Time on My Hands Chapter 31 - 297-298 CE: The Norse Connection

Time on My Hands
Chapter 31: 297-298 CE: The Norse Connection

By the end of May he was back in Barmaz. One of the priorities was to find a reliable source of iron, thus he decided to take another scouting trip along the east bank of the Rhine to the North Sea, similar to the one he took sixty years ago. Since all iron sources in Roman territory were locked down by existing organizations, a source that could be secured for the Clan Corvo outside Roman territory needed to be found. The difference from his last Rhine trip was he intended to travel as Fiach. Posing as an itinerant healer riding a horse along with a pack horse she set out. This would be her first trip north since Emperor Probus had abandoned the limes when he retracted the border to the Rhine.

Much of the area that had been behind the Limes had been mostly Alemanni when the border shifted, now it was nearly exclusively so. Most of the non-Germanic citizens had fled or died while a few remained quietly letting themselves slip into the ranks of the Alemanni. The old clan and tribe relations dissolved as ever increasing numbers of men served as Roman auxiliary forces, learning new tactics, acquiring better materials, and undergoing partial Romanization. Quite a few men had served in the legions or mercenary units bringing their knowledge home forming a societal elite where none had previously existed. When they returned home they no longer fit into the old molds. Though kinship remained the primary bond, a new kind of political organization evolved. Older, successful warrior chieftains took in younger warriors accustomed to taking orders and maintaining discipline producing a professional more lethal warrior group where bonds were now between men and the leader. The Alemanni were growing stronger and better organized.

As Fiach had hoped, nearly everyone she met accepted her as a traveling healer, at least at first. The further north she traveled up the east bank of the Rhine, the more she noted women were being systematically repressed. The egalitarian lifestyle that had been traditional in the Germanic tribes was being submerged in the Roman influenced Patriarchy. The Alemanni territory had expanded north to the town of Koblenz. Beyond there, another new confederation of Germanic tribes, the Franks, held dominance all the way to the North Sea. The Alemanni and Franks were conglomerates of older no longer viable tribes and displaced Germans. The Alemanni were craftsmen and farmers who were sometimes warriors. The more aggressive Franks were warriors who were sometimes craftsmen and farmers. The further Fiach rode into the territory of the Frank confederation the more she was dismissed as being insignificant.

Fiach was about 6 miles east of the Rhine following an unpaved but well used road along the Rinderbach creek as it headed east for the Ruhr River at the village of Kettwig Vor Der Brucke {GM 51.349983, 6.929254}. It was a hilly forested area and she rode along the dappled road enjoying the beauty of nature. The chirping and singing of the birds and the gentle breeze made the humidity bearable. The birds seldom paused their songs for a lone rider, but suddenly the singing stopped. At once Fiach went to high alert as she began intently scanning the forested hills to either side of the stream. She dismounted to stretch her legs and let the horses refresh themselves by the stream. Slipping between the horses she pulled her bow out of it’s sheath, strung it, uncovered her quiver, and slipped her scabbard and sword onto her back. Once remounted she loosened the knives in her vest then resumed following the road. After about 300 feet a dozen armed young men stepped from behind trees, surrounding her.

“Young and fresh, just the way I like them,” chortled the surly young man who was obviously the leader as he and the men closed in. “If you’re a good girl and satisfy us we might let you live.”

“I’m a good girl,” Fiach smiled as she stopped noting they were all in their late teens. “I’m a traveling Ianuarian. Have things changed so much that safe passage is no longer possible?”

“Not for cheeky bitches like you,” the leader sneered.

“I strongly suggest you stop where you’re at and let me pass,” Fiach declared with a steely smile.

“Oh, you scare me,” the leader jeered. “Do you intend to fight us? You’ll lose... your virginity then your life!”

“You have no idea who I am,” Fiach laughed. “I am the great granddaughter of the Ianuarian Raben, the Demon Slayer. Even though he earned that title one hundred eighteen years ago, he passed his fighting skills down to me and my twin brother, We are both Demon Slayers! If you don’t let me pass I’ll have no choice but to kill you.”

Several of the young men started whispering and exchanged looks of apprehension. They had all heard of the Demon Slayer.

“She’s bluffing,” the leader scolded. “The Demon slayer is a fairy tale. Take her, NOW!” With that the leader charged. After a momentary hesitation, his men following his lead.

