Book Title: Sigurd’s Swords
Series: Olaf’s Saga, Book 2
Author: Eric Schumacher
Publication Date: June 28, 2021
Publisher: Bodn Books
Page Length: 300 Pages (print)
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From best-selling historical fiction novelist, Eric Schumacher, comes the second volume in Olaf’s Saga: the adrenaline-charged story of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the kingdom of the Rus.
AD 968. It has been ten summers since the noble sons of the North, Olaf and Torgil, were driven from their homeland by the treachery of the Norse king, Harald Eriksson. Having then escaped the horrors of slavery in Estland, they now fight among the Rus in the company of Olaf’s uncle, Sigurd.
It will be some of the bloodiest years in Rus history. The Grand Prince, Sviatoslav, is hungry for land, riches, and power, but his unending campaigns are leaving the corpses of thousands in their wakes. From the siege of Konugard to the battlefields of ancient Bulgaria, Olaf and Torgil struggle to stay alive in Sigurd’s Swords, the riveting sequel to Forged by Iron.
Konugard, Gardariki, Late Summer, AD 968
Fall was coming. I could feel it in the cold wind that whipped down the Nepr River to the east of us. I could see it, too, in the clouds forming in the north. Thick and gray they were, carrying rain that I welcomed. Anything to slake my thirst and give the vile nomads who encircled our city — the Pechenegs — something to make their siege a little less pleasant.
The Pechenegs had been our friends once, or so I was told. But they had turned on us while our leader, Grand Prince Sviatoslav, was away to the south, fighting the Bolgars. Now they camped by the thousands beyond our walls. Of those nomadic people I can say little, save how much I despised them. I hated their swarthy looks, their equine stench, and the damn drums they beat each night. I hated their black felt hats and the food they cooked beneath our noses as we starved on the walls of Konugard. But mostly I hated them for their arrows and how they killed us from afar, like cowards.
The siege was entering its third month. In the first week of the siege they had overrun the neighboring land, driving our army back to the ramparts that stood inside the city’s moat. Those high wooden walls had been our home ever since.
I looked at Olaf. My friend and charge stood next to me, fiddling with his seax. We had been nobles once but had fled our homes when the sons of Erik had killed Olaf’s father. Our flight had led to our capture by Estland Vikings, who had sold us into slavery. For seven long summers, as thralls, we prodded the Estland bogs for pebbles of iron that our master smelted and sold in the market for profit. That had been a living version of Hel. I had vowed upon my escape never to be captured again, and yet here I was, caged in the city of Konugard and surrounded by death. At least here there was a glimmer of hope. We had sent messages to Grand Prince Sviatoslav early in the siege, begging him to return. If he did so before winter, we stood a chance. I glanced at the clouds yet again, as if I could divine the answer in their gray billows. They rolled on indifferently.
“Torgil!” called Lord Sigurd from his seat beneath the arrow-riddled parapet. I turned to find him regarding me wearily, his cerulean eyes dark-rimmed. He was a man in his prime — tall, muscular, his red hair unfaded — but I could hear the fatigue in his voice. Strewn across the fighting platform near him were the members of his household retinue, his hird. Roughly forty of us remained, representing all manner of people. Most of us were Rus, which is to say Swedes, Danes, and Northmen, though there were also many Slavs: Ilmen, Chuds, Krivichi, and other tribes whose names I did not know. We differed greatly from one another in looks, but we were all bound by one oath — to serve Lord Sigurd — and one language, if you could call our jumble of Slavic and Norse a language at all.
“Lord?” I replied.
“Mind your helmet,” he warned.
I reached up and straightened the conical helm on my head, then swiped my black bangs from my eyes with my grimy hand and turned back to the view.
