Read Dubh-Linn: A Novel of Viking Age Ireland (The Norsemen Saga Book 2) Online

Authors: James L. Nelson

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Dubh-Linn: A Novel of Viking Age Ireland (The Norsemen Saga Book 2)

Dubh-Linn: A Novel of Viking Age Ireland (The Norsemen Saga Book 2)
Number II of
The Norsemen Saga
James L. Nelson
Fore Topsail Press (2014)
Literature & Fiction, Genre Fiction, Sea Stories, Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, Thrillers & Suspense, Historical, Thrillers
Literature & Fictionttt Genre Fictionttt Sea Storiesttt Mystery; Thriller & Suspensettt Thrillers & Suspensettt Historicalttt Thrillersttt

Book II of the ongoing Norsemen Saga. Coming in the wake of Fin Gall, Dubh-linn, continues the story of Thorgrim Night Wolf and his band of Viking warriors as they plunder the Irish coast. Eager to return to his native Norway, Thorgrim agrees to participate in one last raid under the command of a man he does not trust. But the Northmen, he finds, are no longer simply invaders on foreign soil. They have become a part of the Irish kings’ ongoing struggle for power, and far from securing a means to return home, Thorgrim and his men are plunged into a battle for the throne of Tara, a battle that will test their strength and loyalty as none has before.



A Novel of Viking Age Ireland


Book Two of The Norsemen Saga





James L. Nelson



Copyright © 2013 James L. Nelson

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 1484878930

ISBN-13: 9781494878934






For my beautiful Elizabeth,

my Viking princess,

with the blood of the Norsemen

coursing in her veins.








With thanks to Steve Cromwell, whose excellent work on the cover of
Fin Gall
aided so greatly in that book’s success, and who kindly worked his magic on this volume as well. Thanks to Kathy Lynn Emerson, author of the terrific
Face Down…
series and many other wonderful works of historical fiction for sharing her knowledge of the use of herbs in medieval times, and to Nathaniel Nelson whose love and knowledge of Norse mythology have been invaluable. Thanks to Edmund Jorgensen for the terrific help he’s given me in navigating the strange seas of Internet publishing.


And, as always, to Lisa for more than two decades of love and support.







Dubh-linn: Gaelic place name meaning “Black Pool.” The origin of modern-day Dublin








(For other terms, see Glossary at the end of the book)







The Saga of Thorgrim Ulfsson






There was a man named Thorgrim Ulfsson, who was called Thorgrim Night Wolf.

  He was of no remarkable size, but his strength was great and he was a skilled and much-respected warrior and honored for his skill as a poet. In his younger days he went a-viking with the jarl whom he served, a wealthy man known as Ornolf the Restless.

  Through his plundering, Thorgrim became a man of wealth, and married Ornolf’s daughter, Hallbera, who was fair and mild-tempered and bore him two strong sons and two daughters. Thorgrim then decided to remain on his farm in Vik in the country of Norway and no longer go a-viking.

  Thorgrim Night Wolf prospered as a farmer. He was well liked, and though he was temperate and sparing in speech, and not much given to gaiety, he was a good host and would never be found turning a stranger away from his door, nor denying him a place at table. During the day Thorgrim was kind and good-natured to his men and his slaves, but oftentimes as evening came on he would grow bad-tempered and people were wary of approaching him. It was thought by many that Thorgrim was a shape shifter, and though no one could claim to have ever seen Thorgrim change from a man into another thing, still he became known as Night Wolf.

  As the years passed, Ornolf the Restless grew old and fat, but he was still a man of great energy. After Thorgrim’s wife, whom Thorgrim loved very much, died in the birthing of their second daughter, Ornolf convinced Thorgrim to go a-viking once more. Thorgrim’s oldest son, Odd, had grown to a man and had a farm and a family of his own, and though Odd was strong and clever, Thorgrim did not take him plundering because he thought things would go better for Odd’s family if he remained behind.

  The younger son was named Harald. Harald was not as clever as Odd, but he was loyal and hardworking, and by the age of fifteen had grown so strong that he came to be known as Harald Broadarm. When Thorgrim went a-viking with Ornolf the Restless, he brought his son Harald to accompany him and learn the ways of men and Vikings. This was the year 852 by the Christian calendar, one year after the birth of Harald Halfdansson, who would come to be known as Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway.

