The Sword Apprentice
The first book of the trilogy about Tord by Tor Bertel Løvgren
Translated by Ingvild Syntropia
We follow Tord Jonsson and his inner conflict in the peaceful 1980s and Tord Sigurdsson during the strife between three royal brothers in Norway in the 1100s. The fate of the two Tords is interwoven. - Do we carry a unique identity unanchored from time and place?
The second book, The Archer, was released March 2020. The third and final book, The Pilgrim, to be released 2022.
Chapter 1 Page 6-10
As if in slow motion his brother soared silently through the air.
Only the soft thud as he touched the ground and the bleeding head spoke of the horrific event. As the ambulance drove away, their father Sverre gained consciousness. But he neither shook nor embraced him. With fear Tord looked up in the cold, accusing eyes. Even now, the same cold gaze.
—Tord is Tord.
Thus the omnipresent headmaster Samuelsen, a flimsy and sallow nicotine slave, concluded the conversation with Anders, the boy’s new form teacher. The old master knocked the remains of the blackened tobacco against the ashtray, and the new employee, who with patience had listened to the long-winded discourse, answered dutifully: —Oh, yes. And so the pupil had been assigned a place among the weird ones.
The boy in question was sitting under the oak tree in the schoolyard with the last slice of bread from his packed lunch, blissfully ignorant of being the object of analysis in the office to the far right on the third floor, which in fact was the window he was currently staring at.
The conversation came to an end. Partly because the school bell chimed and partly because of the habit of his pipe being shoved down the left chest pocket in the brown-speckled tweed jacket. No one could recall ever seeing Samuelsen without this garment.
One did not need to be intimate with the alleys and hideouts of the ineffable to realise that the headmaster could not quite figure out this pupil. Being at liberty to interpret the remark as he saw fit, the teacher left the meeting convinced that Tord was born under a bad sign. His behaviour in class in the future would be judged from this perspective, and the threshold for 'brownie' points would be high.
Chapter 3 Page 31-34
Tord walked the last steps up the stairs to the portal. A dry branch snapped under one of his shoes. In daylight, he would hardly have noticed, but in the silence permeating the twilight landscape, the crack sounded foreboding. Orienting himself from the red light pulsing from the Vealøs tower facing north-east, he found himself in a gap in the west wall, where a massive oak door once guarded the house of worship against intruders.
Where the floor tiles in the nave ended, the transepts stretched out to both sides. A narrow, sloping shaft revealed itself in front of his feet. Something intangible made him hesitate. Was he being watched? Wasn't there someone inside there, staring at him?
— You fool! Whether he said it to himself or to scare away the phantom which he knew wasn't there, he couldn't say. In surroundings such as these, inherent fears could manifest itself in pretty much anything. Segments of dreams from the first night spent in the new house raised to the surface like wine corks in his consciousness. He stood there, indecisive in front of the pitch-black, squared opening, unable to shake the feeling that something malevolent lingered in the heart of the crypt.
— Why don't I just go home? The only reasonable thing would be to look around here in daylight. But he was still just standing there, transfixed.
Chapter 4 Page 39 - 41
Tord, soon to be home, beholds the meadows above Børsesjø lake, about two miles East of the Garpin church. His body is tingling. Is he being watched? Without a thought, he puts a hand on the handle of his sword. It is the first time he is carrying his father's sword on a mission. The young man turns his torso in the saddle and glances behind him. It is as though an arrow is lodged in his back. Suddenly he catches a glimpse of the contours of a man and a woman on top of the mounds westward. He is squinting his eyes in order to see more clearly, but to no avail, he cannot see anyone. Yet again he sweeps over the terrain with his eyes. — They are gone, he whispers to his horse and strokes its neck.
The day has drained them both of strength. He is on guard, so he won’t be overpowered by outlaws, and the animal is on alert so as not to trip on slippery rocks. Often he stopped and stood in hiding in the thickets of the forest to listen. If someone were to come from behind, he would notice. For the young, the supper awaits, for the four-legged grass and wheat. — Nobody could have followed us. I know the Luksefjell mountains too well to be outwitted, right? He caresses the gelding over his mane as to say thank you for the journey.
