Vikings at Whitby Abbey

We spent the August Bank Holiday weekend up in North Yorkshire, primarily to attend yet another Viking encampment and battle. This one was at Whitby Abbey, a site we’ve visited several times in the past, but never for a reenactment. The event was staged from the Saturday to Monday (August 25th – 27th) and as the best weather report was for the Saturday, that was the day we chose to attend. And what a good thing we did! Although very windy, Saturday was a lovely, sunny day, whereas it poured down for much of Sunday, when we visited Scarborough Castle further down the coast.

Whitby shown within North Yorkshire. Source: Ordnance Survey OpenData Author: Nilfanion. Creative Commons.

The encampment itself was educational and very interesting, with demonstrations of various Viking crafts and skills, including  favoured foods and methods of cooking them, as well as displays of  a number of goods in leather, wood and metal, and features of general lifestyle. All in all, it was great family fun as well as a learning experience. The lyre player was excellent … lovely music… and two different woodturners were also great to watch. These are a few of the photos we took around the camp:

There was also a reenactment of the death of a local Saxon thegn at the hands of the invading heathens/pagans, i.e. the Vikings. His cadaver was transported from the (supposedly) nearby village by a number of monks up to the abbey for burial – and the nuns were warned of a likely attack on the abbey. Needless to say, the nuns were outraged and terrified by the thought of pillaging and raping Danes. But the corpse was blessed and arrangements made for Saxon warriors to defend the abbey:

In the morning we watched the two armies warming up and practising their battle techniques, and the actual battle was in the afternoon. It was difficult to take photos during the battle, when the warriors were half killing each other close to the lines of tape encircling the battle site. Of course, the tape is vital for safety, but it meant that I have so many photos with green tape across the middle that are are unusable! (One of the hazards of being a ‘shortie’ is not being able to get my camera up higher. Still, I found that most of my photos could be cropped to make good headers, as the one above. But, then again, how many headers can I use in one post…?) 😀

Raids were common along the east coast of England during the Viking Age and monasteries, abbeys and such like would have been prime targets. So much plunder, in the form of gold or silver cups, crosses and chalices would have been irresistible to marauding bands. And the poor nuns would also have been seen as easy rape victims. Whitby Abbey itself was destroyed by Viking raiders in 867. Incidentally, the name Whitby means White settlement in Old Norse.

As with most Viking and Saxon battles, action starts with the shield wall formation of the opposing sides, during which time the warriors hammer on their shields with their swords, spears or battleaxes, generally making a great racket and yelling profanities at each other. All this is intended to intimidate and terrify their opponents. Then a number of missiles are hurled, including spears, rocks and stones – some via catapult – or arrows, if there are archers present. Once all these preliminaries are over, the two shield walls come together in an almighty clash and stab and slash out at each other in a effort to get through the wall of shields and kill or maim as many of the enemy as possible. And as men fall, so the shield wall breaks up and the one-to-one fighting takes place. On this occasion, we were treated to an excellent display of swordsmanship. We did video it, but the quality is so poor, I’d be ashamed to put it on YouTube. The fight was fast and furious but, unfortunately, that doesn’t show on a single photo. A new camera is on my Christmas list, so I hope Santa will be generous.

So here are some of the ‘usable’ photos we took:

It was a very enjoyable day, and I can only thank the various Viking and Saxon groups from around the country who came together to produce this event. The members obviously love what they do and are very proficient at doing it. Thanks must also go to English Heritage, who manages the fabulous ruin (courtesy of Henry VIII) of Whitby Abbey.

Whitby is a lovely, quaint, old seaside town and fishing port, and is packed with visitors for most of the summer, even without any events being on. The town and abbey are well worth visiting and I have many photos from the various times we’ve been there. I’ll get round to doing a post about it at some stage.

Happy to be Back!