  Now, in those days the Norwegians had set up a longphort on the east coast of Ireland at a place which the Irish people called Dubh-linn. It was there that Ornolf decided to sail with his longship
Red Dragon
, not knowing that the Danes had come and driven the Norwegians out and taken the longphort for themselves. On the way to Dubh-linn the Vikings plundered a few ships, including one that had aboard it a crown, known to the Irish as the Crown of the Three Kingdoms. It was understood that the king to whom the Crown of the Three Kingdoms was presented should have authority over those kings who were his neighbors. The crown was now to be given to the king at a place called Tara, and that king intended to use the power of the crown to drive the Northmen out of Dubh-linn, but those plans were interrupted when Ornolf and his men plundered the ship and took the crown for themselves.

  The loss of the crown caused a great stir among the Irish, and the king at Tara said to his men, “We must stop at nothing to see that the crown is returned to me, so that we might drive these dubh gall from our country.” Dubh gall was the word the Irish used for the Danes, and the Norwegians they called fin gall. The king and his men then tried to get the crown back, and this led to many adventures and strife for the Vikings.

  Around this time, Olaf the White drove the Danes from Dubh-linn. Ornolf, Thorgrim and those of their men who still lived, joined in the battle and after found a welcome in the longphort. Indeed, Ornolf felt such a welcome that he did not care to leave Dubh-linn or return to his wife, who was well known for her sharp tongue and shrewish ways.

  Thorgrim, however, was weary of Ireland and wished for nothing more than to return to his farm in Vik. But the longship which had carried them to Ireland, the
Red Dragon,
had been lost at sea and so Thorgrim set about to find some other means for him and Harald to return to their home.

  Here is what happened.

Chapter One






Words could not fell me,

by the fullest means

I, battle-oak, have brought

death’s end to many a man,

making my sword’s mouth speak.

                                                                 Gisli Sursson’s Saga






The birds of prey lay waiting in the predawn dark, quiet, wings folded.

  Half a dozen longships, lifting and sinking in the swells coming in from the sea, motionless beyond that, their sails furled and their long yards swung fore and aft. Each held a row of round shields mounted on its rails. A mile beyond their bows, beyond the gracefully curved stems, with dragons and birds worked into the hard oak, was the south coast of Ireland, the cut in the shoreline that formed the closest water approach to the monastery at a place known as Cloyne. The land was just visible, a dark, looming presence in the light of the half-moon directly overhead.

  The fleet had come from Dubh-linn, sailing and rowing south then west along the coast. The night before, they had hauled out on a sandy beach a few miles away. In the hours before dawn the men, roused grumbling from sleep, pushed the ships back out into the sea. The night was still, so they used the long oars to drive them down that last stretch of coast until they had reached this place, this spot where they would come ashore and roll through the ringfort, the town and the monastery there. In an hour they intended to own every man, woman and child within three miles, a population who, they hoped, did not yet even know they were there.

  The ships ranged in size. The smaller vessels carried twenty or thirty men crammed aboard, while the great, sweeping longships, with rowing stations for forty men, easily held twice that number in their low, sleek, beamy hulls. All told, nearly three hundred Vikings sat waiting nervously in the chill of the early morning hours.

  It was not the coming fight that made them nervous. Quite the opposite. The thought of bloody battle lifted their spirits, it was the reason they were there. Many of the men, as they brooded on the darkness, turned their thoughts to shieldwalls and sword thrusts and the feel of a battle ax hitting home, and those thoughts provided some comfort to them.

  It was the darkness they did not like. The Norsemen hated the dark. If they feared no man alive, they did fear those things that lurked in deep shadow, those things that were not of the world of men, that hunkered down in the hidden places ashore or, worse yet, in the black water beneath their keels. So they sat at their rowing stations and they adjusted their mail and their weapons, and the men from the north waited for the coming of the sun, and the order to take up their oars and pull for the distant shore.

  Well aft on the longship known as
Black Raven
, Thorgrim Night Wolf stood looking toward the land, one hand resting on the hilt of his sword. With the other he tugged on the broach that held the fur cloak clasped around his neck, freeing the metal filigree from his beard. The facial hair was not charcoal black anymore, as it had been in the younger days. A few weeks before he had caught his reflection in a silver chalice, had seen that his beard was now shot through with white, like the last bits of winter snow that cling to the shady places and refuse to melt.

