Edrich of Haluken

Chapter Eighteen

A month later I was on my way to Haluken to check on progress at our home.

I was amazed, not only was all the stonework done on the ground floor but the roof had been framed and sheathed with planking. The lumber mill was in full operation even though some of the sawing sheds were not yet finished.

I saw stacks of copper sheets ready to be turned in to roof cladding and guttering. Dormer windows would provide access for cleaning and attachments for safety lines would be anchored inside the rooms with the dormers. I didn’t want anyone killed to clear leaves and what have you out of the gutters. I wasn’t sold on the practicality of rain gutters in a snowy climate but if they were stout enough they could withstand tons of snow sliding across them. If they failed I would have them removed.

The roof would be water tight in a month and then there would be a scramble to get the windows mounted. The front entry would be boarded up because the final design of the doors wasn’t ready in time to beat the winter. They were massive reinforced thick timber doors partially clad in iron and studded with diamond headed bolts. There were several less ornamental doors for access during the building process. The granite I chose for the lentils and stairs had a rose cast to it and it looked quite nice against the steel gray of the other granite. If they could get the house sealed for winter they could work on the mild days. A caretaker would set up camp inside and keep fires going to keep the house warm enough that things wouldn’t crack from the cold. Although it wasn’t even summer yet, the men worked extremely hard to get as much done as the good weather would allow.

I found Stefan and asked if he needed anything brought in. He chuckled nervously but relaxed. He shared what he knew about the interior framing. They couldn’t do anything more in the great room until the cisterns were installed and they had not arrived. I told him I would check on them as soon as I got back. They would sit above the great room which was half again as tall as the receiving room and the main parlor. All the downstairs rooms except the toilets would have twelve foot ceilings while the great room would be eighteen feet. The copper pipes would be run and tested before the walls were sealed. I exhausted the information I could glean and made copious notes of things I could do to step up delivery of materials. I took my leave and continued to Haluken and took a room at the Inn of the Tonsure. It was the inn that had been built in an old monastic building. It had been called the Monk’s Roost but It had changed hands and was still comfortable and the food was excellent.

The old inn had been empty for a while it was renovated. The original owner had been arrested and imprisoned for adulterating spirits. It was discovered that he wasn’t just tampering with the beer but also the liquor. It was more expensive and therefore a greater crime. His inn was forfeit and he was serving time in a prison. It was considered a serious crime to adulterate spirts or beer, to do both would have seen him hanged a hundred years earlier.

It would reopen with the name “Half Moon Inn” I didn’t know what the significance was of the name but I didn’t need to. The watch had never been able to prove a link between the inn and banditry along the road. But it decreased significantly after the innkeeper was incarcerated and the barmaids were invited to leave town.

Haluken was an official town now that the population had grown to meet the level of an incorporated township.

I stopped to see Abel and Martin. Martin had filled out and was doing a wonderful job clerking for the magistrate. Abel treated him like a son. He had found his sisters and freed them from the nunnery with ten watchmen at his back.

Father had underwritten a place where girls who left the convent could learn to weave or other skills. It was there that Martin’s sisters found safety and a trade.

“I wasn’t sure what I would do about the convent, it was a ways from Haluken and they did do some good. But keeping girls in servitude against their will was not a holy endeavor.

New shops were spreading across the town, there were more stores and fewer street merchants. The central market had received a long overdue refurbishment. All the stalls were painted white and were kept spotless.

I was pleased to see a sports pitch that was permanently installed with toilets and all the facilities needed for young people to play their sports. An adjacent pitch was dedicated to lawn bowling which appealed to older people. The other surprise was a building under construction that was billed as the Haluken library. Father had been busy. A new school house was being built to replace the old rickety one. It would accommodate more students. The council hall was new and quite appealing.

At school things were becoming even more interesting. As several of us had requested the Sagas to be taught, and the literature teacher had taken on the responsibility.

