The next morning I decided to go check on Tils, the boy I had treated the day before.
The herbalist told me he had a rough night but was doing well now. He had purged everything from his system and was ravenously hungry. He was on his second bowl of barley mush and molasses when I checked in.
“They tell me I can go home tomorrow. I will warn all my friends about the boxweed. Why doesn’t it kill the goats?” he asked.
“They have a different stomach than we do. They can eat nettles without effects. It is just the way they are made,” I explained.
“How did you learn to make healing like that?” Tils asked.
“There is a midwife near my home and she has been teaching me for a while now,” I told him.
But you’re a city dweller, why would you need to learn it?”
“I am forest clan just like you. I knew some of it from my mother. I moved to the city after I helped the master clean up the monastery,” I shared while lifting my hair so he could see my brand.
The herbalist came in and greeted me. I’m glad you were there yesterday, this boy was close to the point of no return.
“Good morning brother Benjamin. I am glad that I was there to help. I was thinking that the village would benefit if someone with the knowledge, held instruction in plants that can harm humans. Most clan people over ten know, but there are people that have moved away from the clan and gone into farming. They mightn’t remember the old healing ways. It could help seal the rift between the village and the monastery,” I suggested.
“I will consult with Father Michael and if he allows it I can have my apprentices conduct lectures,” brother Benjamin replied. “I think it’s an idea with merit.”
“Consult with me about what?” Father Michael inquired from the open door.
The brother explained my suggestion and the Abbot endorsed it wholeheartedly.
“We have years of rebuilding to do with this community. It helps that we no longer collect tithes. We never needed to. We make more than enough money with the paper laying, that we didn’t need anything from the villagers. But that was the corrupt Prior and former Abbot fattening their purses. I wish I had been more observant.”
“Water beyond the bridge Father Michael, all that can be done now is to show the villagers that the overwhelming majority of monks are here for a peaceful productive life. Getting them out in the village to offer their help will go a long way towards repairing the image of the monastery,” I said.
“Such words from one so young, you inspire me young man.”
I said goodbye to Tils and went back to the Inn.
I found Jørgen sitting in the terrace enjoying a mug of beer.
“Ah, hello Peng, how are you this morning?”
“I am well Jørgen how are you?”
“My stomach is giving me pains. I may have drunk too much aquavit last night. It is a beast of a drink.”
I pulled out a small pouch and pulled out a handful of my hard licorice drops.
“Let this melt in your mouth and swallow the juices. But do it after you finish your beer. Licorice is good for the digestion but eating too much is bad for other things, so use moderation,” I counselled.
“Thank you Peng, you are a warrior and a healer. Your Father has told me of your actions in court, and your efforts to defend the Regent. The king will want to convey his gratitude so be ready to accept whatever honor he confers upon you. It can only do you good. The issue of the Swedish bandits gives me pause. Your father is taking steps to get the regent involved and deal with them once and for all. Border raiders usually need an example. A few of them tied to trees at their favorite crossings might do the trick. It worked in Poland. They were beset by Lithuanians and after stringing up a few, the problem abated,” Jørgen told me.
“It seems harsh, but they are harsh men. It may be the only thing that they can understand,” I agreed. You do know that Father adopted me and my brothers after he married Ingrid. Haluken is where I come from but not where I live. I am clan born. We are the descendants of the Vikings as they were in the old days of the Sagas. Our way is dying as are our gods. Odin, Thor and Freija are but memories for most. Only the head men keep them alive in their hearts. Are Danes the same way?” I asked.
“Yes my boy, the new replaces the old just as the young replace the old, But we can find ways to honor our ancestors without dwelling in the past. Your father has told me that you and the other four boys are the sons he has always wanted. Brave, smart and loving. He has nothing but praise for all of you,” Jørgen concluded.
“Father has two new sons on the way, Mother is carrying twin boys. I could tell and the midwife confirmed it. She has been helping me with my healing.” I told him.
“How could you tell?” Jørgen asked.
