Wanna take a little road trip, buddy?...
Navy Lieutenant Torolf Magnusson put his
face in his hands and counted silently to ten. Only then, did he look up at
five of his teammates from Force Squad, 8th Platoon, SEAL Team Twelve and
say, "Get lost!"
"Not a chance!" his best friend, Petty
Officer Justin "Cage" LeBlanc, said with a laugh. LeBlanc was a Cajun from
Southern Louisiana and the biggest thorn in this sailor's ass when he wanted
to be. Like now.
Torolf, who was known as Max to his
friends, resumed packing. His sea bag sat on the bed in his apartment in
Coronado, California, home of the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base, as well as
BUD/S training ground for the Navy's elite special forces unit. He would
soon hitch a ride on a military transport to Germany and from there take a
commercial flight to Norway.
His buddies surrounded him in his
bedroom, trying to change his mind about leaving. Not just Cage, but also
Lt. (jg) Zach "Pretty Boy" Floyd, an ex‑race car driver. And Chief Petty
Officer Sylvester "Sly" Sims, a big black dude from Harlem; he hated
terrorists with a passion and channeled that zeal through SEAL operations as
a munitions expert. There was also Lt. (jg) Jacob Mendoza, JAM, ex-Jesuit
priest; and Ensign Merrill "Geek" Good, a young computer prodigy. Geek was
a Smee, or subject matter expert, although he had seen some active duty. He
was the only ring knocker among them, being a Naval Academy grad.
Cage shoved the duffel bag to the side
and lay down on the bed, bent-kneed, arms crossed under his head, smiling up
at Torolf with exaggerated innocence. Hah! Cage hadn't been innocent since
he'd fast roped down his mother's umbilical cord and out of the womb thirty
years ago. Right now, Cage was laughing his ass off, playing self-appointed
spokesman for this buttinsky bunch who nodded...or grinned...at every
blinkin' thing he said. Even simple stuff, like, "Where you goin', Max?
"Norway. I've told you that a dozen
"I whacked a guy for family honor one
time," Sly said. Everyone looked at Sly, but the one-time inner city gang
member didn't elaborate. He rarely did.
Cage resumed his grilling, "When will ya
"Will ya come back?"
"Against me? I don't know. Hundred to
one, maybe, on a good day."
"Greedy, vicious invaders."
"Mon Dieu, that defines any
terrorist cell in the third world."
"One in particular who would make Osama
and Saddam seem like kindergartners."
Cage frowned. "Who the hell would wanta
Torolf refused to answer and continued
There was a communal rolling of eyes at
"Well, that settles it." It was Pretty
Boy speaking now. "We'll all go with you." While he spoke, Pretty Boy
flipped through Torolf's little black book which sat next to his wallet on
the bureau. Torolf grabbed it from him with a snort of disgust. Pretty
Boy--who was...well, pretty, according to women from two hemispheres--got
enough action already. In fact, he'd once bragged that he could wear a sign
around his neck proclaiming, "1,000 Satisfied Customers." Then Pretty Boy's
words sunk in.
Oh, great! That's just what I need.
A herd of Navy SEALs riding my tail. "You...will...not! I do not one,
let alone five oversized, overaged babysitters."
"That's debatable," JAM interjected.
The Hispanic guy was checking out Torolf's books on a nearby shelf. Torolf
read everything from Clive Cussler to his sister Kirstin's romance novels.
JAM, on the other hand, probably had a dozen versions of the Bible.
"Not babysitters, precisely," Cage
elaborated. "Ya caint serve the gumbo 'less ever'one's at the table." He
loved to quote his Cajun grandmother's hokey bayou sayings.
"What the hell does that mean?"
"All fer one and one fer all." Cage
grinned. "Hey, you guys were there for me and my Maw Maw during Katrina and
Rita." Maw Maw was Cajun for grandmother. "Me, how could I do any
less...even if ya've lost yer friggin' mind, cher?"
"Norway?" Sly said, frowning. "It's
cold there, isn't it?"
