From best-selling historical fiction novelist, Eric Schumacher, comes the second volume in Olaf’s Saga: the adrenaline-charged story of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the kingdom of the Rus.
AD 968. It has been ten summers since the noble sons of the North, Olaf and Torgil, were driven from their homeland by the treachery of the Norse king, Harald Eriksson. Having then escaped the horrors of slavery in Estland, they now fight among the Rus in the company of Olaf’s uncle, Sigurd.
It will be some of the bloodiest years in Rus history. The Grand Prince, Sviatoslav, is hungry for land, riches, and power, but his unending campaigns are leaving the corpses of thousands in their wakes. From the siege of Konugard to the battlefields of ancient Bulgaria, Olaf and Torgil struggle to stay alive in Sigurd’s Swords, the riveting sequel to Forged by Iron.
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We turned our prows to steer board and headed for the docks below the fort. Though the sun had not yet risen, the garrison and people who lived in or near the fort came to greet our ships, for many were wives and kin to the warriors who had just returned. I knew their smiles and waves would die as soon as our ships touched land. Nearly half of our warriors had perished in the south, and there would be many families left without their menfolk that night.
As our hulls scraped land and we shipped our oars, the crowd settled into an uneasy silence. Families and friends scanned the ships with weary eyes for their loved ones. Most of our warriors did not wait to grab their things. They simply leaped from the ships and made their way into the crowd to end the suspense of those who waited. It was at once a tender and solemn affair, for seeing loved ones reunited warmed me, but seeing wives and children standing alone, searching, then eventually learning the hard truth, wrenched my gut. For them there was no comfort on that brittle night. There were only tears and memories.
To look upon them was too hard, and so I turned to Olaf, who stood beside me. But his gaze was fixed on something else — or I should say, someone else. I followed that gaze up the boarded path that led to the fortress, where a notable group of warriors and lords stood, looking down at us. They surrounded a young woman, and it was on her that Olaf’s eyes now focused. The entire group was dressed in dark cloaks and hats of fur. She, too, was wrapped in a thick cloak of fur. But unlike the others, her white-blond hair danced on the breeze in the wavering torchlight, giving her an almost ethereal aspect.
I knew instantly who she was and punched Olaf’s shoulder. “Best not be caught ogling the prince’s bride-to-be.” Though I admit, I too was fascinated by her. Even from a distance, she was as mesmerizing as a flame.
Olaf smiled that mischievous smile of his. “Who is ogling? I was just curious.”
I rolled my eyes. “Curious in a leering sort of way.” I lowered my voice and looked about to ensure no one was listening. “Just mind yourself,” I warned.
Olaf brushed my warning aside with a wave of his hand and lifted his pack from his sea chest. “Take your ease, Torgil. I seek only good beer and hearty food, and mayhap the company of a warm woman. I will let the nobles have their own dealings. Come, we have earned our fun this night.”
I looked at the milling crowd, then at the stark walls of the town, then back at Olaf’s mischievous smile. I envisioned myself in some tavern sipping beer, while he and the others bragged about their exploits and I struggled to stay awake, and the mere thought of it exhausted me. What I needed most was silence and comfort. “The night is gone,” I said. “Besides, I seek someone else.”
Now it was Olaf’s turn to roll his eyes. “Gods. You are about as fun as a rock.” He dismissed me with a snort. “If you find her, I wish you an evening like no other. If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
I hefted my own pack, which carried my byrnie, helmet, and a few loose items, then I grabbed my shield from the port-side rack. “Watch yourself,” I said again as I leaped from the ship.
I threaded my way through the growing crowd and headed north along the Volkhov, following the beach several hundred paces until I reached the tributary that turned east from the main river. There, at the intersection of the waterways, stood Sigurd’s hall. And there I froze, as nervous as if I were facing an army of Pechenegs, a hundred doubts accosting me at once. What would Turid think when she saw me? How would she react? Had I changed? Had she? Had she met someone else in my absence? The questions came at me unhindered, unabated, rapid-fire. They made my palms sweat and my stomach flutter. I had never been good with women, and here I was again, faltering. I cursed myself in an attempt to bolster my courage, but it did not work. Rather, it alerted the guard who walked nearby and whom I had not seen.