  Underfoot he could feel the ship slewing a bit in the swells and he turned to give the man at the steering board an order to shift his helm, but he stopped as he recalled again that this was not his ship, and though he had been given an honored place aft, he had no authority aboard her.

  The man who did own the ship, the man who commanded those Northmen who sat at the rowing benches, was Arinbjorn Thoruson, whose fine smile had earned him the name Arinbjorn White-tooth, and he was just visible to Thorgrim at the opposite rail. Thorgrim considered saying something about the way the ship was twisting in the seas, but they did not appear to be in danger of hitting any of the other vessels so Thorgrim kept his own council. He was not one to speak when it was not his business, and often didn’t even when it was.

  As if sensing that Thorgrim was looking in his direction, Arinbjorn crossed the narrow deck and stood beside him, nodding toward the shore. “What think you, Thorgrim?” he asked, and there was a lightness to his tone, a casual quality that put Thorgrim on edge. “These Irish, will we get a fight out of them?”

  “Hard to say with the Irish,” Thorgrim replied, choosing his words with care. He had been in Ireland for nearly half a year now, had learned much about the country and the people, and largely despised both. Most of the men who had come from Norway with him and Ornolf the Restless had died in the violence that seemed to trail behind the Crown of the Three Kingdoms like a swarm of bees. Those who survived had been left adrift in an Irish boat made of wood and hide, then were swept up in the great fleet of Olaf the White on his way to take Dubh-linn from the Danes.

  “Hard to say,” Thorgrim said again. Arinbjorn was just a few feet away, all dark shadow and gray in the moonlight, bulky looking under his fur cape. His teeth seemed to glow. Thorgrim looked away, toward the shoreline. He thought the dawn was coming up, the land more visible now. “Sometimes they will run at the sight of a longship,” he elaborated, “sometimes they’ll stand and fight. Often it will depend on what their neighbors are doing. Every third Irishman is a king of something, lord of some cow pasture. If they are at war with one another they’ll have no men or stomach for a fight with us. If they decide to band together they can field a decent army, put up a real fight.”

  Arinbjorn was quiet for a moment. “I see,” he said at last. “Well, we’ll see how things lay soon enough.”

  Thorgrim’s mind went back to the last time he was in that place, standing on the deck of a longship, anticipating a fight. That had been the taking of Dubh-linn and it had involved no great effort in the end. Olaf’s force was overwhelming, and Dubh-linn was no longer some outpost barely clinging to the Irish coast, but a genuine settlement, with shopkeepers and brewers and blacksmiths and carpenters and all manner of tradesmen and artisans who did not care a whit for who ran the town as long as they were left alone to earn their living. Those few Danes willing to die to defend Dubh-linn did so quickly, and the rest welcomed the newcomers with a shrug.

  Ornolf the Restless and Olaf the White, who had known each other for many years and were great friends, shared a passion for food, drink and women, all of which could be found in abundance in the thriving longphort. Soon Ornolf was proclaiming that the new Dubh-linn was as fine a place as Valhalla was likely to be, without the bother of having to take to the field and spend each day hacking and killing your fellow revelers. Ornolf swore by Odin that he intended to return to Norway as soon as he could. But those claims grew more infrequent with each night spent at the mead hall, until finally, having failed to convince anyone of his sincerity, Ornolf stopped trying to convince himself.

  Thorgrim was certain now that it was growing light, and fore and aft men were beginning to move, as if animated by the gray dawn. Thorgrim could make out his son Harald on the fourth oar from the stern, larboard side. The boy had grown since they had sailed from Vik with Ornolf, Harald’s grandfather. Grown in many ways. Physically he was twice the young man he had been then. He was certainly as tall as Thorgrim now, perhaps taller. Thorgrim did not like to think on it.

  Harald had filled out in the arms and chest as well. He was the kind who could never stand to be idle. If there was work to do, he was the first hand in, and if there was no work to do, he would find some.

  In Dubh-linn they had secured lodging with a blacksmith from Trondheim named Jokul and his lovely Irish wife. Of all the craftsmen who had come to Dubh-linn and stayed, the woodworkers and comb makers and leather workers and goldsmiths, it was the blacksmiths who were most in demand, and of them, Jokul was looked on as the best. His home and his shop were larger than most, more accommodating.

