Sunday, August 30, 2009

Viking Blood

"Hello Sven, what's that you're at?" Lars asked, as he stepped over Father Peter, Sven's mangy old dog, and entered his best friend's house.

Sven was holding the wide, open end of a drinking horn to the side of his polished iron helmet. He held it out for Lars to inspect. "It's something I'm working on. Imagine a horn on either side."

"It's certainly a look." Lars said, sceptically.

"You really need to see it with both horns in place. It'll make me look like a bull, it will."

"A bull?" Lars asked. "Why?"

"It's ferocious!" Sven exclaimed, shaking the helmet and horn in Lars' direction. "Watch out, I'm charging, see?"

"They're only going to get stuck on things. Suppose you were ducking through a doorway and they got tangled in the frame. You could get a nasty neck strain. You don't want to go raiding and come back hurt, do you?"

"No, I suppose not," Sven said, crestfallen.

"You could put ears on the helmet," Lars said. "Like a wolf. Make them floppy so they don't catch."

Sven tried to picture this in his head. "Floppy ears? That's not very frightening is it?"

"Wolves are scary," Lars assured him. "And they're carnivores, not like bulls. Bulls eat grass for Odin's sake."

"With a pair of floppy ears on my helmet, people might think I'm a dog." Father Peter perked up and fixed his sole rheumy eye on Sven, waiting to see where this was going. "Which is fine," Sven added. "Dogs can be tremendously ferocious, but if I was going with ears, I'd want to be sure people knew I was a wolf."

"You could write 'wolf' on the front of the helmet. People'd know then."

"Now, you didn't think that through, did you, Lars? We're up and down the coasts of Ireland, Britain, Europe. All with their different languages. I'd be having to keep track of where we're going to be and what the local translation for 'wolf' is. Managing that would be a perfect nightmare."

Lars nodded. "It's always the paperwork that catches you out," he said, forlornly. "What if you drew a pic-"

"You've put me right off the idea now, to be honest," Sven said, setting the helmet and horn aside. "So, you ready for the raid tomorrow?"

"You bet," said Lars. "Plenty of pillaging, eh?"

"Oh, yes. But not just the pillaging. We don't just go for the pillaging, do we? I mean specifically, I'm not there for the pillaging so much as for the-"

"That's actually, why I'm here," Lars interrupted. "The pillaging? The pillaging, I'm comfortable with. But the other... suppose it was your sister, what then?"

"I don't have a sister," Sven said, confused.

"Your mother then."

"My mother? What, doing it?"

"No!" Lars said. "Having it done to-"

"MY MOTHER?" Sven shouted. His whole body began to shake, his eyes bulged and his fists bunched, as he worked himself into a frenzy.

Lars frantically searched for a shield his berserking friend could chew on, but stopped when he realised the truth. "Quit laughing," he said. "I'm serious."

"Oh, come on, Lars." Sven said, having regained control. "I mean... my mother? I love her dearly but, can you imagine? Now Sigursen's mother, that I could imagine."

"Sigursen's mother?" Lars asked, wistfully. "I think we could all imagine that."

"Imagining that got me through puberty," Sven said. "In the nicest possible way, she's a very easy woman."

The pair allowed their thoughts to drift a while, then Lars took another tack. "Remember when Ulrich borrowed Bo's massive boar to cover his sow? That year his piglets were twice the size they were the year before. Do you see what I'm getting at?"

"Oh, I do," Sven said. "And you're going too far. Not with pigs, Lars. Never with pigs... remember the time we landed in France and all the women had gone? Big Alfrik had his way with the goat, remember? We made terrible fun of him about that."

"That's not what I mean," Lars said. "And we wouldn't have given Alfrik such a hard time if the goat hadn't looked so bored. Quite frankly I don't know which of them I was more embarrassed for."

"We didn't eat Alfrik, so he probably had the best of it."

"The point I was trying to make," Lars persevered, "was that by spreading our Viking seed to all the peasants we're raiding, we're going to make them bigger and stronger. What are we going to do in the future when boatloads of huge peasants, harbouring years of anger, turn up on our shores?"

Sven rose from his seat and took his battle-axe from where it hung on the wall. "I don't know about that," Sven said, running his thumb along the edge of the blade, "I don't know about enormous boars, or Viking seed, but do you know what I do know? I'll tell you, shall I?"

Sven slapped the flat of the axe into his huge hand. Lars said nothing, waiting for him to continue.

"If those boatloads of giant peasants come to my land, all fired up with Viking blood surging through their veins and intent on paying us back for years of honest raiding, do you know who will be waiting on the beach, ready to deal with them?"

Lars nodded and, together, they said:

"Sigursen's mother!"

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