“Who is there?”
I raised my hands in surrender. “It is me, Oleg. Torgil Toralvsson.”
The man turned to me and a flash of light danced across his drawn blade. There was a smile on his wrinkled face. “Gods, you had me worried. I am getting too old for night fights.” He stepped closer and looked me up and down. “So Sigurd is home?” he asked.
“Aye,” I said. “He is. He and the men are at the fort.”
He sheathed his blade. “We heard rumors. Was it bad?”
“Aye, Oleg. It was.”
He beckoned me to him. “Come, lad. You are home.” There was that strange word again. I walked to him and he patted my back, ushering me forward.
Sigurd’s was a large estate, with a comfortable main hall in which he lived and entertained, a barracks for his men, a smithy, a larder, and a barn. Attached to the barn was a pen for his chickens, sheep, pigs, and two horses. Down near the water was a boathouse for Sea Snake and Sigurd’s two other ships. Service in the East had been kind to him.
“Head to the barracks and find yourself some warmth,” Oleg instructed. “The men are sleeping, so try to be quiet.”
His words turned my mind to the ten men who had remained behind to guard Sigurd’s estate. Those lucky bastards were sleeping in their cots with full bellies and furs to warm them, and they were the last thing I wanted to see. I shook my head. “There is someone else I must see first.” Though it was night and I knew Oleg could not see my face very well, I blushed. “Is Turid in the main hall?”
“Oh,” he answered. I was about to explain myself when he waved me forward. “Come, then. Leave your things by the door. She sleeps in the first bed to the left as you enter. Mind your noise, now.” He winked at me. “And do not fall asleep. You know the rules. No warriors are to sleep in the main hall.”
I thanked him and deposited my things at the door, then entered the hall as quietly as I could. The door creaked as it swung open. I paused, letting the warmth seep into my skin as my eyes adjusted to the firelit interior and my nose to the smoke and body odor and must. Snores and heavy breathing and the crackling of burning logs filled the space. As silently as I could, I closed the door and moved to Turid’s bed. She lay curled in a ball with her face near the wall. Her fire-red hair was splayed across her shoulder and pillow. Gods, how peaceful she looked. My heart thundered as I sat carefully on the frame of her bed, then brushed my fingers against her shoulder. “Turid,” I whispered with my heart in my throat.
She rolled her head to me suddenly, a mixture of confusion and sleepiness on her freckled face. “Torgil?” she finally asked.
I smiled and whispered, “Aye.”
She sat up and wrapped her arms around my torso. I returned the hug, my nose close to her neck, and immersed myself in her scent.
“I have missed you, Torgil,” she whispered fiercely.
I pulled back from her and studied her face. Those glacial eyes now filled with tears. That straight nose and prominent jaw and jutting chin. Those full lips and fair skin covered with freckles. “I have missed you too,” I whispered back, then looked away because her beauty left my cheeks searing hot and my body bereft of strength.
She lifted my furry chin with her finger and smiled gently. “From the rumors we heard, I feared I might never see you again.”
“And I, you,” I admitted softly. “It was good that you remained here.”
Suddenly her brows dipped and she looked beyond me, then back at me. “Where is Olaf?”
“He is at the fort. I came to see you.” My voice trailed off.
She lifted her blanket. “Come. Warm yourself.”
“Are you certain?” I knew what she had suffered at the hands of our Estland captors and did not want to break that barrier indelicately.
“Aye,” she whispered, holding the fur blanket open for me.
I shed my boots and slid under the furs beside her, aware of how much I must reek and hoping she did not care. She reached up and wrapped her arms around my torso. I closed my eyes, reveling in her touch and her scent, trying to ignore my ache for her.
Her hand reached up and stroked my chest softly. “Rest now. You are home,” she breathed.
I sighed, relaxing into her warmth and into the peace I suddenly felt. Home.
“One day you must tell me of your adventure.”
“I will,” I responded drowsily, trying to keep my weary mind from falling asleep.
It was the last thing I remembered.
Eric Schumacher (1968 – ) is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.
At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God’s Hammer, was published in 2005.
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