  Still, the smith had been grudging at first about renting a space to the two men from Vik. Indeed, it was only his wife, Almaith, insisting that they be allowed to stay that swayed him in the end. And that in turn had worried Thorgrim, because he was not sure why she was so eager to have them there, and feared her motives might not be the most pure. That could mean trouble to windward, as he knew all too well, having seen in his lifetime nearly every version of the story of men and women played out before him, and often with himself in a leading role.

  In the end, none of those concerns were realized. Thorgrim guessed that it was Almaith’s desire for the rent money, or some diversion from the often unpleasant Jokul, that accounted for her insistence that they stay. Harald, for some unfathomable reason, was eager to learn the Irish tongue, and Almaith, a pleasant and patient tutor, set in to teach him the basics of the language. Harald was by nature eager and curious. He began following the smith around, looking for tasks to perform, and soon found Jokul eager to dole them out.

  After months of the young man splitting and stacking wood, making repairs to the wattle and timber frame home, pumping bellows at the forge and even learning some crude ironworking, the smith had grown more welcoming in his attitude, and Thorgrim knew he would be loath to see them go. He had tried, in fact, to dissuade them from joining the raiding party of which they were now a part.

  Along with Harald’s weed-like growth and the near constant work came an appetite that would make any bear shake his head in wonder. But that, too, was well sated in Dubh-linn. As much as the Irish might despise the fin gall, and the dubh gall before them, the longphort was a ready market, a market flowing with plundered gold and silver. Every day, farmers pushed their carts of produce through the high wooden palisade gates, every day sheep herds and swine herds and cow herds drove their beasts along the muddy plank roads to the market. It all seemed to flow into Harald’s stomach, and added pounds of muscle to his frame. One of Ornolf’s men had recently dubbed him Harald Broadarm, and that name seemed to have stuck.

  Thorgrim watched his son work the kinks out of his arms, ready to take up the loom of the oar. He wondered, ideally, if the two of them were to come to blows, which might win. Not that such a thing would happen. Thorgrim loved Harald above all things, and would lay down his life for the boy before he would ever raise a hand against him. Still, he wondered.

I have experience and wile on my side
, he thought,
even if youth and speed are with Harald
. But of course Thorgrim had been training Harald since he was five, training with shield and sword and battle ax and pike. He had passed on to his son much of his considerable skill with weapons.

  A dull light to the east seemed to part the horizon, water and sky, as the sun, with no great enthusiasm, came up at last. A voice came rolling over the swells. “Take up your oars!” It was the voice of Hoskuld Feilan, who was known as Hoskuld Iron-skull, the jarl who owned the longship
Thunder God
, largest of the present fleet, the man commanding the raid on the Irish coast. With those words the long row of sweeps along
Thunder God
’s side rose as one and swept forward in perfect symmetry. With the rowers hidden from view behind the line of bright painted shields, there was, to Thorgrim’s eye, something unworldly about it, as if the ship itself had sprung to life.

  “To oars! Take up your oars!” Arinbjorn White-tooth shouted. On
Black Raven
’s rowing benches, larboard and starboard, fore and aft, the men pushed down and aft on the thick looms. “Pull together!” Arinbjorn called next and as one the oars came down, the men leaned back,
Black Raven
gathered way. From a sleeping, lethargic thing, the ship came alive, the water swished down her side. Her fabric groaned with the leverage of sweep against oar port, and her motion changed from a dull roll to a determined, forward thrust. Thorgrim felt his spirit surge with the ship under his feet.

  He looked out to the east and west as in rapid succession the rest of the fleet gathered way and pulled for shore, spreading out astern of
Thunder God
like men at arms in a swine array. As he shifted his gaze he took a glance at Harald, hoping Harald would not see, not wanting the boy to think he was keeping an eye on him. But Harald was focused on his work, his eyes moving from the man astern of him to the sea and the rig overhead. A good seaman, a sailor’s eye. Thorgrim looked toward the shore. To starboard and larboard the rugged country ran down to the water, but right ahead the land seemed to open up in welcome. It was through that gap they would pull, then a few miles up the mouth of a river to their landing place. There was no movement along the shoreline that Thorgrim could see. No one there.

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