28 January 2012

Confrontation, An Axe of Iron Novel - Chapter One Serialized - Conclusion

Halfdan had taken the small broken body from the bull’s antlers and laid it on the damp ground beside the corpse of the animal that had killed him.

“It is best if you go look upon Yola. Remember your friendship with him, for it will be the last time you see him. His spirit is still here with us. He is watching,” Gudbjartur said gently.

The boys looked at each of the men. Halfdan nodded and gestured with a lift of his chin, and the boys walked slowly toward the corpse. The men let them go alone, following closely. Life could be cruel, but the young must know how to accept it. Violent death would follow them all the days of their lives, to swoop down without warning; they must learn to confront the specter of death without shirking.

The boys bravely looked down at the remains of their friend. Ivar’s inner strength held him rigid, while tears coursed in rivulets down Lothar’s cheeks. Yola’s head had been crushed like an egg, his body torn to pieces. The smooth, young features were distorted and misshapen. “His face is gone,” Ivar said. Broken ribs, white as teeth, stuck out of the squashed chest. Splintered bones protruded from one leg. The bones of the other leg were intact except that the upper leg muscle hung asunder. One arm hung from the exposed socket. Ivar glanced at his brother. “He does not look like Yola anymore.”

Lothar’s shoulders shook with silent sobs. He nodded abjectly at Ivar’s assessment and turned toward the men. “Will we bury him here?”

Halfdan answered. “Yes, we will do it now. We cannot take him back with us. He should rest here where he died. No useful purpose would be served by his mother seeing what remains of her son.” He took a breath. “We will camp here for the night. It will be dark soon, so let us be about it.” He finished gruffly, feeling an unfamiliar surge of emotion. I must be getting old. On the other hand, maybe it is because of Frida. I feel things more intensely now. She has changed me in many ways.

Gudbjartur put a hand on the shoulder of each of his sons. “Come, boys, we will all bury Yola together. You must help us prepare Yola for the afterlife. He was your friend and you must do him this final honor. Afterwards, Halfdan and I will show you how to butcher the bull you killed and prepare the meat for the boat trip back to Halfdansfjord.”

The four of them grouped around Yola, each with his own thoughts.

Gudbjartur tried to soothe his sons. “Yola did not suffer. I heard him scream once as the bull attacked, but then he died. He was so afraid that he would not be able to feel pain. That is the way of things when we fight; our fear dulls the pain of our wounds.”

“He did not have time to fight before he died,” Lothar said. “I was right next to him and the bull had hold of him before he could move.”

“He fought nonetheless, Lothar. Even the least of us will fight to survive.” Halfdan put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Now, let us put your friend in the earth, to rest.”

They cleaned up the small, torn body as best they could, washing away the blood and gore and putting the torn flesh back in place. Both boys had to overcome their initial revulsion at touching the grisly remains.

“I cannot do this,” Lothar said, stepping away to retch as the gorge rose in his throat.

“Come, boy, you must steel yourself.” Gudbjartur held an arm out for his son. “It is the way of things and the reason you both were included in these preparations. In this way, you will know what you must do for a burial. Playing an active part fosters acceptance of your friend’s death.”

Lothar reluctantly returned to the task. His face was tight, his lips bloodless and pressed into a severe line as he fought down nausea.

Finally, they finished the work with the body. They straightened the shattered limbs and wrapped the corpse in a wool sleeping robe. Then with Gudbjartur at one end and both boys at the other end, they lifted the pitiful bundle and carried it to the grave. Tenderly they laid their burden in the dark, shallow hole.

“We want to bury him with his weapons.” Ivar looked at his father, his chin thrust out, his eyes defiant.

Gudbjartur regarded his sons in silence. He looked from one to the other. Then he nodded. “I think that is proper. The gods will make the young warrior welcome. He will have need of his weapons in the afterlife.”

The boys sat at the graveside and snapped the arrows and bow in two as they had seen the men do, to kill and release the spirits within. Ivar forced the blade of Yola’s knife into a crack in a handy boulder and leaned into it to bend the blade over. They arranged the weapons on either side of the body. Then their final act for their friend was to push the cold earth over his body, refill the grave, and mound it over with earth and rocks.
***
Later that evening, after the men gorged on chunks of spitted moose liver, the four sat around the campfire staring into the flames.

“Eat some more of this liver.” Gudbjartur urged the boys.

