Upgrade to a better browser, please.

Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Books

Swords of Good Men

Added By: Administrator
Last Updated:

Swords of Good Men

Purchase this book through Purchase this book from Purchase this book from
Author: Snorri Kristjansson
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books, 2013
Series: The Valhalla Saga: Book 1

1. Swords of Good Men
2. Blood Will Follow
3. Path of Gods

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Historical Fantasy
Avg Member Rating:
(1 reads / 1 ratings)



To Ulfar Thormodsson, the Viking town of Stenvik is the penultimate stop on a long journey in this riveting adventure of clashing Viking powers. Tasked with looking after his cousin after disgracing his father, he has traveled the world and now only wants to go home.

Stenvik is different: it contains the beautiful and tragic Lilja, who immediately captures Ulfar’s heart-–but Stenvik is also home to some very deadly men, who could break Ulfar in an instant.

King Olav is marching on Stenvik from the East, determined to bring the White Christ to the masses at the point of his sword, and a host of bloodthirsty raiders led by a mysterious woman are sailing from the north.

But Ulfar is about to learn that his enemies are not all outside the walls.



Stenvik, West Norway, September AD 996

A line of pale grey moonlight crawled across the water. The heavy clouds drifted apart and a faint outline of the coast shimmered into view.

The man at the rudder broke the silence and pointed to shore. 'That's Stenvik there.'

Ulfar heard it before he saw it. Voices, shouts and cries carried across the sea, skipped past the line of moonlight, over the deeper, darker swathes of water and blended to form the noise of a town at night. A year ago his heart would have lifted to hear it. Now he just ached and stretched, moving slowly to work the cramp out of his long legs. When he'd sat up he nudged the man who slept in the boat next to him. 'We're here.'

'...What?' his cousin Geiri mumbled and rubbed his face, still more than half asleep. 'When do we land? Where are we?' He clambered to a sitting position and winced. 'Next time I suggest sailing because it saves time--'

'-- I'll just punch you in the back a couple of times and find a horse, shall I?' Ulfar replied. Behind them the quiet sailor smirked. The merchant who owned the boat was sound asleep on all the furs he intended to sell in Stenvik. He'd left the two young men to squeeze in between sacks of wheat, planks of carved wood and blocks of amber. Geiri was shorter, so he'd had an easier time finding a comfortable position. Ulfar had retaliated by poking him in his sleep. Still, they couldn't complain. Geiri had negotiated free passage from Hedeby all the way to south-west Norway just by mentioning his father and hinting at some undefined favour in the future. They could have navigated most of the way just by the blaze of greed in the merchant's smile.

Tiny dots of fire caught Ulfar's eye. He pointed them out to his cousin and they watched as Stenvik grew out of the dark.

'Doesn't look like much, does it?' Ulfar muttered.

'After Hedeby? Not really. But we still need to go there. Cheer up, you miserable goat. It's the last one. After this one we go home.'

'Good,' Ulfar replied, and thought of Svealand. After the... accident, after Geiri's father had intervened on his behalf and suggested – no, forced him – to go travelling with his cousin, he'd spent the first six months of the journey cursing his own -stupidity, the next year or so enjoying the travel and the last four months being thoroughly done with the road. He touched the rune on the string around his neck. After Stenvik he was going back home no matter what.

'Who's there?' someone cried from the docks.

'Friend,' the sailor yelled back. 'Bringing a merchant with goods to trade and two passengers.' At that the merchant awoke with a start, grabbed for his chest and fondled for his pouch. Satisfied that he had not been robbed at sea he sank back down, mumbling to no one in particular.

'Dock over here,' yelled another voice. The sailor pulled on the rudder and the boat changed course. A torch flared on the jetty and a big, grubby dockhand's face emerged from the dark. 'You're out late, sailor,' he barked.

'Caught calm seas and tide out of Hedeby, thought I'd push it. Out late is better than out cold,' the sailor replied.

'That's true,' the man on the dock grunted. The two men went about the business of mooring the boat with easy, practised movements, and before long Ulfar and Geiri stood on the pier. Ulfar glanced at his cousin, who was still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. A full head taller than Geiri, right now Ulfar looked nothing like the son of a lesser noble. He brushed a strand of long black hair away from his eyes. Geiri was a good man, there was no doubt about it. They'd practically grown up together, and Geiri's father was a great man, Ulfar knew. It was just frustrating to watch his cousin sometimes. He simply wasn't... sharp enough. He hadn't realized that the dockhand was going to offer them a place to stay, for one. Ulfar sighed and counted. One, two...

The grubby-faced man turned to Ulfar. 'If you boys need somewhere to sleep I reckon I could help you out,' he wheezed.

Ulfar would have brushed the man off, but Geiri spoke. 'Thank you,' he replied. 'Stenvik impresses with its kindness to weary travellers. We'll be glad to take you up on your offer.'