“I could smell it in her sweat, the midwife tastes the urine to determine the sex of the child. We may both be wrong but I doubt it,” I grinned.
“She should taste this beer, I think the horse it came from may be ill,” Jørgen laughed. He tossed the contents of the mug over the rail and reached for the flask on his belt. “Relax, it’s pure stream water I will drink some and take a licorice drop.”
I went to see about our horses and use the privy. The horses were fine and the privy needed more lime. I told the innkeeper about that. Father returned from the Magistrate’s office in a good mood.
“There are no prior claims on the sections we are claiming. I have claimed three adjoining sections and the Magistrate has fixed his seal to the papers. When we return to camp we can pack up and go home unless the Regent has other orders.
The three days passed without incident. I made more friends among the village children and attended the first lecture on dangerous plants. In the afternoon a bedraggled rider and horse arrived with a satchel for Father. A company of cavalry was not far behind the rider. They would not move at the relay riders pace though. But three more days would see them in Haluken territory.
“Would you like to see what we’re doing so far from Halla old friend?” Father invited.
“Most certainly, I have been wondering and speculating but I will keep my speculations mute until we are out of earshot of nosy barmaids and serving girls,” Jørgen said as he glared at a girl who was leaning a bit too casually against a support post on the terrace.
“Wonderful, Father said loudly, we will leave at midday tomorrow.” I knew it would mean we would leave before dawn.
We took Our horses and the raiders horses and were gone before the morning light. We pulled off the road and hid in a clearing to see if we were followed. A man and a boy rode by on donkeys but no one else. Hopefully we had foiled their plans. We would still be wary and one of us would backtrack from time to time. Not everyone in Haluken was trustworthy and Father didn’t trust the innkeeper at all.
We decided to ride south on the main road and we passed my old farm. Hakan was out harnessing a huge draft horse with the help of a boy my age. We decided to stop and say hello.
Hello My Lord, hello Peng and greetings to you stranger, welcome to our farm. This is Palli he was wandering the woods, he was orphaned so we took him on. He is learning fast and he’ll be a good farmer. We are plowing new fields today. Alas Ilja is helping a new mother up the road. She will be disappointed to miss you.”
“Jørgen, this is Hakan, he took over the farm when I fled the monks. He has made a quite a concern of it from when I lived here,” I explained.
Hands were shaken and Father warned Hakan that the raiders might return.
“They have already been here, they didn’t like what they found. I suppose some bits of them are still here. We took the dead and wounded to Haluken. A sword and stupidity is no match for an axe and wits,” Hakan grinned.
“I am glad to find you well brother. Perhaps we’ll meet again,” I said.
Hakan didn’t invite me to visit the graves of my parents. He knew I had said my goodbyes and wouldn’t want to disturb them in the next life. I often thought of them but I didn’t dwell on those thoughts.
We took our leave and rode back to the north. We saw no signs that anyone was following.
We were given a hearty greeting in camp and a good sized pig was on the spit and Rilla was basting it.
We had to lash togeher a skid to bring her in, we needed help to string it up and gut it. It was more than the two of us could do, Kiva regaled us. They shared the details of the hunt and reported that no one had been seen in the area and there were no new tracks anywhere they looked. They had been watchful.
“I think the bandits marked this down as a losing enterprise,” Leif chuckled.
“Let’s not get lax though, they might return in force. I’m hoping they will have a surprise if they do,” Father cautioned.
“We won’t let our guard down, we’re just happy to be united again. With bowmen like Kiva, Peng and Rilla we will prevail if they return,” Leif commented.
“All the same we will wear our weapons and carry our bows. Ambush is their favorite tactic. We will start a few small earthworks and rig them with traps just in case they circle the camp,” Father directed.
Father introduced Jørgen. We took a rest and got caught up with events in our absence. I told them about poor Tils, and his run in with boxweed.
“After a while Jørgen asked about our mission and we took him to the cave and the stream.
