Of course, Geir cannot expect to have things all his way. This is the first instance of something that’s going to become a bit of a theme: The uptime Ynglings have come here to change history, and to change Norway. But they are few in numbers, and the downtimers are stubborn, hard workers and hard fighters. Just who is going to be changing whom?
August 27th, 1082
Geir was in the practice field, sweating in heavy chainmail, when the summons to see the King came. He put on a show of annoyance, but in truth he wasn’t too displeased; it was a hot summer day, the chainmail became heavier every year – eugenics or not, the Yngling ideal just didn’t come easily to men on the wrong side of forty – and against young Torvald, all of nineteen and quick as a snake, he was getting bruises he’d feel for a week.
As he walked into the hall, though, relief gave way to a slight worry. Olaf was looking fairly angry, and sitting up straight in his chair the way he did when he anticipated a conflict with a friend. The last time he’d looked like that was – Geir had to think for a moment – two years ago, when Ragnvald Store had lost his third ship in a row and the King had to tell him he wasn’t getting any more. The worry was the worse because Geir couldn’t think of anything he might have done to annoy the King. The mystery was quickly cleared, though, as he came within speaking distance and the King gestured to the man standing by his side, a wealthy farmer by his Sunday go-to-court clothing.
“Geir! What’s this I hear about you forcing Eirik’s daughter?”
Geir blinked. Forcing? “Why, I don’t know, Sire King. What do you hear?” Oops, that had come out rather more flippant than he intended. The King’s frown deepened.
“Ragnhild Eiriksdottir. Midsummer festival, two months ago. Up against a tree, apparently.”
Light dawned, partly. Well, all right, she had struggled maybe a little more than the girls usually did to defend their honour. Still and all, they’d been within hearing range of the rest of the party, and after all she’d gone into the woods with him; what had she expected? Or – he glanced at the father. Two months would be enough for someone to learn about an impending inconvenient birth, and perhaps take steps of a political nature. Did Eirik believe his own charge? Men could be convinced of any number of things in preference to believing that their daughters would go off into the woods with men of the king’s hird.
“Well, Sire, I know the girl we’re speaking of, then. But I think she was willing enough. We weren’t so deep into the woods as all that – she could have shouted for help, eh?”
Olaf’s frown didn’t lighten, but at least he shifted it to Eirik, who changed his weight uncomfortably. “Nu, Eirik, that’s a fair point. How do you answer?”
“Sire King… I would not speak ill of a man of the hird, but any woman alone in the woods with Geir Jonsson might hesitate to make him angry.”
“Here! I’ll not have this said of me!” Geir’s indignation was quite real. “If I’ve ever turned my hand roughly to a free woman, then bring her to court now and let her speak. I use Man-biter on Swedes and Danes, and no others!”
Olaf was nodding, to Geir’s relief. “It’s true, Eirik. He’s deadly in the field, but not in the home. I’ll have no berserks in my household, you know. Anyway” – his frown deepened yet further – “why didn’t you bring Ragnhild to court, to speak for herself? She’s no child, if she went into the woods with Geir.”
Eirik shifted his weight onto his right foot, ill at ease. “I see the matter is not as straight as I had thought. But this much I know: My daughter’s belly swells, and she names this man the father. Do you deny it?” His glare challenged Geir, which took courage for the professional warriors he trained every day, much less a farmer who drilled with weapons maybe three weeks of the year. Geir’s respect for the man rose a few notches.
“I do not deny that I slept with the girl. It could well be that I’m the father.”
“Well then! We’re entitled to compensation!”
Now Geir saw it; by custom strong as law, the man would indeed have compensation – but it would have been larger by a good bit if he had convinced the King of the rape charge. Olaf saw it too, if the tightening of his lips was any indication. There was nothing the King could do, though; custom was custom, even when rich farmers tried to bend it to their advantage.
“Well, Geir, he’s right. You’ll take my judgement in this, and be reconciled?” Eirik nodded eagerly – the alternative being a feud with the most feared warrior of the King’s hird. But Geir wasn’t eager for a feud either; the man would have a large following, and an arrow from behind a tree was quite an equaliser. And even if he killed the man, he’d be declared outlaw, and that would hardly be beneficial for his plans! On the other hand he was damned if he’d pay this greedy stril any compensation; if nothing else it was pretty clear that Ragnhild would see no penny of it, and she was a sweet girl and deserved better.
The thought struck him forcefully, and he smiled. “Sire King, I would make an offer for the compensation, which I think you’ll be pleased to hear. Ragnhild is of good family, and I like her well. Let us be married, then, and I’ll name her child as my own.”
Olaf and Eirik both sat for a moment digesting this. They understood it simultaneously, and the King smiled broadly while Eirik winced. Money compensation would have gone into the farmer’s pockets; an offer of marriage, if Ragnhild accepted, meant that he must part with a good bit of land or wealth as dowry, instead – and he’d be unable to make an alliance with another landowning family. Geir had land, but he was only one man, not much use in a clan feud, even if he was the best killer in the hird. It was a fitting punishment for trying to use the custom of child-compensation to enrich himself at his daughter’s (and Geir’s) expense.
“That is well spoken! If the girl is willing, let it be as you say. Since there seems” – the King smiled – “to be some need for haste, we’ll have the wedding before the harvest. Eirik, as you accept my judgement, I trust there’ll be no difficulty in arranging the feast?”
This put the farmer on the spot; repudiating the King’s judgement now would get him in deep trouble. Hiding his anger, he stammered his acceptance of the terms, and departed with long strides. Geir didn’t laugh until he was well out of the room – no need to rub it in – but then he broke into deep guffaws. The King joined him. “Nu, that’ll teach the man to use my law for his own enrichment! Well done, Geir. But do you think the girl will marry you?”
“Oh, I should think so, yes. She was sweet enough on me to go into the woods, eh? And I’m wealthy enough, stand well at court, and my face scares no children. She could do much worse, I should think.”
“True, but then who knows how women think? But we’ll know soon enough. Well, I wish you every joy of her. You’ve been in my service long enough, it’s time you had a woman and settled down! I think you’ve done more to enlarge Norway than any other man I could name, but you’ve taken very little of the good things of the land. Take this, then, with my blessing! And I’ll give two large gold goblets for your household.”
Geir smiled and said his thanks, touched. They were a taciturn people, these Old Norse; it was good to know oneself appreciated, especially when the man praising your deeds was Olaf Haraldsson of the sagas. And… it was curious, actually. Why hadn’t he married before? Surely there were any number of young Yngling children of his blood who could have been growing up around now, even if they didn’t have the name. There had been women who would have said yes, if he’d only thought to ask. But Ragnhild… He smiled again, broadly. Her gold hair, shy smile, and all that sweet softness, all to be his every night? So much youth and health and energy, the King could have given him goblets of wood and he would have felt just as rich.
It wasn’t certain yet, though. As the king had said, who knew how women thought? Going into the woods was one thing, marriage another. She might have come to dislike him for getting her into trouble. Well, then, perhaps he’d better go mend his fences. There was that nice silver bracelet he’d got in Sweden last year, that he hadn’t sold yet; and perhaps a good blue cloak, even a rich farmer’s daughter would be impressed by that. And a bath, he was sweaty from the practice field; and perhaps a beard trim… Geir hurried off. Enough of war and the practice of war; there was courting to be done.