" Then Let There Be War ! "
There was much merriment that night, and every man tipped their horns in honor of Odin, Thor and Njord to praise them for their safe journey to the land of the Franks. Two of their warriors came back from scavenging the countryside with several goats, which the jarl promptly sacrificed to Odin and Tyr to gain their help in the upcoming battles. The blood was collected in a large wooden bowl, and the warriors quickly formed up in a line to bless their weapons. Each took a turn dipping their swords into the steaming blood to purify and strengthen their weapons, and to give them good luck in battle. The goats were then cut up and from them stew was made for the warriors.
By midnight the singing and celebrations began to die out, and many were fast asleep. Although the ocean crossing had exhausted Hogni, he had drawn the first watch. As he gazed up at Mani, whose glowing face had now reached its highest point in the sky, he heard a twig snap behind him. The old warrior instinctively placed his hand on the hilt of his sword, withdrew it, and spun around ready to strike. Ospak smiled at his old friend as they faced each other. " My, a little jumpy tonight aren't we my friend ? " he asked. Hogni shook his head, and smiled back at his former student. " It is strange Ospak, I thought that once I had set foot on Frankish soil I would relax knowing the end was near, but instead I feel extremely anxious inside. I want to die a warrior's death, and yet the will to live still thrives within me ! " he explained to his friend.
Ospak placed his hand on Hogni' s shoulder, and with the other handed him a horn filled with ale. " I wish I could say that I know how you feel old friend, but I am certain that only you know what these feelings are like. " he told the old warrior. Hogni shook his head and sighed. " I am just a tired old man, do not listen to my words. " Hogni replied. Ospak laughed. " I have been listening to you for many years, why would I stop now old friend ? " he asked without expecting a reply. " Drink up and go get some sleep. I will finish your watch ! " Ospak told him. Hogni was too physically and mentally tired to argue. He drained the horn and found himself a place in one of the tents.
The next morning the camp resounded with the usual cacophony of men coughing, and the rattling of metal pots being placed over the fires. Most of the warriors went down to a small stream that flowed into the Risle river to wash up. The Franks thought of these Viking raiders as a dirty unkempt lot, but in truth their hygiene was always cared for, and considering the life they lead, they were cleaner than most. A few warriors still lay in their beds sleeping off the effects of the alcohol they had consumed the night before. Ospak, and the other leaders, quickly roused these slackers with a shout and a swift kick.
Hogni had an especially bad awakening. The cold night air had gotten into his lungs, and he was once again coughing up copious amounts of phlegm, this time mixed with thick red blood. His discomfort was a reminder of just how little time he had left. Hogni was late in getting breakfast, and had to settle for some dried herring, and a little leftover stew from the night before. This food, washed down with a little water that he had gotten from a nearby spring revived the old warrior, and gave him the strength to face a new day. The old warrior then went to the stream to wash up before rejoining the other warriors in camp.
After the breakfast was finished the tents were taken down, and all their camp implements were carefully stowed back in the longships. Jarl Steinthor, and his leaders gathered around a hand drawn map that had been placed over the stump of a tree. The jarl had paid 6 gold coins to a warrior back in Norway, who had been raiding in the Frankish kingdom for several years, for this precious map. As they all huddled around the map of the Frankish Kingdom the jarl suddenly placed his finger on the parchment. " This is our destination my friends ! " he told his underlings. The warriors strained their eyes to see the dot that his finger pointed to on the Seine river. One by one they noticed the name that was written on the parchment above his finger. ' Rouen ' was written in runes, and that was to be the first town they raided on their way to Paris. When he was sure that everyone had seen their destination the jarl carefully rolled up the parchment and placed it back in its container. Then with a broad smile he shouted: " To your boats warriors ! "
The dragon ships were quickly launched, the sails carefully unfurled, and the oars put to good use. The current was not especially swift in this section of the river and with the help of favorable winds they made steady progress. As the men rowed they sang songs about the Gods, and their homeland. From one ship could be heard a little ditty about a promiscuous woman. The men were all in good spirits as the dragon ships wound their way through the Frankish countryside. Even Hogni forgot about his problems for a little while and enjoyed the warm spring breeze.
