Swords and long ships in two novels of the age of Vikings
Tales of Viking warriors have once again become popular in the genre of historical fiction. The fierce, bearded men from the dragon prowed longships trading, raiding and settling the world of the Dark Ages have, however, always provided intriguing and appealing subject matter for authors. The writer of the two novels which comprise this special edition of stories of the Northmen, Robert Leighton, was no exception and indeed his work was highly regarded for its well researched historical authenticity. The first novel, ‘Olaf the Glorious,’ is based on the life and adventures of an actual character of the Viking age. Olaf Tryggvason rose from slavery in Estonia to be a true Viking seafarer. The story follows him through his many wanderings and adventures to the leadership of his people. Battles abound including a recounting of the Battle of Maldon against the East Anglians. Leighton’s second novel in this special Leonaur edition is ‘The Thirsty Sword.’ The scene has moved onwards some 300 years to the 13th century and to the shores of Scotland. This gripping adventure centres around the struggle of the Scots to resist Viking invasion and settlement and there are thrills, spills, sword play and battles aplenty for its hero within these pages. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.
“I followed the three men to the castle. They had left the bridge down and the gates open. But scarcely had I got within when by the sounds I heard I knew that they were lowering my master into one of their dungeons. I heard him cry aloud. ‘Ah, had I but my sword!’ he cried in our own tongue. And then his voice sounded low down in the depths, and though I knew he was yet alive and strong, yet I knew also that it was no easy task to rescue him from that place.<br>
“Ere I reached the chamber wherein the dungeon opened out, the three men met me. They had left their weapons outside. Grasping my lord’s sword and calling upon Saint Columba, I assailed those three men in such wise that they soon lay dead at my feet; for they could not pass me. ‘Kenric, my lord Kenric!’ I cried aloud. And I heard him answer my name.<br>
“But this uproar of fighting and shouting alarmed the people within the castle, and thinking full surely that a host of the reserve garrison were coming to avenge the death of their comrades slain, coward that I am, I retreated without the gates, leaving my dear master within.<br>
“Now it befell, Master Allan, that, as I had slain those three men who alone knew where my lord had been imprisoned, and as I had not the wit to speak with any of those Norse folk, it was little that I could do—”<br>
“You have done well, Duncan, in coming for what aid we now can give,” said Allan Redmain. “But say, how long time is it since my lord was thus made captive?”<br>
“Five days as I count,” said Duncan, “and had it not been for the thing that I next discovered he had not been there five hours. When I found myself outside the castle and with the bridge drawn up, I hied me over the hill towards the ships. Alas! they were no longer there in the bay where we had left them. They were standing out to sea, with seven great Norse galleys and as many fishing boats pursuing them.”<br>
“Alas!” said Allan; “and whose ships were those?”<br>
“They were three galleys of Coll and four of Colonsay,” said Duncan, “as I learned three days past when they returned to Breacacha. Our own four ships of Bute came not within sight again, and I fear they have gone back to Rothesay.”<br>
“Not so,” said Allan confidently. “Our men would never return without truthfully knowing how it had fared with Earl Kenric. But what of the four galleys of Colonsay?”<br>
“They left for the north two days ago, and the men of Coll went some into the castle and some to their homes, leaving their ships at anchor in the shelter of the isle of Gunna.”
“And say you that those in the castle know not that our lord is in the dungeon?”<br>
“Even so, for who could tell them? Five days have passed since our fight in Coll. Like a beast of the field have I lived since then, feeding upon the wild roots and berries, and waiting that our ships might come back. But by good fortune I came across the poor fisherman who brought me over in his boat. He could speak the Gaelic, and with promise of reward I bade him bring me to the place where Earl Kenric had told me we were to rejoin Sir Piers de Currie. Had the man refused me I would have slain him; but now that he has kept his word, I beg you to give him the reward that is his due.”<br>
“That will I do,” said Allan, “for well does he deserve it. A good boat with oars and sails shall be his reward.”<br>
By the time that Duncan had told his tale, Allan Redmain’s two strong galleys were abreast of the isle of Coll, and steering into a beauteous bay that Duncan had told of, they were rowed far in until they stood under the strong-built fortress of Breacacha.<br>
The garrison had been reinforced by many men from the ships of Coll. But the men of Bute were desperate, and they said that though they gave their lives, and though they pulled down every stone and timber of which that castle was built, they would save their young king. So with their friends of Arran they landed in a great body with their machines and battering engines. Some attacked the raised drawbridge with great missile weapons, while their companions picked off with their arrows the archers who were on the battlements.<br>
After a two-hours’ storming of the gates the men of Bute forced an entrance and rushed within the castle, led by Allan Redmain. The defenders took timely refuge in the donjon keep. But Allan sought not to follow them. With lighted torches he led his men into the dark chambers that were in the heart of the castle, till at last he found a chamber whose floor was stained with blood.<br>
“Methinks,” said he, “that this should be the place wherein Duncan slew his three foes with the Earl Kenric’s sword;” and then he called loudly upon Kenric.<br>
Many times he cried out, but no answer came. Then he bade one of his men uncoil a rope that he had brought, and Allan, fastening a lighted torch in his helmet, let himself be lowered into the dungeon whose mouth gaped in the centre of the floor.<br>
Deep down he went until his feet touched solid ground and he found himself in a large cavernous chamber. It was a dismal place. The rocky walls were damp and mouldy; the floor was of hewn stone. There was an odour as of death in the heavy air. <br>
Holding his torch aloft he peered into the recesses of the dungeon. At last his eye rested upon what looked like a human form. He started back in horror as the light fell fuller upon it. Against the wall, crouched down with his head between his knees, and a few rags of mouldy plaid about his shoulders, was the grim skeleton of what had once been a living man.
Allan drew back the tattered plaid and saw the bare ribs and fleshless arms. And could it be that the young hope of Bute, Kenric the good, the brave, the true, had come to this?
Allan bent down. He was about to touch the ghastly thing. Then the awful silence of that black tomb was broken by the sound of a low moan. Allan listened again, but he heard only the drip, drip of water. Then again came the moaning sound. He turned round and bounded forward. By the light of his torch, that pierced the darkness, he saw a pale wan face, with hollow cheeks and round, staring, brown eyes. The lips moved.