Authun and the Bear, Part Two

In Which Our Intrepid Hero Journeys South

Thorir waited for a favourable wind before rounding up his crew, complete with Authun and his bear, to make the journey back across the northern seas to Norway. Again, their journey was good, even with the added danger of the bear onboard.
When they reached Mœr and Thorir’s farm, they unloaded the ship’s cargo. When the southern merchants come and bartered, Authun negotiated with one in order to get himself and the bear at least to the southern fjords of Norway.
Unfortunately for Authun, when he arrived in the south of Norway, he discovered that Harald was in residence in the region. However, Authun remained undeterred in his determination to take the bear to Denmark. The merchant brought his ship to the shore and the crew dragged it inland. Authun led his bear behind him as he found and hired a place to stay while he worked out how to cross the straits between Norway and Denmark.
In his court, not far away (relatively speaking), Harald was surrounded by his retinue, celebrating the mid-summer. Not long after Authun had agreed a hire for a temporary shelter, the man with whom he had struck the deal was to be found in Harald’s halls. With the quantity of mead flowing, it was not long after that when a rumour of a valuable bear in his realm reached Harald’s ears. That an Icelandic man had brought such a treasure merely served to increase Harald’s desire for the creature. After all, an Icelander was essentially still subject to the Norwegian crown, wasn’t he? Harald had occasionally seen brown bears during his youthful travels through the Finnish and Slavic lands, but he had only ever heard tell of white bears before.
He demanded to meet the man who boasted in his cups of having seen and stood beside such a creature. The man, Thorkell, was brought before Harald. Thorkell, although not small, was dwarfed by Harald, whose head seemed to stretch towards the heavens, his yellow hair tumbling in untidy braids over his broad shoulders. As far as could be determined, he favoured braided hair to keep it from entangling with his beard and moustache, which drooped over his chin down his chest.
“Is this true that I’ve heard? Is there a white bear in your hut?” Harald asked of the man, now quivering at his feet, mostly because of the mead he had poured down his throat than because he feared his king. He was, it’s true, somewhat in awe of Harald; the king had a notoriously fiery temper and his eyebrows gave the appearance of sceptical disbelief, one permanently higher than the other. Not an encouraging demeanour. So Thorkell gibbered incoherently. He had not expected to be called upon to corroborate his possibly slightly exaggerated, alcohol-fuelled boasts, and certainly not to his chieftain. There was good reason that Harald had earned the sobriquet ‘Hard-Ruler’ (or ‘Hardrada’).
“Well, man? Speak!” roared Harald, volatile as a volcano. He brought his drinking horn down heavily onto the table. Thorkell winced.
“There’s, there’s a man with a bear. From Iceland. He’s renting my hut,” he gulped tripping over his words as he rushed to say them, hoping to avert the king’s wrath.
“Well, I want to see this man,” Harald stated calmly, his voice implacably determined. “Bring him here.”
“Yes, lord, straight away, lord,” Thorkell gabbled, his nose hitting his knees as he bowed and scraped before the king. He hurried backwards out of the hall in a bid to fulfil Harald’s orders as quickly as was humanly possible. Harald sent several men to ensure that Thorkell carried out the promised actions.
At Thorkell’s hut, Authun proved reluctant to accompany him back to Harald. He thought it inadvisable to leave the bear alone. However, eventually he was persuaded, Thorkell’s agitation offering a greater argument than any which he expressed.
Authun was brought before Harald as soon as they returned to the hall. They greeted one another with courtesy and respect. Almost, it was a warm greeting, if such can be had between men who have never met before. Harald smiled benignly.
“Is it true that you have with you a wild bear of immense value?”
It seemed to Thorkell, who hovered uncomfortably in the background, that Harald was being uncommonly pleasant, as if he feared that he would scare Authun. Authun stood proudly before the king, his head held as high as it could be, his back straight.
“Yes, it is true. I do own such a beast,” Authun replied clearly.
“If I was to pay you the sum which you paid for the bear, would you let me have it?” Harald asked.
Thorkell thought that the question sounded curious, idle, even, as if Harald had only just considered the matter.
“I will not, lord,” Authun answered. Again, his voice was clear and unwavering.
“What if,” Harald asked, “I give you twice the price which you paid? Would you let me have the bear then? That would, after all, be much more in your favour then, especially since you gave all you own for that bear, from what I heard.”
“I will not, lord,” Authun repeated steadfastly.
“Well, would you give me the bear then?” Harald demanded, exasperated. In his mead-addled brain, Thorkell thought that his king sounded quite desperate and, with some stretch of the imagination, Harald could almost be said to be begging Authun for the bear.
“No, lord,” Authun said, almost regretfully.
“But what on earth do you intend to do with the beast?” the king asked, by now confused.
“Um,” began Authun, suddenly aware of the danger in which he now found himself but unable to tell bare-faced lies to the man nicknamed ‘Hard-Ruler’. He hesitated, trying to find the best way of explaining his intentions to Harald. “Um, I have the intention to go to Denmark and present it to King Sweyn.”
King Harald’s men stared at Authun. Thorkell suddenly recovered his composure, despite the alcohol, for here was a man upon whom Harald was more likely to bring down his wrath. Harald wanted the bear, was prepared to pay vast sums to own the creature, and the man who did own it refused to sell it on the grounds that he wished to give it to Harald’s greatest enemy.
“Can it really be that you are a man so ignorant that you have not heard of the war which exists between us and Denmark? Surely in Iceland you have heard! Or do you honestly think that your luck is so great that you will manage to get to Denmark, unscathed, with such a valuable gift, even though others, on more urgent errands, don’t?” Harald exclaimed, scornfully.
Authun replied: “Lord, I know it is in your power to allow me safe travel or not, but surely nothing agrees between us but that which we had earlier intended.”
Harald considered him carefully. “Hmm. Well, if I allow you and your bear safe travel to Denmark, then you must return to me and tell me how King Sweyn rewards your gift and may it be that you are fortunate in your endeavour.”
“That I promise you that I will do,” Authun vowed.
At this, Harald called for someone to bring Authun a horn of mead and the midsummer festivities continued.

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