The Sign of the Raven

The Sign of the Raven

by Poul Anderson

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Overview

The epic saga of Norway’s greatest hero concludes as the legendary Viking conqueror-king Harald Hardrede pursues his dreams of empire to the shores of England

Young Norseman Harald Hardrede eagerly followed the hand of destiny around the world, learning much of the methods of conquerors and kings. Throughout history there have been great and lauded champions who achieved far less than the towering Viking who now rightly rules Norway. But the crown sits heavily upon Harald’s head, for the throne he occupies rests on shaky ground: Treachery is brewing in the lands of a one-time ally in the North and the conquest of Denmark remains an elusive dream. The enduring sadness of his beloved wife pains him, and the sons he sired with his tempestuous mistress remain to him perplexing mysteries. As the middle years take their toll on the greatest of all Norse champions and a magnificent era approaches its end, destiny once again summons the “Lightning of the North.” Ahead lies the king’s final adventure, one last opportunity to man the dragon-prowed ships and sail across an ocean for the prize he has coveted above all others: the fortified island called Britannia.
 
With The Sign of the Raven, Poul Anderson, one of the acknowledged greats of fantasy and speculative fiction, concludes his enthralling Last Viking Trilogy. Employing his exceptional storytelling skills to create a masterwork of historical fiction, he brings the eleventh-century to breathtaking life, blending action and color, poignancy and power in his chronicle of the glorious and tragic final years of Norway’s most illustrious hero.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504024426
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 12/08/2015
Series: The Last Viking Trilogy , #3
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 282
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Poul Anderson (1926–2001) grew up bilingual in a Danish American family. After discovering science fiction fandom and earning a physics degree at the University of Minnesota, he found writing science fiction more satisfactory. Admired for his “hard” science fiction, mysteries, historical novels, and “fantasy with rivets,” he also excelled in humor. He was the guest of honor at the 1959 World Science Fiction Convention and at many similar events, including the 1998 Contact Japan 3 and the 1999 Strannik Conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Besides winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards, he has received the Gandalf, Seiun, and Strannik, or “Wanderer,” Awards. A founder of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he became a Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

In 1952 he met Karen Kruse; they married in Berkeley, California, where their daughter, Astrid, was born, and they later lived in Orinda, California. Astrid and her husband, science fiction author Greg Bear, now live with their family outside Seattle.
Poul Anderson (1926–2001) grew up bilingual in a Danish American family. After discovering science fiction fandom and earning a physics degree at the University of Minnesota, he found writing science fiction more satisfactory. Admired for his “hard” science fiction, mysteries, historical novels, and “fantasy with rivets,” he also excelled in humor. He was the guest of honor at the 1959 World Science Fiction Convention and at many similar events, including the 1998 Contact Japan 3 and the 1999 Strannik Conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Besides winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards, he has received the Gandalf, Seiun, and Strannik, or “Wanderer,” Awards. A founder of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he became a Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

In 1952 he met Karen Kruse; they married in Berkeley, California, where their daughter, Astrid, was born, and they later lived in Orinda, California. Astrid and her husband, science fiction author Greg Bear, now live with their family outside Seattle.

Read an Excerpt

The Sign of the Raven

Book Three of the Last Viking Trilogy


By Poul Anderson

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1980 Poul Anderson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2442-6


CHAPTER 1

How a Ship Was Launched


1


After Yule, the king's older son Magnus went hunting and was gone for many days. He was just turning thirteen, a tall, slim, handsome boy with blue eyes and reddish-brown hair, deft in all exercises, rather cocky and vain but well liked by the men. His father had promised to take him warring in summer, and this he often bragged about.

He came home on a clear day when shadows reached blue between the sun-glitter on snowdrifts. Several fine horns hung at his saddlebow. As he clattered into the courtyard, he shouted for a bath to be made ready. He and his closest friends steamed for a while, whipped each other with light birch rods, then ran out to roll and romp. Their laughter rose like the clamor of waterfowl from behind the screen around the sauna.

As he came forth, toweled dry but still fiery red, his fresh clothes a bright splotch of color, Magnus saw two of his siblings making a snowman in the courtyard: Olaf and Ingigerdh. They were nearly of an age, twelve years, and good friends; both were quiet among most people but merry enough when those they trusted were at hand. The girl was not homely, though her bones were too thick and her features too heavy to be called fair; she had dull-yellow hair and gray eyes. Olaf's gaze was deep blue, his locks the hue of ripe grain; he was big for his age, and had his mother's blunt, wide-boned comeliness of face. Magnus did not get on well with him.

