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November 2011, Avon Books
ISBN-10: 0062019201
ISBN-13: 978-0062019202
February 2003, Leisure Books
ISBN 0843950641
Reissue March 2003
ISBN 0843952059


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Chapter One 

Autumn, Vestfold, the Norse lands, 999 A.D.

Magnus Ericsson was a simple man. 

He loved the smell of fresh-turned dirt after springtime plowing.

He loved the feel of a soft woman under him in the bed furs...when engaged in another type of plowing. 

He loved the heft of a good sword in his fighting arm. 

The Very Virile VikingHe loved the low-ride of a laden longship after a-Viking in far distant lands.  

He loved the change of seasons on his well-ordered farmstead.

What he did not relish was the large number of whining, loud, bothersome, needful children who called him "Fažir." "Father, this..., Father, that...," they blathered night and day, always wanting something from him. Ten in all! He had that size of a brood, despite having lost a son and a daughter to normal childhood ills and mishaps. Holy Thor! The large number was embarrassing, not to mention annoying. He could not go to the garderobe without stepping on one or the other of them. Like rats, they were, or fleas.

And, of a certainty, he was not pleased with their mothers.   Over the years there had been four wives, six concubines, numerous passing fancies, and at least one barley-faced maid.  That latter could only be attributed to a fit of mead-head madness on his part, he was quick to tell any who dared ask. Not all of them had shared his bed furs at the same time, praise be to Odin, though some lackwits claimed it to be so, just because he'd practiced the more danico during some halfbrained periods of his life. He'd learned by now that one wife was bad enough; three was impossible. All of his women, one by one, had had the temerity to die on him, desert him, or, ignominiously, divorce him, as his most recent wife, Inga, had done last summer at the Althing. Claimed she was tired of playing slave to all his babes, she did. Norsemen from here to Birka were still laughing about that happenstance.

He suspected as well that they were taking wagers on how many more whelps would land on the doorstep of his longhouse by year's end.

None, if he had his way.

It had not been so bad when his father, Jarl Eric Tryggvason, and his mother, Lady Asgar, had still been alive and living on the adjoining royal estate. Or when his brothers had been nearby. His mother had seemed to have better luck in arranging help for him. But his mother and father had both died last year, within months of each other. The healers said it was due to lung sickness brought on by an especially fierce winter, but he believed that it was heart-sickness over his missing brothers, Geirolf and Jorund, whose ships had presumably sunk in distant waters beyond Iceland, and perhaps over the famine that had struck Jorund's family the year before. He and his sister,
Katla, were the only family left, and Katla, happily married to a Norse princeling these many years, lived in far-off Norse-mandy, which some call Normandy.

There was much pressure on him to take over his father's jarldom, especially from his uncle, the high-king of the Norse lands, Olaf Tryggvason. But that would mean giving up his own lands and the farming he cherished. Further, he would knowingly be immersing himself in the political pressures that faced all the minor kingdoms in the Norse lands as they squabbled for power. He was a farmer, at heart, not a man ambitious for power.

Besides, did he not have enough pressures within his own family?

That is a pointless question.

Where would his children fit into such a scenario?

Wherever they could squeeze in.

Would he have to take another wife?

For a certainty.

Did he want another wife?

Bloody hell, no!

But how long had it been since he'd lain with a woman?

Way too long! I am afraid to look at a woman these days, for fear my seed will fly into her womb.

Would the marriage bonds be worth the bother of another squawking woman following him about like a shadow? Or producing even more babies?

Bonds...that is the correct description.

And would a woman of my choosing be willing to take on all my offspring?

Probably not. Nay, I should not wed again.

But the sex...


The problem, as far as he could tell, always came back to the children and the burden of his virility. If he were free, he could make decisions based on his own wants, or needs, or the good of the people of Vestfold. But there were eleven other individuals to consider.

