As usual, it was a busy day in Visby. The harbour was bustling with activity. Ships were arriving and unloading or uploading cargo as men went to and fro. As the capital of the Republic of Visby, one of many vassals to the Svea Rike ruled by King Gunnar IV, trade was their bread and butter and helped finance all ventures within the kingdom. The flag of the republic flew proudly over the offices dotted along the harbour, with inns, taverns, and brothels slotted in amongst them. Rolf, a patrician of House Stråben, one of the five houses of the republic, was strolling along the harbour at a leisurely pace with Bishop Einar of Viseu, who happened to be his cousin. As they walked they admired the sights, sounds, and smells around them.
“A grand sight, isn’t it, Einar?” Rolf spoke proudly, his cane in one hand, a hat of fine Latvian wool balanced loosely on his head. His scruffy, bushy beard went past his neck, hiding his necklaces beneath the thick fur. Bishop Einar walked next to Rolf with his hands folded neatly behind his back. He nodded.
“Truly. The pride of the kingdom. Dare I say that without it, Svea Rike would be nothing?” Einar raised an eyebrow and smiled at Rolf.
Rolf smiled back. “You may dare. The Danes and Norwegians make sure that Gunnar is kept in check.” He sighed and stopped, then turned and looked out to the water. The weather was mild and windy, as was natural for the island. Small clouds were dotted along the sky, and the breeze smelled of fish and sweat.
“We aren’t at war. The coffers must be spilling over,” Einar noted.
Rolf nodded. “We are in good health and fortune as of now. Grand Mayor Eskild is doing well.”
“It runs in the family,” Einar smirked.
“Aye, it does,” Rolf agreed. “We have a way with money, as we should. But our wealth is not due to Eskild.”
Einar stamped his foot once in acknowledgement. “Naturally, it has been you. Ever since Eskild fell into that horrible mood…” Rolf raised a hand in protest.
“Sorry Rolf, but you know it to be true. He only mopes and sulks around. All day. What kind of a life is that?”
“Look, do you see that?” Rolf shushed Einar again. Einar turned back towards the water and looked out. “I don’t see anything.”
“Over there.” Rolf leaned against Einar and pointed at something on the horizon.
“I can’t see it,” Einar insisted.
Rolf sighed. “Your age is getting the best of you. It’s a ship.”
“Rolf, we’re at the harbour, of course I saw the ship,” Einar scoffed. “I thought you meant something else.” He began to walk in the direction of one of the piers.
Rolf followed close behind. “Yes, yes Einar, but this one…this one has our old painting scheme on the bow.”
“You can see that from here?” Einar asked, impressed. As they continued to walk on, the ship drew closer and closer. Rolf and Einar stopped at one of the two empty piers and gazed at the ship.
Rolf nodded. “Yes, that is an older ship. By God, it must have been out for years.”
Einar poked Rolf with his staff. “The Lord’s name shall not be taken in vain…but you are right. We don’t have colour schemes anymore, ever since the Mongols took Lithuania. The Baltic Sea is chaotic; luckily those horse fuckers don’t bother to take to ships.”
Rolf looked earnestly at Einar. “For now.” He walked to the end of the pier to get a better look at the ship as it approached.
“How they managed to get this far away from the East is a mystery to me. How could there be so little resistance?” Rolf wondered. Einar had no answer.
Flying above the ship, the Republic of Visby’s flag bore many holes and was in tatters. The ship’s sails seemed to have been patched many times over. Considering there was only one sail left, one could call their arrival a miracle. Arrows were stuck in all sides of the ship, and all along its sides were men with weary, tired, and toothless faces. Rolf hailed them, and a few sailors hailed back. Others around the harbour now stopped and also stared at the odd ship approaching. They waved, some cheered, and threw questions at the crew from the pier.
Dockworkers and sailors started to gather around, filling up the pier. Rolf urged them to get back. “Get back, fools! They need some space to unload!” They were blocking his path to the ship and he wanted to see the men first. Children soon filled up empty spaces in the crowd. They screamed and shouted; a few even threw rocks. Rolf shouted out to the ship and the people around him followed suit, hooting and cheering excitedly. The men on the ship waved back, close enough now to for one to see the heavy lines on their tired faces.
Rolf felt a bit dizzy after shouting and clutched at his chest as it throbbed in time with his horrible headache. He was weak. Einar was always telling him to take it easy, but he would never heed his cousin’s words. Born frail, Rolf struggled growing up, but once he came of age and married Helvis of the Stenkyrka family, thus creating an alliance between the two houses, he became respected beyond his physical frailty. Nevertheless, he was more often than not ridiculed for his physical weakness. Despite this, many respected him for his thrift and cunning.
Rolf begged Einar to get some guards to the clear the pier that the ship was aimed for, and after a few minutes, only dockworkers and sailors were left.
The ship drifted slowly towards the pier as a few boats came closer and helped it navigate closer to the harbour. As it approached, one could see the side of the ship better. This time Einar’s vision did not fail him. The arrows in the side of the ship grew clearer, and he could now see that the sail had arrows in it as well. His eyes had not deceived him.
Then the captain emerged from the ship. All those whom Rolf and Einar had managed to send away for a moment now came pouring back onto the pier to welcome the ship. Soldiers were shouting, and a few people fell off the pier in the confusion.
“Hey hey!” the captain shouted and clapped Rolf on the shoulder, although they did not know each other. Rolf’s knees buckled under the man’s heavy hands.
“Fare thee well, Captain…?” he wavered.
“Dan! Dan is my name. Son of Dan! Clever aren’t we? The nearest inn, good patrician! I have many stories to tell, and many wares to sell!” The captain beamed and revealed a handful of teeth. Rolf smiled back and wiped his shoulder with a handkerchief.
“Certainly, Captain. Down the pier, and you will find plenty of inns. Pray tell, where do you come from?”
Captain Dan looked past Rolf to the harbour as his sailors unloaded their wares and dockworkers prepared the ship. His eyes glazed over for a moment before he looked back at Rolf.
“Canarias. We were harassed by Muslims along the way, but refueled and reshipped well in Portucale before setting sail once again. A harsh mistress, the sea, harsh and unforgiving, but oh so peaceful sometimes. Time is a harsh mistress as well. All a bunch of cunts, tell you that much…two years I haven’t seen this shithole. The riches in our hold will however more than make up for the men we lost! I am ever at House Stråben’s service.” Captain Dan bowed mockingly, and there were murmurs around them.
“It’s been five years, Dan!” someone said in the crowd.
“Damn, really?” Dan replied, and Einar shook his head.
“Did you come back with Frederik?” someone asked.
“A memory piece, some rarities?”
“Spare a coin, Captain? Spare a coin for a poor man?”
“Bring any slaves, eh?”
Captain Dan ignored the curious people around him and let the harbour master and his sailors take care of things as he headed off towards the buildings along the pier, a curious mob following close behind. Rolf nodded at two guards to follow Dan and his officers. He smiled as the dockworkers passed by with crates filled to the brim with golden ware and coins.