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Warriorsby George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
The King of Norway
Conn Corbansson had fought for Sweyn Tjugas when Sweyn was just an outlaw rebelling against his father, King Harald Bluetooth, and the prince had promised him a war with En gland when he became King of Denmark. Now that Sweyn actually wore the crown, he had let the En glish king buy his peace with a ship full of silver. Conn took this very ill.
“England is the greatest prize. You swore this to me.”
Sweyn pulled furiously at his long forked mustaches. His eyes glittered. “I have not forgotten. And the time will come. Meanwhile, there is Hakon the Jarl, up in Norway. I cannot turn my back on him.”
“So you called in the Jomsvikings instead of .ghting him yourself,” Conn said. “I see being King has made you womanish as well as pursefond.”
He turned on his heel before Sweyn could speak, and walked off down the boardwalk toward the Kings great hall. His cousin Raef, who went everywhere with him, followed at his side. Sweyn bellowed after them, but neither of them paid heed.
Conn said, “How can I believe anything he says ever again?”
Raef said, “Who would you rather .ght for?”
“I dont know,” Conn said. “But I will .nd out.”
That night in his great hall at Helsingor, Sweyn had a feasting, and there came many of his own hirdmen, including Conn and Raef, but also the chiefs of the Jomsvikings, Sigvaldi Haraldsson and Bui the Stout. Raef sat down at the low table, since with Conn he was now on the Kings sour side.
Conn sat beside him, his black curly hair and beard a wild mane around his head. His gaze went continually to the Jomsvikings at the table across the way. Raef knew his curiosity; they had heard much of the great company of the Jomsvikings, of their fortress in the east, and their skill at war, which they gave to whoever would pay them enough. They werent actually supposed to have chiefs, but to hold all in common as free men, and Raef wondered if Sigvaldi here and the barrel- shaped Bui were messengers more than chiefs. They wore no fancy clothes, such as Sweyns red coats of silk and fur, and their beards and hair hung shaggy and long. Sigvaldi was a big man, square shouldered, with curling yellow hair that .owed into his beard.
Beside him, Conn said, “I like their looks. They are hard men, and proud.”
Raef said nothing, being slower to judgment. Across the way, Sigvaldi had seen Conn watching, indeed, and lifted a cup to him, and Conn drank with him. It was the strong beer, thick as bear piss, and the slaves were carrying around ewers of it to re.ll any cup that went even half- empty. Raef reached out and turned his empty cup upside down.
When they were .nished with the meat and settling in to drink, Sweyn stood up and lifted his cup, and called on Thor and Odin and gave honor to them. The men all shouted and drank, but Sweyn was not .nished.
“In their honor also, its our Danish custom to offer vows, which are most sacred now” He held out his cup to be .lled again. “And here in the names of those most high, I swear one day to make myself King of En gland!”
The men all through the hall gave up a roar of excitement; across the .eld of waving arms and cheering faces, Raef saw Sweyn turn and glare at Conn. “Who else offers such a vow as this?”
The uproar faded a moment, and Sigvaldi lurched to his feet. “When the war for En gland comes, let it be, but we are here for the sake of Hakon the Jarl, in Norway, who is an oathbreaker and a turncoat.”
Voices rose, calling Hakon the Jarl every sort of evil thing, traitor and thief and liar. And the slaves went around and .lled the cups. Steeped in drink, red- faced Sigvaldi held his cup high so that all would look. When the hall was hushed, he shouted, “Therefore I vow here before the high gods to lead the Jomsvikings against Hakon, wherever he hides! And I will not give up until he is beaten.”
There was a great yell from all there, and they drank. The hall was crowded with men now, those sitting at the tables, many of them Jomsvikings, and many others standing behind them who were Sweyns house carls and crews.
“A mighty vow,” Sweyn called. “An honor to the gods Hakon has betrayed. The rest of youwill you follow your chief in this?” His eyes shot an oblique glance at Conn, down at the lower table. “Which of you will join the Jomsvikings?”
At this, Dane and Jomsviking alike began shouting out oaths and vows against Hakon, while the slaves with the jugs plied their work.
Then Conn rose.
Raef held his breath, alarmed at this, and around the hall, the other men hushed.
Conn held out his cup.
“I swear I will sail with you, Sigvaldi, and call out Hakon face- to- face, and not come back until I am the King of Norway.” He raised his cup toward Sweyn and tilted it to his mouth.
There was a brief hush at this, as everybody saw it was an insult, or a challenge, but then they erupted again in another great roaring and stamping all through the hall, and more outpourings of vows. Raef, who had touched nothing since the .rst cup, marked that up there at the high seat, Sweyns glinting eyes were .xed on Conn and his mouth wound tight with rage. Raef thought they had all probably gotten more than they wished for in this oath- taking at Helsingor.
The next morning Conn woke, sprawled on his bench in the hall, and went out into the yard to piss. His head pounded and his mouth tasted evil. He could not remember much of the night before. When he turned away from the fence, Sigvaldi the Jomsviking chief was walking up to him, beaming all across his face.
“Well,” he boomed out, “maybe we promised some mighty doings, last night, with those vows, hah? But Im glad youre with us, boy. Well see if youll make a Jomsviking.” He put out his hand to Conn, who shook it, having nothing else to do. Sigvaldi went on, “Meet at the Limsfjord at the full moon, and well go raiding in Norway, and draw Hakon to us. Then well .nd out how well you .ght.”
He tramped away across the yard, where more of the Jomsvikings were coming out into the sun. Raef stood by the door into the hall.
Conn went over by him.
“What did I swear to?”
His cousins long homely face was expressionless. “You said you would sail with them and challenge Hakon the Jarl face- to- face, and not return to Denmark until you were King of Norway.”
Conn gave a yelp, amazed, and said, “What a fool I am in beer! Thats something great to do, though, isnt it.”
Raef said, “Id say that.”
“Well, then,” Conn said, “lets get started.”
So they sailed north to raid in Norway, around the Vik, where the riches were. Sometimes the whole .eet raided a village together, and sometimes they went out in parties and attacked farmsteads along the fjord, driving the people out and then ransacking their holdings. What ever anybody found of gold went into a great chest, which Bui the Stout guarded like a dragon. All else they ate or drank, or packed off to the Jomsberg. Several ships went heavy- laden to the Jomsberg, but there was no sign of Hakon the Jarl.
They turned north, following the passageways between the islands and the coast, raiding as they went. Every day the sun stayed longer in the sky, and the nights barely darkened enough to let a man sleep an hour. Around them, above thin green seaside meadows, the land rose in curtai
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