Thursday I awoke to find Rilla against me. I snuggled with him a bit longer but couldn’t go back to sleep. I put on a light nightshirt and went downstairs.
I found Papa enjoying a cup of tea on a sofa in the lounge. It had east facing windows and the early morning sun was peeking in.
I sat next to him and said good morning. He pulled me close and kissed my cheek and all my worries dissolved. I had worried that I was too old to hug Papa, but here he was hugging me.
“Will I be too old to hug you soon?” I asked.
“I certainly hope not, I enjoy the hugs I receive from you boys. There is nothing wrong with showing affection for one’s parents or children,” Papa smiled.
We sat quietly side by side until Ivy and Bolly arrived. I held Ivy on my lap and Papa held Bolly. We discussed all the events from the day before.
“Valla is leaving for Vienna next week,” I told Papa.
“Yes, so I heard. She is a gifted artist, have you seen any of her sketches or paintings?” Papa replied.
“No, she had never mentioned it even though I asked about her interests. She mentioned art but not that she could paint,” I told him.
“Well, when you go there today, be sure and ask her to see her portfolio and sketchbooks. I’d bet you figure prominently in her drawings,” Papa instructed.
“I was planning on going to visit Valla today, I hope she’ll welcome the intrusion,” I smiled.
“Oh, I think she’ll be glad of your visit. I’ve never known of a maiden so enchanted by a young man, except in fairytales.”
I blushed and Papa hugged me tighter. Ivy had dozed off on my lap but I noticed he was squeezing his little kuck. I roused him and led him to the toilet and Bolly followed.
I sent them up to dress and went back to Papa to let him know I’d be dressing for a visit to the palace. I kissed his cheek and he pinched my bottom, as I scampered off like the other two.
After a fine breakfast from Samilla I asked my brothers their plans.
Olaf was still reading everything he could find about steam, and working on a model of a steam operated water pump. It had no moving parts except for pressure valves. It was a steam siphon, and I wondered about its possibilities. Water in mines was often a problem. Most solved it with a donkey on a treadmill attached to a pump. Olaf planned to ask Papa, if he could try using it to fill the cistern instead of using the donkey. Papa said he would review the design and if it was sound, a test pump could be constructed.
I was in awe of Olaf’s mind, it was amazing the ideas he came up with.
Later in the morning I readied myself to visit Valla and saddled my roan. It felt good to wear simple clothing and my pin to make the visit.
The guards welcomed me with a smile and a salute. I tipped my cap to them and dismounted. A stable boy took my reins and led my horse to a paddock, where she could graze and roll in the grass with other mares.
Once inside the palace, I was announced and Valla flew to me. I thanked the herald and Valla led me away.
“We are to be apart for a while I suppose. I have to go to Oslo and then Haluken, but I will look for a place to build our home. But before I show you my sketches, I would like to see some of your artwork. Why have you never mentioned it?”
“I didn’t want to brag about it, and most of my recent sketches are of you. Since the first day we met I’ve sketched you endlessly,” Valla blushed.
“More reason for me to see them, where is your workroom?”
“My studio is up on the first floor. It’s quite airy and bright,”
Valla took my hand and led me up the stairs.
The room was simply finished in painted plaster. But the paintings on its walls showed a progression in Valla’s skill as a painter. Her styles ranged from the stark reality of Caravaggio to the plump subjects of Rubens. I was completely blindsided. I had expected nice watercolors of plants and flowers. Not the mastery I saw before me. There was one portrait that was so evocative I wept to myself. It consisted of a small child with a sad expression and a tear in one eye. I wanted to comfort the child. It was my first real exposure to fine art on such a great scale. As I went around the room I discovered my own face looking back at me with a pensive expression. I was dressed in a tunic that I wore the first time I was brought to the palace. Valla had recorded our first meeting so accurately, I was overcome with emotion. It seemed a huge distance from my days in Haluken to this point in time. It had really only been months. I held Valla and wept.
