( Ravensheart's Alternate Ending )
My Friend, My Honored Enemy
The ground soon ran red with the slick sacrificial blood of the battle's dead and dying. This made the already treacherous footing in ankle deep grass even more hazardous. With smashed skulls, opened bellies, and missing limbs, warriors fell like leaves from an autumn tree. All too soon the orderly straight shield walls became disorganized, bent back, and broken on both sides of the line. It was as though a great madness had taken over the battlefield. Neither army seemed to be in control, and chaos ruled the moment.
The fiercest fighting took place in the middle of the valley where the Berserker and the Úlfhéðnar went at each other like wild animals. And neither side was willing to give the other an inch of their position. Here in this small section of the battlefield an epic struggle was taking place between the best warriors in all of Southern Norway. This was a battle for pride ! This was a struggle for honor !! This was a fight to the death !!!
Most individual battles in war take but a few moments to reach their conclusion. But these were not normal warriors ! Their skills were such that each trick they used was blocked or countered by an equal ability of their opponent. They were so well matched as fighters that it almost seemed as if it were a dance that had been perfectly choreographed. This, however, was a dance of death !
It is said that Odin knew that this epic battle would take place, and that he invited his Asgardian children to Hlidskjalf to watch as it played out on the green fields of Midgard. The Gods were so intrigued by the fighting skills, and tenacity of the Berserker, and Úlfhéðnar warriors that bets were placed on individual battles, and on which of these forces would still be standing when it was finally over. Only Odin refused to wager on the matches playing out below them.
Alrekr and Bjarnlaugr led their warriors into battle with a ferocity that out - shined all the other warriors on this now hallowed field. Bjarnlaugr was especially maniacal in his fighting style. If he could not stab, he sliced. If he could not slice, he bashed his opponent to death. One opposing warrior angered the commander of the Berserker so much that he hit him in the mouth with the boss of his shield, and when his dazed opponent dropped his weapon Bjarnlaugr picked him up, and broke his back over his knee.
Alrekr was not quite as strong as his counterpart, but he more than made up for it with his skill, and speed. The commander of the Úlfhéðnar had learned much from the wolves over the years. Although he maintained an acute focus on the warrior he was fighting against at the moment, he constantly used his peripheral vision to scan his surroundings. If an opportunity arose he would slash or jab an enemy to his left or right to help a comrade with his opponent. This is the fighting technique that Alrekr had taught his Wolf - hides and it seemed to be a worthy strategy in this battle.
At first Alrekr and Bjarnlaugr were pushed apart by the ebb and flow of the battle, but as warriors fell, and the ranks thinned it became inevitable that these two great warriors should meet head to head in single combat. Bjarnlaugr had just beheaded a warrior when he saw out of the corner of his eye a blurry figure coming at him at a rapid pace. The Berserker commander turned just in time to raise his shield to block a vicious sword stroke from this new opponent. Then he used his shield to push the warrior away to gain some fighting room. For a moment Bjarnlaugr stood staring at his foe. Then a grin slowly rose up on one corner of his mouth.
" Hello, old friend ! It is time to die ! " he said without any emotion.
Alrekr smiled .
" I am ready ! Are you ? " Alrekr asked.
Back in Asgard the Gods immediately began to place their bets. Tyr, Balder, Syn and Gna, all put their money on Bjarnlaugr. Thor of course, bet against Odin's favorite son Balder, and put his gold coins on Alrekr. Ullr, Skadhi, and Heimdall also joined the God of Thunder and placed their bets in support of Alrekr.
Bjarnlaugr did not answer his old friend with words. Instead he immediately went on the offensive. The angry Berserkr swung his sword back and forth like a scythe cutting grass with great force and accuracy. He also used his shield as a secondary weapon, pushing and jabbing at Alrekr with its pointed metal boss. To his surprise his childhood friend blocked every strike with little difficulty, and he soon realized that this was not the boy he had once practiced with in the woods back in Vestfold all those years ago. His friend, now his enemy, had become a skilled warrior. Bjarnlaugr also realized that killing Alrekr would be a great honor, and he began to fight with even more tenacity than before.
Alrekr was using every trick he had learned over the years, but he could not seem to penetrate Bjarnlaugr's defenses. One of the reasons was that the commander of the Berserker, because of his great size, was using a much larger shield than most warriors carried into battle. So large in fact it was almost impossible to get his weapon passed it. It was then that Alrekr remembered the reindeer that was attacked by the wolves in the valley below his cave dwelling all those years ago. The reindeer had a large multi - pointed rack, which much like Bjarnlaugr's shield prevented an attack from the front. But the great beast could not defend both its front and rear at the same time. Alrekr would wait for an opportunity to nip at the heels of his opponent the way the wolves had bitten at the reindeer's rear legs on that day.