Sly leaned against the open door frame
and groaned. "Couldn't you pick somewhere like Miami, or the Bahamas?" Sly
was six-foot-four inches of lean, ebony muscle. A handsome guy with his
shaved head and a soul patch on his chin, he had at one time modeled tighty
whities for GQ. Sly teased, like the rest of them, but his eyes were
dead...had been since his brother died on 9/11 and he'd vowed to kill "every
motherfucker terrorist in the world." His exact words, repeated often.
"I have no choice. Norway is where I
"For chrissake, he's gonna start the
Viking bullshit again." JAM might have trained for the priesthood at one
time, but he used the language of a sinner.
"Guess I'll have to pack my long johns,"
Sly said with an loud sigh of resignation.
"You guys are not going with me," Torolf
No one listened.
"Those Scandinavian women are supposed
to be hot." This from Pretty Boy who considered himself the world's expert
on women. "Whoo-hoo! What do I see here?" He waved a long accordion strip
of condoms that he'd picked up out of Torolf's duffel bag. "Planning a
marathon, are you, good buddy? You plannin' to keep all those hot Norse
mamas to yourself?"
Torolf grabbed for the condoms and
stuffed them back in his bag. "Listen, this is serious business for me.
It's something I've got to do. By myself."
"Do tell," Cage said, serious himself
Torolf inhaled and exhaled, then decided
to tell them the truth. Not that they would believe him. "I need to travel
back to the eleventh century Norselands to put an end to Steinolf, the worst
tango in the world." Tango was a SEAL word for terrorist or bad guy. "He
stole my family lands and tortured my sister Madrene." Jeesh, that
sounds ludicrous even to my own ears.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Sly said. "Did you
say eleventh century?"
"Isn't that when William the Conqueror
hit the British scene?" It was Geek speaking for the first time. He'd been
sitting at the desk fiddling with Torolf's laptop, updating some virus
"Early eleventh century," Torolf
said. "William the Conqueror came about fifty years later."
His friends couldn't have regarded him
more incredulously if he'd grown propellers and called himself a Blackhawk.
"You're gonna time-travel? Cool!" Geek
Cool? Does that mean he accepts
time-travel? I must be dreaming.
The other SEALs turned to look at Geek,
shocked. The message was clear: Geek had an I.Q. of about a gazillion, and
if he could accept time-travel, well, holy shit, maybe the rest of them
could accept it, too. Scary thought, that.
"You believe in time-travel?" Sly asked
Tell them "no." Please, tell them
"Well, not today, but I think it might
be possible in the future."
That is just great!
Geek then went on to spout some crap
about time wrinkles in the stratosphere and research going on at some
half-baked inter-terrestrial institute in D.C. Apparently time-travelers
and aliens were put in the same category.
"Have you been to see Dr. Goldstein this
rotation?" Pretty Boy asked Torolf.
"Yes, I have." Hell, he wouldn't
believe it either if he were in their shoes.
Dr. Goldstein was the base
psychiatrist. All SEALs were required to get psychiatric counseling after
every live op in which kills were involved. There was a fear that they
would go off the deep end if they couldn't reconcile the taking of human
life, even if it was the vilest of tangos. After this recent stint in
Afghanistan, his platoon--a combined effort of SEALs, Rangers and other
special forces units--had all gotten in their share of killing Al-Quaida
suicide bombers and shit-for-brains extremists.
Plus, one of their team members had
committed suicide after returning to the home base at Coronado, which
resulted in their required one-month liberties. None of them knew the guy
very well, but still, what affected one of them affected them all.
They would start a new rotation next
month, this time in Tikrit where the goal was to make a surgical strike,
taking out some of the remaining hardcore Baathists, remnants of Saddam's
old regime. These were the nut cases responsible for the car bombs being
smuggled over the Iraqi-Syrian border.
"So, Max, have ya time-traveled
before?" Cage was gazing at him with a mixture of pity and concern.
That surprised the crap out of all of
them, including Geek, who turned to give him his full attention. "How?"
Geek wanted to know.
