The Road of the Sea Horse

The Road of the Sea Horse

by Poul Anderson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504024419
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 12/08/2015
Series: Last Viking Trilogy , #2
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 615,983
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Poul Anderson (1926–2001) grew up bilingual in a Danish American family. After discovering science fiction fandom and earning a physics degree at the University of Minnesota, he found writing science fiction more satisfactory. Admired for his “hard” science fiction, mysteries, historical novels, and “fantasy with rivets,” he also excelled in humor. He was the guest of honor at the 1959 World Science Fiction Convention and at many similar events, including the 1998 Contact Japan 3 and the 1999 Strannik Conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Besides winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards, he has received the Gandalf, Seiun, and Strannik, or “Wanderer,” Awards. A founder of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he became a Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

In 1952 he met Karen Kruse; they married in Berkeley, California, where their daughter, Astrid, was born, and they later lived in Orinda, California. Astrid and her husband, science fiction author Greg Bear, now live with their family outside Seattle.
Poul Anderson (1926–2001) grew up bilingual in a Danish American family. After discovering science fiction fandom and earning a physics degree at the University of Minnesota, he found writing science fiction more satisfactory. Admired for his “hard” science fiction, mysteries, historical novels, and “fantasy with rivets,” he also excelled in humor. He was the guest of honor at the 1959 World Science Fiction Convention and at many similar events, including the 1998 Contact Japan 3 and the 1999 Strannik Conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Besides winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards, he has received the Gandalf, Seiun, and Strannik, or “Wanderer,” Awards. A founder of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he became a Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

In 1952 he met Karen Kruse; they married in Berkeley, California, where their daughter, Astrid, was born, and they later lived in Orinda, California. Astrid and her husband, science fiction author Greg Bear, now live with their family outside Seattle.

Read an Excerpt

The Road of the Sea Horse

Book Two of the Last Viking Trilogy


By Poul Anderson

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1980 Poul Anderson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2441-9


CHAPTER 1

Of Kings in Norway


1


With many ships and men at their beck, King Magnus and King Harald sailed to Jutland. There they made landfall and harried widely. Their foe Svein did not care to meet them, but took his own fleet eastward along Scania, to wait till he heard the Norse had gone home. The Jutes themselves raised a force under a mighty yeoman, Thorkell Geysa, who had named Svein King of Denmark at Viborg Thing; but in a hard battle they were defeated, and Thorkell himself carried prisoner back to Norway.

Thither Magnus and Harald steered in the fall, agreeing that next year they would come with a real army and quell the Danes for good. Magnus went straight to Nidharos, but Harald, who wished to see more of this land he had won, entered the Sognefjord.

In and in his ships went, under tall cliffs helmed with forest through which showed occasionally the slender gleam of a waterfall, a gnarled tree clinging within a cleft, a steading perched, tiny, on the heights. The water was cold and darkly clear; clouds blowing over the steeps made it seem they were endlessly toppling; an eagle hovered far aloft on sun-gold wings.

"So this is your country," said Elizabeth. Her voice was very low, as if crushed by the hugeness around her. "I see now what shaped you."

"My shire is less grand," Harald answered. "But my blood comes from such wellsprings as you see here. The very word 'Viking' means a man of the vik, the inlet."

She shivered a little.

Leaving his vesssels beached under guard, Harald rode off into the mountains at the head of such warriors as there were horses for, mounts either carried aboard or bought from folk of the neighborhood. Through a high wilderness they fared, where rivers brawled down into the tangle-wood of glens, flushed birds rose skyward in thunderous thousands, wolves howled, of times the mighty form of elk or aurochs shook horns against heaven. Dwellings were few, far apart, mostly small and poor, in the middle of fields carved out of the forest. A house could give shelter to the king, the queen, maybe two or three more, but the rest of the troop must spread sleeping bags outside. Then in the evening, the guests would likely hear fearsome tales of what haunted the land: elf and drow, were-bear and troll; no housewife failed to set out a bowl of milk for the hearth goblin, and on feast days offerings were made at the howes of long-dead chieftains. Hai, was that a rush of rain and wind in the night, or a ghost thumping his heels on the roof? Some men swore they had seen the Asgardh's Ride, one-eyed Odhinn leading the unhallowed dead on their endless hunt through the air, with screaming horns and baying hounds whose jaws dripped flame.