“I cannot eat, Father.” Ivar glanced at his brother.

“Nor I. The liver makes me sick,” Lothar said.

“How about a steak then?” Gudbjartur asked.

Both boys shook their heads.

Conversation ebbed back and forth for a time before silence reigned.

Halfdan told us that our arrows would have killed the bull. Glancing in the direction of his father and Halfdan, Ivar’s mind sifted through the events of the day. Catching his brother’s eye, he winked and smiled slightly at him. Lothar returned a weak smile, bobbed his head slightly, and sighed, telling Ivar without words that he knew what he was thinking. Ivar looked at his brother for another moment, and then laid back full length on the ground, hands clasped behind his head. He stared at the countless stars winking in the clear night sky. A meteorite scribed a bright trail across the blackness overhead. A spark from Thor’s hammer. His eyes followed its path until the light winked out. Yes, we did kill that bull. Father cut off his head, but Halfdan said he would have died from our arrows. And all but one of them came from my bow.


***

©2010 Jerry A. Hunsinger, All Rights Reserved

20 January 2012

Confrontation, An Axe of Iron Novel - Serialized - Installment #4

Moose hunt contd:

Gudbjartur and Halfdan ran as fast as conditions permitted toward the mayhem. Branches and saplings whipped and tore at their faces.


The cow and calves they had intended to drive toward the boys’ hiding place froze in position in the chest deep water as the yelling apparitions swept past. Disturbed water and bulrushes flew in all directions as the cow ran into the security of the forest, closely followed by her calves.

***

As Ivar loosed his third arrow, realization slowly dawned on the bull that an enemy was nearby and he wheeled to confront him. The remnants of little Yola hung in tatters from his antlers as he charged, mowing down saplings and standing dead trees he crashed toward the new target.

“Shoot him, Lothar!” Ivar shrieked at his brother. He darted around a tree and loosed his fourth arrow into the center of the bull’s chest. Gasping in fright, he wheeled and ran for his life. Unconsciously he used the trees and undergrowth to slow the animal’s charge, darting in a tight circle to give Lothar a clear shot. A big tree saved his life when he swerved around the trunk a heartbeat before the bull crashed into it. Ivar jumped back and forth around the tree trunk while the enraged bull, an arm’s length away, blew snot over him in his effort to hook the boy with his bloody antlers.

Lothar, who had stood rooted in place while Yola died and his brother shot arrow after arrow into the great beast that towered over him, suddenly regained his senses. Ivar’s screams galvanized him to action and he ran to the side far enough to get a clear shot through the trees. “Yahhh!” He screamed to distract the bull from Ivar, pulled his bowstring to the head of the nocked arrow, and loosed it into the animal’s ribcage. The shaft penetrated all the way to the feathers without visible effect.

The bull wheeled toward him and charged. Lothar darted behind a small evergreen. The tree bent over and snapped off at the ground like a twig as the bull crashed against the trunk. The boughs of the falling tree ensnared Lothar. The bull straddled the tree’s trunk and swung his head back and forth, as he tried to crush the crawling boy with his antlers. Lothar’s whimpering terror seemed to enrage the animal further. His flailing front hooves stripped limbs from the evergreen’s trunk like dry leaves, missing the boy’s body by a hand’s breadth.

A yelling Ivar ran to the animal’s side and shot his last arrow low into the ribcage behind the bull’s shoulder.

Lothar scrambled from under the entanglement of boughs. His bow snagged on something and he let it lie, running for his life.

The bull charged after the running boy.

“Run, Lothar! He is coming after you!” A shrieking Ivar went in pursuit.

***

The men burst through the undergrowth with Halfdan in the lead. Yelling to distract and confuse the bull, Halfdan swept his arm back and threw the heavy hunting spear with all his strength at the bull’s shoulder. The razor-sharp head sliced through the animal’s shoulder muscles and lodged in the massive shoulder joint. The bull staggered from the force of the impact, dropping his head to regain his balance.

Gudbjartur leaped toward the bull with his axe held high for the stroke.

“Odin!” The battle cry rang through the forest as he closed the distance.

Without checking his forward momentum, Gudbjartur chopped the axe blade down across the juncture of the beast’s neck and shoulders. The bull’s straining neck muscles popped apart like overripe fruit as the keen blade sliced down through them.

