Einarr Haugr-Feeder: A 'The Great Whale Road' Short Story - Part 2

The watcher on the headland could not see the ship, but he heard the sound of oars coming through the heavy fog. The guard lit the signal fire and hoped that this was not a raid. Suddenly the wind picked up and he could see that the ship was only fifty yards away from the beach. 

Einarr had never rowed so much in his life. He had been on two cattle raids as a boy, but those had not been further away from their hall than a half-day's row. He knew that they were on the west coast of Jótland, as they had been travelling through the Limafjarðar, the fjord that connects the Norðsǽ to the Jótlandshaf in the east. But he still didn't know where they were going.

The trader nor the crew had spoken much, and their dialect was strange and hard to understand. Neither the fog clinging to the water nor their early start this morning helped to improve his mood. At least his arms were bulging and he felt strong like a bear. He was certain that he could lift a stone twice as heavy as before.

The watcher on the beach had decided that it was not a good day to die out there on his own and was rushing through the woods back to his village. He knew that the boat couldn't fit more than a dozen or so men, but his village was small and only seven of them were in their prime. The rest were either boys or greybeards beyond fighting age. Some of the women could handle themselves in a fight, but they were lacking weapons and had to rely on long knives and farming tools.

Suddenly Einarr noticed that the atmosphere on the ship was changing. The trader had unpacked a brynja and one of the men had helped him into it. They all readied weapons and shields. He could smell land, and smoke. The leader looked up from the rudder and looked at Einarr, 'This is your only chance, prove yourself.' The ship shot out of the mist and onto a short beach, pebbles grinding along the hull. The leader of what had transformed from a trading party into a warband lead his warriors through a forest towards what looked to be a small hamlet.

The watcher had raised the alarm and they had formed a wall of spears, iron digging-forks and even the odd mattock. Some of the young boys had climbed the huts and where carrying slings and plenty of small stones for ammunition. The raiders appeared out of the forest and they were well armed, with a man in the centre wearing a helmet and glittering mail. He could smell their sweat and someone next to him must have pissed themselves. Worse was to come once blood and intestines would start to spill to the ground.

Einarr was dragged along in the shieldwall, holding what felt like a poorly made shield in front of him. Stones started to smash into it and he kept his head down, without a helmet any of these stones could be deadly. He felt the wall shift into a swine's head, and he got slapped and pushed to the front. The trader stood on his right and one of the older warriors on his left, 'Jótas, you will die and we will enslave your women and children! This land belongs to the Danir now!'

One of the raiders in the centre of what was a wide column now, was hit by a slingshot and blood sprayed across the faces of the warriors behind him. They had at least sent one of the bastards to Valhalla. The leader shouted some insults, and they charged. Their own pathetic excuse for a shieldwall broke in a few heartbeats, but they fought on with desperation. They knew what wyrd was in stock for them. The Danish leader waded through them and spear heads and farming tools glanced off his mail and shield. Gefwulf, his brother's son, managed to open one of the attackers with his long sax, gut rope falling to the ground. The young warrior in the front speared Gefwulf through the eye in response and the watcher's throat released a guttural shout. He stormed towards the killer, his spear in an overhand grip. He had nearly reached his goal when he was tripped from behind. His last thought hoping that Woden would welcome him, as a spearhead ripped through the back of his skull.

Einarr did not partake in the ransacking of the hamlet. He sat on a stone and listened to the cries of despair and pain. A dead woman lay next to a boy, who had been not much younger than himself. She had died fighting to protect the boy, and he had killed them both. Einarr had nearly joined the others, but the look in the eyes of the woman had stopped him. She had his mother's eyes. It was certainly a better death than those of the women, girls and boys screaming in the huts and barns around him. The raiders would kill most of them once they had enough and only take the strongest and prettiest of them to sell as thralls. Smoke started to fill the air as the screams were replaced by sobbing and the crackling of flames.

First they loaded the pillaged goods, then the human plunder, and a goat someone had taken out of a barn before burning it to the ground. Desperate bleating told Einarr that not all animals had been that lucky as he stood in the waves, trying to wash blood and shit off his boots. The trader walked towards him through the knee-deep waves crested with reddish foam, and started to clean his foot wrappings and breeches. After a while of quiet activity he looked at him, 'Haukr Arnþórrsson. I am the jarl of Úlfarrsted, down south where the Saxons rule over their dark forests. You seem to know where to put a spear and my eldest son needs hirðmen.' Einarr already missed Geatland, but this felt like his wyrd and he was not ready to ignore what might be the will of the gods. He touched the Óðinn amulet on his neck and nodded. Einarr Haugr-Feeder had finally found a new lord.