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A Slave's Tale

A Slave's Tale

Diane Dillon
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    A Slave's Tale
    Book Description:

    A Slave's Tale, the sequel to Hakon of Rogen's Saga, is told from the point of view of a slave girl, Helga, who stows away on the longship when Hakon, the young Viking chieftain, sets sail for France on a voyage to return Rark, a freed slave, to his homeland. The voyagers' journey is perilous-they narrowly escape capture by an invading fleet, and their ship is severely damaged by a storm. Upon reaching France-where the Vikings are now hated, not feared-only tragedy ensues.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4069-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
    (pp. 1-2)
  3. 1
    (pp. 3-13)

    Kings, earls, and the great chieftains of Norway: all have poets who are willing to sing their praises and tell the sagas of their lives. When the eagle turns in the air and swims on the wind into the sun, man stops his work to watch with envy the ruler of the sky.

    Who notices the sparrow? Yet cannot the sparrow’s heart be noble, though the bird lacks the eagle’s wings and the eagle’s claws? Will no one ever listen to the sparrow’s song, and learn from it the truth an eagle flies too high to hear?

    My story shall...

  4. 2
    (pp. 14-21)

    “I am not a slave.” I said the words out loud; then I looked at my bare feet and thought, “They are not a slave’s feet.” I heard Hakon say something, but I was not listening. I felt that the world for a moment had stopped breathing and that I was alone.

    A voice cried from far away, “Hakon! Hakon!” I recognized that it was Harold the Bowbender, and the thought came to me: “He will think that I am still a slave.”

    Hakon took a step forward. “Let us go to my father’s hall.”

    “Your hall, Hakon,” I said....

  5. 3
    (pp. 22-30)

    Death, like the thundering waves that beat upon the rocks far beneath you, when you stand at the edge of a cliff, makes you aware of your own aliveness. Life, not golden armbands or titles, is your real treasure. When a ship is sighted during a storm, everyone will leave the warm hall to stand with wind-whipped face, staring at death. The heart beats: “I am alive!” And even the slave, his ill-clad body shivering from the cold, feels for a moment rich.

    Sometimes, the ship survives the storm. The men return to smell the homey smells of the fire...

  6. 4
    (pp. 31-38)

    “There is no man on Rogen who would not have killed Sven.” It was Harold the Bowbender, talking with Rark and Hakon at the end of the big table in the hall, two weeks after Sven’s death. I was sitting in the shadows by the wall, trying to sew a pair of shoes.

    “With his hands tied? That does not speak well of the people of Rogen.” Though Rark’s voice seemed calm, I could hear that he was suppressing anger.

    “Ragnvald Harelip is a fool,” Harold commented, in the same tone he would use for describing the weather.

    “It was...

  7. 5
    (pp. 39-42)

    The winter that year had a stern face, and Hakon was not to sail the following spring. Too much work remained to be done on Rogen for so many of the men to leave the island for so long a time. Erp the Traveler, who was famed as a steersman, said that few had been lucky enough to travel so far and return during one summer.

    Rark was very disappointed, for he had hoped to see his home that summer. So were most of the younger men, who all had more taste for adventure than for work in the fields....

  8. 6
    (pp. 43-49)

    Drip . . . drip . . . drip . . . I could hear the melted snow running off the roof. It was late in the evening, but only the children were asleep. The men were restless and sat in groups talking to each other. I pulled the cover up over my ears, but I could still hear the dripping from the roof. It was as if each drop said, “Spring . . . spring . . . spring . . .” I threw off my quilt and sat up upon the bench. Near me a mother was singing....

  9. 7
    (pp. 50-57)

    Curse Thor’s broken hammer!” Magnus exclaimed.

    All morning Magnus the Fair and I had been working alone on the longship. I placed the tar-filled oakum along the seams, and with his mallet, Magnus drove it in between the boards. Magnus now looked with disgust at his broken mallet. His face appeared to me so funny that I could not help laughing. For a moment I feared that he would throw the mallet at me; but he threw it to the ground and started laughing himself.

    “The ship is bewitched. We shall never sail unless we offer a girl with a...

  10. 8
    (pp. 58-64)

    From where I was hiding, behind some bushes, I could not see Hakon, only hear his voice. It was the day of the departure. The morning was beautiful. The wind blew steadily from the mainland, and the sun shone clear in a cloudless sky. It was early, and as I moved my head to try to get a better view, the dew from the branches fell on my face.

    All the people of Rogen were collected in Odin’s clearing. They stood in a circle around the big stone, on which was lying a sheep, with its legs tied together. The...

  11. 9
    (pp. 65-70)

    Dreams do not care about the movement of the sun. In them the past is as real as the present. To some people, life is all dreams — all past — and on these, time has closed its door. Such a person was Freya the Old. It was she who had prophesied to me that our ship would never come home. When I was a child, she had been the cause of many of my nightmares. Now — that morning as I lay sleeping on the deck — Freya came to me in my dreams. She was young and did not resemble the Freya...