He was quite thorough, he not only read the sagas but drew lines from old Norse to Sami culture from which it sprang. As a Sami speaker I was asked to help with some of the more difficult word concepts such as the Mord-Vargr or killer wolf and how the Sami saw them versus the old Norse. The relationship with bears was different as well. Sami venerated bears and a hunter had to be chosen by divine right to be the one who would slay the bear. I learned all of this through our Noaidi who was descended from Sami. My memories of the old Head man and the Noaidi relating the stories of Berserkr and Ulfheinar as men who fought as though they wore the skin of a bear or wolf. They were fierce combatants and often terrified the enemy with their vicious attacks. Concepts of wolf and bear spirits changed as they passed through cultures but ranged through not only Norway but Finland and the British isles.

There were always many Sama Noaidi who attended our Yule and Midsømmar gatherings. Many branches of clans would gather and also other clans like river and mountain clan would join in. Most of my classmates didn’t have that advantage.

“I think maybe you’re an Ulf-Vagr, A boy named Smølle suggested.

“Smølle, you should learn more before you say such things. An Ulf-Vagr was an outcast and not seen as human. They could be killed on sight. I do not kill for no reason like one of them. You will learn that as you get more experience in the world. I will take no offense at your remarks since you didn’t know what you were really saying,” I admonished.

“I’m sorry Edrich, I just meant to say you were a brave warrior, everyone knows that. I don’t think that even the top form boys would take you on. I like learning the sagas but they are confusing sometimes,” Smølle apologized.

I patted his back and we continued to our next class.

My brothers and I walked back towards home and I left them and stopped to buy some leather materials from the saddler. As I stepped into the shop I noticed two familiar men passing behind me. They walked on but when I had made my purchases I walked to my office and saw the same two men in the reflection of a shop window.

“Hold up boy!” I heard.

“What do you want of me?” I asked.

“Just tell us where the street with all the physicians is located,” The speaker inquired.

“You’ve passed it, it’s back several streets but you will see Samaar’s tavern on the corner, there you turn right and that is the doctors row,” I informed him.

“Perhaps you should show us,” the speaker uttered with menace.

“No, I have my own business to conduct and I have little time to complete it. I have given you simple directions and now I must go,” I stressed.

The speaker reached inside his coat and the second man reached for me. I dodged his grasp and kicked at his knee. He went down like a sack of stone.

“I warn you, I am a King’s man, any assault on me is and attack on the King and the Governor,” I warned and drew my dagger from my sleeve.

The man pulled a long knife out of his coat and showed it to me. It looked like a short sword but had a straight blade. He held it like an amateur as he brandished in front of me. I heard a police whistle in the distance. The man looked away for and instant and I sliced all the tendons on the back of his knife hand. The blade clattered to the ground.

Two of the new police force came running up and demanded to know what was happening.

“This hooligan was robbing us, I tried to defend myself and he slashed me,” The first man wailed.

“He’s crippled my knee!” the second complained.

“I am a King’s man as I was just telling these two. They wanted me to show them the street of the doctors near the tavern, I had other things to do. I produced my pin and showed the officers.

“King’s Man, he doesn’t even shave yet,” the bleeding man protested.

“You aren’t from Halla are you?” The first officer inquired.

“We should alert the guard, can you send a horse to let them know. Don’t let this fool bleed to death before he tells us what we want to know. I will follow you to the milliners and ask for something to make a bandage, Then we can commandeer a cart or something and take them to your stationhouse,” I suggested.

An hour later twenty guard, Halkar and Emil were at the station house. I had staunched the bleeding but my attacker would never grasp anything in that hand again.

“Are you hurt at all?” Halkar asked.

“No my lord, I was aware of them before they tried to take me. I saw them following me earlier but I wasn’t sure until they turned up outside the saddler’s shop,” I shared.

“I see, I think you have done all you can here but stop by the palace after school tomorrow and I’ll let you know what we’ve found out,” Halkar smiled menacingly.

I walked home in the company of a guardsman and we chatted about everything except the two men.

“Lord Karl, I am to take up station in the your gate house by order of the Lord Governor,” Bildt the guard informed father.

“Very well, am I under house arrest?” Father grinned.

“Oh no my lord, an attempt has been made on your son and The lord governor has instructed me to take station here until relieved,” Bildt explained.

“I will send out a jug of tea to keep you from thirst and I’ll be back to check on you in a while,” Father said. “I will write out a list of expected visitors. If someone else arrives sound the bell. Let’s go to my office and you can tell me what this is about,” Father said to me separately.

I related the story as simply as I could.  Father listened and asked the occasional question but it didn’t take long to tell him all the details as I knew them.