Magnus had seen seven and thirty winters. Sometimes, when he was in a daze from too much youthling noise, or when he was suffering from the ale-ache, he wondered how he had begat so many children. But, of course, he knew how.

Magnus Ericsson was a lustsome man.

And therein lay the Viking's problem.


Winter, the Norse lands, 999 A.D.

"You have another child," Magnus's eldest son, Ragnor, said with disgust, trying to hand a girling barely out of swaddling clothes into his arms.

Magnus promptly folded his arms over his chest in refusal.

"Her name is Lida," Ragnor persisted and tried once again to hand over the child, who couldn't be more than a year old.

Magnus took one step backward and shook his head vehemently.

"Goo!" Lida said, favoring him a gummy grin. She shook her little head from side to side, as well, no doubt thinking he was playing a game with her.

He was not moved. Nor was he in the mood for games. "Take her away." He stepped to the side and used a poker to stir the yule log in the center hearth of his great hall, a Christian tradition his family had always followed. Though he was Norse by birth, he also practiced the Christian faith of his mother. God bless her soul. He hoped she was at rest with the saints she'd revered. Just as he hoped his father was revelling in Valhalla.   Sometimes he wonder if heaven and Valhalla might be the same place, but it was a far-fetched opinion he kept to himself.  Irregardless, 'twas best to appease all the gods, was his philosophy. Unfortunately, he seemed to be personally blessed...or was it Freyja, the goddess of fertility.

Meanwhile, his Viking comrades who sat about his great hall drinking ale and playing the board game, hnefatafl, snickered amongst themselves while they viewed his son trying to hand him another babe. Once again, he and his potency would be the subject of jests. Well, he would not stand for it this time.

"There is no proof," he contended. "She is not mine."

"I beg to differ. She looks just like you."

"Goo!" Lida repeated. Blonde spikes of hair stood up in disarray about her tiny head. Freckles speckled her rosy cheeks.  She smelled like a privy.

"Sarcasm ill-suits you, boy," Magnus snapped. His son knew full well of his father's reputation for attractiveness.  Although he was a farmer by trade, when he was not off fighting or a-Viking, Magnus prided himself on a well-honed body and inherited good looks. Aside from his big ears, which he covered vainly with long hair, he was nigh perfect. Many a maid had told him so. And this whelp was anything but attractive or perfect.

But then he noticed something. Oh, for the love of Frey! Are those excessively big ears on the mite?

Ragnor snickered, noticing the direction of his father's stare.

"You are not so big at sixteen years that I cannot take you over my knee," Magnus declared, sinking down to a bench. Of course, his sitting down gave three-year-old Kolbein the excuse to climb up on his knee.

Kolbein should be acting the little man at his age, like five-year-old Hamr did. Begged him constantly for his very own bow and arrows, the bothersome boy did. "You'll shoot your eye out," is what Magnus always responded. Kolbein, on the other hand, had always been a needsome child, having lost his mother at birth. Even six-year-old Jogeir with his club foot asked for no special indulgences. Some said Magnus should have exposed Jogeir to the frozen North elements when he was born, as some Vikings fathers were wont to do. Life in the Northlands was harsh for whole persons. Those weak or handicapped from birth would face nigh insurmountable obstacles to survive. But he had not been able to do it, and Jogeir worked hard each day to prove he had made the right decision. Poor mite!

"Hah!" Ragnor said, jarring him back to the present.

Apparently, Ragnor was still reacting to his comment about being able to spank him. Ragnor's one word said it all, though, for Ragnor might not have reached his father's massive height--Magnus was extremely tall, even for a Viking--but Ragnor was fast approaching. And both of them had muscles aplenty, whether it be from soldiering or farming.

