The Valkyrie's Daughter
The presence of the Birkebeiner army in the heart of their homeland infuriated the peasants of Viken, who with the help of the Baglers, began to plot against their hated enemy. Eirik found it increasingly dangerous to go out scouting with only a few warriors, and by the time the January snows fell, the Birch Legs did not dare go out into the countryside with less than twenty or thirty well armed men for fear of being ambushed and killed.
The peasants were not truly organized, and were barely trained. They were more of a nuisance than a major threat to King Sverre. This rag tag army was no match for the Birkebeiners, but they were troublesome enough to warrant action by the king, who sent his son Hakon out with a large contingent of his army to hunt down the scattered pockets of these troublemakers and kill them. Although they were allied to the Baglers King Sverre gave them the derogatory name, ' The Peasant Army '.
Hakon found it almost impossible to engage all of the Peasant Army at once because they were strewn throughout the region, and were controlled more by local leaders than a central commander. Sverre's son decided to hunt them down the way wolves hunt their prey.
" Start with the weakest elements of their army, corner them, and destroy them one at a time ! " Hakon had told his commanders.
Eirik went out on many of these search and destroy patrols. He found the peasants to be more than willing to engage them in a fight, but they lacked the skills necessary to win a battle, and were easily cut down by the more experienced Birkebeiners. Throughout the months of January and February Hakon's army cut through The Peasant Army like a scythe through a wheat field.
In late February a scout came riding into the camp and reported to Hakon that a large number of peasant warriors were camped at what was known locally as the Iron Forest. Hakon immediately marched his force north to meet them. Unfortunately, they were forewarned that the Birkebeiners were coming, and scattered in all directions like chaff in the wind. The king's son decided it best to go after the largest group of peasant warriors first, and chased after them as fast he could move his men.
Eirik was quickly growing tired of war. It seemed the more Viken peasants they killed, the more the Baglers recruited to fight against them. To him it appeared that there would never be an end to this civil war, and it seemed to Eirik that the lives of those who had already died had been wasted in a foolish cause.
As Eirik formed up in line with his fellow Birkebeiners he felt a lethargy fall upon him that he had never known before. For there was little challenge in fighting these peasant warriors, many of whom did not have swords. Through necessity they were forced to use instead axes, or other simple weapons. Some fought as though they had been in battle before, but most were inadequate with whatever weapons they carried, and were easily killed. Eirik thought it more like slaughtering pigs than honorable combat when fighting with these peasants.
Hakon had chosen the perfect place to attack the Bagler friendly peasants, A bog lay to their east, which was almost impassible, and a deep river blocked their way west. The peasants could run north, but only for a few hundred yards. For the sheer cliffs of a small mountain blocked their escape here as well. In short, they were trapped !
The peasants fought for a bit, retreated, and then made a stand near the sheer wall of stone that stood like a monument to their futility. Eirik stabbed and slashed his way through the ranks of these unskilled warriors with little effort, as did his comrades. As the battle began to wind down Eirik paused for a moment and allowed his fellow Birkebeiners to have their chance to kill a peasant or two. For he no longer wished to be part of this senseless slaughter.
He never saw the old peasant with the wide - brimmed hat that partially covered his face. Nor did he notice the patch over his one eye, or the man's icy stare that cut right through him like a knife. And worst of all Eirik did not know that this peasant threw his spear at him until it struck him square in the chest.
Eirik hit the ground like a felled tree ! The suddenness of being struck numbed the pain for the first few moments, but then the damage the spear had done to his body caused him to writhe in agony and scream. Eirik grabbed hold of the shaft of the spear and tried to pull it out, but his strength was quickly leaving him, and he could not remove it. A moment later he involuntarily coughed up thick dark blood, and he was sure that his time in this world was ending.
He did not want to die, but Eirik could do nothing to stop his demise. In his last moments he remembered how safe and warm he felt in Hlaðguðr Svanhvít's arms, and he wished he could see her one last time before he died. Then Eirik became aware of how quiet it had become. At first he thought that the silence was an effect of his dying, but he quickly realized that the battle had moved on. He was alone, as he had been most of his life, and now he would die alone.
Eirik's last thought was of how awful warriors who died on the battlefield looked with their eyes open. Just before his last breath he closed them tightly. And then there was nothing.
Hervor Alvitr stood over the dead warrior and looked down upon him with pity. The man she remembered as Eirik did not look how she remembered him at the lake in Bjorgyn. His face appeared to be peaceful, but there was blood all over it, and his chest had been ripped open by a spear.
" At least the coldness of late winter has not allowed your body to swell, and turn black. " she told the lifeless human as though he could hear her.
Hervor bent down and reached into his heart and gently removed the soul of Eirik Ospaksson. The Valkyrie gently carried the honored warrior to her horse and draped it over the animal just in front of the saddle. Before mounting her winged horse she looked over and nodded to Odin, who had carefully watched it all from atop Sleipnir.
Odin returned her nod, and gave Hervor one last instruction.
" Place his soul upon the hallowed steps of Valhalla and I will invite him in. " he told her before gently kicking Sleipnir into the air.
As he flew away Hervor Alvitr wondered why the Great Odin had given so much attention to this warrior in particular. She did not think on it for long, however, because no one in Asgard questioned the wisdom of the High - One.
- End Chapter 9
- Next : Chapter 10 : " I Took A Life To Save A Life ! "
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2017.