Vikings_Taken, page 1part #1 of Great Heathen Army series Series
The Great Heathen Army series
By Ceri Bladen
‘Vikings - Taken’ Copyright © November 2016 by Ceri Bladen
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Year of 865 – Dunwich Fortress, East Angles.
High upon a tower of her Dunwich fortress, Rosfrith squinted against the sun, while she looked into the distance. Stretched up on tiptoes, she took a deep breath to steady herself and attempted to control her breathing, fast from her run from the seashore. Suddenly, she sobered and bit her bottom lip. Should I have mentioned my haste to the guards, instead of rushing past to get a better view? After a little thought, she shook her head. Unfortunately for the people living in her East Angle’s home, Rosfrith’s two and ten years hadn’t made her wise to life.
Eager to watch the goings-on down at the shore, she leaned as far as she could over the ledge, excitement making her forget the danger of falling. A smile spread on her lips. She was right, there were ships landing. Ones she’d never seen before. They were huge wooden vessels with oars sticking out of both sides, and large sails. Brightly coloured flags flapped in the offshore breeze, but she was too far away to distinguish the black raven that decorated them.
A shout from below her vantage point, and the ringing of a bell, drew her gaze from the sea. Rosfrith looked down and saw people hastily gathering items. They were pulling children and livestock from the villages to the fortress. Those who had already arrived were heading for the main hall. She wasn’t naïve. She knew the bell signalled a problem, but for reasons unknown to her, she stayed where she was. Ignoring what she knew she should do, Rosfrith glanced back towards the boats, too interested in them. If she squinted enough, she could observe figures getting off the vessels, the sunshine reflecting off what she assumed were helmets. Abruptly, she backed away from the wall. Helmets meant armor. A worried frown touched her forehead.
Rosfrith turned towards the angry voice. “I’m here.” She watched her maid, Edith, come through the opening. Rosfrith’s brow puckered. It was unusual for Edith to be angry with her – frustrated at her antics, yes. But angry?
“Come.” Edith waved her hand indicating for Rosfrith to take it. While she waited, Edith took a second to search for her breath. “We must go quickly.” She stepped forward to grab the girl’s hand.
“Why? What’s wrong?” Rosfrith asked quietly before she spun her head back to observe the advancing party of men from the boats. “Oh,” she whispered. In all the excitement of seeing something unusual, she hadn’t stopped to assess any danger they might be in. It wasn’t because she was silly, it was because she hadn’t needed to before. Her home had never been under threat.
“Quick, Mistress. We must hide you.”
“Is Papa and my brother back?” Rosfrith tried to quell her fear when she saw worry replace the anger on Edith’s face.
“No, they are still somewhere in Northumbria. Safe,” she added under her breath
Rosfrith could feel Edith’s anger towards the men in the inflection of her voice, but something told her she didn’t have time to ask why. She stepped forward and grabbed Edith’s hand tightly. “Mother and my sister?”
“Waiting for you in the hall. Come, we have wasted enough time.”
After a couple of steps, Rosfrith stopped, pulling Edith to a halt. “Please be honest with me, for I am old enough. Who is coming?” Noticing Edith pale, Rosfrith suddenly didn’t feel mature anymore, but she said nothing.
“Oh, Mistress, you shouldn’t be asking me such things.”
“But I need to know so I might be of use,” she said sullenly.
“You’ll be of better use if you hide, my girl.”
Rosfrith noticed Edith glance over her shoulder. She could now here distant screams, but Rosfrith stood firm, determined to know some facts.
Edith huffed and then tugged firmly on Rosfrith’s hand. “The Vikings.”
Dunwich Fortress, East Angles – The Great Heathen Army
After muttered prayers to Odin and Thor, and the ritual banging of weapons on their circular shields, the warriors, far from home, jumped off their boats into the water. They moved swiftly into pre-arranged groups, splitting off into various directions, covering the small coastline.
Large men, carrying all manner of weapons, crept like a thick fog along the coastline, each one’s mind filled with the battle that would face them. Some welcomed it, some had no choice, some hoped they wouldn’t be the next in line to visit Valhalla. But, regardless of their thoughts, each followed their leader, ready to take any risk they faced.
Without turning around to look at his men because, without question, he trusted they followed him, Ubba Ragnarsson waved his group to a halt. He crouched behind the scrub to get a better view of their target – Dunwich fortress. The bell ringing in the distance told him their arrival had been noted. A smile played on his lips because he wasn’t bothered. Fear of imminent attack confused people, making them less organised and easier to conquer.
Concentrating, Ubba scanned the area in front of him. It appeared unguarded. They’d been informed Lord Guader lacked protection, having never been attacked before, but Ubba was too wise. It could be a trap. Just because it was quiet, didn’t mean the fortress’s soldiers had gone inside the protective walls. Surprise was a crucial element in warfare.
