13 May 2008

Free Land: Olaf's landings

From the Greenland of Eric who had been Red and now Three Lands, given to the peoples there and Lief given head status for his family that remained, Olaf who we call Navigator ensured that Eric's family was provisioned before getting from Lief those things that Eric had ordered for Olaf. Lief understood that new lands require the starting seed and animals, and would not deny Eric his wealth after given portion of it to prosper for the family.

With that Olaf went to Iceland and met with the villages there to haggle and wheedle and bargain and start the tale of Free Land in old lands, where man and family were welcome so long as each did their share to support them all. The discord amongst the families that caused Eric to leave his second home was still beneath the surface of the stormy seas, and there was discontent that brewed to reflect the far-off problems of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The story of a land free of those troubled and troublesome Kings brought some interest, as well as the tales of forest grown straight, tall and deep.

From his first trade post Olaf sought those who had brought the Iceland horses, along with other cattle, to be assured, and no small part of Eric's wealth went to same. More puzzling were the other things that Olaf bought from empty barrels to full forge hearth: truly the needs of Free Land were apparent and the spending by Olaf bespoke of that and yet of assurances of future, too. Yet, in each, the story of Eric who had been Red and now of Three Lands spoke truly - he had taken stand against all intimidation and started anew for well and true.

To Eire went Olaf next, on minor trades and story telling, giving his crews time ashore to ensure that lesser needs would be seen to later in the voyage. Olaf said he would not Race the Spring and would let Things pass if need be to make the certain route that he wanted in full. As with Iceland it was three landfalls in the land of Eire and Celts, who lived uneasily seeing the eastern Vikings bringing troubles west. With Olaf they knew the Navigator had set a course by determination in his eye, even though he would tell none what that was.

On to England and those lands being harried by Sweyn Forkbeard searching for conquest of them, although he had yet to begin in earnest. These English had no over love of Vikings, even when some towns had even prospered from Viking trade and many had descended from them. Still Olaf went northways after first landfall in western Dalriada and then to Alba or Scotland as it would be called and then down from north to make trade at York, and the bustling town welcomed this well known traveler, navigator and trader. While that be England proper, the Viking heritage was strong and the stories spread of the Free Land and Eric and the natives who were not intimidating but skilled huntsmen one and all. As all knew a full Frankish Knight could fall easy prey in hunter's woods to those with bare knife and short bow.

There it was that Olaf spent time with Uhtred, Earl of York in Northumbria. That was the time when the Danes and allies made war with Ethelred II of Own Counsel, who waged poor defense and impoverished his people paying Danegeld even then. Uhtred was not a happy man seeing Thored's daughter married to one so incapable as Ethelred, who could not pick nor choose nor defend, but only impoverish and complain. With the power of King Sweyn on the rise as was that by Olaf Tryggvason and Thorkell the Tall, Uhtred looked at his prosperous city and enclave threatened at every turn by fighting, ransom and taxes for Danegeld.

It was then that the proposition came to ensure Uhtred's line, family and those willing to risk uncertain building with certain conflict. There would be no ease, of that there could be certainty, by the trail given by Olaf was certain and had ending that was good and free of this conflict. Uhtred understood that no one was to be impressed, no man given to obeisance to any credo save hearth, home and community. He had heard the first tales of Eric's leaving and now his success and need for support would come from that place called York. Such decision did not seem over much when made, but it would change Kingdoms long after it was sealed.

From there it was to Sweyn Forkbeard in Denmark and first of the three leaders of that time. The Thing had ended but many of the royal supporters of Sweyn had stayed on with him to cast their gleaming eye westward to England and plan yet another series of harrying raids. It was at that conclave that Olaf came to be heard by Sweyn in his Great Hall with those royal followers that the decision of the Two Packages would be given. Two large sacks were placed in front of Sweyn for all to see.

Sweyn had asked - 'Is this tribute from the Red Handed one?'