“I would ask you to wait a year before telling anyone about our discovery. We have the claims filed but news like that brings out the rats from the sewers,” Father said.
“Yes, I understand. I see no reason to mention it to anyone else. It would only cause them to suffer from bad judgement,” Jørgen agreed.
We showed him the richer veins of gold that we had found. It was enough to base a claim on and miners would expand the search for more.
Four days after returning to camp we heard a trumpet. I recognized the call and rode to the road. A company of Calvary followed me back to camp.
“Very well men, arrest them,” the leading officer ordered.
“Jens, that is not a good idea and you know it. Please come join us for a drink,” Father suggested.
The man grinned and his men chuckled. We tapped a barrel of beer and the men produced their drinking horns.
“Welcome to your new posting lieutenant, I thought you could construct a barracks where the tents are now. It’s high ground and commands a view,” Father told him.
“We have a few wagons following with supplies and campaign tents. They’ll do until the barracks and cookhouse are up. We should be ready before winter. There is plenty of timber and like the Romans, our soldiers are skilled builders too,” Lieutenant Hergen asserted.
“I like your optimism lieutenant,” Father smiled.
“We’re just the advance, there are fifty men of the mounted infantry behind us, plus wagons, tools and building supplies other than timber which is obviously in abundance here,” Hergen noted.
Lieutenant Hergen was a decent man but he seemed eager. Soldiers can accomplish major feats of construction if it means being warm and dry in Winter. Our ancestors built slip roads to move their long boats over land for great distances. A little construction would be no obstacle.
I went and found Rilla, we hadn’t spoken much since the raider’s attack. I had made sure he was unharmed and then saw to the man Kiva had shot.
“Hello brother, are you well?” I asked.
“I’m still in this life so I suppose it’s a blessing from the gods,” Rilla answered.
“Are you troubled?” I pressed.
“A bit, I am grateful to you for keeping that man from hurting me, but it was so horrible. Kiva comforted me as much as possible but I really needed Father. But he was with you in Haluken.
“I would have been happy to see you go in my place. But Father wanted me to help him with the prisoners. It wasn’t really up to me. Is there anything I can do to make it better?” I asked.
“If you would hold me for a while…?”
I wrapped my arms around him and he collapsed into me. He sobbed into my chest and let his fears and worries go. Father passed our tent and heard the sounds and looked in. He didn’t speak, he just wrapped his strong arms around us both and we stayed like that for quite a while. Rilla recovered and thanked us both. Father gave me a look that I interpreted as a request for privacy.
“I need to see to my horse, she had a sore spot from the belly band. I’ll treat her and come back.” I left and did exactly as I said I would. It was the next thing on my list. The sore was almost healed. A loose stitch in the band had chafed a hole in her coat and it was tender. I repaired the band and treated the sore spot. I wrapped cloth around the band so it wouldn’t irritate the sore and it seemed to have worked. I could have rode one of the bandits horses but my Mariah was jealous. She didn’t mind me petting or feeding the other horses but she would complain loudly if I rode off on one when she was fresh. She was a bit more tolerant if she had been ridden the day before.
Kiva, Rilla and I took a day off and walked up to the lake. It was clear and clean at one end and murky and reeded at the other. The water birds liked that area as their nesting grounds. We played and splashed in the water and generally forgot about gold, raiders and cavalry. We found some tall grass to dry off in and enjoyed each other’s bodies.
When we returned to camp the men had been busy. Six new corrals stood in several places around the camp area. Stakes were being driven to mark the locations of camp buildings such as barracks, cook house, dining hall and stores, and of course the sauna. Men were already gathering stone for fireplaces and cooking hearths. Men with mauls and chisels carved mortises in long straight tree trunks.
There were enough fallen trees around that they had plenty of timber to start with.
We watched and helped where we could. They worked at a furious pace. By the end of the day sill logs were in place for several buildings.
We boys busied ourselves with spokeshaves and made pegs in great numbers. Iron nails were scarce and expensive.