  12. 10
    (pp. 71-78)

    I woke when the men stopped rowing and the sail was hoisted. The course had been altered. Some of the pots and pans that had not been stored carefully enough slid, with a great clatter, the width of the ship as Munin, being under sail, heeled to starboard. The waves, which the ship before had stamped against, now splashed her side.

    A group of the crew seated themselves above my hiding place. I listened to their talk. It was gay and filled with good-natured jokes about each other. They compared the sizes of their blisters on their hands, and the...

  13. 11
    (pp. 79-85)

    The wind blew steadily from the sea toward the land, and we arrived at the opening of the fjord that leads to Tronhjem four days after we had left Rogen. On an island in the mouth of the fjord, we camped for the night. The men were glad to stretch their legs again, and the younger ones started to run races on the beach. The island was deserted by man, but not by the birds of the sea. Screaming, they flew about protesting against our invasion. Many ships must have landed on this island before us, for we found several...

  14. 12
    (pp. 86-93)

    As we walked to Earl Hakon’s hall, many people came out of their dwellings to see us. According to the standards of Rogen we were richly dressed. But someone said as we passed, “They look like a group of farmers, from mountains where the grazing is so poor that a man counts himself rich if he owns a cow.” The awareness of our poverty made us walk close together, and look at the people about us as if they were our enemies. Though Hakon was almost as tall as a full-grown man, his father’s great sword, that he wore from...

  15. 13
    (pp. 94-101)

    One of the younger men among that group whom Hakon had approached offered to show us the way to Magnus Thorsen’s hall. He told us that it was called Hjalte Gudbrandson’s hall now, for Magnus had died the winter after he had sent Rolf Blackbeard and Ulv Erikson to invade Rogen. His grandson, Hjalte Gudbrandson, now sat in the high seat. Both of Magnus’ sons had been lost on a trip to Iceland. When we asked news of Thora, we were told that she was married to Ulv Erikson.

    “But she hated him!” The words had burst out of Hakon....

  16. 14
    (pp. 102-106)

    The sunlight almost blinded us when we came outside; and we stood still for a long moment, while our eyes became accustomed to it. From one of the huts, close to the main hall, a slave was staring at us with the eyes of a dog who fears strangers.


    We all became like stone when we heard that name; and it was a while before any of us turned to see who the caller had been.

    In the door of the hall stood Gudrun, Hjalte’s grandmother. She looked past us, as if we did not exist. The slave came...

  17. 15
    (pp. 107-112)

    I had begged Hakon to allow me to stay on the ship when he and the others went to Earl Hakon’s hall; but both he and Rark had been too frightened of the Earl to let me remain behind. “But I am afraid of the Earl and his slave,” I had stammered.

    “On the goodwill of the Earl depend not only our chances of buying a new sail and stores for our ship, but also our lives,” Hakon had explained. “Earl Hakon’s title is only Earl, but he is the ruler of all of Norway.”

    Again I washed myself and...

  18. 16
    (pp. 113-121)

    We were seven days in Tronhjem and the gods treated us kindly. The Earl sold Hakon a good sail, at a price even a miser would have called cheap. Munin’s old sail would never have lasted a storm. Since few ships had come to Tronhjem the winter before, skins were plentiful and not expensive.

    On the fourth day after our visit to the Earl’s hall, it was rumored that the Earl was leaving Tronhjem to take part in a feast, held at Medalhus, in Gauldal. Near noon of that day the Earl, with ten men from his hird and two...

  19. 17
    (pp. 122-131)

    At the end of the first day, we had only reached the entrance to the fjord; for the wind had been westerly, and we had had to row all the way. We anchored for the first night in the lee of a small island, where we collected driftwood and cooked our supper. The following day, the wind shifted to the north. We set sail. Our course was close to the mainland, in that sound which separates Norway from the large island called Hitra. At midday, when we had reached the southern tip of the island, the man who was on...

  20. 18
    (pp. 132-137)

    Two days later, we camped for the last time on the soil of Norway; and many days would go by before we again would taste warm food. The last sight of our homeland was a barren peninsula called Stad. Here in a cove we built a fire and Hakon ordered a double portion of mead to be given to everyone. But most of us were thinking of Rogen; we felt a little sad and the meal was not gay. Even when Orm, one of the older men who told stories well, started to tell the tale of Hagbart and Signe,...

  21. 19
    (pp. 138-144)

    After sailing four days and four nights on a western course, on the morning of the fifth day — that is, sixteen days after we had set sail from Tronhjem — we saw land. We were overjoyed and wanted to head the ship for the shore at once. But Erp said it was the coast of England and we would find no friends there. Yet the wish of the crew for feeling the earth under their feet was so great that Hakon thought it wiser to allow a landing.