Wincing inwardly, Ulfar resisted the temptation to elbow his cousin and instead took the time to look around. Truth be told, the town of Stenvik didn't impress with much apart from its gap-toothed hospitality. The jetty was serviceable enough, which made sense for a town this far west. He knew they raided the isles from here, and even down to the land of the Franks, but for all the stories he'd heard of their chieftain he'd expected... more. Something fiercer, maybe. Dragons' heads and huge raiders on watch. The big, paved half-circle in front of them must be some kind of market area, he reasoned, but the houses around it looked rickety and run down.

'Heh,' the man replied. 'You won't be staying in the new town, so don't get too chirpy about your lot.'

'The new town?' Geiri asked.

'This is the old town,' the dockhand wheezed. 'Now we just unload the ships and such here. Nobody really lives here any more if they can help it. The new town is up there' – he pointed to some kind of hill or mound. Unsure what to say, Geiri glanced at Ulfar. As usual Ulfar took pity on his cousin and rescued him from the awkward pause.

'Yes. Very nice,' he said. 'It looks very... new.'

'It's good, isn't it? But you'll probably see it all in the morning. Follow me,' the dockhand said. He shuffled out of the small circle of torchlight and towards a clump of houses. Geiri made to follow him.

Ulfar sighed. He had a mind to let the boy wander into the shadowy alleys of an unknown town by himself. He didn't; instead he walked behind Geiri and looked after him, as he'd promised. As he'd been made to promise.

The man led them into the shadows between lean-tos, houses and wattle-woven shacks. Ulfar briefly felt for his shortsword, just to be sure. 'Ain't done too much to the old part since we built the new town,' the dockhand rumbled as they tiptoed along the wooden walkway between the houses. 'Still, it serves its purpose. Here we are.' He stopped outside a hut. 'Give me your packs, I'll throw them in and then I'll take you down to the old longhouse so you can get a bit of refreshment and maybe meet some of the locals.' Ulfar grimaced in the dark. He'd met enough locals to last him a lifetime.

'Thank you,' Geiri said. 'You're a credit to your town.'

'Heh,' the dockhand said. 'Not so sure about that. Not so sure at all. This way, boys, if you please,' and with that he disappeared back into the shadows. Ulfar looked at Geiri, who simply shrugged.

'We're here now,' he said. 'Might as well go see what this town's like. It'll give us a head start on tomorrow.'

'Lead the way,' Ulfar replied, and they followed their guide's fading footsteps towards the feeble pools of torchlight.

They found him waiting for them by the doors of an old longhouse. 'Here you go,' the dockhand said. 'This is where we feed the workers, the traders and whatever else might be floating around. As you know we're in market season, so there might be some guests there as well. Take care of yourselves.' With that he nodded to them and shuffled off into the darkness.

'After you, my lord,' Ulfar said.

'Oh shut up,' Geiri snapped back.

'My sincerest pardons, highness,' Ulfar said.

Geiri rolled his eyes. 'One day I'll find out what I've done to the gods and why they sent you to punish me.'

'I think your majestic good looks offend Loki,' Ulfar replied.

'Probably,' Geiri said as they stepped in.

Steam drifted lazily up to the smoke-stained rafters from the pots at the far end of the hall. Sturdy tables lined the timber walls and the smell of roasted meat lingered in the air. The longhouse was about half-full. Without thinking Ulfar scanned, counted and evaluated. A handful of boisterous groups, jostling and laughing. About half of the others were tired-looking workers, quietly resting. The evening seemed to be winding down and turning into night. Ulfar spotted a table where a slim young man with thinning hair and sloping shoulders sat nursing a mug. He saw Ulfar looking and shrugged by way of permission.

'I've found us a table,' Ulfar said.

'I'll go get the ale,' Geiri said.

'Wait and watch, cousin,' Ulfar said as he took a seat. 'Wait and watch. One of these days I may be able to teach you to... observe.' He gestured for Geiri to sit and nodded towards a big pillar on the wall halfway down the hall where a big, dishevelled man sat alone at a table, muttering to himself. Everything about him spoke of poor manners and worse grooming. Thinning, limp, dirty blond hair crept forward over a creased forehead, ending just above beady eyes and a mouth stuck in a permanent sneer of displeasure.

'You bastards!' the big man suddenly shouted, his pockmarked face beetroot-red. He squinted at the others inside the hall and banged on the table for emphasis. Snarling, he raised a battered wooden mug to his lips. 'Y'think you're so much better'n us just because you live in a stupid town! Think you're--' The rest of his words drowned in ale. He sputtered, swallowed and coughed. 'And you charge too much for this piss!'

'Shut up, pig-lover!' someone shouted.