The next morning a veritable parade of wagons and men arrived. Hands were shaken and backs were slapped and they began setting up the campaign tents. They went up on the platforms with wooden floors and then the erratic construction began to make sense. The big tents had wooden frames and canvas roofs and walls. Once in place they looked like a canvas house. Ten men in each tent meant a lot of tents. More corrals had been built and men took groups of horses out to graze. I would have to introduce their provisioner to Hakan and his grain crops. This new encampment would probably be a boon to the area’s farmers. The cost of grain would go up and the mill would be busier. But Haluken and its surrounding farms would be safer. Once the barrack tents were erected the lieutenant sent patrols to the southeast to look for evidence of raiders. Father said it was likely that they had returned to Swedish territory but always had the option of another raid. They captured several Swedes but had no evidence that they had done anything. So they were pressed into labor for crossing the border without papers. They were never brought to camp but instead worked on the roads and helped local farmers. Some were only men looking for work. Some were armed and probably part of a raiding party. The soldiers treated them all the same and didn’t trust any of them.
With the calvary and infantry in place it was time for us to return home. We were all ready for that. We missed Mother and our brothers, I missed Valla intensely but I wasn’t sure she would be home yet. The trip home seemed very long. We had left our tents behind so the pack horses would have an easier time. They were all carrying ore samples. We had left the tools except for a shovel or two behind as well. They would be needed there.
We continued to the northwest and Halla. We only slept out one time, once we began encountering hamlets and villages we would stay at an inn. We stopped wearing our swords and looked like any group of merchants.
When we finally reached the stone bridge, my impulse was to let Rødhest have her head and gallop home. But I fought it off and plodded along with the others. It was market day and the streets were full of vendors and shoppers doing business. Delivery carts nearly choked the streets but we weaved our way through. Soon we were at our own forecourt. We took our train of horses back to Edvard and he helped us unsaddle and unload them. Ivy and Bolly were the first to spy us, they charged with the elation only small boys could muster. We hugged them and passed them around. Samilla came out with Mother and Olaf. They repeated the scene if somewhat more gently. It was so good to see them all after what we had seen and done in Haluken, we were all misty eyed. Mother’s belly had grown and she placed our hands on it so we could feel the kicks and other movements. Both babies were active and seemed healthy. They were expected in late March or Early April. It was now early August and our summer was dwindling fast.
Kristen returned and greeted us. She had been shopping. We were all together again. She hugged everyone including stodgy old Edvard. He didn’t seem to mind much. Once all the horses were seen to we all went in for baths. I presume Father did the same.
Olaf and our little brothers joined us although they were clean enough already. It was a good way to reconnect.
Olaf told me that Lady Iris and Valla had stopped by and were disappointed that we hadn’t returned yet.
After the bath the little ones took a nap. And we removed ourselves to the veranda to talk seriously.
“I’m sorry I didn’t go with you but Mother would have had to deal with Ivy and Bolly on her own. I was able to keep them occupied most of the time. But to be honest, I’ve had enough of living rough. I like living in Halla, it’s a great city and there is much to do here,” Olaf apologized.
“Don’t apologize, you did something valuable in our absence. I worried about and missed all of you the whole time we were gone.
We told him what had happened with the ore and the raiders. I told him about Tils and meeting Jørgen in Haluken. He had stopped off to visit someone in one of the villages that we passed and would be along soon.
Father came looking for us and told us to dress for a visit to the palace, we would take the coach instead of horses and I didn’t need to wear my uniform.
That was a relief. I wasn’t sure it would fit. My formal clothes were snug and would need tailoring or replacement.
“You’ve grown quite a bit haven’t you my sons,” Papa observed.
“It seems so, Papa,” I agreed. In addition to longer legs and a larger chest my kuck was larger and I had more hair above it than when we left. So did Rilla, Kiva but Olaf remained bald.
Mother insisted on re-braiding and trimming our hair before we left, but we got underway and Edvard drove us to the palace.