It’s been far too long since I wrote a post and I’ve really missed doing so. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way, and/or other things must take precedence. Last year was not a good year for my family. We had so many illnesses to deal with, some of them worryingly serious. All in all, I got little writing done at all, either on my books or my blog. So this year has been a mad rush to get Book 3 of my Sons of Kings series finished, edited and formatted and published on Amazon. And, at last, this is it:

It was uploaded onto Amazon a couple of weeks ago, so I can now start to relax a little and get back to writing a few blog posts. Well, that’s the plan… On the other hand, Book 3 didn’t finish either of my protagonists’ stories, so I am now writing Book 4. My trilogy has become a series (or perhaps a quadrilogy).

All three of my Sons of Kings books will be 99p/$0.99 until July 31st. After that, Book 1 (Shadow of the Raven)  will be 99p for a little longer, Book 2 (Pit of Vipers) will be $1.99 and Book 3 (Wyvern of Wessex) will be $2.99, the usual price for each of the three books.

My book of short stories and flash fiction pieces will be still at its usual price of £1.49/$1.97. Amazon won’t allow it to be any lower because of the number of coloured images I’ve included. I had intended this book to be permanently 99p!

*****

Book Promotion: Shadow of the Raven

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Just a quick post to say that the eBook version of Book 1 of my Sons of Kings trilogy, Shadow of the Raven, is free for today only (Thursday, January 26). Every download would be greatly appreciated.

For more detail about what the book is about, click the link to my newly created My Books page.

Here are the links to the books on:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com.au

Every download would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

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Researching for Historical Fiction

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Historical fiction is something I love to write. The reason…? I simply love history, any time period and any setting. At present I’m concentrating on the Viking era in the mid-ninth century as I finish the third book in my Sons of Kings trilogy. The first two of these are in my sidebar over there, and the third will be titled Wyvern of Wessex. After that, I have plans for several other ‘histfics’, but not set in the Viking era.

So what exactly is historical fiction?

Well, until recently, most definitions told us that stories set fifty or more years ago could be classed as historical fiction. Recently, however, I’ve seen various sites that have reset that definition to twenty-five years. For someone of my age, twenty-five years ago seems just like yesterday and that definition does little for my self-image. I’m already feeling like an old fossil.

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Twenty five years only takes us to the early nineties. So a book set in 1991 is now classed as historical fiction. Oh my…! But when I think about it, even yesterday is history… one second ago is history. I suppose past times, no matter how recent, are all ‘history’.

As for actually writing historical fiction, just what does it involve?

For starters, like several other genres, it involves the writer doing a lot of research (unless he or she a hugely successful author and can afford to hire people to do it for them). Fortunately, doing research is so much easier nowadays than it was years ago when the only place for doing it, other than buying your own text books, was the good old library. But now, authors have the Internet and access to numerous informative sites, including those about history.

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Having said that, I would never, ever, dismiss the value of good books about the period and historical characters I want to write about. I have some excellent texts that have been invaluable. But online sources can give us lots of interesting – and different – information. And, of course, there’s still the library.

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Exactly what you research can include anything from dates of characters’ births and deaths, to dates of important events of the time. But details about everyday life are important, too. We need to know things like building types, foods (and how and when they were cooked and eaten) clothing and general customs and attitudes. All add to the authenticity of the story – but must be ‘fed’ carefully and intermittently into the story.

Getting details about the period wrong is definitely not a good idea, as there will always be at least one reader who’ll notice. Several years ago I read an article in a Writing magazine by an editor in the US. In this article, he quoted what he called the ‘worst example of historical inaccuracies’ he’d ever come across. It was in a book about Mary Queen of Scots, who was beheaded in 1587. (The author’s name and book title were not divulged, of course). He quoted a scene between Mary and her husband, Lord Darnley, which I’ll re-quote as closely as I remember it. Mary supposedly says:

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Darnley, honey, let me fix you a chicken sandwich.

I’ll leave you to pick out what’s wrong with that one – but I found it hilarious!

