The Lost Viking
Honor In Defeat
Signy ran over and stood between the two men, both of whom considered themselves her husband. " We were told you were dead ! Thorir brought back a man from England who verified that you were dead ! " she shouted with tears in her eyes. Jarl Thorir gently pushed aside his wife. " King Hallfred declared you dead, and Signy free to marry again. Our marriage bonds are legal, and your untimely return will not break them ! " Thorir shouted.
The two warriors looked as though they would do battle, but little Gudny began to cry because of all the shouting. Her pitiful sobbing forced both men to calm down. Signy hushed her daughters fears and brushed away her tears, as she bounced the pretty little girl on her hip to stop her from crying. In a soft voice she told both men. " Tomorrow we should all ride to the king's great hall, and have him decide the matter, though I do not know what can be changed at this point. " she told them both. Then she turned to Bjorgolf. "You left me all alone.... I was told you were dead ..... and it was so long ! " she explained.
Thorir then moved forward and stood at his wife' s side. " What you have lost cannot be reclaimed at this point, Bjorgolf of Holtavord ! " the jarl shouted . Bjorgolf would have drawn his sword, but Thorir was surrounded by his guards, and there was little he could do at that moment. " I will need a horse if I am to go to the king' s hall. " he told the jarl. Signy looked at Thorir, and then back at Bjorgolf. " My husband will provide you with a mount for your journey. " she told him. " And you may stay tonight in our hall. " she added.
Jarl Thorir gave his wife a long angry look, but in the end nodded in agreement. As Bjorgolf was escorted into the hall by the guards he turned to Thorir. " This man who claimed I was dead. Who is he ? " he asked. Jarl Thorir answered sarcastically : " A puny little English shepherd named Edward. " Then the jarl smiled at Bjorgolf. " I believe you know him ! " he told him. Bjorgolf shook his head in disbelief . " I captured him, and forced him to help us in Northumberland. " he told the jarl. " Is he still alive ? " Bjorgolf asked. " The king gave him to the woman named Helga as a slave. " Thorir answered with a slight chuckle.
Bjorgolf spent an uneasy night in the jarl' s hall. He was shown hospitality, but the jarl' s guards were always kept close at hand just in case. Signy wanted to speak to Bjorgolf, but she really did not know what to say to him. She had known him for a while before they wed, but they had only spent one night together before he left for England. Thorir on the other hand had never left her side, and had given her a wonderful little daughter. As badly as she felt for Bjorgolf, she was not sure that words would make any difference at this point. " Thorir was right !" Signy told herself, " It would have been better if Bjorgolf had never returned. " When the drinking was done, and everyone had left except himself and the guards, Bjorgolf was shown a warm place by the fire to bed down for the night. Other than a few glances there had been no contact between Signy and Bjorgolf.
At sunrise three guards woke Bjorgolf, and told him that it was almost time to leave for the king' s hall. Bjorgolf was offered a large breakfast, but he was not very hungry and only ate a little. A short time after he finished eating a warrior came in and told him that everyone was now ready to leave. There were no pleasantries exchanged as a guard showed Bjorgolf to his horse. Jarl Thorir rode with Bjorgolf, and the three guards, while Signy and Gudny rode behind them in a cart surrounded by several more of the jarl' s warriors. The ride to the king' s hall was a long and very quiet one.
Bjorgolf did not know what to expect when he reached the king' s hall. Would he be executed for losing his army ? Could he regain his status as chieftain of Holtavord ? And what of his marriage to Signy ? How would the king decide such a strange situation as a woman having legally married two husbands ? He thought to himself that it would be very ironic if he had survived so much in a foreign land only to come back and be killed by his own people. Bjorgolf had a sinking feeling that things were not going to go his way, and he knew in his heart that nothing would ever be the same as it was.
The little group made a good pace, but still did not reach the king's hall until noon two days later. Jarl Thorir went at once, and asked for a meeting with the king on a most urgent matter. The king's guards returned moments later and told the jarl that the king had granted him an audience, and that he was to wait in the great hall for the king to arrive. The jarl, Signy, and Bjorgolf were allowed into the hall, but the jarl' s warriors were barred from coming in. The king' s guards were suspicious of why so many armed warriors were accompanying the jarl to the king's hall, so they refused them entry, and then carefully watched them as they milled around outside the great hall.
King Hallfred was not happy to see Bjorgolf ! The former chieftain of Holtavord made the king look bad on many levels. First and foremost the king had approved Bjorgolf's raid on England, and had partially financed it. It was quite an embarrassment for the king when it was learned all of his warriors were killed, and all of his ten valuable dragon ships were lost. And now there was the complicated matter of his return. King Hallfred was made to look like a fool for declaring Bjorgolf dead and allowing Jarl Thorir to marry his wife. No ! The king was not happy to see Bjorgolf return at all !
After carefully hearing both sides of the case, the king thought for a long moment, and then decided. " What we have here is a very unusual situation in which two men, who have been both legally married to the same woman, now lay claim to her. Although I declared the Chieftain Bjorgolf dead, my decision was based on faulty information brought to me by her second husband Jarl Thorir. I see no other way to resolve this dispute other than a holmgang at sunrise tomorrow. The winner will have won the maiden's hand ! " the king commanded. Both Jarl Thorir and Bjorgolf protested, but to no avail. The king simply waved off their angry words, and left his hall. All Signy could do was stand there in stunned silence.
