King Of Destiny
The Great Sea Battle
As day gave way to dusk, King Eirik began to notice clouds building on the horizon. It was not unusual for the heat of the day to cause the formation of clouds, and his thought was that there might be a little rain by morning. At first he was not concerned, but as time passed the clouds became thicker, and blocked out the moon and the stars. Then the waves began to grow in size as the winds became more and more intense. By the middle of the night the ships were being tossed about like toys in a tub. Great waves crashed over the sides of the long ships, washing men overboard, while other ships were overturned spilling its crew into the churning sea. The ocean had become a foaming mess of total chaos !
King Eirik was no different from any other common sailor. As the swells rose and fell, he hung to the side of the ship for dear life, and occasionally when his stomach could take no more, he vomited over the side. The weather became so dark and strong that no one could see the ship that had been sailing next to it. Several ships collided in the dark damaging the vessels, and spilling even more men into the mercy of the angry ocean. Eirik watched helplessly as his men bobbed up and down in the huge swells. The king felt a sinking, hopeless feeling every time a man went under and never resurfaced. Eirik knelt at the side of his ship, and prayed to his God, and his Christ, for their salvation. When he opened his eyes he saw a sight that scared him far more than the raging storm. Each of the waves seemed to have a woman's face ! As the" wave women " approached a warrior floating in the sea it changed from a beautiful woman into a monster whose huge mouth opened up and swallowed the helpless swimmer who was trying to stay afloat. King Eirik grabbed the nearest warrior and pointed to the breaking waves. " Do you see them !? Do you see those creatures !? " he shouted above the howling of the wind. " All I see my lord is our deaths if this storm does not subside soon ! " the warrior shouted back. King Eirik threw the man down, and grabbed hold of the side of the ship again. " Am I hallucinating ! ? " he asked himself. Just then a wave broke upon the side of the ship just below where he knelt. Instead of hitting the side of the ship it hovered motionless for a moment, and then seemed to grab hold of the ship. At first the wave had no form, but slowly it took the shape of a beautiful woman. She sat suspended before him for a moment smiling at him. Then the face became misshapen and monstrous ! It laughed at him in a hideous high pitch tone before the " wave " crashed on him, hitting him with such force that it knocked him to the other side of the ship. Ran laughed as she rejoined her daughters who were busy destroying the Christian fleet. King Eirik did not move from that spot for the rest of the night. His men tried to help him up, but he pushed them away, and lay curled up on the deck with his eyes closed, and his hands clasped over his ears. The king's mind could no longer handle the laughter of the waves, and the screams of the desperate drowning sailors.
Jarl Thorkel of Namdalen, and Jarl Thord of Halogaland stopped their ships dead in the middle of the ocean. They could not believe, or quite understand, what they were seeing. A great storm lay up ahead of them. But this storm was not moving ! It was not heading east or west, nor south or north ! It was just sitting there in the middle of the ocean roaring like a great beast. As Jarl Thorkel pulled his ship up alongside Thord' s he shouted over to him : " What do you make of such a thing as that Thord !? " King Thord took one more look before answering : " I have never seen such a storm ! That large cloud that marks the boundary of the maelstrom appears to be shaped like a huge monstrous man ! " The two Pagan commanders kept their fleets anchored in place and waited for the storm to decide which way it would go. But it never moved !
Aegir watched with great admiration as his wife, and his daughters turned the ocean into a death trap for the ships that the All- Father wished destroyed. Odin had been adamant, however, that not all the ships should be sunk. He wanted there to be a fight between the Christians and the Pagans. The All- Father had told him that a warrior had to win in battle what he most wanted. To be given victory would be an empty accomplishment. Aegir, and his family, were merely making the coming battle a fair and even fight by thinning out the Christian ranks. As Aegir held the great storm in place he watched with pride as his offspring " played " with the Christian fleet.