When Bjarnlaugr tried to push him away with his shield again, Alrekr pretended to fall forward, but instead did a complete roll on the ground, and quickly popped up behind the large Berserker. He only had time for one quick stroke before Bjarnlaugr moved to defend, but it was enough to change the course of the battle. Alrekr's carefully aimed stroke sliced through Bjarnlaugr's calf all the way to the bone.
Bjarnlaugr screamed like a wild animal, but ignored the pain, and though hobbled by his injury, he moved forward to attack again. The commander of the Berserker was furious, and was not about to allow this Wolf - hide to defeat him.
As Alrekr prepared for a renewed assault from Bjarnlaugr he saw Jarpr out of the corner of his eye finish off his opponent. Jarpr then moved forward ready for his next challenge. As he approached Bjarnlaugr he quickly slashed at him with his sword before moving on. The act was not meant to kill the Berserker, but merely to injure him so that Alrekr would gain an advantage over his opponent. Jarpr's blade, however, was perfectly placed and sliced through the Berserker's knee cap sending him hard to the ground.
Once again Bjarnlaugr screamed in pain. This time, however, he could not dismiss the injury and move on. With his left calf muscle deeply wounded and his right kneecap gone, he no longer could get up to fight Alrekr . But the great warrior was not finished yet ! He raised his sword high and began to slash back and forth frantically with it at Alrekr, while at the same time using his shield to balance himself so that he would not fall over.
Alrekr pitied his old friend only for a moment and then went in for the kill. He pummeled Bjarnlaugr from the front striking hard with his sword. But none of his sword strokes could get by the Berserker's sword which seemed to be everywhere, and anywhere he tried to strike. Then to Alrekr's complete surprise Bjarnlaugr lunged forward and landed a vicious counter strike that ripped through his wolf hide, and penetrated his shoulder, causing the commander of the Úlfhéðnar to involuntarily wince in pain.
Alrekr quickly saw that much like the reindeer in the valley it was futile to attack the immobile warrior from the front. Slowly Alrekr worked his way to his left and then to his right to probe the Berserker for a weakness. He quickly realized that Bjarnlaugr could still move a little to his left, but with his knee cap sliced off he could not move at all to his right. Alrekr feigned an attack on Bjarnlaugr's left, and then quickly spun around and attacked the Berserker on his right side.
Bjarnlaugr tried to move his legs to defend himself, but his body would not do what his mind asked it to do. The Berserker was only able to turn his torso a short distance by the time Alrekr drove the point of his sword into his side and through his bowels.
" I am sorry my old friend ! " Alrekr whispered as he withdrew his sword.
There was no time to remain and watch his friend die, nor was there time to mourn the friendship that as a child he had cherished so very much. As soon as Alrekr pulled his sword out of Bjarnlaugr's body another Berserker attacked him. The older warrior never had a chance. Alrekr was furious ! He was angry with himself for having to kill Bjarnlaugr, and even angrier that he, as a warrior, had allowed himself to care. With several quick sword strokes he broke the Berserker's shield, and with a quick jab he plunged his sword deep into the belly of his opponent.
Alrekr took no pity upon the injured Vestfold warrior, as he knelt on the battlefield trying to hold in his entrails. The commander of the Úlfhéðnar raised his sword, and cut the shocked man's head off at the neck. He then spit on the man's severed head before moving on to his next victim.
The fighting lasted for hours, as did the carnage, and it became a painfully slow battle of attrition. Only when the last of his Berserker fell , and all three of his commanders were killed, did it become obvious to King Sigmarr that all would be lost if he did not order a retreat. Finally, and with a sick heart, the king ordered his men to begin to leave the battlefield.
Retreats are seldom orderly, however, and only those Vestfold warriors who were able to disengage with the enemy quickly were able to escape with King Sigmarr. The rest were hunted down one by one and killed without mercy. Their heads were lopped off, and placed on sticks all around the battlefield as a warning to the Vestfold army not to return. They needn't have bothered though, for King Sigmarr had no fight left in him. The king of Vestfold rode back to his great hall as fast as he could, set up defensive positions around his village, and hid in his great hall drinking copious amounts of ale. Not even his wife Ragnhildr could calm down her husband, who seemed as if he were going quite mad !
King Agmund, dismissed his royal guard and rode through the battlefield alone to survey the devastation that lay all around him. The valley was covered with so many of the dead and dying from both armies that it seemed to Agmund that he could walk from one end to the other without his feet ever having to touch the ground. The king was very proud of those who had given the ultimate sacrifice for his kingdom, but he also felt great sorrow at their loss.
As King Agmund continued his ride among the dead he spotted Alrekr, the commander of the Úlfhéðnar, off in the distance. The king reined his horse around and trotted over to Alrekr, who was now kneeling over a fallen Vestfold warrior. Alrekr seemed oblivious to his presence as he rode up, and the king waited for a moment before speaking :
" Did you know that warrior ? " the king asked.
Alrekr looked up at the king with a sad expression.
