Where’s my helmet? 879 (Butser Ancient Farm, 2019)

Peace spread across the Saxon lands in the year following the conversion of Athelstan. Saxons emboldened by good harvests met for a market and feast in the hills of Hampshire. Herewulf Thegn sent representatives of the Cilternsaete included a trusted young Saxon to whom he lent his fine helmet.

The market attracted many Viking traders for whom peace was also advantageous, but it also attracted the attentions of more nefarious folk. One of the Viking factions having returned from Denmark and setting themselves up near Fulham sought the rich pickings of the market. They arrived under the guise of merchants and traders, and on the first night drank well with their hosts.

The dawn’s light brought fair weather and enjoyment, but to Herewulf’s young representative it brought nothing but fear; for his lord’s helmet was found to be missing. Panic swept through the man and he ran hither-and-thither offering out breakfast as he went and always asking if anyone knew of the helmet’s location; but none did.

Despair took the man for he could never replace the helmet and could not pay the cost, his life would be forfeit. But with great happenstance there came to the market children of strange dress and speech; children who were excited and skilled enough to solve the message of the helmet. Each in turn they interrogated the attendees present, piecing together clues they identified the thief as none other than Hauk of Oestvikingae, the crafty and fleet of foot warrior. Despite his reputation Hauk could not outrun his fate, and through cunning distractions of their own the children did find within Hauk’s possessions the stolen helmet.

Hauk pleaded innocence, but being unknown to the locals he found no man or woman to support his character, his end seemed near, however knowing the law, and his rank Hauk resolved to pay his wergild with vast quantities of silver armbands. His life bought, and the helmet returned that evening Hauk and all of the Oestvikingae joined in a hearty feast, before the next morning departing early; and again, the helmet was found to be missing…

The young Saxon again sought help to identify the suspect, and again Hauk was implicated. Men were sent on swift horses returning again with the helmet, and silver to pay for Hauk’s life.

Herewulf Thegn was pleased for the market not only returned his favourite helmet but also substantial additional silver; and all who had been present and had seen these strange proceedings wondered “What scheme would Hauk come up with next?”

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The year that knowledge of the Duck God came to them 879 A.D. (Earleywood, April 2019)

Stykar, wisest amongst the wise, brought to them on the first morning great revelations. Over a hearty breakfast much discussion was made. Those in the party, hearing his words and adding their own understanding, saw the majesty of the Duck God’s plan. All were amazed by the revelation that in each of their homes, near the shrine to Kermitos, already lay a shrine to the Duck God; unrealized but no less unvisited.

For you see, friends, the Duck God has created man not as his children; but as servants of his true children: those made in his image. We see the majesty of it, for each duck is, by will of the Duck God, sent into this world where they may have the opportunity to partake of the foods offered to them by mortal man. Those who are pure and honest servants of the Duck God seek out the grains that are so holy to him. But to others comes nothing but temptation in the form of rich sugary white bread: alluring, tasty but unholy in the eyes of the Duck God. Man, therefore is but an instrument in the lives of the true divine children.

Knowing this the company was renewed and each promised to return to their homes, sanctify the shrine to the Duck God and place therein a small effigy to the Duck God such that when they bathed in the cleansing waters the effigy would rise above them on the water as an eternal reminder of the ducks’ superiority.

Thereafter each went to their Kinsmen, for there was much trouble in the lands. Those of the Vikings who had settled and who had seen the conversion of Athelstan felt lost; their place was not as lapdogs of Wessex, yet the peace brought trade and there were no other clear leaders to follow. Dissatisfied, two groups of Vikings set out on separate quests to find sacred symbols that might lead them to a greater understanding of Odin’s plans for them, the two raven banners lost but possibly found in the last year. Meanwhile, those of the Oestvikingae, buoyed by an increase in manpower and in no way interested in the petty issues of Wessex and the Danegeld themselves began raids tackling Viking and Saxon alike looking for such valued treasure.