"You guys can't repeat any of this,"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," they agreed, but he
could tell that they all thought he was fast turning into a fruitcake.
He eyed the window of his first floor
unit. If they bring in a strait jacket, I'm outta here. "When I was
sixteen years old, in the year 1010 A.D., my father, myself, and eight of my
brothers and sisters boarded a longship and went to Iceland. We left behind
at Norstead, my family's estates, my brother Ragnor and my sister Madrene,
both of whom you've met. While in Iceland, or Greenland, or wherever the
hell we ended up, a strange storm overtook us, and we saw a vision where
this elderly woman was praying. When we woke up, we were still in our
longship, but we had landed in modern day California. Ragnor and Madrene
came here later, at different times."
A stunned silence met his words.
Well, he might as well finish off this
lunatic tale. "If it was only that Steinolf stole our property...if it was
only that he'd been vicious in the invasion...my family could probably let
it go. But that bastard did some things to Madrene that can't be forgiven
or forgotten. Even today, her body is covered with scars from the bastard's
"Why you?" Pretty Boy asked. "I mean,
you have a big family. Did ya draw straws or somethin'?"
"I'm the oldest adult male in the family
with no wife or kids. So, it's up to me." He shrugged.
Finally, Cage coughed and said, "So, do
ya have a time machine or somethin'?"
He had to laugh at the question and gave
Cage a noogie on his long-haired fool head. "No, you dipwad!"
"Do you expect to do it on the high
seas...in a boat?" Geek asked. "Like before? And reverse the time-travel?"
"Logical conclusion, but no. I've tried
that. Lots of time in a boat off the California coast. I even tried it in
Iceland one time. But nothing happens. Now I'm going back to Norway. I'll
stand on the same spot where Norstead was once located. Hopefully,
something will happen."
"You know you've gone bonkers, don't
you?" Sly regarded him with amusement.
He probably expected him to say
something like, "Gotcha!" And admit he'd been joking.
"Maybe. But I've gotta try."
"You honest-to-God believe in
time-travel?" Pretty Boy wanted to know.
"Well, no. But I do believe in
miracles. I figure God, or one of the gods...probably Loki, the
jester...destined this for my family."
"Aaah, miracles! That I can
understand." JAM was nodding his head in acceptance, which was remarkable
to Torolf. He didn't think anyone would believe him.
"This sounds really interesting. I'm
in," Geek said. "When do we leave for Norway?"
"Me, too," each of the others said.
"No, no, no!" he said as emphatically as
"All fer one and one fer all," Cage
reminded him. And he wasn't teasing, either.
"You can't do this," he tried one last
time. "I know you have liberty for a couple weeks. We all do before we go
OUTCONUS again. But, man, what if we can't come back? What if we get stuck
in the past? Do you want to have a UA on your record?"
"Shiiit! If we're lost in the eleventh
century, I don't think an unauthorized absence is gonna matter all that
much," Pretty Boy pointed out.
He decided to try a different argument.
"Do you have any idea how primitive it was then? No electricity. No
running water or flush toilets. No cars or planes. No computers. No
His five teammates looked at each other,
then at him. They didn't believe him. Still, Cage spoke for them all when
he said, "We're willing to risk that...for you. Do y'all agree?"
The response was a resounding,
"Hoo-yah!" And Pretty Boy added, "Make sure we buy a shitload of rubbers to
take with us. Make mine super size."
"The only super size on you is your big
head," Sly told Pretty Boy.
So it was that a team of six Navy SEALs
decided to go back in time to the eleventh century Norselands. They would
never be the same.
You could say she was a Dark Age feminist...
Brunhilda Berdottir was the last living
child of Styrr Hardhead and Bera the Weeper, a deceased high jarl of
Hordaland and his lady wife. Though she would never be recognized as such
in her present condition.
She had a broken arm, a blackened eye
and bruises from head to toe. Still she trudged on, wearing only a rough
gown under an over-tunic and thin, deer-skin ankle boots, fur side inward,
these two days and more along a remote, snow-covered mountain trail, hoping
to find her grandsire's hunting lodge.
