Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Skald's Tale (4): The Year of 7½ Battles

It seemed to be quite suddenly,
Arrived the end of Season 3.
When so many warbands were clashing.
Seven point five battles in all were fought;
Leaving Vikings atop the leaderboard
(Though Iceland took a bashing).

Internal revolts and wounds from battle
Kept Scots, Norse and Normans home with their cattle
With no choice but to take it.
Tavish Mc T was left alone
And Sibbald chose to leave his home -
But Ubbason was not to make it.

Odin and Hugin watched over this time
(When the raven was not in Muspelheim)
Keeping one eye on the action.
While the fates (who were not so nice)
Seemed often to control the dice,
Favouring no particular faction.

Conflict opened with Conn's bold raid
Against the Norse Gaels in Strathclyde
(Not this time obsessed by cattle).
Within that land they burned and harried,
Departing soon with much gold carried;
Leif's vaults emptied after battle.

Meanwhile Gunnblasdt (Leif's oathsworn)
Sought to improve Iceland's form
By raiding in Vestfold;
And though Norwegians paid the price
Of Ubbason's blood sacrifice,
The Icelanders were repelled.

A boost to Anglo Danish pride -
It turned out luck was on their side
When Oldenburg gave up its prize.
The Anglo Danes obtained great riches,
Despite Cnut's persistent bitches
About Alfred's lucky dice.

And Cnut was once again to suffer
When the Norse Gaels proved much tougher,
Invading his homeland.
Fighting on the open plains
They rapidly saw off the Danes
And took control of Jutland.

Not long could Leif enjoy success
Ere Strathclyde was by Welshmen pressed;
Once more he faced disaster.
His cunning plan of slow retreat
Guaranteed Norse Gael defeat.
Caradog is now Strathclyde's master.

Iceland then would face the test
When Cnut met Gunnblasdt in Bulanssness -
A Springbok Viking duel.
For many turns it looked to be
The long awaited Icelandic victory,
But how the fates are cruel!

Gunnblasdt, reeling from defeat
Determined this should not repeat,
And gainst the Franks fought bravely.
Seeing the chance of a quick win
He charged at Charlemal (all in);
Missed - fell - found himself in slavery.

With their Jarl thus deported
Iceland's people now revolted
And chaos quickly followed.
Anglo Saxons under Aethelflaed
Were thus unopposed upon their raid,
So helped themselves to gold*.

*What meagre spoils of war they'd find
Were just scraps that were left behind
For Gunnblasdt had but little.
And so as Anglo Saxon might
Prevailed without a fight,
It only counts as half a battle.

Now our skald has left a space
At the end here, just in case
A new Jarl comes to reign.
A hero who would have a liking
To take charge of this band of Vikings
And make Iceland great again.

Monday, 8 January 2018

From the Frankish Skald: The Song of Charlemal

II - The Fall of Gunnblasdt

Searching for more Viking gold
The Franks sailed north o'er oceans cold.
To the furthest corner of the map.
Into the land Gunnblasdt controlled,
Slaves there to kidnap.

At Svinafell their ships made land
From whence they marched to take a stand
Before a lonely tower.
Where sanctuary might be safely found
By peasants in their desperate hour.

Charlemal, King of the Franks, shivered again. It had been an immense journey, from one corner of the civilized world to the other, it seemed. Here, standing on the desolate shore of this frozen land, it was as if they had travelled to another world. Then again, he could see the positive side. Anyone who lived here would have to be strong and resilient, and would therefore be perfect slave material. Just what he needed to bring in the grape harvest, amongst other things. And that tower was certain to be filled with gold as well, and Charlemal liked gold a lot.

Once the ships had  safely beached in a secluded bay, and the Franks had organised themselves, they moved inland. This tower was apparently some sort of sacred site, and it was likely that the peasants would head there in search of sanctuary now that the word was out that a hostile warband had landed nearby and was searching for slaves to take home with them. Charlemal hoped that was the case - it would be a lot easier to capture slaves if you knew where they would be. And so, his warband advanced, their intent to  intercept and capture peasants finding their way toward the sanctuary of the tower.

