Brokk the Swede

-To my good friend Eliz

Brokk the Skald they called him,

A stout man with a bristled brow to catch the snow,

And a beard of ashen hue. In the land of the Swedes

He lived, strumming his harp by the hearth to

Patrons reeking to mead, to bulge his purse with coin.

He sang of Geats, of far off lands passed down in rumor,

Of Danish kings, and bloodied blades. It was a life of

Modest comfort, but Brokk longed for more,

A station to keep him fed with new songs and wealth.

By the hearth he yet remained, plucking strings the

Drunkards knew by heart.

 

One day, a stranger called Donar the Northman

Spoke of the icy reaches from whence he came,

Of warriors soaked in gore, arms full of spoils, and

Fame eternal. So proud was he the speech went into

The night until the hall was put to sleep. Only

Brokk remained awake, enthralled by the stranger’s

Story and begged for direction to this land.

‘With Daneland on the side of the setting sun,’

He began, ‘follow the water till it is most frigid.

And with ice on a distant horizon, you

Will have reached the land from which I come.’

Brokk thanked Donar and set off with harp in hand.

 

For a week he travelled western and secured passage

On a trade ship. With only his harp and a

Sack of provisions Brokk set sail with the merchants’

Goods. In the day the sea was kind, the ship

Swaying across the waves. Come night,

Brokk held tight as the craft was tossed and

Rocked by the sea’s protest. When a man went

Overboard the merchants called for aid and with a rope

Brokk swam to fetch him. Fighting the current

He searched, but found no trace and took his place at the sails.

Past Daneland the sea was barren and the sky grey,

Weeping with snow every hour. When the fall was

Thick and the waves fierce, the trade ship was struck

By a craft bearing pirates. The boats latched together,

Fear stole Brokk’s heart as he fled from the ensuing melee.

One pirate chased after him, swinging an axe that

Found no purchase. When he drew closer, Brokk blocked a blow

With his harp and the instrument gave out a twang

Before it shattered. Brokk prepared for the final

Blow before a wave crashed upon the ships.

 

With a gasp Brokk awoke in a shiver. He crawled from the

Shade of a broken hull and onto a beach with

Snow covered trees up the shore. Waves broke against the gathered

Remains of the ships and the crews’ corpses. Brokk

Said a prayer to the merchants and cursed the pirates

As he dragged them clear and replaced his tattered garments.

From one marauder he claimed an axe and shield and

Set out into the wood. The strain in his knees

Grew strong as he climbed a steep hill,

His toes numb from the snow. Trees gave way to

Stone the higher he ascended and the air was

Thin when he reached the top. From the spine of a ridge he

Spied a fjord dotted with ice moving with the current.

Further off was a town with long ships in harbor.

 

All was quiet when Brokk entered the town.

A sparse few inhabitants lingered in the snow

While the rest remained indoors. At the center stood a hall of

Official decoration, topped with banners above an ornate gate.

Brokk was drawn to the doors and on the other side the

Hall was full of warriors seated before a man

Upon a throne. ‘From where do you come stranger?’

He shouted. ‘I am the jarl of this land and you wear a face I

Know not of. Do you come with good intent?’

Brokk stood tall. ‘I am Brokk the Skald from the south and

I long for adventure beyond the hearth and riches

Heavier than the coin of drunken strangers.’

The jarl laughed. ‘A poet with a hunger for glory.

Do you envy the legends in song and want

To make your own?’ ‘Nay, my lord, for I am a

Simple man unfulfilled by my life of old.

Legends belong in the past and I am of the now.’

The jarl gave a nod with a stiff smile.

‘Then I welcome you to the fold, former skald. The

Raiding season has passed, but before the next, we

Shall make you fit for combat. Do you

Accept these terms?’ Brokk smiled back.

‘With gratitude, I accept.’ And the hall

Replied with raised cups and cheers that shook the rafters.

A small group brought him to the benches among

Hearty company. In the years to follow he

Would sail to far away lands plump with treasure and blood.

The harp long gone, the humble skald would

Become known as Brokk the Swede.

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