'Who said that?' the farmer yelled back, furious. 'Who said that?' He rose and staggered out onto the middle of the floor, his big frame swaying. 'Come on then! I'll have every last one of you!' he shouted, brandishing his mug.

'What are you going to do – grab us by the tail?' someone shouted from another table. Pig snorts bounced off the walls, followed by raucous laughter.

Ulfar and Geiri watched as the farmer spun around, trying in vain to find the source of the insults. Groups of workers sat on benches up against the walls, eating, drinking and talking. No-one seemed to pay him any special mind, but his blood was up. He staggered over to a man sitting alone at a table in the corner by the door. 'You!' he shouted. 'You're in my seat.'

Ulfar nudged Geiri and pointed discreetly at the groups behind the pig farmer. Some of the men had stopped talking and were watching the exchange in the corner intently, but the fat pig farmer didn't seem to notice. The man in the corner ignored him.

'I said you're in my seat. Move.' The farmer's voice was strained but the man at the table still ignored him, as if willing the big drunkard to disappear. 'Move now, dogface, or I will break your head.'

One by one, the tables in the longhouse grew quiet. The sitting man sighed, reached for his mug of ale, drained it and rose.

'...oh,' Geiri whispered. A deadly silence filled the longhouse.

There was a tangible sense of mass about the man in the corner. A shock of unruly blond hair. Big shoulders, long arms, calloused hands with thick fingers. The man was short, but built like a bear. He put his mug down carefully and looked the pig farmer straight in the eye. Two steps took him to within fighting range. He stopped for a heartbeat. Then the stocky man moved past the pig farmer and walked towards the door without saying a word.

No one in the old longhouse spoke.

The farmer looked at the lone man's back and seemed to struggle with the impulse to shout something, but thought

better of it and sat down in the corner as the blond man left the longhouse.

Ulfar grinned. 'See, Geiri. I am fortune's gift to you. If it weren't for me you'd have been pig fodder.'

'It looks to me like the pig farmer had all the luck tonight,' Geiri replied.

'If that's what you want to call it,' the thin man next to Geiri said curtly. 'Maybe fighting with Audun would have knocked some stupid out of him. Although if you want to pick someone for a drunken bash, maybe not the town blacksmith.'

'No,' Ulfar said, nodding. 'No. Maybe not.'

They looked over to the corner where the pig farmer sat hunched over his mug, looking even more miserable than before. 'I'm glad he didn't – I'd have to clean up the mess. My name is Valgard, by the way. I make potions and mend wounds in this lovely town.'

'Glad to meet you,' Geiri said. 'I am Geiri and this is Ulfar. We've come from Hedeby on business.'

'Really?' Valgard said. 'You're not drunk, you're not slavering and you don't smell of sheep. Are you sure?'

'Yes,' said Geiri. 'We're here to meet with Sigurd Aegisson.'

'Ah,' Valgard said. He finished his ale, stood up and smiled. 'I wish you the best of luck.' Then he left.

Geiri gave Ulfar a puzzled look. 'What do you think that meant?'

Ulfar frowned. 'I don't know. I somehow doubt that it's anything good. But on the other hand, with danger averted and the table to ourselves, you may now fetch us that ale.'

Geiri rolled his eyes. 'You're too kind.'

'I know,' Ulfar replied, grinning.

The North Sea

A few days' sailing further north, the cold moonlight danced on decks, slid over tarred wood, caught on edges, hilts and the eyes of hard men. Some murmured to themselves. Others touched small tokens on leather thongs underneath their armour. They looked like ghosts gliding across a sea of silver. Moving nimbly, an armed man picked his way to the prow of the foremost ship. 'We'll be at Moster soon,' he whispered into the shadows cast by the big masthead.

'Good,' a deep voice replied. 'Good. She will get what she needs.'

A sharp wind whipped the salt-caked sails and drove the twelve sleek ships forward. Above, grey clouds scudded over the waxing moon. When they passed, the pale light fell on a small island ahead of the ships. A handful of stone buildings clustered in the lee of a hill; trees shied away from the cold sea winds.

The ships landed like a whisper.

Sails fell, sixty men leapt overboard and suddenly the beach was alive with moving bodies. A big shape emerged from the shadow of the masthead and made to leave.

'Come to me.' The voice was a whisper, a breeze on a freezing winter's night, drifting in from the stern. A woman followed the voice, and walked to the mast. The big man walked to her and suddenly everything was quiet around them. 'Here,' she whispered. 'Take this.' She handed him a length of wood.

As he took it, she touched his bearded cheek and smiled.

'Burn them. Burn them as they want to burn us.'

The spar of wood burst into green and white flames, revealing three vicious scars on the big man's neck.

Screams and cries for help pierced the stillness. He jumped over the side of the ship and ran towards the house with the cross.

Copyright © 2013 by Snorri Kristjansson


Swords of Good Men

- crwilley


No alternate cover images currently exist for this novel.