Alfred, hearing of the many Vikings abroad in the lands, and knowing of their missions sent his finest warriors after them. They savagely and relentlessly hounded the Viking groups as they sought their banners. Especially the Chilternsetae, before whom all fell in battle, with the exception of the Oestvikingae who ran away! Having obtained the white Raven banner, they became over confident, and carried it through the land, hung upside down, to represent the folly of the old ways. But their strength and prowess in battle ultimately was the undoing of Alfred’s plan; for the Vikings having just suffered an ambush by the Oestvikingae formed a single unit and marched against the Saxons, while the Oestvikingae disappeared in to the undergrowth.

There in a sandy grove of fallen trees, did the two sides engage. Line after line of warriors stepped forward to engage in bloody conflict and many fell. Survivors of a particular battle, though few they are, tell of a terrifying Hauk-howl that can forth from some impenetrable bracken before suddenly the wall was swamped by the army of the Oestvikingae who slaughtered indiscriminately. By day’s end the Saxon forced, still undeterred, had lost control of the Raven banner and the Vikings had rallied before it. The Saxon’s retreated to Wessex and the Vikings, seeing that Odin had watched upon them today, but knowing the price of folly in his eyes felt prudently that a retreat was also in order.

So, to the evening and to a great feast; all were welcomed to the hall of Holmbyggjar, an autonomous collective governing as a single unit in the absence of their Lord Bosi. In fact, much praise and respect was given to our absent friends; those who will always join our banquet in memory even when they cannot be with us in person. Wulf, particularly, was spoken of highly, Stykar telling of his may adventures with Thor on his journeys through Midgard.

We welcomed also, many new faces to the banquet. Skykar’s niece, was welcomed to Holmbyggjar following her marriage to Hrothgar over the winter months, an alliance that will hopefully represent the companionship between the Viking tribes following the retrieval of the raven banners. We also welcomed the return of Piri, to Holmbyggjar, and the Oestvikingae (favoured so much by the hosts that they receive the special ‘golden harvest mead’ upon their arrival at the hall) welcomed Madoc Arnson and Floki, and celebrated their new members and gifted them greatly for their valour on the fields of battle. So too was much praise given to those who through their efforts made such an event possible, and all were grateful for their works.

So, to the future do each group look. Stykar professed confidence in the Viking’s ability to re-form under the banners and the Saxons, citing their victories of the day, stated that no Saxon force would be overcome by such Viking forces. But, alas, without the wisdom of the Norns, no mortal man can tell what the future is to bring, so in these times we wait, peace or war, honour and glory all these things may come but for now we each, in quiet reflection, return to the shrines of the Duck God.

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Wessex Strikes Back! 878 A.D. (Flaunden, October 2018)

Following his escape from Chippenham when the Danes struck in midwinter, King Alfred and his most faithful followers fled to seek refuge in the Somerset fens on the isle of Athelney- an area well-known to Alfred as a hunting preserve.
The Englisc folk fortified the isle at Easter, and ventured out at times to harry the heathen. Alfred took council with his witan. Good news was that Ubba, raiding Devon with 23 ships, was brought to battle by the Defnascir fyrd led by Ealdorman Odda and defeated, losing his life, and his raven banner.

Word was sent out, carried by trusted messengers, for the fyrd to gather seven weeks after Easter. The Danes round about guessed something was going on, but not what or where. The messengers had to evade them and bring news to those loyal to Alfred – the muster-place was to be Ecgbert’s Stone! The Vikings did not manage to prevent the muster from occurring, and those scouts who saw the fyrd fled back to report.

Alfred led his fyrd to Ethandun, where they met with the Viking army and put it to flight – for they had much to avenge. The survivors of the heathen host fled to their fort: a band of Englisc sought to block their way, but were defeated and they gained the safety of the fort. Alfred laid siege – and, as at Exeter, and Nottingham before that, there was stalemate – the Englisc could not get in without great loss, but the Danes could not get out. As food ran low, peace was made, and oaths and hostages were given – and, wondrous miracle! Guthrum agreed that he would be baptised and become a Christian!

There was doubt about this, as the heathen had proved false to their oaths before – but three weeks later, Guthrum came to Alfred at Wedmore and was baptised as Aethelstan. That night, Englisc and Danes feasted alongside one another.

So – now it seems that all three sons of Ragnar Lothbrok are dead, and Guthrum has become the Christian Aethelstan. Now, perhaps, there will be peace in these lands….

