The Valkyrie's Daughter
The Battle Of Strindafjord
Although the Tronders provided the wood and other materials, as well as many of the skilled carpenters, King Sverre insisted that his ships be built to his specifications. And the King of Norway wanted each of them to seat at least fifty warriors , and have the highest sides of any ship that they had ever constructed. For the king knew that the ships that sat tallest in the water were the hardest to board.
Eirik and Vigvaldr, who were not skilled carpenters themselves, worked doing manual labor, such as cutting down oak and ash trees, trimming off branches, and transporting the logs down to the fjord where they were readied for planing, warping, and drilling.
Eirik and Vigvaldr, among others, were also sent out to cut down as many pine trees as they could to make the resin tar used to seal the ships, while the women gathered up wool and horsehair to help caulk the ship. These fibers were carefully inserted between the planks of the lapstrake construction, and then sealed with a thick coating of the pine tar. This same tar was also used to protect the ropes used in the rigging.
A great pride rose up in the Birkebeiners, and to a lesser extent the Tronders, as they helped to construct these ships. And the king's men, who knew that they would be serving on one of these vessels, grew to feel a kinship with them because they would be able to pull on a rope, row and oar, steer a rudder, or at the very least see a nail, or plank, that they helped to install upon the ship they sailed on. King Sverre was a shrewd man, for he was certain that his warriors would fight to the death to defend the ships that they assisted building.
Each launching of a ship was cause for a celebration. Ale was poured out, toasts made, and horns drained, to honor their new ships. Great names such as Sea Dragon, Wave Rider, and Raven were attached to each of these new vessels. Even the re-launching of the converted cargo ships stopped all work on the shore. The Birkebeiners and Tronders alike would put down their tools and cheer loudly as these larger ships were pushed back into the fjord.
It all seemed like a game to everyone until one day a scout came riding hard into the camp with disturbing news. The Baglers it was reported were sailing north with a fleet of eight ships.
" They were seen leaving Sygnafylki a week ago ! " the messenger informed King Sverre.
The Birkebeiners, and their Tronder allies, redoubled their efforts to finish the remaining ships. Everyone worked until their bodies could take no more, and then they collapsed down on the grass at the edge of the fjord. Here they slept for a few hours before rejoining their comrades. No one complained about how hard their jobs were, and everyone agreed that they would finish the ships before the Baglers arrived.
Early that June another messenger rode into the camp. This time the news was much more ominous for the Birkebeiner king to hear.
" My Lord ! The Baglers have entered Trondheimsfjord with ten ships, and they are loaded for war ! " he announced to the king.
King Sverre looked out at his small fleet of ships and smiled.
" The last of the transport vessels will be finished today, and if, as you say, they have but ten ships, then we have a numerical superiority over our enemy ! " he told the messenger with a great air of confidence.
Hakon, not meaning to deflate his father's exuberance, reminded him of one important fact.
" Yes ! But they have ten long ships, while we have eight long ships, and four converted transports. " he told him.
King Sverre patted his son on the back and pointed to the last cargo ship that was being fitted with it's sail.
" That may be,.... but our ships have been constructed by the finest craftsmen in the world. And tomorrow we will sail out to meet those bastards who burned Bjorgyn to the ground ! " he assured his son loudly, and angrily.
The next morning Eirik and Vigvaldr were given the great honor of serving on the largest vessel, which would of course serve as King Sverre's command ship. Each was given a bow, and a generous number of arrows to hurl at the enemy before the battle evolved, as they always did when the ships were lashed together, into a land battle at sea.
Eirik seldom if ever cared what the date was, but he would remember this day because King Sverre made a point of telling his son Hakon, in front of all of his warriors, that June the 18th, 1199, would be a day that skalds would sing of for a thousand years. Eirik and the other six hundred warriors, however, simply hoped that they would survive to remember this day !
The wind and the current favored the Birkebeiners. For they were sailing down the fjord, and out toward the sea, while the Baglers had no wind for their sails and had to row against the current to reach the Birkebeiner fleet. This great exertion of strength would later come back to haunt the Baglers, when they met the well rested warriors of King Sverre who allowed the wind to propel their ships.
In a small stretch of the fjord known as the Strindafjord, a Birkebeiner sailor who had climbed to the top of the mast pole, shouted down to his comrades.
" Enemy ships on the horizon ! "
Every warrior on the ship crossed himself, except Eirik. As he looked up at the white sail with the blue Christ's Cross upon it, Eirik could not help but think how ironic it was that he had already pledged his soul to Odin. He knew, however, that religious faith alone would not be enough to save a warrior now. Strength, skill, and in some cases luck, would decide who lived and who died this day.
King Sverre was not a novice sailor, or strategist at sea. He had already formulated a plan as he sailed effortlessly down the fjord towards the Bagler fleet. In his mind he had three mighty advantages. First, he had speed, and with that came maneuverability. Second, the Baglers were coming from the west, and his fleet from the east. This meant that the early morning sun would partially blind his enemy. And finally, he had four converted transport ships, which were slower than his other ships, but had a much stronger constructed bow. And the king had a special mission for them !
King Sverre ordered his converted ships to the front, and had his faster long ships slow themselves to fall in behind them. Hakon, who commanded the ex-transports waved to his father as he sailed by. It was his duty, and honor, to ram his ships into the leading Bagler vessels, causing as much chaos and confusion in their front ranks, and disrupting the ships that followed as well.
By the time the enemy spotted the wider transport ships, hidden in the blinding glare of the sun, they were too close to avoid them. Inge Magnusson , the leader of the Baglers, and pretender to the throne of Norway, then made the mistake of trying to turn his ships away from the larger vessels that were barreling down upon his fleet. All this foolish move accomplished was to give the Birkebeiner ships a larger target to hit.