" He was my friend ! " he replied.
The king nodded.
" Then I will leave you to bury your friend. " King Agmund told Alrekr.
Before Agmund could leave Alrekr got up off of the ground, and approached the king.
" I would like to bring him back to Vingulmork and give him a proper warrior's burial in a mound. " Alrekr explained.
The king sighed and took a long breath before replying.
" This is highly unusual. We do not honor our enemy. " he told Alrekr bluntly.
Alrekr stood perfectly still as he looked at the king, but he did not say a word. The weight of his stare told King Sigmarr all he needed to know.
Finally the king nodded.
" You and your Úlfhéðnar helped my army greatly to win this battle. Therefore I will grant such a request in your honor ! " he told his commander.
Alrekr bowed slightly.
" Thank You my Lord ! " Alrekr answered proudly.
Alrekr stayed with Bjarnlaugr's body throughout the night to keep away scavenging animals. While the other survivors of the Vingulmork army slept comfortably along the eastern perimeter of the battlefield Alrekr would not leave his friend's side, despite the conditions. Tired to the point of exhaustion Alrekr quickly fell asleep. In his dream state he never saw or heard the Valkyries as they arrived on the hallowed grounds of the battlefield to begin retrieving the dead. If he had been awake he might have seen a rare sight indeed. For Odin had decided to lead his Valkyries to this battle personally !
After dismounting Brynhildr walked over to Odin and bowed.
" My Lord will you tell us which of the honored dead you have chosen ? " she asked.
With a gleam in his eye, and a smile on his face he answered his Valkyrie.
" Why, ...... all of them of course ! "
Then Odin pointed to Bjarnlaugr's remains.
" Except that one ! I will take him to Valhalla myself ! " he explained with a great sense of pride.
The next morning Alrekr awoke to find himself surrounded by his Úlfhéðnar warriors, who stood over him staring down at their commander. Alrekr was surprised, and very delighted, to see that so many were still alive as he looked at them one by one : Yngvarr, Baldrekr, Njall, Ulfrekr, Grundi, Rambi, Almarr, Utlagi, Rekki, Lofarr, Hialti, Patrekr, Kulgaldi, Dvergr, Skarpi, Hamundr, Vigr, Tosti, and Jarpr, all looked down at him with confused smiles upon their faces.
Alrekr tried to hide his emotions, but it was impossible. How could so many of his little band of warriors have survived, when so many others in the ranks perished, including all of the enemy's Berserker.
" It is very good to see all of you ! " he blurted out unable to hide his feelings.
Kulgaldi bent down and looked his commander in the eyes.
" We are alive because Domaldi taught us how to fight like warriors,.... and because you, Alrekr, showed us how to attack our enemy like the wolves that we are. By watching each other's backs, and attacking where and when we could, we saved each other, and defeated our enemy ! " he proudly told his commander.
Lofarr then stepped forward and announced :
" The king wishes for us to pull back across the border and set up a defensive position there ! " Lofarr told his commander.
Alrekr nodded and pointed to Bjarnlaugr's body.
" I wish to bring this man back to Vingulmork for a proper burial. " he told his men.
Then Alrekr looked over at Jarpr.
" Will you help me Jarpr ? " he asked more than commanded.
Alrekr expected at least one of his men to protest, but no one questioned the man any longer who had taught them how to fight and survive on the battlefield.
As Alrekr and Jarpr were carrying Bjarnlaugr's body to the edge of the battlefield, and a waiting cart, Jarpr had a question for his leader.
" I am curious commander. Why did you pick me to help you move this warrior's body ? " he asked .
Alrekr stopped for a moment.
" Because you are the one who helped me kill my friend . " he stated without emotion.
Jarpr did not quite know what to make of what Alrekr had told him, and for the rest of the trip back to Vingulmork he remained very quiet.
Alrekr inspected the stone very carefully. Oraldr, the stone cutter, had chiseled the runic letters deep into the rune stone, and the commander of the Úlfhéðnar thanked him for his fine work. After helping Alrekr to set the stone in place upon the edge of the burial mound, Oraldr collected his fee and left.
Alrekr sat on the edge of the mound, under which the earthly remains of Bjarnlaugr lay, with a huge arsenal of weapons for his friend to use for an eternity, and relived his childhood memories of Bjarnlaugr. Then as the day began to wane Alrekr got up and read the stone one more time before mounting his horse and rejoining his Wolf - hides.
' This Stone Was Erected By Alrekr
Commander Of The Úlfhéðnar
For His Friend And Honored Enemy
Bjarnlaugr Of Vestfold
Son Of Ramundr And Dalla
Never Has A Braver Warrior
Walked The Nine Worlds
Or Graced A Battlefield
With His Fighting Skills
His Body Lies Here
But His Soul Fights On In Valhalla '
- The End
- Next : Story 57 : The Queen Of War !
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2016.