The Black Jarl – A Viking Jarl, son of a Jarl, comes home to the land of the Norse in the time when the Gods of Valhalla fight against the God of the Cross. This Jarl, viewed with suspicion, marked for assassination, must prove himself worthy to inherit his father’s domains.
The Black Jarl (1923) – In the Brave Days of the Norsemen
Chapter I. Svend The Bloody.
Chapter II. A Man Comes Out Of Gaul.
Chapter III. A Feast And A Combat.
Chapter IV. At Trondhjem.
Part 2 – What Has Occurred In Part 1.
Chapter IV (continued). At Trondhjem.
Chapter V. The Little Maid.
Chapter VI. Before The King.
Chapter VII. The Ax Thrower.
Chapter VIII. The Day— And The Night.
Chapter IX. Saved From Sacrifice.
Part 3 – Conclusion
Chapter X. The House Of Harald.
Chapter XI. Witch’s Brew.
Chapter XII. Masks Removed.
Chapter XIII. Roar Of Battle.
Chapter XIV. The Sign Of The Cross.
Johnston McCulley (1883-1958) was born in Ottawa, Illinois, and raised in Chillicothe, Illinois. He died in 1958 in Los Angeles, California, aged 75.
McCulley was the author of hundreds of stories, fifty novels, numerous screenplays for film and television, and was the creator of the character Zorro.
The Black Jarl was originally published in Argosy All-Story Weekly. It was a three part serial novel published in the December 1, 1923; December 8, 1923; and December 15, 1923 issues.
BILLOW upon billow the mist rolled away from the fiord, up over the rocky beach, over the wooded slope, on and up into the hills where the dense green forest shielded black aisles in which wild beasts frolicked and evil spirits outcast by Odin and Thor held sinister sway.
Now the waters of the fiord danced and sparkled in the sudden glory of the rising sun, and sea fowl commenced their raucous squawkings as they breakfasted and fought. Sleepy thralls appeared about the great establishment of Svend the Bloody, the big log house at the edge of the dark forest with its half score of smaller out buildings. Smoke issued from vents in the sloping roof. The odor of scorching meat stole through the air.
The huge gates were thrown open and dogs charged forth to snap and snarl at one another as they took their morning run. Sheep and swine wandered slowly toward the edge of the wood for forage. Horses fed in the clearing.
The rays of the bright sun glanced from metal as a man at arms shifted battle-ax from shoulder to shoulder. A shield maiden came forth in gleaming corselet and bright kirtle and heavy sandals, her fair hair streaming down her back and almost to her knees. She followed a trail through the brush to a rushing stream that tumbled down from the hills— the bathing place of the maidens, where they plunged, laughing and shouting, into the melted ice and snow.
Far away on the headland, a tall and slender thrall stood to his feet as the mist rose out of the sea, shaded his eyes with his hands, and looked long at the ship in the offing. Then he buckled his leather belt tighter, made certain that his sandals were secure, turned, inhaled a deep breath —and ran.
He was high above the shore of the fiord, yet he knew the country well. And not for nothing had he been named the Swift. His elbows glued to his sides, his head bent slightly backward, his torso held straight— he knew the proper method of running, albeit that it was natural with him and not a thing acquired.
On he ran, skipping brooks where the melted snow had come down from the headlands to swell the flood. He darted through second growth timber that had grown since the great fire in the forest years before. He sprang over jumbles of rocks and fought the tangling vines and tall ferns.
On he ran; and now he descended rapidly toward the level of the water. In the far distance he could see curls of smoke from the chimneys of the house of Svend the Bloody. The thrall’s breathing was more rapid now, and the perspiration streamed down his cheeks and along his throat. His hands were clenched so that the nails bit into the palms. Still he ran, nor slackened his speed, knowing well what would occur if he did.
Presently he reached the rocky beach and went forward at a much greater pace, darting to this side and that to avoid the rougher places. Once he stumbled, but caught himself before he fell. Again he staggered, but when his knees and palms touched the ground he sprang erect again, crouched, and once more he ran.
Now he was compelled to swim a swift stream some thirty feet in width. Emerging on the opposite bank, he took a deep breath and hurried on. Dogs barked and ran to race with him, snapping at his heels. Other thralls squinted their eyes as he passed, for greater expression of interest was denied them and might bring a blow. Men in armor shouted at him, and men at arms, but the thrall gave no heed. He had important news for Svend the Bloody, and for no other man. And as he ran hope sang in his breast— hope of reward.
