Edrich of Haluken

Chapter Twenty-One

My fourteenth winter had come and I was only two years away from my duties, a wife and an adopted son. Ranulf continued to grow strong on a steady diet of good food. Birgit adored him and he helped her with any chore she needed doing. He would even rinse out diapers and clean the pail. He and I shared many traits. Father pointed out that he thought deeply about things and asked remarkable questions. He was reading more difficult material and was far ahead of other children in his age group. His birthday was in March and we had a party for him just before our break. Mother, Iris and Valla would accompany me to the home site. It would be a quick trip. We weren’t planning any other stops. The coachmen, four guardsmen, Knut and myself attended the ladies. We brought spare horses in case any of them went lame. But the road was smooth and the pace wasn’t challenging. The wetnurse had fed my brothers for a week before we left just to make sure they would nurse from her and not suffer any ill health. Apparently, mother’s milk is not universally compatible. I was getting an education. 

Mother nearly swooned when she saw the house. It was looking nearly finished on the outside.

“We’ll have to plan a garden. I already have a list of what grows well in this area. It’s quite a list,” I shared with Valla. She had joined me on one of the spare horses riding a regular saddle. Iris had let it be known that side saddles were dangerous and hard on women’s backs. The court physician had backed her up and the ladies of the equestrian society agreed the practice should be abandoned.

The court physician characterized the idea that girls riding astride would damage their maidenheads as an old wives tale. There was no empirical evidence to make that claim.

Valla loved her studio and the hidden stairs which I showed her while Mother and Iris examined their dedicated rooms. All the ladies loved the nursery. I led Valla to a small room and gave her two options. It could be a play room or a night duty maid’s bedroom depending on who was on duty.

“Why would we need that. I can make a pot of tea or butter a roll. I don’t need a maid or a cook for that in the middle of the night. Keep the servants in their wing and we’ll just have to try not to bother them at night. If it’s an emergency it won’t matter who’s on duty,” Valla scolded.

“He’s only trying to show consideration for you and the servants,” Iris chided.

“I’m sorry Edrich, I suppose I’m more independent than most of my peers,” Valla smiled.

Progress was being made elsewhere too. Knut’s house had a full cellar lined with granite and a sill had been built to support the main floor beams The lower stone work would begin soon. Stefan said the work was ahead of schedule and he wasn’t kidding. We walked over to the landsmen’s houses and three cellars had been dug  and one was being lined already. Carpenters and plasterers still had much to do at the main house but they were making excellent progress.

“This place is huge. We only have four children. What am I to do with all the empty rooms?” Knut asked.

“I shrugged and suggested he make a sewing room of one and perhaps buy a billiard table. “The rooms are what you want to make of them, I’ve included a nursery, a master bed chamber. Dressing rooms for you and your good lady plus guest rooms. There are eight rooms for individual children and two toilet facilities and one bath facility for them. All with the same water system as the main house. Trust me, if you work as hard as Emil does you’ll earn it and your salary. I’m going to have them add a gate house for a watchman. We’ll need someone able bodied with good judgement. Preferably single because the gate house won’t be very big. When he needs to be away a guardsman or Politi officer can stand in for him,” I shared.

“You’re always thinking aren’t you?” Knut smiled.

“I don’t know how to stop,” I replied.

When we had seen all there was to see and heard Stefan’s projections we made our way back to the Inn. On the road we met a few Sami and Clansmen. I dismounted and told the carriage driver to stop.

Ladies would you mind stepping out, there are people I’d like you to meet.

“Greetings Vaart and to you Noaidi. I am pleased to have you meet my second mother Lady Ingrid. My first mother is in the next life. This young lady is my betrothed, Lady Valla. When we marry we will be moving to our new home on this road. And this is Lady Valla’s mother Lady Iris.

“We are all honored to meet you,” Vaart said and the Noaidi nodded. Chefan joined the greeting and his men nodded as well. “We look forward to the day you take up residence here,” Chefan said.

“Also, this man is my right arm and friend. You will see him in the village and you may feel free to make inquiries or suggestions and he will relay them to me,” I told them.

