The Bastard Son
Weeks went by, and quickly turned into months. The seasons changed from summer, to fall, and then to one of the most bitter winters that anyone could remember. Both sides sent out bands of warriors to probe the other's defenses, but neither side count find a weakness, or mount a full scale attack, without severely damaging their own armies against the strong fortifications of their opponent.
When the frigid temperatures, and disease, began to kill more warriors than had died in their battles Oski knew that he had to come up with another plan. The only thing holding the Ranrike ships from landing in his rear was the remaining forces that King Thorvald commanded along the Viken coast. The king had lost the confidence of his own men, and he was all but ignored by the Rus commanders, who by now were tired of his nonsense.
Despite his growing hatred for the Viken king Oski could not afford to act without him. If not for the numerous supplies of food, clothing, and armaments coming out of Viken, his army would either starve, or freeze to death right in their camp. As it was the Rus warriors were beginning to regret coming to the western lands. Oski had promised them victory, and with that victory he had taken an oath to give them grants of land for their faithful service. If the Rus commander could not find a way to break the stalemate soon, one way or another his army would disintegrate, and he would be forced to abandon his hopes of ever killing his father, or of ruling over Ranrike.
Oski did know of one way to end the stalemate and gain at least one of his objectives, but before he discussed it with his military commanders, he wanted to consult with his mother first. On a bitterly cold winter morning in February Oski rode to King Thorvald's great hall, where his mother was staying as the king's guest. When he arrived he was still treated as a visiting dignitary, but he now sensed a growing anger towards him from the Viken people, who resented the war he had brought to their lands, and the great loss of life that he had cost them.
After greeting his mother, and sitting down to a hearty meal, Oski poured her a drink of ale, and told her of his plan.
" Mother, I am afraid that I no longer believe it to be possible to win a war against Ranrike. The Viken king is weak, and useless as a military leader, while my forces are slowly dwindling due to the frigid weather, disease, and desertions. I see no alternative but to challenge my father to a holmgang. If I win I will have avenged what Alfrekr has done to us, and my warriors will be given the choice of settling in Viken, or returning back to the Land of the Rus.......
Eydis, who had been listening with tears in her eyes, cut off her son in mid - sentence.
" And if Alfrekr kills you ? ! " she shouted at her son in disbelief.
Oski kissed his mother on the forehead before answering.
" Part of the deal I will make with King Alfrekr will be to allow you, and however many of our warriors want to leave, to be given safe passage back to the Land of the Rus. " he told her.
Eydis grabbed hold of her son's arm and squeezed it tight.
" No ! No !! " I won't let you do this ! " she shouted as she burst into tears.
Oski held his mother, who was trembling, and kissed her on the cheek. It was then that he realized that he had not come to ask his mother's permission so much as to tell her what was about to happen.
" I am sorry mother, but this is the only way ! " he told her.
Oski remained with his mother for a short time afterwards. Mainly they spoke about the past, a fact that was not lost on Eydis, who had a premonition that she would never see her son alive again. As he left she kissed him on the lips, as she had done when he was a baby, and then watched him as he slowly rode away on his horse. Eydis then returned to the hall, and cried herself to sleep.
Albrikt and Kiartan both reluctantly agreed to Oski's plan. They did not like the idea, but both had to admit the decision to come to Ranrike had been a disaster, and the Rus army, with their weak ally King Thorvald, were no match for the Ranrike forces. Kiartan even went so far as to comment that he was shocked that the Viken army lead by Halogi, in spite of being constantly asked for reinforcements by King Thorvald, had still been able to fight their foe to a stalemate, and keep the Vestfold army in place at their border. Albrikt agreed and added that he believed that when spring came King Sigvaldi would attack Halogi's weakened forces on his border, and push his way into Viken. If this happened the Rus army would be trapped, and eventually destroyed.
It was with heavy hearts that Albrikt and Kiartan accompanied their leader out between the lines of the two opposing armies. The fierce frigid winds blew the flag of truce around furiously, and made it hard for Albrikt to hold it in place. Despite the weather conditions it did not take long for the Ranrike commanders to respond.
Alfrekr dismissed his son's advice that this was a Rus trap, and with Gormr on one side, and his faithful commander Vigmundr on the other, he slowly walked out to see what his bastard son had to say. As they came within close proximity of one another all six men stopped. Alfrekr and Oski stood for a moment staring at one another. Neither had really had a chance to get a good look at the other in the heat of battle, and now they wanted this moment to burn the images of one another in their minds. They really did not know each other at all, and yet as they stood there only feet apart from one another the father and son had nothing but bitterness on their tongues, and hatred in their hearts for each other.
It was Alfrekr who finally broke the silence.
" What is it that you want Oski ? " Alfrekr asked careful not to address him as son.
Oski quickly glanced over at Gormr before answering.
" The Viken, Rus, and Ranrike armies have lost many brave warriors, and many more have been injured. This was not due to any animosity between our peoples, but came about because of a great hatred between a father and his son. I propose that we leave those who do not belong in this conflict out of our fight. I call for a Holmgang to be fought between father and son to honorably end this senseless killing ! " he explained to his father.
Gormr stepped forward and yelled back angrily :
" Then it is you and I who will fight to end this war ! Not my father !! "
Alfrekr raised up his hand in front of his son's face.
" No ! Oski is right. This is a problem that I started many years ago, and it is one that I must now take final responsibility for ! The Holmgang will be fought between myself and Oski ! " he told Gormr firmly.
Vigmundr turned and stepped in front of Alfrekr.
" But my lord this man is half your age ! " he blurted out.
Alfrekr pushed his commander aside and walked over to Oski. He looked his bastard son in the eyes without emotion.
" And if you defeat me do you expect to rule Ranrike in my stead ? " he asked.
Oski shook his head from side to side.
" No ! Your " other " son would still control a mighty army, and my Rus warriors are tired of this war. This is between you and me. The only thing I ask, win or lose, is that you allow my army to return to their homeland. " he replied without looking away from his father's stare.
" No ! " Gormr shouted at his step brother.
" Agreed ! " Alfrekr told Oski firmly.
The king then walked back to Gormr and Vigmundr.
" Raise your hands to me that you will allow the Rus to return home no matter what the outcome of the holmgang ! " he said sternly to his underlings.
" No father ! " Gormr screamed in a hoarse whisper, while Vigmundr remained silent.
Alfrekr grabbed his son by his shoulders and shouted at him angrily.
" Will you defy your father ! Will You defy your king !! "
Gormr looked at Vigmundr, and then beyond his father at Oski before answering.
" No ! I will not defy my father ! I promise to allow the Rus to leave now matter who survives the holmgang. " he replied reluctantly.
Alfrekr looked over at his commander, who nodded before answering.
" Your will is my duty, my lord ! I will abide by your decision ! " he told his king in no uncertain terms.
Alfrekr nodded and turned back to Oski.
" Tomorrow at dawn the holmgang will be held here on this very spot. Agreed ? " Alfrekr asked.
" Agreed ! " Oski replied.
All six men then turned and walked back to their respective armies without saying another word.
- End Chapter 14
- Next : Chapter 15 : A God's Choice
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2016.