The Lost Viking
King Edmund Counterattacks
Bjorgolf did not understand most of what these Englishmen were saying, but he understood his name, and the word viking. Just then an older warrior came up and began to speak to the man who had held the sword to Edward' s neck, who Bjorgolf assumed was Earl Alfred. When the older man was done speaking to the earl he addressed Bjorgolf in Norse. " My name is Richard. " he told him. " Are you the Chieftain Bjorgolf who lead these men ? " Richard asked as he pointed to all the dead vikings that were lying on the ground around them. Bjorgolf looked at Edward and realized that the sheep herder had told the earl who he was. " Yes ! I am Bjorgolf Helgisson ! " he told the man defiantly. The man named Richard then spoke to the earl for some time. Suddenly the earl barked out what must have been orders. The English warriors then grabbed Bjorgolf and threw him up against an old oak tree. Richard tossed a rope over one of the lower branches, and then tied the other around Bjorgolf' s neck. " It is time for you to die ! " Richard told Bjorgolf in Norse. As his hands were tied behind his back Bjorgolf realized that he would soon be with Odin in the halls of Valhalla.
Just as the Englishmen were about to pull the viking chieftain off of the ground Bjorgolf saw a number of riders galloping up the road towards them. The man who rode in front wore a purple cape, and his horse was dressed in such finery that Bjorgolf could only assume that he was the English king. Earl Alfred quickly walked over to the large man sitting on the greyish white horse, and bowed before he spoke. By his tone Bjorgolf could tell that the regal looking one was displeased with his subordinate. They spoke for a while, and then the earl barked out more orders to his men. Bjorgolf expected to die, but instead the Englishmen removed the rope from around his neck. Two warriors then grabbed him by the arms and dragged him over to the king.
" Earl Alfred wants to hang you and leave you for the birds to peck at. " the king said in Norse. " I on the other hand see that as a waste. I think you can be helpful to me in understanding these viking raiders who continuously invade my kingdom year after bloody year. If it was not bad enough that the Danes came and set themselves up on my southern border, now I have you damned Norsemen trying to steal even more ! " he complained to Bjorgolf. " Your men are all dead, and there is no place for you to go but up in that tree.....unless, that is, .... you choose to cooperate and help me. Make your decision quickly ! Life or death ! The choice is yours ! " the king shouted.
Bjorgolf thought for a moment before answering . As he looked around he saw what looked to be most of his men strewn dead all along the road, and in the swamp. He no longer had anyone to lead, and he knew the king was right, he had no where to go. Before he made his final decision, however, he thought of his wife Signy. He remembered how happy he was the day he married her, and he saw in his mind' s eye her tears as he sailed away. With her image fresh in his mind he looked the king in the eyes, and slowly replied : " I choose life . " The king then shouted orders to his men, and several warriors escorted him away. At first they pushed and shoved Bjorgolf, but the king shouted something to his men in English, and they instantly became kinder to their prisoner.
Hoskuld lead his men north towards Bamburgh, and away from the English army as fast as he could. Bjorgolf's second in command fully understood how dire their situation was. He had less than two hundred men left, was in hostile territory, and his ships were lost to him. Even if he made it back to Bamburgh he could not possibly hope to hold the town against the several thousand warriors in the English army that King Edmund was sure to throw at them. Hoskuld's plan, though desperate, was also a very simple one. He wanted to make it to Bamburgh, commandeer or build enough ships to leave England, and place as much gold and silver into these ships to have made the raid worth the deaths of so many. The key to his whole plan was to make it back to Bamburgh before the king's men could attack. Every day, however, his scouts told Hoskuld that the English were gaining on them.
After running for several days from the English, the vikings finally reached the outskirts of Bamburgh. What they saw once they entered the town was disheartening. The men they had left behind had all been killed, and whatever ships had been at the docks were now gone. The town, what was left of it after the fire, was completely deserted. Hoskuld set his men to making a ship as quickly as possible, though all the vikings knew that the effort was a futile one. There only hope was to somehow hold off the English army for a few weeks which might give them just enough time to launch a few small ships for them to sail back to Norway in. As night fell Hoskuld still held out a glimmer of hope. By morning, however, even that was gone !