"I could hold Ragnor down for you whilst you give him a well-deserved whomping." It was his other sixteen-year-old son, Torolf, speaking now. Torolf loved to tease his older brother more than anything, though Ragnor was older by only one sennight.  They were born to different mothers in different lands within days of each other. Magnus must have been particularly lustsome that week nine months beforehand, but, in truth, he could barely recall the details of the women or the coupling. All he knew was that Ragnor had the black hair and pale blue eyes of his Frankish mother, while Torolf favored his first wife, Sigrun, with pale blonde hair and honey-colored eyes. That was when Magnus's troubles had first begun. Sigrun had threatened to cut off his manpart when she heard about Ragnor's birth. Two years later she was off with an Irish priest, she did...leaving Torolf behind. The beginning of a trend in Magnus's life.

"I would like to see you try," Ragnor told Torolf with his usual arrogance. He gave Torolf a punch in the shoulder with his free hand. Meanwhile, a giggling Lida dangled from the crook of his other arm.

"Any time, brother. Any time." Torolf punched his brother back and grinned, just to annoy him, no doubt. The two were like overgrown puppies. Soon they would be down in the rushes wrestling each other.

"Goo," Lida contributed.

Magnus had a sudden inspiration. "I cannot take the child.   She needs a wet nurse, and as you know we cannot keep maids here at the farmstead to care for the older children, let alone a wet nurse."

"Lida is weaned, smart little one that she is." Ragnor fair smirked at him.

"Take her back from whence she came," Magnus demanded.

"I cannot," Ragnor said. "She came on that trading knorr from Hedeby. Sent by a craftswoman there by the name of Gyda  the Goldsmith. She claims her daughter, Helga, gave birth to Lida a year ago. Helga died recently of the brothel disease."

Helga? Unfortunately, that name sounded familiar to Magnus.   He seemed to recall a comely maid in a red gunna serving mead in a Hedeby alehouse. Her face had been sprinkled with freckles.

"The captain of the knorr says the fjords are already freezing over. And, besides, he is not taking a smelly-arsed, squalling babe back with him. Those were his exact words."  Ragnor smirked again.

With a sigh of resignation, Magnus opened his arms and welcomed the newest addition to his family. He could not swear that Lida was his. But that could be said of half his brood.

"Goo," Lida cooed, tugging on the war braids on either side of his face.

"Goo to you, too, little one," Magnus replied.

Magnus's heart did not soften toward children then. In truth, it had never been hard. There were just too damn many of them. And it was all his fault...he knew that.

The question was...what to do about it?


Still wintertime, the Norse lands, 1000 A.D.

"It is disgraceful, Fažir. Really, it is. All these children, and no one to care for them. Tsk-tsk! Mayhap you could hire another nurse maid, or two. Or better yet, a whip master for the older ones."

It was Magnus's eldest child, seventeen-year-old Madrene, who had started berating him from the moment he entered his keep.  He was frozen to the bone after making his way, along with a half dozen workers, through chest-high snow from the stables. He had spent the past eight hours delivering one foal, two calves, and a litter of piglets. He and his helpers had pulled in enough feed for all the animals in face of tonight's upcoming blizzard on top of yesterday's blizzard, then they'd mucked out the stalls...who knew when they'd be able to do it again! And who knew horses and cows could produce so much smelly waste! Ah, well, 'twas part of a farmer's life and he did not mind all that much. Little six-year-old Jogeir had come along with them--the industrious little boy. Even dragging his lame foot along, he was able to accomplish as much as many a laggard man he'd met in his time.   Finally, they'd made the trek home, balancing themselves on the slippery ice path, while carrying baskets of hen and duck eggs for Gunnhora, his head cook, who was preparing for Madrene's wedding feast next week. It was ridiculous, really, having a wedding feast in the middle of winter, but once Madrene got an idea in her head, she was like a dog with a bone...would not give it up for anything.

"And furthermore..."

Bloody hell! His daughter was still wagging her tongue with talk. What he did not need was more complaints, especially from one of his own children.