Happy that, so far, there were no soldiers to concern them, Ubba glanced to his left, seeking out his right-hand man, Gunnar. They nodded at each other. Years of fighting together, side by side, had eliminated needless conversation. Gunnar indicated his wish to advance, but Ubba held up his hand to stop him for a moment. “Lord Guader is not to be harmed, nor anyone that is not attacking us.” He flicked a glance at the warriors crouched behind him. “Do what you need to the ones holding weapons.” He looked away as they acknowledge his command.
“That’s not the order
Ubba turned his steely, blue gaze on his fellow warrior, noticing his friend twist his axe in his large hands, eager for the fight to begin. He sighed. “Ivar thinks differently from me. The thirst to avenge our father’s death runs deep within his blood, but it makes him reckless. We need to use Lord Guader. He had to talk to King Ælla to arrange compensation for Ragnar. Guarder knows both our tongues.” His gaze returned to the front to finish assessing the situation they were walking into. He wanted to change the conversation, because he didn’t want revenge to make him unable to think rationally. “Besides, why kill more people than we need to?” He gave a quick snort and chuckled. “They only start smelling when they rot.”
Ubba ignored his friend’s grunt because he was used to the bloodthirsty views of his kin. Not many agreed with his reasoning of keeping alive the local people, who knew how their crops, land, and weather worked. It was Ubba’s wish that some of his people would settle peacefully in this new, more hospitable, land. But, saying that, he also understood the majority of Norsemen just wished to conquer and plunder.
Gunnar shrugged. “Ivar has come to avenge Ragnar’s death and to take the spoils of war back to our homeland.”
Ubba grunted. “He is too much like my sire, and look what that got him – thrown into a pit full of snakes by King Ælla of Northumbria. Besides, we have no fight here in East Angles. King Edmund pays us handsomely for his peace.”
“Granted,” said Gunnar. “But, Thor’s teeth, that son of a whore, Lord Guader, has double-crossed us.”
Ubba rolled his large shoulders with irritation. It was probable Lord Guader knew Ragnar was walking into a trap. Gunnar’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
“Will King Edmund mind us attacking Lord Guader’s land? After all, his land is under King Edmund’s protection.”
Ubba shrugged. “Not our concern. The King can take it up with Guader. Besides, if Edmund does protest we can sort him out later.” Turning away from any more conversation, his eyes narrowed, scanning the darkness of the forest to the left of them. He nudged Gunnar and nodded. There were definitely soldiers hiding in there. He could tell by the wildlife – they were being disturbed.
Gunnar nodded and indicated the threat to the men behind them.
Ubba unconsciously turned his axe in his left hand waiting to hear the battle cries of his brothers before he gave the order for his men to commence. He was so accustomed to his weapon, he didn’t feel its weight. It was part of his being – whether chopping wood or protecting himself. When he heard the whistle, he momentarily tensed, psyching himself up for battle. “Come on, let’s go. The soldiers’ attention is spread enough. My brothers will be making their way to the fortress.”
“Which way are your brothers attacking?”
“Every side,” replied Ubba, ready to give the signal to move forward. “We need to go before my brothers do too much damage, and there are no lives left to save.”
“You must hurry,” said Edith, fear tainting her words. She dragged Rosfrith as fast as she could.
“Where’s my mother and sister?” Rosfrith asked again.
“You cannot worry about them at the moment, mistress Rosfrith. They will already be hiding. You must hurry, we are running out of time.”
Rosfrith tried to stop, but the greater strength of her maid wouldn’t allow her. “But what about you?”
“You must not worry about me, mistress Rosfrith. I will be safe with the other servants.”
Rosfrith couldn’t see Edith’s face, but she’d known her maid since she could remember, and she had a strong feeling she was lying.
They reached the kitchen building first and Edith hesitated, unsure whether to keep to her original idea of taking Rosfrith to the main hall. She shook her head. No. If the barbarians got in, Rosfrith would be a sitting duck in the hall, she thought. Better to hide her amongst the servants. “Come, in here, mistress.” She swung the door of the kitchen open and stopped in the doorway.
They both watched as frantic women scurried around, hiding anything of worth behind the wooden slats of the walls.
Edith snorted. She knew the servants had orders to hide valuables if they were under attack. It was just a shame that valuables were more important than servants’ lives. They needed to hide themselves, not the material goods.
