The Lost Viking
Durham was only accessible by two main roads. One came in eastward from the coast, and the other connected the southern town with Bamburgh, and came in from the north. King Edmund knew of a location along the road that came in from the east that was heavily wooded on one side, and blocked by a swamp on the other. Edmund, who could read Latin, remembered reading how a Germanic leader had destroyed several Roman Legions by trapping them against the swamp. The part of the story that stuck in Edmund' s mind was how after his legions had been destroyed the Roman Emperor Augustus wept for his lost legions. Now King Edmund planned to use this brilliant attack formulated by Arminius against the invading vikings. When Earl Alfred heard the plan he was ecstatic ! He wanted to make these Norsemen pay dearly for what they had done to his town of Bamburgh !
While Earl Alfred and King Edmund discussed their plans in Durham, Bjorgolf sailed just off the coast of England ready to beach his ships in the moonlit night. As he watched the shore come ever closer he thought not only of the battle to come, but also of his lovely wife back in Holtavord. If the raids went well he would bring back silver and gold to his wife, and they would live in a style that in the past he could only have dreamed of. And maybe, just maybe, if he could conquer this land of Northumberland, he would become its king. Then he would send Hoskuld back to Norway to bring his wife Signy to Northumberland to sit proudly next to him as his queen. Bjorgolf was jolted out of his dreamworld as his ship hit the beach hard. As the ships came in one by one the men jumped over the side and made a temporary camp on the beach. Here they would wait for the first light of morning, and there would be no drinking this night.
Bjorgolf woke to a dreary morning. " Did it always rain here in England ?! " he thought out loud. When there was enough light he ordered the men into columns, and they began the long march to Durham. Bjorgolf lead the first column, while Hoskuld led the second that trailed about a hundred yards behind. As they headed westward both Bjorgolf and Hoskuld wondered to themselves if they had arrived ahead of the Bamburgh army, or if their enemy KIng Edmund was waiting for them in Durham. Bergfinn on his own asked this very question to the Englishman, but Edward shrugged his shoulders and told the viking that he was just a simple shepherd and could not be sure.
Although he did not know it, Bjorgolf had reached the road to Durham before the Earl' s army. That, however, was a hollow victory as King Edmund was waiting for the vikings along this road to stop them. Bjorgolf and Hoskuld had discussed, while they were on the beach, how to lay siege to Durham. What they did not consider was a battle with the English before they ever got to the town.
King Edmund had split his army in half. He placed one half of his men, under the command of Earl Alfred, in the woods across the road from the swamp. The other half he placed across the road, around a sharp bend, in case some of the vikings fought their way through Alfred's force. This would give the Vikings only one way out. If they wanted to live they would have to retreat away from Durham, and back towards their ships. KIng Edmund could then harass and kill as many of them as possible as they scurried away. If he could not destroy the whole viking army, he could at least keep it away from the town of Durham, and send the dragon ships sailing back to their homeland with their tails between their legs.
Richard, who now lead the Bamburgh army, had been in one or another Northumberland army since he was old enough to swing a sword. He was not so much a master tactician as he was a smart seasoned soldier. Instead of taking the main road all the way to Durham, he veered the Bamburgh army through the woods, and headed for the coast. Richard had a hunch that the vikings might try to come in from the sea and attack Durham from the east instead of coming from the north down the Bamburgh road. And to the surprise of his men, who did not appreciate the extra marching, by mid morning they reached the coast and spotted the viking' s ships. Richard was disappointed that only a few vikings were left behind to guard the ships, because this meant that the vikings had already begun their march to Durham.
Many of the Englishmen wanted to turn around and rush to the aid of King Edmund and Earl Alfred. Richard, however, wanted to do something that he felt important before leaving. The temporary commander of the Bamburgh army lined up his men in battle formation, and attacked the warriors on the beach who were guarding the ships. The vikings under Bjorn fought well, and held off the Englishmen for some time. In the end, however, their gallantry was not enough to overcome sheer numbers, and they were wiped out to the man. Richard then had their bodies thrown into their vessels, and launched the dragon ships back into the ocean, where the outgoing tide took them away from the shore. Richard smiled from ear to ear as the last ship floated away. " Now let us see if they can get home ! " he shouted to his men who cheered.
Earl Alfred was not known as a patient man. King Edmund had instructed him to make absolutely sure that all of the vikings had passed the Bamburgh road, and were across from the swamp before attacking. Alfred, however, became jittery and sent his men screaming out of the forest when only about three quarters of the vikings had crossed the junction with the Bamburgh road. The fighting at first was lopsided, with the vikings suffering many casualties in the first few moments of the battle. When the shock of the surprise attack wore off the Vikings fought like their heroes Beowulf, Sigmund and Sigurd. Men were falling everywhere ! Some from the axe, others from swords and spears. A few were even killed by knives as the individual combats became hand to hand struggles for life and death. The Englishmen could sense that they had the upper hand, and fought with great confidence throughout the morning despite their mounting losses.