Hoskuld awoke to see the entire Northumberland army camped just outside of the town. Along with the two thousand warriors stood what looked to be very angry townsfolk and local farmers with primitive weapons ready and eager to join in the coming battle. Before he went to sleep the night before Hoskuld had ordered a head count taken. One hundred and eighty three vikings were all that were left to oppose them. With no place left to run, and no other options available to him, Hoskuld ordered his men to form two shield walls just outside of the town. As the vikings were putting together their final defense King Edmund began to move his army towards the town.
Hoskuld stood proudly with his men awaiting what was sure to be the last moments of his life. He remembered a story he was told by a Christian priest years before. In ancient times a huge Persian army invaded the land of the Greeks. The priest told a heroic tale of how a small band of warriors called Spartans, only three hundred in number, and lead by a man named Leonidas, at a pass named Thermopylae, held off the entire Persian army under Xerxes for three days before being killed to a man. As Hoskuld readied himself for battle he imagined himself as Leonidas, and hoped that he too would be remembered for a thousand years.
Earl Alfred asked King Edmund for the honor of leading the attack on the Vikings. Edmund, because this was the earl's town that the vikings had destroyed, agreed that he had the right to lead the army. Alfred had under his command a little under a thousand men, which were broken down into two divisions. One he commanded, and the other was lead by the very able warrior Richard. King Edmund held his men in reserve just behind the earl's divisions, and he did not move his men forward when Alfred attacked. The earl had no intention of making a complicated attack. With four times as many men he saw no need for being clever. Earl Alfred simply sent his men running at full speed at the viking shield walls.
Hoskuld and his brave viking warriors braced themselves as the English came rushing at them. The crashing noise that was made when they hit the viking shield wall echoed, and reverberated throughout the town, but there was no one left to hear it. Quickly, as with most battles, after the initial rush was over, the combat broke down into one on one fighting. Both armies knew full well that there would be no surrendering, and no prisoners. This made the vikings especially fight with a determination the English warriors had never seen before. Men who had been wounded many times continued to fight until the last breath escaped their lungs. King Edmund was watching one viking in particular. The viking warrior's arm had been hacked at by an axe, and for a time it just hung to his body connected by a thin piece of flesh. Finally, after another blow the arm was severed, and fell to the ground. The viking, however, continued fighting on as if he had only dropped a rag, or lost a piece of clothing. Eventually the man, after killing two more of the English warriors, collapsed and fell silent on the hallowed field of battle. King Edmund assumed it was from loss of blood because no Englishman had struck him.
The king was disappointed in the performance of the earl' s warriors. They heavily outnumbered the vikings, and yet his Englishmen were being cut down at a much greater rate than the Norsemen were dying. These viking raiders fought with a vigor and skill that the king had never before seen. It made the king realize that he had made a wise decision in allowing the viking chieftain Bjorgolf to live. When this awful business was over the king intended to gain as much information from Bjorgolf as he could. The king understood their language, but what he did not understand was what motivated these warriors to fight and die . Although King Edmund hated these Pagan Norseman he had to admit that he had great respect for their tenacity and fighting skills.
As afternoon slowly turned into evening, King Edmund considered sending in a few of his own men to help finish off the remaining vikings, but decided that he did not want to embarrass the earl in front of his men. The earl who had lead almost a thousand men into battle, against a mere two hundred vikings, now had less than half that number left. The battle had been raging now for most of the day, and yet Earl Alfred was confounded by these savages ability to keep on fighting even against increasingly long odds. These vikings almost seemed as though they enjoyed their own demise, the earl thought to himself.
Hoskuld and his few remaining men had reached the end of their physical, and mental limits. They were all exhausted and every warrior had at least one wound, and most had many. As their little circle slowly collapsed in upon itself the vikings began to fall faster and faster until Hoskuld found himself surrounded by the enemy. The lone viking had long ago discarded his shield, and by swinging two swords at once was holding off at least a dozen English warriors . Then Hoskuld felt a searing hot flash of pain across his left shoulder as an enemy sword cut deeply into his body. As Hoskuld dropped the sword he held in that hand he felt a spear point as it entered his groin . Hoskuld never saw, nor did he feel for long, the axe that smashed into his face. Hoskuld was dead before he hit the ground. He was the last of Bjorgolf's valiant warriors to die on English soil.
- End Chapter 4
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2014.
Next : Chapter 5 : Signy' s Sorrow