The bull’s head dropped. The corded neck muscle no longer supported the weight of his head and neck. He crashed to the ground, all but beheaded by the axe stroke.

A shudder shook the beast. He tried to rise. Slowly he rolled onto his side. Muscles twitched in confusion. His brain no longer sent usable signals to his body. With a great sigh, he died; accusing dark eyes gazed unseeing on his slayers.

Gudbjartur left the axe stuck in the bull’s body and bolted toward Ivar. Dropping to his knees, his arms encircled the boy, crushing him to his chest as emotion swept over both of them. The young boy trembled in his father’s arms. Gudbjartur was speechless in his relief at finding his son unharmed.

Halfdan attended to Lothar. He turned the boy round and round, inspecting for injuries. Lothar unashamedly wept with relief and sorrow. Halfdan hugged him and patted his back. “It is over, boy. You are all right.” He turned to Gudbjartur. “Lothar is all right, Gudbj, just scratched up some.”

“Come here, son.” Gudbjartur held an arm out to the boy.

Lothar walked to his father, his eyes downcast and wet with tears. Gudbjartur wrapped his arms around both his sons. Kneeling before them on the ground, he rested his head on their shoulders. A shudder shook his body as pent-up emotion receded. “Thank the gods you are safe.”

“I can hardly breathe, Father. You are crushing me.” Ivar’s words served to calm the three of them.

Gudbjartur released the boys and searched their faces for a heartbeat. “You did well,” he said, his voice husky with feeling.

Halfdan let Gudbjartur have his moment with his sons by examining the dead bull. When finished, he pulled the buried axe blade from the animal’s neck and stepped over to join them. “They shot six arrows into him, Gudbj. Any one of them would have killed him. But not before he got both of them.” He handed the bloody axe to Gudbjartur.

“I only shot him once. Ivar shot him the most,” Lothar’s voice caught in misery. “I could not move I was so afraid. But not Ivar. He shrieked at the bull while he shot arrows into him.”

The two men made brief eye contact. They keenly appraised Ivar while the boy relived the events with his brother.

“Your arrow saved me, Lothar. He almost got to me before you shot him. My last arrow may have saved you. I think it hurt him because he blinked. If you had not scampered from under the tree right then and tried to run away, he might have turned on me.” Ivar grinned at his brother. “I was just as scared as you were. Anger and fear made me act. I was trying to save Yola. I did not know he was already dead.” Ivar spoke in a strong voice, his emotions controlled.

“You both did well, as your father has told you. I know grown men who could not stand their ground under such a threat.” Halfdan gestured toward the bull’s corpse. “You did better than well, both of you. I am proud to have you as my young warriors. The people will tell tales of this hunt for some time to come.”

Both boys were silent; the tragedy that had befallen them filled their thoughts. They basked in their chieftain’s praise, but stole furtive glances at the remains of Yola.

Read the conclusion of Chapter One, Confrontation, An Axe of Iron Novel with Installment #5, on 27 January 2012.

15 January 2012

Confrontation, An Axe of Iron Novel - Serialized - Installment 3

Moose hunt contd:

As the shadows lengthened toward day’s end, a trio of moose stepped from the dense forest surrounding the lake. The lead animal, an old cow, paused and carefully surveyed the lake environs. Her sensitive nose tested the still air while the huge ears turned this way and that, listening to the cries of birds and the buzz of insects. Her senses told her that all was well. She continued down into the willow scrub along the lake shoreline. She and her calves nibbled at the tender tips of willow before stepping into the shallow waters of the lake. Their kind did this same thing, just before sundown every day, when hunger and thirst drove them from their bedding grounds to begin another night of foraging.
***
Gudbjartur watched the cow moose and two large calves walk with caution from the cover of the forest. The quarry grazed slowly through the thick willows along the shoreline before wading into the lake. The animals began to relax as they grazed along the lake bottom on an abundance of bulrushes and other underwater forage plants, oblivious to the threat lurking nearby.
Gudbjartur waved to Halfdan and the two men began closing in from both sides of the boys’ position. They walked along the shoreline making no attempt at stealth. Gudbjartur figured that he and Halfdan would be almost up to the animals before they became alarmed. If everything worked as planned, the three moose should pass the boys’ hiding place as they ran from the lake.
***
Greenland Sea, east of the Helluland coast

Five hundred sea leagues to the northeast of Halfdansfjord, the four ships of the settlement’s trading flotilla to Greenland rolled and plunged in the heavy swells of the strait separating Helluland and Greenland. The flotilla had sailed from the strait between Markland and Helluland, through the southerly current flowing along the Helluland coast the preceding morning, and into the open ocean area of relatively slack currents between Helluland and Greenland.

