The Number of the Killer
A Gardar Varinsson Saga
by Bertil Falk
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
But Gardar did his investigations. He visited the spots where the corpses had been found. They were all different; one was on the waterside; another, at the bottom of a boat; a third, between the mead containers; one, near the bulwark; and another, by the broad outflow of the Idcreek.
Three men, two women, two mutilated men and two mutilated women! An old man who had his skull crushed but not been mutilated. Could he be a part of the killing spree? Yes, he could. For some reason, the perpetrator had been interrupted. And all five had their skulls crushed.
Gardar looked across the sea where the clouds hounded each other from the west. Ragnar and his crew would have good tailwind when they returned to Pavika, if that wind persisted.
It was at that moment that Gardar had an idea. All of a sudden he understood the significance of the four-day gaps. It was obvious. Nobody knew who the murderer was, but if he or she was punctual, it would be possible to catch the guilty one in the act. Like the ravens Hugin and Munin of Odin, Ragnar had to keep his giglamps open.
The Arab came walking dressed in a woman’s robe. Gardar, who had no idea of Arabian dressing, found that suspicious. He said to Einar the Autumnborn that a man wearing a female dress could be suspected of being abnormal.
Einar almost laughed himself silly. He explained to Gardar that almost all men from Särkland in the Orient dressed like that. It was not at all abnormal. On the contrary! “Ali is a merchant from Damascus. He has four wives.”
“Four wives! No wonder he fled to these parts!” Gardar exclaimed in amazement. For once he realized that there were gaps in his knowledge of the world.
“He has not fled,” Einar said. “He brought his four wives to Pavika, but nobody is permitted to see them. They are all kept inside the dwelling he has at the western wall. If they go outside, their faces are covered with a cloth with two holes for their eyes.”
“Oh,” Gardar said. “Are they so ugly that he doesn’t want us to see them?”
“On the contrary, they are supposed to be so desirable that Ali doesn’t want you to see them. More beautiful women are not easily found. Slender-limbed and sweet! In Särkland and Blåland and other countries, they are always dressed like that.”
“How do you know they are beautiful? You’ve never seen them, have you?”
“All Vikings who have been to Miklagård and Jorsala know this. There you can buy your own beauty at the slave markets.”
* * *
As Gardar suspected, the merchant knarr arrived much ahead of schedule, thanks to the tailwind. He told the wet nurse to remain inside and not to open for any stranger. Then he went to the mead house.
Not only were Ragnar Halvdansson and all his men there. Einar the Autumnborn was there, as was Ali, who in spite of his four wives, demonstrated a great deal of interest in the surviving daughters of the house. There were also Kettil from Kaupang, Sigvard Talkative and Orvar.
Rude jokes flew faster as mead was consumed. Ragnar, who had doffed his girdle and sword and put it on a chair, did not drink anything, but as he had done the last time Gardar saw him in the mead-house, he kept a check on his crew. Now and then he smiled his broad smile and twirled his light moustache. If Gardar’s suspicion was correct, one of the men was the perpetrator. Had Ragnar perceived that? Could that be the reason he was so restrained?
One after the other, the drunken men lurched away, and the daughters of the house showed they were unwilling to go with them. The fate of their murdered sister had dampened their enthusiasm for the time being.
At last, very few people remained, and Gardar also decided to leave. He walked out of the mead house into the dusk. Ahead of him were a few reeling men and the Arab. A vague breeze from the water of Eystrasalt cooled his cheeks. He began walking towards the shelter, where the wet nurse was with his daughter.
Then it happened. He fell face down with a burning pain in his head. Someone had hit him from the behind. He tried to get back on his feet, but another blow knocked him back to the ground.
Then he heard Ragnar Halvdansson screaming, “Catch the Arab! I saw him hitting Gardar!”
At that moment Gardar knew who the murderer was, and he fell unconscious.
* * *
Gardar woke up with a jerk, shook off the water and looked up at Ragnar Halvdansson, who stood in front of him with an empty wooden pail. Ragnar had emptied the water onto him. And Gardar, who was lying on the floor, took it easy, for he was now unhurried. He pretended to be more dopey than he really was and took in the whole room with his eyes.
He had been taken into the mead-house. The women of the house were looking at him curiously. By the side of Ragnar was Kettil from Kaupang and Sigvard Talkative. Einar the Autumnborn and Orvar kept Ali, who was trying to break away, in a strong grip.
