Under The Hrafnsmerki
The Witch Revisited
Karkr made his way back to the south side of the hill using a much more circuitous route that kept him hidden in a large stand of trees and brush. When he finally reached the now silent battlefield his darkest fears were realized. The fight was over and the Heathens had been defeated to a man.
The warrior was torn between his duty to his fallen commander and his responsibility to warn Guthrum that Ubba would not be coming to aid him in his fight against King Alfred. The lone Dane almost drew his sword and attacked when he witnessed the Wessex fighter lift the Hrafnsmerki off of Ubba's body and hand it to the man who appeared to be their leader. Reason prevailed, however, and Karkr left his sword in its scabbard.
When he could stand to see no more he quickly, but quietly, made his way down to the river to where the ships, he hoped, were still being guarded by his fellow Danes. Each time he heard voices along the way he concealed himself behind trees, or brush, to conceal himself from capture. Karkr felt he had but one mission left to accomplish before death, and that was to somehow make his way back to Dyfed to warn the others.
Karkr was so happy and relieved to see his comrades at their posts, guarding the ships, that he ran the last fifty yards and hugged the warrior who was left in charge of their defense.
" Ragnbjorn ! I am so glad to see you !! " Karkr whispered to the warrior as he patted him on the back.
Ragnbjorn pushed away the warrior and gave him a stern look.
" We heard the fighting raging in the distance and wanted to join in, but Ubba gave us strict orders not to leave the ships under any circumstances ! Is the battle over already ?! " he asked hopefully.
Karkr hung his head low as he replied.
" The battle is over, ...., and our army has been wiped out. " he sad sadly.
Ragnbjorn's eyes nearly popped out of his head as the other warriors quickly gathered around.
" What !! How could this have happened ?! " he asked frantically.
Karkr grabbed hold of Ragnbjorn's shoulders and shook him.
" We have no time for such talk now ! We must take one of these long ships and make our way back to Dyfed to warn the others ! " Karkr explained as he stared deep into the warrior's eyes.
Karkr's words made Ragnbjorn snap out of his shock and the warrior instantly went to work on making Ubba's personal long ship ready to sail. Before leaving, and with heavy hearts, the Danes set fire to all the other ships. As the smoke bellowed up into the Wessex sky Karkr pulled up the anchor. With thirty-two of their comrades pulling on the oars as hard as they could, the remaining Danes hoped to get back to the open sea before the Wessex army could arrive to stop them.
As darkness fell they rowed as quietly as they could to avoid detection, and just as the sun began to rise on the horizon they reached Lynmouth Bay. By using the Dane's long ships beached on the shoreline on the north side of the hill, the Wessex warriors made a half-hearted effort to catch them, but they could not match the speed of Ubba's ship and soon gave up the chase.
Ashildr, Gylla, and Reginleifr were horrified as they listened intently to each and every word that Karkr told them as he explained what had happened to their brother and his army. Little Gylla understood that her older brother would not be returning, but the mind of a child is not as familiar with the concept of death as an adult understands it, and she did not break down into tears until her older sisters cried first. Karkr apologized several times for not returning with any of their brother's personal belongings, but he did offer the sisters the long ship they had returned in.
" No ! " Reginleifr told the warrior as she tried to keep her lip from quivering.
" Though we are grateful for the generous gesture, you will need my brother's ship to sail to Mercia to warn Guthrum. " she explained to the warrior.
After once again giving his sincere condolences to the sisters, Karkr walked back to the docks to help make the ship ready for the trip to Mercia. Once he was out of earshot Ashildr, who had been silent since hearing of her brother's death, drew her sword, and pointed it toward the direction of the Dark Forest.
" I am going to pay that witch Myriam another visit ! If I cannot avenge our brother's death in a fight against the warriors of Wessex, I can gain revenge for him by cutting out her lying heart ! " she shouted angrily as she began to walk away.
Reginleifr stared in horror at Ashildr as she walked away. Deciding it was best not to let her sister see the witch alone she turned to Gylla and pointed to their hut.