Olaf gave reply - 'No King Sweyn, this is from Eric Three Land and casting fates with the Norns.'

Taken aback Sweyn narrowed eyes - 'Threat, then? From one so far away?'

Olaf smiled - 'No King, fates are held in here: yours, mine, Kingdoms. From that I give you direct from Eric of Three Lands.'

Sweyn cocked his head to look at the sacks - 'Fates, you say? Two sacks hold such fates to be decided?'

'Has it never been that way, King Sweyn? Where the course of decisions made early on direct what you do for years and years onwards and even beyond your life?'

The royals around him nodded and smiled, as did King Sweyn, for had his own rebellious youth and decisions then not have him now looking outwards to England?

'Hard truth has he learned this one once Red now of Three Lands. Cast me Viking fates, Olaf, so that those here will know what is to be decided.'

Olaf opened the first sack, and from it tumbled short planks of wood, pelt of strange animal, small cask of salted fish, and lump of bog iron.

'Here, King Sweyn, is the lumber of ships, the huntsmen's trappings, the fisherman's life and the means to protect them.'

'Most are unworked, are they not? Of no use to me.'

'You are true, King Sweyn, yet Three Lands is far, far longer to go than England or Iceland or Greenland, twice that trek to Greenland gets you there.'

King Sweyn furrowed his brow, then light behind the eyes took hold. 'You have been to York, have you not?'

'I have, King Sweyn, and talked with Uhtred there. Although these were not presented to him as Earl, he understands his duty to his people in giving route out from bloodshed.'

A murmur from the royals there around King Sweyn Forkbeard, and slanting glances to them and slight nods.

'And you have been to Alba now Scotland and Dalriada, too?'

'Oh, yes, King Sweyn, and three ports in Eire ways and three ports in Iceland before that. Those Picts and Celts of Gaelic ways and Scots all see what is coming under Ethelred Own Counsel who makes poor counsel unto himself.'

The murmurs stirred, heads now nodding, for what was being offered in this was plain to them all, and bespoke of doom to Ethelred.

'What is in the second sack, Olaf, for it is clear that fates are here, indeed.'

'That is the opposite sack which you had best open to understand, King Sweyn.'

Impulsive, King Sweyn stood and took knife to sack and found tied skin beneath it.

'What's this?'

'From Erik who you once called Red, now of Three Lands. Made for you if you decide against the first sack, but yours to keep in the days to come no matter what the decision is.'

Carefully King Sweyn opened the the thick tied skin and it opened out to contents to be way of: the skin itself was worked Bear Skin into Shirt, within that fur contents was a banner of white with dead raven stabbed through affixed to it.

'Ah, yes, I should have realized, Olaf. Bear Shirt, Raven Banner, Knife.'

'Eric said to me and now I give to you: If you come with sword best wear the shirt to Free Land, but they are handy in other lands just the same; the Bear Shirt community is welcome in community if they recognize it.'

'I am to be plagued by Erics, obviously,' King Sweyn said as he lifted the Bear Shirt,' yet this one speaks like King, is that his claim?'

'No, King Sweyn, Free Land wants no King, has no King, seeks no King and will be taxed by no King.'

King Sweyn shuddered and lowered the Bear Shirt to look at Olaf, 'Then what does Free Land seek?'

'Vikings in community no matter what their name, what their following, what their religion. All that earn their own way for themselves under Thing, as there will be nothing higher in Free Land. Never will it be a threat unless threatened, but it will be a boon to all that come with trade and community in mind. That is the Way of Viking, and fighting only when King deems or trade is spurned and fought, isn't it, King Sweyn?'

Smiling and lifting the shirt once more, 'Plagued by Erics, I am. But more true he cannot speak, that Eric of Three Lands. What do you think Ethelred would make of it and the banner?'

Olaf laughed and deeply as did many royals who saw the light dawning, 'I am sure that you can leave York to escape by for those seeking to not answer that question, save Ethelred who really must face it some day. He will have no refuge there nor in Scotland once Alba nor in the Pictish islands nor in Eire way, nor in Iceland nor in Greenland and only as common man in Free Land, without pretenses.'