Hakon could not believe his luck when he saw the Bagler ships turning. Their oarsmen were no match for the combined power of his sails, along with the current that propelled his ships, and it was impossible for him to miss the broadside of the ship that loomed in front of his vessel. With a crash, and the unmistakable sound of splintering wood, his lead ship ripped into the Bagler vessel, and nearly cut it in two. As the wind pushed his bow relentlessly deeper into the Bagler ship, almost all of it's crew jumped overboard.
The three other converted ships hit their targets as well. However, they did not quite match the spectacular results as Hakon's ship had achieved. Two of Hakon's vessels became lodged in the Bagler ships, resulting in desperately hard fighting between the opposing crews. The shock of the crash, and the incredible damage done to the enemy ships, caught the Baglers off- guard which gave the Birkebeiners the advantage at the beginning of the fight. But the Baglers soon recovered and fought savagely to defend their ships.
Seeing his son's great success King Sverre maneuvered his ships to go after the Bagler fleet, which had scattered during the ramming of their front ranks. Only one ship escaped the initial attack and that was Inge Magnusson's vessel which pulled in it's oars and set it's sail. As Eirik and Vigvaldr watched Sverre skillfully guide his ship after the retreating vessel they immediately saw why the king had insisted on his ships having high sides. As they passed the first Bagler ship, which was beginning to sink, they were able to shoot arrows down into the enemy who had no protection, while they could kneel behind the outer wall of their ship to seek some shelter from the arrows coming from below.
By the time the Birkebeiners were ready to board the Bagler ships many of the enemy's warriors were either dead or injured by the multitude of arrows that targeted them. And yet the Baglers did not throw down their weapons, nor did they cower before a superior enemy. They fought hard and long against the Birkebeiners, until their leader Inge Magnusson finally decided that all was lost and turned his remaining vessels around to flee.
Eirik and Vigvaldr, along with a dozen other Birkebeiner warriors had just jumped onto one of the Bagler ships when it turned and made a run for the mouth of fjord, and the safety of the open sea. The lighter enemy vessels quickly outdistanced the Birkebeiner ships forcing Eirik and his warriors to jump overboard to avoid being captured. As they splashed around in the water, trying to stay afloat in their heavy armor, Vigvaldr was targeted by a Bagler archer who placed an arrow through his head. Eirik watched in horror as his friend slipped beneath the water ! Despite knowing that his friend could not survive the wound, he none the less dove after him. Halfway to the bottom of the fjord he grabbed a hold of Vigvaldr's limp body and struggled mightily to bring him to the surface. With his strength almost gone Eirik swam slowly to the shore.
King Sverre watched as the remaining three Bagler ships retreated south, presumably to return to Bjorgyn, and with a grin that showed his complete satisfaction, spoke to his crew.
" We have lost but two vessels, while our enemy have lost seven ships ! Today we have crushed the Baglers, and sent them scurrying like frightened mice back to their hiding places. Now let us go back and pick up our wounded and honored dead ! " he shouted for everyone to hear.
Then with a wicked laugh he pointed around his ship.
" And throw these ugly dead Baglers overboard for the fish to feast on ! " he commanded.
As Eirik stood tired, wet, and shivering on the shore of the fjord, he set his friend Vigvaldr gently down on the bank. Eirik was angry ! He was furious !! The warrior who had once come so close to death himself fell to his knees and screamed as loud as he could for as long as he could. When he was done he cried out :
" Why ?! Why Odin,... Why ?! He was as brave as any warrior I have ever known ! Why did he have to die this way !! " he shouted.
Eirik did not see, nor did he sense, the figure behind him. The first indication he had that anyone was there was when a voice spoke to him.
" Fate has no " why ",.... there is only that which is, and that which cannot be changed. For that is the only meaning of one's fate. " he heard a familiar voice say behind him.
Eirik spun around and stared into the blue eyes of Hlaðguðr Svanhvít, who was holding the reins of a white horse with wings. His thoughts jumped from pain and loss, to ones of joy. There was so much he wanted to say, but he could only manage a few words in his confused state of mind.
" Why have you come ? " he finally asked.
With a coldness that reminded him of a warrior ready to kill, she pointed to his fallen friend and announced :
" I have come for Vigvaldr. "
More confused than ever, Eirik frowned as he shook his head.
" Vigvaldr was a Christian ! Why would you come for him ? " he asked.
Hlaðguðr Svanhvít managed a little smile.
" His last thoughts were not of the Christian God, but of Odin and his great hall in Valhalla." she explained before reaching into the dead warrior and retrieving his soul.
As the Valkyrie draped the dead warrior over her horse Eirik grabbed her arm and spun her around.
" Will I see you again ? " he asked.
Hlaðguðr Svanhvít gently removed his hand, and then stroked his cheek.
" I cannot be with the living. I serve only Odin and the dead. " she told him again.
Odin looked over at his wife as she intently watched the events unfolding below in Midgard. In Asgard, and Valhalla, he was Lord and Master, but there was one realm in which she, and she alone, was supreme. He smiled as he finally recognized a way to rectify the mistake he had made by allowing Eirik to live, and to save the life that Frigga not only wanted, but demanded.
Sensing that she was being watched Frigga turned and gave her husband a stern look.
" Has my husband found a way to make this right ? "
Odin smiled from ear to ear and said just one word :
" Yes ! "
- End of Chapter 8
- Next : Chapter 9 : The Uprising !
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2017.