Seabirds had recently joined the ships, diving and swooping in their constant quest for food, indicating land was not far off. Estimating there were some fifty leagues remaining in the voyage for the ships bound for Eiriksfjord, Greenland, Bjorn Kjetilsson, flotilla commander, signaled the ships to heave to into the wind as they approached a bank of thin fog and sea mist.

Fog banks of varying thickness and the pervading sea mist had been their constant companion during the twelve days of the voyage. Although it had not been necessary to heave to, the Fog Giant and reduced visibility preyed on Bjorn’s mind. Command of more than his own ship weighed heavily on him. He thought the cargoes of green timber would be most welcome in both Greenland settlements and should induce the local farmers to part with all manner of trade goods from both Iceland and Vestfoldland. The ships had managed to stay in contact while running in the thin fog by sailing in close company and frequently sounding their bullhorns. The sound of the horns reverberating from ship to ship lent a surreal quality to the damp blanket as the ships alternately appeared and disappeared within its shroud.

After turning into the wind to heave to, the heavily laden ships remained close together. As they paid-off slowly downwind, their unfettered sails flapped loosely, and the crews shouted back and forth.

“If the visibility was not so poor the masthead would have the clouds of Greenland in sight to leeward. We will part company when the coast is sighted. As agreed, Athils and Sweyn will steer for Lysufjord, and Brodir and I will make for Eiriksfjord,” Bjorn shouted across the narrow expanse of water separating the ships. “Good luck trading with the Tornit on your return voyages. I hope you kill many walrus with them. We will see you at Halfdansfjord before winter.”

“Brodir,” Sweyn shouted through cupped hands, “I hope you fill your ship with the trade goods we need in Halfdansfjord. Good luck trading with the Thalmiut on your return voyage, Bjorn. Trade them out of another pair of those big dogs.” He waved and turned back to his waiting crew to get his ship underway.

Shouted farewells drifted across the water as crews bid their opposite numbers farewell and sheeted their sails home. A freshening wind out of the northwest began to blow the tatters of fog away and the flotilla rapidly gathered way as each ship answered her helm and steadied on course.

The ships would shortly come under the influence of the current sweeping into the north along the coast of western Greenland, speeding them toward their individual destinations. This fast-moving current would be especially useful to the two ships bound for Lysufjord, more than one hundred and fifty leagues north of Eiriksfjord.
***
The moose hunt

Unseen by the five moose hunters, a large bull moose ambled from his bed grounds toward the same lake. He stopped briefly to graze on the tender tips of ferns that had drawn his attention. The muffled snap of a breaking twig caused him to jerk his head erect. His senses went to full alert. The last mouthful of ferns dangled forgotten from slack lips as his small eyes stared in the direction of the sound. He detected a slight movement and his heightened attention fastened on the object. The animal’s brain registered a warning, possible danger. Long, brown guard hairs along the top of his neck and back slowly came erect as his agitation increased.

The object of the bull’s attention happened to be Yola. The boy stirred ever so slightly in his place of concealment. A small, dry twig snapped under him as he shifted position.

The bull knew not what the creature was, but it had no place in his ordered world. His rigid stance went from interest to alarm to rage in a moment, as he became aware that the creature was between him and the cow and calves. He began to move very slowly, almost noiseless for an animal of his bulk. The only sound of his passage was a slight whispering of the grass and ferns as they parted before him. His little eyes fixed unblinkingly on the creature he stalked.

“Yola, look out!” Lothar shrieked in alarm. The bull broke into a trot. He covered the short distance to the prone boy before Yola was aware of the mortal danger descending upon him.

Yola had but a heartbeat to turn toward the sound before the full force of the bull’s charge descended upon him. The great spread of palmated antler pinned the struggling boy to the ground. The beast struck the center of Yola’s chest with a flailing front hoof, breaking the breastbone in two. A violent whoosh of breath blew from the boy’s mouth as the bull’s head crushed his chest and cut off his screams.