“I believe in Lord Edrich’s mission here and I will help you and everyone else whenever I can,” Knut said in Sama. He offered his bare arm to the men and they each took it in the traditional manner.

Then I did the same and we parted ways.

Valla gazed at me in adoration as I helped her into the carriage. We had a pleasant meal at the Inn and went to our respective rooms. It was the first time I had slept by myself for quite a while. We had taken all save one of the available rooms. Valla Mother and Iris chatted for some time in Valla and Iris’ room. I heard her shut her own door and went to sleep when I heard her lock the door.

In the morning we ate and prepared for travel. I was glad to encounter no intrigue or attempts on my life or freedom. The trip back to Halla was as smooth as the outbound trip.

Later in the week I booked a reservation at the chop house we enjoyed before our trip. The man at the Maître de stand asked our purpose.

I placed a reservation for Edrich,” I told him.

“We only have a reservation for Lord Edrich, are you claiming to be him?” The man said with a sneer.

“I am indeed Sir Edrich, Viscount of Haluken,” I said and reached into my waistcoat pocket.

“This is Lady Valla daughter of Lord Halkar Duke of Norway,” I added.

“Oh please boy, don’t make a commotion, keep your money, we only cater to real people here,” the man said.

I showed him my warrant and turned out my pin that identified me as a Kings man.

“Ah good evening Lord Edrich, it’s nice to see you again,” The chief magistrate greeted. “I see you have the lovely lady Valla on your arm this evening. I’ve never seen you with another girl, are you finished looking?” Lans the magistrate chuckled.  I turned around and the Maître D was quite pale. I retrieved my warrant and placed it back in my waistcoat.

“Good evening Lord Edrich the owner greeted. Is there a problem Hans?”

“No sir, I was just going to show these two young people to their table.” I could see the owner wasn’t buying it but I was willing to let the man off the hook.

Later the man returned and apologized obsequiously. I accepted his apology. I told him looks can be deceiving and left him to go about his business.

Our dinner was excellent and when the owner stopped by our table later he asked if the Maître de had been rude.

“No, just confused. He couldn’t reconcile my titles with my age. I believe he learned a valuable lesson this evening,” I said.

“Generally he is a good man but he has things to learn about dealing with our clientele,” Jorges agreed.

It was a nice evening so we strolled a bit before returning to the carriage. I hadn’t really wanted to own a carriage but it was expected that I would arrive in one to some occasions. I didn’t have my crest on the door. I didn’t really care if anyone knew it was mine. The coachman was Edvards new apprentice and he was learning quickly. The guards at the palace had learned to recognize my carriage and gave my driver no difficulty. I was often delivering Lady Valla to her home. The guards weren’t stupid. After spending a bit of time visiting with Lady Iris and Uncle Halkar I took my leave. I directed Lars to drive to my office and come in with me so I could move a table and take care of some paperwork. It didn’t take long and we returned to the carriage. As I reached for the door handle a shape flung itself at me with a blade in its hand. I dodged to my right to avoid the blade in its right hand and punched the back of its neck as it passed. It fell to the pavement and didn’t rise. Lars joined me with the truncheon he kept beneath his seat. The shape resolved itself into a man wearing a long cloak. He had a cane in one hand and a knife in the other. I stepped on his right wrist and took the knife. I took my police whistle out of my pocket and sounded the alarm. A few minutes later two officers of the politi arrived. I didn’t even need to identify myself, they knew me on sight. I transported the officers and the groggy prisoner to the station and suggested they let the man wake up and send a message for Emil to make a visit. I waited with the officers at the station while Lars carried the message.

The man himself was nondescript and easily forgettable. Hs clothes though quality were not ornate or on the order of a courtier. The man was neither handsome or ugly, he was a cipher. When Emil arrived we both spoke to him and discovered he was my rival for Lady Valla’s hand. He had never actually spoken to her but he had met her at some point and she smiled at him.

“Do you have any idea how close you came to death tonight?” Emil growled at him.

