Chapter 9 - Ketel aboard the Westwind
So Ketel went aboard the Westwind disguised as a Viking. The guttural nature of his speech, however, raised some instant suspicions among the crew. Some said, “Surely this man is a Frisian whose Norse loyalties cannot be trusted.” Others said he must be a Dane. Soon enough they knew he was a troll, for one man had seen his tail hanging from his cloak. But the men trusted their Captain and inquired if he knew the nature of his passenger. Anskar quickly gathered and easily calmed the astonished crew with high praises of Ketel’s nature, accomplishments, and usefulness.
Most of Anskar’s crew were Norse and from around the Trondheim Fjord. Some were old friends, experienced in seafaring and battle, but many were young, a half dozen of them scarcely a few years older than Ivar. Several were Saxons, having attached themselves to Anskar during his service to the Saxon King in England. A few were Danes. Several were Irish. Two were Picts from Scotland. Two were Greeks from Miklagard. A Blueman was a carpenter and one of the starboard watches.
To be sure, the ship’s crew was astonished by Ketel Flatnose. Neither Ketel nor Anskar were in the least inclined to showing off, but Anskar thought it wise for Ketel to make a few demonstrations so that the men would not be caught unaware of some of his abilities. After Anskar had addressed the men, Ketel appeared to them in his normal four-foot frame with a rather self-conscious and slightly silly grin. The men were amazed that a creature of such frightening reputation seemed almost humorous in appearance. How could he be effective as a warrior? Next Ketel inflated his size to a mere twice his size—he could have done a bit more. At this the men stood back from him; humor having turned to fearful caution. Ketel then deflated like a collapsing balloon. There were smiles again—Ketel had never mastered the art of graceful deflation. Then Ketel disappeared and reappeared. This had the crew gasping. Then he took his sling from his cloak and hurled a heavy stone of nearly three-fingers width that traveled about 150 feet before it hit a tree near the shore with a loud echoing “thonk.”
All the men were sufficiently impressed except Pitlorn, easily the tallest and brawniest of the crew. Pitlorn had a rather savage appearance. Covered with blue tattoos and markings on his body and limbs, Pitlorn had a bushy head and beard of flaming red hair, more intensely red than is common to Scandinavia. In fact, Pitlorn was a Pict, a race that Roman, Angle, and Norse found impossible to conquer, tame, or subdue.
Pitlorn brought forth a huge spear, indicating that Ketel should grasp it with both hands for a wrestling match for its possession. But for all Pitlorn’s great size and strength, he could not budge the spear from the troll’s iron grip. Then with a swift step forward, Ketel twisted the spear from Pitlorn’s grip and forced him to trip backward over it. The whole crew gasped again at this wrestling exhibition. But Pitlorn rose and laughed, exclaiming that he was fairly beaten. He said in the Pictish language and then in Norse that none would be a better friend to Ketel than Pitlorn.
Everyone in the crew was extremely impressed with Ketel’s abilities and strength, but in a few days they would be even more impressed by his extraordinary wisdom and kind nature. Ivar had always thought there was also something about Pitlorn besides his size, appearance, and strength that was unusual.
There was now a dread urgency in their mission to rescue Marja. She was in more danger from the mountain trolls than Gort’s crew. Gort’s crew was apparently completely unaware that they were camped at the foot of a mountain brimming with thousands of enraged and bellicose Synkasti Trolls.
Leaving Brattvik, the Westwind followed the falcons and about a dozen red foxes along the shore, pointing the way to the Great Fjord and the little inlet called Linge. There was good news before leaving. Ragnar followed with his three largest warships, each carrying an additional ten axe-wielding volunteers from around the farms along the Romsdalfjord. But no men could be spared from along the Rauma River and Andalsnes. They were too near the other end of the Great Troll Mountain and the Troll Road. He sent two small ships, about 40 men in all, to guard Romsdal (the Rauma River valley) and the families there. One family, already guarded by a donkey, two wolves, and two great reindeer was Ivar’s own—his mother and young twin sisters.
More good news came, if such it could be called. Behind Odd and Sten and about 40 other trolls, the Elders were raising a larger force of over 400 and had appointed Elder Stengal Flatnose, Ketel’s great uncle, as their war leader. But this meant that the Elders at Geirangerfjord, who were not more than twenty miles from Linge and the southern end of the Great Troll Mountain, had been alarmed by reports of substantially increased activity around the base of the mountain.
At the very time that Marja’s courage and determination to escape from the hands of Gort Blacktooth and Grimhilda Blacksnake was rebounding, Anskar, Ketel Flatnose, Ivar, and Ragnar Ivarsson, were nearby and planning Marja’s rescue. Four dragonships with over 300 men and more than 400 Valoisa trolls were on their way to help. But at the same time, Darak, High King of the Synkasti trolls, reputed to be half troll and half demon, was holding a council of war deep beneath the Great Troll Mountain. He, too, had a plan of attack, but much more sweeping and devastating. But first he must dispense with a small band of pirates at Linge and clear some potential resistance developing between Andalsnes and Flatmark on the Rauma River. What had originally looked like a fairly simple and small-time hit and run rescue was now looking like a major troll war threatening all of Central Norway.
To most, the numerical odds of victory would seem to favor the Synkasti Trolls, who in addition to their great numbers, were the meanest and most formidably armed trolls in Northern Europe. Yet the Synkasti, for all their cunning and apparent power and energy, were blind to unanticipated factors and far more powerful influences opposing them.