But before the Franks had reached the tower they saw Gunnblasdt's warband taking defensive positions on the plain ahead, ready to meet them. The Icelandic Jarl stood in the centre, his huscarls and berserkers beside him, a screen of archers in front. Behind them, peasants were already making their way towards the tower, passing close by the Vikings in the hope that they might protect them.

Gunnblasdt, beleaguered Icelandic Jarl
Having seen many brave Vikings fall
Declared that every Frank should die.
His archers standing like a wall
Poised to let their arrows fly.

But Charlemal, cunning Frankish Lord
Seeing Vikings readying swords
Carefully deployed his Franks
Foot warriors faced off Gunnblasdt's horde
While horses took the flanks.

Before the Franks could act, the enemy began to shoot, concentrating their fire on the Frankish warriors bearing Charlemal's banner. Many arrows fell on this unit, and many men fell, until only a handful of archers remained clustered around the banner. Only then did they realise that this was not the correct flag - someone had left the proper one at home, and heads would roll about that for sure when their Lord found out. But it was too late to do anything about that now. These Frankish archers wisely drew back, out of range of the exhausted enemy, while the second unit of archers, under Charlemal's personal command, advanced into the comparative safety of a small building, while Charlemal, mounted on his horse, stood alone on the right flank. Following up on this success, Gunnblasdt was keen to finish the job, and charged his berserkers into the building to destroy the second unit of Frankish archers.

Bu meanwhile, out of sight of the enemy, on the left flank the Frankish knights circled around behind Gunnblasdt's men, hunting down civilians, while on the right flank Charlemal was moving gradually closer to the peasants in that part of the battlefield.

Arrows launched from Viking bows
Felled many Franks with many blows
Forcing them to withdraw
Though the centre was a feast for crows
Twas just as Charlemal foresaw

They followed up on this onslaught
Berserkers into the building fought
Focused on killing Franks
They did not spare a lot of thought
For the horsemen behind their flanks

But the berserkers failed to take the building, as the defenders held sway. The berserkers were all slain, though leaving only a handful of Frankish archers behind. Only then did Gunnblasdt realise the true danger - while his men had been winning the fight in the centre, the Franks had slipped around their flanks, and were already rapidly gathering peasants for slaves. The Jarl ordered his hearthguard to chase after the enemy horsemen, but it was too late and they were too slow to be able to catch the mounted knights, who escaped into the distance with their prize.

Gunnblasdt was late to realise
The threat of Franks around both sides
Peasants just too far to save;
And Franks now quickly grabbed their prize
Of villagers as slaves.

Running out of options, Gunnbasdt decided to take matters into his own hands. Seeing Charlemal isolated, on the far right flank, chasing down peasants on his own, he charged. But in his desperation the Jarl had underestimated the challenge. By the time he reached Charlemal, he was already heavily fatigued, and thus left vulnerable to the Frankish Lord. What is more, Charlemal was prepared for this attack. With faith in his armour and in the surety that God was on his side fighting these northern pagans, he met Gunnbasdt's charge with vigour.

With Charlemal isolated on his right
Gunnblasdt chose this time to fight
One last chance to win the day
But 'gainst the man Steel Cannot Bite
He'd need good dice in this melee

But, unfortunately for the Viking Lord, the duel was short, and Gunnblasdt fell, severely wounded, to the ground. And so Charlemal hopped down from his horse and duly trussed up the wounded Gunnblasdt and slung him across the back of his horse to be taken for a slave himself, along with a selection of assorted peasants.

But alas Odin was not on his side
Gunnblasdt fell and Charlemal survived
The fate of Iceland now looks grave
For wounded Gunnblasdt was hogtied
To find himself enslaved.

So home to France Franks sail at last
With gold and slaves that they amassed
Coffers fully stocked.
As for the fate of poor Gunnblasdt?
He serves as Charlemal's mounting block.

"I could do with a footstool to get on and off my horse," Charlemal declared. "The King of Iceland will serve very nicely in that role." And so, it is told, the fate of the former Jarl of Iceland was sealed.