King Sweyn chuckled, and turned the shirt to wear it, 'Good fit, though I cannot say I fight for that, but many a Viking who do will understand,' and deep laughter and nodding went through the hall and the cry went up.

'To Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark!'

From there the meeting went to revelry, from which Olaf took part but scantly, to show community and then left early to see to his ships and men. The dawn light saw those ships going on to deliver fates onwards and the mist blowing from the water spoke of the breath of Jörmungandr and the ever changing sea. Onwards went Olaf, as King Sweyn plotted what he had already started and now saw to it to find the best way to trap a King who had no escape. To Norway and Olaf Tryggvason who was seeking ways to establish himself and desperately looking to appease King Sweyn.

Olaf's plight was dear and it was his driving of new religion that had reached as far out as Greenland which had triggered Eric to move to Free Land. In rejecting the primacy of Danish throne, he brought threat to Denmark, and had angered Eiríkr Hákonarson, previously from Northumbria, and forced into Swedish exile because of Olaf Tryggvason's rise. Olaf I of Norway knew full well that Eric and Sweyn plotted against him, as well as getting others to join their cause, and his own work to try and secure Northumbria had not gone as he had expected.

As the Thing had long passed in Norway, too, so did Olaf of Free Land meet with King Olaf of Norway in his Great Hall audience. He, too, would get fates to decide on that mid-spring morning from across the sea by a man he barely knew. Olaf the Navigator placed down the sacks, and this time opened the second one first.

'King Olaf, for bringing strife to Eric of Three Lands who was once the Red he sends you this greeting, the Bear Shirt, the Knife and Raven Banner. He has said to me and now I say to you for him: You have given strife in my home and former colony, you have brought ill-wind to me, you have not brought dignity to your beliefs that you impress upon others in any way you can; if you look westward to Free Land, best you come with these as those outlooks will get no hearing without them.'

'Eric the Red sends me that? How dare he?'

Olaf, Navigator, said plainly to those few in the hall, 'He dares because you have, King Olaf, and have not done well by your actions nor your words. Your blindness leads you to these things, who profess for the Prince of Peace, so know that Peace is gained by hard work and not by any other means. You do not do the hard work, and so you now must come in other means than Peace to profess those beliefs. That, too, is directly from Eric, although I have made it civil.'

Those words were stunning to King Olaf, 'I do no hard work? I fight to secure my Kingdom!'

'King Olaf, I have come directly from King Sweyn and left delivering two packages to him that I do to you. From those messages delivered I heard my own ears acclaim for King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark. I have heard in my travels of your work to marry his sister, and can say that Eric of Norway and King Sweyn of Denmark have no love of you nor see legitimacy in your marrying Sweyn's sister. You are in dire peril that has brought you this sack from he who was once Red and now of Three Lands.'

'You come directly from King Sweyn? To do his bidding?'

'I do no King's bidding any more, King Olaf, Free Land has no King, wants no King, seeks no King and will be ruled only by the Thing. I placed my lot with Eric and am now of Three Land and represent him for this year of this Thing in Free Land. I seek safety for my new home land and community, King Olaf of Norway.'

'You bring threats from the Bloody Handed One!'

'No, King Olaf, I bring his reply to what you have done and sought to do. To Eric and some few of us, you have ignored the wisdom of the Danish way to let each choose for hmself, as even Sweyn, son of the Bluetooth, has done. In zeal you have lost wisdom and gained enemies. In placing good sense ahead of good works, you find a smaller circle around you that is less safe day on day. I do not bring threats, I bring consequences, King Olaf and warning not to try this any more in the Free Land.'

'These are not my fates to decide! They are that of the One above All.'

'As you say, King Olaf, as you say. Would you perhaps be interested in the other sack to open?'

