Edrich of Haluken

Chapter Twenty-Three

When we returned to Halla, Halkar was only freshly arrived himself. Emil asked me to join him in Halkar’s private office.

“Another plot has been uncovered against the Governor. This time it is from within. Your father and his Marshalls are looking into the matter. It appears members of the Reichsparliament are involved as well as certain regional officials,” Emil shared.

“I’m sorry to hear that. And I wish I had sailed back with him. But I did have Valla to think about. It would have added to Halkar’s worry if she had been with him,” I observed.

“You’ve always demonstrated good thinking Lord Edrich, I trust your journey was trouble free,” Emil asked.

“Yes, but as you know I am always armed. Two pistols on my saddle and four in the carriage for Valla and her maid to use. Plus I have a crossbow and a sabre. Valla has learned how to use both and she’s not bad with a blade. No bandit would expect resistance from her,” I smiled.

“Peng it is good to see you again, I have just spoken to Valla and she said it was a wonderful trip. I’m glad you made it back safe. As Emil has probably told you our trip was not trouble free. Eight are in custody and another arrest possibly two will take place on the floor of the Reichsparliament tomorrow morning. It will be the first order of business. Lord Longlund from Stilinninbørg. Several more will likely be arrested after we speak with Longlund. They seem to think we should be more closely aligned with France. Christian disagrees and doesn’t trust their government,” Halkar expanded.

“Longlund, He was the one criticizing the King when I was there. Is there anything I can do?” I asked.

“Not at the moment, just be aware of your surroundings until we know how deep this goes,” Halkar warned.

“I always am, but I will reenforce the idea with my family,” I told him.

“Valla loves the house in Oslo doesn’t she?” Halkar commented.

“Even more so with her choice of furniture in the place. If you have a list of enemies I have a bed you could send them,” I laughed. “The new one is much more comfortable.”

“I will keep that in mind,” my boy.

“Now onto a more pleasant topic. I have decided with Iris’ help that you may announce your betrothal in May. Just to remind you, you must be installed as Viscount before you are married. You will be sixteen January first but I wouldn’t want to make the voyage to Copenhagen during that time. By March the weather should be good enough and that is what I have relayed to Christian, I trust you will be sending him an invitation,” Halkar smiled.

“Of course, though it might not be possible for him to come. It might even be dangerous,” I replied.

“I’m sure he would consider all factors before deciding. We will line the route from Bergen to Halla with soldiers if needs be,” Halkar told me.

“The Stillesoldt will be deployed along his route long before he decides if he will attend or just send an envoy. Stillesoldt have a way of getting to the bottom of things. Thanks to their help, the way to Oslo is no longer perilous, the new road helps too. I intend to recognize Thorwald Kolindor for his dedication and hard work in completing the road in record time. I would want you here for that event,” Halkar told me.

“I would be honored my lord,” I replied. Tor is a fine man and he is the most honest man in the building trade. I know that sounds like the straightest corkscrew in the drawer but he really is honest and trustworthy. He’s heads above his competitors,” I asserted.

“Yes the building trade has quite a reputation, but there are good ones like Thorwald that stand out,” Halkar smiled.

“He told me he makes plenty of money being honest, He could make more but then he would have to watch his back all the time. He doesn’t want to live like that,” I said.

“I’ve never heard anything negative about him from a credible source,” Halkar nodded.

“I vet everyone who wishes to bid on a government contract, but I only send bid invitations to a handful of companies. The Kolindors have a very good reputation,” Emil put in.

“Halkar, would you like to tell your daughter about announcing our betrothment?” I asked.

“Would you mind terribly?” Halkar asked.

“Not at all, I believe it should come from you. I will play dumb when she tells me, so don’t let on that I know please,” I requested.

“Thank you my son, you are a fine young man,” Halkar smiled.

“I think if there is nothing else I will say goodbye to Valla and return to my home and family,” I said.

“That’s a very good idea Edrich, I will see you soon,” Halkar said.

I bade him and Emil good day and went to find Valla. I found her with Lady Iris and greeted both with a kiss on the cheek.

I let them know that I would return the next day as Halkar had things to discuss with me.

Upon my arrival home I was besieged by my brothers and my mother. Little Ranulf was hiding behind Mother. When he finally came out in the open he had a very black eye.

I picked him up and kissed him. “There’s no need to hide that. Were you in a fight?” I asked.

No, I ran into the banister on the second floor stairs.

“And what were you doing on the second floor?” I asked.