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The Ravens Return 878 A.D. (Earleywood, March 2018)

In spring of 878, the Westmen returned from Ireland bearing the terrible news that Ubbe Ragnarsson fell in late 877 in the skirmish at Loch Cuan between the fair heathens and the dark heathens. Albann, king of the dark heathens fell there also. The Westmen now sought to meet with Ubbe’s forces (meant to be raiding Devon by sea) and Guthrum’s forces (who’d been ravaging much of Wessex by land). They wanted to find also a raven banner previously owned by the son of Jarl Rognvald, lord of the Kingdom of the Isles and Finehair’s right hand man which they won in battle in 876, as they felt it would surely bring victory to the Vikings who bore it.

The Oestvikingae were present at the massacre of Ubbe’s raid, and the few survivors were scattered. Hauk fled with another raven banner, made by Ubbe in jealousy of his brother Halfdan having the Westmen and their raven banner on his side. This banner bore the strange curse that it would bring victory but the bearer would die – Halfdan was winning, when his banner-bearer (a tall but gangling youth, desperate to be known as a great warrior but lacking the ability) fell. Halfdan took up the banner himself, as no-one else would – and took his death wound.

The Holmbyggjar had been with the Viking leader Guthrum, harrassing Alfred. Guthrum, seeing the Northumbrian / Ragnarsson side of the Great Army without a leader, wanted to take the Raven Banner to set himself up as leader of all the Vikings.

The Englisc had with them Jarl Rognvald’s raven banner, which they wanted to deliver to a monastery, a trophy of ealdorman Odda’s victory and evidence of God’s grace and superiority over the heathen devils.

As the day fell out, the Holmbyggjar and Westmen took both banners between them, though there was much confusion as to which was cursed and after much mead of victory was drunk it was also not clear where the banners ended up!

As these events took place, Alfred was in hiding in the Somerset levels, and other Vikings were attempting to keep his Englisc supporters from finding him. Eventually the Englisc found their way to him, guided by locals, and driving off the Vikings who harried them. And at the banquet that night, a monk sent by Alfred brought some tasty cakes for all to share.

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Smash and Grab, 877 A.D. (Cadbury, June 2017)

Earlier in the year the Vikings had fled from Wareham to Exeter. However morale was low amongst them, after having to exchange hostages and with Thorhelm and Fritha of the Oestvikingae away sworn to the service of the Cilternsaete. Tensions were running high inside the town, and the heathen hoard was fracturing… To alleviate some of this and keep their followers busy, the Viking leaders sent raiding parties to gather valuables from the surrounding countryside.

One such party fell upon a church and took it’s wealth, but they then fell on each other in an argument about which of them should get the loot. The Westmen fractured, Wulf and Hallgerd fighting against Grimkell and Waro’ch and anyone else they found. Hauk of the Oestvikingae, with Thorhelm and Fritha sworn to Cilternsaetae service, fell into a bleak rage and hunted all he could find in the woods, no matter their allegiance. Hrothgar of the Holmbyggja, seeing the falling morale of the Vikings, decided he would have a better chance to gain wealth selling his services to Cynric as a mercenary. And even Alf of the Holmbyggja, normally a calm and restful soul, was driven to take up arms and fight alongside Ingibjorg.

When Anir of the Sumorsaete, a strong Thegn of Alfred, arrived with Beorcsciringas allies in the form of Cuthwin and Elgiva, they found the fragmented raiders an easy force to fight. They soon bested every set of raiders they could find, but could not find the church’s wealth – it seems that whichever Viking had grabbed the church’s relics fled before the in-fighting erupted! However, one new relic was found during the fighting: a stone with a shell inside it, found at the top of a great hill, which was surely proof of the tale of Noah.

That evening a great banquet was held just outside Exeter, in a hall of Anir Thegn. The food was provided and prepared by the mighty Visna, in order to show the Englisc that the Danes inside Exeter were well-stocked for an extended siege. She lay on a truely astonishing quantity of fine food, far more than any who had gathered there could cope with, with which she taunted the Englisc hosts until Anir exclaimed “Fuck off Visna, I’m full”!