Fiach dropped the lead line of the pack horse, snatched up her bow and began firing arrows with her normal deadly accuracy as with her animal communications ability she urged her horse into a circular trot while the packhorse inserted himself between Fiach and her attackers. By the time they closed with her five had fallen. In the blink of an eye she slipped the bow into a pouch on the side of the saddle and reached over her shoulder to pull her sword. The man who had grabbed the horse’s bridal screamed as he lost his forearm. The man who attempted to pull her down fell back while his severed head rolled a few feet away. Then she urged the horse to charge through the remaining stunned men, turned and charged back through their shattered circle dropping two men.

The leader and the two remaining men were shocked at the quickness and brutality of the girl. Maybe she was a Demon Slayer! The infuriated leader cursed and charged as the two remaining men turned to flee in terror.

The sword went back into the scabbard and the bow reappeared in Fiach’s hands as she rode avoiding the enraged man’s increasingly erratic anger fueled attacks. Within seconds arrows dropped the fleeing men, then she fired one through the leader’s eye.

The battle lasted just three minutes leaving twelve men dead or dying. Fiach dismounted, after checking the wounded she knew none would survive so she showed them mercy putting them out of their agony by slicing their throats. Then she stripped their bodies of weapons and valuables, securing them on the pack horse. She rinsed herself, her horse and weapons in the stream, picked up the leader line of the pack horse, mounted and resumed her journey.

Ten minutes later she entered the small village on the bank of the Ruhr. Several people looked at the entering stranger.

“I am Fiach Corvo. I am a traveling healer. I call on the people of this village to bear witness to what I say.”

Her loud clear commanding voice carried through the hamlet and the curious villagers came forward. An older man was clearly the leader. “What is it you want?”

“Fifteen minutes ago I was accosted by a dozen ill-mannered young men about a mile down the road. They wanted to rob, rape and kill me. I warned them off but they stupidly refused. I assume you know these men. They are lying dead where they fell. As the victim and offended party I claimed all they carried.”

“I’m afraid we do know those men,” the leader gravely said as whispers and anxiety swept amongst the villagers. “Their leader was my son. How is it you were able to kill twelve warriors without any injury?

“As I warned them, my great grandfather was Raben, the Demon Slayer,” Fiach explained. “He passed his fighting skills and techniques to his family. “I too am a Demon Slayer.”

The villagers were clearly stunned. Like the dead men they had heard of the Demon Slayer but thought they were fairy tales. The elder shuddered. “You really killed all twelve?”

“Only after they attacked me,” Fiach replied. “They still lay where they fell. I killed those wounded because their injuries were fatal. Slitting their throats ended their suffering. I suggest you gather their bodies before the scavengers gather. Now, does this village attack travelers or do you offer hospitality to those who pass through? It is my intention to spend the night. I am an experienced healer and freely offer my services to any who need it.”

The elder shook his head. “We offer hospitality. I apologize for my son and the men with him. They seldom listened to reason and were hotheaded.”

“Your hospitality and apology is appreciated,” Fiach nodded. “In turn I apologize for killing them. I warned them off, but they refused to be dissuaded.”

While the villagers were sad at the twelve deaths, Fiach sensed they were also relieved. The deceased young men must have been obnoxious bullies intimidating the village. Several people sought her advice for treatments. Two hours after arriving in town two wagons returned heaped with bodies.
The next morning the dead were buried together in a mass grave. Fiach moved on at mid morning.

The closer she came to the North Sea, the flatter the land became. Swamps, marshes and bogs became more frequent and bigger. The river itself was like a sinuous snake slithering through the massive flat delta. Much like the Nile in Egypt, it split into many channels. At about 40 miles from the North Sea the waterlogged landscape became a real obstacle to riding as the roads deteriorated to trails with waterlogged ends. Many settlements were built on manmade raised islands that needed regular replenishment to counteract erosion and accessible only by water. Fiach decided to return to Roman territory, crossing the Rhine at the Roman fort at Arnhem {GM 51.980047, 5.893658}. {The Roman northern border was along what was then the main branch of the Rhine, the Oude Rijn, which meandered between Arnhem and Leiden. Today the Oulde Rijn is a mere shadow of what it was in Roman times. Waters from the Rhine no longer flow through it, it now drains the Dutch low land.}

At the fort she debated giving up her quest since she had not found a potential source of iron or to seek out a boat to continue her quest by water. No one was interested in a Quixote expedition run by a mere girl. As she wandered the wharfs in the town adjoining the fort she came upon a rather loud argument that was about to turn violent. The crew of a ship was in a sharp dispute with a merchant, the harbor master and the wharf workers. A squad of soldiers was rapidly approaching. It was clear the crew was having difficulty communicating.