“I will collect you and your brothers from school tomorrow. From there we will go to the palace. Have you cleaned your blade?” Father asked.

“Only on his sleeve, I will give it a proper cleaning upstairs,” I promised.

“Tell your brothers about the attack and that it’s best to stick together until we get a grip on what this was about,” Father said.

Upstairs I cleaned and oiled my dagger while I told them about the attack. I suggested they should all wear theirs and keep their pins on their person.

“We won’t know much until we speak with Uncle Halkar tomorrow so just be wary of strangers but don’t go flashing your blades for no reason. They are more useful if no one knows about them,” I admonished.

Rilla came over and sat beside me while I cleaned my knife and its sheath. The others went to their closets and dug out their daggers to clean and oil them as I had just done.

“Rilla, can you help me get my right boot off. I think I bruised my toe when I kicked that man,” I asked.

He complied immediately and eased the boot off. I pulled off the stocking and looked at my big toe. It was a bit bruised so I dug into my healing bag and selected a poultice of Belladonna and a few other herbs. I wet it and tied it in place. A school boy’s boots are not intended for single combat.

Ivy slid in next to me once I lay down and he snuggled tight.

“Don’t worry Ivy, we’ll get to the bottom of this and then whoever sent them will be on the run,” I assured him.

He dozed off and so did I.

Father accompanied us to school and was waiting when the day was over. The horse guard waited inconspicuously nearby. They fell in behind the carriage as we passed.

“Good afternoon gentlemen, we have learned a great deal about our new friends. It appears that some of the new Viscounts policies aren’t terribly popular with a certain group of people. The viscount appears to be interfering with their income. Are you familiar with a tavern owner named Tummas?” Halkar asked.

“Yes, he was the owner of the tavern in Haluken when we dealt with the monks. He was later sent to prison for adulterating beer and spirits. He should still be there,” Father answered.

“He escaped a work party, he picked up an arrow in his shoulder but still got away. It appears he bears a grudge against our viscount and wishes for things to return to normal as he sees it. We think he is living in the border lands and our new friends have been kind enough to verify the general area. I will be sending a detachment of Stillesoldt to the area to flush him out and we will deal with any others,
Halkar informed us.

“What are Stillesoldt?” Bolly asked.

“Quiet soldiers, they blend in and use the surroundings to their advantage. Their primary goal will be prisoners but that mightn’t be possible. I would prefer them to be alive so we can interrogate them. But that is up to them. Tummas will have nothing to lose. Escape from prison means hanging,” Halkar explained.

Does this mean I can’t travel down there, I am due to address the clans and the Sami in two weeks,” I asked.

“No, it just means that you will have discreet company riding with you,” Halkar explained. Some of them if not all speak most of the dialects in this country including Sama. I will be sending you with a gift from me to the Sami people. They will have five winters with no tithes or taxes from any government in this land. Later I will explain to them that they are subject  to our laws and have our protection of law. The powerful of Norway and Denmark have not always been evenhanded with the Clans or the Sami,” Halkar shared.

“So the Sami will have the same status as the clans and all free people in Norway?” I asked.

“Within the law yes. If tribal law conflicts with the state’s law, the state will prevail. Are you familiar with the Mord-Vargr?” Halkar asked.

“Yes, we were just discussing it at school yesterday,” I replied.

“Our law does not allow for killing outsiders or outcasts. Sami law permits it and we will have to make it clear they cannot just kill someone because they were seen nearby. I will clarify the rules with the head men of the Sami. It’s not something you need to broach with them.

Does the relief from tax apply to both farmers and herders. Farmers will already receive three years with no tax. With your gift it becomes eight years free of tax unless you have a stipulation that they will find fair,” I asked.

“The Sami do not contribute a great deal to the tax rolls, five or eight years with them tax free will affect very little. I don’t see a conflict. But we will need a census. Nobody knows how many Clan or Sami live in the lands. We can’t very well serve them if we don’t know where to send the help,” Halkar explained.

“I understand, but I will have to explain why and we’ll need to make good on any promises. I’m sure that will fall broadly to me within my lands. I have ideas I think they’ll like,” I assured Halkar.