“Looking out for your coach, I thought I saw you but it was someone else. It hurt a lot  but I learned to walk to the stairs,” He told me.

I hugged him tight and then hugged Bolly and Ivy just as tight. I hugged the rest of my brothers too. It was very good to be home. At least for a few more months.

Father arrived and I greeted him with a hug as well. Who deserved one more. Because of him I would marry the girl I loved most, the only girl I had ever loved. I realized I had never really loved or even cared about another girl. He hugged back and moved on to Mother and my brothers and son.

I spoke to Father briefly about the investigation into the members of parliament and their plot against Halkar. I wondered if they had aided the Estonians who made the last attempt on Halkar. Several Serbian warlords had been eliminated in a joint operation with the forces of the Danubian Monarch. There had been no further trouble from them since the attempt I foiled.

I often thought of what things would be like if I hadn’t been successful in stopping the assassin. Lady iris would probably have taken Valla back to Copenhagen and a new Regent would have been appointed. My life would be so much different. We dispersed and I went upstairs to bathe and change. I shared my tub with Ivy and Ranulf while Bolly joined Rilla. Kiva and Olaf shared the last tub. It was so good to be home with my brothers. I savored the moment. They would all visit me and Valla but we would never be as close after I left the house. I dried myself and helped Ranulf with a few spots he missed. I carried him to his bed and dressed him or at least helped him. I hoped he would grow but he had spent too many years without enough to eat. But he had grown stronger and more muscular in his time with us. I’m sure Mikka did his best and I would never disparage him. Ranulf still carried love for him. I kissed him again and went to dress.

“He’s a tough little guy, your Ranulf. There were only a few tears when he blacked his eye. I know how much it hurts. He was very brave,” Rilla told me.

We ate dinner and I decided to turn in. My own bed felt so good.

After midnight I felt some one crawling in with me, it was Ranulf. He snuggled close and I held him tight. I wondered how Valla would feel about him joining us in bed.

In the morning I woke early and carried him back to Ivy’s bed. It was already warm and Ivy wrapped his arm around his friend or was he a cousin, I wasn’t sure. Ivy was Mother’s nephew and Ranulf was the nephew of Rilla, Olaf and Kiva. It was too early to think it through so I made a large mug of tea and sat outside enjoying the morning. Birds sang and bugs and bees flitted from flower to flower. The scent of flowers made it idyllic. The silence of morning is actually quite noisy. But they are nice noises I decided.

Monday I was back at school and spoke to the Master about my long absence. I explained that I had needed to go to Oslo and why. He understood and excused me. I had been transferred to the top form early in the year and I was back at the top of my class.

I had a lot of demands on my time. Matters of state and protocol lessons, Valla and whatever Halkar needed my assistance with. I never thought of myself as an advisor to the Governor General until Halkar referred to me by that term in a large meeting at the palace.

The next Saturday would be our first meeting of the Norge Selskap og Enginøirs, the NSE in a hall in Halla. Later there would be one in Bergen and another in Oslo. I would be expected to attend each one and Father volunteered to come along with Olaf, Kiva and Rilla. The first meeting would form committees to promulgate our rules and bylaws. We might discuss important areas of study and recent inventions and developments. I had convinced Olaf Fingard to come and talk about building the big tamper and subsequent smaller machines. Hopefully he would discuss his street cleaning apparatus as well.  

Tor had invested in Olaf’s business and urged him to come up with a better design for the drawboard they used to grade roads with. His first notion was that it would work better with a steel edge on the blade. Soon the wooden blade was replaced by an iron and steel unit which could be adjusted for angle and depth. Later he added tilt and that was where he stopped. It improved the effectiveness of the drawboard and it took fewer passes to level the road.

I was convinced, as were many others, that standardizing the engineering practices and code would be beneficial to the science as a whole.

Ranulf and Ivy met me when I returned from the palace. The older boys were all otherwise occupied with friends or projects. I hoisted them both onto my lap and listened to their adventures and concerns. Ivy left us to visit the toilet and Ranulf snuggled tighter.

"Papa, do you love me?" He asked.

"Of course, have I not made that clear enough?" I said while tickling.

"Why?" Ranulf asked.

"Oh I see, I had the same question for my papa. My answer is that at first I felt a need to protect you. Then I got to know you and found you to be a very good little boy. Even with all that had happened to you remained resolutely good natured. Many boys in your situation would have stolen whatever they could to stay alive. I suspect Mikka's guidance helped you avoid that. You are very easy to love and you remind a great deal of a boy who couldn't be saved. When I found you I believed it was Freya giving me a second chance to help that boy," I told him.