The older boy stopped, hands on hips, and stared. His brother grew aware of him, ceased work, and looked up.

"Let me not keep you from what you're doing," said Magnus with a grin. "Children must play."

Olaf reddened but made no answer. "Go away," said Ingigerdh. "We didn't ask you to join."

"Oh, I've enough else to do," replied Magnus. "Horns and skins, I brought down an elk, among other beasts. I ran up and put a spear in him myself, and was almost trampled when he rushed. But that would not interest you."

"No," said Olaf. "Your boasting gets dull."

Magnus' temper flicked up, but he said only: "I've something to boast about. This year I'll hunt a greater game."

Ingigerdh smiled nastily. "From behind your mother's skirts," she said.

Magnus wadded a snowball and threw it at her. "Go on," she cried as she dodged it. "War on girls. If your cast is no better than that, the Danes have little to fear."

Magnus shouted and rushed at Olaf. They met in a whirl of fists and went down, locked together. Ingigerdh chanted: "Magnus is a nidhing. Magnus is a nidhing."

Olaf was strong, he could match his brother even now. The fight went on for a space, then a hand grabbed the neck of each boy and they were lifted up and thrown aside.

King Harald stood there, glaring at them. They were sobbing with their rage. "Olaf mocked me," said Magnus through his tears. "They both m-m-mocked me."

"I — I —" Olaf stuttered but could get no words out.

"Be still!" snapped Harald. "Are you dogs, that you'd behave thus in sight of all? No food for either of you today."

"And Ingigerdh started it, and she goes free!" yelled Magnus.

"I did not!" said the girl.

"Go into the house, the lot of you," said Harald.

Magnus stamped his foot. "I won't!"

Harald stepped forward and cuffed him so his head rang. He said to his father, through tight lips: "When I am king I'll have my revenge."

Harald grabbed him and gave him two more slaps, so he wondered if his head still sat firm on its neck. "That's no way to speak to me," said his father. "Show more respect, or I'll make you sorry."

"I'm not sorry," said Magnus defiantly. "I am in the right this time. Go on, beat me if you will, but I'm not sorry."

"Go into the house, I said," Harald answered.

Magnus went with stiff, offended strides. Ingigerdh snuffled, her head hanging. Olaf was harder to understand; he walked as calmly as if he were leaving by his own choice.

Harald stood staring after them. His palm still tingled, and he rubbed it on his breeches. It was not easy to strike your own son.

A promising hellion, he thought. I was as unruly at his age. He'll make a good king.

But Olaf ... in the saint's name, how had he and Thora begotten such a one? The boy was Maria's sort, still and gentle. He was good enough with weapons, he practiced doggedly at the hours set, but there was no fire in him; he would rather turn over the leaves of some book in the bishop's home, he liked to work with his hands, he was kindly to horses and dogs. ... Sigurdh Sow's blood, yes, that must be his.

Harald sighed. If Magnus lived, he might well follow the conquering course his father had set; it would not be so ill to go down into dust knowing that Magnus held Norway. But they were apt to be short of years, these breakneck youths: a few tumults and then the doomsday ax in their skulls. It was a wonder that he, Harald Hardrede, was still above ground.

And if only Olaf remained in the king's seat, God alone knew which way the land would drift. The boy thought too much.

Slowly, Harald left the courtyard. He would offer candles in the Lady Church.


2


When spring blew up from the south, the new warship was almost finished. She lay in her cradle, a long sweep of red-painted strakes, and stem- and sternposts lifting toward heaven. The king himself had chosen every bit of tackle, from walrus-hide ropes to iron anchor; his wife had led the women who embroidered the sail, a giant square blue- and white-striped with the raven winging black across.

Her launching was a merry day, when men had come from far around to attend the Thing in Nidharos. Mass had been heard, and now folk crowded the riverbank; it was awash with color, spears blinked under the pale sky and thin hurrying clouds. Harald and his guardsmen stood at the slip.

"Do you name her," he said to Thora.

The tall woman smiled, and took a cup of wine which a priest had blessed to replace the old heathen sacrifices. As she poured it over the bow, she cried: "Let your name be Fafnir, and hasten you to eat our foes."

The ropes were loosed, the wedges knocked free, and the craft slid down the greased way and splashed into the river. Briefly, she rocked, and men held their breaths; then, as they saw she rode steadily, they lifted a cheer.