“Uncle, I have a question,” Rilla said. “Many of the boys we share classes with, they would like to learn the martial way. Riding, swordsmanship and archery. Is there a way for them to join an organization that would accomplish that?”

“I would consider it. It would be an excellent way to train future recruits for the guard or other military groups. It would have to be open to all boys above a certain age. Otherwise it would be seen as an elitist organization. This Yngre Vakt would have to be closely monitored. Some boys don’t do well with strict military authority, they are children after all. I would suggest in addition that healing and other skills be taught. Leather working is a valuable skill and all of you boys seem to have mastered it to some degree. The Statlig Politi would have an interest in the training of possible future police officers. I think it is an idea with merit,” Halkar replied.

Rilla smiled, he had expected an argument against it, but teaching boys woodcraft, healing and martial activity would make for strong youth to propel Norway into the future.

The next week I met Knut, he was recruited from the Stillesoldt unit to become my escort as I traveled to Haluken. The last break before the summer holiday was only a week away.

Your name was not unknown to me even before I was recruited for this assignment. By all accounts you are a powerful adversary and not squeamish about using the blade or bow. It’s a rare quality in one so young. I am told you are clan born, is this true?” Knut asked.

“Yes, I am forest clan, and you?” I replied.

“Sky people, but that way of living wasn’t for me. I was set upon by bandits one day and drove all but five of them off. Those five were already dead. I didn’t enjoy it but I didn’t mourn them either. They would have cheerfully killed me for my meager possessions,” Knut shared.

“Yes, I’m familiar with their sort. One of them threatened my brother with a knife at his throat, I put an arrow in his eye. It was the only way to save my brother. I have no remorse about that man’s death. He chose his own fate when he attacked my brother,” I told Knut.

“You also distinguished yourself in defense of the Governor and the King. I’ve heard a great deal about you from other guardsmen. I will be happy to accompany you to Haluken,” Knut smiled broadly.

I had pressed the maker for the large cisterns and they had promised to have them delivered long before I arrived. To my knowledge, materials and labor were a steady flow. A tradesman would complete his work only to be offered work in Freyanhjem. Between the lumber mill, the civic buildings and our home, it was hard for anyone to get anything else built.

Knut and I set out on the Saturday and discovered the new road was well underway. Wagons of goods and materials rolled heavily along towards Freyanhjem, Haluken and points beyond. Mostly the other wagons went to the mine or quarry, but some went all the way to Oslo. There were more hastily built taverns along the way. Many had campaign style tents and cots to rent. Most waggoners preferred to sleep close to their wagons and animals. I suppose that one day, each of these comfort stops would become a thriving village as trade down the road increased. Our first stop was one of these small taverns. We ate and had a draft or two but we made our camp further on. We camped without a fire until morning when we made tea and warmed some meat on a low fire with the driest wood we could find. We tied branches to our horses to obscure our trail.

Knut knew quite a bit about stealth and he passed on much that I did not know. He also drilled me in hand to hand combat both empty handed and with a blade. We used wooden knives during those sessions.

When we reached the lumber mill the progress was astounding. Teams of oxen delivered logs that were examined and prepared for sawing. Stacks of timber rose nearly as high as father’s house. Depending on the species of wood the drying racks were tall or short. All the lumber for my house was being dried in the hot barn. A boiler heated water which ran through the floor of the barn. It accelerated drying of the oak without causing warpage. It halved or quartered the drying time for beams and planks. Then they could be sawn to order. It was quite a process to watch. There were already huge orders from Haluken and other places. With the design of the gang saw it took less men to do the work of the same size mill in Halla.

“All this is your doing?” Knut asked.

“I suppose, it was necessary for my house to be built and I knew it would have lasting value for the region as a whole. I believe that Freyanhjem will be a large town once the farmers and merchants arrive. I’m told the town hall is coming along nicely,” I explained.

“And who is paying for all this?” Knut asked.

“I am, it’s an investment in the future of the county and Norway,” I explained.

“You are wise beyond your years young man,” Knut acknowledged.

“And what of your other talents, are you a man of letters, do you know maths?” I pressed.

I am well read, at least for a soldier. I am conversant with math and a few other disciplines. I studied chemistry before I lost my berth at the university. I joined the army after that and my intellect and facility for language got me sent to the command of the Stillesoldt. Those are my qualifications,” Knut stated plainly.

