So it’s Easter. Probably. And I honestly can’t think of a better time to go raiding and pillaging up and down the coast of England in a Viking warband, while everyone’s taking some time off, relaxing in their homes. Those Saxons sure are a slovenly lot. But longship prices have skyrocketed in the last millennium and the only chainmail I’ve ever owned was part of a Halloween costume. From when I was 10.
War of the Vikings has to suffice. That’s not a great misfortune, as War of the Vikings is really rather good. Angry, blood-drenched warriors shouting in Icelandic and Old English while trying to hack each other to death in the mud and the rain. Brilliant, primal stuff. But there’s more to these battles than slaughter. There are grudges, brave charges, tense seconds in a shield wall as enemies rush down a hill – little stories that emerge.
We were only vaguely aware of the distant clanging of swords and yelling men. Away from the heart of the battle, we waited by the stone circle, hiding behind the monolithic pillars. A remnant of the Saxons’ past, and across from it, their present – a church.
The noise of battle gets closer. A Saxon sprints into the circle, sword still sheathed but shield raised. My compatriot raises his sword and sweeps in a huge arc, but the Saxon turns around just in time. The iron hits wood as it bounces off the plain red Saxon shield.
Now with sword unsheathed, our enemy retaliates clumsily, the sword cuts through the air and then strikes stone as it misses both of us and impotently attacks one of the stone pillars. He faces my ally, and I circle around him, trying to get past his defenses. I slash at his torso and he falls to the ground, rolling around in agony. I put a sword through his gut.
The Saxon’s friends have spotted us. An arrow flies past my head, and following it are four charging men. We hastily put up our shields and make a pitiful shield wall. Only two of the men continue the charge and run into our wall, stabbing and swiping with sword and axe. We dance in a circle, probing nervously. After another failed strike, I fling an axe at the head of one of the Saxons still hanging back. It finds its home in his head.
Now it’s a proper battle. Our allies have reached the circle, and with them come more Saxons. There’s screaming and shouting and a cacophony of metal hitting metal. I jump between the stone pillars, but too late do I see a javelin sailing through the air. It hits my chest and knocks me to the ground. My friend tries to get me back on my feet, but then his head is removed from his body. A Saxon stands over me, axe held above his head. He brings it down.
Out to sea, longships burned. Enough of them had made it to shore to ferry us to the caves, though. That’s where the Saxons were waiting. Between beached longships and inside the gaping maws of huge caves, we fought.
Running around with an enormous axe confers a sort of invincibility upon me. Or at least perceived invincibility. But the beach is filled with veteran warriors, their long cloaks flowing behind them. They’d be only too happy to prove that I can die like any man.
Leaping from the longship, I jump right in front of a Saxon covered head to toe in Viking blood. He’s taken out many of my brothers and shows no signs of stopping. We trade blows, his spear launching forward, deflected by the shaft of my axe; my axe coming down, aimed for his head, but only finding air as he dodges.
Around us, similar duels are playing out, but I can’t worry about that. A fellow Viking runs up to us, but a spear strike meant for me sticks him in the belly and he is no more. As I look down at my fallen comrade, the spearman produces a dagger and flings it at me. It hits me, but isn’t enough to take me out of the fight. The dance continues.
Another Viking rushes past us, his shield on fire. Flaming arrows are being launched from within the caves, setting little fires all across the beach. One likely aimed for me instead hits my Saxon dance partner right in the shoulder, the flames licking his armour. My spot of good fortune spurs me on. I flail around with my axe like a blood-crazed berserker – quick strikes that don’t do much damage but catch my foe off guard. He lowers his spear for a second, deciding to make one last stab, I dodge and swipe and his head flies off his neck and lands in the water.
Men rush past me, sprinting into the great hall. They run to the barricaded entrances, waiting to carve up the Saxon dogs. I hang back, though. My bow would be useless inside. The barricades are smashed, but instead of pouring through the entrances, the Saxons wait, trying to draw my fellow Vikings outside.
As they peer into the hall, throwing the occasional blade or axe, I let loose my arrows. None go down, but it stops them from targeting my allies with their throwing weapons. Courage stirs within them and they decide to charge. The hall becomes a mess of blood and flailing limbs, with men running around the still burning brazier, intent on murder. And among all the bodies of friend and foe, it’s hard to find a good place to bury my arrows.
With my arm tiring, I start looking for a better angle. I notice something below me: two Saxons. They’ve found a way around the hall and clearly hope to catch us unaware. I pull back my bowstring and one of them stumbles and collides with a wall. The other keeps running, around and up, getting closer and closer.
I ditch the bow and bring out my simple one-handed axe. We circle each other, testing, taunting. I deflect a blow and reply with my axe, it hits his side and instead of retaliating, he runs. I bring out my bow once more but my arrow finds itself in a tree instead. Shaking the failure off, I give chase. Through some trees, leaping over fallen trunks, round the side of the hall. He doesn’t know I’m following him and hides behind a wall to bandage himself. I jump up and launch an arrow from near point blank range. He doesn’t get up again.
I too need to bandage my wounds. I only notice the Saxon sneaking up on me when it’s too late to defend myself. I turn to meet him, expecting death and then there’s a thud. And another – the second one being the Saxon falling onto the ground, an arrow protruding from the back of his head. No more Saxons bother us.
Happy Easter pillaging.