The Bastard Son
The War Begins !
King Thorvald rode his white horse confidently alongside the black steed that Oski was proudly seated upon. Thorvald gifted the magnificent horse to Oski before they broke camp and left for the Ranrike border. The king told the young Rus warrior that the horse was a present from all of his people to the new king of Ranrike.
As he rode gallantly along Thorvald reflected on all that had transpired over the past few weeks. At first Thorvald considered their alliance to be for Oski's benefit alone, but he quickly realized that just as wolves run in packs to hunt their prey more effectively, the joining of the Viken and Rus armies was mutually beneficial to both of them.
During the two weeks before they left Thorvald had invited the Rus warriors, who he considered to be inferior to his Viken fighters, to hone their skills in mock combat against his men. The king very quickly changed his mind about what he called : " That dirty bunch of rabble - rousers " . Not only did Oski's Rus warriors hold their own against his finest warriors, in many cases their skills were superior to those of his men. He now realized that while his men had been sitting idly between Vestfold and Ranrike, Oski and his Rus army had been in battle after battle against King Ingvar. There, in the Rus Lands, they had honed their skills to a sharp edge, and now these " rabble - rousers " were ready for war !
King Alfrekr stood upon the highest point along his line in Ranrike and looked out over the Viken territory that lay beyond . Guarding his left flank was his son Gormr, and to his right he had positioned his old friend, and dependable commander, Vigmundr . Each flank was further protected by a small division of fast horsemen. This " cavalry ", could also ride out and encircle the enemy should they be foolish enough to commit all of their forces.
As Alfrekr looked back and forth across the distant horizon he suddenly spotted what he had been expecting for days. In the distance he saw two figures on horseback entering the shallow valley below. Behind them marched a long column of warriors that stretched on and on until it faded into the forest beyond. Ranrike's enemies had finally arrived at his border. The bastard son had returned home !
King Thorvald and Oski stopped at the edge of the great valley that stretched out before them. As they looked off into the distance at the great army that lay spread out across the hill in front of them, the Viken warriors themselves spread out and took their positions on the right of the line, commanded solely by King Thorvald, while the Rus warriors proceeded to the left to take up their positions, and form a shield wall. King Thorvald wished Oski well, and then rode over to the front of his army. Oski simply nodded and rode over to the center of his line. On his left Kiartan commanded the shield wall, while Albrikt, who had always stood like a rock in battle, was on his right.
As King Thorvald watched the two armies readying themselves for battle he wondered how Halogi, the commander of the army he had left in the west, was faring against King Sigvaldi. He had great confidence in Halogi, who he had chosen for this duty because of his skills in defensive warfare. Thorvald had given Halogi a simple command : " Keep the Vestfold army pinned down at our border in the west. Do not attack ! And under no circumstances put your army in peril ! For you are guarding my kingdom, and the rear of my army. " he had told him. But for now, however, he had to worry about the enemy in his front.
King Alfrekr had held a council of war the night before, and he and his commanders had jointly decided to remain on the heights, and make the Viken / Rus army come to them. Their position was a strong one ! On their far left was an almost impenetrable forest, while the army's right flank rested upon a wet and very muddy marsh. Because of these natural boundaries a full frontal attack was the only course of action their enemy could take against them. And to break their defensive line they would have to penetrate a shield wall that ran across the entire length of the hill, and was in places two hundred yards deep.
The morning had almost reached its midpoint when the Rus and Viken armies began to move forward. To Gormr they looked like the swarm of bees that had attacked him as a child after he had disturbed their nest. Vigmundr thought they reminded him of a great herd of reindeer. In Alfrekr's mind all he could see was the aftermath of the battle. As they slowly moved toward him the Ranrike king had visions of the valley below covered in the dead and dying as far as the eye could see.
When the enemy came within reach of the arrow the shield wall parted, like a gate swinging open, and Trausti and his archers took up their positions on the crest of the small hill. There they placed their arrows on their bow strings and waited for the order to fire. Alfrekr trusted Trausti totally. Ever since he had taken an oath to join his army all those years ago Trausti had been a skilled commander, and a faithful part of his army, and today the king of Ranrike expected no less of him.
Trausti waited until they came close enough for him to see the features on the enemy's faces. Then he gave the command :
" Archers ..... ready ..... aim ..... release !! " he shouted down the line.
The archers pulled back their arrows stretching their bows back, aimed high into the air, and released their deadly darts onto the coming horde.
" Form up ! Shields overhead !! " Oski commanded before King Thorvald even realized the enemy's archers were preparing to shoot their arrows.
