A Battle For The Ages
King Agmund kissed his wife Halldis goodbye before mounting his great grey horse. He and his wife had grown apart, as do most couples who have been together for a number of years, but you would not have guessed it from the passionate kiss they shared. Both the king and queen were well aware that this may be the last time they ever saw each other, and acted as though this would be their last moment together. As Agmund rode his horse to the front of his army, to lead them to the Vestfold border, and into war, he waved to his wife of thirty years one last time. Queen Halldis tried to keep herself composed as she returned his goodbye, but her mind could not hold back the tears that came from her heart.
As the army began to move out, and Alrekr led his Úlfhéðnar forward, he felt an exhilaration that he had never known before. The Wolf - hides always proudly marched directly behind the king's guard, for their creed was, " First in battle, last to die ! " Alrekr turned and then smiled as he watched his little band of highly trained warriors following faithfully behind him. When Alrekr's eyes met Jarpr's they both grinned. They had gone through many trials and tribulations since they had both won entrance into the Úlfhéðnar, and now they were marching off to war and glory against their hated enemy the Kingdom of Vestfold.
Jarpr was no longer the raw recruit he had been when he sparred against Alrekr all those years ago. What he lacked in size and strength he more than made up for with his skill and cunning. Some of the older Úlfhéðnar, liked to call him, " Their little shield maiden " , but almost no one wanted to be chosen as his sparring partner for the afternoon. Alrekr had lost count of how many times the smaller, " shield maiden ", had embarrassed the bigger, and much stronger warriors with his quickness and agility in combat. Alrekr also was fond of this warrior because he was one of the first to embrace his new method of fighting as a wolf pack.
Alrekr was proud of his warriors, but in his heart he knew that these men would always be Domaldi's warriors. Their fallen leader had handpicked them, including himself, trained them, and it was Domaldi's imprint that had been forever stamped on the lives of these men. And yet Alrekr was proud to stand in the long shadow of his former teacher. As Alrekr moved forward he remembered Domaldi as a great warrior, mentor, and friend to all who knew him. And today his warriors would make their old teacher proud. Alrekr was sure of it !
Bjarnlaugr cursed the army for their slowness ! And he did not hide his anger even from King Sigmarr. Despite knowing that the Vingulmork army had a head start on their army, the Vestfold warriors showed no great desire to hurry into battle, and in some cases were literally dragging their feet as they slowly marched off towards the border between the two warring kingdoms.
King Sigmarr grimaced every time that Bjarnlaugr complained about the pace of the army. Unlike the leader of the Berserker, the king fully understood that the Bear - skins were a professional group of warriors, who lived for battle, and for nothing else. The men who made up the regular army, however, were simple farmers, craftsmen, and sailors, who worked at their trade, or tilled and harvested the land for most of the year. These men only picked up their weapons in a time of war such as this. These common warriors did not have the fervor for battle that the Berserker had, and many, if not most the king was sure, would rather be home tending to their fields than marching off to war.
King Sigmarr did agree with Bjarnlaugr that the army was moving to slow, however, for he was sure that the Vingulmork army would reach the border first, and be able to take the initiative and position themselves on high ground that was advantageous to them, and possibly disastrous for his own army.
Reluctantly, because it made Bjarnlaugr seem to be right in this matter, the king rode back to admonish Gandolfr, Nesbjorn, and Ufeigr for the way their divisions were straggling along. But it was hard to push men who's hearts are not truly into what they are doing. The pace picked up a little, but still remained too slow for the king's liking. Sigmarr now knew they would not reach the border before the Vingulmork army did, and it worried him to no end.
King Agmund halted his army at the Vestfold border. The king of Vingulmork had a very tough decision to make. Should he remain on his side of the border, on terrain that he knew well, or move his warriors forward into Vestfold, and set up a defensive line there where he could stop the Vestfold army from entering his kingdom. The decision may have been a hard one to make, but the king wasted little time in making it. He moved his army into Vestfold without much hesitation, explaining to his commanders that it would be good for the morale of the army to fight as an invading force on their enemy's territory.
Alrekr for one did not care whether they fought on the Vingulmork side of the border, or on Vestfold land. He was simply tired of marching and wanted to strike up a battle wherever the enemy could be found. He was soon to get his wish !
The Vingulmork army came down out of the mountains from the northwest , while the Vestfold forces marched through a mountain pass up from the southeast. The two armies stopped a mile from each other in one of the narrowest valleys in all of southern Norway.
Both kings quickly assessed their positions. The valley floor was fairly flat with little or no natural obstacles to act as boundaries on their front, or flanks. Here, in what both leaders recognized as a valley of death, there was no advantageous ground, no room to maneuver, and no place to hide. This valley was soon to become a killing field, and there was little or nothing they could do about it.
