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Here Be Dragons

This part originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue.


790 CE / -3773 Imperial
Solomani Rim 1827 Terra (Earth) X867870-2 Ag Ri
A small town in Norway

Harvald, the jarl of the small town, looked around at the smiling faces of his people: his wife and children, the warriors sworn to his service, the freemen from the nearby farms, their families. Even his slaves seemed pleased. He was glad that he had not only hired the traveling skald to entertain his household tonight, but also invited as many of the local community as he could fit in his hall. The man, Lukas by name, was a gifted storyteller. To survive as a traveling bard he had to be. He was telling one of the tales of the King of the Geats, Beowulf. Harvald’s family claimed, as did many of the other nobles he knew, to be descended from Beowulf. Lukas was just coming to the end of this particular tale; the hero had just slain the monster Grendel’s even more monstrous mother. The audience knew the tale, of course, but it didn’t matter in the least. They were all spell bound by both his skill and the tale itself. At this point in the story, Beowulf was swimming to the surface of the lake that hid the monster’s lair. In his hands he held the hilt of his ruined sword and the severed head of Grendel. Lukas ended the tale with Beowulf rising and brandishing his trophies to his followers. As he spoke the words he jumped to his feet and raised his hands in triumph, then let out a roar. The spell he wove wasn’t broken, so much as fulfilled. The crowd roared back to him, many raising their own hands, some pounding the tables. All united in the moment of victory.

Although none of them thought of it, this and other tales helped define them as a people, to help them think of themselves as fearless warriors and monster slayers. It stayed with them and gave them courage when their ships reached foreign shores for raids. It helped them sail into the unknown and discover new lands when others shivered in fear. While the rest of Europe wrote on the blank, unknown edges of their maps ‘Here be dragons’, the people that would be known as Vikings went to look for themselves. And as their shouts echoed through Harvald’s hall, they also echoed through time and space.