The first volley was so intense that it blotted out the sun for a moment, and cast a shadow upon the ground. Then, suddenly, there was the unmistakable " thudding" of hundreds of arrows striking wooden shields. Mixed in with this dull banging were the occasional cries of a Viken, or Rus warrior, who had been hit by an arrow that made it through the shields.
In between the Ranrike volleys the Viken and Rus archers were able to get off a few rounds of their own, but it was easier for the Ranrike archers to rain down arrows on their opponents from a height, than for the Viken - Rus archers to aim up at their enemy on the hill.
The Viken and Rus warriors quickly realized that the only way to stop this onslaught of death from the sky was to hurry forward and engage the enemy. Without being told to pick up the pace of their advance by their commanders the warriors in the valley began to run towards the enemy lines as fast as they could. As they moved forward an angry roar rose up from each and every one of them !
When the Viken - Rus army reached the midpoint of the hill the Ranrike shield wall once again parted, and the archers melted back into the the ranks, and drew their swords or axes. Once they were back in line Gormr, Alfrekr, and Vigmundr gave the order to tighten up their ranks, and brace themselves for the full weight of the attack, which was only moments away. With berserkers leading the way, wildly swinging axes in both hands, the enemies of Ranrike crashed into the perfectly aligned shield wall at the top of the small hill, and it was there that the real battle began !
The conflict quickly settled into a fierce contest of individual combats with the winners going on to their next opponent, while the losers bled out on the ground beneath the raging battle above them. Soon the warriors from both sides were tripping over dead bodies, or slipping on the blood and the internal organs that now began to cover the earth beneath them.
The Viken army ground to a halt almost immediately ! King Thorvald, on his own, could not keep control of his entire front, and flanks, in the mass confusion of a heated battle. Opportunities were lost as warriors acted on their own or in small groups, and by late afternoon his army had been pushed back to the base of the hill by Gormr, with the help of the cavalry on his left.
The right of Ranrike's line, however, was having a rough time keeping its position. Vigmundr was pushed back by the Rus army nearly a hundred yards, and Alfrekr's right, which was also in contact with the Rus army bent back like a bow as well under the relentless onslaught of Oski's skilled warriors.
Unlike the Viken army to his right , Oski, Kiartan, and Albrikt, worked in perfect unison quickly moving men to where they were needed most, and slowly pushing the Ranrike army down the backside of the hill. Unfortunately Oski and his Rus commanders could see a dangerous situation developing. As they moved slowly forward without the Viken army, a salient developed which allowed the Ranrike army, Alfrekr's right, to attack from both the side as well as the front. It soon became painfully apparent to the Rus commanders that the Viken army was no longer able to protect their right flank, and soon the Ranrike army would be in its rear.
Reluctantly Oski had his courier signal the Rus warriors to slowly withdraw with a few high pitched toots from his horn. Albrikt and Kiartan responded immediately, and began a fighting withdrawal back to where the Viken army had been forced to retreat. By dusk Albrikt's right flank once again rested safely up against Thorvald's left negating the salient. With darkness falling , and with no advantage to be gained, both armies seemed to agree at about the same time to disengage and pull back. Gormr and Alfrekr slowly made their way back to the crest of the hill, so as not to be caught in a salient of their own making. Vigmundr, who's division had seen the worst of the fighting, was relieved by the end of the days hostilities. He, along with Gormr and Alfrekr, learned a valuable lesson during the first day's battle. They discovered that the Rus, though smaller in numbers than the Viken army, were much better trained, and skilled in the art of war. The Ranrike commanders would remember this and make changes accordingly.
That night as both camps lit their fires and ate they could not help but hear the pitiful cries of their dying comrades as they called out from the battlefield for water, or in their delirium for a loved one. If the injured were close enough to their camps they were brought in and tended to, but it was too dangerous to rescue the wounded who had fallen in the middle of the battlefield, for both sides had warriors patrolling the perimeters of their lines.
When Oski and his commanders met with King Thorvald that night it became clear to the Viken king that the poor showing of his army had lost him the trust and respect of the Rus commanders. When he suggested that they attack again at first light Albrikt gave the king an angry look and replied :
" Only a fool makes the same mistake twice ! "
From that moment on, as the Rus commanders talked over strategy, King Thorvald became the odd man out. And when Oski suggested that they disengage, and travel west to the coast to try and outflank the Ranrike army, Thorvald had no say in the matter.
- End Chapter 11
- Next ; Chapter 12 : Odin's Dilemma
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2016.