CHILDREN OF THE CHIEFTAIN: BANISHED
Michael E Wills
The boys climbed up one side of the wooden fence, balanced on the top and then jumped down the other side into the long undergrowth. The spiky bushes clung to their trousers and they had to struggle to free themselves from the dense vegetation.
“Look, there’s the path to the harbour. Come on, hurry, we might find a fishing boat to escape in,” said Ahl.
“And if there isn’t one, what do we do then?”
“Shut up, Ruric, save your breath for running,” said Sture, the third member of the trio.
Ahl reached the path first and stood impatiently waiting for the other two.
“Come on, come on. We have a chance if we can outrun them. They are wearing heavy armour.”
As the other two reached the path they heard a curse shouted from behind them. They looked round and saw the head of a warrior peering over the fence.
“Quick, quick, they have seen us,” said Ahl, waving at the other two to hurry them up.
“Shall we drop our weapons and shields, Ahl? We can run faster without them.”
“No, Ruric, we may need them.”
The three of them started to run as fast as the weight of their equipment would allow them, occasionally glancing back to see how close their pursuers were. Ahl was right; they were outrunning the men.
Minutes later, panting for breath, they arrived at the harbour. They ran up and down the quay, seeking a boat of any description in which they could escape, but there was not a single craft to be had.
“By the gods, I can see all the boats! The fishermen are out on the lake,” wailed Ruric, pointing out to the bay.
The boys looked around frantically. Where could they go to avoid the men? The harbour was on a narrow strip of land which ran out into the lake. There was water on three sides. They were trapped.
“What now, Ahl?”
“We must fight them, Sture.”
“Fight them? They are huge and better armed than we are.”
“We have no choice, Ruric, unless you want to learn to swim.”
The three of them turned and stood side by side, watching the two men who were some way ahead of a large group of warriors, getting closer and closer to them. When the two armoured fighters realised that the boys were trapped, they stopped trotting and slowly walked along the strip of land leading to the quay where the teenagers were standing.
Breathing heavily from the exertion of running, the two powerful men taunted the boys as they advanced towards them. One was slightly taller than the other and had a beard. The shorter man had a moustache which almost reached his chin. Each of the men wore a chain mail shirt, gathered at the waist by a belt on which hung a long dagger in a leather sheath. The middle of their faces could not be seen as they had long metal nose protectors which were part of the rounded helmets they wore. There was no doubt, however, that their faces were full of hate and disdain for the three in front of them. As they came forward about two paces apart from one another, they raised their swords in their right hands and beat them rhythmically against the shields they held in their left. They added to the sound of this beating by howling loudly at the boys.
The trapped trio raised their own shields, readying them for protection from the onslaught that was about to come, and grasped their weapons even more tightly. Although Ruric was the biggest of the boys, he started to whimper with terror as it became clear that there was no escape for them. They would have to face their adversaries.
“Shut up, Ruric. Remember what we have learnt. We must take them by surprise.”
“Surprise? How can we surprise them, Ahl? They are upon us!”
The noise of the advancing warriors covered Ahl’s instructions to the other two. “They think that we will either just give in, or that one of us will defend against one of them and the other two against the other for as long as we can. Instead, all three of us will attack the man on the left: the bigger man. Ruric, you are tallest, try to beat his head. When he raises his shield to defend against your blow, he will expose his legs. Sture, you and I will slash hard against his knees. If we can make him fall, we then all attack the other warrior in the same way.”
His companions had no time to argue as the two men stopped beating their shields and sped up the last few steps to attack the boys. The boys lurched forward together and threw themselves at the man with the beard. He had his weapon held high in the air about to smash it down onto Sture when he realised that Ruric was doing the same thing to him. Sure enough, he lifted his shield to protect himself. As he did so, the other two swiped their weapons sideways at the man’s legs. There was an immediate grunt of pain as they connected and the man toppled sideways as he tried to avoid another blow.
The other warrior had at first been confused by the boys’ tactics, but now he raised his sword and swung it down onto Ahl. Fortunately, the boy saw it coming. He lifted his shield over his head just in time. The force of the blow was so hard that the shock ran through his hand and up his arm. In his pain, he dropped the shield. Ahl now stood defenceless in front of the enraged man, who once more raised his arm to strike a blow. Quick as a flash, Sture swung his weapon against the back of the warrior’s knees. He crumpled. Ahl smiled at Sture, but his pleasure was short-lived when he saw that the taller warrior had recovered and was now on his feet again, preparing to smash his weapon onto Ruric. As he was about to do so, there was a loud hooting sound. Someone in the crowd of warriors which had been following the two men was blowing a horn.
The five combatants knew what the horn blast meant – they should break off their fight immediately. Each of them was panting from their efforts as they threw down their wooden swords and shields. As they stood rubbing the bruises and bumps they had received in the action, a man wearing a short purple cloak over his chain mail stepped forward. He had a silver pendant depicting the god Thor on a chain around his neck: the mark of a chieftain.
“A useful final practice for you and your friends, Ahl, and as realistic as I can expect it to be without someone getting killed. You caught the men off guard by your tactic, but how could you be so stupid as to get yourselves trapped like that? You could have hidden in the thick bushes near the fence and it would have been very difficult for the warriors to find you. If you were going to use a boat, you should have made sure that there was one waiting for you.”
There was laughter around the group of warriors, but Ahl’s confidence was not shaken. He said, “You are right, Uncle, but as you saw, we had a good chance of defeating your men in the combat.”
“A chance is not enough, you have to be sure. We want you to return safely with your friend Ulf. Remember, in all the training we have used wooden weapons to avoid injury. This is the last time you will use them – your next fight will be with iron swords against a ruthless enemy.”
The tall warrior with the beard shouted, “It was a good thing you blew the horn when you did. I could have split your nephew’s skull with my next blow.”
“Never. You were too slow, Ergil,” Ahl teased the man.
“You young whelp,” said the warrior as he picked up the heavy wooden sword and limped forwards, threatening Ahl.
“That’s enough, Ergil. The fight was fair.”
The warrior glared at Ahl and snarled, “Remember, Ahl Brightsword, I have a long memory.”
The chieftain pushed himself between Ergil and Ahl and looked the man in the eye. “Enough, I said.” He then looked round at the others and shouted, “Come now, all of you, pick up your equipment. Tonight there will be a gathering of the Ting to celebrate the coming of summer and the rebuilding of the long house. Ahl, before the Ting has the summer feast we will have a council to discuss the arrangements for your departure next week.”