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Captives and Feuds, 877 A.D. (Earleywood 2017)

An Englisc viewpoint

At Wareham peace was sworn by solemn oaths from the Danes upon their holy ring, and hostages were given to Alfred the king: but the heathen proved forsworn, and fled towards Exeter. So Alfred sent for the hostages to be brought to him for hanging – for what other use is there for a hostage if oaths are not kept?

It fell to the Cilternsaete to escort two captives to the king – a man called Thorhelm and a woman called Fritha. We were also joined by Eadwulf, a Northumbrian who, like us, had come south to seek safety.

It was not long into the journey that we saw that there were small groups of Vikings abroad, seeking to free the hostages. The man Thorhelm used his weasel tongue to befriend young Wulfgar, and promised him great reward for his freedom – a gold arm-ring. So the boy, unwise, let him free, and he fled.

The Danes sought to waylay us, but as they had split into small bands could not stand before us, and we forced a passage along the road. There were several such skirmishes, and although Fritha was lost – freed or slain, I cannot say – we gained other captives, who would decorate a gallows just as well.

Later, we pursued the Viking stragglers as they headed to Exeter, harrying them, but unable to prevent them form seizing the burh.

That evening, a truce was called and Thorhelm offered his ransom to Wulfgar – an arm-ring indeed, bit of brass, not gold. Yet further proof that the heathen cannot be trusted.

This Thorhelm also showed that whilst he might fool a young boy, his tongue could get him into trouble, and not out of it. Drunk, no doubt, he called Guthwald thegn a lowly peasant – which brought the promise of a blood-feud with the Cilternsaete. Thorhelm wriggled and writhed, but was caught like an eel in a fish-trap. At length, realising his folly, and helped by those of greater wisdom, he agreed to buy himself free of the feud by serving as a mercenary (but without pay) for the Cilterseate on two future campaigns, when called upon by Guthwald to do so.

Later, a man entered the hall, wet and unkempt from the sea. He gave his name as Herjolf, Halfdan’s man, and brought news that the Danish fleet had been wrecked. Surely, this was the wrath of God upon the heathen for breaking their oaths.

– Herewulf Thegn

A Dane’s viewpoint

The Englisc were much impressed with Thorhelm’s generosity to their man Wulfgar and during the banquet gave him a large, ornate yet strangely ugly dish made of silver that is spoken of as one of their most sacred treasures, the very Chalice of St Botolph. Unfortunately, greed overcame some of our folk and the dish was first stolen, then broken into parts and some of them hidden. Grimkell of the Westmen agreed that the dish should be brought together again but had great difficulty finding where he had hidden one of the pieces of silver in his drunken state. He claimed somebody else must have moved it .

Later in the evening, Halfdan’s man Herjolf arrived unexpectedly, worn from hard travel and bearing news that the fleet at Swanwich was wrecked. Bosi, Hersir of the Holmbyggjar, welcomed Herjolf and thanked him for bringing his news with all possible speed, dire though that news was. Bosi gave Herjolf drink and bade him rest at the back of the hall.

There was much debate about the meaning of these tidings, and it was felt that Njord must have turned his face against the warriors of the sea-steed. Some spoke of making a sacrifice to Njord to regain his favour, others of sacrificing to a more powerful god such as the Allfather or Thor, to overcome Njord and bring us better fortune. It was suggested that the large silver chalice would make an excellent sacrifice. The wise man Styrkar asked that bones be cast to test the truth of Herjolf’s tidings. Ingibjorg supplied knuckle bones and Fritha and Styrkar read their meaning, concluding that only half the fleet had been lost. This led to much debate as to whether Herjolf was mistaken or whether he had deliberately tried to cause panic. Indeed when we learned that he had disappeared from his resting place, it was felt he might have been a naughty god in disguise, seeking to cause mischief.

Somehow the Chalice ended up back with the Englisc, who clearly repented of their generosity, being mean-spirited people who do not understand true gift-giving. They refused to return it and took great offence at some trivial remark of Thorhelm’s, threatening him with death and blood-feud, and only relenting when under great duress he agreed to fight for them for two campaigns. Still, the Oestvikingae are known to be mercenaries, so perhaps their leader, my father’s son Hauk, will be able to turn this twist of fate to his advantage.