In another heartbeat, the bull scooped Yola from the ground in his antlers and slammed his body against the trunk of a tree. Repeatedly, he smashed the now lifeless body against the tree trunk until it was a bloody pulp.

Ivar and Lothar stood immobilized by the suddenness and ferocity of the attack, but only for a moment. Ivar screamed in fear and rage. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He nocked an arrow on his bowstring as he ran to the bull’s side. Without hesitation he drew the hunting arrow to its razor-sharp head and loosed it into the bull’s heaving ribcage from pointblank range as the beast worried the bundle of bloody rags that had been his friend.
***
To be continued with #4, 20 January 2012

09 January 2012

Blog Talk Radio interview of author J. A. Hunsinger

Listen to the Sylvia Dickey Smith interview of author J. A. Hunsinger on Blog Talk Radio when they talk about the Axe of Iron series of historical fiction novels and the premise behind Hunsinger's books on the Greenland Vikings.

06 January 2012

Confrontation, An Axe of Iron Novel - Serialized - Installment 2

They sailed up a wide river until the wind off the bay became too variable from the dampening effect of the forest to be of any further use. The three boys had taken turns at the steering oar as the hunting party progressed inland. Now, Ivar had the helm.

Gudbjartur pointed ahead to the mouth of a tributary stream that issued from a small lake partially hidden back in the forest. “Steer for that stream, Ivar. Beach the boat anywhere along the left bank. Lothar, you and Yola lower the sail just before the boat reaches the shore.”

The two boys craned forward to watch the shoreline, the tag end of the halyard clenched in their hands, ready to jerk it loose from the cleat and lower the sail. Lothar glanced anxiously at Halfdan, who watched them from his seat on the bow thwart. He smiled and nodded at him, but said nothing.

Ivar put the helm over and the boat headed into the shore.

“Now Yola,” Lothar hollered, as he jerked the halyard loose. The small sail plummeted down the mast as the boys lost their grip on the halyard, covering them as they lost their footing and fell in a heap when the boat ground to a halt on the stones of the stream bank.

“See, there is nothing to it.” Halfdan said, as he and Gudbjartur pulled the sail off the two struggling boys. “You dropped the sail at just the right time.”

Ivar, hands on hips and a smile on his face, stood at his place in the stern as he watched his brother and Yola regain their feet.

“What are you grinning at?” Lothar asked.

“I saw the whole thing,” Ivar said, his superior attitude coming to the fore. “That was a pretty funny way to lower the sail. You are supposed to lower it hand-over-hand, not just turn loose of the halyard.”

“We know that. It was heavier than we thought and the halyard slipped through our hands.”

The grinning Gudbjartur caught a wink from Halfdan as the two men, barely able to keep from laughing aloud, enjoyed the moment with their young charges.

“All right, boys. You all did well. Roll the sail up on the boom as we showed you, and secure the boat to a tree. Then we will go find a good place to hunt around yon lake,” Gudbjartur ordered, gesturing inland.

***

They walked in single file, with Halfdan and Gudbjartur in the lead, around the shoreline to the north shore of the closest of the several small lakes in the area. Moose tracks seemed to be everywhere. Well-used game trails naturally funneled animals to the shoreline of the lake the men selected for the hunt.

Gudbjartur briefed the boys on his plan. “There is no wind so the moose will not smell you. You all saw the deep game trails winding down here from the forest. The moose use these trails every evening when they leave their bed grounds to water and feed on bulrushes on the lake bottom. Halfdan and I will find hiding places for you that will allow us to drive the animals to you. If we spring the trap at the right moment the moose will come right by your positions when they run away from Halfdan and me.”

“How will we know when to shoot?” Lothar asked.

Ivar snorted at the question.

“That is a good question, Lothar.” Halfdan entered the conversation to show Ivar that questions were a part of learning. “Each of you knows your range limit for accurate shots. Your quarry is a big moose. Even the calves are big, as you all know. The target you are shooting at is an area in the chest that is as big around as your mother’s stew pot. About like so.” He held both hands out in a circle to demonstrate a diameter equal to the length of a man’s forearm. “The arrow must hit that target to kill him. If you hit him anywhere else, he may die, but he will run away and be lost to us because we probably will never find his carcass.”

“Try to wait until your target is quartering and heading away from where you are.” Gudbjartur demonstrated the proper angle with his hands. “If you get that angle, aim for the paunch, just back of the short ribs. There is no heavy bone there and all his vital organs are lying low in his chest cavity when he is on his feet. Your arrow will slice forward into his chest cavity, hitting a tub full of guts, the liver, at least one lung, and maybe the heart. It will be a killing shot.”

