The Yule Promise
A Vicious Battle !
Following the king's army was an easy task, and not a problem for Skeggi and his Saeheim warriors. Catching up to them was the real challenge. All evidence pointed to the Hordaland army being two, or maybe three, days ahead of them, and when they reached the first abandoned camp, where their comrades in arms had stopped to rest, it appeared that King Eirikr was marching as fast, if not faster than their small band of warriors.
While experienced fighters like Berlingr and Valdarr worried about being ambushed by a larger Sogn force, Skeggi was solely concerned about how the king would react when they finally caught up with the main army. The Chieftain of Saeheim feared that King Eirikr would seriously admonish, or down right embarrass him if he arrived late to the fight. And if this happened his standing in the Hordaland army would be diminished, and he would lose the respect of the other chieftains. As it turned out Skeggi should have spent less time looking ahead for the Hordaland army, and more care in watching his rear.
King Halfdan the Black was not new to war. The son of King Gudrod the Hunter, and Asa the daughter of King Harald, had become the King of Agder when he was only eighteen years old, and with the help of his half - brother Olaf Geirstad Alf, he attacked and conquered Vestfold, whose lands he then shared with his half-brother. Afterwards, through continuous and unrelenting battles against King Galdalf of Vingulmark, he forced that king to give up half of his territory to him as well. Raumarike was next for Halfdan. After defeating both Sigtrygg Eysteinsson, and his brother Eystein, he was able to take Raumarike, and part of Hedemark as well. Halfdan then returned to Vingulmark and defeated Gandalf's sons, and added the rest of that kingdom to his ever growing domain.
Sogn was the only territory he had not gained through the use of force. His son Harald had been given the title of King of Sogn by his grandfather just before he died. When Harald in turn passed away, Halfdan the Black, who did not want to lose a kingdom that was allied to him, laid claim to it as well. Halfdan at first was concerned that the people of Sogn would not accept him as their king, but he need not have worried. The Sogn folk welcomed him with open arms as the legitimate successor to the throne of their kingdom.
After having fought and won so many wars against lesser kings he was not about to let a newcomer from a petty kingdom like Hordaland take away his pride, glory or his lands ! Using all of his wartime experience he would crush this would be conqueror named Eirikr, and take his kingdom as well !
To defeat this novice, King Halfdan decided to employ a tactic he had used with great success in the past. He would allow his enemy into his territory, march his force around them, and attack them from the rear. Not only would this give his army the element of surprise, but if the enemy wished to flee back to their homeland they would have to fight their way back through his army to do so.
Halfdan the Black could not help but smile when he reached the Hordaland border. His scouts had picked up the trail of a large army which had crossed into his kingdom three or four days earlier. They also informed the King of Sogn that there were fresher tracks as well, apparently made by a smaller force in their rear.
" A rear guard,....., we will have to wipe them out quickly, and quietly, so as not to alert their main army to our presence. " the king whispered more to himself than the scouts.
King Haldan the Black ordered his men forward with all speed. For this was no time to be indecisive ! This was a time to act !
Valdarr was very tired, as were all the warriors of Saeheim. Skeggi was pushing them harder and harder the further they penetrated into Sogn. In the chieftain's mind every day that passed without reaching the main Hordaland army was another blow to his prestige and honor. And should they arrive after the great battle, he might even be stripped of his title and be banished from Hordaland as a traitor to the king. It was not that he was blind to his warrior's misery, but out of self preservation he simply did not care about their plight. His good name, and standing with the king, were more important to him than the grumblings of a few of the men from Saeheim. And that is why Skeggi marched his small army through most of the night, allowing them to sleep only for a few hours on a hill, before the first rays of Sunna's light signaled them to get up and march again.
Valdarr and Berlingr did not appreciate being kicked awake by their chieftain. As the days had gone by, since they had entered Sogn, Skeggi had become more and more ruthless and desperate to reach the main army, at the great expense of their well being. The friends complained while they gathered up their gear, not caring whether their chieftain heard their griping or not. Valdarr especially made sure that he raised his voice loud enough for everyone to hear.
" Our chieftain treats us like sled dogs, whipping us to go ever.......
Valdarr did not finish his entence. Off in the distance he saw the glint of Sunna's glow off of a shiny object. As he squinted and strained his eyes he could make out a number of these ' glints ' which now seemed to be getting closer.
" Arm yourselves ! The enemy is upon us !! " Valdarr suddenly screamed when the realization of what was happening dawned upon him.
Thinking it a joke, Skeggi was about to admonish the warrior who dared to say such a thing, when he heard a great roar from behind their position. At first Skeggi had the notion that these must be Hordalanders coming late to the war as he had, but when he saw the army rushing up the hill towards his position, such wishful thinking quickly faded, and he realized that his small band of warriors was about to be attacked by an entire army.
" Form a shield wall ! Quickly ! Form up men of Saeheim ! " Skeggi screamed as loud as he could so he could be heard over the roar of the oncoming Sogn warriors.
It was too late ! The sheer weight of numbers pushed the Hordalanders back a half dozen yards, and felled many who had been unlucky enough to form up in the front line. Their shield wall held for only a few moments before the Sogn army broke through, shattering their line, and dispersing the battle into individual combats. Many of the Hordaland warriors had to engage multiple enemy warriors at once. Most lost these battles quickly, and the ground was soon littered with the bodies of their dead.
Berlingr and Valdarr bravely fought with their backs to one another. This prevented the other from being attacked from behind despite the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, and it allowed them to concentrate on fighting only the warriors in their front. The tactic worked well, and while many of their comrades fell all around them, the pair were slaying Sogn warriors with great regularity.
" Stay with me old friend ! " Valdarr shouted to Berlingr as he shifted to engage another of the enemy.
" Still with you ! " Berlingr shot back as he slashed and stabbed at the Sogn warriors with his sword.
The banter became more frequent as the battle began to close in around them. Their brief conversations served two purposes. First and foremost it gave them the confidence to know that they were not alone. More importantly, however, it allowed them to keep their full attention in front of them, knowing that their rear was guarded.
Skeggi's long hard marches began to tell on the Hordalanders. They quickly became exhausted and their fighting skills suffered from their weariness, and lack of sleep. A sword that weighed only several pounds moments before suddenly seemed to weigh three times as much in a warrior's hands, and one by one they fell to the enemy's swords and axes.
Valdarr was no exception. He was slow in blocking a sword thrust with his battered shield, and the cold steel of the enemy's weapon penetrated his mail, and dug deep into the meat of his upper sword arm. At the same time he caught a glimpse of an axe ready to strike him down. Despite the intense burning pain in his right arm, he raised his shield just in time with his left to deflect the main force of the blow. Unfortunately for Valdarr he was not quite fast enough, and the side of the axe struck his head with such force that it knocked him senseless.
As Valdarr's world went black he slumped to the ground. Berlingr, now exposed on all sides but his front, was stabbed first in the back, and as he turned to defend himself, he was stabbed in the side as well. The final death blow came from an axe which cleaved his head in half. Berlingr crumpled over and fell dead upon his friend.
- End Chapter 3
- Next : Chapter 4 : Left For Dead
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2018.