“I’m very sorry for your agitated state, but Lady Valla has promised to marry me. I suggest you find a young lady who will recognize your qualities and share your affection. I do not wish to see you again in any circumstance. You will stay here for the night and think about your actions,” I told him.

“Count yourself lucky that Lord Edrich is such a compassionate man. If he chose to press charges you would find yourself on the gallows for taking up arms against the king. An attack on a kings man is an attack on the king. Do you understand?” Emil inquired darkly.

“Yes, I understand. I will not bother you again. I thought if I could eliminate you I’d have a chance to show Lady Valla my love,” Herbrecht Somis told us.

Emil and I left him in the hands of the politi and they charged him with disorderly conduct. He would be released in the morning with the rest of the rowdy drunks. I dropped Emil by the palace and thanked him. Lars and I made our way home with no further excitement.

“Thank you for coming to my aid Lars, I think it might be wise to send you for some martial training. A crossbow might come in handy and some training with various bladed weapons might be beneficial as well,” I suggested.

“I would be happy for the opportunity my Lord,”

“I told father about Valla’s erstwhile suitor. He was amused

I made the same suggestion about martial training and added that the other apprentice to Edvard would benefit from it too.

“How did Edvard take to the idea of apprentices?” I asked.

“I presented it as an opportunity for him to pass on his great store of knowledge and train your driver and another one for when he was unavailable. I assured him that he had a job as long as he wanted one and that his retirement would be comfortable as well,” Father answered.

“I am glad, Edvard is a loyal man and he has done good things for our family. I wonder though if Lars would be happy following us to Haluken and all it entails. I will need a horse master and a driver. I don’t believe he has family here in the city. I suppose I should discuss it with him and Gulbrand. They should both be trained though,” I rambled.

“You have a good grasp of things Peng, I am also looking for another apprentice for Edvard to train. We will have need of one when you leave with Lars or Gulbrand,” Father smiled.

“I think I prefer Lars, I already know he won’t hesitate to jump in when something untoward happens. I would have to learn that about Gulbrand,” I said.

“I suppose you’re right,” Father acknowledged. “I think Gulbrand has similar qualities.”

I told Valla about her suitor the next day. She laughed at first but then thought more and agreed the man had a problem.

Ranulf had turned five and joined and joined a kindergarten class that was already in progress. He excelled at the basic learning he was receiving and the teachers said he would do extremely well when he joined the first form in September. As the weather warmed we rode more and Ranulf showed he could handle the reins quite well. He just couldn’t mount a horse by himself or put his feet in the stirrups once he was mounted. Another year and he would be able to handle a small pony on his own. They could grow up together.

I sat in the garden one day with Ranulf and a neighbor’s forest cat came and joined us. I quite enjoyed stroking her and she was quite docile with Ranulf. Ivy joined us and stroked the cat too. He and Ranulf were very close. Our next trip south would include all but my very youngest brothers. Both had taken their first steps and strove to master walking. They still crawled quite a bit but walking was their goal. Anything breakable or dangerous had to be placed out of reach. I was fortunate to have infants in the house. It prepared me for when my own were on the move.

Since I had started at the academy my grades had been exemplary and they remained so. I collected honors and other awards at the end of the school year. Rilla, Olaf and Kiva had also won honors. Even Bolly and Ivy had made great strides and were mentioned and awarded certificates of merit.

We didn’t waste any time and were at the river the next day. It was Ranulf’s first swim with strange naked boys. It didn’t seem to bother him much and he paddled around with the smaller boys as we watched over them. When he tired, I carried him to the bank and let him dry himself. We laid out on the grass and absorbed the sun. The scene repeated with several big brothers and little ones.

Finally we all dressed and headed for home pausing for treats and shopping. We passed a stall with a man selling a new type of building set. It consisted of notched wooden blocks that fit snugly together so that boys could build almost any linear shape they wished. A tower, a fortress or anything a boy could imagine could be built. I thought little girls might like them too. I bought three sets. One for Ranulf and my brothers to play with and two sets for my future children to play with. The sets were quite bulky so we put one with each rider.

