A Game Of War
" Avenge Thy Father ! "
Víðarr and Alboðr, with the shepherdess, stood like statues staring down at the steep path that led to the valley below, and ultimately Hringanes, for a long moment in utter silence. It was the mysterious woman who finally broke the awkward impasse.
" I will leave you here. Follow this path and you will reach Hringanes in good time. " she told them.
Alboðr gave the shepherdess a suspicious stare. He then turned to Víðarr and looked his commander directly in the eyes.
" We should kill her ! She told us she was bringing her goats to Hringanes, and that was apparently a lie ! For now she wishes to go no further !! " he told Víðarr emphatically.
As he looked over at the kindly shepherd woman, Víðarr patted his old friend on the shoulder.
" No Alboðr ! She has kept her promise and showed us the path to Hringanes. I will let her go her own way if she so chooses. " he replied with a smile.
Víðarr would have preferred to have personally led the army down the trail, and have Alboðr bring up the rear to keep them in line, but he feared that his old friend would kill the woman despite his orders to the contrary. He did not quite understand why he wished to spare this woman's life despite her suspicious ways, but he would not leave this mountain until he was certain that she was safe.
The commander of the Heinafylki army watched as the last of his warriors stepped over the ledge and began to descend the mountain to the valley below. When the bobbing heads of his men disappeared among the trees Víðarr turned and walked over to the shepherdess.
" Thank you again for your kindness ! " he told her with a smile.
To his surprise the woman leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. And then she whispered in his ear words that greatly alarmed him.
" Avenge thy father ! " she said in the form of a command.
Víðarr tried to ask the woman what she meant, but she quickly walked away. He was about to chase after her when the shepherdess simply disappeared, along with her entire herd of goats. For a long moment he stood on top of the mountain in stunned silence. Thoughts by the hundreds flooded his mind, but the one that made the most sense was that she was a witch who had come to help him. Suddenly her words, " Avenge thy father ! " began to pound in his head like a hammer hitting an anvil.
Víðarr ran to the edge of the cliff, jumped over the ledge, and headed down the trail as fast as his legs would carry him. Along the way he pushed his warriors to the side of the narrow trail as he frantically made his way to the head of the long column. When he finally reached Alboðr he grabbed him roughly by the shoulders, and despite being almost out of breath, yelled :
" We must reach Hringanes as quickly as possible ! " he exclaimed.
Alboðr tried to ask why, but his commander had already turned around and was moving back down the line hurrying his warriors along as fast as he could. Despite his confusion, soon he too was joining in with a chorus of : " Move,.... Move,... Quickly, ...Move ! We must reach Hringanes as soon as possible ! "
Víðarr and Alboðr stood on the down slope on the backside of the hill that overlooked the flooded marshland, and formed their warriors into battle formation as quickly and quietly as they could possibly manage. Moments before both men had stared down on what apparently was a battlefield where both armies had earlier met and fought. What they saw horrified and infuriated them. The total annihilation of their king's army was, in and of itself, more than either man could stomach, but to watch King Lifsteinn's wretched men mutilating the bodies of their brave fallen warriors was too much !
Both men knew that if they attacked immediately they could catch most of the Heidmork army by surprise, and in the unfriendly confines of the marsh. Víðarr, realizing for the first time that he was now the king of Heinafylki, wanted to make certain that King Lifsteinn, and his dishonorable men, paid the ultimate price for looting and mutilating the bodies of what were now his warriors.
King Lifsteinn sat on a log in a raised portion of land that was dry in the middle of the marsh. Surrounded by his most loyal warriors he laughed each time he stabbed at the now unrecognizable body of King Sigvaldr.
" Look upon the great king of Heinafylki now ! His bleached bones shall sit forever upon this small mound, while I, King Lifsteinn, will be seated upon his high-seat ! He is nothing more than meat for the scavengers, while I am now the king of Heinafylki ! " he told his men drunk with glory.
King Lifsteinn was about to expand on his great deeds when a roar suddenly rose up from the hill where his army had camped the night before. Quickly the king jumped up onto the log to get a better view over the tall grass. He stood frozen in time by the horrific sight that met his wide disbelieving eyes. The high shrieks emanating from the onrushing army sent a chill up his spine which almost caused him to fall off of the log. When he regained his balance, and his senses, he screamed out to his warriors as loud as he could :
" Form up ! Form a shield wall ! We are under.....
He never had a chance to finish his order. The first arrow struck him in the right eye, while others hit him in the throat, groin, and the chest. The new king of Heinafylki was dead before he hit the ground. Lifsteinn, who only moments before was extolling his prowess in battle, had not reigned for one full day.
Disorganized, without a leader, and spread out all over the marsh, the Heidmork army had no chance against the well formed Heinafylki shield wall that cut through the marsh like locusts through a wheat field. Some of Lifsteinn's men fought bravely, but many, seeing that their situation was hopeless, dropped their weapons and ran as fast as they could north through the muddy marshland to escape. Those who were not cut down by the archers, fell to the swords and axes of the Heinafylki warriors. The few who tried to surrender were shown no mercy. Their decapitated heads would later that night ring the battlefield on stakes to proclaim to the world their cowardice.
Víðarr was appalled and infuriated when he found his father's mutilated body near the center of the marsh. The new king of Heinafylki ordered his men to place his father's remains in a blanket, and had them carried back to the hill where they had set up their camp. That night they honored King Sigvaldr by burning his body upon a huge funeral pyre. After the fire had died out, and his father's soul had been sent to Valhalla, Víðarr ordered his warriors to cut Lifsteinn's body into small pieces, and to scatter them in the woods that surrounded the hill for the animals to feast upon.
Early that morning, when only a few guards patrolled the sleeping camp, the Valkyries, led by Odin himself, came to the battlefield like shooting stars from the heavens. Hundreds of brave warriors from both sides were chosen to make the journey to Valhalla, while those who died cowardly were shown the way to Niflheim.
Just before daybreak Odin reluctantly nodded to the Valkyrie Thruðr to carry King Sigvaldr's soul back to his golden hall. This left only Lifsteinn's essence on the battlefield. Despite pleading with the All-father, the Lord of Asgard would not relent. As he mounted Sleipnir he spoke one last time to the king who he had chosen to rule these lands.
" You have disobeyed me, and dishonored yourself, and your brave warriors with your selfish actions ! I therefore condemn you to eternal torment ! " he told the former king of Heidmork.
Before Lifsteinn could beg again for his salvation he found himself in the jaws of the dark dragon Nidhoggr, who quickly whisked him away to his lair in Nastrond !
- End Chapter 8
- Next : Chapter 9 : A New Threat
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2018.