“When will you return from Vienna?” I asked when I regained the power of speech.
“Mid-September, Father says that you’ll be back around the same time,” Valla answered while stroking my cheek.
“Yes, that’s what I understand, I don’t know what to expect in Oslo. I’m told it’s a huge city and very advanced. I will have to rely on Father’s advice and Your Father as well. I suppose our lives will not be the pleasant idyll in the country I expected. I will have duties in Haluken and Oslo and we will have to spend time in Oslo on a regular basis. I will need your counsel along with others. I know nothing about being a Viscount or government other than what I have learned in school,” I confessed.
“Father says that the parliament is like the royal court, There are pleasant people and rude one’s. The rude one’s are usually insecure about their position and standing. And they usually have something to hide,” Valla related.
“That’s good to know. I hope I can tell one from the other. I’m getting better with the courtiers but some of them are better at hiding their true intent,” I observed.
“I’m certain that you will be a fine Viscount, and represent the people of Haluken admirably,” Valla smiled warmly.
Her smiles could melt an iceberg. I kissed her very intently, I only relented when I heard the door handle rattle.
“Aah here you are, So my daughter has finally exposed her deepest secret to you,” Iris said sweetly.
“I am amazed by her talent, but I should have expected it,” I admitted.
“Yes, her work is phenomenal, she would be apprenticed to a master if not for her gender. Her art will figure prominently when the new gallery opens in the city. Painting seems to be considered a male domain and it will take a long time to shift that sort of pig ignorant notion,” Iris grumbled.
I agree, but I don’t know how to change it,” I replied.
“Simply share your opinion on the matter. Other people like and respect you, and they will agree that you are right,” Iris told me.
I promised to do so and continued around the studio, until I came to a table full of sketch pads.
“May I look at these?” I asked Valla.
“Yes, but try not to laugh, some of them are terrible.”
Lady Iris departed and left us to talk.
Even her early sketches were quite good. I stumbled on an anatomy study of a young boy about Bolly’s age. She had done well with muscles and tendons and the overall shape of a young male body.
“Mother was in the room during every session so I couldn’t get out of hand. He was a darling little boy and very sweet. He had the most adorable curly blonde hair. He was like a doll and I just wanted to cuddle him,” Valla sighed.
“And how old were you then?” I asked.
“Only a couple years older, he just melted my heart and I wanted to be his mother so badly,” Valla recalled.
“Little ones do get into your heart so easily. I’m so lucky to have Bolly and Ivy to cuddle,” I agreed.
“Then you will be a wonderful father for our children. I’ve heard Ingrid telling Mother what a good son you are, and how you watch after the little boys. You do the same with the older one’s too.”
“I hope that’s true, I really want children in our lives. I guess time will tell if we are any good at raising them,” I speculated.
“I don’t see any houses or objects in these books, is there a reason?” I asked.
“I don’t draw linear shapes well. The chairs I use are always muted in the painting so that the basic shape is there but I’m not good with objects or buildings yet,” Valla admitted.
“I’m sure it will come in time. Would you like to see the drawings I’ve made of a potential design for a house?” I asked.
“Absolutely!” Valla squealed.
“I opened my portfolio and showed her what I had come up with so far.
“I want to build with the native stone. I don’t want our home to be a sore on the land. I want it to be part of the land, what do you think?” I probed after she had time to inspect the drawings.
“I love that it’s not a symmetrical box like the palace or most of the buildings in town. Stone and timber are a good choice and you’re right to use what’s there. Aren’t the roof lines a bit shallow?”
“Possibly, I plan to consult an architect for the details of building a home. Even a grand home needs design and planning. But I think with the right structure we can keep the roof line as it is and use slate instead of lead as roofing material. Copper is another alternative,” I babbled.
“Your sketches are so detailed, I love all the different elevations, is this to be built on a hill?”
