Chapter 3 - Of Gort Blacktooth and Grimhilda Svartslange
Skrogger, the little fox, was gone about one day. When he came back, he was excited and obviously anxious to get Ketel’s attention. After about an hour’s consultation between fox and troll, ending with a long foxly howl, Ketel told Aelska that he would take Ivar, the little horse, Flicka, and Skrogger to rescue Marja. Presently, another fox named Raevi came and seemed to confer with Skrogger, with him was the gray squirrel, named Farear. Ketel then sang a little song and two enormous reindeer came out of the forest. A little while later, two huge gray wolves joined them. These would not normally have been welcome company to a young mother and her two youngest children about to be left on the farm alone with only a donkey—although a very handy donkey for warning people of danger. By now Aelska was a little better able to understand some of Ketel’s gruff speech. She was reassured that the two wolves and two reindeer would guard them like their own children, and that other animals would soon be bringing them food. The names of the wolves were Visatus and Rokeus. The reindeer were called. Ukkonen and Saalman, and Ketel told Aelska that they were as strong as the white bear and as swift as the eagle. The width of their antlers was greater than the length of a sword. Ketel also told her that he expected Sigurd Magnusson and Trigg Rolfsson to come within three days with their wives and other neighbors to help them.
The little fox, Skrogger, led the way as Ivar and Ketel mounted Flicka and went to rescue Marja, who by now was being introduced to Gort Blacktooth’s wife, Grimhilda Svartslange.
Of Gort Blacktooth
No one knows for sure where Gort Blacktooth was born or raised or who his parents were. Some say he came from an island called Ryg in the Baltic Sea. People tell that even as a child he was a famous liar and told people lies even when there was no profit in it, but just for sport and meanness. Sometime after he was about 30, he came to Rogaland in southern Norway. There he got into an argument about a silver amulet with a man named Blek from Sweden, and a few days later Blek was found dead, and the silver amulet was missing. But there were no witnesses. The men in the village of Jaeren brought Gort before the Law-giver for trial. But since there were no witnesses to the murder, he could not be executed but was banished from Rogaland.
Gort was a big, burly man with one blue eye and one white eye that had been blinded by the swing of a broadsword. Some say he lost his eye, when he ventured down to plunder a small village on the Randersfjord in Jutland, where he was roughly handled by the Danes there and barely escaped with his life. He was called “Blacktooth” because all of his teeth were stained black, but nobody knows how they got that way. Some say it was from chewing whale blubber. Others say that it was because of the black mead-drink that his wife made. His wife, Grimhilda, was his equal in every sort of lying and wickedness. She was very pale and rarely smiled except to enjoy some poor creature’s pain. She was often called “Svartslange,” meaning “black snake.”
Skrogger and Raevi had found it easy to track Gort Blacktooth and his crew, their prisoner Marja, and the goats along the twelve miles to where Gort and his band of filthy seamen had left their ship. All the way they pulled and sometimes dragged their young prisoner by a chain. Marja was too exhausted to resist much now and bruised and cut not only by the dragging and pulling on her chain but from stumbling into tree branches as Gort and his men tried to stay at least in the edge of the forest to avoid being seen from the Romsdalfjord. They did not leave a difficult trail to follow. The Rolfsson farm’s donkey, Barki, had nearly scared them out of their wits with his loud braying. They also knew that they were not far from areas known to be thick with trolls, especially on dark nights. Every rustled leaf and snapping branch put a little more fear and heavy breathing in their steps. Every sound of fox or owl inflamed their imaginations with unspeakable dread. By the time they reached their ship, they were sweating with fear. They were breathing heavily and near a state of panic. Along their trail they had dropped most of what they had stolen from the Rolfsson farm.
Their ship was tied in a small inlet just a few miles southwest of Andalsnes, but it could not be seen from there or easily noticed from the fjord, especially at night. Although she was glad at last for a rest, a sense despair arose in Marja. Boarding this ship with its wretched crew, she might never see her family again, and her future, if any, might be grim.
It was not a large ship, but it was fashioned in typical Norse design. There was little difference from front to rear of the ship. Both ends rose high out of the water. Marja could see that it had only eight oar stations on each side, and the mast, yardarm, and sail had been taken down and were lying along the length of the ship. Its total length was barely half the length of her grandfather’s three warships although it seemed almost as wide. Some comfort came to her as she thought how pathetic this boat seemed compared to her grandfather’s warships, which boasted 32 oars and as many brightly painted shields protecting each rowing station. Their prows were adorned with exquisitely carved dragonheads. But her grandfather’s ships were on the other side of the Romsdalfjord and unaware of Gort’s return.
Gort’s men were too exhausted to row very far, so they were forced to stay until the next evening. They tied Marja to the pedestal that held the mast when under the power of sail, but they erected a small tent over her and gave her food, water, and a bucket for privacy.
Navigation would be more treacherous in the dark, but they did not want to risk being spotted by her grandfather’s ships or the men of Andalsnes as they rowed west along the southern shore of the Romsdalfjord.
It was sixteen miles of hard rowing until they reached a steep-sided inlet near the mouth of the fjord. It was called Brattvik by the fishermen there. Gort had hoped to replenish his water and food supplies, get a little rest, and perhaps indulge in a bit of profitable plundering, but unfortunately for him and his crew, the natives of the area smelled trouble. When Gort’s ship turned into the inlet, a few arrows rained down on them from the steep sides. As they rowed, the arrows became thicker. Then they spotted the gleam of sharpened battle-axes among the trees near several landing places. They got their shields over their heads, but one man was hit in the thigh, and another lost part of an ear to an arrow that narrowly missed his head. Meanwhile Marja stayed as close to the pedestal as possible and held her bucket over her head. The men reversed their rowing and headed out of the Romsdalfjord. They steered south for several miles and then eastward into another large fjord. There they found a small, shallow bay suitable for resting and foraging for a few supplies.
The next day they turned south into a still larger fjord. Shortly after passing a large sandy beach on their right, they turned eastward into the Norddalsfjord, where there was a small bay on their left hidden by high rocks and vegetation. There was a small village of mostly temporary shelters there called Linge. The people there knew Gort Blacktooth and his men and welcomed them back. Others were held captive there. Marja would soon be meeting Grimhilda Svartslange, and a feeling of foreboding swept over her.
As Gort and his men debarked with their prisoner, Stepp, a lantern-jawed, lanky giant, looked into the sky and saw three falcons. “Is it a bad omen?” he inquired of Gort. Gort only frowned and headed to the longhouse pulling Marja.
received his usual warm greeting from Grimhilda. “What worthless piece of garbage have you brought me now, you useless pig? Where is the gold you promised?”
“This girl is worth more than a little gold, wife. She is Ragnar Ivarsson’s granddaughter.”
“You stupid old goat,” she replied, “Ragnar would split the skull of any man or woman who dared ask him for ransom gold. You are as good as dead, but perhaps she will make a good slave for me. Or with her golden hair, she might bring a fine price from Arab slave-traders. But I will give her a try myself. Chain her to that wall and get out of here before you make me vomit.” Gort was raging inside but held his temper and left to seek other consolations.
Grimhilda looked intently at Marja and smiled, but behind Grimhilda’s haunting green eyes Marja saw such seething malice that it made her tremble.