The Lost Viking
Captivity And Torture
At first Bjorgolf, thinking that he was the strong viking warrior, told the earl nothing. After several weeks of torture and humiliation, however, Bjorgolf slowly began to answer any question put before him by the earl. When and if Bjorgolf did not know the answer he would make up a convincing lie to stop his tormentor from making one more cut, or stretching him one more notch. Sometimes this worked, but often, too often, the earl only used his questions as a pretext to cause him pain. Bjorgolf began to sense that this place that the English called a dungeon would one day soon become his tomb.
This sadistic twisted torture went on for more than a year. To keep Bjorgolf strong enough to endure the torture the earl made sure that the viking was given enough food to survive on. The earl, however, insisted that his prisoner only be given water. He did not want Bjorgolf' s pain dulled by anything that had been fermented. The earl would, from time to time, stay and watch the viking try to eat. Bjorgolf would many times have to endure great pain just to reach out with his dislocated fingers to pick up the morsels of food, and put them in his mouth. If Bjorgolf dropped a piece of food the earl would laugh and make fun of him as if he were watching some demented comedy play. The earl enjoyed the mental torture almost as much as the physical pain he inflicted. Bjorgolf swore that if he lived, and escaped, he would someday kill that English bastard !
The only peace that Bjorgolf found in the dungeon was at night. Sleep, when he could manage it in between the pain, and the biting rats that would crawl on him, was an escape from the physical agony, and the mental stress he constantly endured. It was a chance to rejoin his people, and his wife, in his dreams . He took an oath before the Gods that if he ever made it back to Norway he would never again leave his wife and friends, but would remain in his village and start a large family with Signy. He told himself that he would put down the sword, and once again pick up the hammer, and become a blacksmith like his father. But these were all distant hopes, and empty promises for now. Bjorgolf would have to somehow survive the coming days, weeks, and months of torture and humiliation.
Then one winter day Bjorgolf was visited in his freezing cell by two large guards. They unlocked him from the chains that restrained him to the wall, but left on the wrist and leg irons. Bjorgolf was then walked up what seemed to him to be a thousand stairs. Each and every one a new experience in pain. After what seemed to him to be an eternity, they arrived at two huge wooden doors which were ornately carved, and trimmed with gold. One of the guards pounded on the doors, and they were opened from the inside. The first sensation that struck Bjorgolf was the warmth that flowed from the room. Then, as they entered he was hit with the wonderful smells of different foods, which made the blinding light almost bearable.
Bjorgolf was brought to the end of the great hall, and made to kneel before King Edmund. The king was dressed in royal robes, and a purple cape. As he sat on what the English called a throne instead of a high seat, the king looked down upon Bjorgolf with contempt. " You may rise ! " the king ordered as he took a bite of a large piece of pheasant . Bjorgolf gazed up at the king. " I cannot ! Earl Alfred has been especially ruthless this week with his methods of torture. " he told the king. King Edmund waved the pheasant leg at the guards. " Well ! Help him up ! " he commanded angrily. " Yes, my lord ! " the guards replied simultaneously as they helped lift their prisoner off of the stone floor.
King Edmund placed the now bare pheasant bone onto a tray by his throne and stood up. He looked Bjorgolf up and down before speaking. " Yes, Alfred has been having some fun with you now hasn't he ? " he observed. " How would you like to leave the dungeon, and have the torture stopped ? " the king asked. Bjorgolf looked at the king through blurry tired eyes. " And what will I have to do for you to make that happen ? " the viking asked in return. The king smiled. " Are you hungry ? " Edmund asked. Bjorgolf wanted to say no, but his stomach felt so empty. " Yes, I am very hungry ! " he answered finally. The king grabbed his tray, and sat at the head of a table several feet away. " Sit ! " he commanded. As Bjorgolf was helped onto a bench next to the king, Edmund motioned to a serving wench to bring more food.
Bjorgolf did not know whether this would be his last good meal or not so as King Edmund spoke he continued to eat as much as he could. " The Danes as you may know have taken over parts of England. In actuality they have in effect split our lands in two. We English rule here in the north, and in the south Mercia and Wessex are also still ruled by English kings, but the entire center of our ancient lands have been taken from us by these Danish vikings who set themselves up in what is called the Danelaw . And now ...... NOW .... they are threatening my kingdom at the southern border ! " the king shouted as he pounded the table with his fist and stood up. King Edmund slowly sat down, and took a deep breath to calm himself. " I do not understand these Danes. I know a little of their Gods, their laws, and their methods of battle. But what I want from you, viking chieftain, is to become my adviser. Teach me who and what these people are, and what it is that they want ! " he explained . Bjorgolf shoved a piece of bread in his mouth as he spoke. " And if I refuse ? " the viking asked. The king picked up a piece of pheasant and smiled. " Then you will go back to the dungeon, and I will get my answers through Earl Alfred's methods ! " he told Bjorgolf bluntly. The tired viking gave the king a weak smile. " Then I believe I am now in your service my lord. " he told Edmund with a slight bow. The king laughed. " Good ! You have made a very wise decision ! " the king told him. Then the king motioned to one of the serving wenches. " Bring us some ale my dear ! " he told her.
After they spoke for a while over several goblets of ale Bjorgolf was escorted up several flights of stairs to a room in a tower where the guards lit a fire in the fireplace before locking him in. As Bjorgolf lay on the small bed wrapped in a blanket he could not believe how his luck had changed. For the first time in a long time his stomach did not ache with the pain of hunger. And although his aches and pains were many, he was able to fall asleep with some sense of hope. Because maybe, just maybe, he could by some means now escape and make his way back to Norway.