“It’s impressive to say the least,” I told him. “All I need know is that our Governor and Emil have recommended you.”

The day after we arrived in Freyanhjem I met with the head men and Noaidi of the Sami. They were happy of the governors news about taxes.

“The Governor seems to be a good man. We will abide by the law of the land. It was always a rare thing to kill an outcast. We didn’t have that many to begin with. As a Clansman you know that we do not build prisons. Whipping is the worst of our punishments these days. Except for murder or rape. Those we hang. If it happens again we will send someone for a magistrate. We have all considered this and we all agree that it is the right thing,” Saggen told me. He was the elected chief of head men.

After the business was concluded there was a feast and much alcohol was served around. I was very careful. I had begun to develop a tolerance but I could very quickly find myself over my head. Knut and I were shown a spacious hut to bed down in.

In the morning I woke to find Knut chatting with other clansmen from the Sky people. Much of the crowd had packed and were moving back to their lands. But I spied Chefan of my clan rounding up his animals for the trip home.

“How does the sun find you Chefan?” I inquired.

“Ah Peng, I am happy to see you. I and our people are doing well. We must be away soon so the others can know the news from the governor and our new lord. Many of our people have applied for farm land and they wish to farm collectively. Are there any rules against such a thing?”

“None that I’m aware of. It seems to me it could only improve production and make for efficient farms. I’ve only had to send back four applications so far and if they can answer the questions I have asked satisfactorily, they will be accepted also. I see this as an opportunity to bring the clans and the Sami into the national community with the respect they deserve. What do they plan to raise?”

“Einkorn wheat and possibly a new variety of corn. It was brought over from the new world but didn’t do well here at first but the Germans have been working with it and now there is a strain that can survive the climate in this valley. The corn can be ground as meal or used as animal feed. Beef cattle will be popular as well as dairy herds,” Chefan glowed.

“I hope it’s successful. Our people are long overdue for recognition in our own lands,” I cheered him.

We took each other’s arms and parted. I made a porridge and warmed some venison for Knut and I.

“You are quite the statesman, Viscount,” Knut commented.

“I only tell them what I believe is the truth. Lord Halkar, like my father, is a man of his word. Now the people of Norway have representation from every corner of the land. The governor of Svalbard was treating the region as his own fiefdom. He’s been removed and the present governor answers to lord Halkar. There are new faces in Oslo these days. The outlying districts have representation now and their needs are being considered. It’s long overdue. I think we should return to the lumber mill and have a bath before we continue to the homesite and the quarry. After that we will move on to another special place and you will know the secret of my wealth.

We rode back to Freyanhjem and ate with the sawyers and other mill workers. They were all in good spirits and there were many new faces. I spoke with the mechanics about the saws and they raved about how well they worked. Cleaning, lubrication and adjustment were most of their labors. Occasionally the water drive needed attention but they tried to schedule that when the mill was idle.

We stayed in the office wagons since they were empty but we had bathed and ate well. We would join the men for breakfast and get an early start to the quarry. It would be difficult to pick Knut and myself out from any random merchant riding along the great road. The section between Freyanhjem and Halla had been completed and I expected to pass the crew at some point on the way to Haluken.

If we had met anyone bent on trouble they would have discovered the new crossbows we wore on slings under our riding cloaks. Knut had rendered me an expert at hitting the target and reloading whilst mounted. I had altered our saddles with an iron hook to brace the crossbow while we recocked them. We also carried a brace of pistols each but they were noisy and I preferred stealth. All our preparations would prove useful. On the way to the quarry we passed two cloaked riders heading in the direction of Freyanhjem. They seemed reluctant to be seen and one looked away as we passed. Honest travelers will usually greet passersby and move on. But these men avoided eye contact. One more than the other.

“How urgent is our arrival at our next destination my lord?” Knut asked me officially.

“There is no rigid schedule that I need to adhere to. Do you think we should turn around and see what those two are up to. I’d like to get a clear look at the other one, he was trying not to be seen,” I reasoned.

“You have good instincts my lord. I think we should leave the road and backtrack through the woods. I think that they will turn around soon in order to follow us. I would like to take them alive, but that is up to them,” Knut warned.

“I understand,” I acknowledged.