— There is no one else to chit-chat with, so I have to make do with you. He loosens the grip on the reins. —Now you have to find the way on your own.
Upon reaching the farm, Tord left the horse with the stable boy then walked down towards the shed and the washhouse. His mother should be told he is back, and besides, his entrails are screaming for food. Down by the two washhouses, there is still hustle and bustle. Young women are carrying the washed clothes, while the children are dancing around their legs. They nab a garment or two, wave them in front of the washerwomen and shout: —Catch me, catch me!
Upon seeing the strict demeanour of the sword apprentice, they dwindled away and hurriedly returned the clothes.
He nods swiftly and looks overbearingly on the kids, aware that not so long ago he played like this too, and that others gave him the same look. The little ones follow the apprentice with envious looks as he walks away. — Imagine having such a shiny, shimmering sword!
The son of Sigurd is startled as he steps inside the low opening of the door; Huld Jedvardsdaughter, the thrall maiden who came to them in springtime, is heading out with a load of freshly washed clothes. A cry slips over her lips when she slams into his side with her basket. He blushes and feels the forbidden wish to draw her close rise in him again.
— I am sorry, she stammers embarrassed, he manages to cough up a reply:
—Oh, it was not your fault.
He casts a glance down at her hands and likes what he sees. —They are still white, he thinks, — not red and swollen like the fists of the older women. Those who have been standing crooked, washing, and beating clothes throughout many a winter.
With a broad stick, Gunhild is stirring purposefully the bundle of clothes round and round in the bubbling water, disappearing every now and then in the steam drifting from the tub. It is like a sauna in here, the sweat dripping from her forehead and half-open chest. A particular fume of ash, fat, and herbs fills the air, a scent that made him feel sheltered, ever since he was a youngling. Two women are wringing the garments and then slapping it against the big, thick surface of the table next to the hearth.
His mother casts a half-pleased look on him, making him realise she observed his encounter with Huld, irked that her son is showing off in the presence of a thrall maiden. But then the mother smiles and says:
— I guess you’d rather like to eat, you must be famished. The washing should have been done in the morning, but the Mistress of the house insisted on them making flatbread first, and so all was changed to no one's benefit. With the current weather, one can hardly dry the clothes, but she must do what she deems best.
He had noticed this miffed expression on his mother before, knowing it meant she was annoyed with Sigrid, the Mistress of the house. — After all these years she still has much to learn!
Gunnhild passes the stick to a slightly older woman coming with an empty basket, ready for the next load. — Take this, Svea!
Chapter 16 Page 216 - 217
Regret gushed over him. The longing and tenderness for Marie and Bjarte awoke abruptly. He cared for them so much! What else was there to live for? Could he just give up? How could all this bitterness possibly serve him? To lose Bjarte, Marie, and the new baby that would soon arrive and greet them all. He could not bear the thought. Was it not possible to calm down and face the facts? To take charge of his life and start again?
Scenes from the early school days played before him when he was sent out of the classroom for disturbing the lesson. He stood at the end of the corridor and stared out of the window, the one with four lines spreading out like a fan. He placed his index finger in the gnarled small hole in the nexus of the lines and traced each of the zigzag patterned cracks. One side of the glass jutted out a bit more than the rest. If he wasn't careful, the journey would culminate in tiny, percolating drops of blood.
Contrary to most of his peers, he was hoping that the stay in the corridor would be a long one. This was not a punishment, rather a few minutes of anticipated freedom. The soul was let loose and could for a few moments soar over the enchanting landscapes of his imagination.
What had taken place between the magnificent views in the age of innocence and where he now stood? He could have screamed out loud. Could he bear the pain without inebriation taking the edge off? Tord leaned against a tree. There he prayed for help.
Why did he do that? Did he expect an answer? Not really. — Those who believe must believe for me, he thought. — Perhaps they have experienced something I have not yet discovered. He started walking again briskly, not stopping until he reached the main road. Tord looked around. — Could it be that the darkness was not quite as dense anymore over the hillside?