“That is my thought, There are several sites of the type I’m seeking. Usually a forested hill surrounded by arable land. I envision tenant farmers growing crops and perhaps even a village sprouting near our home. There is a large swath of land that has not been cultivated because it is so remote. Does anything worry you about living in wilderness?” I asked.
“Only the birth of our children and other things needing a healer,” Valla replied.
“I am a fairly reliable healer but I am no midwife. But throughout that area are clan’s people and many midwives and healers amongst them. Everyone in a clan receives some healing knowledge. We all take on the work of others, because there is too much for just one to do. I know where these people spend the seasons and I will make contact and introduce you to them. They are my people. They may seem taciturn, but they are warmhearted and giving,” I assured her. “I suspect by the time we take residence there will already be crops planted.”
“I hope you are right, I think we’ll be fine on our own for some time,” Valla agreed.
After a bit more kissing we decided to take a ride to the south of the palace. As we passed the arena I saw a wonderous sight. Several of the royal guard were practicing the Mongol archery tactic I had demonstrated earlier. Some were really getting the hang of it. The larger men struggled but were making gains.
Valla and I rode away to the distant woods. I heard the sound of pigs and strung my bow immediately. The pigs weren’t domestic, they were wild boar, and one charged me. I dropped him and another that came after. The second wasn’t a clean kill and his cries brought more hogs. I shot several before they retreated.
Two guardsmen rode out of the woods and whistled at all the dead and dying hogs.
“They thought they’d make an easy meal of us but instead it’s the spit for them,” I said.
“Well said Sir Edrich, could you send back a wagon when you return to the palace?”
“I will, and I hope the guard will have an excellent feast,” I told them.
“You are welcome to join us Sir Edrich, and bring your brothers and father along too. We will need to dig more pits to roast these, there are an even dozen unless any ran off. They are dashed hard to kill,” the Guardsman named Ludd invited.
“I will ask, but if I don’t make it please don’t take offense. I’m not my own man yet,” I told him.
“I understand, I have a mother too,” Ludd smiled.
I suspected that I would spend the afternoon packing for our journey, so I doubted our attendance.
When we returned I found us a quiet place to say goodbye for a month, I kissed Valla as much as possible before we had to part.
I was sad at our parting, but proud of Valla’s self-control.
At dawn Friday a coach stood in our forecourt . It was the Governor General’s travelling coach. It didn’t display a crest or any other markings.
The footmen took our luggage and lashed it in place. Father carried his satchel with documents and two brace of pistols. I also carried a satchel with books and a sketch book. Tears were shed and goodbyes given and received. I hugged Mother and all my brothers. I hugged Kristen and Samilla. I shook Edvards hand and boarded the coach.
It was a two day journey to Bergen and it was dusty with all the mounted guard. Both Palace and Royal guard escorted the carriages.
The next morning Father and Halkar had gone to the kings carriage to discuss something, while I remained behind to read. I was studying timber framing and masonry, so that I wouldn’t be at the mercy of some builder when they started spewing gibberish. The coach bumped along for quite a while until a shadow moved across the window. A man stepped up on the peg and peered inside, searching for the door latch with his hand. He was rank smelling and not very Norwegian in appearance. I pinned his hand to the wooden frame with my sleeve dagger and drew my other dagger from my belt. The screams of the man brought several members of the guard and I released him into their care. I dismounted the carriage and chose a mount from the train of horses that were being taken along. I chuckled to see one of my cups affixed to the stirrup leather. I mounted, strung my bow and rode to the Kings carriage.
“There may be trouble ahead, a man tried to board our carriage. The guard have him now and we should know what he was trying to do soon,” I reported.
“Yes, Captain Greis has already informed us of the incident. Keep your eyes open Peng, it could be the prelude to an ambush,” Father said.
I handed Father his satchel so that he would have his pistols handy if needed. Several of the guard were armed with muskets and pistols.
The caravan rolled on into uncertain peril.