He decided to ignore Madrene, who was too full of herself by half now that there was no lady of the keep and now that she was to become a wife. Instead, he walked up to one of the three blazing hearths in his hall and proceeded to remove his ice-crusted furs and undercloak.  Madrene followed after him, the pestsome wench. 'Twas a wonder she did not start on him about the puddle he was making in the rushes. He shook his body like a shaggy dog, creating a shower of droplets, just to annoy her more, but all she did was make more of those tongue-sucking noises women fancied so much.

Blah, blah, blah! Does her tongue ever get tired? "What is the problem now?" he asked, knowing full well she would not leave till she'd spouted everything on her mind.

"Lida has soiled another nappy, and Kirsten and Dagny refuse to change her again." Kirsten and Dagny were his fourteen and twelve-year-old daughters, and, to tell the truth, he did not blame them at all. The girls did more than their fair share of child and household chores, especially since another nurse maid had quit on him last sennight, claiming to be overburdened by his wild and numerous progeny. And Lida did seem to have bowels that worked way too well. "Ask one of the kitchen thralls to help," he advised. "Or how about the new chambermaid? What is her name? Arnora...that is it...Arnora. Came to us on that last trading ship, searching for work."

Actually, he knew her name precisely. The voluptuous young woman had been swishing her hips afore him in invitation every time she passed by. And he was tempted. Sorely tempted, considering how long it had been since he'd last lain between a woman's thighs. Six months! Ever since Inga had divorced him.  It was not yet spring, but his sap was running high. So far, he had resisted, but he was not sure how much longer he could remain chaste. If nothing else, he was going to be drooling sap before long.

Weren't there any attractive women beyond childbearing age?  Mayhap he should look for one next time he went to Birka. He would have to mention it to Toki the Trader who was wintering here in Vestfold till the fjords thawed, his longship having been beached on a nearby shore. Toki knew everyone in the market towns.

"Arnora! Hmpfh! That is another thing," Madrene said, frowning with consternation.

Gods! The girl is still chattering away, even when I am not listening.

"Ragnor and Torolf were seen entering her sleeping chamber this morn, and they have not come out since."

Any temptation he had felt for the maid flew up to the rafters. His rising sap lowered like a lake before an unplugged dam. "Together?"

She nodded.

Magnus's eyes widened at that news. And his first thought was: Double the chance of impregnating the lass. That was all he needed. More babes being bred in this family. From sixteen-year-old boys, yet! He had known they were no longer untried youthlings. In truth, they tried too hard. But this was a situation he would have to stop. Two-to-one? What could they be thinking? Well, actually, what they were doing did not involve thinking, at all.

But the fools had to be more careful. He recalled vividly the hardships of fatherhood at that young age. That's about how old he'd been at the birth of his first child.

Just then, he noticed yet another son, Storvald, sitting by the hearth, whittling away at one of his fine wood carvings...a rendition of a longship in intricate detail. He squinted in the fire light to make up for his poor vision in seeing things close-up. It was not a real handicap for the boy, just when he did fine work. But now, Storvald, at thirteen years, was listening with great interest to their conversation, even as he wielded his knife. No doubt, he thought it would be great fun to join Arnora in the bed furs, too...even at his young age...especially at his young age.

"Do you want me to go get them?" Storvald asked, blinking his eyes with exaggerated innocence.

"Nay, I do not want you to go get them," he said. "I will handle it myself." And I am looking forward to it about as much as if I were about to pull the hairs out of my nose.

And off he stormed, even as Madrene continued to call out her list of grievances. "And Kolbein ate three bowls of custard that cook had put aside in the scullery, and now he is suffering belly cramps. Dagny got her first monthly flux and will not stop weeping. Kolbein saw the bloody rag and thinks she is dying.  Hamr broke Asa's broom, pretending it was a sword."

"Is that all?"

"Nay, that is not all. Do you want to know what Njal and his friends are doing?"

Nay. "Do I have a choice?" Njal was his nine-year-old son.  A more mischievous boy had never been born.

"Njal and his friends are breaking wind, deliberately, every time they pass the weaving room, and the girls there say they will not work in such a stinksome place."