– Ingibjorg Ragnarsdottir

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DAS in 2017 / Britain in 877

Over the past few years we’ve been following the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, seeing how our units would react to the events of the 870s.

In 2014 we lived through King Burhred’s expulsion from Mercia in 874, as the Viking Great Army installed the puppet king Ceolwulf to rule Mercia but lost their unifying leader Ivar ‘The Boneless’ Ragnarsson. In 2015 we saw the Great Army disunited (as in 875), with Halfdan Ragnarrsson marching to Northumbria with the Westmen and Oestvikingae to fight off the Norwegian King Harald Finehair, whilst Guthrum and others went to East Anglia with the Holmbyjjar.

Last year, roughly following 876, Harald Finehair was driven off and left Jarl Sigurd to hold the islands off the northern coast: after repelling them Halfdan granted Northumbrian land to his followers. Further north, the Picts, Scots, Britons and some of the Vikings who didn’t like Finehair (the Westmen and the mercenary Oestvikingae) gathered to make sure Jarl Sigurd was restricted to just the isles not the mainland. They managed to leave fairly united, despite being threatened by treachery between these Scot-ish clans, with ancient secrets and uprisings and assassinations galore! By the end of it, Causantín mac Cináeda of Dál Riata (the combined Scottish/Pictish throne) was dead, killed by rebellious Picts. His son Domnall had been sent to be fostered by Styrkar and his brother Aed was on the throne, but Eochaid of Alt Clud (the British/Welsh kingdom around Strathclyde) and Giric of the Picts both felt that they’d be better rulers…

Meanwhile, in Wessex, the Cilternsaete left Danish-occupied Mercia, and the puppet-king Ceolwulf put a price on their heads. Part of the Great Army penetrated Wessex, and took the fort of Wareham. When they found themselves surrounded by a larger fyrd raised by King Alfred and led by the Cilternsaete and the Sumorsaete, they swore peace and exchanged hostages, agreeing to leave Wessex – but will they keep their word? Will the peace last?

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has this to say about 876 and 877:

A.D. 876. This year the army stole into Wareham, a fort of the West-Saxons. The king afterwards made peace with them; and they gave him as hostages those who were worthiest in the army; and swore with oaths on the holy bracelet, which they would not before to any nation, that they would readily go out of his kingdom. Then, under colour of this, their cavalry stole by night into Exeter.

A.D. 877. This year came the Danish army into Exeter from Wareham; whilst the navy sailed west about, until they met with a great mist at sea, and there perished one hundred and twenty ships at Swanwich. Meanwhile King Alfred with his army rode after the cavalry as far as Exeter; but he could not overtake them before their arrival in the fortress, where they could not be come at. There they gave him as many hostages as he required, swearing with solemn oaths to observe the strictest amity. In the harvest the army entered Mercia; some of which they divided among them, and some they gave to Ceolwulf.

This gives us lots of plot strands to follow!

Near the start of the year there are 3 main plots that could be looked at, as the Vikings break their oaths and race across Wessex to try to take Exeter:
What will happen to the hostages exchanged at Wareham in late 876? Historically, they were probably executed when the rest of the army broke their word – that is the whole point of taking hostages – but they might have been ransomed. How do our Vikings feel about this potential loss of friends and kinsfolk? Maybe they will seek to pay ransom to get them back, or try to stage a rescue attempt? Perhaps some sort of ambush, whilst the English are moving their prisoners? Or attacking an English stronghold to rescue them?
What of the crews of the ships wrecked at Swanwich? Did the survivors try to make their way across country to Exeter, seeking to avoid the pursuing West Saxon fyrd?

And then there’s the race from Wareham to Exeter. Leading up to this there could be a battle focussing on stealth or speed, with the Vikings trying to cover the ground, fighting any English they come across. Or the fight could focus on the English chasing the Vikings: were there skirmishes between the leading elements of the pursuing fyrd and Viking stragglers? Did a Viking volunteer rearguard try to delay the fyrd to give the main army a chance to escape?

