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Posted by Erik, 13 November 2007 · 2016 views


All was festive in the great round palace finely built of wood deep within the forests north of the Danube. Mead and wine spilled from plundered gold and silver goblets and even from holy chalices onto carpeting of nomad felt. In the swaying shadows cast by pine torches, squat, broad-shouldered, wild-looking men, clad in skins and silks with ornaments of silver and gold, roared with laughter at the antics and confused speech of a hunchbacked Moor from Africa, even more grotesque than the revelers themselves. They were not handsome by nature and were not improved in appearance by the furrowed scars of sword cuts that each man had bourne on his swarthy cheeks from the day of his birth to taste blood before he tasted milk. Laid aside now were the spears, straight longswords, shortswords, and the reflexed hornbows and quivers of arrows with three-sided heads that each man also bore. In places of honour, Roman and Byzantine emissaries sat with big blond chieftains of the Goths.

One man did not laugh. He sat somberly at the middle table and his physical appearance was much like that of the scarfaced warriors in the hall, a proud erect bearing with quick movements and small eyes that missed nothing. He had a flat nose and a sparse beard streaked with grey, and his every movement bespoke vigor and power. He did not eat from a gold or silver platter like the others, but rather from a wooden trencher, and his wine was served in a cup of ivy wood, for he felt that his strength lay in the austere simplicity of the steppelands from which he had sprung, He wore only the skin garments of his people, clean, but without the gold and gems that adorned his warriors. The clasps of his barbarian boots were plain as was the sword at his side, but it was the sacred sword of the god of war of the ancient Scythians and of which it had been prophesied that it would destroy the world.

A man of moderation in many respects, but a man who was no stranger to murder and treachery or even fratricide, and a man whose name from that time to this has been a bywords for barbarian savagery.

Atilla the Hun !


The big barbarian had awakened before the others as he often did and, in otter-skin jacket, wrappings bound to his legs, was already dressed for the hunt that was his passion. His hunting weapons, a good silver-hilted Frankish sword, a spear, and a bow with short and long arrows was at hand. He was very tall with a large nose and sandy hair and he wore a moustache as did all the men among his people. The long blue cloak, pulled over his knees against the pre-dawn chill, did not entirely conceal his protruding belly.

He held an opened book, its cover ornamented with gold and gems that glinted in the candlelight, and his lips moved to the words of St, Augustine as his finger slowly traced along the lines of lettering beautifully copied by a patient clerk. Some of his people now spoke a provincial kind of Latin. Though he had at last learned to read, he could not master the art of writing. But others had learned, and much progress had been made, both in the schools and in the administration of his great empire that stretched now from Denmark to Italy, from the western sea to the plains of Scythia. The struggle was unceasing but Carl, as was his way, persevered. After his death, he would be revered as a saint and as one of the ‘Nine Worthy Knights’ of the world.

In other lands he was better known by the Latin form of his name, Carolus, and some called him Caroli Magni , the man who formed and ruled the Holy Roman Empire within the borders of which lay nearly all the Latin Christian lands of Europe, the man who brought the teachings of Rome and Byzantium to the murky forests of Frankland, the man known to Germans and Frenchmen as the founder of their countries, Charlemagne!

Flowers bloomed everywhere in the riotous profusion of springtime in the lands of the far north. Fair-haired maidens with still foaming wooden buckets of milk sat in the bright dawn sunlight at the top of the great cleft in the rock that men called a fjord, and waved at young men they knew who were readying the longships on the deep dark mirror of the long wedge of water far below. The graceful hulls shone black with fresh tar that would protect the lap-straked planking from the marine borers of the Irish Sea. On one ship the crew was stepping the single mast into the wooden mast-fish, on another the men were rowing the short distance to the sea. They were not galley slaves. Vikings pulled their own oars and each man had brought his weapons; bows with two dozen arrows apiece and javelins for the first contact; spears, axes, swords and shields for the hand-to-hand fighting. Those who had them wore gold rings, chains or earrings to appease the sea goddess Ran should they drown at sea. A bearded jarl in springtime exuberance danced outboard from oar to oar, further demonstrating his prowess by the juggling of three short-swords.

One ship had passed beyond the breakers into the rolling sea. There being no further danger of frightening the land spirits, the gleaming grimacing dragon head had been fitted to the neck of the prow. The captain, standing at the helm, glanced upwards though he had no need to. The gilt bronze wind-vans and its red tassels had swung to point southeast, and Viking reavers were clewing the walrus hide sheets at the corners of the billowing sail fore and aft in position for a broad reach. Thor had sent good wind. Twenty-eight pairs were shipped and the oarlocks shuttered against the sea. It was springtime again, when a young man’s fancy turned to the plunder and dark-haired maidens to the south.

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