“Aye, that is the best shooting angle on any game we kill with an arrow. Another important thing to remember when you get an arrow into him and he runs away—let him go. Wait for Gudbj and me.” Halfdan looked at each of the boys. “Yola, why should you wait?”

Yola looked at his two friends and then back to Halfdan. “Because we should give him time to bleed to death.”

“That is right!” Halfdan exclaimed enthusiastically. “If the animal has not seen you he will not know what happened. Maybe the wound will only burn. He will feel secure because you have not scared him. As he weakens, he will lie down. Why do we want him to lie down, Ivar?”

“So he will bleed to death quietly rather than run away in a panic until he finally drops dead. We would probably lose him then. And the meat would not be as good if he was all heated up when he died.”

Halfdan smiled and nodded. He winked at Gudbjartur and stepped aside.

“Good, Ivar,” Gudbjartur said, looking from boy to boy. “Remember, we will all be focused only on animals coming to the lake from this game trail. There may be others but ignore them unless they are about to step on you.” The boys laughed. “You will see the moose before they get to the lake. They will be nervous. Their senses will be on full alert. Stay still and do not take a shot, no matter how tempting it is. Wait until they relax and Halfdan and I decide the time is right to drive them to you. You may get only one shot so take your time. Make your shots count. All it takes is one well-placed arrow and the moose is meat on the board.” He grinned at them. “All right, I think you all know what to do. Now, check your arrows and knives. Make certain they are sharp. You will have need of them. Are there any questions before we lay our trap?”

The boys shook their heads. They busied themselves giving each arrowhead a final swipe or two with their whetstones. All were understandably nervous.

***

A short time later, all three boys lay concealed in the underbrush well back from the game trail. The trap lay ready for the quarry.

The men separated and each walked to a position across the lake from each other and with the targeted game trail roughly centered. When they sprang the trap, each man would cover half the shoreline as they converged on the quarry, thereby ensuring the flushed animals would have to make their bid to escape right by the three hidden boys.

While he waited in concealment Gudbjartur cut a short piece of green willow shoot, chewed the end until it frayed and softened, and used it to scrub his teeth. For him it was a daily ritual. He watched the scene unfold much as he and Halfdan had told the boys it would.

***

To be continued 13 January 2012

03 January 2012

Confrontation, An Axe of Iron Novel - Chapter One Serialized

Halfdansfjord, Vinland
Late summer, AD 1008

Out of long habit, the Northman, Gudbjartur Einarsson, carefully examined his surroundings every morning. He climbed a ladder to the palisade parapet and circled the settlement looking out over the bay, the fen, and surrounding countryside. Alert for the slightest danger or anything that did not belong in his world, the daily ritual, and a wave from the two tower guards assured him that all was well. He turned back toward his longhouse, his immediate thoughts being the coming adventure for his sons, Ivar and Lothar, and their small friend Yola.

He entered the house to find his sons almost finished with their morning meal. “When you are done, go and get Yola. Yesterday, I spoke to his mother about the hunt. He will be ready to go,” Gudbjartur said.

Watching his sons run excitedly from the house, Gudbjartur shook his head at such exuberance on a full stomach. He rubbed his stomach at the thought of food, and smiled a greeting to his wife as she moved the kettle from the hearth tripod to the stone warming ledge.

She ladled the steaming fish chowder into a bowl and handed it to him. “They are really looking forward to this, Gudbj,” Ingerd said.

Gudbjartur sat down in his high seat and began to eat. “It is time. This is their rite of passage to manhood.” He noisily slurped the thick liquid from the bowl, leaving a few chunks of cod in the bottom, which he ate with gusto. Suddenly he stopped chewing, pulled a long rib bone from his mouth, and examined it ruefully. “I could have choked on this, Ingerd.”

She chuckled at him. “That is why we should chew our food instead of bolting it down in chunks. Honestly, you are as bad as the boys.”

Grinning at her, he got to his feet and placed his empty bowl and spoon with the other dirty utensils. “Thank you. The chowder was delicious.”

“It should be. We made it with butter and milk. You ate so fast I am surprised you could taste it.”