"What was his name Papa?"

"It was Edgar, many bad things had happened to him but he was still very kind and loving," I shared with him.

"I hope I don't become a bad boy. I don't want you to not love me anymore," Ranulf whispered.

"That's unlikely, most boys get into a little mischief, but they are still worthy of love. I will always love you my son," I told him. I cuddled him a bit longer. Ivy returned and they went off to play a game.

Saturday I joined with nearly two hundred other engineers. Vinders Barloff joined us and we discussed, including his profession in the NSE along with mining engineers and others. Since there was already an organization for Shipwrights we left them out for the moment but perhaps an inclusion could be made at a later date.

The first thing I did was politely decline the privilege of becoming the first president of the society. I explained that my responsibilities to Haluken and the Governor would prevent me from performing the duties of the office. I had discussed it with Father and he couldn't take on the duties either. But Lars Thorsen and Tor Kolindor were my first choices for President. I suggested that Olaf put his name in for the board. He had already come to the attention of the rest of the young men who were exploring the world of steam power. By the time the meeting was over, Lars was President and Tor was Vice President of the society. Olaf and Rilla were both on the board and ten other members with them including Vinders. After the business there was a luncheon and I had made sure my own personal wine was available. The Muscadet was less likely to make a fool of me. Many others liked it as well.

I told Lars and Tor that I would be happy to serve on committees but they would have to be patient with my schedule.

Later that evening I was quite done with discussing anything to do with engineering. Ranulf had discussed it with me briefly but it wasn't his field of interest. At the moment he wanted to be a Politi officer but his choice of career varied with the stories I read to him. He read quite well and was ahead of the other children his age. He could do simple sums and I continued to work with him on multiplication.

"Papa, what do you and your brothers mean when you talk about the clans you lived in before you came here?" Ranulf asked.

"Well, you see…most people live in villages, towns and cities. Some live in the wilderness and farm. Some live in the wilderness and live as our ancestors have lived since the before times of the Vikings. We come from a joining of peoples from the Saami culture and Viking culture of the old Norse people. We relied on the forests, lakes and rivers for our food and clothing. When I met my papa I was wearing deerskin clothing. I will make you a set before the snow comes again. Our Saami brethren herd reindeer and tend crops. The clan people herd goats and do limited farming but they move around by the seasons. Winter in one place, summer in another. We followed the food that was in season at any one time. I miss that life sometimes and soon you will be old enough to come with me on my travels. I will teach you how to find water, what plants you can eat and many other things. It is my duty to you as your papa. Where we will be living, you will have all manner of wilderness to trek through. I will teach you the dangers so you can avoid them. Mostly it is being aware of your surroundings and remaining alert to changes. I will teach you to snare a rabbit and how to use a bow. Many of the things you learned from Mikka have a similar use, but a different forest," I told him.

"Is it bad that I still have love for Mikka?" Ranulf asked nervously.

"Of course not, I still love my first papa and mama. But they are in the next life now. I have visited their graves and said goodbye. Perhaps we should do the same for Mikka and you will feel better about him. Valla will want you to join the church and I think that will be a good thing for both of us. She will give you bible lessons and you can learn about her beliefs along with mine. I will join the church because it is expected of me, but I will always be a clan boy at heart.

Many countries have clan cultures of one form or another. The people of Scotland call their family a clan. Like the Mac Gregor clan. But they have a Lord who is head of the clan. While we only have a Head-Man and a Noaidi. The Head-Man and the Noaidi work together to decide when the clan should move to the wintering grounds, when to gather salt and other things. The Noaidi is like the Lutheran priest. He rules over spiritual matters while the Head-Man deals with the rules of the clan and day to day things. He and his wife preside over weddings and funerals. The Noaidi has a role in those as well. But you will learn all of that over time. They say that the Old Norse came from other lands in the time of the Saxons. It is why our language and German have so much in common. But those settlers lived in their communities and began farming Einkorn and Barley, along with turnips and other vegetables. Some things that grew in Saxony don't grow here but there are native vegetables that fill that void. Eventually The Norse and the Saami made friends and lived side by side in the same communities. Viking culture comes from that alliance. People talk about Vikings as raiders and pillagers, most were just traders and explorers looking for new lands and trading partners. There were some that were bloodthirsty. I suspect that was a response to the way they were received. The Vikings took slaves but so did most cultures since before the Romans. In Viking culture a slave could rise in status, Olav Tryggvason was captured and became a slave. Later he became King of Norway. But we as a people learned that slavery isn't good. Most slaves won their freedom, those that didn't often had a better life than they would at home. Why don't we leave it there for now, and when you want to learn more you can ask.