For my trilogy there were two main things I had to focus on. The first was the life of King Alfred the Great, one of the two main protagonists. This is one of the two statues erected in his honour (both in Victorian times as you can probably tell from the photo below). This one is in the Market Place in Wantage, Oxfordshire (formerly Berkshire), which is believed to be where Alfred was born.

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I also had to focus on Viking ships and voyages as well as everyday lifestyles of both Vikings and Anglo-Saxons in the mid-ninth century.These are a few ‘photos of photos’ we took in Denmark, so I apologise for the poor quality of them. They were taken at Lindholm Høje in northern Denmark. Some are from inside the museum, others are of the very famous Viking burial ground there.

The Jorvik (pronounced Yorvik) Viking museum in York (Yorkshire, UK) was also excellent for information about Viking life. The museum succumbed to floodwaters when the River Ouse flooded in December 2015 and won’t be open again until spring 2017. Fortunately, most of the exhibits were saved.

All in all, the research kept me busy for quite some time. But, we visited some wonderful historic sites and museums in both England and Denmark as part of it. So that can’t be bad, can it? The visit to Denmark really helped with the parts of the books set there – a lot of Book One in particular, which is mostly about my second protagonist, Eadwulf of Mercia. Although he’s a fictional character, the main events in my book that take place in his kingdom, are not.

We still love to visit historical sites related to all periods of history. Reenactments are a particular favourite at the moment, and we’ve been to a few this year. These photos are from a battle between Alfred and the Danes staged at Corfe castle in Dorset in May.

And these are from the Viking Village at Murton, near York. I wrote a post about this in April this year.

‘Bear’ is really quite something, and he was very helpful in explaining all about his unusual helmet and why few Vikings ever adopted that style. All ‘grist to the mill’, as they say.

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Vikings attack Wareham!

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I got home yesterday after spending a week down in Somerset – not an area I know at all, having previously only driven through it on our way to Devon or Cornwall. We did visit sites in Somerset during the week but over the last weekend of our stay we drove 60 miles into Dorset to visit Corfe Castle.

Corfe Castle, Dorset, UK.

We’ve been to this castle before, but on this occasion we were there to watch a re-enactment of one of King Alfred’s battles against the Viking Danes staged in the castle grounds.

The castle is a National Trust property and the car park and ticket office are on the opposite side of the road (A351). It holds a striking position high on  a hill, as can be seen in these two photos. The first was taken through the windscreen of our car as we approached on the A351 and the second from Corfe Castle village at the opposite side 0f the hill.

We arrived at 10.30 am to find that both Saxon and Viking groups were  already delighting crowds by demonstrating a variety of battle skills. Then we spent some time looking around the Saxon camp and the remains of Corfe castle. We have Oliver Cromwell to thank for the destruction (or slighting as it is properly called) of yet another magnificent castle. I intend to do a post about Corfe Castle, so I’ll say no more about that here. Here are a few photos of the many tents of the Saxon camp. Some show crafts and skills of the period.

The break for lunch was interesting, to say the least, as many of the re-enactment groups headed down into the village along with the crowds of spectators. Needless to say, most of the cafes were full, and we had to queue to get served in the one we opted for. But what the heck . . . it was all good fun and everyone was in festive mood.

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The main battle was staged in the afternoon and was based on many such battles between Alfred and the Danes during his reign as King of Wessex. This one – in 893 – was late in Alfred’s reign, as he died in 899 at the age of 50. His eldest daughter, the fiery Aethelflaed, who became known as ‘Lady of the Mercians’ also features in the battle.

On this occasion, Alfred and his army held the castle and the Danes were attacking. Here are some of the photos of the event, although it’s impossible to differentiate between the opposing sides. There were several groups fighting with Alfred’s Saxons, including the Welsh and Cornish and different groups from the kingdom of Mercia. All had united against the common enemy, the Danes. In addition, Saxon and Viking battle gear was pretty similar (and Vikings most definitely did not wear horned helmets!). All had round shields and wore helmets, usually with nose guards. Many wore body armour of chain mail.