Our cloaks were ideal for woodland work and that was by design. Knut had chosen the color for very good reasons.

We found a small stream to follow running parallel to the road.

We dismounted and let the horses graze and drink. Knut had caught a hint of movement through the trees. Two riders were stopped on the road talking. In the quiet their voices carried.

“I can’t believe that upstart is still alive. Our men must have been caught. We’ll have to do it ourselves I suppose,” said the older man.

"I didn't come to this land to kill anyone. I don't know what your grievance with them is but I will ride along to see if it can be settled peacefully," the younger man remarked.

I recognized the older man as Tummas the tavern keeper and escapee from prison. We watched them remount and turn back towards Haluken.

“Tummas already carries the sentence of death. He escaped from prison as I’m sure you know. He blames me for his misfortune. He won’t be taken easily,” I warned Knut.

“Yes, I was told about him. He has nothing to lose but his life and everything to gain. We’ll have to be careful.”

We remounted and rode off at a leisurely pace. We wanted to keep a bit of distance between us and them. 

I flagged down the dispatch rider. “Halt in the name of the Lord Of Haluken,” I commanded. I showed him my pin that identified me as a king’s man. I instructed the rider to request a few guardsmen to meet us on the road between the mine and our present location. I didn’t know if our quarry would leave the road or not but I instructed him to stop for no one.. The rider rode off and I walked back to Knut.

“He will inform the guard as soon as he encounters any. I doubt our friends will interfere with the dispatch rider. Besides I told him not to stop for any reason. We watched the rider disappear in the distance and followed slowly.

At a distance we saw the two men astride their horses in the middle of the road. Knut and I stopped and decided to leave the road again. We rode carefully but it was fairly easy going. When we caught a shadow of horses through the trees, we began edging closer to the road. We emerged about twenty yards ahead of them and tucked our capes back to have access to our cross bows more readily. We raised our weapons, “Stop, in the name of the king’s men!” Knut demanded.

“There’s nowhere to go Tummas, you cannot hope to escape. Throw your blades on the road and stand still,” I ordered.

Knut handed me his crossbow and I held both men at bay. Knut removed leather strapping from his bags and tied Tummas and Rolf to their saddles. Knut was careful to remain clear of my target area. If either had made a move I would have dropped them both. I could see Tummas really wanted to run, the fear of death held him still and he was bound for his trip south. More than an hour later we encountered six members of the guard. They were local men who had been receiving instruction from the cavalry men at the mine.

“Take these men to Halla and alert the Governor that you have delivered Tummas the fugitive. I don’t know if Rolf is a highwayman or what, but he changed direction with Tummas to follow us. The governor’s man will get the truth from him,” I told them. Be careful, Tummas is under a death sentence and wouldn’t hesitate to slit a throat and escape,” I warned. I wrote a message for Emil concerning the man Rolf. I was not convinced that he had evil intent based on the conversation Knut and I had heard. His only weapon had been a hunting knife, so I was inclined to believe he was not aligned with Tummas.

“As you command Lord. We know who you are,” Bartel responded. He was the ranking member of the group.

“We will tell the commander about your mission, thank you for your help,” I told them and allowed them to get underway.

Knut and I back tracked to the home site and I was amazed at the progress. We heard the men working long before we saw the house. The copper roof was in place and the sheen was nearly blinding. Men were installing temporary heavy doors on the front entrance. The ornate iron clad doors were delayed.

I greeted Stefan and he seemed a bit more relaxed.

“The house is closed to the weather come what may. The caretakers will keep the fires burning and we’ll see how well that heat exchanger works at clearing the roof. I’m told a contingent of troops will winter here, they plan to set up in the great hall and keep the area safe during the worst of the winter weather,” Stefan related.

“Yes, this was discussed with my father and I approve. There’s not much banditry that goes on while the snow falls, but there may be other needs for the men. I may visit by sleigh just to see how the house is weathering the winter. I see the great room ceiling is in so the cisterns must have been delivered. I just needed to encourage the metal workers to meet the deadline. I simply reminded them of the financial penalties for failing to meet the deadline. They assured me the cisterns would be ready and sent a runner to tell me they had begun their journey a few days early,” I explained.

“Well whatever you did, it had results and we were able to mount and plumb them before erecting the ceiling. There was no other way to do it.

