Eric Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history at a very early age, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Bernard Cornwell, Jack Whyte, and Wilbur Smith. Those discoveries fueled his imagination and continue to influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God's Hammer, tells the story of the first Christian king of Viking Norway and was published in 2005.
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For fans of Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden comes the tale of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the battle-scarred kingdom of Wagria.
It is AD 972. Olaf Tryggvason and his oath-sworn protector, Torgil, are once again on the move. They have left the Rus kingdom and now travel the Baltic Sea in search of plunder and fame. But a fateful storm lands them on the Vendish coastline in a kingdom called Wagria.
There, they find themselves caught between the aggression of the Danes, the political ambitions of the Wagrian lords, and the shifting politics in Saxland. The maelstrom threatens to tear the friends apart and leave their battered corpses on the battlefields of Vendland in this harrowing sequel to the best-selling Forged by Iron and Sigurd's Swords.
Wolves of Wagria
Olaf's Saga - Book 3
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Holmgard, Gardariki, Late Spring, AD 972
A crowd had gathered within the muddy courtyard of the old borg that we called Holmgard. Like me, the throng was there for the duel. But
while those in the crowd chattered and muttered in almost giddy anticipation, I stood in silence.
In front of me, my friend and charge, Olaf, paced in the dueling ground, his breath gathering in the cold before his face. Across from him stood one of Prince Vladimir's warriors, a bear of a man named Hastein, who had publicly accused Olaf of sleeping with the prince's wife and earning his position as the head of her guard with his prowess in bed. To protect the princess's reputation and his own, Olaf had challenged the man to a duel. And so here I stood, recently returned from a bloody campaign in Bolgaraland to find myself in the midst of a puddle-pocked yard packed with warriors thirsty for a fight. And, mayhap, a chance to earn some easy coin.
I glanced up at the dais that lay beside the dueling ground. Prince Vladimir, who was now a teen, scowled beneath his dark brows. Though it had never been proven that Olaf was lying with his wife, the rumors were enough to harm the prince's reputation and his pride. He wanted Olaf dead, and that truth was etched in the dark frown on his face. It mattered not that Vladimir kept a flock of his own whores, just as his father had.
By his side sat his bewitching wife, Olava, with her white-blond hair cascading over her dark sable coat, a visible grimace of concern on her thin face. While Olaf had denied his indiscretions to me and others, I sensed he was lying. He may have been a talented fighter, but he was also a risk taker, and I doubted he could reject the seductive allure of the blond beauty that was Olava, especially if it meant an elevation of his station here in the Rus kingdom, which we Northmen called Gardariki. And climb he had. I had been on campaign in the South for two winters, and in that time, he had ascended to the highest ranks of Olava's household guard. Part of that, I knew, was due to Olaf's popularity, for his way with words, his courage, and his weapons-craft had always won men to his side. I doubted little that Olava's guards served him with reluctance. But it was hard to ignore the rumors, which had reached my ears as soon as I had returned. If those words had bothered me, it was hard to fathom how much they rankled the prince.
"Why do you fight with armor, Hastein? Do you fear my blades?" Olaf's words tore me from my thoughts. He stood in his leather breeks with only a rough tunic on his torso. He had woven his amber hair and beard into tight braids. In each hand, he carried a stabbing sword, or seax. Unless he fought in a shield wall, he never carried a shield. He preferred the freedom of movement his two blades afforded him. Though he was only in his twentieth spring, there was not a man more gifted at fighting simultaneously with two hands than Olaf.
Still, I had my misgivings. A man did not become a prince's household warrior by luck. Hastein was plenty experienced, and unlike Olaf, he was taking no chances. He stood in his chain-linked byrnie that reached to his mid-thigh. On his head, he wore a helmet and carried in his hands a shield and a hand axe. A seax hung from his belt. Fully armored and weapon-rich, he would be a hard man to kill.
"Do not toy with him," I shouted into Olaf's ear over the cries of the mob. "Finish him quickly and be done with this."
Olaf glanced at me, and his lips twisted into that mischievous grin of his. How many times had I seen that grin, and how many times had it led to some misadventure that landed us in trouble? It told me that I had the right of it –– Olaf did not intend merely to fight Hastein. He intended to do something more, though just what, I knew not, and that worried me.
"Olaf," I warned, knowing in my heart that Olaf would do as he wanted. Just as he always had. Bull-headed and bold. That was Olaf.
Some would call him foolhardy, but I had known him since he was a small lad, and I knew better. Olaf genuinely believed the gods had great plans for him and so would protect him in his pursuits, whatever they might be. Though I was not so willing to accept that belief, I had a hard time thinking otherwise. He was often the first to rush into battle and rarely did he come away with more than a scratch.
He walked over to me and smacked my right shoulder. I winced, for I had been wounded in Bolgaraland on that shoulder and the wound
was still tender. "Do not fear, Torgil," he said to me and winked.
"I am not afraid," I growled, then glanced to my left, where my lord, Sigurd, stood. He was Olaf's maternal uncle, yet even he knew it was pointless to instruct his nephew. So instead, he stood silently and grimly, burly arms crossed over his thick chest as he waited for the duel to begin.
When we were lads, Olaf's father, Trygvi, had ruled a county in our homeland called Vingulmark, but he had been treacherously killed by his adversary Harald Eriksson, the man who now called himself king of all of the Northmen. My father had taken us boys; Olaf's mother, Astrid; and two of her maidservants, and fled east in the hope of connecting with Astrid's brother Sigurd, who lived in Gardariki. Our flight had not been easy. One of the maidservants had died at the hands of bandits. Estlanders then captured us on the East Sea, killing my father, selling Olaf's mother, and turning Olaf; the remaining maidservant, Turid; and me into thralls for the remainder of our childhood. Only by luck, or mayhap the pity of the gods, had Olaf's uncle Sigurd found us and brought us east to Holmgard. That was five summers ago.
Before Trygvi had been killed, I had sworn an oath to him to protect his son Olaf. It was a duty I took seriously despite my sometimes uneasy
relationship with the headstrong lad. And it was a duty I had been unable to perform since Olaf had joined the ranks of Princess Olava's household guard. He had seen it as an opportunity for promotion, as I have said. But now he was in trouble, and I was powerless to protect him.
Prince Vladimir rose and stepped to the edge of the dais, drawing me from my thoughts. A calm settled over the crowd as the warriors turned
their faces to the young man.
"We have gathered to witness the duel of Hastein and Olaf. They accuse each other of lies, so we shall let their blades and the gods discover the truth. It shall be a duel to the death. Let no man offer assistance to the challengers." The lad's hard eyes scanned the crowd,
then focused on the dueling ground, which was cordoned off with rope. "Olaf. Hastein. Prepare to fight."
"Make it quick," I called to Olaf one last time, then patted his broad shoulder.
The combatants settled into their defensive stances, and the crowd's furor rose to a fevered pitch. The princess sat straighter in her
chair. My nerves twisted my gut.
"Fight!" roared Prince Vladimir.
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