Beyond those parts, slopes led downward to the great valley called the Gudhbrandsdal. There folk were well off. Thori of Steig made Harald welcome, and the king stayed with him for some time, while letting his strength grow. Besides his picked followers, he drew many young men who had heard of him and thought they might do well in his service. Erelong he had a good-sized court of his own.

Having no settled home as yet, Harald left Elizabeth and Maria with Thori and renewed the olden practice: that a king should visit chief after chief, the cost of his stay with them being reckoned as part of their scot. He heard that Magnus was doing likewise this winter.

Riding through the Uplands, he was always questioning folk, to learn how the realm stood. Money was his worry; much though he already had, it would not last unless he could start gathering in the taxes due him. At one lordly hall, he was told that the harvest had been bad and there was not enough ready money to pay.

"Well," said Harald, "you have broad lands. You can sell some."

"My lord this is odal land," protested the chief. "By law, it cannot be sold out of the family, and none of my kin would want to buy it of me."

"I know the law," said Harald impatiently. "But I know too you can borrow against your cattle or next year's crop."

The chief swallowed his anger as he saw the armed guardsmen. "If you could but wait a year, my lord ... The interest is so high."

Harald cocked his brow. "No," he said. "I know your kind; let the king yield a finger, and you'll eat his whole arm. If the scot be not paid by spring, I will seize the land."

As he rode off, one of those who had lately joined him said, "My lord, this is no way to win their friendship. I've heard them talking when you were out of earshot, that good King Magnus would not fare thus against them."

"Magnus is a fool," said Harald bitterly. "He thinks this is a hundred years ago. I say it's not. Unless the king is strong, the kingdom will be weak — a prey for the first wild beast that comes along."

"How much of your fret is for the realm," asked Halldor, "and how much for yourself? Be not too greedy, Harald. He who reaches too far will fall."

"You have the soul of a yeoman," said Ulf.

"I'm following the rest of you," said Halldor. "When have I hung back from trouble? But I will not be a party to this sort of thing much longer."

Harald remained silent; he was used to Halldor's tongue, but he brooded over Magnus. This split rule could lead to no good, and it seemed to him that the younger man was buying the people's love with the people's strength.

At a large garth in the Uplands, he found his nephew also guesting. Magnus greeted him without warmth, and when they found themselves alone, blurted:

"Harald, I've been hearing talk of your doings. Not thus did I plan to reign."

"You promised me my share of the royal power and income," replied Harald. "I was but taking it."

Magnus looked up the towering height of his uncle, to the lean unsmiling face. "You go too harshly," he said. "Kings have lost their thrones, sometimes their lives, for that."

"Because the chiefs and the commoners would not have change, even when change was needed," snapped Harald. "When I was in the South, I saw how one realm after another went under because it was weakly ruled. The empire was strong because all the power lay in one place, yet it could have been stronger had the emperors taken the reins themselves instead of letting geldings run their affairs."

"I even wonder about the wisdom of our strife with Svein," said Magnus unhappily. "God has given us Norway, and we could keep it peacefully. Trying to grasp more may but lead us to our doom."

"Is this Olaf's son?" mocked Harald.

Magnus reddened. "I and my friends drove out Knut's creature and smote the Wends while you were tumbling about the world to no more good than enriching yourself. Don't call me coward unless you are ready to fight."

Harald turned and left him, not trusting himself to speak further.

Thereafter, when he chanced to meet Magnus again on their travels, there were often hot words between them. A relation of the Haarekssons in Haalogaland, who had never forgiven Magnus, told Harald that his nephew was plotting against him. Harald doubted that — willful and wrong-headed though he thought the young man, he believed him honest — but perhaps someday it would come true; the more likely since Einar Thambaskelfir's friends were always deriding Harald to Magnus.