Magnus sighed loudly and put a palm to his aching forehead.  At least his groin was no longer aching.

He could not wait till the wedding feast when Madrene's besotted young jarl would take her away from all this misery. At least then, he would have one less child to worry over. At least then, he would be a little less miserable himself.

Wouldn't he?


Still wintertime (would it ever end?), the Norse lands, 1000 A.D.

"We think we have the answer to your problem, Magnus."

Resting his bleary head on the trestle table, Magnus was sitting on the dais above the central hearth when he heard someone addressing him from below. He'd had only one horn of ale to drink this eve, but he was overtired from a day of shoveling snow to make paths to the various outbuildings of his vast farmstead. Already the snow was eaves-high and still falling.   And ice had to be knocked off the roofs lest the thatch come crashing down under the heavy weight. The skies were black, day and night, except for about an hour each day, which was the pattern in the Northlands. Land of the Midnight Sun, it was sometimes called. Everyone was tense with the confinement, especially his energetic children. Will winter ever be over?

He raised his head reluctantly to see his best friend and chieftain of his hird of fighting men, Harek the Huge, waiting expectantly for his answer. Harek--who was...well, huge--stood in the aisle that separated the dais from the open-sided hearth, taking up most of the space. Crowded on either side of Harek were Atli One-Ear, Kugge the Archer, and Sidroc of the Forked Beard. They were all grinning up at him.

Uh-oh! "You say you have an answer to my problem, Harek.  Which problem would that be? It cannot be Madrene. She is two weeks wed and gone with her bridegroom to her new home. Ragnor?  Torolf? Kirsten? Storvald? Dagny? Njal? Jogeir? Hamr?  Kolbein? Lida? Which one has caused the problem this time?"

"Freyja's tits! How do you remember them all?" Kugge wanted to know. Kugge was an expert marksmen, but he was thickheaded as a wooly sheep.

"How can I forget them?" They will not let me forget.   Magnus arched an eyebrow at Kugge and took a sip of stale ale.

"They...your children...are not the problem we refer to," Harek said.

Magnus noticed then that dozens of men about his hall were watching them expectantly...with much amusement. Norsemen ever did enjoy a good jest. But what...or who...was the subject of this particular jest? He came suddenly alert.

"You have been very peevish of late," Atli remarked, pulling at his disfigured ear, as if there were still a lobe there, which everyone knew he'd lost to a Saxon sword.


"Yea, you nigh bite the head off of anyone and everyone, for the least little reason," Sidroc added, jutting out his forked beard, daring him to disagree. "And we know the reason."

"You do?"

"Frustration," Harek explained. "Your male humours must needs escape on occasion, or they will explode. Happened to Halfdan the Hermit, it did. He went barmy in the end for lack of a good swiving. Yea, you have been too long without a tupping."

All the men nodded their agreement.

"You men push the bounds of friendship. My body humours are naught of your business." Can anything in the world be more embarrassing than this? Methinks I should go live in a cave.  But, nay, I cannot to that. My children would follow me, and they would freeze in a cave. Aaarrgh!

"But here is the best part...," said Ottar the Oarsman, a new entry to the company, waving a hand of deference to Harek.

"We heard you were looking for a more...uh...mature woman.   One who could give you pleasure in the bed furs without popping out a babe every nine months," Harek explained.

"A mature woman who is still attractive," Atli quickly added.

"Well, reasonably attractive," Kugge further added.

"Leastways, not repulsive," Sidroc further added.! Magnus glanced to the left...then glanced again. He could scarce believe the scene which was unfolding before him. A line of women...a dozen in all...were being led from a far corridor. All ages and sizes and types of attire.   One thing they had in common, though. Only one of them appeared to be under the age of forty.

"Where...why...what...," he sputtered out, "...I mean, oh, bloody damn hell! Tell me, Harek, where have all these women come this weather...and why?"