Bjorgolf had the bulk of his army up with him as they marched along the Durham road. Hoskuld was further back and looked after the rear of the army, which also acted as a reserve in case of trouble. Bjorgolf was walking with the Englishman Edward, and Bergfinn, as they approached a 90 degree bend in the road. The viking's leader did not like the fact that he could not see around the bend, and was just about to tell Bergfinn to ask Edward if there were other roads that intersected at this point with the main road, when suddenly a great roar came from the forest to his right ! It seemed to Bjorgolf that every Norseman who was marching closest to the forest was wiped out in the first few moments. That instant, that moment in time, gave those walking on the other side, close to the swamp, like Bjorgolf and Bergfinn, a chance to draw their weapons, and attempt to defend themselves.
Bjorgolf was quickly covered in blood as his men were hacked and sliced at by the Englishmen who seemed to be everywhere. The battle slowly became more even as the vikings killed more than their share of Englishmen, and the combat broke down into individual fights. The leader of the vikings was glad that he had asked Bergfinn to march with him to interpret what the Englishman had to say. It turned out that his translator was also a very skilled and powerful warrior who fought like a madman, and kept the English from overwhelming their position. As the battle dragged on Bjorgolf began to believe that his men might be able to not only fight their way out of this, but destroy the Durham army as well. Then out of the corner of his eye Bjorgolf caught sight of a regal looking man in full armor, leading another army around the bend and directly for them. King Edmund had arrived with the rest of his army.
King Edmund was angry when he heard the battle erupt out of his sight. He had specifically told Earl Alfred to wait until the vikings had all gotten past the Bamburgh road before attacking. This would have meant that the lead elements had turned the sharp curve in the road on the way to the town of Durham, and had begun to approach his army which was set up in defensive positions. When he heard the fighting off in the distance, but did not see the enemy before him, the king cursed Alfred, and ordered his men forward out of their defensive positions. As King Edmund came around the bend, on his great gray horse, he ordered his men to join in the battle at once !
Hoskuld, seeing the frantic fighting in front of him, ordered his men forward into battle. The sheer weight of his warriors began to push the Englishmen back into the forest, and gained relief for the rear of Bjorgolf's division. Hoskuld himself cut down several of the English warriors before a viking warrior ran up to him from the rear of his column. " My lord ! " he shouted over the din of battle. " There is another army coming up from behind us ! " he screamed as he pointed to their rear. At almost the same time another warrior in front of them shouted : " There are more Englishmen coming around the bend in the road ! "
Richard could not believe his good luck ! The vikings were already being attacked from the side and from the front. They were also pinned up against the swamp which he knew was all but impassible. There was only one escape route left for the vikings and that was the Bamburgh road which some of the vikings had not yet passed. If he could push the vikings beyond this road he could effectively cut off their last means of escape, and they could be wiped out to the last man. Richard drew his sword and yelled at the top of his lungs : " Block the Bamburgh road, and kill the bloody bastards ! "
Hoskuld also knew that their only way out of this trap was up the road that led north, and that would be closed to him shortly by the Englishmen coming from the rear. Hoskuld now had a very difficult decision to make. He could stay and fight in what looked to be an increasingly futile battle for the vikings, or he could try and save at least a part of their army by making his way back to Bamburgh. In what seemed to him to be an eternity, though it was in reality only mere moments, Hoskuld decided to try and save his men. As quickly as he could Hoskuld began to turn his men, and point them to the still open road. At first one by one, and eventually in small groups they ran up the road. Only about half of Hoskuld's men made it up the road before Richard's men were able to cross the junction, and cut it off. Hoskuld, and a few of his closest warriors, were the last to make it, though a few did cut through the woods to join them. The rest of his men fought valiantly trying to push the Englishmen back, but they were too few to overcome the overwhelming odds. Their loss was not in vain, however, as it gave Hoskuld the time he needed to put distance in between his warriors and the English army.
Bjorgolf found himself surrounded at the edge of the swamp. Bergfinn had been killed trying to protect his chieftain, and Edward had run away, and was hiding in the swamp. Bjorgolf had a deep cut on his right arm, and was now using his left hand to swing his sword. He was not as effective a fighter using his left arm, and the last thing he remembered was being hit very hard in the head . As he collapsed on the ground the last conscious thought he had was that the blow sounded like a blacksmith' s hammer hitting an anvil.
- End Chapter 3
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2014.
Next : Chapter 4 : King Edmund Counterattacks !