The Bastard Son
A God's Choice
The morning came much too quickly for Alfrekr. The rising sun had always represented a wonderful new beginning to the King of Ranrike, but today it was the harbinger of his doom. Alfrekr sent a messenger back to his great hall in southern Ranrike to inform his wife Bekkhildr that he was about to fight his bastard son Oski in a holmgang. He told the messenger to tell his wife that he did not believe that he would survive, and that he wished to have have his earthly remains burned in a ship's pyre at sea, rather than a burial in the earth. He ended the message :
" I am so sorry that I have ignored you so over these past few months, and although I have had to place the welfare of my people over you, I want you to know that I love you and I always will ! "
Oski awoke after a restful sleep to the usual sounds of a camp beginning to stir. The clanging of pots, and the crackling of firewood was interspersed with the hoarse ' camp cough ' that almost all warriors suffered with when sleeping out in the cold. As Oski felt the sun's first weak rays touch his face he could also feel his confidence building within him.
Once he killed his father he would give his Rus warriors a choice of staying and settling in Viken, or returning to the Land of the Rus. The warriors who remained would become the backbone of a new army he would build. This time, however, he would not attack Ranrike, at least not yet, but instead would kill the much weakened King Thorvald, and rule over Viken as their king. After the devastating and humiliating defeats on land , and sea, that King Thorvald had suffered, many of his warriors were looking for a change, and Oski felt he was the right leader who could re-train them and lead them to greatness.
Alfrekr was not hungry, and despite his son's objections refused to eat any breakfast. His mind was confused and his stomach was upset by a myriad of emotions. If he lost, and Alfrekr felt that the Norns were not on his side, would the Rus really leave ? Or would they continue to plague his son Gormr and the Ranrike people for years to come ? And winning of course meant that he would have to kill a son who he gave life to and then abandoned. As Alfrekr slowly put on his armor he lamented over the fact that if a king makes a mistake, even a small one, it affects many people .... and he had made a huge mistake all those years ago.
Alfrekr strapped on his sword. He turned away from his deep thoughts when Gormr came back into the small hut that had been hastily made to accommodate the King of Ranrike here on the battlefield.
" Father ! Must you do this ?! " he asked as he placed his hand on his father's shoulder.
Alfrekr slapped his hand onto his son's opposite shoulder, and gave him a weak smile.
" This has been a long time in coming ! Thousands of our folk, and theirs, have died because of a mistake I made many years ago. That error in judgement must now be paid for in full. " he told his son as he squeezed his shoulder.
Then Alfrekr added.
" Learn from my mistakes, my son, and you will be a wiser man, and a better king than I ever was. "
Gormr looked into his father's eyes and asked again.
" Why must you do this ?! The Viken and Rus armies are not strong enough to defeat us ! "
Alfrekr removed his hand from his son's shoulder, and looked angrily into Gormr's eyes.
" No ! This must be rectified .... it will be finished today, one way or another ! " he shouted at his son.
Alfrekr shook his head and tried to smile.
" It will be alright Gormr. Everything will be fine ! " he added in a softer tone.
" But father ....."
Alfrekr placed his hands on both sides of his son's face, and stared deep into his eyes.
I ask only three things of you, my son, when I am gone. First take care of your mother. She will need you more than ever. Second. Protect my kingdom and be good to our folk. And finally, no matter what happens, I want you to promise me that you will not harm Oski's mother Eydis. She has merely been a victim in all of this, and did not deserve all of the pain that I have inflicted upon her. " he told his son as if he were giving his last will and testament.
Gormr gave his father a harsh look before replying.
" Mother will not allow Eydis to live if you are killed ! " he told his father.
Alfrekr looked away.
" No she will not be happy if Eydis is not put to death, but it is you who will be the king of Ranrike not your mother. So tell me now that you will obey me ! " he exclaimed.
Gormr lowered his head.
" I promise that I will do as you command father ! " he replied.
Alfrekr took a deep breath, and slowly released it.
" Then it is time for us to go my son. " he told Gormr as he walked to the door of the hut.
Vigmundr bowed respectfully to King Alfrekr as he emerged through the door. He was soon followed by a sullen Gormr. Together all three walked into the no man's land in between the opposing lines. Vigmundr felt it to be more of a sad funeral procession than a proud group of warriors heading to a heroic holmgang.
Oski watched as his father approached. He looked old and feeble to the young fit Rus warrior.
" A man not fit to be a king ! " he whispered to himself.
When Alfrekr walked over to the holmgang circle the two warriors, father and son, stared across it at each other for a long moment. Alfrekr nodded, a weak greeting at best, before speaking.