The moment Jarl Thorir anchored his ships in the Fjord outside of Holtavord he, and twenty of his best warriors, escorted the Englishman Edward to King Hallfred's great hall in More. The first thing that surprised Edward upon reaching the king's hall was the immense difference between the stone castle of King Edmund and this long hut, which these Norsemen called a longhouse. The English castle looked regal and formidable as it stood on the English countryside, while this viking wooden structure seemed very flimsy. Edward was surprised, however, at all the gold and silver that lined the tables and the walls inside. He wondered to himself how much of it had been stolen from England in raids on towns and monasteries.
The one thing that was the same was that the King sat at the end of a great hall on a raised platform denoting his right to rule. Jarl Thorir took hold of Edward's arm himself and dragged the Englishman down the aisle. When they came before the king the jarl dramatically threw Edward on the floor at his feet. The king stared down at the prisoner, and then up at Thorir with a questioning look. " And what manner of animal do we have here Jarl Thorir ? " the king asked. Thorir laughed. " This is an English dog my lord . And he knows what has happened to Bjorgolf and his men, which is why I have brought him here with me ! " he told the king. The king nodded his approval. " I will here what this English dog has to say. " he told the jarl. Thorir grabbed Edward by the back of his neck, and lifted him off of the ground. " You will tell the king everything you told me ! And if you lie I will kill you immediately ! " he told the Englishman. Edward then told the king everything he knew about Bjorgolf, and his raiding army. When King Hallfred had heard enough he sent a messenger to Holtavord to bring the women and elders to More to be given the news. King Hallfred wanted to be the one who would personally give the villagers of Holtavord the bad news. Something that Jarl Thorir was thankful for.
When the king's messenger arrived at Holtavord, Signy did not know whether to laugh or cry. The messenger refused to give the villagers any details of what had happened to their warriors. All he would tell them was that Jarl Thorir had returned with news, and that they were to come to More at once to see King Hallfred . Hoskuld's wife Helga was sure that their men were dead. Why else would the king summon them to his hall instead of the jarl coming to their village to give them good news. Although Helga did not say what she felt in her heart to be the truth, Signy could see in her eyes, and in her quiet demeanor, during the long ride to the king' s hall, that the news would not be good.
They arrived in More, at the king's hall, too late in the night to gain an audience with him. The Jarl had the women stay in the hall, and provided them with food and blankets for the night. Jarl Thorir was asked several times by the women what he knew of their husbands, and friends fates, but the Jarl, with a stone face, would only tell them that the king would explain everything to them in the morning. As the light from the fire pits danced on the walls of the great hall the women of Holtavord cried themselves asleep. All that is except Signy, who had no more tears to cry.
When Sunna rose in the eastern sky, and lit the Midgardian world once again, serving maidens brought in a lavish breakfast for the ladies to enjoy. Most found it difficult to eat. Every swallow made harder by the lump in their throats from the fear of what was coming. The final truth hung over their heads like a dark cloud ready to rain on them.
When the barely touched meal was finished, King Hallfred entered the great hall, and sat himself down in his high seat. He dreaded having to give these fine women such bad news, but took solace in the knowledge that he had done what these women had asked, and found out what had happened to their loved ones. As Hallfred looked down he was well aware that every eye in the great hall was trained on him. The king then decided not to call the women to his high seat, but instead he stepped down, and walked over to the long feasting table where they sat.
King Hallfred cleared his voice nervously as he sat down on the bench at the head of the long table. " As you know Jarl Thorir has returned from England with news of your husbands and friends. I am afraid ladies that the news is not good. Bjorgolf, and all of his warriors, were killed in a series of battles against King Edmund of Northumberland. " the king told them with a long face. Many of the women burst out in tears at the news. " I am sorry ladies, but Jarl Thorir brought back an Englishman as a prisoner, and he confirms that all of your men have died in England." he added. The king stopped there as his eyes filled with tears at what he was witnessing. A few of the women had fainted, and were being cared for by the serving maidens, while the others held each other for comfort, or cried alone. Only Helga sat upright and did not cry. " I would like to speak to this Englishman. " Helga told the king. Jarl Thorir then spoke up. " He will be executed this morning my lady ! " the jarl told her. " No ! " Helga screamed at the king. " I have the right to speak to this Englishman ! " she demanded. The king who was startled by her tone answered meekly. " Then you shall speak to him. " he told her. " Jarl Thorir ! Bring that English dog her now ! " he commanded. " Yes, my lord ! " the jarl replied as he turned and walked out of the hall.
As the king listened in, Edward spoke to Helga and several of the other women, through Jarl Thorir, who interpreted. The women wanted to know every last detail of what had happened to their loved ones in England, and Edward provided some of the answers, but not all. When he had told the story, and there seemed to be no more questions left to answer, Jarl Thorir motioned for the king's guards to take the Englishman outside and kill him. Helga, however, stood up and addressed the king. " My lord, I claim this man as a slave for our village, as a small reparation for the loss of our loved ones. " she asked respectfully. The king was surprised by the request, but assumed that a slave would be of great help during the planting and harvesting seasons. " If that is what you wish, then the English dog is yours my dear ! " the king told her. " Jarl Thorir ! Have this man shackled, and escort him, and these fine women, back to Holtavord. " he told the jarl. " Yes, my lord ! " the jarl replied a little perplexed by what had just transpired. Helga did not really want or need a slave, and one man to help in the fields would not provide much help. Helga simply did not want to lose the only connection that she had left to her now dead husband.
- End Chapter 6
Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2014.
Next : Chapter 7 : Signy' s New Love