To his credit,  Alfred’s army won the day!

All-in-all, it was a great day out and I can’t praise the re-enactment groups enough. They did a wonderful job of recreating not only the battle, but the whole feel of events at the time. The battle was not without its humour and the costumes were excellent. Bring on the next one!

A Visit to Murton Park Viking Village

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Last Saturday we had a great visit to the Murton Park Viking Village which is on the site of the Yorkshire Museum of Farming just outside of York. Although we took lots of photos of wonderful old farm machinery, this post is not about old farming methods on this occasion. Today I want to focus on Vikings!

The reconstructed Viking village is excellent, and made specifically for the reenactment group who call themselves Jorfor’s Hall. I found out about them on Twitter (@jorforshall). The village is described as a Danelaw Farming Communityand over this particular weekend (9th and 10th April) the Vikings were in residence. This is the entrance into the village:

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And this is how the group describe themselves on their website, Jorfor’s Hall:

“Jorfor and his family are hunters and trappers, most of them originally hailing from the Troms area of northern Norway, though they have travelled far across the Viking world, some further than others, and settled in many different lands”.

The group takes part in Viking events all over the country, as well as featuring regularly at Murton Park. Events are tailored for a variety of needs including school parties, youth clubs, fairs, fetes and shows. They also take part at the Jorvik Viking Festival in York in February.

The weather on Saturday morning was a bit dreary to start with, and it was very wet underfoot, but that only served to illustrate the conditions people would have lived with 1100 years ago. Most of the pathways through the settlement were wood-planked, to counteract the mud. This tallies with what I found when doing my research several years ago about the Danish trading town of Hedeby. 

This was the man in charge, the chieftain of the village, wth the very appropriate name of Bear. Thankfully, he was a very friendly bear and told us a lot about the great helmet he’s wearing or holding in these photos, as well as how it compares in battle to the one on the stool.

I’d run a mile fast if I saw someone coming at me wearing a helmet like that – and that, according to Bear, was exactly what the helmet was supposed to do: terrify people (especially when the man wearing it was as big as Bear!). The helmet, however, was not the typical Viking style; the more usual design being like the one with a nose guard, shown on the stool. Bear’s helmet is a replica of a famous one discovered in Norway. I think (but I’m not sure) Bear said it was the one found in a 10th century chieftain’s grave at Gjermundbu.

I found this picture of it on Wikimedia Commons.

Viking helmet from Gjermundbufunnet, now at Kulturhistorisk museum. Author: J Jeblad. Creative Commons
Viking helmet from Gjermundbufunnet, now at Kulturhistorisk museum. Author: J
Jeblad. Creative Commons

However, Bear did say that this helmet could be one that had been brought back from the East (trade or raid) and the style was not adopted for long amongst the Vikings. Although the facial shield and eye mask are intimidating to say the least, they could be disastrous in battle. A sword thrust into an eye socket would  direct the sword straight into the eye! With the more usual nose guard, there was the possibility of the sword being deflected away from the eye.

The village itself displays a variety of housing styles and shop fronts, generally from the 9th and I0th centuries. But, as it says on the information poster at the entrance, no one knows for certain what buildings looked like. They were all made of timber, which rots away leaving little evidence. Roofing materials in the village vary from thatch to split tree trunks, wood planks and shingles and some of the buildings are decorated with colourful designs and some some have little gardens:

Inside these houses, space was limited and indoor life continued around the ever-present central hearth fire. Every home would have a loom, where women would make clothes, blankets and wall hangings. Storage chests did what storage chests usually do. 🙂

To finish with, these are a few of the villagers themselves, some about their work, others just cooking or socialising. Jobs and trades around the village would be many and varied, and of course, warriors would always be on the alert in case of attack.

. . . and the cross section through the hull of a reconstructed Viking ship that greets visitors on the way in. It shows how Viking ships were built using overlapping wooden planks (known as clinker planking) which made them waterproof. This technique is still used today in wooden ship construction. It was donated by the Yorkshire Museum.

