There Will Be War: Geir the Settler

I was working hard, at this time, to spread Norwegian settlements into England. Herewith a story of how that could happen. The England mentioned here is the former kingdom of France; the player traded a large amount of French lands to Brittany, in exchange for that nation’s English domains, retaining only Flanders of his continental provinces. This was probably a mistake, what with the Curse of the Isles. At any rate, he soon found himself in a vicious civil war, which I strove to take advantage of.

In those days many Norwegians came across the sea to settle around York. One of them was named Geir; he married a Saxon woman, and by her he had two children, who were named Magnus and Maria.

Although they were twins, the children were unalike in most ways. Magnus took after his father; he learned early to use sword and bow, and was always to be found out in the fields, shooting at rabbits or playing football with the other boys of the farm. As he grew older he loved to ride to the hunt, and he took his first boar when he was twelve. Soon after that he began to go out with his father on raid and border-watch; for in those days the Norse-law ended not far south of York, and there was still unpeace in the land. Thus Magnus learned the arts of border war: How to drive cattle quick and quiet; how to pick the best spot for an ambush; how to use fish boiled in lye to confuse a dog; to attack only farms where the men are away, and how to learn which farms those are.

Geir was a Christian, but he went rarely to mass; and in his hall there was a large wooden pillar with a silver bowl on top, into which Geir would often pour some mead, saying “Have a drink on me, Torbjønn”. Nor did he keep a priest on his farm, though it was a large one and he could easily have afforded it, preferring instead to ride to the church at Jonsby to hear Mass. In this, too, Magnus took after his father, and was sometimes heard to say that the White Christ was a thrall’s god, and that the kings of Norway had done ill to drive the old faith from the land. This was too bold even for Geir, and when word of it reached him, he gave Magnus a sound thrashing. But later he gave Magnus a gold arm-ring engraved with serpents, and thus made up the quarrel; and men said he had not thrashed his son for the thought, but for the unquiet word.

Maria, however, was her mother’s daughter. Cynwise was the daughter of Alric, who had been a rich landholder in that region before the Scots War; when he died fighting bandits the family fell on hard times. Cynwise was a great beauty, and Geir was much smitten with her at first; nor did she discourage the suit, for he was wealthy and had gained much renown and favour in the war. But Cynwise was also a devout Christian, and this caused much friction with her husband. So as time went by the two came to steer their separate domains, Geir teaching Magnus in the fields and the forests while Cynwise taught Maria the duties of the lady of a great household. She learned all the arts of making clothes, from carding the wool to cutting the cloth; to cook and to brew; where it is seemly to place guests of all ranks, and how they should be entertained; keeping accounts and dealing with tradesmen; how best to cheat the king’s taxmen, without looking so poor that the farm is taken away and given to someone who would run it better. But most of all she learned of Christ, how he had saved all the world’s souls by his sacrifice, and of the tales of the martyrs and saints; and she grew pious and devout, and was often to be found in her mother’s tiny chapel praying. In all other matters Maria followed her brother; but on this they could never agree, and when they quarreled, as children will, Magnus mocked her for a weakling.

In these years the Norselaw prospered, and by and by farmers would come from the south where Geir raided, to ask how peace might be made for their families. Geir always answered the same way: “Make your peace with the Realm, and you’ll have no quarrel with me”. And so it happened that many farmers ceased paying their land-dues to the English counts, and instead came under the protection of the Norse king. There was little the English could do about this, because there was civil war in the land, and many of their fighting men were away in the south, campaigning for one king or another. So Geir gained further favour in Bergen, and was made March-warden of York; and he cleared much land around his steading, and rented the land out to tenants. But as his fame spread more widely, so did the number of his enemies grow; for south of the border there were few farms who had not lost a cow to his raids, or a son to an ambush.

One year Geir went to York to answer a lawsuit brought against him at the Ting there, and took Magnus with him. That was a trap laid by his enemies, and while he was away, a raiding party from south of the border came to his farm. The labourers and the tenants fought, but the best-armed men had gone with Geir to York, as was the custom for lawsuits. So those that remained were soon driven into the woods, and the raiders came whooping into the hall. The battle had given the farm’s women time to flee; but the Saxons cared little for that, for Geir’s hall was stuffed with the loot of a decade of raiding, and the hall was filled with their shouts as they spread out to search for the choicest trinkets.

So it was that one came to Cynwise’s rich chapel – for though Geir did not share his wife’s piety, he was not stingy with gifts, and Cynwise had lavished gold and jewels on her altar. The gold glittered so that the man did not at first see Maria, who had sought shelter with her god instead of in the woods. But when he reached out a hand to take the heavy candlesticks that Cynwise had set out – supporting beeswax candles lit for her husband’s safe return – Maria’s calm voice stopped him. “That gold is not yours, nor my father’s; it belongs to the God who is Father to us both. Steal it at your peril.” The raider started, and looked about; but when he saw that the speaker was a young girl, he relaxed, and stepped grinning towards her instead. Maria flinched, but stood her ground, holding up a crucifix in her defense; but when the raider did not stop, she instead lashed out with the cross. Unprepared for resistance, the raider was caught by surprise, and the heavy gold-inlaid wood caught him in the throat, crushing his Adam’s apple so he choked.

The sounds of his dying brought the other raiders running. When they saw their comrade lying on the ground, and a young woman standing over him with a crucifix, they would have given her ill treatment; but she held the crucifix high, and in a strong voice she said, “Kneel, dogs! Your quarrel is with my father, and none of mine; but here you are on our Father’s ground.” And so strong and fearless did she appear, that not a man among them did not think her possessed; and they shrank back, ashamed, and went about their business. All the gold and silver that there was in Ask’s house, they took, and drove a vast herd of cattle southwards; but the chapel they left alone, so afterwards it stood golden within a darkened house. Nor did they burn the hall as they left, though that had been their intention; for they dared not harm one who stood so strong in the favour of the White Christ that she would face down twenty armed men, and never waver or doubt.

After this happening there was little said in Geir’s household about what gods were suitable for thralls.

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