"Thank you Papa, I will think about what you've told me. Can I ask Oppa about it too?"

"Yes of course. I've learned a great deal from him about my own people. We are learning the Sagas and Eddas in school but it's slow going. Old Norse is very different than our modern tongue. Many boys are learning Sama just so they can understand the lessons better," I told him.

"Can you teach it to me?" Ranulf asked.

"I can give you a basic understanding of it, but you will probably pick up more by being with clan and Saami boys at school when we move to our new home. That's not far away now. My schooling will end just as yours is beginning. I have made an agreement with one of the teachers where I attend school. He will move to our new home and teach you in the afternoons. I want you to have the same education as I have received. My first mother taught me my letters and writing and then she taught me arithmetic. You need to count even to be a humble goatherd. In the past three years I have learned ten years' worth of studies. Then I come home and study engineering with my papa. One of the few treasures I brought with me from my little hut in the woods, were my books. They were Mother's books and I read them all. You already know the value of reading, and the pleasure it can bring. You read better than many adults. Together we will work to help you learn what you need to know, so that you can be whoever you need to be. I love you my Son."

"I love you too Papa," Ranulf said softly. I held him in my lap for quite a while without a word.

Eventually Ivy returned and claimed Ranulf. They went off to entertain themselves.

"Has Papa ever punished you?" I asked Rilla.

"No, not really. I've done the wrong thing occasionally and he just sat me down and talked to me about it. I try never to do things I already know are wrong. But I don't know everything. I might do something else wrong, and if I do, Papa will tell me why it's wrong," Rilla replied.

"He's never raised his voice at me, except to make sure I could hear something important, or warn me of danger. He doesn't seem to get angry with children. I've heard him scold unruly boys, but he Doesn't sound angry while he's doing it. Did he tell you about the children in Zhudzskie? I asked.

"Yes, it was a terribly sad story. I wept to hear it," Rilla sighed.

"I think that is why he is so gentle with us. The memory haunts him just as the memory of Edgar's death is always at the back of my mind. Freya has given me a second chance to help someone who really needs it. I truly understand how Papa can love us like his own," I told him.

Rilla kissed my cheek and put his arm around my shoulder.

Later when talking with Valla I brought up the topic of Ranulf and his tendency to sleep in my bed fairly often.

"He just loves you Peng, you saved his life and you gave him a home. He has no relatives living that could be found. You are all he has in the world. Of course he has your father, mother and brothers, but you are his protector and his father. I'm sure we will have to allow him to visit us in our bed when we are married. He still needs you and he won't have your brothers and Ivy to lean on. We have to make ourselves available for his needs. It's what parenting is all about. But he is sweet and loving, I'm sure we will have plenty of private time," Valla soothed at me.

"You will be a wonderful mother for Ranulf and our other children," I assured her.

"But I have news about that," Valla announced. "Father has told me we may announce our betrothal in January. I planned to nail the banner to the church door myself but the sogneprest might object."

I chuckled and replied, "He mightn't be as indulgent of your whims as I am. Perhaps for him, it is a cherished honor. He might allow you to help if you asked politely. In the clans the head man or the Noaidi stands on a stump and announces that Lars has claimed Elsa in marriage and then there is a ceremony within a few days. Just enough time to lay in enough food for the feast."

"I wish it could be that simple, just a strip of birchbark to join us and then off to our bed," Valla sighed.

Lady Iris asked if I was pleased with the news and I told her I was very happy and couldn't wait to make Valla my bride.

"These few months before your wedding will be perilous. Not just because of your official entanglements but also Valla's desire to bear your sons and daughters. You have resisted well up till now. But you must redouble your efforts for the sake of your happiness together," Lady Iris informed me.

"I have faith in myself and Valla that we can maintain our reserve a bit longer," I told her.

"I am glad of that," Lady Iris said and moved on to other less embarrassing topics.

When I returned home I let Mother know of Valla's happy news. I had told her as soon as Halkar had told me but she agreed to keep quiet and let Valla have the joy of announcing it.

She had the same warning as Iris had given me. I assured my mother that were being very careful and we knew what was at stake.