In the distance muskets were heard and I braced myself for my first real battle. In the distance I saw a dozen horsemen bearing down on the caravan. They were the remainders of a small force that had engaged the guard further ahead.
I would need all my skill as an archer to make the shots I needed, to keep the King, Governor and Father safe. I targeted the third rider with my first arrow and then loosed another while the first still flew. The second arrow had a flatter trajectory and actually hit the rider first. The first arrow found its mark in the man’s chest. I adjusted my aim for the first and second riders. The first rider caught the arrow in his thigh and fell from the saddle The second rider sprouted an arrow from his throat and a crossbow bolt in his side. Between muskets and arrows none of the attackers was still standing.
“I think that first rider may be alive, I only hit him in the thigh. If his neck isn’t broken perhaps we can find out who they are working for,” I suggested to Greis.
Men were already riding to the bodies. The wounded man was conscious and terrified. The guard already had a reputation in Estonia. Christian had loaned troops to the monarch to quell civil unrest. It had nearly become a civil war until the guard showed up.
I joined the corpsman to see to the riders wound. The arrowhead was stuck in the bone and he was bleeding badly. I forced some turtle weed into his mouth and asked him where he came from. I received no answer.
“Francais, Deutsch, Anglaise?” I asked.
“I have Anglaise, what do you want?”
“Where are you from?”
“Tallinn, we come from Estonia,”
The corpsman chose that moment to pull the arrowhead with his tongs. The man screamed and passed out.
“He’s all yours Greis, All I got from him is that he’s from Estonia. The corpsman will bandage him and then you can wake him up,” I explained. Were any of our men hurt?” I asked.
“No, just a few scratches from going through the undergrowth. This man and the one from your coach are the only survivors. We just need to know if there are more up the road,” Greis informed me.
I walked back and knocked on the door of the King’s carriage.
Father opened the door and bade me come in.
“They’re Estonian it appears, We have two to interrogate. Greis will see to that I expect,” I informed them.
“Why us, the Swedish crown sent troops also, why not attack them?” Christian wondered aloud.
“Perhaps they have Sire, this may be part of a coordinated attack,” Father put in.
“Edrich you have a good head on your shoulders. Remembering your fathers pistols was very helpful,” The King told me.
“Honorary or not, I am a member of the palace guard, and I am at your service Sire,” I replied.
“Perhaps later you can come sit with me and we can talk,” The King suggested.
I agreed and excused myself. I was sure they had more things to discuss.
“I’m never going to hear the end of this from Valla,” I told Greis.
“Possibly, women are funny that way,” He smiled.
I spotted Emil standing and waiting for the coach to meet him. He was quite agile when he swung up and entered. During the entire melee the caravan never stopped. Emil recocked his crossbow and nocked a fresh bolt
I introduced him to Captain Greis and we chatted for a while before Greis was needed by one of his men.
“You performed admirably today. Your skills with a bow will become legend,” Emil smiled.
The next day as we neared Bergen, I sat and talked with King Christian and he told me to just call him Christian. I told him he could call me Peng and we chatted for some while.
There were no further incidents on our trip. We reached Bergen and said our goodbyes to the King and the Royal Guardsmen. I sought out Gehrt to wish him well. He was helping to load horses onto a converted frigate. There were five ships in total, four frigates and the barq the Prins Christian. They would be in Copenhagen the next evening. The weather was fine and warm. Father, Halkar and I boarded a small sleek barq called the Freija. It was sleek and close rigged. We would be in Oslo by morning. Between us and a dozen guardsmen the ship was full. I had never sailed before. I had rowed a boat on the river but never had I been on the ocean. The Freija didn’t rely on guns for defense. It was too fast for a warship to catch and board. For the moment we weren’t in conflict with any nation.
We moved out away from land to avoid all the shoals and hazards, but we remained in sight of land. It flew by at an impressive pace. Father and I slept in one cabin while the King and Halkar slept in the other. Emil slept just outside the door. The men slept on the deck and enjoyed the warm breeze.