Bolly approached me later and asked if I loved Ranulf more than him.

“You are my brother and Ranulf is my son. I love you both but I am responsible for Ranulf’s wellbeing. It doesn’t diminish my love for you and I am always here when you have need of me, does that help?” I asked.

“Yes, I think it does. I love Ranulf too but sometimes I get jealous and I know it’s wrong. But I can’t help it,” Bolly sighed.

“No need for you to be jealous, I can’t explain the difference in the way I feel for Ranulf but ask yourself if you love father more than you love me?” I suggested.

Bolly thought for a while and then beamed at me. “I think I understand now. I love you Peng you are a great brother.”

“Papa, what does my name mean?” Ranulf asked me one morning.

“It comes for Old Norse and has several meanings. The Ulf part is wolf and the Ran has been condensed or changed from Regin which was interpreted as wise or clever and sometimes it meant sound advice depending on how it was being used. There are mentions of Ranulf or Reginûlfr in the eddas and sagas of our people. The first was a sage who counseled kings and eventually became a king himself. So my clever little wolf, what do you wish to do today?”

Can we go to the river and swim?” Ranulf requested.

“Certainly, but I think it will be just us, Bolly and Ivy are visiting friends but perhaps Rilla will join us. I wish Valla could join us but she can’t swim in the same place. It wouldn’t be proper.

“Why can’t boys and girls be naked together?”

“At your age they can, but as they get closer to being men and women there are certain rules that separate them. I will explain more when you’re ready dear one,” I answered. “But if you have questions, ask me or Bestefar and you’ll have an honest answer.”

Later we lounged in the river. I watched Ranulf and several other little boys as they splashed and tussled playfully. Ranulf needed a rest and came to lie on my chest while he recuperated. The feel of him against me was very soothing for me. The water lapping at us was relaxing. I made sure to keep his head above the water. Eventually he wore himself out so I dressed him and took him home. We stopped and bought treats to share with my brothers. Ranulf wasn’t greedy despite the privation of his early life. He was a very giving child and shared what he had with his friends and uncles. As he grew he asked more complex questions about life and gods and more esoteric matters. He loved helping the stable men with the horses and had no fear of the huge animals. Even our grumpiest old mare would snuffle and nuzzle my little one. Valla visited often and we visited her. I made separate visits to keep her happy. We both yearned for the day when I could freely spill my seed inside her. But there was another year and a half to go. Our home was very nearly complete and Knut’s was well along to its completion.

As I grew I became more muscular and lean. I trained quite a bit and the men of the guard acknowledged me as a true soldier. We trained with the Politi in case they needed our help on some occasion. Police tactics were quite different from our regular training. You can’t charge a mob of angry drunks like you would an opposing army. But horses were useful for pushing them back and bunching them up so they can be arrested or dispersed. Occasionally some group would get it into their heads that the Danish King had no right to govern us. But that was not true. The last Norwegian king died without an heir and his cousin Christian had been crowned by Norwegian law. He was already king of Denmark. His forward thinking had done more for the people of Norway than the last two kings prior. I was glad however, that I was not a part of that circle. I would have made a terrible royal. The Reichsparliament was always trying to usurp the powers of the Governor general. Many had been forced to resign because they would not follow the rules. These were often corrupt politicians that served no other purpose. Most members of the parliament came from the field of law or commerce but some made a career of holding successively higher office until they reached the parliament. Some times Halkar would spot one on the rise and give him some dead end appointment such as ambassador’s attaché to some foreign land. Halkar likened it to Odin having Thor count every grain of sand on a beach as punishment for misbehaving.

I spent some time volunteering with the Jungdomsoldat where boys as young as eleven learn martial skills including riding, archery and other skills. Healing is taught along with orienteering and basic combat tactics. The program is not designed to turn them into soldiers but train them for future roles in society. Alpine skiing and the proper use of snow shoes was also taught. It was rewarding work and the boys really embraced the experience. I made many friends in the process. I was surprised to see Brundt present. We chatted and he was very happy with his progress. At home I supervised as Bolly, Ivy and Ranulf sparred with wooden sabres padded with batting. Ranulf was the better of the three although they were all doing well. Bolly shared what he could with them but most of his training had been horsemanship and archery so far.