King Olaf sat forward and stared at Olaf, 'More threats, Navigator?'

Olaf of Free Land smiled, 'Only you can decide that, King Olaf, but I will say that King Sweyn understood it and took it to heart.'

Swiftly King Olaf stepped and opened the sack of wood and pelt, cask and lump of bog iron. 'No tribute?!'

Olaf of Free Land chuckled, 'Nor any with King Sweyn, Olaf. Here is the lumber of ships, the huntsmen's trappings, the fisherman's life and the means to protect them. They are hard work to make to their proper ends, King Olaf. This is the way of Free Land: hard work to make peace and impress upon no one your beliefs. It is, as Eric has said, the way of wisdom, if you can see it, King Olaf.'

'It is an insult!'

Olaf the Navigator shrugged, 'Only to those who do not see the work to be done, King Olaf. We will help any that are willing to do that work. Those that do not should be with the first bundle and understand their end.'

King Olaf furrowed his brow, 'I can take it that there will be no help for me from Free Land, then?' he said with snideness.

'That is true, King Olaf, nor in any place upon my path from there to you.'

King Olaf in his great hall heard silence and squinted hard eyes at the Navigator. 'Not Greenland, then, and of course not Denmark...'

'Nor Eire way, Olaf. Nor Picts. Nor Scots in Alba now Scotland. Nor Northumbria. You are stuck with the one who takes his own counsel only, and that unwisely as you have guessed.'

King Olaf closed his eyes and whispered, 'All against me?'

'No, Olaf, they are not for you. You will not get help along that way as you are. This path you take is that of Peril, King Olaf, that is the message Erik of Three Lands gives to me to give to you. Stop your ways, amend your views, make peace without marriage *first* and those paths become open to you.'

King Olaf's face hardened, 'I will not give up the task the Lord gave me, Olaf Navigator. It must be done.'

Olaf of Three Lands closed his eyes and then opened them slowly, 'King Olaf of Norway, follow the way of the Danes and you will have other opening. Show the goodness of the second bundle and you will have your way without finding the first handed to you. I can no more plainly say it than that. Eric of Three Lands is only a threat because your ways made him so to you, if you choose other ways the threat will end and you can *still* have your say as King. That is wisdom as Eric sees it and as I see it, King Olaf.'

'You are wrong! My people will be saved by me!'

Olaf the Navigator slowly shook his head, 'You speak your own doom, King Olaf of Norway'.

'So be it! I am Viking!'

Pursing his lips, the Navigator said, 'It is as you say, though there are many that are saying that trading in souls is not the work of Kings.'

'You accuse me...???'

'No, King Olaf, your works speak for you.'

Near screaming, King Olaf said, 'But I do the work of good!'

'And have gotten the sack of Bear Shirt first while King Sweyn go the sack of wood and hard work first. That is the difference between you and him.'

King Olaf sat back. 'What? It is not that simple...?'

'I will take my leave of you, King Olaf. To answer that last, look to your retinue, your royal followers. When I left King Sweyn they were proclaiming him King of Denmark as he understood the bundles. Why are yours not doing the same with you after the exact, same bundles?'

'Leave... leave I say, I will marry Sweyn's sister and that will be the end of it.'

'My thanks, King Olaf. You are always welcome in Free Land if you are willing to do hard work and give each man his leave.'

With that Olaf the Navigator left, knowing that he had now given one man a hard but good future and another a hard and bad one. To the third would be Olof of Sweden and Eric of Norway, who had taken refuge there to return to his native land.

They were both in the Swedish Hall amongst the Oaks that were now free of their past. Into that Great Hall came Olaf Navigator and a cheer went up!

'Hail Olaf of Free Land! Hail Eric of Free Land!'

Olaf stopped at the entrance dumbfounded. 'What?' he said near silently.

The flagons raised by nobles amongst their kin and children, this was not the scene he was expecting nor anything like it. Eric had warned him to be prepared, but nothing prepared him for this.

