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War-Journal of Bue Geirsteinson - Part XVIby Jacob Skytte
Vatermont 27th continued, the year 1000 After Crowning of the First Emperor of the Thyatian Empire
"My liege," Ragnar exclaimed, looking at the floor. "I'm sorry, I didn't know, I wasn't sure I could trust..."
"Well," Hord replied. "I do not ask you to be a fool, but surely you heard of my decision regarding clan Noslosford before you left my great hall?"
"I...well..." Ragnar stumbled over the words. "I heard some rumours, but my wife..."
"You would take the word of a woman over word of your king?" I could tell my sister seethed over these words, but she wisely kept her tongue restrained.
"Of course not, my king, I..." Ragnar struggled to regain control of the situation.
"Are the traitors of clan Noslosford here," the king asked in a deceptively casual voice.
"Yes, my liege, I will have them brought before you immediately," Ragnar replied, seeing a chance of turning the king's attention and possible wrath on somebody else.
His men brought my mother before Hord, but one of them knelt to whisper words to Ragnar. He visibly paled. "What is it?" the king asked.
"My king," Ragnar almost whispered, the sound of knowledge of his impending doom evident in his voice. "I regret to tell you that Lot Geirsteinson seems to have escaped. It would seem that he had allies here who helped him."
"Indeed," the king said quietly. "Ragnar!" he suddenly yelled, anger evident in his voice. Ragnar cringed. "I am very dissatisfied with the way you have conducted yourself. You have stood in the way of Bue's rightful quest to root out the traitors of his clan. Still, you have served me faithfully for many years. What am I to do?"
The king seemed genuinely upset at having to make this decision. "Bue," he started. "I have found that you have the best you possibly could under the circumstances. I will hear the renewal of oaths to serve me from you and your clansmen, and then I will announce that Clan Noslosford has been forgiven."
I bowed my head in gratitude. "I thank you, my king."
He waved my thanks away. "Since you have done well, in spite of people like Ragnar Solmundson, I have decided not only to name you jarl of Noslosford, but to expand your lands. I find that having loyal neighbours is wise. Since you, Ragnar, have proved to be less loyal to me, I am granting the lands that border my domain, including this village of Skovstad, to jarl Bue Geirsteinson. You may leave for your great hall of Storm Bay, Ragnar. I grant you your life, but I will no longer want you for my neighbour. Am I not gracious to let you keep your life and seat of jarl?"
Ragnar tried to smile, but merely made a grimace. "You are...most gracious, my king. I...thank you."
"Good," Hord replied. "Now get out of my sight, before I change my mind."
Ragnar stood shakily, taking Oda's arm. She seemed reluctant to leave, obviously displeased with his sudden loss of power and favour, but really had no choice and left with him.
"Rise, Bue," Hord commanded. "You need not kneel now. You have just been named one of my trusted jarls. Now, to prove your loyalty. What do you think your mother's fate should be? Is she one of the conspirators?"
My mother looked at me, a mixture of fear and hope in her eyes. What could I say? She was my mother, she bore me. I knew for a fact that she had conspired with my father, that she was an active part of the plot to bring down Hord Dark-Eye. Would I be betraying my blood if I said as much? Would I be betraying my king and as such our lord Odin if I did not? I realised that decisions such as this one would be my future as jarl of my clan. There was really no choice. I was no longer just part of a small family, I was head of a very large one. I had to make decisions on behalf of the larger family.
"She is guilty," I said. "I would not condemn my own mother to death, but she is guilty. I implore you, do not kill her. Imprison her for her treachery if you will, take her as your thrall, but let her live, please."
Hord seemed to think this over. "Family is important. I understand. You are right, I will spare her life and take her as my thrall, until such a time that she proven her loyalty to king and country."
I could not tell if my mother was relieved or not, but at least I had found a way to keep her alive, even if it would be a very different life from the one she was used to. The sound of one of the king's men locking a collar around her neck sent a shiver down my spine. I had done what I had to, but I wasn't exactly happy about it.
"What about my young brother, Hjort?" I asked of the king. "He is only 12 years old."
He pondered this question for a while. "I will adopt him into the Royal Household," he replied. He will become foster-brother to my children, and become a part of my honour guard, when he comes of age."
I wasn't sure that it was a good idea for Hjort to stay at the Royal Household, where our mother would be kept a thrall, but I did not wish to press the king on the matter.
"Now let us travel to your great hall and I will take the oaths of you and your clansmen," the king ordered.
I nodded. "Might I ask you a question, my liege? Why did you come here?"
"When Sven Svenson returned, I knew that I had to see for myself how you would do without the aid of the berserkers," Hord replied. "While I don't approve of the way you sent them home, you have gained more honour by succeeding without them. And I must admit that I greatly enjoyed seeing Sven seething over you."
I did not understand what the king meant, but I was relieved that he didn't seem to mind what I had done. As we rejoined my men, our small army started its return to Norstedt.