A Game Of War
" I Have No Horses For My Cavalry ! "
" I, the Chieftain of Pengilstaðir, raise my horn to the Gods to honor a great man, who is a wise ruler, fearless in battle, and the king of our wonderful lands. Here, in the presence of his most able warriors, I Oski toast King Haddr, and ask the Gods of Asgard and Vanaheim to bless him with a total victory against the army of our hated enemy Heinafylki. " he bellowed across the hall.
Before drinking from his horn Oski pointed to King Haddr, and yelled out the customary " skål ". Each of the warriors cheered, and then a chorus of " skål " rose up throughout the great hall.
King Haddr, feeling the full weight of returning such a gracious honor, stood up and placed his hands over his head to quiet down those who had come to honor him. When the room became silent Haddr motioned for a serving maiden to refill his horn. With that accomplished, the king cleared his throat and placed his horn of mead over his head. As he moved the horn from left to right, to include and honor everyone in the hall, he spoke.
" I thank my good friend Oski for such a wonderful honor, and ask the Gods to bless all of you, my loyal and brave warriors as well. With great fighting men such as yourselves there is nothing in Midgard that can stop us from conquering all of the Northlands ! " he shouted.
" Skål " he quickly added before he drained his horn.
The resounding chorus of " skål " that greeted Haddr's toast drowned out the creaking of the rusty hinges on the large door of the hall as it opened. As Egviðr, the little horse handler, entered he slowly made his way up the aisle that ran between the two rows of long tables that extended almost the entire length of the hall.
" King Haddr ! King Haddr !! " Egviðr yelled as he tried to find the king among all the huge bodies of warriors that towered high above him.
With great effort the little man finally spotted the king at the head of the right feasting table. Cautiously Egviðr scrambled by, or around, all the huge warriors, many of whom were blocking his way, and not eager to let a mere horse handler through a warriors' hall. As he looked up at their faces, no one in the hall seemed happy with his untimely intrusion, but he pressed on because he simply had to tell the king what had happened.
Egviðr had almost reached the king when he felt himself being lifted off of the ground. With his legs still moving, despite being in the air, the little horse handler turned his head around to see who had stopped him. What he saw terrified him ! The berserker who had him tightly in his grip was none other than Haffi, considered to be one of their toughest warriors. And the red haired, green-eyed, berserker was staring back at him with an angry glare.
" Where do you think you are going little runt ! " the warrior screamed in the horse handler's face.
As Egviðr was sprayed with spittle he should have been paralyzed with fear, but he simply had to speak to the king,... no matter what happened to him.
" King Haddr ! There is something wrong with the horses ! " the scared little man shouted back in the berserker's face.
" What ?! "
King Haddr's words echoed through the hall like thunder through the heavens.
" Put him down Haffi ! " the king ordered.
Slowly the berserker lowered Egviðr until his feet once again touched the floor. With one hand Haffi shoved the little man towards the king. Egviðr quickly went airborne and flew several yards before hitting the floor with a thud. He slid another yard before he finally stopped at King Haddr's feet. The little horse handler looked up at the king through blurry eyes, but the force of the blow had knocked the wind out of his lungs and he could not speak. After wheezing several times he finally managed a few words in a hoarse voice.
" The horses are sick ! " he told the king.
A great gasp rose up throughout the hall as the horse handler's whispered words were passed around the hall from warrior to warrior.
" Silence ! " King Haddr bellowed angrily at his warriors.
The king lifted Egviðr off of the floor and set him carefully on the bench, where he had sat only moments before. Haddr motioned for one of the serving maidens to give a horn to the injured man, and then waited patiently for him to take several sips before asking :
" You said my horses are sick ?! What is wrong with them ?! " he inquired with a hint of anger in his voice.
Egviðr bowed respectfully before replying.
" Forgive the intrusion, my lord. " he began. " Many of the animals have developed a strange cough, and there is a mucous running from their nostrils. Also they do not appear to be willing to eat,...., and a few have taken to the ground because their legs have grown too weak to hold them upright ! " he explained.
King Haddr's expression became a mixture of shock, anger, and great disappointment, as he stared into the fearful eyes of the horse handler.
" How could this have happened !? " the king bellowed.
Egviðr, fearing for his life, began to tremble.
" I do not know, my lord. I swear that we take very good care of your horses, and we feed them only the best hay and grains. " he replied meekly.
King Haddr shook his head from side to side as if he could not believe what it was that he was hearing. When his eyes turned and saw the bewilderment on Oski's face the king pointed to the chieftain of Pengilstaðir.
" Let us go and see for ourselves ! " he told the chieftain in an angry tone.
Odin, in the guise of Oski, followed the king of Hadaland out to the large fenced in stables where the horses were housed and cared for. When they reached the rail fence the king stepped up on the lower rail and looked out at his stock of what had been hearty and healthy horses only days before. What he saw before him now was a herd that was lethargic and sickly. What worried the king most was that some of the sickest horses lay upon the ground as if they were near death !
" How can I wage war against Heinafylki when I have no horses for my cavalry ? ! " he asked the chieftain.
Oski joined the king on the bottom rail before replying.
" Perhaps in a few weeks this plague will pass and we can still take on the weaker Heinafylki army and defeat them. " he proposed to the king.
King Haddr shook his head.
" No ! I will not risk it, for this appears to be the will of the Gods ! " he told the chieftain sternly.
Oski let his head drop to his chin. Under his breath he whispered to himself :
" This is the will of only one God, the Goddess Frigga is responsible for this catastrophe ! "
- End Chapter 11
- Next : Chapter 12 : " I Still Have Many Pieces Left To Play ! "
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2018.