" Go home and stay there until we return ! " she told Gylla sternly.
Realizing that this was not a time to argue, Gylla lowered her head, pouted her lips, and slowly walked back to their hut.
" Ashildr ! Wait for me !! " Reginleifr called out to her sister.
Ashildr did not respond. With her sword held firmly in a determined hand, she kept walking as if she had not heard her sister. Reginleifr had to run to catch up to her, and even then had to walk at a very fast pace to keep pace with her. Nothing could slow Ashildr down. Not the entrance to the Dark Forest, the thick brush, or the thorns and brambles hindered her swift gait as she angrily made her way to see the witch Myriam.
When they reached the pentagram in the center of the Dark Forest neither Ashildr, or Reginleifr, were surprised that Myriam was standing there waiting for them. The witch appeared as though she wished to speak to the sisters, but Ashildr was in no mood for conversation. With her sword in hand she prepared to rush the witch to kill her. Before she could take even one step, however, a dozen or more arrows hit the ground in front of Ashildr, stopping her before she could begin her attack.
" I know why you are here. " Myriam told the sisters in a quiet but firm tone.
Ashildr glanced over at the edges of the forest that surrounded the clearing, and saw at least two dozen archers aiming their arrows at her.
" Then you know that my brother is dead, and that the flag you placed a victory spell on did not protect him !! " she shouted back in a fit of fury.
Reginleifr placed her hand on her sister's arm.
" Let us hear what the witch has to say. " she told her younger sister firmly.
Ashildr took a second look around the clearing at the archers before returning her sword to its scabbard.
" It seems we have little choice ! " she replied bitterly.
As the archers lowered their bows Myriam stepped forward.
" The spell, or blessing, that I placed upon the flag did not assure the holder victory. It simply was a symbol that could foretell the future of the upcoming battle, and allow the owner of the Hrafnsmerki to decide whether to proceed with the battle or retreat. " she explained to the sisters.
Ashildr pointed her finger accusingly at the witch.
" According to a survivor my brother had no choice but to engage the enemy ! He was attacked and therefore had to fight the Wessex army ! " she screamed back at the witch.
Myriam nodded and spoke to the sisters in a sincere and honest tone.
" It is unfortunate that your brother could not defeat the Christians in Wessex, but neither I, nor your brother, ....., or a mere flag, can change the course of history that has been weaved by the Fates,..., or Norns as you call them. I am afraid that the Christians will rule this world for a thousand years before our Pagan descendants rise and pick up the flag of freedom once again. We are silenced for now, but an idea can only be suppressed for a time,...., it and can never be totally destroyed. Go home and have children,.... many children,...., for it is their descendants who will one day rise up and resurrect the faith in the Old Gods of your land and mine ! " she told the sisters.
Reginleifr tugged at her sisters arm.
" We should go now. There is nothing more that we can do here. " she told her sister in a quiet tone.
" It appears that we cannot change the course of history. A thousand years, however, is a very long time to wait for revenge. " Ashildr told her sister bitterly as she turned and began to walk away.
As her warriors gathered around her Myriam whispered into the wind.
" If only I could tell her that it will be one of her descendants who will help bring back the old religion. "
.................................................................................... The Year 2017 ..................................................................................................
Yrsa Ragnsdottir stared up with a great sense of pride at Öskjuhlíð hill, from her home in Reykjavík. For there, on this hill, which she could barely see from her front steps, they were constructing the first Asatru temple to the Old Norse Gods, to be constructed in a Norse land, in a thousand years. As she turned to walk back into her house tears filled her eyes as she caught a glimpse of the Hrafnsmerki that she had attached to the flag pole on the outside of her home. The brisk winds, that often blow through Reykjavik, made the Raven seem to flutter and fly as it flapped back and forth. With a hand she reached out and grabbed hold of it for a moment. As she stared at the Raven Flag's beauty she thought of all the Pagans who had come before her, and all they had suffered.
" Fly raven, fly free forever ! " she said to the wind.
- The End
- Next Story : The Yule Promise © 2018.
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2017.