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The Yule Log

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Yule is the name of the old Winter Solstice festivals in Scandinavia and parts of Northern Europe and dates back to pre-medieval times. Originally, an entire tree would be brought into the house with great ceremony. The log was believed to have magic properties which ensured good luck during the coming year to those who helped to pull it over the rough ground.

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Illustration of people collecting a Yule Log from the Chambers Book of Days. 1832. Wikimedia Commons

In earliest times the log would be burned on a fire pit in the centre of the room. Later on, once chimneys became common and the hearth stood against a wall, the largest end of the log would be placed in the hearth whilst the rest stuck out into the room. It would be lit with the remains from the previous year’s log and would continue to burn throughout the twelve days of Christmas.

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The custom of the Yule Log spread all over Europe, and in each country different woods would be burned. In England, oak was common; in Scotland, it was birch. In France they chose cherry and often sprinkled the wood with wine to give a pleasant smell as it burned.

Today the custom is generally only remembered as a log-shaped chocolate cake (usually a Swiss roll) which is eaten around Christmas.

shutterstock_228205918In Viking times the celebrations were accompanied by various rites to the different gods as well as the usual feasting and drinking. Here is one very short section from my first book, Shadow of the Raven, which briefly describes some of the activities the people enjoyed. Ulf is the main character and Jorund is a young boy who has recently undergone a great trauma.


shutterstock_123315433December came and with it the celebrations of the Yule. Ulf helped Rico to loop thick ropes round a huge oak log and drag it across the frozen earth into the hall, where the women and children decorated it with sprigs of fir and holly. Throughout the festivities it smouldered in the hearth, helping to bring light and cheer to the darkest time of year. A wild boar was sacrificed to Frey, the god of fertility, to ensure a good growing season in the coming year, with warm days and gentle rain. A goat was slaughtered, and people dressed in goatskins and sang in honour of Thor, who rode the skies in his chariot pulled by two goats. The roasted meats were eaten during the celebratory feasts, and unlimited supplies of ale and mead kept everyone in festive mood.

And Jorund smiled for the first time since October.

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Thor in his chariot pulled by two goats

It sounds as though a fun time was had by all . . .

Merry Christmas to everyone!

The Horrors of the Blood Eagle.

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This incredible hazard sign was shared on Facebook on November 11th by The Heathen Mead Hall. It was one of my daughters who drew my attention to it. I don’t know where the sign came from, or who made it, but it’s quite hilarious – considering it refers to such a gruesome thing.

I’m sure that anyone who has been following the TV series ‘Vikings’ will already be familiar with what the blood eagle execution entailed. I haven’t watched the series, for the same reason that I haven’t read the wonderful Bernard Cornwell’s books about King Alfred and the Danes. I don’t want to be influenced in any way by what either say/show until I’ve finished my own books.

Here’s the blood eagle scene from the ‘Vikings’ Tv Series, uploaded to YouTube by Star Wolf:

Wikipedia tells us that the blood eagle was a method of execution, ‘performed by cutting the skin of the victim by the spine, breaking the ribs so they resembled blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out through the wounds in the victim’s back. Salt was sprinkled in the wounds. Victims of the method of execution, as mentioned in skaldic poetry and the Norse sagas, are believed to have included King Aella of Northumbria, Halfdan son of King Harald Harfagri of Norway, King Maelgualai of Munster, and possibly Archbishop Aelfeah of Canterbury’.

I’d like to add a couple of points about this barbaric ritual. I’ve referred to, and combined, a number of sources here, so if there are any mistakes, they are my own. Historians today are still in dispute over the authenticity of such accounts. The Viking Orkney website discusses whether the blood eagle was really a method of execution, or simply a literary addition, included for dramatic effect. It tells us that the blood eagle appears in several Nordic accounts, including one from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. In that we hear how the Northumbrian king, Aella, was executed by Ivar the Boneless:

“They caused the bloody eagle to be carved on the back of Ælla, and they cut away all of the ribs from the spine, and then they ripped out his lungs.”