" It is a shame that it must come down to this my son. " he told Oski.
Oski's face turned red.
" Son ! You have not earned the right to call me son. " he screamed at Alfrekr.
Alfrekr merely nodded a second time.
" If there is nothing left to be said, then I believe it is time to begin the holmgang. " he replied without emotion.
Oski drew his sword and quickly walked into the circle of rocks that marked the dueling arena there in the middle of the battlefield. Alfrekr drew his sword as well, although not with the same enthusiasm as his son, and entered the circle as well. Both grabbed hold of their shields tightly, and held them out in front of them.
Outside of the holmgang circle Albrikt and Kiartan stood on one side with an extra axe and a spear should Oski's sword be broken, while on the other side Gormr and Vigmundr looked on with a long - handled axe, and a short handled axe in case Alfrekr's main weapon should fail. No one was allowed inside the circle of death except the combatants. To do so would not only dishonor their champion, but also the folk they represented.
Oski began the duel by banging his sword up against his shield.
" Time to die old man ! " he shouted angrily at Alfrekr.
Alfrekr did not respond as he circled around the arena feeling out his opponent. Then, suddenly and violently, Oski took the first swing at his father, trying to take off his head with one quick blow. Alfrekr, however, was quite agile for a man his age, and easily blocked the mighty blow. Both then tried several times, through a series of jabs and sword thrusts, to find his opponent's weakness, but no blood was drawn for their efforts.
Oski quickly became frustrated, and extremely angry at his inability to strike down the man who pretended to be his father. Suddenly, with a fury that had been building up inside of him since his childhood, he screamed as loudly as he could, and then, much like a warrior gone mad, he began to rain down blow after blow upon Alfrekr.
At first the king was able to deflect the wild strokes of Oski's rage, and occasionally counter strike with a quick thrust of his own, but it quickly became apparent that Alfrekr was no match for the Rus leader. The Ranrike king slowly began to wear down from the repeated onslaught, and when his shield was shattered by an especially vicious strike, Gormr quickly reacted and threw his father a new shield. Oski gave Gormr a harsh stare, but each opponent was allowed two replacement shields, and two new weapons if they became needed. Such were the rules of honor of a holmgang.
Oski soon began to realize that his father was weakening, and began to push him around the ring with his shield, as well as hitting him with blow after mighty blow. One hard sword swing in particular, blocked by Alfrekr with the new shield, pushed the Ranrike king outside of the stone circle. As he returned to the arena his foot accidentally kicked one of the rocks into the center of the circle where it seemed to roll for longer than it should have before coming to rest standing on end. Strangely the rolling rock was not noticed by either the combatants, or those outside the ring.
Standing at the edge of the circle Alfrekr suddenly decided to attack while he still had the strength to kill his bastard son. At first Oski was taken by surprise by the sudden outburst of energy, and was forced to retreat to the center of the circle. As he was recovering from Alfrekr's attack, and about to begin a counterattack, his right foot came upon the mysterious rock and he stumbled forward. Alfrekr, an experienced warrior, saw an opening, rushed forward, and plunged his sword deep into Oski's stomach. The surprised Rus leader bent over from the severe pain, and then slowly began to fall backward. Alfrekr's sword, which was deeply embedded in his sons flesh, pulled him forward just enough for him to stumble over the same rock. In the blink of an eye Alfrekr fell on top of Oski's sword as they both tumbled to the ground.
Albrikt, Kiartan, and Gormr and Vigmundr instinctively rushed into the ring. There was, however, nothing that could be done to save either the Ranrike king, or the Rus leader. Both weapons had hit vital organs, and life was quickly draining from both combatants.
There was a great irony in the fact that the father and son, who despite their great hatred for each other, and whose blood was of course from the same ancestry, now mixed their blood once again as they lay dying one on top of the other. As their life's blood ran out of them they spoke to each other one last time.
" I am sorry my son ! " Alfrekr managed before death closed his eyes forever.
Oski watched as Alfrekr's eyes fluttered and then went blank. With his last breath he managed one word.
" Father ! "
Odin looked down sadly from his high seat. On this day Hlidskjalf had become a place of judgement as well as an observation platform. It was his will that moved the rock into the arena that sealed the fate of Alfrekr and Oski. Odin had made his decision, and the All - Father's judgement was that both would die, and that Gormr should now rule over Ranrike. As Odin rose up off of Hlidskjalf he felt no joy in his decision. He merely hoped that the hatred felt between the father and son, which had been forced upon four kingdoms, would be buried along with them, and that peace would now reign over the southern Norse lands.
- End Chapter 15
- Next : Epilogue
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2016.