In this second volume of his saga, Odd Tangle-Hair travels to Russia to take up his post as skald to Harald, the young renegade prince of Norway. Intrigue and danger await him when Odd finds himself ‘caught between two wolves’—the arrogant, bullying Harald and his sworn enemy, Ingigerd, Grand Princess of Novgorod, who schemes against Harald by seducing Odd. While political intrigue swirls around him, a Pecheneg horde explodes across the steppe, and Odd must use his wits to rescue the besieged people of Kiev.

Years later, when Odd returns home, a young scribe and prospective priest is tasked with recording Odd’s story and becomes captivated by the tales of adventure and passion. Here’s the Prologue:

Here begins the second book in the saga of Odd Tangle-Hair.

A year ago, Bishop Isleif, my father, brought me to the old heathen’s tumbledown farmhouse to record his reminiscences of young Prince Harald, who, as all the world knows, became king of Norway and has been dead now for over a decade. Odd, so he says, served the prince as his skald in Gardariki and in Golden Miklagard when they were both young men. But, of course, the fellow is boastful. How much of anything he says can be believed? What is certain is that he returned to Iceland after an absence of forty-some years—old, ragged and emaciated. Since then he has spoken to no one, though his neighbors whisper that he has a fortune buried under his floor and that he worships demons, as his father once did. 

The result of this visit was that I, who recoiled even from the heathen’s shadow, was forced to spend seventeen days and nights alone with him, scribbling madly to record the details of his bloody and godless life. At last, fearing for my sanity, I fled the house while Odd lay sick and delirious with fever. But by then he had worked his deviltry on me. I fell prey to dreams of battle and lust, and to deadly curiosity about forbidden things. I saw myself caught in the web of that man’s life, with all its carnage, lewdness, and idolatry—at once repulsive and alluring.

Now, once again, I am ordered by my kindly, unsuspecting father (who is about to depart for Rome) to return and, if the old hermit is still alive, to hear more of his saga.

I am sorry to say that he seems to have recovered his health. This morning he took my arm and drew me into his dusky hall. The man resembles his house: weather-beaten, un-cared for, squat, broad-shouldered, ruinous in places but still solidly founded.

Without preamble, he has sat me down firmly on the bench and has  begun a great bustle of unrolling my bundle of second-quality parchment on the table, mixing my ink, and trimming my quill for me—all done with a practiced hand. While he is thus occupied, I recall to mind the events which have brought us to this point in his saga.

In the year A. D. 1029, Odd was a youth of sixteen. His father, Black Thorvald, a gloomy, soul-sick man, had filled the boy’s head full of ancient poetry, rune-lore, and tales of Odin, Thor and the other demons of old. As the result of a brawl at a stallion fight, Odd’s family found themselves at feud. Their enemies attacked and only Odd escaped from their flaming house—the very one in whose ruins we sit now—and fled Iceland in a stolen ship to seek his fortune as a viking. His chief companions were young Kalf Slender-Leg (a good Christian boy who nevertheless was devoted to Odd) and Stig No-One’s Son, a rootless vagabond who taught Odd the art of seamanship and became something of a father to him.

But this Odd Thorvaldsson is, by his own admission, a man of dark moods and uncontroable rages, who cannot keep friends for long.

Arriving in Norway, they found themselves in the midst of civil war. Blessed King Olaf was fighting to regain his throne and convert the heathens, who were still thick in the land. Kalf chose the better side, Odd the worse, and there was a painful break between them.

The following Spring, Odd and Stig and their shipmates sailed out in a fine new ship, the Sea Viper, to go a-viking in the Varangian Sea. Along the way, they were joined by a bloody old  heathen, Einar Tree-Foot—a man who had lost a leg, an eye, and a hand in the wars of his viking youth. He promised to guide Odd and his crew to riches; instead, they were captured and enslaved by the barbarous Finns—a people who practice foul sorcery and unspeakable cruelties. At last, Odd was able to rescue his men and escape with a casket of stolen silver—oh, he is clever and brave—that must be admitted. Well, he’s an Icelander, isn’t he? But again, as so often before, his wild temper threw away what his shrewd head had won.

Their ship was dismasted by a storm and their hard-won silver washed overboard. On Einar’s advice they decided to make for Aldeigjuborg on the shore of Lake Ladoga where they could lay over for the winter. As they toiled at the oars, rowing slowly up the Neva, they were overtaken by a large and splendid dragon ship, which bore down on them as if to sink them if they didn’t steer out of its path. Standing in its prow was none other than Prince Harald, Saint Olaf’s brother—the very man whose story I was sent here to collect from Odd’s lips. A wise captain would have given way. Not Odd. Stubbornly, he held his course steady, despite Stig’s countermanding order. At the last moment, the men obeyed Stig and a collision was averted. In a fury Odd flung himself on his old mentor and Stig knocked him down. When his anger had cooled, Odd knew he had been in the wrong—for he isn’t a stupid man, far from it, and somewhere in his shaggy chest there lurks a good heart , if he would only listen to it more often. But now there was a wall of hate between these two old friends, which neither seemed able to cross. It was a pitiful and divided crew that finally docked in Aldeigjuborg’s harbor.

That day Odd encountered Harald and his men in the street and a fight was narrowly averted by the smooth-tongued courtier, Dag Ringsson. He invited Odd to dine with them that night in the hall of Jarl Rognvald, governor of the town. There, Odd learned that Harald was on his way to Novgorod to enlist in the retinue of Prince Yaroslav the Wise and his consort Princess Ingigerd. The princess, however, dreaded his arrival and would do anything in her power to prevent it. Odd and Harald discovered a mutual love of poetry, and Harald ended by enrolling Odd in his band as his personal skald.

The next day, however, Odd was approached by the slave dealer, Stavko Ulanovich, who handed him a purse of gold—a bribe from Jarl Rognvald, on behalf of his cousin Princess Ingigerd, to spy on Harald and, if possible, to assassinate him. Both sides, Odd tells us, thought that they owned his allegiance. In fact, neither did.

Odd parted from his crew, naming Stig as his successor. Taking only Einar Tree-Foot with him, he bade them farewell. But Odd was sickening with a fever. He collapsed and lay near death for several weeks, tended only by the faithful Einar. Harald meanwhile had left without him. When he recovered, he and Einar set out alone for Novgorod. And there we left him.

Odd has arranged my writing materials on the table, with candles all around to ease my eyes. He has tossed off two or three horns of ale. (I have brought a barrel of it with me.) He has begun to pace to and fro as the words pour out. I am his prisoner again, or, to speak more truly, his prisoner still, for the intervening six months have vanished. I know he will mock my Faith. I know he will stir and tempt me into seeing the world through his eyes. I know all this and yet I cannot resist him. Again he wraps me in the web of his life, making me go where he leads, while my quill scratches furiously on the page as though Satan himself were guiding my hand.

With these words Odd Tangle-Hair takes up his saga…