King Of Destiny
The Land Battle Begins
All evening scouts were coming in to see Jarl Magnus with reports of the Christian army' s movements. King Sigtrygg it seemed was lining up his warriors directly across from his forts in preparation for an all out attack. The Jarl was nervous about the defenses they had set up, and rode with Herjan until well after dark to each of the closest forts to check every little detail. At one of the forts Herjan suggested that they fill the trenches in with more leaf litter to make sure the Christians could not see what awaited them in each of the pits. He also met with the local chieftains to make absolutely sure that they understood what the battle plan was. Finally he had the warriors lined up and spoke to them as well to make sure these men and women understood their duties in the upcoming fight. Unlike the Christian forces the Pagan Northland forces still used shield maidens, and they too were counted on to perform their duties to the highest standards. Jarl Magnus made sure to thank all of the warriors for their great service in building such fine earthen forts, and he told them that the coming battle could determine the fate of their Northland homeland. He hoped this would plant a seed of determination in every warrior that they must do their utmost to protect their homes and their families.
It was almost midnight when they arrived back at the main camp. Before turning in Magnus turned to Herjan and asked the old warrior : " You have been quiet all day my friend. Why do you seem so calm before what is surely going to be a bloody day tomorrow ? " Herjan smiled. " Because tomorrow many of our warriors will die in battle, and be brought to the halls of Valhalla. " he told the young man. "I would like to give you a bit of advice young man. A fool stays awake all night pondering his problems. By morning he is exhausted and whatever was to happen, still will take place. " the old warrior told his student. Despite Herjan' s words of wisdom Magnus did not sleep much that night, falling asleep just before dawn' s first light.
Both camps were very active first thing in the morning. There were no last minute defenses to build, and no troops to move from one part of the battlefield to the other. Everything was in place, and nothing on this earth, or even in the Christian heaven, or the Pagan nine worlds could now stop what the Norns had weaved to happen on this day, on this battlefield. No one knew this better than old Herjan who rose early in the morning with the energy of a much younger man. Jarl Magnus noticed the moment he saw Herjan that the old warrior beamed with self confidence, and that his eye seemed to shine with an exuberance that no one his age should still possess. For Herjan today was going to be a very proud day. And only he knew why !
King Sigtrygg was up even before the first light of day shone over the horizon. From where he stood he could see the embers of the fires still glowing in the earthen forts across from him. He felt that an early attack would not catch the Pagans off guard, but he wanted to start his attack as soon as the morning mist lifted from the battlefield. Sigtrygg's plan was a simple one . Hit the forts hard and fast ! Overrun them, and then march north behind the forts, and attack King Thorvald' s main force from the rear. King Sigtrygg smiled as he thought to himself : " You should not have sent a boy to do a man's job King Thorvald. I will kill your son, and bring you his head ! "
As the sun peered over the mountains behind the earthen forts King Sigtrygg had his commanders position his warriors for the attack. There was not going to be anything subtle about this battle. With his best warriors in the lead he was going to hit the forts head on in one mad dash, and overwhelm the defenders. No Pagan Jarl was going to stand in his way ! As King Sigtrygg, who was perched on his horse looked up and down his line, he could not help but notice that a gentle breeze had kicked up making the flags from both sides flutter in the wind. On the one side there was the pure white flag with the Christian Cross of Jesus Christ emblazoned on it, and on the other the black Raven Flag of the Pagan God Odin. " Today ", he thought to himself, " the Raven will fall ! " Sigtrygg took a final moment to take in the significance of this event, before yelling the order : " For God and our Christian Kingdom, ATTACK !! "
Jarl Magnus and Herjan stood in a small wooden tower, and watched as the Christians moved forward. For as far as they could see to the left and right it looked as though a great wall of humanity was coming towards them at incredible speed. And spotlighted by the early morning light were the thousands of shields painted with the Christian cross. Herjan looked over at the boy and asked : " Are you afraid my boy ? " Magnus narrowed his eyes, and gave his teacher an angry look, but said nothing. Herjan smiled. He had taught his student well ! All along the earthen wall were stationed archers at the ready. Another dozen archers were up in each of the three towers that rose above the fort. Between every twenty archers burned a small fire that would be used to light their arrows when the time came to light the ditch on fire. Herjan placed his hand on the Jarl' s shoulder and whispered in his ear : " Let them cross the first trench before the archers let their unlit arrows fly ! " Magnus frowned, but knew better than to question his teacher, and simply nodded his approval.
As the Christian warriors came to the first trench, which was only filled with dead branches and leaf litter, they used their spears and shields to poke around to see what was in the ditch. When they saw that there were no sharpened wooden stakes they waded into the impediments in the ditch, and made their way across an up the other side. The Christians were wary of their Pagan opponents, and wondered why they had not yet become targets for the Northland archers. They could not believe their luck because they were well within range. As the Christian warriors climbed out of the pit they ran at full speed towards the fort, yelling like madmen. Once almost all of the warriors from the first wave were through the first ditch, Magnus looked over at Herjan. The old warrior smiled, and calmly said : " Now . " Magnus smiled at his teacher and then shouted at the top of his lungs to the archers : " Archers! Aim and fire ! " As the Christians ran across the open space between the ditches they were suddenly confronted by a hundred archers . All had been personally trained by Skjalfi herself, and were extremely accurate within this range. A cry of " shields up " rang out from the Christians as the Pagan archers let loose their first volley. Skalds years later would say that the archer's arrows rained down in such numbers that they blocked out Sunna's rays !
