Chapter 8 - Of Gods and New Friends
Ivar again asked, Ketel, “By what name should we address our Creator?”
“His name in the Troll tongue is Jumala. Some call him Ukko, but he has many names among peoples and trolls,” replied Ketel. “Of old, his name in Norse was translated as Eker, which was thought to describe his nature. But be careful. It is more important to know his nature than his name, though any name for the true God should be spoken with reverence. There are many who call upon gods who are not gods. There are many who call his right name but do not know him, for their understanding of him is of their own imagination and terribly corrupt. I judge by your looks and aura that your ancestor was Odin, but he was a man and not a god. He was a wise and great man, but nothing more. Thor was the god of the people who first came to Norway. He was a protector of his people, but he, too, was but a man enlarged by fading memories and entertaining fables. Freyr and Freyja were of the Vanir people, beautiful, but mere mortals; their descendents are mixed with those of Odin and Thor.”
After a thoughtful pause, Ketel continued his teaching: “Ignorant men often make gods of their ancestors and fashion their memory to make them after their own hearts to justify their selfishness, greed, perversity, and love of violence. It is the unfortunate nature of men and trolls to run from truth and embrace lies. It is by lies feeding selfish pride that they are blinded to self-evident truth and reality. Like a spreading disease, increasing moral blindness poisons reason and perception. Only the Spirit of Truth can bring healing and wisdom.” Ketel did not try to teach more in a day. A boy may be thirsty, but he cannot drink a waterfall.
The little band finally arrived in Brattvik. Anskar’s splendid longship of 30 oars and shields was already resting in its waters. Many were gathered on the shore and its steep banks to see it. Several fishing boats were there as well.
Anskar was born of a Norse father near where the River Nid flows into the Trondheimfjord. Like his father before him, he was a farmer and shipbuilder of notable reputation there for many years. His father’s name was Valdar, who went on many adventures. His mother’s name was Vanja. She was of the Vendar people who live on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, east of the River Oder. Because of troubled times in their homeland, Vanja’s parents brought her to Birka in Svealand as a small child, where she was raised with her two sisters in the household of Herigar, a chief counselor to Bjorn, a king of the Svear. She was uncommonly wise and beautiful and was gifted in the playing of stringed instruments.
In Birka, Herigar had brought to the king’s court a teacher who became much loved in his household. His name was Ansgarus. Valdar, Anskar’s father, loved and prized his wife, Vanja, dearly and allowed her to name their second son. Hoping that her newborn son would be as wise and just as her teacher, Ansgarus, she named their second son Anskar, which is a Norse form of Ansgar.
Anskar had two sons by his first wife, called Unna, but she died of fever. Stricken with grief, he left his estate and his sons in the hands of his brothers and set sail for Britain. There he joined Gudrum the Dane’s army to fight against Alfred, the king of the West Saxons. But after many months, Alfred defeated Gudrum and took Anskar as a hostage. Anskar found that Alfred was a just and merciful king and acted as a shepherd to his people. In battle, Alfred stood in the first rank of the Saxon shieldwall with his men. He was brave, learned, and wise. Above all, he was committed to the same Christian faith that Ansgarus and Herigar had taught his mother, Vanja. So Anskar served Alfred and taught the Saxons shipbuilding and sailing skills needed to defend their coasts from marauding Danes.
Anskar served Alfred for nearly twenty years and stayed more in Britain than Norway. When they were old enough, he brought his sons to Britain and made sure they were trained in shipbuilding, sailing, fighting, and wisdom. He married again to Ardith a Saxon woman devoted to the Christian faith and had two daughters, but she died before her daughters reached puberty. Again, he suffered terrible grief but grew in wisdom and became one of King Alfred’s most respected advisers. Above all he was known for his wisdom and fairness with all people and for his courage and leadership in war. When he finally returned to his estate in Norway, he was gray-haired, but still very fit. He was of only moderate stature but strong and robust in body. He had a rather broad nose and a broad face and square jaw and blue-gray eyes that gave him a pleasing smile and handsome appearance. He was of an easy-going nature and gifted in speech and learning, but he was not one to speak too many words or call too much attention to himself. He was a great warrior and very level-headed, but he valued truth and compassion higher than might. His sons were already reckoned as valiant men in Norway, and his daughters among the loveliest in all Norway. And all Norway realized that something in Anskar’s wisdom and character earned rather than demanded respect. They also knew that he believed the words of the Christian God and had served a Saxon King. This caused some in Norway to be suspicious of him, and there were some who hated him because he would not sacrifice to Thor.
Anskar Greets Ketel and Ivar
Anskar came ashore first to talk with Ketel and Ivar before taking them to the ship. He brought with him only one guard who bore only a dagger. He thought it might be too alarming for his crew to know that a troll was onboard the Westwind. The plan was for Ketel to disguise himself as a human until such time as was best to safely reveal his true nature.
Anskar greeted Ketel warmly and after discussing their plans turned and addressed Ivar. “So this is Ivar Bjornsson,” he said with special warmth. “You have the makings of a fine looking warrior. Your father would be proud, as is your grandfather now. Your grandfather taught me everything I know about shipbuilding, sailing, trading, and fighting. He was a close friend to my father and like a younger brother to him. They shared many adventures together. You bear a remarkable resemblance to your father.”
Your grandmother, Marija, the daughter of Herigar, was raised in the same household as my mother, Vanja, and they love each other as true sisters. Greatly honored is your family among my family.”
Motioning for his guard to come closer, he said, “This is my youngest son, Branwulf. My oldest son, Ragnar, is with your grandfather now. And how is your mother, Aelska? I have not seen her since she was a little girl. They tell me she is wiser and more beautiful than Freyja. Greet her for me and tell her my daughters Elisabeth and Rebekka long to meet her. I have come to give what help I can to rescue your sister, and if it be the will of God, to avenge your father.” With that they all embraced and boarded the Westwind.” Ivar noticed that the dagger Anskar’s son Branwulf carried had the same Roman inscription as his father’s: In Hoc Signo Vinces. But he had never inquired about its meaning.