The Valkyrie's Daughter
The Birkebeiners And The Baglers
Eirik, who had come from a poor peasant family, willingly joined up with a group of warriors known as the Birkebeiners to escape the poverty and abuse of his father. They were called the Birkebeiners, or Birch Legs, because most were so poor that they had to wind birch strips around their legs in place of shoes that none of them could afford. These warriors were led by a man named Eystein Moyla, who like many in Norway at the time had a flimsy claim to the throne. Eystein, who was a poor leader, and little better as a military commander, met his end during the Birkebeiners overwhelming defeat at the Battle of Re.
Leaderless and in shambles the Birch Legs, who were reduced in number to a mere 70 or so men, were about to disband in Varmland when a man named Sverre Sigurdsson met with them. Despite their seemingly hopeless appearance Sverre, who also had a claim to the throne of Norway, decided to lead them back into battle, to gain for himself the crown he so badly wanted.
Eirik grimaced when he remembered those early days when they were being trained by Sverre. It seemed impossible that this group of peasants could ever become a cohesive fighting force, let alone learn Sverre's unique style of doing battle with the enemy. Unlike most leaders during Norway's civil wars Sverre taught his men not to form up into shield walls, but to fight in small but mobile groups, or divisions of the army. This style came in quite handy when they were attacked sometime later by the people of Voss. Though they were outnumbered, and surprised by the attack, they defeated the local folk before moving on.
The Birkebeiners were almost never welcomed by anyone in Southern Norway. They were seen as nothing more than a bunch of rebels trying to stir up trouble among people who only wished for peace. Because of this the Birch Legs were constantly on the move from place to place. Eirik shuttered when he remembered how their rebellion almost came to an end one winter when they nearly all froze to death in Sognefjell.
A year later, while they were in Nidaros, Magnus and Erling Skakke attacked their army and defeated them, forcing the Birkebeiners to once again flee. This time, however, Sverre had had enough ! Instead of scampering away southward as Magnus expected, the self proclaimed King Sverre of Norway marched back to Nidaros and caught the enemy by surprise. At what became known as the Battle of Kalvskinnet, the Birkebeiners won the day, killing Erling Skakke in the process.
The victory at Kalvskinnet gave King Sverre Sigurddson's claim to the throne of Norway legitimacy, and after victories in Hevollene, and at sea at Nordnes, he became the sole, and legal heir to Norway's throne. It was then that King Sverre began to consolidate his power, and build great fortresses, or Borgs, to protect his hard won victories. And it was in one of these fortresses, known as Sverresborg, located in Bjorgyn, that Eirik had become stationed.
Unfortunately the fortunes of war turned against Sverre when a group known as the Baglers arrived from Skane. They were led by Inge Magnusson, who some called " The Bagler King ", and supported by Bishop Nicholas Arnesson of Oslo, and Archbishop Erik Ivarsson of Nidaros. And it was these " Baglers " who were camped outside the stone walls of Sverresborg laying siege to the fort, and the town of Bjorgyn.
King Sverre felt secure in his almost impregnable fortress against the much larger force led by Nicholas Arnesson and Hallvard of Sastad, but he could not prevent the Baglers from burning the abandoned town of Bjorgyn to the ground. With nothing left to protect the king decided to make his escape. To do this, however, he would have to sacrifice a small part of his army to allow the rest of his forces to safely get away.
Eirik had volunteered, as did all of the others, to be part of the group that would keep the Baglers in place while the main army slipped away to fight another day. Eirik himself was not quite sure why he decided to sacrifice himself for the others. Did he want to be a hero ? Or was he just tired of fighting, and being locked up in Sverresborg for so long ? As he stood pondering his situation he heard his commander call for his unit to form up.
Eirik took his place in line with the other Birkebeiner volunteers, and while in the quiet moment where all those who are about to die contemplate their lives, he asked himself if it had all been worth it. The years of marching, and camping in foul weather, and the constant uncertainty of not knowing who they would fight next, or where they would do battle, had taken a toll on his body and his mind. He had become hard, bitter, and without any feelings of love or mercy over time. In essence he had become the perfect warrior.
The only regret that Eirik had was that his people had moved on from the days of the Vikings, and Gods like Odin, Thor, and Tyr, to a Christian time of love, forgiveness, and a heaven devoid of the fighting spirit of the warrior mentality. As they marched out of the gate, Eirik put aside his Christian vows, and once again spoke to Odin.
" All-Father take me if I fall. I do not wish to reside in the Christian God's abode ! " he whispered to himself as he moved out onto the plain where the Baglers were ready and waiting.
- End Chapter 1
- Next : Chapter 2 : A Vision All In White
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2017.