Some of the Christian warriors knelt down behind their shields to protect themselves, but most of the attackers kept running towards the fort as fast as they could. The first volley littered the battlefield with injured and dying warriors. Some who had hideous injuries screamed out in agony. The second volley knocked down even more, and quieted many of the warriors who were already down. As they approached the second ditch the Christian warriors did not have time to feel around for impediments in the leaf covered pit, but instead quickly jumped in to avoid the archers who were now only yards away. As they did they immediately became impaled on the multitude of sharpened stakes buried under the leaf litter. The few who were lucky enough to somehow make it through the ditch were either picked off by the archers, or were stabbed by men who stood behind the sharpened stake fences with their spears protruding through the gaps.
Suddenly there was a loud roar from hundreds of Christian warriors ! A second wave of determined warriors had jumped into the first ditch, and were now joining the battle. These warriors were more organized, and formed a shield wall to protect themselves from the arrows. Together, as one, they moved slowly to the second ditch, only losing a few men to the flying projectiles as they found gaps in the shield wall. For the warriors huddled behind their shields the barrage seemed to go on forever. Then they stopped firing !
When the archers stopped shooting their arrows at the second wave the Christians made a mad dash for the second ditch that was just outside the earthen fort's walls. There was not time to probe the ditch to see what lay beneath, so the Christians threw their shields onto the stakes and walked across the wooden shields which the stakes could not penetrate. In several places in the ditch, where their shields did not cover all of the stakes, they were able to walk over the impaled bodies of their comrades. However , as the Christians reached the other side they were hit point blank by the archer's arrows. This time, enough made it to the sharpened stake fence to push it back, and penetrate the fort's gates. Inside they were met by hundreds of angry Pagans wielding axes and swords. When King Sigtrygg saw that they had penetrated the outer perimeter of the fort he sent in a massive third wave.
Below King Magnus and Herjan hundreds of Christians lay dead and dying. In the second ditch men were screaming in pain as they became impaled on the stakes, through their arms, legs and bellies. One warrior had a stake go through his eye and was convulsing as he hung there helpless. Herjan had seen it all before, and was not particularly affected by such horrors, but Magnus could not help being shocked by the savagery of war. As the massive third wave made it through the first ditch, Herjan pulled Magnus close and yelled in his ear : " Order them to shoot the fire arrows now ! " Magnus hesitated for only a moment, but as soon as his head cleared he yelled first to his right and then to his left : " Archers ! Shoot fire arrows now ! " One by one the archers shot their last pointed arrow, and placed a pitch covered arrow on their string. Then they ran back to the fires and lit them, before running back. Skjalfi had trained the archers well ! Almost every arrow shot hit within the outer trench setting it on fire along its entire length. Some of the Christian warriors saw the trench starting to burn, and ran back across to safety, but most were to fixated on the battle in front of them to notice what was going on behind them.
The pause in firing at the warriors allowed many more to make it over the final trench and gain access to the fort. There were pockets of battles taking place throughout the perimeter of the fort now. Fierce one on one struggles where only the man with greater fighting skills prevailed. Jarl Magnus and Herjan came out of their tower, and joined in the fray. Herjan found that he could not use his long triple bladed spear because the battle was too compacted with men fighting each other only feet apart, so he drew his sword, and hacked away at anyone who challenged him. Magnus started slowly, but once he was able to get himself in rhythm he began to mow down his opponents one by one. The Christian's fought desperately, but without the chance of reinforcements they were doomed. Those who had made it past the first ditch were now trapped, and had only two choices. Either try escaping through the intense heat of the fire pit, or fight their way through the fort. Neither was a winning solution !
By noon the battle was all but over. A wooden draw bridge was lowered over the first trench, and the Pagan warriors went out and finished off the few remaining Christians who would not surrender. Those few who did surrender were hung by their necks from the towers along the fort's wall. As the fires died down in the outer trench, Jarl Magnus and Herjan, who had returned to the tower, could see through the thinning smoke King Sigtrygg sitting on his horse with the remainder of his army. The question now was whether the Christian king, who had already lost half of his men, would risk another attack.
King Sigtrygg had watched as the battle had gone from bad to worse. He sent warriors to try and put out the fires in the first trench, but when they came within range of the archers many were shot and had to fall back. In all his many years of war the king had never seen archers who could shoot with such accuracy. The king refused to admit defeat and decided to try one more attack. This time instead of attacking on a broad front he would concentrate all of his men in a narrow corridor, and pierce the earthen walls in one spot. Once inside they could fan out, and defeat these aggravating Pagans. As King Sigtrygg was about to give the command to re-position his men for the new attack, a faster rider came galloping across the field of battle. " King Sigtrygg ! King Siggtrygg ! " the rider yelled. The messenger dismounted as the horse was still running and ran the last few yards to the king on foot. " I have an important message from the people of More my lord ! " he started. " Well...., spit it out boy ! What do you have to say ! " the king demanded. " The More coast is under siege my lord ! King Eirik and his fleet were defeated, and now the Pagan Jarls are attacking More from the sea ! " he told the king without stopping for a breath. King Sigtrygg slumped in his saddle. The sea battle was lost ! And now maybe the war, and the Christian kingdoms were lost as well !
King Sigtrygg cancelled the new attack, and gathered up his army to return to Rogaland . Instead of attacking and defeating the Pagan Northland army he would now have to defend his Rogaland kingdom from Pagan attacks from land and from the sea. As Sigtrygg was leaving the battlefield with his warriors, he turned and took one last look at the fort. The last thing he saw before he turned away was the Raven flag still flying over one of the towers....... and right below the flag hung one of his warriors.
End Chapter 7
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2014.
Next : Chapter 8 : The Death Of A King