Surprisingly, they had not seen any boats or small ships along the waterway. And they had seen very few of the Frankish people as well. Only a few farmers had been spotted off in the distance as they made their way deeper into the land of the Franks. Many of the warriors were pleased that they had not seen their enemy as of yet, but the older, and much more experienced men did not like the silence . It was quiet. Too quiet !
That night Jarl Steinthor called a meeting to discuss the situation. The jarl had spoken to several warriors, when he was in Norway, who had come back from raiding Paris, and they had all mentioned that they had passed several ships, and many smaller boats along the Seine river on their way to Paris. The lack of any ship traffic was becoming a concern to the jarl, and Ospak suggested that they proceed more cautiously, and sail quietly up the wide river. The jarl agreed, and told his ship leaders to caution all their warriors to remain quiet as they rowed.
The next three days were much the same. Calm water, a favorable breeze, and as quiet as quiet can be. Only one farmer was spotted as the third day ended, and he was well off in the distance, and unaware of their passing. Hogni and Ospak quietly discussed what their thoughts were on the barren countryside. Ospak' s theory was that previous viking raiders had scared the local inhabitants away from the river, but Hogni, a seasoned veteran of many battles, thought their absence much more ominous. " They know that we are coming ! " was all Hogni told his former student.
The fourth day began with clear skies, and a blazing sun. By the time they launched their ships there was actually a hint of warmth in the air. And when the sun was directly overhead many of the rowers discarded their outer layers as they began to sweat from their exertion. Everyone was in good spirits ! As the ships rounded a bend in the river they saw a tributary that seemed to lead into the countryside, and up into the mountains. Jarl Steinthor, in the lead ship, smiled as he checked his map. That was the last river that intersected with the Seine river before they reached their destination. Rouen lay straight ahead. As he looked up from his map, however, his smile disappeared from his face. Up ahead and off to the right on a small hill overlooking the river stood a large man. And behind him waited an entire army !
Jarl Steinthor stopped his oarsmen at once, and had his men take down their sails. The other ships followed his lead and did the same. The jarl allowed his ships to drift down river until they were out of sight. He then ordered his ships put up on shore, and with the help of his leaders he assembled his warriors in the woods just beyond its banks. Every man worked quickly, and efficiently, and in less than an hour Jarl Steinthor lead his warriors out of the woods to a place in a field across from the enemy on the hill.
For a few uncomfortable moments both sides stood watching one another. Then a dozen of the enemy warriors led by a huge man began to move towards them. The jarl took a deep breath, and called his leaders to form behind him. As they headed towards their adversaries the jarl yelled back to Hogni. " Keep the men steady, and be ready to come forward when I call ! "
When they came close enough to distinguish their adversary's features Ospak was surprised, and even a little relieved to see that these were Norsemen and not Franks that stood across from them. He did think it strange, however, that one of their number carried a flag with a lion emblazoned on it. "They probably captured it in battle, and are now using it as their flag. " Ospak told himself. Everything else about these men, from their helmets to their boots, told him that they were Norse.
As they came within speaking distance both sides stopped. Jarl Steinthor spoke first : " I am Jarl Steinthor from Vestfold, and I am glad to see our fellow Norsemen here in the land of the Franks ! " he shouted to the large man, who was without a doubt their leader. " Shall we join forces and attack Paris together ? " he asked with a laugh. The big man did not say a word at first but instead stared menacingly at the jarl. The long silence was both awkward and ominous.
The large man, who apparently was their leader stepped forward, and drew his sword. " I am Rollo ! I, and I alone, rule these lands ! And you are trespassers on what is by King Charles' own decree the Duchy of Normandy. You can leave peacefully now, or you can be buried in our soil ! " he told the jarl. " Which is your choice ? " he then asked.
Jarl Steinthor, who did not like being threatened by anyone, gave the man named Rollo a fierce look . " My men and I did not come all this way just to turn around and sail back home ! Our intention is to plunder these lands until our ships are heavily laden with gold and silver. Then, and only then, will we leave. " he shouted back.
Rollo stared angrily back at the brash viking named Steinthor, and shook his head. " Then let there be war ! " he shouted at the leader of the viking invaders. Both men then turned and walked back to their respective armies.
- End Chapter 7
- Next : Chapter 8 : Final Glory !
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2015.