Knut and I stayed the night camped out on the site. We ate with the men and listened to stories about building mishaps and other funny events. I had expected the men would drink more but they only took beer or wine with dinner and tea afterward. I supposed if you were climbing scaffold and rooftops, being hungover would make things dangerous.

The next morning we rode on to the mine, we could check in at the quarry on the way back. We passed quarry wagons going both ways  and eventually I heard the familiar thumping of the tamping machine. The horses shied a bit but the signalman bade them stop so that we could pass. I spoke briefly with the foreman and the mechanic, they couldn’t praise the machine enough. A massive draw board preceded the tamper and leveled the gravel before it was tamped. The road had been dead even all the way to that point but now we were back on the old road. Crews were felling the odd tree here and there so the road could maintain a uniform width. Two heavily laden wagons could pass in opposite directions with room for two horses between them.

We continued on until I steered us down the road to the first guard post.

“Halt, who goes?” A voice demanded .

“I am Viscount Edrich, Lord of Haluken, my companion is Knut Madsen and he is in my employ. Come forward and recognize me,” I instructed.

I handed the soldier my scroll with the governor’s seal and he relaxed.

“I’m sorry my lord, but I am under orders to check everyone,” The man said.

“Don’t apologize, I expect to be challenged every time I visit. Be sure and tell the others on guard duty that there will be no repercussions from following your orders. Everyone is to be checked including your commander. He can exempt himself from that but I don’t think he will,” I told them.

Jens Hergen greeted us when we rode in to the compound.

“My Lord Edrich, it is good to see you again, the lieutenant greeted me. Why are you in the company of this ruffian?” He grinned.

“He is helping me with a few problems that we may encounter, I take it you know each other?” I asked.

“Yes, he is one of the finest instructors in the use of a knife or any other object as a weapon. He even taught us the rolled up paper trick you used on that rumhead. I heard about that from a friend. I’m sure it was embellished but probably not much,” Jens grinned.

“I didn’t want the men to dishonor their uniform. I was in plain clothes and it didn’t take long to convince him to wander home,” I blushed.

“It is good to see you well Captain, I hope our time together was not wasted,” Knut replied.

“It has come in handy on several occasions lately. We were beset by Swedish raiders for months, but they’ve learned that we are here in force and have moved on to other lands. There is always a new crop that decide there are easy pickings this side of the border. We patrol the area very heavily and I think word is getting out that the border is closed,” Jens chuckled.

“Knut, Jens and his men are here to safe guard the area and a mine that is producing gold ore at an inspiring rate. Lief has told me they will sink two knew shafts. The smelter can’t work fast enough. But I don’t want the men so tired they make mistakes and get hurt. We hire anyone who is qualified but labor is scarce. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier but it’s a matter of security,” I apologized.

“That’s not necessary, your father informed me about this place. I wanted to see if you could keep it to yourself and you did. I think you will do well as Viscount of this valley,” Knut smiled.

“Did Father tell you how I discovered this place?” I asked.

“No he did not, but let’s take a walk and you can tell me, I am sore from so much saddle time,” Knut smiled warmly.

“Not far from here is the farm I was born on, I feared the monks would sack the place and place me in slavery. So I took everything of worth and moved here. This small hut was my shelter and it served me well until Father came along and asked me to assist him. After we completed his mission he apprenticed me and later he adopted me and my brothers. I kept some of the rocks from here as keepsakes. I thought they were pyrite but Father pointed out that they were gold. There is a lot of pyrite here but there is also a lot of gold just on the surface. We talked to Lord Halkar and it was decided that we would claim the land for mining and share the proceeds with the Governor and King. It's a family business and there is enough to make us all wealthy beyond our dreams. I have invested what I don’t need for construction. I have put a lot into Haluken and Halla as well as Father. He is overseeing my investments alongside his own, and they are growing quite well. I have backed many small businesses such as the one that built the road tamper. I did patent that so it could remain an open patent. I wanted it to serve the whole country. The contractor says it has revolutionized road building. Another man is designing horse drawn machines for fighting fires. I found him after my brother saved a child from a burning house. I back things that can improve life for everyone in every community. Nils is working on a two cylinder siphon pump that will throw a pressurized stream of water a long way. He will use canvas hose pipes and a nozzle to direct the flow,” I explained.