But then she slipped, her feet went out
from under her, and her rump hit the ground with a resounding thump. Her
stop caused the five females who followed behind her to fall as well in a
At first, they all stared at each
other. Then one of them giggled. Soon they were all laughing. Not that
there was any humor to their predicament, but the old sages were right when
they said that betimes 'twas better to laugh than cry.
With her were five other females,
ranging in age from twelve to thirty, all of them equally battered, some
having been raped as well, repeatedly. The one thing they all had in common
was the brutal, maggot-hearted Steinolf, who had invaded farmstead and
estates across northwestern Norselands in a wave of bloody attacks these
past two years. Her family's own Amberstead--named for her father's trading
in the prized stones from the Baltic--had suffered the latest of his raids.
Hilda could not bear to think of her last image of her father lying in a
pool of blood outside the bailey, his body having been dealt the horrible
"Blood Eagle," a Viking punishment that involved hacking all the ribs away
from the back bone down to loins, then pulling out the lungs as an offering
In truth, there had been so much sword
dew from him and his loyal retainers that it ran like a stream down to the
fjord. Thank the gods, her mother and older brothers, Arnsten and Ketil,
had passed to the Other World many years ago.
Actually, there were more than the five
of them traveling this remote trail. There was also Bjorn, Dotta, Edla and
Stigandr. Bjorn was a huge ram; Dotta and Edla, his favorite ewes...all
three brought along for this journey at the insistence of her maid, Inge.
Hilda and the women had all slept cuddled up against the animals for warmth
as they slept yestereve.
Stig was, of course, her father's
hunting dog. A more contrary, lustsome beast there never was. He would
obey no one, not even Hilda, now that her father was gone.
Fortunately, once Stig understood that
sheep would not stand still for his carnal efforts, all four animals had
behaved well. And Inge--bless her soul--had trailed behind with the
animals, picking up their droppings with a wood paddle and sack so that
their enemy would not be able to trace their path. Hilda had drawn the line
when Frida, her cook, wanted to bring squawky chickens, but Hilda suspected
the stubborn woman had breeding eggs nestled in the swath of wool wrapped
around her waist.
Hilda patted her chest where a
heart-shaped amber pendant on a thin chain lay...a last gift from her
father, who had been a far-famed trader, dealing with Baltic amber, but also
bringing to her from the far-flung trading towns of Birka, Hedeby and
Novgorod finger and arm rings, gold and silver linked belts, silk samite
fabrics from Byzantium, a polished brass looking mirror, and a red cloak
lined with gray fox fur. It had taken great effort on her part to keep the
pendant hidden from Steinolf's men when she would have been better off
taking a cloak or sharp knife.
Odd what people consider necessities!
"Are we almost there, m'lady?" Inge
asked as Hilda stood and dusted snow flakes off her gunna and wool mantle.
They were near a bend in Freyjafjord that they had been following since
midday. The others began to rise as well. Meanwhile, the sheep foraged in
the snow to nibble at the undergrowth, and Stig licked her hands, seeking
some morsel of food or bone.
She ignored Stig, having nothing to
offer and pressed her lips together to stop their shivering. "I've not been
here for a dozen years...since my eleventh winter...but my grandsire always
said Deer Haven was only a half day's journey from Freyja's Elbow, a bend in
the fjord near the ancient lintel tree.
Inge's weary eyes followed Hilda's gaze
to the gnarled tree as wide as three mead barrels with bare branches
resembling beastly arms.
"Let us rest here a moment," Hilda
"A fire?" Inge inquired hopefully.
Hilda shook her head. "Steinolf's men
may follow us...if not now, eventually. I doubt me there is any imminent
danger, but we must be within the safety of Deer Haven's walls, drawbridge
down when...if...they discover our whereabouts."
"What could they do to us that they have
not already done?" Inge remarked with a shudder.