They were still outwardly friends, though, when they came together at Nidharos.


2


Despite its size, the Throndhelimsfjord had not the grandeur of other inlets, for here a great gash across the mountains formed the broad, wealthy Throndlaw. Where the river Nidh ran into the bay, a town had grown large and become the seat of the king. Harald thought it lay too far from the rest of the world; northward the land lost itself in the wastes of Finnmark and the cold Lofoten fishing grounds, ice and forest, and marsh and bleak hills. Better to have a capital further south, say on the Oslofjord, where Denmark was close and the folk less unruly. But he looked about with interest as he rode into Nidharos.

The wooden houses hemmed him in, galleries along the lofts, gaily painted gables, snow heavy on high-peaked roofs. He saw shops, stables, smithies, shipyards, warehouses; a few thousand people lived here. From an open square, he could see the ground rise steeply above the town, on its slope the half-finished Olaf's church and a stone hall Magnus was building. The dwellers, shaggy men and tall strongboned women, waddled in many layers of clothing against the chill damp wind, but they all seemed well fed. Harald noticed that most of the men leaned on spear or ax and watched him go by with a silent wariness. The Thronds had broken more than one king who displeased them.

Dismounting at the royal hall, Harald entered with his nearest followers. As was usual even in town, its outbuildings formed a square around a cobbled yard. The hall itself, used for eating and drinking, was spacious: at one end the entryroom and foreroom, the rest taken up with a single great chamber. The shutters were opened on the small high windows, feeble light came through the thin-scraped gut that covered them and through the smoke hole in the roof; but most of the light was from the jumping fires in three long trenches. The pillars and panels were richly carved with vines and snakes and figures; the walls were hung with skins, antlers, weapons, and tapestries; the floor was thickly strewn with rushes. Men sat about on the benches lining the walls, dogs slumbering at their feet. These were the stolid stubborn Norse chiefs and warriors who were Magnus's court. They rose as Harald came in, but no great friendliness lay in the seamed faces.

He stopped. Trouble dwelt in this smoky air; he could almost smell it. The other king was not in sight, so he went up and put himself in the high seat and beckoned to a woman for mead.

"Where is Magnus?" he asked one of the men near him.

"Talking alone with his mother." His tone was insolent, but Harald decided not to quarrel with him. Trying to ease the tautness, he asked aloud: "Is there no skald here who can give us a verse?"

A young man, thick bodied, with blunt freckled features, ruddy hair and beard, stood up. "I am one of the king's skalds," he said. "I'll make a stave for you." He paused a moment, then spoke:

"Well-known king, you clove
with keels the sea horse road,
when duly west to Denmark
dragons plowed the waters.
Sithence Olaf's son
did soon with you share lordship:
kinsmen shared their kindness,
kingship was divided."


"You are an Icelander, I can hear," said Harald. He liked the way of this fellow. Not everyone would have dared thus to remind him of his bargain, or have been so courteous about it. "What is your name?"

"Thjodholf Arnason, my lord."

Harald took a gold coil off his arm, broke it, and gave half to the skald, a good payment. "Take this," he said, "and stand by me."

"I follow Norway's king, my lord," answered Thjodhalf, reaching for the reward. His meaning could be double, but he was at least not scheming behind a man's back.

"Why so many long faces?" asked Harald. "You may as well tell me, I'll know soon enough."

Thjodholf shuffled his feet unhappily. "It's about this Jutish leader, Thorkell Geysa," he said. "You remember he was caught last summer and brought here. King Magnus ordered that he be treated honorably, but now it seems the king's mother Alfhild has given him a ship and crew and let him go."

"So!" Harald stormed furiously to his feet. "It's not enough to let a hostage slip without ransom, but I who caught him am not even told! Where is she?"

"She's with the king her son, and —" Thjodholf broke off in relief. "No, here comes my lord now."

Magnus entered the room with his brows knotted together. He went to the high seat, and Harald loomed over him, barking: "What is this I hear about Thorkell the Jute?"

"He has been freed," said Magnus. "Does it concern you?"