Fiach moved in. “I think I can help you,” she said in the language of the crew, then repeated it in the Germanic dialect of the civilians as well as Latin.

Everyone looked at her, amazed a person so young could fluently speak three languages. It only took a few moments to sort out the confusion. This was the first time the ship and crew had traveled to Roman territory. They spoke a Germanic dialect that was unlike any Fiach had heard.

Fiach facilitated the trading. The boat had traveled several weeks from their northern homeland to trade their smelted iron for Roman cooking pots and other fine items. They felt they were being ripped off by the traders. The traders normally didn’t by raw iron so had immediate use for it nor did they know current prices. The sailors had hoped the voyage would cut out the greedy intermediates through whom they currently bought their needs. Unfortunately the local blacksmith was the only one interested in buying the raw iron but he only wanted a small portion.

Fiach smiled at the ship crew’s disappointment. Their plight could be the answer to her dilemma. “I’ll buy the rest of the iron and help you buy the goods you want but I want to accompany you on your voyage home.”

The captain of the boat asked, “What will you do with the iron and why would you want to come with us?”

“I’ll ship it to my brother,” Fiach explained. “Part of my mission was to find a source of iron for our clan. I’m a healer who has studied in Rome, Athens and Alexandria. I want to learn what I can from your healers while I share my knowledge with them while I see if we can negotiate a deal for iron. I’m also curious about how you obtain the iron.”

After a bit of dickering they reached an agreement. Fiach sold her horses, made arrangements with a reputable merchant to ship the iron to Barmaz, wrote a letter to accompany the shipment, then assisted in buying the trading goods the ship captain wanted.

A few days later they set out. The ship was 54 feet long and 12 feet wide in the center with an open hull, a precursor to the infamous Viking Longship. It took 2 days to reach the North sea. They were surprised that Fiach had no difficulty with seasickness once they reached the choppy waters of the North Sea. She explained she’d made many trips across the Mediterranean and that she’d survived being washed overboard during a nasty storm. They were quite impressed that she willingly joined the crew in handling the ship.

As they sailed north and east along the coast they encountered a few trading vessels. Fiach saw five abandoned crumbling villages for every inhabited one. The villages were all built atop man made earthen mounds to raise them above the periodic floods. Cows and sheep could be seen grazing in the damp grasslands around the occupied villages. After two days they stopped at one to replenish their supplies.

Fiach questioned them about the numerous abandoned villages. The people identified themselves as the Frisii, a Germanic people who made their living by fishing, trading, herding and farming. The people explained the periodic flooding of the area was increasing as was the depth of floods. The pasture lands were shrinking. Each flood eroded part of the terpens, the raised mounds the villages perched upon, faster than they could be replenished. As a result many had resorted to piracy and raids further down the coast in wealthy Roman areas. The Romans used Frisians in their northern merchant fleet as well as forming mercenary auxiliary units with the legions. The Romans responded to the piracy with brutal force while using an open hand to lure them into cooperation. Any village that had fallen upon hard times was allowed to pack up and resettle in the Belgica area of Gaul. The Romans provided ships to make the move. The village they were in would be abandoned within a month.

Sailing east past the 8 mile wide estuary of the Elbe river they reached the lands of the Saxons, another Germanic people. The Saxons had a vigorous merchant class with many merchant ships who traded and sometimes raided south into Roman territory. Raben had encountered them on his exploration sixty eight years before. For one day they continued following the coast, now north along the Jutland Peninsula.

They passed the Eider river leaving the lands of the Saxons to enter the lands of the Angles, another Germanic tribe. It took another day continuing north to the present day Denmark/Germany border get past the lands of the Angles.

The remainder of the Jutland Peninsula as well as the numerous islands to the east were occupied by the Jutes, yet another Germanic people. It took two days to sail to the tip of the peninsula.

From there they continued north taking the better part of day to cross the strait of Skagerrak to the southern tip of present day Norway. Then they followed the coast east and north. Fiach found the long trip enlightening and fascinating. The lands they passed until crossing the strait had been relatively flat with some low hills visible many miles inland. The coast of Norway was buffered by hundreds of islands with the mainland hills emerging from the shore. She learned the many narrow inlets penetrating the shore, some for miles, were called fjords. After two days the coast curved north and the hills yielded to a narrow band of relatively gently rolling farm land while at the same time it became almost impossible for her to judge which inlets were fjords and which were channels around islands. As they continued north, the hills grew into steep mountains that reminded her of the Alps around Barmaz. She also noticed the daylight growing longer with the dark of night being a weird twilight.