Harald sprang aboard from the bank, a long leap. His great frame decked in red and green, folk would have thought him twenty years younger than he was. He raised the gilt dragon head and held it fast. Ulf the marshal was among the carpenters who nailed it in place.

Thjodholf made a verse:

"I saw the vessel striding
seaward from the river.
Girl, did you see the golden
galley 'neath the houses?
Fiercely flashed her mane
when the firedrake hastened outward;
hot with gold, her hewn-out
head was rearing haughty."


With shouts and laughter, the carles brought what else was needful, the ship was rigged and her crew stormed aboard for the first trial. Harald meant to sail her out of the fjord mouth and see how she behaved in unsheltered waters. He took the steering oar himself, his crew dipped blades, and swiftly the Fafnir glided forth as Thjodholf chanted:

"Soon upon a Saturday
struck the king the awning;
broadside to, the boat was
bespied by waiting maidens.
Westward from these waters
wends the new-launched longship
as our gallant oarsmen
eat the miles before them.

"Craftily the king's
own carles swing slender oar blades;
women see a wonder
walking on the billows;
much it joys the maidens,
men to see thus faring;
let them never learn
that lean black oars were storm-snapped.

"Onward, then, and eager
is our keel now leaping,
surging through the sea
with seven tens of oar shafts.
It's like seeing eagles'
open wings, when Northmen
drive the hammered dragon
down to surf and hailstorm."


He turned a face of laughter to the king. "Am I giving them the stroke well enough, my lord?" he asked.

"Aye ... more than well." Harald stared before him. "And she goes like an angel. Now let Svein Estridhsson await us!"


3


Haakon Ivarsson had settled down as jarl in the Uplands, where he soon made himself the friend of all the people. They looked more to him for judgment and leadership than to the king, who had never been liked in these shires. Haakon lived lavishly, with more feasts than any jarl before him, but managed his affairs so well that he grew rich regardless. Between him and his wife Ragnhild was a close love, in spite of many quarrels; they had four living children by now.

Though he and the king often disagreed, and sometimes thwarted each other at the Things, there had been no fresh break between them. Each was an honored guest at the rare times he sought the other's home, and Haakon had sailed on many of the raids in Denmark.

This summer, word went through the land that Svein had accepted Harald's challenge and would meet him in August near the Göta mouth for a sea fight to settle their differences. When Ragnhild heard that, her lip lifted and she said: "It'll be a wonder if he comes. Most likely he'll slink away as he did before."

"No," replied Haakon thoughtfully. "Svein is a strange man, his soul is full of kinks, but he's not a coward. That is, he does know fear, but he can master it ... which takes more bravery than to be a witless berserker."

"You've often spoken well of him," said Ragnhild, "but I've never yet understood why. He drove you from Denmark."

"No, he only warned me that his kin would take vengeance for Asmund's death if I stayed. He himself was always a good friend to me, apart from some hasty words now and then. He saved my life when I had to flee Norway." Haakon sighed. "And now old Finn Arnason is with him. Odd to think of bearing shield against Finn. My earliest memory of him is of sitting on his knee while he told me a story."

"Bitterest of all to carry that shield on behalf of a king who robbed and bullied and murdered your own folk."

"Say no more." Haakon's voice was sharp. "I've given oaths."

He had reached the full ripeness of his manhood, tall and powerful, soft on his feet, the handsome unlined face and curly yellow hair giving him somewhat of a boyish look. Ragnhild was young enough yet to remain fair in spite of childbearing and work. When they rode out together, they were a goodly couple.

But this time Haakon went alone. He summoned the Upland levies and prepared to take them down to Oslo, where he had gathered a fleet. There was complaint among the yeomen at having to go just when hay harvest neared; Haakon thought that Svein must have planned this when he set the time of battle, but could only obey.

After he was mounted, Ragnhild came to him with her children about her. "Must you leave so early?" she asked.

"I want to be waiting for the king," he answered. "It shall not be said I hung back. He distrusts me enough, thinks I have too much strength, and from his own standpoint he is right."

She looked up at him. This they had talked about many times before. He did not plan rebellion, but he wanted might to withstand the royal power.

"Go with God," she said, handing him a beaker of mead. He swallowed it at a gulp, leaned over, and kissed her. The taste of the honey was on his lips.

"I'll bring you home a chest of Danish gold," he said cheerfully.

"Bring yourself," she replied. "That will be all I want."