We were able to reach the Regent’s chambers without Valla getting word of our arrival. But the servants gossip relay would soon alert her.
“Welcome back my friends, how was your trip aside from the details you sent?” Halkar asked.
“Busy would say it best. By the time we left the men were well on the way to an established camp. I don’t know if the young lieutenant will fortify the camp but he is eager so it might come to pass,” Father answered.
“And you boys, was the trip good?” Halkar asked.
“Except for our dealings with the raiders it was quite fun,” I told him. Rilla and Kiva were still reluctant to speak freely to Halkar. But they hadn’t spent as much time with him as I had.
“And you Olaf, did you miss your brothers?”
“Very much My Lord, but someone needed to stay behind and help with the little ones. And as I told my brothers earlier, I don’t enjoy the wilds as much as I once did,” Olaf said honestly.
“We are in agreement there boy. I live rough when we have a hunting party but I enjoy city life more than knocking around in the brushlands,” Halkar shared.
Olaf smiled broadly to hear that he wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the comfort of a good home over the outdoor life.
“Now then, I have a request. When we are chatting like this in private or in the company of friends call me Uncle Halkar. I look on you boys as my nephews and your father is like a brother to me. In fact we are cousins but that doesn’t matter. I love each of you boys as an uncle should.”
“Peng, you better go and find Valla before she hears that you are present, and tears down the door,” Uncle directed.
I found Valla pacing in the hallway and snuck up behind her.
“Greetings fair lady,” I whispered in her ear.
“Are you a knight returning from battle?” she inquired.
“I am your knight, your champion and I will battle for your hand if you will have me,” I said.
Valla kissed me so hard my teeth hurt. She peppered me with kisses and clung to me like she would never release me.
A female voice cleared its throat and there was Lady Iris awaiting her own greeting. I embraced her and looked into her eyes from below. Her smiling countenance reminded me how beautiful Valla would be when we were grown. Valla was already beautiful in my eyes, but she would be stunning like her mother in time.
“Let’s have a walk in the garden,” Valla suggested.
We walked toward the doors but I stopped and suggested that she should pee before we go.
She giggled but I realized I needed to pee so I asked her to wait and went to the toilet.
The summer blooming plants were a riot of color but they were no comparison to my Valla. We walked for a while and then found a shaded bench. She pressed me for details and I decided to get the worst out of the way. I told her about shooting the raider who held Rilla at knife point.
“I’m sorry, it must be a great burden to have that on your mind,” Valla said with sympathy.
“He was an evil man and he threatened the life of my brother. I don’t feel any remorse for ending his wicked life,” I told her.
Valla leaned into me and I felt her body through the puffy summer dress. She had grown too. Her breasts were actual breasts and her hips had a lovely shape to them. She smelled divine and I wanted her so much I thought I would explode. She grasped my rigid kuck in the leg of my trousers. I nearly released my seed just from her touch.
She led me to a blind alcove in the palace, pressed a panel in the wall and it opened into a passage. Light filtered in from an airshaft and she pinned me against the wall for some intense kissing. She unbuttoned her blouse and I licked her breasts and nipples. Meanwhile she unbuttoned my trousers and pushed them down to release my swollen kuck. She gave me one more intense kiss and slid down to her knees. She began to suck on my kuck and I told her it wouldn’t take long in my current state of arousal. I was right, after only a few minutes she was swallowing as fast as she could.
When I regained my breath, I kissed her some more and suggested returning the favor.
“I’m sorry, but we can’t . My menses have come on. It started while we were in the mountains. Mother brought cloth pads that soak up the blood and don’t ruin your clothes. They pass after a few days, I will be ready when they have gone. You have gotten larger and there is more hair. It seems we have both grown up a bit,” Valla smiled.
We emerged back in the hallway after peeking and listening to see if it was safe.
The doors to the Regent’s chambers were open and Lady Iris was sitting with them as we entered.
“Nothing was said about Valla and I except to ask how I liked the garden.