Gardar saw that he was close to the sword that dangled from Einar’s girdle. He also saw that Ragnar had donned his sword. It had been hung on a chair during the evening. Leaning against the wall, Gardar slowly got to his feet, took a step towards Einar and looked around.
“Let the foreigner go!” he said.
“I saw him hitting you!” Ragnar said in a brutal way.
“You see things, Ragnar!”
“I don’t see things. I was not drunk. I was sober. I know what I saw.”
“Idiot!” Gardar exclaimed. “He cannot possibly have hit me from behind. He was ahead of me when it happened. I saw him at the very moment when I was hit. I saw him when I heard you screaming ‘Catch him!’ And for sure it means one thing; you’re the madman, Ragnar. You’re the one who takes revenge on men who are the lucky ones, who still have their pride intact. And in a similar way you treat women, whom you are no longer able to satisfy.”
Ragnar drew his sword out of its sheath, but Gardar was as quick. Before he had stopped speaking, he had snatched Einar’s sword, and they were standing — Ragnar and Gardar — opposite each other, measuring each other with their eyes.
“You sneaky brat,” Ragnar screamed. “I’ll castrate you!”
In a blind rage he ran into the wooden wall, where Gardar had been standing a fraction of a second before. Gardar swung his sword and hit Ragnar’s head from behind with the flat of the blade. Ragnar collapsed. Before he reached the earthen floor, they all could hear a sigh from his breast.
* * *
For the second time Gardar had solved a murder riddle on the island of the Guts. Everyone wanted to know how he did it.
“When did you suspect Ragnar for the first time?” Kettil asked.
“Einar told me that Ragnar had been mutilated in Zemgalle. He also said that if it not was for the fact that Ragnar always was at sea between Pavika and the harbor of Trelleborg, he would suspect that he was the perpetrator. This information misled me. I thought that someone who knew about Ragnar’s misfortune tried to commit the misdeeds while casting suspicion on Ragnar.
“Instead I pondered the numerological relations. There was the number 4: four days between every murder. I found no connection in runic numerology. And then I understood there was no such connection.
“However, four days between the crimes fit with the fact that Ragnar and his crew returned every fourth day. Two days’ cruise to the harbor of Trelleborg and two days’ return voyage to Pavika. And since they were here when the last deed happened, I could go four days back and find that Ragnar and his crew must have been here every time the murders took place. Either they came at night, and the crime was committed early in the morning, or it happened late at night before they left for Trelleborg.”
Gardar looked at the Vikings and the merchants who were listening to him attentively. “I knew it was time for a new murder. In the mead house I noticed everything. Of course I suspected Ragnar, but when I saw that he did not drink and kept a close watch on his men, I got the feeling that he suspected someone in his crew was the murderer. Now I know that he was keeping sober in order to be in his right mind when he committed his next misdeed.”
“A man committing crimes like these cannot be in his right mind,” murmured Sigvard Talkative.
“True.” Gardar smiled at the correction. “But I mean that he wanted to be sober. He had also decided on his next victim, namely Gardar the Riddle-solver. It would strengthen his severely hit self-confidence and his crushed manhood if he had been able to mutilate me. Over and over again he said to me that it was easier said than done to solve this riddle.”
Gardar paused and stroked his beard. “And then Ragnar committed the mistake you all know. When he hit me and realized that more people were coming out of the mead house, he screamed that the Arab had hit me.” Gardar shook his head. “That is the way it is sometimes.”
* * *
Some time later, the knarr left Pavika with a new captain. Ragnar was still unconscious and his case would be tried at the Gutic Thing. Aboard was Gardar, who held his little girl in his arms as the knarr bore them homewards on the waves of Eystrasalt. For the first time, Gardar had solved a riddle without being paid, but for some reason he did not care in the least.
Shortly after Gardar’s return to his village Alevi, Sigfar Sigtyrsson and his wife Gunnlaug Egilsdotter came from Ullergård and presented their daughter Sigryn Sigfarsddotter to Gardar. The mead celebration that took place is still remembered by the villagers. Thereby was Gardar’s fate sealed, for Sigryn took command. Gardar could not deny her anything.
Copyright © 2014 by Bertil Falk