He drew in his reins till the horse reared, swept his hat in a wave, and galloped out to where the men waited. His voice drifted back, a boy's shout:

"Hey! Off we go! Give us a song!" And the tune he himself struck up was neither hymn nor war verse but a bouncing bawdy ballad from Oslo's alehouses.

Ragnhild stared after the army till the steep dales hid them. Then she returned to her work.

CHAPTER 2

How They Fought at the River Niss


1


As King Harald went south along Norway's coast, and the shire levies joined him, his fleet became a mighty one. The whole sea power of his land was met. From his own Fafnir, with gold-flashing head and tail, down to the lowliest tarred fisher boat, helmets and weapons glittered and shields banged on the sides. To larboard rose the tall shores of Norway, but to starboard the water held ships and ships and ships, as far as a man could see.

Standing at the steering oar, Harald looked with pride on his crew. They were youthful; his old followers now commanded vessels of their own. Even Magnus was captain in one dragon, with a warrior of experience to counsel him. Here he had the pick of the new generation, young gamecocks in some ways strange to him. They were more vain, more mannerly, more afraid of hellfire to come than men of his age; but they seemed also more reckless and quarrelsome, touchy about a small point of honor, not rooted in some ancient garth but given over to the splendid unrest of the royal service. The brown faces were smooth, unlined, still scant of beard but with heavy locks falling to their shoulders; life had not yet scarred and battered them, they were all mindless leaping flame. He felt a wan envy. So had he been, once.

"Well ... what of it?" he asked himself. He could still flatten any of those pups, and he had the dearly bought wisdom of years, and he was the king. After this summer's work, he would be the king of two realms, and then ...

As they turned east into the Skaggerak, a wind sprang up against them, and clouds lifted darkly behind it. Thora went over to the side and faced forward, tasting its chill. She had not let her man escape his promise to take her along this year, and the voyage had seemed a wide-eyed drunkenness to her. Now the wind pressed her gown flat to the high breasts and long legs, a stray lock broke away from the ruddy coils of her hair and floated banner like; her eyes were half closed and a smile dwelt on her face.

"I think it blows up to a gale," she said.

"Aye." Thjodholf, the only one of Harald's nearer friends aboard, scowled. "It could be a stiff one, too."

"The more sport," she laughed.

"The more work," said Harald. Wind squealed in the rigging, and the Fafnir began to roll heavily. "Down mast! Out oars! Stand by to bail!"

The sea was rising, murky, streaked with foam. Scud whipped into his nostrils. As the ship entered a trough, a great wrinkled wave marched past her, overtopping the bulwarks. Clouds sheeted across the sky; ahead lay darkness and rattling thunder.

Harald gripped the oar, feeling it strain against him, a thrum as of living muscles. The prow dug into a surge, foam spouted up with the dragon head shaking above. Men cursed as their garments were suddenly drenched.

Now the light was changing, a weird hard brass yellow which seemed to fill the rushing air. Ships climbed for the sky and swooped toward hell, the water was black and steel gray and tattered white. Overhead the lightning began a crazy blink, flashed across miles from cloud to cloud, and thunder rolled.

Harald felt the wind stand into his mouth like an iron bar. Somehow he filled his lungs and bawled his orders: "Row! Row, you bastards, or you'll not see land again! Ease on the starboard ... hard alee ... get her bow to the seas or we'll be swamped!"

There came a swift rain. From afar they saw it rushing down, pocking the enraged waves, and then it was on the fleet. Blindness whirled over them in a thousand sharp lances. The lightning leaped through a howling dark, thunder banged in heaven; ha, Thor drove his goat car to war yonder! Its wheels cracked the vault of cloud, and the sky fell down in a fury of hailstones.

The ship staggered. A wave smashed across the sides, the hull flurried in bitter waters. Harald felt her groan and roll sluggish. "Bail! Bail her out, for Christ's sake! Are you lame?" The wind hooted and whistled. Fire was in the sky and doomsday below. The booming of thunder shivered Harald's teeth in his jaws.

In a short, blinding whiteness of lightning, he saw Thora. She clung to the racked mast with both hands, knees bent to the pitch and yaw of the ship, standing up and laughing — laughing! The hailstones skittered between the thwarts, they had cut her cheek, her dress was whipped into rags and her hair full of rain. Then darkness clamped down again.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Sign of the Raven by Poul Anderson. Copyright © 1980 Poul Anderson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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