to the church-men or Christ-godhi, just for a promise to get their dead father out of hell. Gudrun swore before long everything her father had left their family will have gone to the church men, and her family will be begging in the streets, where once they had been a leading family. Gudrun left them with this word: “They are men that love not women, they are half-men telling half-truths to bind their betters with god oaths and steal with words what their fathers could never take with swords.”
Making Thor’s sign with their hands, for they feared she had some of the witch-woman in her anger, the boys went back to the line to think about her words. As they had tarried long with the girl Gudrun, it was now almost the end of the day, and they were the last in line for oath and dipping.
The Christr Godhi church man had forgotten Hrolf’s
words from lunch, and seemed ready to take their oaths.
Being the days end, the priest had only the one
tunic left, he had been baptising heathens for a week now, and must have done
every hairy barbarian and their brazen whores for a hundred miles! Speaking
slowly for the simply barbarians, he took his knife from his belt and cut the
shirt in two, giving half to each as he explained
Bragi looked at his half shirt and felt angry. He protested that he had been promised a full shirt for his oath, and he had sworn fully, he expected a full shirt, or he would name the priest and his Christr oathbreakers, and demand settlement from the Thing. Hrolf agreed, stating that his oath was exchanged for a fine white tunic, not a cleaning rag! Give them a shirt each, or be dragged before the Thing and fined or branded as a thief!
The priest had never been spoken to that way, and
by half grown barbarians! Raising himself to his full height, he loudly began
cursing them in Latin, breaking back into their heathen tongue, to demand they
kneel and beg his forgiveness, or suffer god's curse and burn in hellfire.
Holding his half shirt in his right hand, Bragi slapped the priest to the ground
with his left.
The two armed carls drew their swords and charged into the water after the boys. Being soft townsmen, they looked down at the water when they went in, and swung their shields to the side as they ran. When they looked down Hrolf threw his axe, taking one full in the face beneath his steel cap. When the second tripped on the body of his axed friend, Bragi put his axe in the other one's neck with the same swift stroke with which he butchered hogs. They turned on the frightened priest who began to cast curses at them in Latin. Angry at his treachery, the boys dunked him beneath the water until he had finished thrashing. Dragging him to the edge, they planted him face down in the muck, and carefully dropped stones on him, until he stayed down. One cannot be too careful in bogging curse throwing witch men. Retrieving their axes, they dragged the carls to shore, and back onto dry land.
Stripping the mail and fine white tunics off the
dead carls, they left the coins in the fighting men’s purses to pay for burial,
for they had died like men. Having taken the heavy purse from the dead man-witch
of Christr, they decided to see Gudrun before they left. They had money to buy
good cloaks from her now, and they would need them where they were going.
“Hrolf,” said Bragi “We can’t lose! Either we come
back from Hammerhand’s voyage rich enough to pay the wergild and still feast on
better than porridge as renowned warriors, or we end up gloriously dead
someplace and feast with the All-father on something better than porridge!”
© John T Mainer
This work by John T Mainer is licensed