King Olof raised his voice, 'Come Olaf of Free Land, Navigator of renowned, I hear my fates are to be cast by two sacks as has been done with Sweyn and Olaf of Norway, poor wretch he. Come! I fear no fates as I have made them well.'

Olaf of Free Land hoisted his sacks anew and strode firmly into the bustling hall, 'I expected the Thing to be over when I arrived!'

'Never,' said Olof King of Sweden, 'King Sweyn's swiftest boats were sent, one to follow you one directly to me, and once the first arrived I asked the Lawgiver to extend the Thing and he was happy to, Our Elder of Stockholm was! And the second boat,well, that was cause for celebration although they gave us only scant hours to prepare as your ship is fast and well run and damned light these days.'

'I had expected to want to get it over and done with after delivering the sacks to you, King Olof. As Eric had explained this was going to touch off something brewing here amongst three Kings and Eric of Norway would be in the fray.'

Then King Olof motioned over to the other man, who stood, 'This is Eric of Norway, hopefully with the way things are running, soon to be King, although that battle has yet to be fought, but it will be fought soon, very soon, weeks if not days.'

'Hail to you, Olaf of Free Land and well met! Let me set your bundles down before the King of Sweden so we can have a proper casting of fates by them, shall we?' Eric of Norway strode forward to take the bundles by one hand and shake the Navigators with other. 'Ah, fates so weighty to you, are they not, Olaf?'

'Far too true and half again and again, Eric of Norway. Eric in Free Lands told me that after the lightness of handing Lief his heirlooms and what went with them that this would be something I would not enjoy over much. I believe that he misled me somewhat!'

'Aye, and more than somewhat, I wager,' said the King, watching the sacks placed before him whilst a chair and flagon were brought to the Navigator, 'Sit, really I do beg of you, no real formality save for the Lawgiver to oversee this and our families to watch. You have no fears in my Lands, Olaf of Free Land, and any who have had problems with the Law here are absolved of such from Free Land now and forever. New problems we can deal with as they arrive, but the past is over now.'

Olaf the Navigator drank deeply. 'Good mead! I've missed that, the real honey mead aged and all, just the new stuff along with ales and such its been for years. And to you, King Olof of Sweden and to the Lawgiver of this Thing from Stockholm, my indebtedness to you and all who have had problems in past with you in Free Land, you have lifted a burden from them.'

As Eric sat down, 'Fair is fair, really, you have shifted one that we can now lift from ourselves. Olaf of Norway really is a bit headstrong and is forcing the issue of marriage. Really, we thought that nothing would change his plodding stupidity to get his ass hoisted out of Norway to do something. Yet, Lo! Olaf of Free Land representing Eric of Three Lands has done so!' The laughter in the hall was deep and effusive, as the problem had been vexing for some time.

The monarch rose to look at the table with the two sacks on it, 'Ah, now we come to the delightful fates! Eric had sent you, Navigator, on a mission and the actual simplicity of it has been something that I am actually fascinated in. Eric and you, had this pretty well planned out, did you not? These two fates, as you so-call them, can be presented in many ways and yet their very basic parts are what they represent. I would wager that it was you, fine Navigator, who really needed to decide the flesh upon the bones for these simple things.'

Olaf nodded, 'I did at that King of the Swedes, for I could not be sure what the reception in each land would be to this. There is, however, unrest that Eric had remarked at before leaving for Three Lands more and I had known how deep it was across the Islands and Northlands. Even for the strange differences across these lands we have same outlook towards ourselves, which is why for all Vikings do we are remembered for ferocity and forgotten in trade-depth. In little Greenland with no real trade to speak of, Eric saw an end and no beginning, so many things came to make him move anew.'

'So true, that is,' said Eric of Norway, 'looking even at our homelands and even the forests of England, I know that we will soon not easily hold coasts without the strength of trading further inland. That is why Jorvik, now York, is so important, and why Olaf throwing me over in my line so deadly. We will have a hard time to recover from his works as we lose trade and ferocity for it.'