The ship had been reported just at dusk the night before, and had anchored to await the coming of the dawn. Svend the Bloody had sent his thrall to the headland to watch for the day and carry true news. Now, in the great hall of the house, Svend sat with his back against the thick wall, eating his morning meat. Cringing thralls served him. Magnus, his chief lieutenant, sat at his elbow and imitated him. There was no talk, no sound save of men eating with no regard for table manners.
The thrall dashed through the huge log gates and into the great hall. Almost breathless, he prostrated himself before Svend. Another hundred feet he could not have gone. He gasped for breath and hoped that his master would give him a moment before causing him to speak.
Svend the Bloody put aside the joint of half-cooked meat from which he had been eating. He scraped his giant hands on the edge of the board and looked down at the thrall. Magnus, his lieutenant, copied Svend’s actions.
“Speak!” Svend commanded.
The thrall raised his head and gulped for breath with which to give the message.
“Master, I saw the ship in the first rays of the sun,” he said.
“It is my ship?”
“It is, master!”
“The one that I sent to Gaul?”
“Even that one, master,” the thrall replied. “I know the ship well. When she was building, I worked on her with the others. It is the ship, and none other.” Svend the Bloody got upon his feet and moved slowly forward. He was a giant of a man even in that land of giants, with the shoulders of an ox. His fair hair and shaggy beard were noted for their length. He clenched his hands and flexed the muscles of his great arms, then stood for a moment with his hairy fists planted against his hips, looking down at the thrall.
“It is the news that I expected,” Svend said. “You made fair speed here as soon as you were sure?”
“I ran with all my strength, master, to fetch the news.”
“You have done well,” Svend the Bloody told him. “It is your moment of triumph! You, a thrall, a common slave, have carried important news to your master. You deserve a reward!”
The eyes of the thrall glistened.
“If only that I might see my Normandy again, master!” he begged. “If I might but have my freedom now, and permission to go to my home on some ship—”
Svend the Bloody suddenly laughed raucously, and Magnus joined in. The big jarl’s merriment rang back from the thick walls. Though it was laughter, yet the thrall felt a shiver of fear.
“So you would leave your kind master and the fair land in which he rules!” Svend said. “Thrall, this is your hour of triumph, as I have said. You have done well. Were you to continue on earth, you might mar that fair record.”
“Master!” The thrall was alarmed now.
“You are a swift messenger, and Odin has need of such,” Svend continued. “We are not supposed to make sacrifices to him now, so our king, Olaf Trygvesson, says. That half-Christian monarch who is building him a city at Trondhjem would tell free-born jarls their manner of conduct in things religious. Yet such a deed as this of yours calls for a sacrifice.”
“Master!” the thrall wailed.
“And so, Magnus,” the jarl continued, turning to the man beside him, “we are compelled to conduct ourselves with strategy. An indirect sacrifice, as a man might say. Should not this thrall be sent to the thralls’ Valhalla, wherever that is, in the moment of his greatness?”
“Nothing could be more appropriate, Svend,” Magnus replied, laughing.
The thrall began whimpering. He was still trembling from his long, hard run. And now he trembled also for quite another, reason. Svend the Bloody allowed the expression of merriment to die out of his face. His eyes narrowed and his brow wrinkled, He bent forward quickly and grasped the thrall, and lifted him from the floor.
“Master! I did my best—”
“Yet there must be a sacrifice, and you are the nearest,” said Svend. “Fool, to think that it was good news you brought! By the hammer of Thor, it was ill news, thrall! Think you that I rejoice at the approach of the son of Haakon the Lover? Men may think so, but it is not true. And now you have heard me say too much, and so—”
“Your breath is half gone already, and ’twill take no great blow to rob you of the rest of it!”
Svend the Bloody drew back his right hand, doubled his fist, and launched it forward. There came a scream of pain, the crunching of breaking bones. Svend the Bloody tossed the quivering body of the thrall to one side.
“Not quite dead at the blow, but he will be before the sun is much higher,” Svend said. “I wished to see whether I still could slay a man with a single blow. Magnus, we must out and welcome the ship. Be careful of your countenance, that men may not guess the truth.”
Excerpt From: Johnston McCulley. “The Black Jarl.”
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