"Skin us alive." It was a practice
Steinolf was rumored to practice on his captured enemies when they did not
"For the love of Thor! We can
ill-afford to malinger then," Inge said, and the others nodded in agreement,
even twelve-year-old Dagne whose bloody thighs had borne the seed of a dozen
or more men afore they had rescued her that first night. She had not spoken
since. Dagne carried a favorite lute clutched close to her chest. Hilda
wondered if she would ever sing again.
But they had all suffered.
The tip of Astrid's tongue had been
sliced off for refusing to take one warrior's manpart into her mouth.
Thereafter, the young girl had been forced to kneel for hours and taste the
male sap of innumerable men as punishment, all at the laughing order of
Steinolf, the first in line.
Elise, only seventeen, and a thrall, had
watched helplessly as her young mother had been dragged to one of the three
longboats headed for the market stalls at Hedeby where she, and twenty
others, would be sold as slaves. Their fate could be no worse than those
left behind. Of course, Hilda would now release Elise from her thralldom,
and she would no longer have to keep her hair close-cropped as a sign of
Frida, the oldest of them at twenty and
seven, had lain spread-legged on the high table of Amberstead's great hall
for a day and a half. Steinolf had encouraged his men to touch and abuse
her naked body, as entertainment. At one point, when Hilda had been paraded
into the hall, she'd seen Frida's breasts and belly covered with grease and
They were a perverted, cruel bunch,
Steinolf's men were, slaking their lust like savage animals. Although Hilda
had been beaten, she had not been raped or mutilated...yet. Steinolf had
been saving her, as the high-born daughter of the estate, for last in hopes
of drawing fleeing troops and cotters back to Amberstead. She could not
imagine what atrocity he had planned for her, in light of what he'd done to
lesser females in the household. There had been mention of a randy stallion
out in the stable. That had been when she'd planned her escape.
Hilda looked at each of them in turn and
said, "Heed me well. We have survived. Keep heart a short while longer.
This I vow, Steinolf will pay for his sins...someday. But for now, we must
find safe harbor, restore our bodies and spirits, and grow strong."
The next morning they arrived at Deer
Haven. Hilda surveyed it with an eye toward their defense against
It was a motte and bailey style
structure--built in the longhouse style of the Vikings. It sat on an
immense, raised, flat hilltop, steep-sloped on three sides and set against
an almost vertical mountain background. The rustic castle--and, yea, it was
a castle to the Norsemen--was surrounded by a wide moat. The palisade of
strong hewn logs was half rotted away. Many hides of land went with this
"estate," but most of it was untillable. That's why her great-grandsire had
abandoned it decades ago.
Much work would be required to restore
it to its former impregnable state. The only entrance was through the
fjord, which could be made impassable by damning the stream a short distance
back...something her great-grandsire had once done in the old days when this
had been his first home...long before the establishment of Amberstead and
the use of Deer Haven as a hunting lodge. The drawbridge was rusted into a
permanent open position. The moat was filled with mud and fallen trees.
The massive, timber and earthworks main longhouse with its wood shake roof
was in disrepair but still intact, though the wattle-and-daub huts and
outbuildings that surrounded it had long ago lost their thatched roofs.
Despite the condition, Deer Haven was a
welcome sight to them all. "This will do as our new home," Hilda
pronounced. Astrid, Elise and Frida dropped to their knees and said prayers
of thanks. Dagne wept, probably with relief. But Inge, ever the one to
have a sense of humor, chuckled. "By your leave, m'lady," she said, but
without waiting for a response, picked up a sharp rock and carved runic
symbols onto a short plank which she propped against the edge of the
It read: "Any man who dares enter here
uninvited will leave with a shriveled manpart."
"Well said!" Hilda clapped her hands in
They all laughed then, even Dagne.
We will be all right now, Hilda
decided. If we can see mirth in the midst of our dire circumstance, we
have the mettle to survive. This will be our sanctuary. In fact, she
stepped forth and took the stone from Inge, adding two words. Later the
same plaque would be nailed into the restored fortress, and it would read:
Any man who dares enter here
will leave with a shriveled manpart."