Einarr Haugr-Feeder: Part 1 - A 'The Great Whale Road' Short Story

Einarr asked himself why he had done it again. Standing on a tiny island off the coast with his sword and three shields. Actually only two now, as he had just thrown the remainder of the third out of the circle. He had underestimated this one.

The day had started pleasantly enough. He had bedded the wife of someone. She had the right amount of softness in just the right places and still most of her teeth. She was many winters his senior, but obviously knew what she was doing. After a very pleasant tumble, he felt hungry and called out. He had enough hacksilver left to break fast like a man of means. The thrall he had won a few weeks ago brought not just barley gruel, but roasted pig, boiled eggs, and freshly baked oat bread. He was not a complicated man, and he didn’t need much to be content.

He knew that he would have to find a new lord sooner rather than later, but he didn’t feel ready after the last debacle. He liked to fight, but he preferred the focus of the holmgang to the chaos of the shieldwall. He was a good warrior in the clash of spears, but he thought himself great in the circle of law. He knew he needed to be careful in this area as he was accepted as a fellow Geat and guest-friend, but he was not fully equal to a local. As the third son of a Geatish chieftain, he had some gravitas and even some learning. But none of that would protect him once the local hundratha had had enough of his games. His father had lost a battle and his life against a jarl of the Svear last year, and feasted in Valhalla with his brothers. He actually was the chieftain now, if the Svear were just willing to return his land.

The axe cut through the air in front of his face and forced him to focus on the here and now. He leaned back to avoid the backswing and kicked out with his left leg. Not a powerful blow, but enough to make his opponent step back and out of range. He hadn’t looked like a trained warrior, more like a rich trader, but sometimes looks were misleading. He couldn’t avoid the next blow and had to use the shield or lose an arm. The axe head punched through leather and wood. He would be on his last shield soon.

After his rather opulent meal he had decided to visit the market to look for another victim. Since he had arrived he had fought a duel every few weeks and won enough silver through his claims to buy new clothes and live well off the rest. A trader had stopped him and showed him a beautiful long sax. After making a poor deal with the man he hadn’t bothered with his well-oiled display of angry customer, which he usually followed up with threats, but directly declared his challenge publicly.

“I, Einarr Haugr-Feeder, son of Helgi, challenge you to go to the holm before the night. This sax belongs to me, and was stolen some time back. I will not pay for which is already mine.” The older man had not seemed surprised, and accepted the challenge calmly. All that should have been warning enough.

Einarr had grown up quickly and years of weapon training had steeled his body through boyhood. He was barely a man with his sixteen winters, however he already carried the muscled bulk of a warrior in his prime. But he still lacked experience, and he had to admit to himself, wisdom. The axe smashed through the rim of his shield and stuck fast. He saw his chance to counter, but the trader just smashed a fist into his nose. He heard the bone break loudly, and blood flowed freely across his face and onto his coat. Dazed he stumbled out of the combat area. He had been beaten. The seconds, two karls with their small followings of hirðmen, cheered the trader and a steer was slaughtered to thank Óðinn in the name of the winner.

The senior of the seconds, Hildur, then walked over to him. He had drunk some mead with him before, and the man told him that the hundratha had decided that Einarr was not worth the trouble he caused, and that they had decided to ban him. The decision had already been made during their last assembly, and they had just waited for a legal opportunity. Hildur laughed, and while they walked over the short landbridge to the mainland, he explained that the woman he had slept with was the wife of the trader. Not only had Einarr lost his claim, but now he also owned a substantial wergild for sleeping with the trader’s wife. Looking at his reflection, Einarr realised that he had not only lost the fight, but also some of his good looks.

The next morning at dawn he found himself pushed onto a Danish trader sailing south. His thrall and all his other belongings of value had been forfeit and taken by the trader’s men the previous night. His sword was gone, too. All they had left him was an old sax handed down from his grandfather. He had spent the night in a barn, and was woken with a goat cuddled up next to him. A lot of not very inventive jokes about tupping farm animals were made as he was accompanied to the boat.

The Danish helmsman solely grunted a greeting, and pointed to a sea chest and an oar. Einarr’s journey into exile was paid with servitude. As they started rowing into the morning mist, little did he know what fate the Norns had in stall for him in the land of the Danes.

 

~ Joachim @ Sunburned Games