It also appears in Norna-Gests páttr, where Regin executes Lyngvi:

“Regin then took his sword from me, and with it carved Lyngvi’s back until the ribs were cut from the back, and the lungs drawn out. Thus Lyngvi died with great valour.”

Some scholars firmly believe that the blood eagle took place. Others believe it could be derived from metaphors used in Skaldic verse – as in the saga attributed to Einar, in which the term ‘eagle’s claws’ represents violent death. Following Halfdan’s death, Einar recited:

“Mighty men of no mean race,
From divers mansions of the earth;
But for that they do not know,
These, until they lay me low,
Which of us the eagle’s claws
Shall bow beneath ere all be o’er.”

It’s been suggested that this could be the source of the blood eagle episode. But whether the practice was used or not is still highly debatable, although take a look at this image on the Hannars I Stone on the island of Gotland. It clearly shows a person lying on their front over a table and someone attacking his back with a weapon:

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A scene from the Stora Hammars 1 stone. Author: The Man in Question (from source: Sacrificial scene on Hammar). Creative Commons.

Viking novels and films have become popular in recent years – many of them including scenes of extreme violence and brutality. They make good reading or viewing. And as long as we don’t accept everything we read or watch as totally accurate, that’s fine. I even have a ‘blood-eagling’ scene in my own second book. But I take care not to present all the Vikings as totally evil and/or debauched. I even have some rather nice ones.

Another gruesome image – but not exactly primary evidence.

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Image from Pinterest

A Viking sacrifice to Odin

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Norse mythology tells us that blood sacrifices to placate the gods took place at the key times of year – spring, summer, autumn and mid winter. Some archaeological and documented evidence also supports this. Blood sacfrifices were known as ‘blots’ -the Misumarblot, for example. Though fairly scant, there is evidence to support the idea that human sacrifice took place as well as animal.

Here’s my version of one such ceremony. It’s from my book, Shadow of the Raven. The manner of’ killing the victim I describe was selected from a few different methods I’ve read about. Gruesome stuff! Here it is:


In the sombre, grey light before sunrise, the people of Aros filed from their longhouses and followed their jarl in his flowing white robes. Guided by the fiery luminance of torches borne by a handful of thralls, the column moved in respectful silence along a narrow path that snaked between the cultivated fields and up the gentle slope behind the village. On the crest of the hill stood the sacred grove, a short way from the woodland where Eadwulf had recently collected kindling for winter fires. The ancient oaks loomed dark and ominous against the silvery-grey of the lightening sky and Eadwulf shivered, overcome with sudden foreboding.

The silent train streamed between the outer rings of trees to a clearing within. At its centre a solitary oak towered proudly over its attendants; a truly gigantic tree, the girth of its trunk of such immense proportions. Its lower branches were thick and sturdy, reaching out and dividing into myriad, twisted routeways; its still abundant foliage evidence of the oak’s jealous retention of its leaves long after most forest trees stood denuded and exposed.

The jarl’s small group positioned themselves into the shape of an arrowhead, tapering away from the wide trunk, the single figure of the jarl comprising the arrowhead’s tip. Behind him stood his sons, Bjorn, Ivar and Halfdan, and five of his men formed the rear. Amongst them was the brutal Ulrik.

Ragnar moved three paces forward, and turned to face the oak, his robes shimmering in the torchlight as he raised his arms.

‘O . . . di . . . in,’ he intoned, sinking to his knees. ‘All-Father, lord of wisdom, war and death, mighty god of all gods . . .’ Around the grove the people knelt, lifting their arms to the tree. ‘We are humbled in the shadow of your sacred oak, knowing that you are close. I, Ragnar, priest of the gods, beseech you, Father: hear the voice of your humble servant.’

‘Odin, Odin . . .’ The chanting began, rising to fever pitch before settling to a lilting hum; outstretched arms swayed like meadow grasses in the breeze. People were surely evoking the very presence of their god.