King Olof looked between the two and smiled, 'Which brings me back to the decision. Which one were you to present to me, Olaf Navigator of Free Land? Was it the trade or the strife for me to see first and be swayed by? That is a most clever trick, by-the-by, and wish I had thought of similar at other times!'

The Navigator, indulging in short repast took a moment to answer, then smiled and looked up, 'Me to decide? But that Eric of Three Lands told me to leave up to you! He said you would know the answer at no prodding from me. No need to offer England to Sweyn, just leaving York aside in his alliance which he was already planning, I added little save to put a cork on the Self Counsel King, that would give a refuge to exhausted folk unable to pay Danegeld. Nor the simple part of letting King Olaf of Norway know that a now distant Lawgiver of Free Land had held him to account for the troubles he causes across all these lands. And if there was some urge to action he had decided upon but not enacted, well, he had already decided it, hadn't he? So no, Swede King, that is not for me to present simple things to you as you already know them.'

'Well said, Navigator! For me then, let me heft each sack.' he lifted one, then the other, then back to the first, 'Ah, this one it is the riches of Kings and people, the foundation of which I would be bereft of all other things and my people impoverished. I would be unwise to pass that up, would I not, Lawgiver?'

'Your Majesty, that is so, and your people hard pressed to support you if you did.'

With a deft twist the sack of lumber, ore, fish cask and pelt opened.

'Ah! Hard work it is, then! That is to be the lot of myself and family and my land, hard work to support ourselves, but with distant lands to help by what they can give us.' King Olof smiled and bowed his head and shook it, giving a deep sigh, 'Will no one save me from rich tedium?' Laughter deep and long rippled through the hall, for Swedes know that of hard work comes good families and deep ties to them no matter where they roam.

'But you have given me two sacks, Navigator! Let me hold this one up again.' With that, he did so and furrowed his brow and closed one eye to gaze at it. 'This is what I must do to protect that hard work. I do not get that chore alone, either, do I, Lawgiver?'

'No, Your Majesty, that is not yours alone as your people support you to protect them and their means of livelihood.'

Again the twist of the sack and the Bear Shirt, Raven Banner and Knife fell out. 'As King it is not my place for the Bear Shirt, so that must be for the Lawgiver to hand out. Come Lawgiver, your task is to find those who want this to protect their homes.'

Stepping forward the Lawgiver took the Bear Shirt from his King, 'Thank you, Your Majesty, I can find the ready defenders who will wear this.'

'So good of you, Lawgiver. Now the Knife, well, I have many of course, but it is the tool and weapon both and also belongs to you, Lawgiver, to find for our people.'

'Thank you, Your Majesty, I can find those in trade who need of it and who will raise it to defend themselves when need comes.'

'The Raven Banner, that is for me, I am afraid. We do not use it here but understand it deeply. That must go with the Banners in the Hall here, for ready use if needs be, but kept safe for only those most pressing times. I will have it put up on the far end of the Hall from me, so that it reminds me to choose wisely so it is never taken down for use.'

A cheer arose from the Hall and the hails to the King were heard over and over.

'Now, Olaf Navigator, I bid you and your men welcome to my Lands and to stay in my home. Unfortunately Eric and I will have a long campaign season with King Sweyn as we have Norway to rescue, York to secure and Ethelred to harry. I suggest at least a three or four day stay before heading back towards Free Land, and I will think you will find some few merchants and others wanting your guidance to lead them there, too. It seems a life in new land with King's Pardon and Lawgiver's Amnesty is quite enticing to those who have caused some problems here. Far better to let that off in hard work than trouble to their home and kin.'

Olaf nodded and smiled, 'As you say, King Olof of Swedenland, as you say. There will be a stop or two along the way, but nothing that Vikings cannot handle. A week and I will be gone.'

And so ends Olaf's landings, amongst many lands troubled by problems near and far.

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