Then later in the year once again (possibly following a siege) peace is made, the Vikings swear oaths to keep the peace (again), and give hostages (again). This time, they actually keep their word! At harvest time the Vikings leave Wessex and go to claim land in Mercia. There’s definitely plots to be explored here:
Did the West Saxons try to assault the fortress at Exeter, before peace was made?

After peace was made again, the West Saxons were no doubt wary that oaths would be broken (again). Did they have troops dogging the Vikings as they made their way from Exeter to Mercia, ready to punish any breach of the peace? Would Vikings who again had friends and kin given as hostages suspect their leaders would once again abandon them to death? Will their humiliation at having to give hostages not once, but twice, fester into resentment against the West Saxons – and perhaps their own leaders?

Was the Viking division of Mercia peaceful, or was there local unrest? Did English tensions turn against Ceolwulf? How will the Cilternsaete react if Vikings try to claim their land?

Looking forward, 878 is A Big Year: the Great Army returning to Wessex and conquering it; Alfred living in the swamps before gloriously riding out to retake his land in a series of battles and skirmishes.

878 is also the year according to most sources that the next king gets assassinated up in the Scot-ish areas: Aed of the Scots/Alba, brother of the king who died last year, is killed (sources disagree as to whether this was “by his own associates” or “in battle with Giric”). Then there is obviously much fallout as Eochaid of the Britons, Domnall of the Scots, and Giric of the Picts jockey for position… So it might make sense to do that bit of Scot-plot this year instead of next, to free up space to focus on Alfred and Wessex in 2018. Last year ended with the gathered forces agreeing to march off to face Sigurd in battle, and to help the Westmen retake Canna: an event could be based on Canna, with fighting against Sigurd’s Norwegians before things get complicated around Aed’s death?

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Oaths and Hostages, 876 A.D. (Flaunden, November 2016)

First, a quote from a surviving fragment of the Chronicle of St Albans (sadly lost at the dissolution of the monasteries…)

“AD 874. Here the Great Army came into Mercia and took winter quarters at Repton. And King Burhred lead his fyrd against them, and men from the Abbey lands with them. But Burhred thought himself accursed, and was driven from his kingdom to seek sanctuary in the bosom of our Lord in Rome. And the Danes gave the kingdom to Ceolwulf, who swore oaths to them and gave them hostages. Alas for the times that we live in!
AD 875. Here the Great Army left Repton. Some went with Healfdene to Northumbria and other with Guthrum, Oscytel and Anwend to Cambridge.
AD 876. Here after harvest Abbot Wulfnoth learned that King Ceolwulf sought to do harm to some of his sworn men, for they had been loyal to King Burhred, and so he thought them his enemies. But the Abbot sent word to them secretly, and they fled to seek safety among the West Saxons. And the Abbot sent with them a letter saying that he held their lands for them, for they held bookland from the Abbey, and so King Ceolwulf had no claim on it. Angry as he was, King Ceolwulf could not afford to make an enemy of Holy Mother Church, for fear that ot would make the folk rise against him. But Ceolwulf sent Danes to seek their death. Woe that Christian men should sink so low!”

Late in AD 876, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that “the army stole into Wareham, a fortress of the West Saxons. The king afterwards made peace with them; and they gave him as hostages those who were worthiest in the armt; and swore with oaths on the holy bracelet, which they would not before to any nation, that they would readily go out of his kingdom.”

Now, in most cases “made peace” seems to be an Anglo-Saxon euphemism for “paid them to go away”. But this seems to have been different.

My interpretation of events is that the Danes took control of the burh at Wareham before Alfred could bring up his fyrd, giving rise to a stand-off: the Anglo-Saxons could not get in without heavy losses, but the Danes could not get out- hence their offer to make peace. One of the things we wanted to explore was the giving of hostages and swearing of oaths.
To give us a reason to fight, I also assumed that some Viking stragglers would be harried by the locals before the main fyrd arrived.
The Sumorsaete wanted to drive out the Danes, and see how reliable their new neighbours, the Cilternsaete, would be: the Cilternsaete wanted to demonstrate their reliability to their hosts; the Westmen had been promised much silver by Ceolwulf to find and kill the Cilternsaete; the Holmbyggja envied those with Halfdan who were taking land to settle, and wanted to foil the Westmen to make them less trusted by the leaders of the Great Army: and the Oestvikingae wanted much the same, although their desire was to go on looting and raiding.

