Under The Hrafnsmerki
The Hrafnsmerki Falls
Such was Ubba's desire to see the frightened expressions of these inferior Wessex warriors that he rolled up a blanket, placed it under his head, and lay facing the eastern horizon as he waited for the first faint light of dawn. Sleep, however, is a fickle master of the mind. When the individual wishes to sleep it frustrates them into staying awake, and when they want to stay awake it shuts down their mind. The latter was the case for Ubba, who never saw the eastern horizon turn from black to gray, and then to burnt orange.
" Commander ! Commander !! " Ubba heard in his head as if it were coming from far, far away.
Ubba felt himself being shaken, and immediately reacted by reaching for his sword. When the fog of sleep lifted, and he realized that the person holding him was one of his most trusted warriors, he removed his hand from his sword and asked Afrafasti groggily to repeat himself.
" Under the cover of darkness, and the early morning mist, the Wessex army has come out of their fortress, and are now formed in battle formation ready to attack us ! " he explained to his half asleep commander.
Ubba's fog quickly dissipated, but his mind could not immediately wrap itself around the reality of what Afrafasti was telling him. Seeing, however, truly is believing ! When Ubba turned his gaze from the eastern horizon to the north he was struck with the stark realization of what his subordinate was trying to reveal to him. For there, on top of the hill, and outside of their protective fortifications, stood the entire Wessex army. And in their eyes, and upon their faces, Ubba did not see the fear, or the shock, that he had so hoped to see. What the commander of the Heathen army saw instead was anger and a grim determination that he had seldom seen in these inferior Wessex warriors.
" I want you to help me to form a shield wall that folds back upon itself on both flanks ! " he commande his obedient warrior as he jumped up off of the ground.
" And send someone to bring Patrekr to help us ! " he quickly added before running to gather up his warriors.
Afrafasti turned to the first warrior he saw, a man named Karkr, and sent him to bring Patrekr to the north side of the hill as quickly as possible. As Afrafasti ran off to help his commander put together the shield wall, which the warriors had already begun to clumsily form on their own, Ubba ran back past him down the hill. At first the warrior did not understand where his commander was going, but when he saw him head for the large tree he had been sleeping under he knew why he had been in such a hurry.
When Ubba reached the long box, in which the magical Hrafnsmerki with its new staff was stored, he picked it up in full stride, then turned and headed back up the hill to where his defensive line was forming. When Ubba looked up at the hill he heard a sound that made his heart sink into the pit of his stomach.
The Wessex army let out a loud roar as they ran down the hill towards the unprepared, and only partially formed, Heathen line. In some places the shield wall was only two or three warriors deep, while in others, because of the hasty organization, it had twelve or more warriors stacked up in formation. Afrafasti was killed in the first desperate minutes of fighting and never had a chance to form the outward facing flanks that his commander had wanted. Not that it mattered, for within moments the battle became a chaotic melee of confusion and mistakes.
Ubba opened the long box as he ran up the hill and removed the flag. After discarding the box he untied the rope that held the flag around the pole, and threw it away as well. When the commander reached the rear of his line he handed the flag to the first warrior he came upon and drew his sword.
" What is your name ! " Ubba demanded.
With wide terrified eyes the warrior quickly replied.
I am Jobjorn, my lord ! "
Ubba pointed to the flag, and then to the fighting in front of them.
" You are with me Jobjorn ! " Ubba screamed at the confused warrior.
Ubba forced his way to the front of the Heathen line, killing several Wessex warriors who had dared to penetrate their shield wall along the way. When he reached the main fighting he turned to Jobjorn and shouted above the din of battle.
" You will stay by my side until you fall. And you will hold the Hrafnsmerki high for all to see until your dying breath ! " he informed the warrior.
Jobjorn tried to keep a determined look upon his face, but Ubba could see fear in his eyes.
" Do not worry, comrade, we cannot be defeated as long as the Hrafnsmerki flies ! " Ubba explained as he pointed to the flag.
As he looked proudly at the beautiful raven flag, that his sisters had made for him, he suddenly realized that the magical banner was lying limp against the flag pole in the calm early morning air. It was then that Ubba heard Ashildr's voice in his head.
" You must know, however, that the Hrafnsmerki will only grant victory to the one who carries it if the winds make the raven flutter and fly,...., if the winds are calm the holder will be defeated ! "
A sinking feeling came over Ubba, but only for a moment, for it was quickly replaced by anger and defiance.
" Wave the flag back and forth ! If the winds will not make the raven fly,...., then we will ! " he shouted to Jobjorn.
Then, as if the Gods themselves had heard his blasphemous words, an arrow struck Ubba in the chest knocking him backward several feet. With his free hand Ubba broke off the arrow with barely a grunt of pain, and then he spoke for the last time to the flag bearer.
" Wave the damn flag !! "
At that moment Odda, with his best warriors all around him, broke through the disjointed shield wall in front of the commander of the Heathen army, and pushed back those who were trying to protect their leader. Over matched, and completely surrounded, their tiny shield wall circle collapsed under the great weight of the Wessex warriors. The Heathens, and most especially Ubba, fought on with a great ferocity brought about by the desperation of their situation. Unfortunately, theirs was a lost cause. Despite being hampered by his severe wound, Ubba was the next to last to fall, and fought like a berserker until he was overwhelmed by his attackers. Jobjorn, who brandished no weapon, was the last to die, and to his great honor continued to wave the flag even as he fell to his knees with a sword point in his heart.
After the battle, Odda was brought over to the body of the Heathen commander, which had fallen in a ring of other dead warriors. A blood red flag was draped over the body nearly hiding the warrior who lay beneath. Edred picked up the raven flag, and while kneeling on one knee presented it to the Ealdorman of Devon. The moment his hands grabbed hold of the flag staff a wind blew up from the north flapping the flag wildly in its current. The raven, as the witch had predicted, flew wildly pronouncing Odda as the victor.
- End Chapter 10
- Next : Chapter 11 : The Witch Revisited
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2017.