While continuing to follow the coast north it began to curve east. Following a coast hugging course while skimming the many islands and fjords they entered a large ‘L’ shaped fjord named Trondheim fjord. They traveled 55 miles up the long narrow inland waterway when the crew pointed out their destination, a large farm sitting atop a hill on a short peninsula called Olvishaugen {Olvir’s farmstead}. Wind driven waves about 2 feet high were crashing against the narrow rocky shore. She knew the boat could easily be beached on sandy or muddy shores but those wind driven waves and the rocks would make a landing extremely dangerous. Instead of heading inshore they sailed nearly 4 miles around the small peninsula into a narrow channel that opened into Eidsbotn lake, a 5700 feet long by 3400 feet wide rectangular body of water protected by the peninsula {GM 63.732738, 11.261653 near PD Levanger}. A short dock was placed by a small stream entering the southwest corner of the lake. They beached the boat facing Olvishaugen. The 768 mile voyage around Norway had taken 5 days, the entire trip had taken 12 days. {Today Olvishaugen GM 63.724565, 11.225205 is an unexcavated round burial round mound measuring 180 feet across and 20 feet high, one of the biggest burial mounds in Norway, is located in the cemetery of Alstadhaug Kirke, which was built in 1160.}

Fiach was enthusiastically greeted by Olvir and his people. They were quite delighted she’d bought their iron and facilitated getting good deals on the products they wanted. That she was interested in buying their future iron shipments pleased them. They were impressed that she was a skilled healer and had learned how to crew the ship. The crew enthused about her ability to scramble up the mast with ease in all sorts of weather to untangle twisted ropes as well as raising and lowering the sail. They were surprised she proved quite capable of pulling an oar with the rest of the crew. She had even taken turns on the steering oar. {Since most men are right handed, steering oars, often called steering boards, were always on the right side of the vessel which is the source of the word starboard for right side of a vessel. The steering board needed to be on the side away from a dock, thus the term port for the left side of a vessel.}

That first night they had a celebration of a safe return from a successful voyage. Needless to say the men were amazed Fiach, in spite of her small size, was able to hold her mead. With her ability to avoid poisoning, she drank everyone under the table. In the morning Fiach was up and about while the men nursed bad hangovers.

Needless to say the macho pride of the men who were the forefathers of the Vikings was sorely bruised. When the men finally made it outside they were shocked to see Fiach running around the fields leaping fences like a deer and scrambling up trees like a squirrel. That she continued to do so for an hour without a break shocked them. When she ran into the yard in front of the main longhouse she was sweated but barely breathing hard.

“Are you a demon?” Olvir asked. “You can sail a ship, run like a deer, climb like a squirrel and drank us under the table with no ill effects.”

“I train hard and eat well,” Fiach smiled despite being asked if she was a demon. “I’m also a skilled Ianuarian who has many herbal remedies.”

The men laughed heartily. Open hospitality was part of the Norse way of life in the rugged north. Such open welcomes in their far flung settlements allowed the sharing of news and the telling of stories. New ideas and practices were thus spread. Olvir invited Fiach to overwinter with him. She gladly accepted and that afternoon began treating any infirmities those in the community had.

When she asked to see their iron mines they laughed then explained they gathered the iron from the plentiful bogs. Normally they did the harvesting in the spring. However after seeing her skepticism they took her to a bog and used turf knives to pull back the top layer of peat. Rooting around they found nodules, most the size of peas. They explained it was a renewable resource taking about twenty years for a bog to accumulate enough to make harvesting worthwhile. As the weather grew colder Fiach assisted as they set up the furnaces to smelt the bog iron. She was amazed just how many baskets full of nodules they had to smelt. As normal she pitched right in working the furnaces.
{Streams carry dissolved iron from the deposits in the mountains. The iron concentrated in low lying bogs by two processes. The bog environment is acidic with a low concentration of dissolved oxygen allowing a chemical reaction to form insoluble iron compounds which precipitate out. Then anaerobic bacteria growing under the surface of the bog concentrate the iron as part of their life processes which can be detected on the surface by the iridescent oily film on the water, a sure sign of bog iron.}

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