The Dragon Boat

This will be a bit of a slow mover. The first part of this story can be found here.  

Farulf knew that Hólmgarðr* wasn’t far behind them, and wondered if the man had come from there. He watched as Ellisif looked over the unconscious man. She hadn’t asked Gundar to toss him back into the river, so he must be more alive than dead. There were times he wished he’d left his wife Birla and their daughter Ellisif back in Gotland. At first, his young crew had laughed at his soft heart for his pretty wife and daughter. They stopped laughing when they didn’t have to suffer Farulf’s cooking or being stitched up by Bjorn.

Birla died along with two men when the portage at the Gellandi or Roaring rapids went bad. That had been twenty years ago and he never had the heart to put Ellisif ashore. Nor did his attempts work to find her a husband. Trading, travel and the river was in her blood. At nearly thirty summers, he figured that she’d take over the boat when he finally went to Valhalla.

“Fader, He’ll live. Too much water, broken rib or two, lots of bruises. Says his name is Lothar. Fighter calluses and sword knot.” Ellisif ticked things off on her fingers as she spoke.

Farulf nodded. “Keep?”

“If he doesn’t die. Might take Ulf’s place.” She cocked her head towards and empty spot next to one of the men. Ulf had died in a brawl less than a week ago.

“Fine. We make Kœnugarðr** in time for him to heal and see what kind of a man he is.” Farulf knew if he was trouble, his contacts there would know. News travels fast on the river.

It was Ellisif’s turn to nod. She went back to where the man was curled up asleep. She sat next to him to add her body heat to his.

 

Lothar woke to the sounds of boat rigging creaking and voices. He had no idea of how long he’d slept. His ribs and face still felt swollen, so he knew it couldn’t have been too long. Then he noticed the soft breathing of someone behind him. Turning slightly, he saw the woman. She was curled up next to him. Looking around, he could see it was late afternoon.

“See you’re awake.”

Lothar looked back towards the voice and saw a short broad man speaking to him. He almost understood him.

“You. Awake?” The man pantomimed a yawn and stretching.

Lothar understood. He nodded. He motioned drinking and the man nodded again.

Gundar brought a skin over and gave it to the man. “Drink.”

Lothar took the skin and sipped. In spite of being nearly drowned, the weak ale tasted heavenly. He took another sip and handed it back. “Lothar.”

“Gundar,” the man said as he took the skin back. Then he pointed to the woman behind Lothar. “That be Ellisif.”

Lothar nodded.

“Ellisif Farulfsdottir.” Gundar pointed from Ellisif to Farulf.

Lothar understood that the man was her father. He was old and gray haired, but looked sturdy enough to take out three men.

“Farulf is the Drottin. The leader.” Gundar kept talking like Lothar understood him. Lothar looked puzzled, but Gundar figured if he said the words enough, the man would get them. “Snorri, Bjorn, Olaf Tryggvi… drengr. Warriors. Sailors. Vikings.” Gundar had pointed to some of the crew.

“Varangians.” Lothar pointed at the men.

“Yes. You?”

Lothar knew what the man wanted. It took a minute to think of the word. “Bellator.” When the man didn’t seem to understand, he pointed at the shields and then the man’s knife. Then he pantomimed the motions of fighting.

Gundar laughed and nodded. He clapped Lothar on the shoulder and laughed. Then he walked back to his place on the boat. Behind Lothar, Ellisif began to wake.

Lothar watched the men work to bring the boat towards the shore. When they got close, two men hopped out into the river and pulled ropes tied to the front of the boat and guided it to the shore. As the prow hit, four more men jumped out to haul it farther up the beach. Lothar didn’t know if he was a rescue or a prisoner, and wasn’t sure if it was a good thing to ask. He watched instead.

“Veni!” Ellisif held out her hand to Lothar. He took her hand and started to stand. What he didn’t expect was for her to be strong enough to pull him to his feet. “Veni.”

They moved to the edge of the boat. “Hafr! Give us a hand.”

A tall redhead came over and helped them down onto the sand. Lothar winced as his ribs grated. Ellisif walked with him over to a log and then headed back to the boat. She helped unload the tents for the night and the foodstuffs.

Lothar watched Ellisif. She was younger than he was, but well built. Her hair was dark blonde with reddish streaks. He decided she must look like her mother, as there was little of Farulf in her features. She was easy on the eyes in a way he hadn’t thought about in a long time. He wondered what a woman was doing on a trade boat and not at home with a family. As he watched camp being set up, he drifted back to sleep.

 

*Novgorod

**Kiev

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