Sigurd was the maternal uncle of Olaf and one of the lords of General Dobrynya, a prominent officer in the army of Grand Prince Sviatoslav. It had been Sigurd who had discovered Olaf in a marketplace when he was a thrall and he also who had come to rescue me and my fellow thralls from the Estland cesspit where we were being held. He had seen our sorry state and had brought us back to his hall near Holmgard, offering us a roof and food and rest, a kindness I promised to repay with my service to him. When I was sufficiently healed of my external wounds, he allowed me to train with Olaf and his men, for I had been taught in the way of weapons by my own father before my enslavement. Under Sigurd’s steady and patient tutelage, my body mended and my skills improved until that fateful day when he had offered me a place in his hird alongside Olaf. My service was for five summers, and I accepted it gladly.
Not a week later we received news that we were going to the great walled city the Slavs call Kyiv — Konugard to we Northmen — to protect Grand Prince Sviatoslav’s mother, Queen Olga, and his sons Yaropolk, Oleg, and Vladimir while he campaigned in the south. Sigurd had said it would be an easy assignment — a summer in a beautiful city surrounded by beautiful women. I bristled at the memory, for the Pechenegs had come not long after we arrived and quickly overran the area. Since then we had known nothing but misery.
“How do you think Turid would like this?” I asked Olaf, thinking of our mutual friend who served in Sigurd’s household. She had wanted to be a warrior — indeed, she had the skill for it — but Sigurd had forbidden it. He believed it would cause too much strife among his men. Mayhap he was right. Turid was a striking redhead with glacial eyes and freckled skin whose beauty had captivated me since we were children. It was not difficult to see how men might fight for her attention.
Olaf smirked through his short amber beard. “Truth be told, I think she would enjoy it. Not the suffering, but the fighting. That, she would like.”
I smiled at the truth in Olaf’s words. She had been a fellow thrall with us and had shown her fighting prowess during our escape. “Aye. She would. We should bring it up again to Sigurd if we return from this place.”
“When we return,” Olaf corrected. Unlike me, he did not see the dark side of reality. He still believed the rubbish his father had fed him when we were small: that he was destined for greatness.
I rolled my eyes but knew there was no sense in arguing.
“You should marry her, you know,” he offered quietly. “Neither of you is getting any younger and it would be good for you to have a son.”
I glanced at my friend, who was taller than me by half a head, though he was four winters my junior. It was true what he said — I was in my twentieth fall and Turid was older than me by a winter. I knew she was fond of me, but our friendship had never gone past a peck on the cheek. Olaf’s comment was not far off the mark, but I refused to let him know that. Any advantage given him was an advantage he would take. If not now, then later. So instead I furrowed my brows and gave him my most puzzled look. “What makes you think I want to marry her? Or want a child?”
“Oh, come. You have always had feelings for her. Ever since we were young whelps. And what man does not want a son to carry on his name and his memory?”
“What about you?” I countered. “You could easily marry her.”
He snorted. “I could never marry her.” He moved closer to me and his blue eyes swung to and fro as he checked for listeners. “I am a prince. If I marry, it will be for gain and she cannot offer me that. Though,” he raised a finger, “I would not mind discovering what other gifts she has to offer.”
When she had flowered, the son of our Estland slave master had taken Turid as his concubine. It was a wound from which she would never heal, and a wound on which Olaf had just trodden. My temper flared and I punched him hard in the shoulder.
“What did you do that for?” His eyes flashed as he straightened from the blow, genuinely shocked at my response.
“To remind you to watch your tongue,” I growled. “You know how sensitive she is about that.”
“But she is not here, is she?” Olaf snarled at me and slid down the wall to a spot near my feet. I did not care. His callous comment poked at wounds he had no business poking.
I was about to say something more when a horn rang out from the watchtower and turned my attention back to the enemy.
“What is happening out there?” Sigurd asked.
I peered more closely at the Pecheneg encampment. “There is some movement.”
“My dead mother could give a better report than that, Bog-Breath! Why is the watchman blowing a horn?” asked Sigurd’s second-in-command, a brute named Ulrik, who lounged near Sigurd with his eyes closed. He’d had the honor of serving as Sigurd’s second-in-command for multiple summers and had the scars to prove it. At some point in our journey to Konugard, he had decided I needed a byname and so had started calling me Bog-Breath because of my time as a thrall in the