“It is clear to me that you were meant to be the Viscount of this land. You have the peoples best interest at heart. I have seen for myself the things you have caused to be done in Haluken. You will not need to rule here, you will guide the people and they will accept you as their lord,” Knut observed.

“I hope that is the case. I don’t want to be seen as a tyrant. Our country has had enough of them. Thank you for your remarks,” I said.

I did not know it at the time but Knut and I would spend many years together. He would come to provide the same service to me that Emil provided for Halkar. And I would need it.

After two days at the mine we went into Haluken to check on the state of the town. It wasn’t the village I had known as a small child. It was bustling with activity. The farmers had joined together to build a granary and a second millhouse. The existing mill didn’t have the capacity to deal with the increased production from all the new farms. The council had balanced out well and they reached consensus decisions for the good of all. Father had implemented it, but It had been my idea and I had a feeling of pride.

The atmosphere in the town was warm and friendly, not watchful and suspicious like the frontier village it had once been. The National Police force had a presence and the city watch had been incorporated with them. There were conflicts occasionally. The Magistrate solved disputes and held trials for more serious cases. Fortunately there were few of either to deal with.

Knut and I moved on to the quarry and I showed him the machine that had inspired me to build the road tamper. Men worked hard in the quarry but there had been no injuries beyond cuts, scrapes or pinched fingers. Quarrymen put these down to life in a quarry.

We met some of the new farmers on the road to Freyanhjem and they spoke excitedly of their hopes and dreams. I did not identify myself but wished them success.

When we had passed the road crew again, Tor was making a site inspection.

“It is wonderful to see you again Peng or should I say my lord?” Tor grinned.

“Peng will suffice until I am actually installed as Viscount. How have you been Tor?” I asked.

“I am well, my wife is fat and my pockets are full. What more could a man want,?” Tor chuckled.

“Are you enjoying the machine so much that you will build a new road to Oslo?” I asked.

“It has been discussed. With Haluken becoming a city it will mean more traffic over the pass. There is a better way although it is longer it will be faster. A bridge or two will need to be built and more than one contractor will be needed to accomplish such an endeavor. I think it is a good use of the royal purse, but I am somewhat biased. Norway could export grain all over if it comes to pass. The docks in Oslo will need to be improved to handle the traffic. What an age to live in!” Tor laughed.

“Do you think it will lead to trouble with the Swedes,” I asked.

“I would hope not, but they are influenced heavily by the French. Who knows what bad ideas may come from that association,” Tor shared.

“War is costly, we should avoid it when we can. If we can’t we must carry the battle to the enemy,” Knut observed.

“I agree, plan for peace but prepare for war. The Dutch have taught us that,” I remarked.

Knut and I began our journey back to Halla and encountered no difficulties along the way, save a recalcitrant Hinde that wanted to show his majesty and claim the center of the road as its territory. A few well aimed stones discouraged its hubris and it disappeared into the forest.

“How long will you stay in the army Knut?” I asked.

“A few more years, I have trained more instructors and they are competent men. I will be looking for something less taxing by then,” Knut shared.

“Perhaps you’d consider helping me through my first years as Viscount. I will need someone with skills like you and Emil possess. The job will come with a residence on the homesite we saw days ago. We seem to work well together and I value your guidance,” I suggested.

“It is a wonderful offer. You will have two more winters to complete before that time, is that correct?” Knut asked.

“Yes, then I can marry my fiancé and take my place in Haluken. I hope you will consider the position seriously. It’s not something I do lightly,” I told him.

“I will give it some thought. I certainly haven’t any better offers at the moment,” Knut chuckled.

“Do you have children?” I asked.

“Yes, but they are young yet, I left marriage rather late. But my wife is a fine woman and our children are strong and bright,” Knut replied. He did so with a twinkle of his eyes.

“I had the administrators house planned to accommodate a family of eight. That can be expanded in needs arise,” I enticed.

“My concern would be schooling, are there plans for a school?” Knut asked.

“The primary school is under construction now and the secondary will begin in spring. We want to provide school for mill and quarry workers children as well as the children of farmers. Education is very important to me and to the country if we are to advance as a modern state,” I observed.