The Boy Grows To Be A Man
Oddbjorn returned home to find his house untidy, his farmland only half harvested, and his wife alone and a nervous wreck. He was both overjoyed when he saw his infant son, and deeply saddened by the loss of another, but he had no time to express such emotions. Winter was fast approaching and there were many things that needed tending to. Despite being tired from a long season of raiding, and a rough voyage home, he immediately went to work fixing what needed to be repaired, and finished as much of the harvesting as time allowed.
Luckily the raids into Graenafylki, Norway, had gone extremely well. The king graciously granted him ten more acres of land, and three slave workers to help him tend to his new fields. King Horik also gave, to his new commander of the army, another serving maiden, named Kolla, to help Hildigunnr tend to their child, and to do the multitude of chores around the house that needed to be done. Best of all Oddbjorn's pockets were filled with gold and silver that he and his warriors had plundered from throughout the Norwegian lands.
The return of her husband, and the assistance of the young maiden Kolla, allowed Hildigunnr to slowly regain her self - confidence, and put the death of the child she had named Vargr to rest. Despite tending often to Vargr's grave, she began to show more and more attention to her living son Arnulf. While Hildigunnr allowed Kolla to do all manner of chores in the house, and out in the garden, she did not want her to care for Arnulf at all. The old midwife Kolfinna had told her that she would never be able to bear children again, and she now protected Arnulf as though he were a fragile piece of pottery.
Oddbjorn allowed his wife to smother their child until he was old enough to walk. Then the warrior, and commander of the king's army, stepped in and began to give his son training in the use of various weapons. The child saw it as playtime, but Oddbjorn knew that when he was older these playful moves might save his life. He also, to the dismay of his wife, made Arnulf carry a sack of rocks on his back, and made him lift heavy objects to build up his strength.
Hildigunnr objected strenuously, but there was little she could do. The Danes, and Jutlanders in particular, had always been a warrior society with a long history of producing some of the northern lands most powerful fighters.
However, in a half joking tone, she warned her husband :
" If you injure my only son I will never forgive you. And if you get him killed, .... well,.... then I will kill you ! "
By the time Arnulf was five he was much bigger and stronger than the other boys his own age. Thanks to his father's training his skills with weapons was unprecedented for a child his age. Strangely, unlike other boys who were more powerful than their counterparts, Arnulf did not bully or pick fights with the other boys in the area. Instead, he trained these boys from the surrounding farms in the use of various weapons, as he had been schooled by his father. One of the first boys he chose to join his little band of warriors was Lofarr, who would stay with him and always fight faithfully by his side.
King Horik II was so impressed by what he called the " Boy Army " that he gave them an honorary place in his regular army, and had each of the boys tattooed on the arm with a raven, which was the symbol that the king carried into battle. Over the years Arnulf's little corp continued to grow until his " Boy Army " was the size of a small shield wall .
When the boys came of age King Horik officially incorporated them into the main army. Right from the start it was apparent that these boys had great fighting skills, and they quickly became an integral part of the king's battle formation. As time went on King Horik moved them closer and closer to the center of his army to better protect him. Some in the army became jealous of this " Boy Commander " as they called him, but none disputed his, or his army's, fighting skills.
Oddbjorn could not have been prouder of his son, who had grown to be a full head taller than his father. Not only had Arnulf's skills taken him far in the king's army in a very short time, but his prowess and honor had shone a favorable light down on him as a father, and a teacher of warriors. Before his son had reached such great heights in the army, some had tried to take from him the title of commander of the army. Several times he was forced to kill a warrior who felt that he deserved the title more. After Arnulf became one of the king's favorites, however, no one dared to challenge for fear of his son's wrath !
Hildigunnr did not share her husband's view of her son's future. The fate of her father and uncle haunted her every time she saw her only son practicing with the army. She had already lost two people she loved very much to war, and did not want to lose her son as well. The prospect of her only son dying in a far off land hung over her like a dark storm cloud that could rain down misery upon her at any moment.
Then one day Hildigunnr's biggest fear went from a haunting nightmare into the stark reality of day. Arnulf came home with his father and proudly told her that the army would be sailing to Arhus, where a minor chieftain named Hallormer had led an uprising against King Horik II in that region. Like most mother's, when their sons go away to war, her heart sank into the pit of her stomach and she cried without shame.
Hildigunnr need not have worried herself however. The forces under Hallormer were quickly destroyed. Arnulf, who had suggested taking his army through a mountain pass to get behind the rebel forces, was given full credit by King Horik for destroying the enemy with few casualties. The king even allowed Arnulf the great honor of performing the blood - eagle on the rebellious chieftain, who in a final act of cowardice had tried to flee the battlefield screaming like a little girl.
Oddbjorn was at first very proud of his son, but it did not take long for the father to see that that Arnulf had not only surpassed him in battle, but also that he was beginning to usurp his position as commander of the army. To keep his prominence in the army Oddbjorn began to become reckless, taking many chances in battle to impress his king.
That false pride caused him to become careless in battle. While raiding in Norway two years later Oddbjorn became separated from the main army, and against a superior force of Norwegians, under a local chieftain named Ljufvini, he led a smaller band of warriors into a disaster in which almost all of his force was destroyed.
The next day Arnulf found his father's body littered among the other Jutlanders, and buried him. With a fire in his eyes that worried even King Horik, Arnulf demanded to take his army and go after those who had killed his father. King Horik wanted to say no, but he felt he could not deny Arnulf the right to avenge the death of his father. A week later Arnulf caught up with Chieftain Ljufvini and his Norwegians. Arnulf split his army, and with Lofarr's help, surrounded the hapless Norwegians who then tried to surrender. Arnulf would not hear of such nonsense, and would not accept the chieftain's sword. He killed the Norwegians to the last man, and then hung their mutilated bodies in the trees as a warning to all those who would oppose the Danes.
On the way back to the main army Arnulf stopped at the grave where he had buried his father and raised a rune stone in his honor. He took his father's sword, which he had left to mark the grave, back with him so he could present it to his mother when he returned home.
On the return voyage to Jutland King Horik told Arnulf that he was now the commander of the army. Arnulf in turn respectfully asked that Lofarr be made his second in command. King Horik was more than happy to give the talented warrior what he wanted. As word spread from ship to ship a roar of approval rose up and echoed across the waves. It was apparent to all that the child who had once raised a " Boys Army " had grown to be a man !
Arnulf's heart grew heavy as the ships landed one by one and were dragged on shore. He was not certain exactly what he was going to say to his mother when he saw her, but he knew that his words would not be enough to mend her broken heart. As he mounted his horse he almost wished that he had been the one who had been killed, but he knew that the fates of men were weaved by the Norns and cannot be altered. What happened had been ordained long ago, and the path of destiny is always in front of you, no matter how many times you look back.
Hildigunnr knew the moment she spotted her son trotting up the lane to their house alone that her husband of twenty two years would never return home again. She trembled uncontrollably as Arnulf knelt before her and presented her with Oddbjorn's sword. Through her tears of grief she saw something in her son's eyes that saddened her as much as her husband's death. She saw that same look of pride and determination that her husband had always projected,.... and it terrified her because it meant that Arnulf was no longer her precious little boy. He had become his father. A powerful warrior and a skilled killer.
- End Chapter 4
Next : Chapter 5 : From Warrior To King
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2017.