Turning away from the scene, Edith looked at Rosfrith and squeezed her hand. To her, this little girl, whom she had nursed from a baby, was more important than gold. “Quick,” she said as she pulled her across the room. “In here.” Edith indicated towards a small, dark cupboard, full of wooden utensils. “Promise me, you will not make a sound, or come out, whatever you hear going on.” She squeezed Rosfrith’s small hand, trying to relay her message without spelling the danger out.
Rosfrith felt tears welling in her eyes. She glanced around and saw the fear on the faces of all those she knew. “I promise, Edith.”
Edith gave an encouraging smile, although nothing was wrong. “Good. Now get as far back as possible. And remember, whatever you overhear, do not come out.”
“Okay,” Rosfrith whispered. When she stepped into the darkness, she prayed to God everything would be okay and that Edith’s false smile wasn’t the last thing she would see. As the room darkened, Rosfrith turned around and wiped her sweaty hands on her shift. “I’m alright, Edith,” she said, hoping that Edith didn’t catch the hitch in her voice.
“You will be safe, mistress,” Edith said as she closed the door. Turing, she said, “No one is to enter that room, other than me.” If they heeded her request, they nodded, knowing the mistress needed to be protected. Others were too busy to care for someone else’s safety when their own was at risk.
Once she placed a chair in front of the door, Edith went to stand with the others. If the Norsemen defeated their men and entered the kitchen, they would all be found. Attempting to hide behind tables and chairs wasn’t going to stop the barbarians, but she knew the act of trying to protect themselves made everyone feel a little safer.
Rosfrith huddled towards the back of the dark cupboard, behind large wooden serving platters. She strained to hear what was going on. Initially, she heard loud whispers of urgency and the muffled footsteps of soft leather on earthen floors. But soon, an eerie silence took over. She closed her eyes and tried to recall her favourite tune, humming it in her mind, in an attempt to ward off the fear that kept threatening to engulf her. She hadn’t sung to the end of the first tune before the screams and clashing of metal became louder.
Rosfrith knew the warriors had breached the outside walls. Feeling scared, she put her fingers in her ears. She wanted to block out the sounds of clashing metal, and the screams of people gasping for their last breath on earth.
Although her hearing was muffled, and her eyes screwed tight, the smell of burning wood and reeds nearly had her bolting from her hiding place. It made her feel sick, but she had promised Edith to stay put, and one thing she would never do was go back on a promise. So, she curled up further and prayed to God her exit from this life wouldn’t be by burning.
The air was crisp, but sweat poured off Ubba’s brow, as he continued to fight with his men in the village just outside the main walls. He knew most of the soldiers were inside the fortress, but there were still enough of them to make him work for every step he took.
When he yanked his well-used axe out of his next conquest, Ubba wiped his brow with his free arm, his other too busy swiping at more men who blocked his way. Not that they stood there for long – his aim was too good, his fighting technique too perfected, and his axe too lethal for a long battle against their swords. The spilling of blood and innards would sicken him if he had time to think during battle, but he didn’t. It was theirs or his insides that would colour the earth at his feet, and he preferred it theirs.
Once he finished off the last soldier in front of him, he took the opportunity to scan the destruction around him, ignoring the metallic smell of blood in the air. He grunted with disgust. Plenty of men, both Lord Guader’s and his, lay on the ground, their lifeless eyes, missing limbs, and open wounds indicating nothing could be done for them. But, regardless of the bodies strewn on the ground; the clashing of metal, grunts, and cries continued, all indicating others still fought fierce battles of their own.
Ubba’s attention narrowed in on movement. Through the smoke from the burning village, which billowed around him, Ubba noticed two more of Guader’s men coming for him. He squatted a fraction, his large thigh muscles pumping as his strong arm swung the axe menacingly. Roaring loudly, he barely hid his smile when the two advancing soldiers thought better of it – they turned and ran towards where they thought they would be safe. They weren’t. His eyes narrowed as he noticed a couple of his men finish them off.
A while later, and more men dead around his feet, Ubba stood tall. He watched the last of the English soldiers retreat.They’d had enough.
He whistled for his men to regroup. He was aware their battle was not yet finished. They still had to make it through the burning village and up to the main stronghold, to the hall, but he needed to find out who had made it so far. He studied each man as they regrouped, mentally noting who he’d lost. “We advance quickly, but beware of anyone left in the village. Leave them if they are unarmed, but Guader’s soldiers will be lurking in the shadows.”
Ubba looked at his men. They nodded their agreements, each covered with sweat and blood – their own and others. Ubba sighed, through weariness and regret. Once they returned home to Ranaricii, he would have to visit the families of the fallen, to offer condolences and help. It was a job he disliked. Crying women weren't his thing, but as their leader, it was his responsibility. He pushed his melancholy thoughts away. It wouldn’t do him any good to think soft thoughts while in battle. He waved his hand, indicating it was time to go.
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