My visits to Haluken continued. Most of the workers now knew me by sight and were ready to update me on progress in their area of expertise. All the buildings were fully built from the outside appearance. There was plenty of plastering and joinery to be done inside but the basic buildings were complete. Most of the outbuildings such as barns and stables were complete. Currently they held building materials. I asked Stefan to have a few buckets of the diatomaceous earth spread into the floor stones in the basement to repel ants. The material was used in mixing the plaster for the walls.

I had the fortune of being present when our dining table and chairs were delivered. They had been constructed by a craftsman in Halla and matched the basic style of all our other furniture. Valla had designed much of it. My office was fully complete. My desk and drafting table were quite well made. They would certainly outlast me.

The lumber mill was expanding to keep up with demand. Grey oak is a particularly durable timber and was in high demand as both Halla and Haluken grew. Our quarry was very busy with orders for both structural stone and aggregates. Elements for Pozzolan cement were mined and mixed with sand and aggregate to improve concrete. It was more durable than the Roman concrete. It was very useful for setting post beams in holes for buildings without stone foundations. I suggested a concrete floor in the milking shed to make it easier to clean manure out of the building. By the time we were ready to take up residence our own farm would be in full production. Some of the newer farms were putting out crops of wheat, barley and corn. Plus vegetables and fruit. I had supervised planting of cherries and apple trees which grew wild in the area. But a well-tended orchard would supply fruit in abundance for our own cellaring and perhaps brandy production.

In Freyanhjem the new pastor’s dwelling had been completed. It wasn’t a grand home but a simple structure that would withstand a harsh winter. I had met the new pastor and he echoed the Provost Linde’s outlook on the churches relationship with the people of the clans. He was overseeing the construction of a simple stone church which was open to anyone to come and partake of community and sacrament.

I had chosen Provost Linde for the position of Bishop in our county. He would oversee the travelling pastors and the ones in established communities. He was willing to fill in for any pastor who was unable to perform his duties. He drove a plain two wheeled gig which was enclosed and could hold the driver and two passengers. On the back was trunk in a carrier which held whatever he needed.

I had to go and ask the archbishop in person for the appointment. I actually beat him at dominos twice but he beat me six times. I found him very friendly and agreeable. We discussed the church’s role in the new community and I told him honestly that the church will need to be patient and allow for a bit of dualism in the adherents. “They are reluctant to abandon centuries of tradition so Odin, Freija and Thor will still be represented in their homes. This will pass as the young adopt new beliefs but it will take time,” I told him.

“And you personally?” He asked.

“I am a clan boy at heart, Freija and Yggdrasil still have my allegiance. I will be married in the church and our children will be baptized and I will tell them of their Viking history and the old gods. I have installed a runic ward against Loki and Hel on my new home. Valla will lay an altar in a small chapel and I will honor her beliefs even though I do not share them. I will not pretend to convert to Christian faith,” I explained at length.

“Our loss is Odin’s gain my son. I do not begrudge you your faith and I appreciate your honesty. Since our schism with Rome this church has modified its attitude to other faiths and we will welcome all who wish to worship whichever god they follow. You are a very moral young man and I cannot fault you in any way. You shall have your bishop and I will send any other people that are needed to the city and county of Haluken,” the archbishop Heral told me.

Am I meant to kiss your ring my lord archbishop.

No, that’s the Romans, I don’t even wear a ring. I take our vow of poverty seriously. I am preparing to deal another blow to the bishops of Oslo and Bergen. They will sell their stately homes and give the money to the church, likewise their coaches and other finery. If they retire in protest so much the better. Since I am the supreme authority of the church in this country and Lord Halkar wants no part of it, my word is law amongst my clergy. I try not to be heavy handed but some people can’t understand a gentle hint,” Heral explained. “the chief Bishop is in agreement with me, and as you know he has taken an apartment in the old Haluken Monastery.

