Sven was a berserker warrior who lived his life as if he were chiseling the runes of a Saga into the stump of the tree of life. Generations of Skalds would chant of his feats as the words sang against the whale-ribbed ceilings of their winter mead halls as they huddled around the great fires that held back the eternal darkness of the shortest days of the Northern winter, a darkness so profound that Sunna’s Chariot, pulled by her great team of fire breathing horses, only skirted the edge of the bowl of the horizon.
That is until Sven was smitten, as no warrior could have smitten him, by Sylvia’s fragile beauty. Sylvia was a Christian princess from Angleterre held hostage by the Vikings as part of the terms of the great treaty of York. Sven claimed Sylvia as his beloved and wife under Viking law. Sylvia accepted on condition that Sven pledged to take no more human blood onto his hands.
This angered the Chief Borguild, to the darkest depths of his blighted soul, for he had planned to violate Sylvia, claim her as his concubine, and force Angleterre to pay a great tribute of Dane gold after a surprise attack.
But it was not to be, because Sven had claimed her with his pledge. But worse than that, for Borguild, Sven, loved Sylvia more than he loved death, and though he was no Christian he had forfeited his right to Valhalla, because Sven would not die with a sword in his hand swimming in a river of his enemies’ blood.
Yet this made even a better story as it raced around the world and enraged the evil Borguild even more. Now Sven’s life was the stuff of the songs of Frankish troubadours, and his name was known everywhere, even in the court of the Caliph. All the warriors still loved Sven. Some even noted with relief that, though his great size, strength, and courage would be missed on the battlefield, the great axe which he swung overhead on a twenty-one foot tether would not. While it had a reputation for lethalness among friend and foe alike, more than once he had cleared an entire battlefield of both sides as his axe sang it’s Siren’s howl, swinging in a deadly forty-foot circle.
Sven turned down the Chiefdom to practice his trade of a master carpenter, and live with his beloved Sylvia, and instead let it pass to Borguild the crafty, with his serpent dagger, his viper’s tongue, and his empty heart. But none would challenge Borguild to trial by combat because his sword and dagger had the speed and sting of the hooded, deadliest, soul-stealing serpent, feared by all warm blooded creatures since creation. Further the only man who might defeat him had broken his broad sword into fragments.
Sven, though not Christian, lived by his pledge to Sylvia. He channeled his berserker’s rage into the skill of his carpenter’s hands and the strength and beauty of all that he wrought. All marveled at the prosaic somber beauty of his work.
Chief Borguild swore on Odin’s goats to goad Sven back into his berserker ways and into violating his oath to Sylvia, by ordering that Sven build him a long ship. Chief Borguild planned for Sven to become enraged and fall victim to his poison dagger.
Sven completed the ship on the shortest night of high summer. The chief and his court went drunkenly to see Sven’s labor of love, his ship, his life, in the weird twilight of eternal summer. They exchanged shrugs. Then Borguild said with regal distain.
“Nice boat Sven, aye real good job, but maybe I paid you too much for it.”
Ragnau, Borguild’s henchman added,
“Yeah well we can still use her as a mackerel barge.
Let’s go back into the mead hall and have another drink.”
They were arrested in their tracks by the sound of Sven’s ax ripping lap stake pine boards like a hot knife through musk ox butter as he took his broad axe and ripped a 6″ strip of wood from the top edge the port side length of the ship. Incidentally when young Viking Warriors were offered the choice of milking a musk ox cow Hermione or wrestling a bear bare-handed as rite of passage, most chose the bear.
Borguild the chief roared with outrage, like a polar bear, the polar bear he had so cowardly hunted who had swallowed the piece of walrus blubber with the coiled whale-bone, razor tipped spring inside of it that cuts its guts to ribbons.
“You fool, you’ve mutilated my ship, after I paid you a thousand Krona to build it. “
“Into the Wolf Pit with you,”
But none dared approach as Sven, who stood a full two meters tall and had tree-root-like muscles in his great forearms and biceps, swung his axe in a vicious circle.
Then Sven raised his axe for silence. Everyone, even Chief Borguild fell into a deadly hush, as the violence seemed to pass from all of them.
With his axe Sven made the same cut on the starboard side. Now she was symmetrical in a way never before seen by Viking eyes. Sven was inspired to make her lines a tiny bit crooked to appear straight to the eye that runs along her straight from stem to stern.
The chief and hismen were struck sober with her sublime beauty, as she now would lie long andlow in thewater like a sleeping Orca or a lance at rest.
The men toasted the beauty and wonder of the master shipbuilder’s creation till the early summer sun’s first morning diskexploded across theNorthern sky.
Then they all worked under Sven’s direction, though he issued no orders. They planned both edges smooth, added twenty oarlocks on each sidewith pegs to lash their shields. They made a cover of canvass to keep out the waves of the roaring sea then they gave her a mast from the tallest pine in the forest, and a great white sail with a sea dragon on it. And they named her Freya.
Perhaps this name wasnot such a wise choice for mortal men. In their joy they may haveangered othergoddesses not so fair.
Freya’s lithe beauty stole the hearts of Borguild and all his young single men away from the rock hard soil of their Northern Kingdom as Borguild ordered the ship be stocked with seal skins, Narwhale Ivory, and their finest swords and spear points made from iron fallen from the sky, and treasured needle work with golden stitches once taught to their great grandmothers by Odin’s wife, to start on a great trading voyage past the Southern edge of the sky.
Sven, the master boat builder, though an old man of forty-seven summers, jumped aboard Freya with his great axe at the last instant because he could not leave his great new lover Freya, hewn with his own great hands.
Then a divine wind drove Freya away from the scene far out into the endless sea. With the sea devil blocking their return the only way back home was around the world, which somehow the Vikings knew was not flat. Sylvia stood on the forlorn shore, as empty as Sven was filled with joy. Yet Sylvia loved him so much she could not let him die without this one great adventure. Die at home like an old man with no sword or axe in his hand. Yet who would protect her and their daughter, now that Sven was off on his great trading mission and embassy?