In the morning, Papa pointed out the back side of Gaustatoppen between two other lower peaks. Two hours later a military salute was fired from the port's signal cannons. We tied up at the dock and a contingent of guard were there to meet us. We boarded a carriage and our guardsmen mounted horses to the Summer Palace. It had been prepared for our arrival. From what I was able to see out the window Oslo was a modern city. That image didn’t last long. The first thing on my agenda was a bath and a change of clothes.
There was a tub attached to my rooms but it required servants to carry buckets of water to it and dump them in. The bath was pleasantly warm and I luxuriated in the hot soapy water. I would have napped but servants kept popping in to see if I wanted anything. At least they were men.
After my bath I removed all my medals from my uniform and rang for a porter.
“How may I help you My Lord,” The man asked.
“My Lord? No, just call me Sir Edrich, it’s simpler,” I corrected.
“As you wish sir, what service do you require?”
“I need my uniform cleaned, is there someone here that can do that?”
“Oh yes sir, the valet will see to it. If you hand me what you need laundered, it will be done,” Valentin informed me.
I bundled up the clothes I wanted washed, along with my uniform and handed them over.
“If you leave your boots outside your room tonight sir, the valet will polish them for you,” Val said.
“I’ll try to remember, if not I’ll see to them myself. Now I would like an hour undisturbed so I can collect myself. However if my father, the Governor General or the guard need me, then please alert me,” I requested.
“Very well Sir Edrich,” Val nodded and left the room.
It had been a week since I had time to relieve my own tensions, my kuck was protesting the long hiatus. I imagined Valla, and then Rilla and back to Valla. The climax was earth shattering and I just managed to collect all my seed with the damp flannel from the bath. I put on drawers and an undershirt and stretched out on my bed. I dozed for at least an hour before I was disturbed by Father’s knock.
I welcomed him in and we sat on the small sofa.
“Do you feel better for the bath, you certainly smell better,” Papa grinned.
“You weren’t exactly a rose yourself Papa,” I grinned back at him.
Were you able to get a nap?” Papa asked.
“Yes, now I’m hungry, can we see some of the city, and find a restaurant?” I inquired.
“My thoughts in a nutshell Peng. Are the servants a bit overwhelming?”
“They’re numerous, but overall I suppose they are just being diligent. Do they just stay here waiting for Lord Halkar to visit?”
“No, from September to May the house is quite active. Halkar comes here two or three times a month as needed. It also houses visiting dignitaries, though Halkar’s apartments are off limits to them. Sometimes Iris and Valla join him, and I have been known to make the journey with him as well.
“We will need to accompany Halkar to the Parliament tomorrow, so that you and I can be introduced by our new titles. It’s tedious I know but it must be done. But he will be there longer than we will so if you like we can take in the Folkemuseum, and see ancient copies of the sagas on parchment and vellum, plus one on a copper scroll. I think you will find it interesting,” Papa told me.
We took a stroll around the summer palace and found a nice restaurant. The food was lovely and we were both comfortably sated. We strolled the waterfront and looked at all the ships. Every dock was full, and ships were anchored in the harbor. There were sailors from all over, I had only seen one black man in my life and he was part of a circus. They billed him as the merciless Moor.
It felt so good to be just strolling and being with Papa. I felt some sadness that my brothers weren’t her to see this. They would get a chance in time. Papa had said so earlier. As an Earl of a large city, he was expected to attend councils and sit on boards of inquiry. He was still Lord Marshall after all.
I marveled at the large polished stone buildings, they appeared to be granite and they were impressive. But I suppose that’s what a capital is for. We walked around for some time, then returned to the palace. Halkar had left a note for father indicating he would address parliament at nine.
I hugged Papa goodnight and went to my room. I took off my boots and set them outside. I found my uniform already cleaned and smelling fresh and hanging in the wardrobe in the room.