I commented on the raucous colors and the difference between them and the Spring flowers. It had paid to take in the garden before succumbing to lust.
At the end of our visit, Halkar took me off to the side and checked to see if I was feeling okay about the encounter with the raider I shot. I assured him that I had justified it to my satisfaction and Rilla was unharmed. I was sorry it was necessary but I didn’t cause the situation.
“Well again you have demonstrated valor in the service of the King. He is coming for a visit soon, and he specifically wishes to meet you.
I’m afraid I have been feeding him stories of your adventures since we met. I’m sure he has something special in mind for you,” Halkar grinned.
That gave me pause. The king actually knew my name and that was not common for boys my age who lived in Norway.
It was heady enough to be mentioned in correspondence with the Monarch let alone having him express interest in me.
At length we took our leave from the palace and returned home. Ivy and Bolly were ready for action, but the rest of us needed a rest. We went upstairs and changed. We played cards with Bolly and Ivy until we had rejuvenated enough to go for a walk around the stalls of the merchants. I passed out licorice, and it was well received.
We saw crafts and produce from the area surrounding Halla. Musicians played for the odd pfenning and I contributed because they were nice to listen to. Ivy danced as they played and that was worth the few coins.
I bought more hard peppermints and passed them out to my brothers in small pouches. I liked peppermints but preferred licorice.
We knocked around and played games at some of the stalls. Three balls for a half pfenning and Ivy won a small lion statue made of some sort of composition. Bolly won a head band with feathers in, like the red Indians they discovered in the new world. Ivy made it half way home and I carried him the rest of the way. He had lasted longer than was expected. Bolly was looking ragged when we returned home so both of them went down for a nap after receiving a kiss from Mama and Iris. I lazed on the veranda and Olaf came out to talk.
“Of the six of us, I think you are outstanding in your accomplishment. Please understand, I’m not jealous. I’m actually in awe of you. I know we talked about this before, but I truly believe that Valla will be your bride someday. You are on a path that the rest of us cannot walk. Ivy may inherit lands and wealth but Papa says you possess tens of hectares or more in the southeast. It is all in your name? How much gold did you find down there?”
“Quite a bit actually. It’s in a cave and the stream nearby. It will be good for us, the Regent and Norway in general. More gold means a better economy. And that means a better life for everyone in the country. There will still be poor people but even they will have a better life through medicine and education,” I told him.
“That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about, you think about things like public welfare and providing for the people of Norway. I’m just content to be warm, dry and well fed. You have an actual philosophy, I don’t have that, at least not yet,” Olaf pointed out.
“It will come in time. I understand why you don’t want to do a lot of camping out. Your whole life was camping out until you met Papa. To me, the woods were my salvation. I could hide from the monks and live as I pleased. In warm weather I rarely wore any clothing. My life had been fairly nice before Mother and then Father died. Then it was a question of how best to survive. I learned that the monks would probably be along to enslave me and take our farm. So I took all I could into the woods and lived quite well until I met Papa. But we are different. I have a taste for adventure and I dealt with conflict pretty well. I was conditioned to be ready to act by where we lived. “Wild pigs would come in and attack the herd. I became and expert with a bow from the time that I could draw one properly. More than once I harnessed goats to a sled to bring in a freshly killed pig. They are hard to kill too,” I told him.
“Yes, I saw one with four arrows get up and run until he was taken down by the dogs,” Olaf shared.
“We grew up in the same environment but our experiences were different. I developed survival strategies to help myself live safely. Neither of those choices are inferior, you just chose another way. And I didn’t have a brother to protect either. That was a factor in your approach to living,” I reminded him.
“Yes, Bolly is important to me. We are blood and we always will be,” Olaf agreed.
“We are Vikings Olaf, we value family and home, though some of us seek adventure and whatever it brings,” I put forth.
Olaf leaned into me on the bench and we watched the birds wheel in the sky.
Bolly woke up and joined us while we relaxed and enjoyed the shade and the breeze.