Chapter 22 Pages 306–307
The warrior's worries, anger, joy and melancholy, all find a place within him. The ship ... the men around him on deck ... Bratsberg ... The sons of Dag ... the journey to Bjørgvin. Everything he had previously read is now seen from within, through someone else's life and experiences.
He knew it was Hallgrim who in this instant was waving his hand eagerly as a greeting from "Hovundormen," where the bow cut relentlessly through the dark blue water, all while the foam vortices flew along the hull. He felt ill and miserable. Whether it was the waves or his circumstance, or both, it did not really matter.
- How was Huld? The thought rushed through his head and made his heart beat faster. The longing for her tightened his stomach. He yearned to embrace her slender waist and feel her firm breasts against his body. Yet, there was also another, Marie, in another place, another time. Flickering images from a lost world he had left behind.
Chapter 27 Page 369 - 370
Standing in the long-stretched shadows from under a shack, Tord gazes towards the house Vatnorm had mentioned in his conversation with the Lord chieftain. A man with a bow and a handful of arrows in his fist creeps over the roof ridge. With a wide view over the farm, he squats down. Frightened, Tord realises that Gregorius is standing un-shielded. There is no time to warn him, and it is futile to shout; in the thunder of screams and weapons clashing, the men can hardly hear their own voices. Tord readies his own bow and inhales deeply. Flashes of his homestead rush through his head. Targets, dummies made of straw, the whoosh of a thousand arrows from practice.
Now there is only the archer on the roof, with the shaved face and the red-lined helmet, that is carved into his retina.
The heart of Sigurd's son suddenly beats calmly. Every fiber of his body knows the game and what must be done. As if in slumber he takes his aim and lets the armour-breaking arrow fly, watching it cross over the farmyard. The closer to its goal, the slower it seems to travel. Tord is certain it will hit home, though he doesn't know why.
— Has the warrior on the other side fired a shot as well? Lendmannen!
The thought of it scares him. A new image emerges in front of his eyes. Supported by his sword, Gregorius sinks down to his knees, as if in prayer, before he falls to his side. Despite the clamor, Tord discerns the painful scream of the archer on the roof and notices the white feather fletching bobbing up and down in rhythm with his breathing. The young fellow tries to get up, but loses his footing, does a somersault, and rolls off the roof. Silently he glides down towards the open farmyard.
Tord turns with haste and directs his gaze where he last saw Gregorius. Still, he is standing there!
It feels as though his legs will give in under him. He has killed a human being, just like the kooky fortune teller Gunnleik foretold. Flames of intoxicating victory and freshly seized honor flush through his body. But as he is staring at the lifeless man, regret bursts forth. What if he was just an apprentice of his own age? His body feels numb. He had taken the life of a fellow human. — Manslayer! It feels like the word itself hits the old wound on his cheek. He leans forward, his stomach is churning.
Chapter 36 Page 481-482
The beacons were lit!
On the horizon, an invisible hand had raised a torch into the morning mist. This time closer. Then, one more, and yet another one, increasing in magnitude. Everyone knew that out on the blue-black sea, a group of ships skirred towards them. A fleet only wind and current could slow down.
Time was of the essence. To each of their abilities, they had to grab what they could of food, clothes and possessions. Cold, snow and a long trek would set a limit to what could be salvaged. After the Viken King's army had ravaged, nothing would remain. Several cried out loud upon hearing what lay ahead. Others cursed and swore death to Øystein. But most of them paced around fearfully, and old men and women hardly dared to think they would behold the sun in spring ever again.
Huld embraced Tord firmly. No power, not even Orm in all its might, would have managed to tear her away from him. All the good things she had experienced seemed to have been lost, and the memories of when she and her mother had fled the farm in Vänern welled up in her.
- I am so scared, so scared, so scared… She sobbed so much the words no longer made sense.
- Before summer I will return. Trust me! Hold on to this hope!
Tord said no more, knowing if he opened his mouth again, the dam inside himself would also burst. He had to be strong and not drag her under the long shadows the day had cast over him.