"I have faith in you my son. But Valla is a very persuasive young woman She will be sixteen just after you announce your marriage plans. I hope you can resist her desires," Mother told me.

"I have desires of my own, and Valla is better at keeping her own in check than many give her credit for. We have ways of coping that you don't want to hear about. Just be assured that we are being very careful. We want children desperately, but we will wait. Valla will be a wonderful mother, of that I am certain," I replied.

"Yours is an unusual pairing. In our social circle, marriages are often arranged and they are the source of great misery. My family have never subscribed to that. Your father has very little regard for his Austrian relatives. Some are so idiotic they can't perform the simplest task on their own. Father puts it down to arranged marriage and inbreeding. Were you my own blood, I would not permit you to wed. I am related to Valla through King Christian and Halkar. Karl is related to them too but only distantly. His family has some very good stock from both Europe and England. Your seed will strengthen the line of Halkar and of Christiensen family alike. I believe you will father a dynasty of sorts. Strong children to help Norway grow strong. Your brothers will do the same. I'm unsure about Kiva, he doesn't seem to have an interest in girls," Mother sighed.

"He does, but it's different for him. I think if he remained in the clans, he would have become a Noaidi. He has embraced Father's study of engineering, but like me he retains much of our clan beliefs and observances. Olaf wishes to leave clan life behind. He would probably remove his brand if he could. Rilla and I have struck a balance. At Valla's request I am joining the church. I won't ever be completely Christian but I will try and keep and observe the better aspects of each way of life," I explained to Mother.

"I understand my son, It is difficult to blend two ways of living but if anyone is capable, it is you. But keep in mind that we still celebrate the Roman feast of Saturnalia, but now we call it Christmas. Much that is old, is held within the new. This is the way of man," Mother imparted.

"You're a very wise woman, you could have been a priestess of Freya in another time," I told her.

Mother and I discussed more mundane issues, and then parted to see to other things.

When I checked on Ranulf, I found him enjoying Ivy's attention. They had not heard me coming and I startled them.

I sat on Ranulf's bed and bade them come to me.

"Have no fear, there is nothing wrong with what you were doing. It's a wonderful bit of pleasure that you can share. Don't share it with too many or with boys much older than you. For instance a boy Bolly's age would be fine, but someone my age would not. Do these things in private. I will ask your brothers to knock at your door in future, and I will do the same. You are entitled to your private time," I told them. I would tell them about men who did things with little boys at another time. They needed to know, but they went nowhere without one of us to watch over them.

In the weeks that followed I made two more trips to Haluken and one to Oslo. On the Oslo trip I took my brothers and Ranulf along. Ranulf loved his rooms at both houses.

"This means you won't be in the same room as me anymore. I suppose I knew that, but it just sunk in that you will live here, and I will still be with Mama and Papa," Ivy sighed sadly.

"That's more than half a year away Ivy, and you will be here to visit, and we will return to Halla. You will also have our little brothers to watch over. They have passed their first year and they are walking quite a bit. You will be very busy with them and you have much to teach them. They will need you like you needed us. You have helped Ranulf very much and he is better for it," I soothed. I knew it wouldn't be the end of the subject, though perhaps I could help Ivy focus on other things. I felt confident they would see each other quite often. Mother would doubtless travel with Iris to visit Valla during her future pregnancies.

The local tradition was for the parents of the couple to approach the front door of the church and pound on the doors. This was done by appointment. The sogneprest would hammer brass tacks through the banner affixing it to both doors. The bride and groom would then open both doors, parting the banner in the middle. The sogneprest would say a particular prayer and it would be done. After ten days the banners would be removed from the door and saved for the marriage ceremony when they would be burned to signify commitment, and our names becoming intertwined in the smoke.

Knut and his family moved into their house and Valla and I gave them a housewarming.

The Tutor's cottage was nearly complete and Lasse was very happy. It had room for a wife and family although Lasse was single at the time.

Knut already had a good sized family and apparently more on the way. I made a request for a midwife to visit and Abban appeared within two days. She reminded me of Asla Fanestras in her manner.

"So you are this Viscount I hear so much of. You have the smell of a strong man. What can you tell me about the mother?" Abban inquired.

"Nothing at all except her name. She is not my relation and it would be improper for me to take her scent," I replied.

"I have heard of your ability to sense things that usually only healers sense. You are right to send for me," Abban asserted.

She walked away with Laurel on her arm and performed her own tests.

After a considerable time Abban emerged and announced that there would be a new boy in the house in late winter.

I offered congratulations to Laurel and Knut.