The Final Glory
Hogni stood just behind the spear men, and to the right of his old friend Ospak, who had been given the duty of holding the center of the Viking's line. Hogni had been nervous when they began to form the shield wall. The old warrior had not fought in an all out battle in many years, and he feared that his skills may have eroded over time. Hogni did not fear for his own life, but instead was worried that his inadequacies might lead to the death of others. As these Frankish Vikings, who now called themselves Normans, began to move forward a strange calm fell over Hogni. The old warrior became as steady as a rock, and everything around him seemed to slow down, as it does sometimes in the heat of battle.
Hogni looked over at his prize pupil, who now led a third of the Viking army, and he felt a sense of great pride that he had never known before. Hogni realized that If he died on this day, on this battlefield, his life had all been worthwhile. His legacy would live on in the hundreds of skillful warriors that he had trained over the years. That wonderful revelation brought a smile to the old warrior's face.
Suddenly, Hogni was brought back into the moment as the Normans began to move forward as one cohesive unit. On both ends of the enemy's flanks their cavalry broke off from the army and rode off in an arc towards the ends of the Viking army's shield wall. It was obvious that the Norman horsemen were trying to get in the Vikings rear. But Jarl Steinthor was no fool ! The jarl had angled back the ends of his shield wall and anchored them against the thick forest. The enemy cavalry could attack his flanks, but they would not be able to get behind them, and roll them up !
Halfway across the field the Normans broke into slow trot, which increased in pace as it swiftly approached the Viking' s shield wall. Many of the Normans ran side by side and placed their heads low, with their shoulders up against their shields. This formed what in effect was a battering ram that smashed into the Viking shield wall with a great force pushing the front line backwards and knocking a few of the Norsemen off of their feet.
Jarl Steinthor had placed his best warriors in the front ranks with spears. These sharply pointed blades jutted out from the shield wall, like the quills on a porcupine's back, skewering any Norman warrior who was not mindful of these potent weapons. Hogni stood firm behind the spear men along with the rest of the warriors stationed on the center of the line. As the Normans pushed forward the Vikings in the second rank placed their shields on the backs of their comrades in the front ranks, and pushed as hard as they could to counteract the pressure exerted on the shield wall by the enemy.
For a few moments it became more of a bizarre pushing match, than a pitched battle . As parts of the Viking shield wall gave way under the pressure, however, the fighting began to break up into small pockets of battles, and finally, as with most battles of this type, split into one on one combat. The first warriors to die were the ones who could not suppress their fear and concentrate on what lay not only in front of them, but also the dangers that lay on the periphery of their sight. You had two act in the moment, but think two steps ahead to stay alive in the mayhem of battle.
For experienced warriors like Hogni and Ospak the perception of time slowed. They could see everything in perfect clarity, and what lay just outside of their sight they could feel with a sixth sense that only the best warriors seemed to have. Great warriors also did not let themselves get caught up in the moment. With one arm they would block an enemy axe with their shield, and with the other hand already be executing a counter strike. If a warrior's thought process was too slow, or if he hesitated for just a moment it could mean the end for the warrior. The experienced warriors knew this very well, and were always in a heightened state of alert.
At first Hogni was a little sluggish, and allowed himself to be pushed around, but as his anger grew, so too did his focus and determination. Ospak, who was fighting next to Hogni, laughed, a crazy laugh, when he saw his old teacher fighting with the blood lust of a berserker. Hogni had come to the Land of the Franks to die in battle, but as the fighting wore on the old warrior saw that every man was needed, and that the death of one man could mean the difference between holding off the Normans, or being wiped out by them. Hogni decided at that moment to die in the next battle, for it would be selfish of him to not live and fight on to protect his comrades. So together the two lifetime friends fought side by side like demons, and anchored the center of the shield wall, while other sections of the wall collapsed all around them.
As the sun moved from one side of the sky to the other, and darkness began to fall over the battlefield, it was becoming clear that the Jarl' s Vikings were too few in numbers to push back, let alone defeat, the Normans under the command of Rollo. The Norman cavalry had torn into both ends of the viking army and ripped them apart. Now, as the sun slowly set, only the center of the Norse line remained somewhat intact. The Normans sensing that the battle could not be finished before night descended over the battlefield began to slowly pull back from the viking position. As the Normans pulled back what was left of the Viking army pushed deeper into the thick forest for safety.
Ospak tapped his friend on the shoulder and shouted in his ear : " We are heading back to our ships ! " Hogni had heard his old friend, and was about to turn, when a Norman lunged at him with his sword. The old warrior quickly and violently swung his sword down at his enemy' s weapon driving it into the ground. Hogni then stepped on his enemy's sword, and thrust his own sword into the belly of his opponent before he could react. As he pulled his blade out of the Norman he watched him slowly sink to the ground dead. Hogni grinned as he turned to join Ospak, and his fellow Vikings.