I was pleased to find they had the same toilet arrangements as at home.
Once relieved I sat up and read until the light began to fade. The sun was setting earlier as fall and winter approached.
I slept soundly and woke early. It must have been around four. I felt refreshed and ready to meet the world.
I put on my stockings, trousers and shirt. My boots had indeed been polished and were as bright as if I had done it myself. I sat in a soft chair and read until six and contemplated breakfast. Ham with eggs and toasted bread seemed to sound best so that’s what I chose. Father had kippers and beans.
I must admit that I had become fond of cow’s butter. But I missed goat cheese. I would be able to get my fill in Haluken and take some home.
At precisely nine we walked through the double doors of the main chamber.
“Members of the Grand chamber, please welcome The Earl of Halla and Lord Marshall of Norway, Karl of Ikast,” the Governor General’s voice boomed out. He is accompanied by Sir Edrich, Viscount of Haluken. Please rise in honor of the newest members of the peerage,” Halkar encouraged.
The entire chamber rose and applauded.
“Lord Marshall, Sir Edrich if you will please come forward, so that everyone can recognize you,” Halkar invited.
One by one the members left their desks and came up to shake our hands. I could see they were impressed by the medals and my badge of office. I heard whispers asking how a boy could win so many medals. I almost laughed but I remained stone faced and nodded at each member in turn.
“I thank you for attending this special session and if there is no further business, I would ask the chairman to adjourn,” Halkar guided.
There was a whack from a gavel and a voice said "session adjourned". Actual sessions didn’t begin until Septembers first Monday.
After the session there was a social gathering where wine, cheese and sweet cakes were served. The wine was dry and tasty when combined with the sweet cakes or the cheese. I switched to water after the first glass.
I answered a lot of questions about the reports they had read about the assassination attempt.
Fortunately the news of the attempt on the king or the border raiders hadn’t reached them yet.
After the social we did more sightseeing, and then arranged for the two horses and four donkeys to be brought to us at the palace stable. We had brought our saddles and four donkey loads of other cargo. All but two of Halkar’s guard left with him on the same barq we arrived on. We had hugged and said goodbye and watched until the barq sailed around the point. Our guardsmen already had mounts, because they had been busy while we were wandering around.
The next morning we were on the road to Elverum. It was a trek, but from there we could take the pass that led to the Haluken road. We weren’t far out of Oslo when we were waylaid by bandits. They wore paper hats and waved wooden swords, and they demanded a toll.
“I will pay your toll if you spare us to journey on, brave bandits,” I said trying not to laugh.
I tossed them two small bags of licorice and they whooped with excitement. I warned them not to eat it all at once and we moved on.
Papa chuckled off and on for the next mile. Most of the journey was uneventful, until we saw a young goatherd trying to get a she goat on her feet.
I slipped off my horse and asked what the trouble was.
“She won’t walk and she guards her right hind foot,” The boy Engmun told me.
“Let me have a look,” I said and edged in to examine the animal.
I found the problem quickly, it was a stone thorn. It was from a nasty looking bush that served well as a border hedge but nothing ate it. Birds nested in it and scattered the thorns.
The thorn is between the toes of that hoof. “Engmun tie her other three feet, so she only has one to kick at us with and we’ll see if we can get it out,” I requested.
I found the horse shoeing tools,taking the tool that was used to cut the iron nails and trim the hooves. I grasped the thorn with the edge of the nail cutter and pulled. The goat shrieked and she thrashed but the thorn was out. She bled for a moment because it had penetrated the quick. But the blood soon stopped on its own, and when untied she stood right up and joined the rest of the herd.
How could a rich boy know so much about goats?” Engmun gasped.
I raised my hair, exposed my brand and he hugged me. We clasped wrists, then he was back on the trail with his goats.
“You never cease to amaze me son, your care for the common citizen will serve you well,” Papa smiled.
“I was a goatherd when we met Father, I have a kinship with all other herdsmen,” I explained.