"They come from your father's estate and other neighboring jarldoms...come to be your bedmate, they have. Well, candidates for your bedmate. You get to pick," Harek explained pridefully, as if he had done Magnus a great favor. "Some of them have been here for several sennights, in secret. The more recent additions came aboard sleds."

Magnus's jaw dropped with incredulity at the bizarre "candidates" who stood before him.

"This is Bertha." Harek drew the first woman forth. "She has had five children, but she is past the breeding age now."

"I would think so," Magnus commented as Bertha smiled up at him. She was toothless and her face resembled a dried apple.   "You cannot be serious," he told Harek.

Harek shrugged, as if it were of no matter. After all, he had eleven more "candidates" to offer. "How about this one?  Leila comes from the Eastlands."

"East of where?" Magnus scoffed. The woman...probably a dockside harlot...a Norse dock, that is...had attempted to slant her eyes with kohl, but mostly she just looked like a sad raccoon.

"Well, surely you will like Eadgifu then. Comes from London, she does," Atli offered, shoving a woman midway down the line to the forefront. "She is the youngest of this lot, but she is barren due to a childhood illness."

Eadgifu also weighed about as much as a war horse, and that was no exaggeration. He misdoubted a man could even find her woman's portal in all that flab. And if she flipped him over, he would be crushed in the coupling.

Magnus just scowled, and one by one his comrades paraded their candidates before him.

Hervor used a cane because her one leg was swollen with some malady.

"Is she crippled?" he asked in an indignant whisper to Harek.

"Nay. 'Tis just the gout. Comes and goes," Harek replied, waving a hand dismissively.

"Her ankle is the size of a ham."

"Do you not think you are being a bit picky?"

Magnus frowned his disapproval, but Harek just ignored him and motioned for more "candidates." There was Olga whose eyes were crossed. And Sybil who stuttered so bad that spittle ran down to her quivering chin.

"Blanca has a special talent she employs with her tongue,"  Asli told him with a wink and a chuckle.

"That would be fine if one could overlook her mustache."  He thought he heard several of the men mutter "picky, picky," under their breaths.

Next was Gunnhilde who looked more like a man than a woman, and not just because of her height, but because of the bulge in front of her gown at an inappropriate spot.

Valda was a comely lass, but clearly pregnant, though 'twas true she would not be growing his seed, leastways not for the next few months.

Thea's raven black hair was so thin her white scalp showed through.

"Do my eyes play me false, or is that woman nigh bald?"  Magnus's eyes bulged with incredulity.

Kugge, who was the one who had led that woman forward, made a tsk-ing sound at his words. "Thea merely has some head sores which caused her hair to fall out. It will soon come back," he said. After a moment, he added, "I think."

The last straw, so to speak, was Dagmar, a dairymaid from the Danish lands. Even as she stood before him, she could not stop scratching herself...her head, her underarms, even her groin. The woman was clearly infested with lice.

"Enough!" Magnus roared, standing to his full height and pointing a forefinger at Harek with the silent message that he should remove the "candidates" from his presence at once.

"We were just trying to please you," Harek said defensively.    But Magnus saw the grin which was twitching at his lips. In fact, looking about his hall, he saw that some of his men were laughing so hard they were bent over at the waist. He wouldn't be surprised if a few of them wet their braies so overcome with mirth were they.

Magnus could not be angry at his friends...leastways, not for long. They were only teasing. The fact that it was a sore and serious subject for him was beside the point. Magnus and his misdeeds would no doubt be the subject of a skaldic saga at the next Althing. It would be titled something ridiculous, like "Magnus the Virile and His Wild Seed."

Magnus could not go on this way much longer.

Something would have to be done.


Springtime, the Norse lands, 1000 A.D.

Magnus had made a decision, and it was a momentous one.