Suddenly Hogni felt as if he had been punched in the back ! The pain took a moment to register, and then it exploded down his spine while he fell to his knees. Ospak came running forward to help his friend, but the Norman who had thrown the axe did not linger, but instead ran back to his own lines. Four vikings came forward and formed a small shield wall in front of Hogni to protect him. Their presence was unnecessary, however, as the rest of the Normans had retreated back across the field.
Ospak had known for weeks that this moment was coming, and yet it still shocked and saddened him to see his old friend lying in a pool of his own blood. Hogni could barely breathe, but he somehow summoned the strength to yell out in a clear loud voice : " Ospak ! Ospak ! Where are you my friend ! " Ospak tried to hold back the tears, but they flowed despite his best efforts. " I am right here Hogni ! " he told his old friend as he reached down and held his hand. Hogni raised his head a little so he could look into Ospak' s eyes, and squeezed his hand tightly. " Damn wonderful battle ! " Hogni managed with a smile.
Hogni' s head dropped like a rock back onto the ground as the life drained out of him. Through trembling lips Ospak patted his old teacher on the shoulder. " Yes, it was my old friend ! " he told his old mentor even though he knew he was gone. Ospak reached over and grabbed up Hogni' s sword. He took one last look at the old warrior, as he lay on his stomach with an axe sticking out of his back, and then turned to his fellow vikings. " It is time for us to go back to the ships ! " he shouted to the warriors who had formed the shield wall in their front. After his men had run passed him Ospak looked down at Hogni's bloodied sword that he held in his hands. " Goodbye old friend . I will miss you ! " Ospak said to Hogni quietly. Then Ospak turned and ran after his men back to the ships.
There was still a little light left in the sky when they reached their dragon ships. But when they came to the river bank the Vikings had a rude awakening ! As Ospak looked both up river, and down river, he saw dozens of Norman dragon ships blocking his escape route on the Seine. The Normans had them trapped here in the forest, and Ospak feared the end would come at first light. As he looked out at all the dragon ships that prevented his departure he was given the news that Jarl Steinthor had been killed, and the role of " leader " now was in his hands. " I will lead for only one day ! " he thought to himself.
That night both the Normans and the Vikings marveled at the Northern Lights. These mysterious flowing luminous tendrils usually never came this far south, and always remained high overhead. On this night, however, these lights seemed to flow down out of the heavens in between the two enemy lines to illuminate the field where the dead now lay. The lights were considered to be an omen by both sides, but it was what lay within these lights that was the true magic !
Rota' s horse landed gently at the edge of the forest. Along with her sisters Gunnr, and Skogul, they searched the battlefield for the warriors they had been charged with bringing back with them. For they had been sent by Odin himself to retrieve the battle dead, and bring the chosen to Asgard. Rota did not have to see the one she came for. She could feel the presence of his honor and glory, and walked over to where the body lay on its stomach. With powerful, but gentle hands, she lifted the essence of what was once the warrior known as Hogni out of the dead body, and walked back to her winged white steed. With strength that defied human logic she mounted the horse still carrying the body of the warrior, and flew off into the northern lights. She was followed soon after by Gunnr and Skogul, who had also found the honorable dead that they were looking for. As the valkyries headed back north so to did the Northern Lights. Within just a few short moments the blackness of night was lit only by a quarter moon, and the distant stars.
Rota arrived at the great hall first. The golden haired valkyrie set down her horse gently on the lawn in front of the golden doors, and placed Hogni' s honored remains on the steps of Valhalla. Suddenly the doors flew open to reveal a great feast being held in a hall of pure gold. The noise of the celebration had been deafening when the doors first opened, but now there was only silence.
At the head of the table sat a large warrior dressed in full battle armor. Under his helmet he wore a patch over one eye, and by his side sat two ravenous looking wolves. Everyone's eyes were transfixed on the body that had been placed at Odin' s doorstep. Slowly Valfather stood up, and spoke words that no one, save himself, understood . He repeated them again and again until the figure began to awaken to Odin' s command.
Hogni somehow managed to stand up, but he felt frozen by what he saw before him. Thousands of warriors sat silently on golden benches watching his every move. At first Hogni felt like a puppet as he was drawn into the hall. He had to force his legs to make every step by a strength of will that he never knew he had. As he crossed the threshold of the doorway, and entered the great golden hall, he was slowly transformed back to a young man. His skin was no longer wrinkled, his hair was once again long and full, and best of all he had reverted back into a strong and powerful warrior.
Odin reached down, picked up his golden drinking horn, and held it high over his head. " Did you think that I would forget about you my old friend ?!" Valfather asked in a joking manner. Then Odin looked around the chamber, and with his head held high he shouted : " My great einherjar army, I give to you Hogni the Bold !!! " The hall erupted into a chorus of cheers, shouts and whistles as the valkyries Hrist and Mist each took one of Hogni's arms and escorted the great warrior to his place of honor next to Odin.
A short while later the golden doors swung open again revealing Skogul, who was laying a body onto the steps of the great hall. The hall once again became quiet.........
- End Chapter 8
Next : Epilogue
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2015.