“If it’s of any comfort, we occasionally have a Noaidi who becomes overimpressed with himself and his role and others of his class come in and counsel him. Usually his wife sees to that but not always,” I told him.

“That is comforting, I never married although I could have done. I thought it unfair to subject a woman to the upheaval a priest must cope with. It’s probably for the best,” Heral chuckled.

When I left, I saw laymen from the congregation cleaning the Archbishop’s plain black coach.

“I am still struggling with your language,” Lady Iris complained as I sat with her and Valla.

“Norsk is much less complicated than English. We don’t have ten words to describe the same thing or words that have two different meanings. Our alphabet is different and we have diacritical’s that affect the sound of a letter. We have three more letters in ours but the rest are the same as yours. We use the letter J as the letter Y quite frequently and some people don’t use the Y at all. If the Y sound is needed after a consonant like B as in Bjørn, then the J is sounded as Y,” I explained.

Well it’s very confusing for me, I seem to speak it well enough but anyone can tell I’m not a native. You seem to have mastered English quite well,” Iris grumbled.

“I still struggle with it, I don’t do well with understanding flowery speech in English,” I countered.

“All I can do is try I suppose,” Iris said regaining her good humor.

“Valla has mastered both languages and a few others as well,” I pointed out.

“So have you, French and German you speak better than I do and your Polish is very good too. I only have an edge on you in Russian and I don’t know how long that will last,” Valla answered back.

“Quite a while I suspect, I’m only learning it in case your father sends me to deal with a Russian delegation. Most of them speak some French so I think if it comes to that I’ll get by just fine,” I told her.

During the summer I had commissioned a mill and a granary with very accurate scales. I had approached the miller in Haluken to see if one of his millers would like to strike out on his own. He told me his best miller was ready to move on and he would speak to him about running the new mill in Freyanhjem. We made arrangements to meet at the site of the new mill and discuss the position.

“This is very impressive my lord Viscount,” Axel praised.

“Thank you, I made notes about the mill in Haluken but if you have any suggestions please feel free,” I told him.

“Mostly I have questions such as what are the collectors made of?” Axel inquired.

“Bronze, we don’t want a spark from a stone in the grain setting off all the grain dust. I have sited the granary a fair distance away to prevent damage from explosions such as they had in Stillenenborg,” I explained.

“You have studied the problems quite well my lord, I would only have minor suggestions about the placement of some controls. Are there brakes for the millstones?” He asked.

“Yes, I had read that much time is lost between adjustments because of waiting for the stones to stop rotating,” I informed him. “Why don’t you study the plans and we can discuss this more tomorrow. There are two portable offices with sleeping quarters at the lumber mill. I plan to stay there tonight and meet a few more people today and tomorrow.”

“Hello, I am Birger, I wasn’t expecting someone younger than me,” the young man greeted me.

“Don’t let it bother you. You’ll find I have quite a bit of knowledge about your business. As I understand you opened a dry goods on the main way in Halla and you were doing well until a competitor from a family owned chain of stores moved in across the street and began undercutting you and luring away your custom. Is that correct?”

“Yes, I was building a nice clientele and those bandits moved in with their cut rates. I sent people over to buy staples and found they adulterated their flower with low quality ground bran. I found several other products of low quality but who can I report it to?” Birger asked.

“Well, you should probably have informed the mayor’s office but I understand your concern about him. He has close associations with the parties who own those establishments. They will probably put their prices up as soon as you are out of business. But I have a way to deal with that. What I suggest is that you take a look at the Dry Goods we have built here and the apartment overhead. If you find it attractive then I suggest you start sending inventory here and hire a clerk that can take delivery. Meanwhile I would like you to cut your prices below the Hubel owned store. I will subsidize  the cost. When they drop their prices to beat you I will suggest to the Governor general that he have prices frozen in that line of trade until an investigation is completed. As for your business here, I will expect you to keep your prices fair. As it stands, people here send wagons up to Halla and buy in bulk. They buy a month’s worth of dry goods and sundries but that becomes problematic in the harsher months. It takes away from their farming and they consider it a great inconvenience. That’s why they asked me to have a Dry Goods built so we could attract a good businessman to run it. My research points to you and two others. One of the benefits of doing business here with the restrictions I have stated is that, in ten years you will own this store. I don’t expect you to sell for less than you pay for goods including freight but keep the mark up low but adequate so you can make a good living. Luxury items will be exempt from the rule but foods and necessities like lamp oil and such are not. I have a list so you won’t have to guess. I think for the right man, this is a wonderful opportunity,” I encouraged.