The next morning the rain and wind ceased, and the sun shone down on a new day. The Jarls gazed across the ocean at the horizon, and saw the Christian fleet damaged and scattered all over the waters before them. Kings Thorkel and Thord agreed that they must attack quickly before the Christian fleet was able to reassemble and launch an attack of their own. Both wondered where the rest of the Christian fleet was ? Were they keeping ships in reserve just over the horizon out of sight ? Or did the strange storm decimate their fleet ? These were the questions the Jarls were asking themselves as the two leaders ordered their ships to go to " full sail and prepare for battle ! "
Two of the King Eirik's warriors lifted him off of the wet deck. and shook their leader. " My lord ! Our fleet is scattered across the sea, and the Pagan long ships are within sight on the horizon ! What are your orders ? " the warrior Styr asked. King Eirik looked out over the ocean, and saw hundreds of Christian shields floating in the water. He thought to himself that it seemed each of the shields marked the spot where a sailor drowned the night before. He laughed, and cried at the same time as he remembered the horrible visions he had seen. " What are your orders King Eirik ! " Ospak asked again in a desperate tone. King Eirik Roriksson of Hordaland stood in the glare of the morning sun, and shaded his eyes in stunned silence. When he saw the first red striped Pagan sail off in the distance, however, he suddenly snapped out of his daze, and pushed both men away from him. " If the old Gods want me dead then so be it ! " he said more to the waves than to his warriors. King Eirik looked at Ospak with piercing eyes, and pointed to his widely scattered ships. " Our fleet is disorganized and many are damaged. Let us assemble as many as we possibly can, as quickly as we are able. Lash the ships together, and form the lashed ships into a circle. " he told them with a renewed focus. " We are not going to get picked off one by one ! If they want to destroy us, then let them come and try, but we will fight, and die together under the flag of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ ! " he yelled to his warriors, who let out a roaring cheer.
Styr and Ospak began to yell to every ship within hailing distance to come alongside, and lash their ships to the dragon ship of King Eirik to form a defensive floating fortress. The first ship that came by was a fast dragon ship that had not been damaged much in the storm. The king sent this dragon ship out to pass the word to as many ships as they could reach, telling them to form up on the dragon ship with the white flag and the red cross. As the morning dragged on ship after ship added itself to the Christian defensive ring making the floating fortress larger and larger, and therefore much more formidable. The question in King Eirik's mind was " Would enough of his ships join up with him before the Pagan fleet reached them. As the king looked out across the ocean he could now clearly make out the raven designs on some of the sails of the Pagan ships. They were coming. And they were coming fast !
King Eirik's luck held. He was able to get most of his remaining ships lashed together before the Pagan fleet arrived. The circle formation he had imagined was complete. Strangely, and fittingly he thought, each of the formations of the circle, which actually looked more like a square, formed a cross.
Jarl Thorkel' s ships were first to reach the Christian defensive formation. His ships attacked the center cross, though he did send a few to attack the left cross.. With a great clunk his ship along with several others pulled up alongside the Christian ships, and the Pagan warriors poured over the side like hornets streaming out of a disturbed nest. A few died before they even had a chance to raise their swords in anger, while the others fought hard for every step they took on the Christian ships. It would be a long and hard fight, this Jarl Thorkel knew all too well. They would have to fight and earn their way from ship to ship until they reached the last one in the defensive cross. Then they would have to move to the next cross, and do it all again ! Only after all four crosses were defeated could the Pagan forces attack King Eirik's great dragon ship that sat last in line.
Jarl Thord and his forces attacked the right cross, and like Jarl Thorkel he sent a few of his ships to attack the left cross. Thord had spear men on his ships, and he sent them onto the Christian ships first to push back the enemy to give his warriors a better chance at a foothold on their ships. The Fighting was fierce, and at first the Pagans had trouble advancing on the swaying ships. It took much longer than Jarl Thord expected to get hold of the first ship, and only then could they move to attack the second ship. Jarl Thorkel was doing slightly better by midday, but he had still not reached the center ships of the cross.