"Hear me, one and all," he shouted out to all those in attendance at the Springtime feast taking place outdoors on his farmstead where large trestle tables had been moved and canvas tents erected. The fields had been plowed and planted. All the chores left over from winter were completed. Fallen timbers were cleared from streams. New baby animals were being born. It was a time of celebration after weeks of grueling hard work. Many of his men would be off a-Viking now, or lending their sword arms to King Olaf in his never ending battles to hold the all-kingship of the Norse lands. They would return at harvest time, though.

But not Magnus.

It was a season of new beginnings for the farm.

It would be a season of new beginnings for Magnus, too.

"I, Magnus Ericsson, have decided to take a vow of celibacy," he announced over the din of loud chatter.

Slowly, silence rippled over the crowd, and he could hear murmurs as his words were repeated from group to group. Once his meaning sunk in, laughter began to burst forth in waves. They thought he was jesting.

He held up a hand for quiet. In his other hand, he raised high his drinking horn. "Wish me well, my friends, for I am serious. And that is not all."

"Now, now, Magnus, are you still chafing under our little joke last winter?" Harek had come up to stand beside him.

He shook his head and smiled at his good friend.

"And that is not all," he further declared. "I will be leaving the Norse lands for a good long time. I am off to that new land beyond Iceland which was discovered a dozen or so years ago by my father's cousin, Erik the Red. 'Tis Greenland I refer to, of course. Or mayhap I will venture even farther to that place which his son Leif is exploring. Vinland is supposed to be warmer, if naught else."

Laughter in the crowd soon turned to shock.

"But why?" Harek was gazing at him with a frown of puzzlement on his forehead.

Magnus wished he could explain the missive he'd received last sennight. Came on a trading ship which had come in contact with some sailors from that new land of Leif's. In a linen wrapped parcel was his brother Jorund's sword. Tied to the sword were two small portraits--one of Jorund with some strange woman and two twin girls; and the other of Jorund and Geirolf with arms looped over each other's shoulders, standing before a huge archway sign which read, "Rosestead."

The portraits, if they could be called that, were done on peculiar parchment paper, unlike any he had ever seen before.   And the attire worn by all of them was strange. But most important, Jorund and Geirolf looked happy. After much pondering, Magnus had decided that it was a message from the gods...or from his brothers.

Geirolf's dragonship had been lost in the oceans beyond Iceland almost three years past, presumed to have drowned in a shipwreck. Then Jorund's dragonship had done the same two years ago when he'd gone to search for Geirolf.

But were they really dead? Or were they alive in some new land? Magnus had to find out for himself. It was a mystery he must at least investigate.

"It is something I must do," was the only explanation he could give Harek. He put on a mirthful face then and added, "Besides, there is not enough good land in Norway for all my children. Ha, ha, ha!"

People nodded and laughed, tentatively, at his half-jest, half-truth. Arable land had always been scarce in the Northlands, but it was even more so now in recent years as more and more men vied for the same amount under numerous grab-land minor kings. Thousands of Vikings were settling in other countries for that very reason.

"Who will rule your absence?" Atli called out to him.

"Madrene and her husband, Karl, will rule in my place here at the farmstead. Ragnor will represent me at my father's estate. The rest of my children...all nine of them...will come with me." May the gods help me, he murmured to himself with his last statement.

He could see the disappointment in Jogeir's face. The boy was a farmer at heart, like him, and he loved this land. But there would be new farms for him, and for Jogeir, of that he was convinced, or he would not go. Besides, they would come back someday.

As his people began to assimilate his news and accept it--all Vikings loved a good adventure--Magnus sat down with a sigh and a took a long drag on his horn of ale. He felt good about his decision. If nothing else, it was a time for new beginnings.

Besides, it would be a lot easier to honor his vow of celibacy in the new land where there were surely not very many women. And those who were there must be dog ugly--Why else would they settle in the back of beyond?--though the one in Jorund's portrait had been more than passable.

For the first time in a year or more, Magnus was excited, and it had naught to do with the throb betwixt his legs.

As sure as dragon piss, it was a good sign.

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