‘The wheel of the seasons has turned and winter will soon be upon us,’ Ragnar’s baritone rang out. ‘We bring our gifts of thanks and ask that you safeguard your people from the hardships of the frozen months. Let them live to serve you.’

A strong, unheralded gust swept the grove, whistling through the oak’s branches. Torches listed wildly and the droning stopped. ‘God of gods, lord of earth and sky, giver and taker of life,’ Ragnar intoned, his hands reaching up to two black shapes, now perched on the thick branch above his head. ‘We are unworthy to look upon your holy companions and avert our eyes in their presence.’

Eadwulf stayed on his knees, not understanding what was happening. He knew that Odin’s ravens, Hugin and Munin – Thought and Memory – were believed to be the god’s eyes and ears; awesome, black birds sent out each dawn to fly over Midgard, gathering information to report to Odin by the evening. But he’d always dismissed such a story as pagan nonsense before.

Ragnar rose and faced the kneeling crowd. ‘To your feet, my people, and witness our offerings to the All-Father, who has given his sign of acceptance.’

The wasted body of Cendred was dragged from the wagon, his wrists bound behind him. Panic and anger surged through Eadwulf and he drew breath to cry out.

‘Do not make a sound,’ Toke hissed. ‘Great insult to Odin if you do.’ His eyes flicked up to the tree’s thick branches. ‘Could be you or me up there next.’

Cendred slumped, seeming resigned to his gruesome end after weeks of imprisonment. His filthy clothes hung limp on his half-starved body; his hair greasy and matted from his bowed head, concealing whatever expression was on his face. At his sides two of Ragnar’s men stood grim-faced, and a few paces behind, Ulrik held a huge, heavy-headed axe. Close by, Bjorn carried a large coil of thick rope.

‘Odin!’ Ragnar shouted. ‘May the lifeblood of our people’s enemy please and strengthen you.’

Cendred was yanked to his feet and the heavy, flat handle of the axe-head crashed down on his skull. Eadwulf recoiled from the sickening crunch of shattering bones as Cendred’s head caved in like a crushed eggshell under the force of Ulrik’s strength.

The lifeless body sprawled on the rotting leaves, his blood soaking into the earth. Bjorn severed the bonds holding Cendred’s arms and rolled him over, rebinding his wrists above his head with one end of rope. The two warriors dragged the corpse beneath a thick branch close to the ravens and Bjorn hurled the loose end of the rope over it. Cendred’s body was hauled up high, where Eadwulf guessed it would stay, dangling by the wrists to feed the crows.

Bright-eyed and motionless, the ravens surveyed all.

Ragnar clutched the sacrificial knife above his head. ‘Odin!’ he yelled. ‘Remember our gifts when winter comes. Let the season be kind, our huntsmen find success, and our people survive!’

The ravens lifted their wings to take flight and the strange, gusting wind raged a second time. The flapping of silken feathers hummed through the grove, then the black shapes soared into the distance to continue their daily tasks for the All-Father.

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In this extract, Eadwulf has been a thrall/slave of the Danes for a few months, and is still striving to come to terms with their customs and way of life. This is his first experience of a human sacrifice to Odin, the highest of the gods and father of the great Thor. It takes place in late October – a few days after the horse sacrifice to Thor I described in a recent post – when people have the bleakness of  winter ahead of them.

Aros was in the region of modern-day Aahus.


 

Accept our offering, mighty Thor . . .

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The sun hung low in the near-cloudless sky, the late afternoon dry and cold with the promise of frost when darkness fell. Winter was nudging her icy nose into people’s lives and they did not relish the prospect. They’d done all in their power to ensure the well-being of the village during the bleak months ahead and hoped their hard work would reap its dividend. All that was needful now was the blessing of the gods. In sombre mood, villagers waited for the ceremony to begin. Continue reading “Accept our offering, mighty Thor . . .”