King Eirik at first felt that his warriors had a fighting chance against the Pagans. As the sun reached high overhead it became apparent, however, that his ships were being taken over one by one. His warriors had not slept the night before, and were tired and worn down by the great storm. He was sure that by evening all would be lost. From his dragon ship, which sat higher than most of the other ships, the king watched proudly as his warriors fought hard, and died heroically in the great battle. " It is a shame they will not be able to feast in the halls of Valhalla ! " he thought to himself. " Tonight our God will welcome many of our warriors into his kingdom. " the king shouted proudly. For a moment he considered untying his remaining ships and making a run for safety, but he decided it was better to die in battle than to run away like a coward. He laughed as he remembered the great stories the skald's told of the einherjar who fought for Odin. Had he made the wrong decision choosing the Christian religion for his people ? King Eirik reached down and grabbed hold of his jewel encrusted cross that he wore around his neck. " No, I have not chosen wrongly for myself or my kingdom ! " he whispered to himself.
The casualties were appalling on both sides ! Jarl Thord received a deep cut to his thigh towards the end of the day, and had to be carried back across the lashed ships to his dragon ship, which was not an easy task by any means. His warriors had to carry him across decks running with slick blood, and had to navigate past the dead bodies of warriors that littered every ship's deck. Several times they had no choice, and had to walk over the bodies of the dead. The Jarl, though in great pain, held tightly to his Thor' s hammer, and put his life in the God's hands. Jarl Thord' s best warrior Stygg took over for him, and lead his warriors against the last of the ships, several of which attempted to untie themselves, and make a run for the safety of open water. Many of the Christians surrendered as the battle wound down to its bitter conclusion. Some of those who gave up were killed, while others were spared, depending on the whim of the attackers. All that remained now was King Eirik's dragon ship which bobbed gently up and down at the end of the last cross. His was the largest, and only ship, not yet touched by bloody slaughter.
Jarl Thorkel yelled across for the king to surrender, or he would be killed along with all his men. King Eirik did not respond. Depressed and defeated, he walked to the rear of his ship, and tied the anchor rope around his ankle. With all his might he lifted the great stone, and walked to the side of the ship across from the Jarl. " I will not give you the satisfaction of capturing me ! I commend my feeble soul to our lord and savior Jesus Christ ! " he shouted as he dropped the stone over the side. Before the rope was used up he jumped in after it. The Christians were too stunned to do anything about his suicide, but Stygg was not going to allow the Christian king to take the cowards way out . The great warrior quickly pulled out his seax, and placed the blade in his mouth. He then dove into the icy cold waters after him. A few of the Christians on the dragon ship armed their bows, but quickly put them down when they realized that ten times their number were aimed at them. Stygg, an intelligent man, swam not for the king but for the rope below him. He had expected that the stone would have pulled him down faster, but he found the king fairly close to the surface. Somehow the king's body was not sinking, but seemed to be floating in place. Stygg took the blade out of his mouth, and cut through the rope as fast as he could. With all his strength, and his breath almost gone he surfaced with the king's body. In the depths of the ocean, Ran, with a wicked smile upon her face, let the anchor stone that she had held up slowly sink to the bottom. She had decided that this was one sailor she would let live.
Stygg could not tell if the king was alive or dead, but he swam as fast as the dead weight that he carried would allow to the nearest ship. As he reached the side of the ship he felt strong hands lift his burden off of him, and then he himself was helped onto the ship. With practiced hands the seamen pumped the water from the king's lungs, and did all they could to revive him. When it looked as if the king was gone, suddenly he coughed up sea water, and inhaled deeply . After sitting up and vomiting several times he looked up to see Jarl Thorkel standing above him. " You should have let me die ! " was all the king said before he passed out.
- End Chapter 6
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2014.
Next : Chapter 7 : The Land War Begins
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