“But how will I buy the store without the income?” Birger inquired.

“You won’t, at the end of ten years of good service to the community the store’s ownership will be ceded to you. Your hard work will be your mortgage payment and equity,” I smiled.

“I think I understand, may I speak to my bride to be about this before I commit?” Birger asked.

“I think that would be prudent. I think she’ll agree that it’s a wonderful opportunity. I also think you may be able to serve as a councilman or even mayor once one is formed and the charter is approved. That’s something you can tell your fiancé,” I replied.

We shook hands and he mounted the hired horse to inspect the storefront and form an opinion. He returned an hour later looking quite pleased and handed me the key. He took his leave and began the ride back to Halla. I was confident that he would accept my offer so I hadn’t contacted anyone else. Birger Fiske was the right man for the job. I had already enticed a blacksmith to take over the new smithy. He was working in the largest Smithy in Halla when I met him at the saddlers. We discussed his work and experience and he told me he hoped to strike out on his own. Two days later we rode to Freyanhjem and he accepted the opportunity. Farmers may be jacks of all trades by necessity but they are not blacksmiths. Forges take a long time to build and cure. Coal and Coke are fickle and have to be properly cared for. They aren’t cheap either. Raw materials are expensive as well, so waste is not an option. Mending a plowshare or harrow was not for amateurs. Sven was booked solid within a week of opening his forge for business.

I enjoyed my ride back to Hala the next day, with the knowledge that Axel had accepted the offer. I had no interest in owning a mill or granary so I gave him the same deal I offered Birger.  Two days later Birger was in my office with his fiancé.

“I am pleased to accept your offer and I thank you for the opportunity. Lena is looking forward to the move. I have already begun moving prices down at my store,” Birger said.

“I am very happy to hear that. I knew you were the right man for the job. We’ll let the price war go on for two weeks then Lord Halkar will serve a notice freezing prices at their current levels. He already has people checking prices in each store and sample of goods are being examined to see if they are being adulterated or tampered with. I have already sampled your goods and they have passed muster. I have signed a letter of credit for you to use to stock your new store. I don’t like people who engage in sharp practice and unscrupulous business tactics. This incident will taint the Hubel name in this town. They may not go out of business but they will be suspect to buyers. The mayor and a few of his cronies may receive a bite from this as well.

We shook hands and Lena asked if she could hug me. I allowed it and showed them out. Our little community was looking better every day.

“Thank you for calling my attention to the situation with the dry goods stores. I understand there will be one less soon?” Halkar nudged.

“Yes, Birger is taking over the store in Freyanhjem but he is cooperating in the plan to uncover the illegal business practices of the Hubel owned store. It would affect the other three stores in their chain.

Two weeks later, Emil and two Politi officers served the notice of price freeze to both stores. Birger smiled and continued serving customers. There was quite an uproar at the Hubel store.

Abel Hubel stormed over and accused Birger of setting him up. Birger was quite civil since there was a Politi officer listening to every word around the back of the counter. He wrote down the threats that Abel Hubel made and closed his notebook as the man stormed out.

Emil visited Abel a bit later and told him that if Birger so much as stubbed his toe, Abel would have a lot of explaining to do. Then he recited the threats verbatim, smiled and left. This was not the first time the mayor and two of the council had been under suspicion. Father’s men seized each of their offices and served the banks with notice to freeze their accounts until such time as Emil’s people could go through them.

“It’s no reflection on your bank if your customers are up to no good. As long as you are following the rules of banking you have nothing to be concerned about,” The Deputy Marshall explained. It seemed to allay the bank managers fears.