“I tasted it, all right. I am in a hurry. The boys are eager to get going.” He watched her for a moment. “They will be men soon, Ingerd, whether we want them to or not,” he said gently, mindful of her feelings on the subject.

She leaned against the wide shoulders of this man she loved so much, warm and content as he put an arm around her. She gazed up into his pale blue eyes. “I know. I know. But they seem so young.”

“They are young. Soon they will be men. You were only two years older than Ivar is now when you birthed him.”

“And well I know it. The birthing was very hard for me and that is why we have had no more children. Something came loose in me.”

“I know, Ingerd. I think that is why the gods sent us Lothar. He is our son, too, as if you birthed him.”

The boys rushed in with Yola in tow, effectively shattering the moment, much to Gudbjartur’s relief.

He gave Ingerd a final squeeze, released her, and gave his attention to the three boys. “I have told you what you can take with you, and I see you have your packs and weapons in order. The only food we will have is dried meat. We will use it if the hunt is unsuccessful.” His glance played over the three boys. A slight smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. Their barely checked exuberance, as they listened intently to him, caused a flush of pleasure through his chest. “Say goodbye to your mother, and we will be off.”

The best the boys could manage was a perfunctory peck on her cheek before they ran from the longhouse. Gudbjartur hugged and kissed Ingerd, examined her appreciatively at arm’s length, and then hugged and kissed her again. Then he picked up his gear and walked from the longhouse to begin the much-anticipated hunting expedition.

Ingerd watched him go. A heat rose in her. She smiled and hugged herself with pleasure. She began to clean up the mess from the morning meal, whistling softly as she worked.

***

As Gudbjartur walked into the settlement commons, he saw his chieftain, Halfdan Ingolfsson, talking to the two men tending the charcoal kiln. He joined them, not interrupting the conversation beyond a nodded greeting.

“It takes all day for the charcoal in the kiln to cool enough to shovel it out when we open it up in the morning,” Grimr said, glancing from Halfdan to Gudbjartur. “After we empty the kiln it takes a short time to fill it back up with wood and light the fire. We throw the wood in through the vent hole on top until the kiln is full. Then we light it at the bottom opening.” He gestured as he spoke. “After it catches fire we place the flat rock over the vent and roll another rock in front of the bottom opening. By dawn the next day we have a kiln full of charcoal.” The man grinned through the grime that covered his face.

“The woodcutters haul the dry wood in for us,” Barthur, his companion, said. “We would rather do this than cut wood, but I know we will be swapping jobs soon. As you told us, Gudbj, it keeps us from getting bored.”

Gudbjartur acknowledged him with a nod and spoke to Halfdan. “The boys are waiting for us.”

They took their leave of the kiln tenders, shouldered their packs and weapons, and headed for the landing beach to meet the boys.

“They gave me a report on the winter charcoal supply,” Halfdan said, as he and Gudbjartur strolled slowly along the log walkway toward the main gate. “The bins in each longhouse are almost full. Then they will pile the excess charcoal under the shed roof next to the kiln until they judge there is plenty for winter. I left that up to them. They know more about it than I do.”

“I spoke to them several days ago. Since they started using the new kiln their job is much easier. The charcoal is all made of dry birch wood. Birch will give us better heat than the pine we normally use,” Gudbjartur said as they walked through the gate and down the hill toward the landing beach.

***

Further conversation about the charcoal supply ended when the three boys saw the men and ran to meet them.

“Which boat are we taking?” Ivar asked breathlessly.

“This one.” Gudbjartur swung his pack aboard. “Your mother has already put a pack of dried meat aboard in case you boys do not kill us fresh meat.”

“We will not fail, Father,” Lothar said, a determined look on his thin face.

Gudbjartur could not remember the boy ever calling him father before. Taken aback, the big man gripped the boy’s shoulder in a rare display of affection. “I never thought you would, Lothar.” Gudbjartur glanced at the smiling Halfdan and turned away, unaccustomed to the feeling one word had brought to him. He carefully laid his bow, quiver of hunting arrows, and axe across the boat’s thwarts. “Load your gear, boys. We will launch the boat and get under way.”

The boys gathered their scattered gear and loaded it aboard. The two men, eagerly assisted by the chattering boys, pushed the boat’s bow off the beach and all clambered aboard.

***

Note: The next installment follows on Friday, 6 January 2012, and each Friday thereafter until completion of the Chapter One.