That night the king held a great feast in his hall. The Jarl, Signy, and Gudny sat at the king's table, while Bjorgolf was relegated to a table in a far off corner where the heat from the fire pits barely reached. Bjorgolf suddenly felt very alone, and realized that he no longer belonged among his own people. As he watched how happy Signy was with Gudny and Thorir, he was almost sorry that he came back.
The king made sure that his former chieftain was served inferior food and a bitter ale to drink. He also had him placed at the back of the hall near the great doors, which opened quite often and let in a cold breeze. King Hallfred hoped that Bjorgolf would be killed tomorrow, but if he did somehow defeat Jarl Thorir he had already decided to exile Bjorgolf as punishment for losing his army and all of his valuable ships. No matter what happened tomorrow the king knew he would be rid of Bjorgolf once and for all.
The next morning a circle of rocks was made outside of the great hall. The purpose of this circle was a simple one. If one of the opponents stepped outside of the holmgang ring he would be killed by the king's guards. The fight was to the death ! Jarl Thorir had both a sword and a shield , but Bjorgolf had only a sword, so one of the king's warriors gave his to the ex- chieftain. The sword that Bjorgolf carried was the weapon he had taken from Earl Alfred after he had killed him. He smiled when he thought of King Amundi' s words : " You killed the earl ! I guess that gives you the right to own his sword ! " Then Bjorgolf thought to himself. " But do I have the right to kill Signy' s husband ? " Bjorgolf asked himself. As he stood there in the holmgang circle he now realized that he should never have returned !
The king had his high seat brought out, and set up on a stand above the ring of death. He was not especially excited by the prospect of the holmgang. He had witnessed many duels, and generally they were disappointing, and over far too quickly. King Hallfred took a deep breath, and then stood up . " There are no rules in a holmgang other than staying within the circle of rocks. You may kill your opponent in any manner you see fit ! " he told the two combatants. " Let the holmgang begin ! " the king shouted to a cheering crowd .
As Jarl Thorir placd his helmet on his head Gudny ran into the circle and grabbed a hold of her father's leg. Thorir picked up his little girl and lifted his helmet so he could give her a little kiss on the cheek. The jarl then walked over to Signy, handed her the child, and then kissed her as well. Thorir placed his helmet back over his face, and walked back into the center of the circle.
Bjorgolf suddenly became very angry ! He was not mad at Thorir, or Signy, or even little Gudny, he was furious with himself, and disappointed with the choices he had made in his life. This was not what he wanted ! It was not Signy' s fault that he left her all alone. And the king could not be blamed for declaring him dead. Jarl Thorir did nothing wrong in marrying what he believed was a widow. But most of all little Gudny had done nothing to deserve what was about to happen. Without giving any kind of a warning Bjorgolf dropped his shield, and placed his sword back in its scabbard.
Bjorgolf slowly turned, and faced King Hallfred. " My lord ! I should not have come back to this place. It is as if I no longer exist here..... as though I was killed in England along with my warriors. I am but a ghost walking among the living here. " he told the king. Bjorgolf looked over at Signy, then back at the king. " I no longer have a claim to this woman, or to any part of this land. I am nothing.... a lost viking without a home ! " he explained. The king looked over at Jarl Thorir. " What say you, Jarl Thorir ? " the king asked. The jarl waved his sword back and forth at the king. " The holmgang is to the death ! This was your declaration, my lord ! " the jarl yelled angrily.
Signy shoved her way past the guards with Gudny in tow, and stood before her husband. " Please Thorir ! Don' t do this ! He has given up his claim to me, let him live ! " she pleaded in tears. Little Gudny also began to cry. As her tears streamed down her cheeks she reached out with her free hand to her father. Thorir shook his head from side to side, then put his sword back in its scabbard, and took his daughter's hand. " If Bjorgolf has no claim on my wife then there is no reason for this match ! " he told the king. Thorir grabbed Signy' s hand and walked out of the ring of death with his wife and daughter.
King Hallfred then turned his attention back to Bjorgolf. " And what will you do now ! " the king demanded to know. Bjorgolf did not hesitate. " I would like to go back to England and stay with the Danish King of York, King Amundi ! " he said rather boldly. " If you will allow it of course . " Bjorgolf added. King Hallfred gave Bjorgolf a long hard stare. " Do you swear an oath before all who stand here never to return !? " he asked. Bjorgolf dropped his head. " There is nothing here for me to return to . " he told the king. " Jarl Thorir ! " the king bellowed. The jarl turned back and looked at the king. " Yes, my lord ! " the jarl shot back. " You will escort Bjorgolf back to Holtavord and see that he is placed on the first ship back to England ..... or any other place that is not in my kingdom ! " the king commanded. " Yes, my lord. " Thorir replied as he walked away.
- End Chapter 10
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2014.
- Next : The Conclusion : The Farewell