    The coastline was low and marshy. About an arrow’s flight from shore, the...

  22. 20
    (pp. 145-153)

    For a long time I have told of the shifting of winds, of sails and oars; and yet I do not believe that I have described our sea journey well. Once sail is hoisted and land is out of sight, man is dwarfed by his own courage that has removed him from the hearth of his home. Cold and wet is the sailor, lonely amidst his comrades, for the waves beat not only on the hull of the ship, but against his heart. When the ship is beached, men may boast of the storm; but while his country is the...

  23. 21
    (pp. 154-159)

    Hakon’s luck was with us when we came to Saint Malo, as it had been with us in Tronhjem and when we met King Olaf Trygveson’s ships. But summer does not stay, fall will come; and surely luck cannot last forever. What had been told on the Island of Saint Michel was true: Rark’s uncle was, indeed, high priest of the church at Saint Malo. He was a tall, old man. He treated us with much kindness and even helped Hakon to sell his skins and buy wares that we either needed on Rogen, or we knew would fetch good...

  24. 22
    (pp. 160-165)

    Twenty-four men and three women, even though they are well armed, do not make an army. True, in the old tales no hero needed more than his sword to slay the giants. But the songs of old are told at night, when dreams are near and the flickering light of the fire has painted the walls.

    On the first part of our expedition the summer sun shone, and left but few shadows for the poet to sing of. We walked along the fjord. The first night we did not camp. At the end of the fjord, the land rises to...

  25. 23
    (pp. 166-173)

    We passed the town of Dinan and pushed on south. But the memory of the size of that town, and the fact that we no longer had the sea to look upon, made us uneasy. Even the young men did not laugh as readily as they had before. In this part of Frankland, the country is covered by forests; we hunted and ate well, for there were many deer. When we came to a clearing, where people lived and the fields were plowed, we walked closer together, and each kept an arrow on his bowstring.

    The second night after we...

  26. 24
    (pp. 174-182)

    The church of Saint Meen was larger than the one in Saint Malo, but no town surrounded it. There were only a few buildings, all close to the church: three that housed the priests and their servants, and two stables for their animals. In Saint Meen lived many priests: thirteen or fourteen, at least; perhaps there were more, for it was hard to tell the difference between the poorer priests and the servants. I believe that priests and servants, together, numbered as many people as we were; but that, too, I cannot say with certainty, for we were not allowed...

  27. 25
    (pp. 183-187)

    The sky was blood-red in the east when Hakon, Rark, Magnus the Fair, Ketil Ragnvaldson, and Nils Harold-son returned. They looked very tired. Quickly I told them of my conversation with the priest. When I finished, Rark sighed.

    “I came here to find my life; and all that Saint Meen seems to have to offer me is a grave . . . And for my friends, the same.” Rark looked towards the forest, in the direction of his home. “I have visited myself tonight. Jacques de Bardinais died long ago. I did not know, for I was not invited to...

  28. 26
    (pp. 188-202)

    The path leading to Rark’s hall was broad enough for us to ride in pairs. Rark and Father Christopher rode at the head of the group. Hakon, riding beside a priest with a pale face and an eagle’s nose, followed. Then came Erp the Traveler, who rode a little ahead of the priest who accompanied him. I was last and had as companion the youngest of the priests, the Norseman Michel. In front of me rode Nils Haroldson and a fat priest with a sour face, who sat ill on a horse.

    I looked at my companion. He gazed straight...

  29. 27
    (pp. 203-207)

    Swifter than any of us had ever ridden before did our horses carry us back from Hugues’ feast. We did not stop before the forest fell away, and we saw the Church of Saint Meen, the fields, and our camp. Then, as if we had made a spoken agreement, we all reined back our horses. They were wet with sweat and foaming at the mouth.

    The landscape was completely still. The winds were asleep, as if time had deserted the earth, and the sun, which was low in the west, would not set but remain hanging there forever.

    Slowly we...

  30. 28
    (pp. 208-215)

    We rode all night, stopping only a few times to give the horses a rest, and wipe their sweat-covered coats. Even when we rested, we dared not let the horses stand still, so we walked them slowly along the road. By morning we were near Dinan.

    At a very small farm, Hakon bought bread and milk. Hakon had believed, to the very last, that he could buy Hugues with gold. This was our good fortune, for he had taken with him all of the gold he owned, in two leather bags tied around his waist, when we had visited Rark’s...

    (pp. 216-217)

    The slave’s tale is over; now begins another story, which there is no need to tell, for sorrow fits our tongues, and happy tales make us move uncomfortably on the bench. Maybe some day, tales of love and adventure need not end unhappily to tell our hearts that they are true.

    We traveled over an autumn sea, resting one night on that Frank island where we had camped when we were so many, and our memories were so young: that island that we had called “Hakon’s Luck.” We suffered much, for the winds are hard masters in the north when...

  32. Back Matter
    (pp. 218-218)