The Defeat Of Mercia
After a long march the Great Heathen Army stopped just outside of Hertford, which was inside of Mercian territory. King Guthrum sent scouts ahead to find the positions of their enemy. Before they left, King Arnulf, who had become close to Guthrum on the march to Hertford, also asked the scouts to find out exactly where the left and right flanks of the Mercians ended, and if there was room to move an army around them without being seen. Perplexed, Halfdan asked why this was something that the king of Viborg needed to know. Arnulf responded by telling the son of Ragnar Lodbrok that if they could outflank their enemy then there would be less casualties suffered by their forces, and it might prevent the Mercians from escaping, thereby forcing them to surrender.
Halfdan was unimpressed.
" Our shield wall will crash into their ranks and crush their army ! We do not need to tip toe around their flanks to destroy them ! " he told the newcomer in no uncertain terms.
King Arnulf, though much younger than the other leaders, shook his head in disagreement.
" I understand that you wish to attack Wessex next. To do so you will need as many warriors as you can place on a field of battle to defeat them. King Alfred will not be as easy to defeat as this leader of Mercia named Burgred. " he explained.
The argument went on for some time, but in the end King Guthrum agreed with Arnulf and ordered the scouts to find where each of the Mercian flanks rested. King Guthrum's decision was based on the fact that Halfdan had for some time talked of taking his half of the army north to fight the Picts and Britons of Strathclyde.
The morning of the battle dawned gray and misty, as most mornings seemed to begin here in this rainy cold Christian land, which many of the Heathens had begun to call Niflheim. Before lining up for battle King Guthrum thought long and hard on all the advice he had received from Arnulf, Halfdan, Ofaeti, and even his weakest ally King Eymundr, and he made a fateful decision. Based on what his scouts had told him in great detail about the almost undefended flanks of the enemy's line, the king explained his reasoning for his battle plan at the morning war council.
" I have decided to heed the advice of King Arnulf and split our army into three arms. Halfdan and Ofaeti will attack from the front,.... along with King Eymundr. King Arnulf you will work your army around the right of the enemy, and hit them from the rear, while I take the rest of the army around their left and also attack them from the behind. " he told them.
Then Guthrum turned to Ofaeti and explained :
" I need you to make as much noise as you can when you attack. I want,... no,... we need the Mercians eyes to be looking straight ahead at the main part of our army, and not to the left or right. King Arnulf and I will send you word when, and if, we get into position without being discovered. Only then will you attack ! " he ordered his second in command.
Then he looked over at Halfdan and smiled.
" Halfdan, old friend, make your army seem bigger than it is. Spread out the distance between your ranks to make it seem as though you have more warriors than you actually have. Use the Norwegians to fill in the gaps if you must, but we have to make the Mercians believe we are once again attacking them head on ! " he explained with a nod.
" King Arnulf ! You have convinced me that this is a good plan. Now let us take your theory and put into practical use. " he told the Viborg king before dismissing his commanders.
King Guthrum and King Arnulf easily made their away around the flanks of King Burgred's army. With the Great Heathen Army marching directly toward them across an open valley the king of Mercia had no reason to suspect anything other than the usual frontal assault. And when the Berserkers led the way screaming and drooling like crazy monsters towards their line nothing appeared out of the ordinary to King Burgred.
The Mercian leader sat proudly on his great white mount and waited for the Heathens to come halfway up the hill before sending his army down after them. Burgred smiled ! For just this once it appeared that his army was of equal size to the one put on the field of battle by these foreign invaders.
King Guthrum and Arnulf had agreed to wait until they heard the clash of swords before letting their presence be known.
" Once fully engaged, " Arnulf had told Guthrum, " the shock of our army in their rear will be much greater ! "
When the first clang and thud of swords and shields striking each other was heard a great roar bellowed up from behind the Mercian line. King Burgred had been very pleased that his initial assault had driven deep into the Viking's line, but the roar from his rear wiped the smile off of his face, and made him ride back to the top of the hill to see what all the commotion was about. As he looked down the backside of the hill his jaw hung open, and he nearly wet his pants at what he saw ! For not one, but two armies were attacking him from behind !
Burgred recovered quickly and began to draw away warriors from their frontal assault. As fast as he could the Mercian king turned them around, and formed them up to meet the new enemy coming up from their rear. It soon became apparent, however, that he could not defend against both forces racing towards him at once. In a blink of an eye The king of Mercia made a momentous decision. He would send all of his warriors against the force coming up on his left, and God willing, make a hole through which to escape. The Mercian Leader threw every man he could gather against King Guthrum's force hoping to overwhelm them.
King Arnulf watched in horror as the Mercians concentrated all their resources against one section in the Heathen Army's line. At that point, in the middle of the mayhem and slaughter, stood King Guthrum fighting for his life ! Without hesitation Arnulf spurred his horse around and ordered half of his army to rush to Guthrum's aide, while telling Lofarr to attack the rear of the Mercian army that was engaged with Halfdan's forces.
The battle that took place was both fierce and desperate. While Arnulf was fighting his way through the Mercians to help King Guthrum, the king of the Danelaw was knocked off of his horse. Then, after regaining his footing, he lost his shield while battling multiple fighters at once. Arnulf had almost reached Guthrum, when to his horror, he saw a Mercian knock the sword out of the king's hand. As another Mercian raised his sword to strike the king down, Arnulf threw Guthum his shield, and jumped in the air with his blade ready to kill. Guthrum caught the shield just in time to deflect the blow. A moment later Arnulf took off the man's head with a quick stroke of his sword.
For most of the rest of the battle Guthrum and Arnulf fought with their backs to each other killing enemy warriors one by one until there was no one left to strike down. As the battle wound down the two kings looked up at the top of the hill where they saw Halfdan, Ofaeti, and King Eymund staring back down at them. Arnulf was the first to thrust his sword into the air triumphantly. A moment later thousands of other warriors from the victorious Great Heathen Army did the same !
King Burgred rode south towards the Kingdom of Wessex as fast as his horse would gallop. Burgred, followed by what remained of his army, knew when they heard the roar from the Vikings behind them that not only was the battle lost, but so too was their kingdom. At this moment, however, the survivors, dirty and bloodied by the fierce battle, were just glad to be alive !
- End Chapter 10
- Next : Chapter 11 : Murder / Overwhelming Evidence
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2017.