King Sigmarr placed his three Vestfold divisions in the middle of the valley, with his Berserkers out in front. He positioned what little horsemen he had to his left and right to protect his flanks from being turned, and to use in a counterattack if the opportunity arose. Behind his foot soldiers and protected by the shield wall that they formed, he placed his archers, who he hoped would rain death down upon their enemy when the time was right, and the command given.
King Agmund of Vingulmork could do little else but mirror what his opponent had already done. The only difference in the way he arranged his forces was that he angled his shield wall slightly back upon itself on the ends to add greater protection to his flanks. Agmund, seeing that the Vestfold king had placed his Berserkers in the middle of the battlefield, followed that move by ordering Alrekr, and his Úlfhéðnar, to place themselves directly across from them to meet the threat that they posed to the center of his line. As Agmund looked around he shook his head dejectedly, for he knew that this was not going to be a battle, so much as a human slaughter pen. Whichever side had the most warriors still standing at the end of the carnage would be the victor !
Bjarnlaugr and his warriors began to prepare themselves for battle as they moved into position. Many had already tasted the elixir that gave them hallucinations and transformed them into ferocious animals. For some of the Berserker it became difficult, if not altogether impossible, to stay still for very long. Most were already growling and biting at their shields, while others were doing a strange war dance, which included a high shrill scream from time to time. One Berserker, named Dyggvi, had clamped his sword in his teeth, and was swinging his long handled axes at an imaginary foe. Bjarnlaugr, for his part, just stood staring at his opponents across the battlefield. This was the moment he had waited for his whole life, and despite the effects of the mushroom tonic, a strange calmness fell over him.
Half a mile away from the Berserker the Úlfhéðnar were preparing themselves in a similar fashion. Alrekr and his Wolf - hides were brought pitchers filled with a mild form of the colorful mushroom, mixed with a strong ale. These pitchers were passed from one Wolf - hide to another. Before they drank from the pitcher, however they raised it to the heavens and praised Odin, Thor, Tyr, and even their fallen leader Domaldi. When this ritual ended the Úlfhéðnar began to howl and bite their shields in a frantic manner that had the entire army watching them. Then these " wolves " began to feed off of each other's energy by slamming their shields up against one another, howling madly all the while as they built up their anger.
The ritualistic antics of the Úlfhéðnar affected the whole Vingulmork army and soon there was a nervous energy running throughout the ranks. When King Agmund felt that this powerful energy had reached its peak, he commanded his army to move forward, led by Alrekr and his Wolf - hides. As they moved out the archers pointed their bows at the sky, took aim and let loose a hail of arrows upon the Vestfold ranks .
The king sighed as he kicked his horse forward.
" How can anything as horrific as war be so beautiful ! " he whispered to himself.
King Sigmarr waited until King Agmund made his move. Although he was fairly sure that the Vingulmork leader had no choice but to come straight at him, he wanted to wait and make absolutely sure that Agmund did not have any tricks up his sleeve before ordering his men into battle.
King Sigmarr drew his sword, raised it high overhead, and yelled up and down the line :
" Attack ! Attack !! ATTACK !!! "
As the Vestfold army moved forward Bjarnlaugr did not try to keep pace with the rest of the army. His men wore only bear skins, whereas the common foot soldiers, at least the one's who could afford it, wore mail, helmets, and many other types of armor to protect themselves, that both weighed them down, and thereby slowed them down as well. It did not take long for his Berserker to be thirty or forty feet in front of the main army.
Despite the Vingulmork army being spread out across the entire floor of the valley, Bjarnlaugr's vision was narrowed into a small area directly in front of him. It was the responsibility of the Berserker to punch a hole in the enemy's shield wall, and disrupt their defensive line. As his vision narrowed even further, like a horse wearing blinders, Bjarnlaugr saw standing in his way a force of equal size to his own of Vingulmork Wolf - hides. They had to be eliminated quickly if the Berserker were to accomplish their mission. And even if Bjarnlaugr had noticed that Alrekr was leading the Úlfhéðnar, it would not have mattered. They all had to die !
Alrekr could not help but see that his boyhood friend Bjarnlaugr led the Berserker across the field of battle. His heart sank for only a moment, and then his fury took over and eliminated any feelings of regret that remained. Whatever had led them both here to do battle against one another was much bigger than themselves. All that Alrekr could do now was to play out the game of fate that had been dealt out to him. For whatever was to be their destiny had already been weaved by the three Norns !
- End Chapter 11
- Next : Chapter 12 : Only Odin Wins In War ! ( Story end number 1 )
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2016.