Chapter 2 - Aelska’s Saga
The next morning, Aelska and the beautiful little twin sisters were greatly relieved and still astonished that Ketel Flatnose had been able to heal Ivar’s head-wound and save his life with a strange mix of boiled tree-bark. Yet there remained a gnawing sadness that Margerda, who was usually called Marja, had been captured and taken away by dangerous scoundrels, who might already have plans to sell her as a slave. Ketel had already put some healing salve on Ivar’s wound. Ivar was up and eager to rescue his sister. While Aelska was preparing some breakfast, a gray squirrel approached Ketel, Flicka, and Barki, chattered for a couple of minutes and darted away into the forest. During breakfast, Aelska began to share her story.
Six moons ago Gort Blacktooth and about twenty followers, the grimiest, most unkempt, and most uncouth men ever collected aboard a single small sailing ship, entered the Romsdalfjord and Rauma Rover in hopes of pillaging the farms and small villages there and perhaps taking some children as slaves. They had been waiting patiently for Ragnar, Aelska’s father—who the men of the Romsdal area had elected to be their War Chief—to make one of his trading trips up the coast where he hoped to purchase lumber, metal, and leather. He departed with three ships and fifty men, leaving his foster-son and Aelska’s husband, Bjarni Rolfsson, with ten men to police the Romsdal settlements near the fjord and Rauma River and call out the men there if needed.
Gort Blacktooth and his men rowed their ship to a small village called Andalsnes where the Rauma River flows into the fjord. Gort’s men had been terrorizing Andalsnes only a few minutes when Bjarni arrived with just three men. Sigurd Magnusson gave the spear-point to two of Gort’s men before he was knocked to the ground. Sigurd would have been thrust through with Gort’s broadsword had not Bjarni’s shield blocked the blow. Then the swing of Bjarni’s axe felled another of the fiends. Seeing they were losing the battle and not far off a score of axe wielding Romsdal farmers were coming to reinforce Bjarni and his men, Gort and his men fled to their ship and pushed off from the shore. Not willing for the scoundrels to leave Andalsnes alive, Bjarni and his men ran to the shore and hurled their spears into the ship. One struck home and the felon tumbled into the fjord. But Gort, taking a bow, let go an arrow that struck Bjarni in the neck. So it was that Bjarni Rolfsson was slain by the evil Gort Blacktooth and died there on the shore in the arms of his brother, Trigg Rolfsson, and his friend, Sigurd Magnusson. Gort and his men fled the Romsdalfjord as fast as their oars could carry them, but they would return.
Three days before Ketel had discovered the plight of Aelska Ragnars-daughter, Gort Blacktooth and his men, now reinforced with a few more scoundrels to replace their losses, rowed into the Romsfjord under the cover of night. Gort had heard that Bjarni was dead and left a fine farm, a widow, and four children. He also reasoned that the foster-son and son-in-law of Ragnar Ivarsson must also have had some gold hidden on his farm. As before, he waited until he was certain that Ragnar’s warship had departed the fjord on some business. He feared Ragnar Ivarsson more than any man, but he had heard that Aelska was reputed to be one of the most beautiful women in Norway. Perhaps he would take a second wife, and the children would make excellent slaves for his wife, Grimhilda Svartslange, who was as mean-spirited a woman as ever lived.
It was night when Gort and his men came upon the farm that Bjarni Rolfsson and his wife had named Flatmark because most of the land was level and easy to work. Only Aelska and her children were there. She believed that her neighbors, including her brother-in-law, Trigg, and her husband’s best friend, Sigurd, could be called upon if help were needed. Both men would have given their lives to protect her or her children. She did not know that they were both at a Council Meeting in Andalsnes, called by the Law-giver, Dolf Helgisson. They were over twelve miles away and would not return before all the legal questions of the last six months had been settled. This was seldom less than a week.
But Aelska and her children were not without warning. As Gort’s men set foot in the clearing around the longhouse and farm buildings, the little donkey, Barki, let out such a loud braying that even dragons would have hesitated to set one foot on Flatmark. Gort’s men, who especially feared that trolls might be lurking in the darkness, were afraid to go further until after much pleading and bullying, Gort finally persuaded them it was only a donkey. By the time Gort’s men had begun to plunder the farm, Aelska and her children were hiding at the edge of the woods. But Margerda, who was usually called by the more familiar, “Marja,” had left a doll that her father had carved for her. She broke away from her mother and ran back to the longhouse—just at the time Gort was approaching. Cursing that he had missed most of the family, he grasped Marja by the hair and lifted her off the ground, while one of his companions placed a heavy iron chain around her neck. Gort meant to lead her around like an unwilling dog on a leash, but her screaming soon brought her brother Ivar running to the rescue and into the fight.
Stopping only an eye-blink to grab a pitchfork from the side of the longhouse, Ivar charged full speed directly into the fracas. He would have jammed the pitchfork right into the already one-eyed Gort’s face, but holding both Marja’s chain and his axe in his left hand, the burly scoundrel managed to block the blow with the axe and brought the broadsword held in his right hand straight down toward Ivar’s skull. But trying to fight off Ivar and hold Marja by her chain was too much for him, and he missed. Then with a frustrated back-handed swing, Gort’s sword connected to the side of Ivar’s head with a dull clang. But rather than slicing into Ivar’s skull, only the flat side of the blade hit Ivar just above his right ear, knocking him out cold and leaving a bloody wound, but not killing him. Gort, however, left him for dead.
With Marja’s screaming being added to Barki’s loud braying, Gort’s men again became fearful of trolls or of attracting an angry militia of axe-wielding neighboring farmers. They packed up as much food and booty as they could carry and fled back the way they had come, also taking five goats with them. Gort followed them, cursing and dragging Marja by her chain.
So it was that Ketel had followed Valda and Truda to find Aelska weeping and destitute three days later. But it was really the deep-minded Aelska who, in desperation, had sent Valda and Truda to find the troll named Ketel Flatnose, whose reputation for good deeds was being told by many people and creatures in the valley of the Rauma River.