"Aye, it does. If I am half a king, I bear half a danger. That was one of Svein's strongest chiefs."

"The matter has been settled."

"How? What did your mother have in mind?"

"My mother need not enter this," said Magnus shakily. "And now, Harald, if you remember the oaths we swore last spring, that seat is mine."

It was wide enough for two. Harald bit his teeth till the jaws ached, but rose and let him have it. "This is a cold welcome you give me," he said, "so I will not trouble you further. Good day." He walked from the hall and to the dwelling set aside for his own use.

Once there, he thrust back his rage and told the foot boy to get Ulf. The Icelander came in staggering a bit. "Whoof! This Throndish mead is a hearty brew. What a head I'll have tomorrow!"

"If you're not too drunk and too busy chasing women," said Harald, "find out for me why Queen Alfhild let Thorkell Geysa go. If there are plots against me, I want to know about them."

"Oh, that," said Ulf. He belched and leaned against the door post. "I already know that. I was getting rich off one of Magnus's guards, he has no luck with the dice, when your boy came, and we were gossiping. There's naught juicy to tell. Alfhild was merely being forehanded."

"In God's name, what was she after?"

"Oh ... a place of refuge, in case something should happen to Magnus, her son. Naught else. Was that all you wished? Then I'll be off again."

Harald stood alone in the room for a while. So they trusted him no more than that?

It was an acrid knowledge. Perhaps, he told himself, he had given them some cause to dislike him, but surely not so much. He meant to hold by his bargain, if not from love of Magnus then because civil war would be the chiefs' chance to regain their old power, undoing Harald Fairhair's work in all but name. If now and then he flared up when he had to take second place, Magnus need not be so concerned over it. But too many men were working mischief. Magnus they knew; Harald was the unknown, the fearful tomorrow, and they would do all they could to stir up trouble for him.

Well ... If hate was what they wanted, they should have it till it choked them. But he felt very much alone. He wished Ellisif were here, but many wintry miles lay between, and even together they did not understand each other.

He decided to visit Olaf's shrine in St. Clement's church. It was at least something to do, and perhaps the old king would give him a sign. He donned his outer clothes, took an ax, and went by himself down the dusk-filled street. Men stared after his big lonely form till it was lost in the twilight.

At the church, a stone building small beside those he had seen abroad, he left his weapon and hat in the entrance. Inside, the place was dark and cold, with a few candles throwing a dull flame before the altar. There lay the coffin, wrapped in costly furs, a cloth-of-gold canopy above it. The threads shimmered against the gloom.

Harald knelt before it. This was a miracle, they said. The martyr's body was uncorrupted, looking as if he slept. Magnus, his son, had the only key to the shrine, and each twelvemonth, alone, supposedly clipped the hair and nails that were still growing. Harald wondered if he might view the body, but doubted that Magnus would agree. Impious thoughts ran like devils through his head; there were ways to embalm a corpse so it lasted for a while, but here in the North the art was crude and rotting was bound to start sometime.

He muttered an Ave in penance. It turned his mind to Maria, the earthly Maria he had left in Miklagardh. In the dimness, he came near feeling her lips brush his again. ... No, she was behind him, he would not see her in this life and heaven was a bloodless place at best. Hellfire would at least be warm. He shivered and got up to go. There had been no sign.


3


In the entryroom of his hall, Einar Thambaskelfir took off his muddy boots and changed into shoes. Outside, early rain scourged the earth, snow melted and ditches overflowed. He felt his bones creak in the damp; yes, he was getting old.

Bergljot, his wife, gave him a cup of warm ale as he trod into the main room. He drained it with some rebirth of his olden heartiness; he was still Einar Thambaskelfir, Einar the Bowman. She filled it again. She was the only one there just now. Eindridhi, their son, lived nearby with his family, and of course they had plenty of housefolk; but somebody seemed to be huddled elsewhere.

A long booming rattled the door. "The first thunder already," said Einar. "This will be a stormy year."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Road of the Sea Horse by Poul Anderson. Copyright © 1980 Poul Anderson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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