Despite the preceding fine autumn weather, the day when the Anglo-Saxons harried the Viking stragglers was miserably wet. Even so, there were many clashes between armed bands, and later in the day, when the confusion of battle had caused normal unit organisation to break down (or, the weedy did not go back out after lunch…) there was a series of ambushes by the Anglo-Saxon hunters and the Viking rearguard- including one spectacularly successful ambush when the Anglo-Saxons sprang from hiding, taking the Danes completely by surprise and slaughtering them all.

Eventually, the remaining Vikings gained the safety of the burh- not before time, for King Alfred shortly after arrived with his fyrd. The Anglo-Saxons did not wish to risk storming the fortress; the Vikings could not get out. So the leaders of the Great Army decided to seek peace, and offer hostages and oaths. They also decided that the Westmen, Holmbyggja, and Oestvikingae should offer hostages- one in three of their number- but could choose who they should be. They also advised them to look for cunning words so that they could swear an oath and keep to the letter of it, while breaking it in spirit.

The Holmbyggja nobly offered their kinfolk among the Oestvikimngae, Thorhelm and Fritha, as their hostages (which for some unfathomable reason they agreed to!). The Westmen offerd Hallgerd: Grimkell seemed very keen to marry her off (perhaps to save himself?) but none of the Cilternsaete were keen to marry a pagan. Wulfruna wisely suggested a marriage between hostages- Hallgerd and Thorkhelm- but neither Thorhelm nor his wife Fritha thought that a good idea! An alternative hostage was suggested, but eventually a copromise was reached- for Hallgerd to marry Wulfgar when he comes of age.
Dubious oaths were also sworn, giving the Danes enough wriggle-room to preserve some semblance of honour when they are broken (as the surely will be….). Of course, that will mean that the hostages will be hanged, so it looks as if Wulfgar is off the hook!
The astute will notice that 3 hostages from 18 Vikings is not one in three- clearly the Vikings are not very good at arithmetic….

So after glory in battle, glee in the hall. Food was eaten, mead drunk, songs sung, and riddles told. Men must revel when they may; for wyrd is wondrous fickle. Who can say what next year may bring?

– Herewulf Thegn

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Border Skirmishes, 876 A.D. (Cadbury, October 2016)

Lord Anir was away at the borders of his land putting down unrest leaving his hall lightly defended. Into the area comes a number of Viking and Saxon warbands each fighting each other and making occasional alliances along the lines of culture, Saxon or Viking. Purses of money were fought for. Groups included the Sumorsaete, led by Wulfstan, Cilternsaete led by Herewulf, Holmbyggjar led by Finn and the Westmen lad by Grimkell, the latter turning out in force with new warriors pledged to them. Most bands were very light on numbers and fighting was patchy and there was much running and avoiding battle, light skirmishes etc. Lord Anir’s churl Cynric led us a merry dance and was surprisingly fearless and outspoken, yelling at the heavily armed Finn and telling him to be gone from Lord Anir’s land whilst waving his staff furiously at Finn. He was eventually taken captive when he realised that he was in fear of his life and became very cooperative and stayed with the Holmbyggjar for protection for some time helping them so long as they did not tell the Lord Anir who was rumoured to be returning to his lands that very evening for the banquet. The Holmbyggjar did not have the heart to kill him due to his bravery. Finn was hard pressed but fought with great bravery.

Lord Anir did indeed return for the banquet and was able to welcome all to his hall and peace was sworn. Visna put on a glorious banquet and there was much quantity and variety of fine foods. Much ale and wine was consumed. Visna entertained all early on with a stirring song.

– Hrolf

Anir was on his way back from a pilgrimage, vikings were trying to capture his war hound and steal his gold.
At the banquet, the Westmen tried to buy the war hound from Anir using money that they had taken from Anir’s men.
I still can’t believe that Anir sold his dog to the Westmen.

– Alf Silversmith

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The Scot(ish) Day, 876 A.D. (Horley Scout Camp, June 2016)

Now proudly bearing the Raven Banner, the Westmen marched even futher north to continue to fight the Norwegian invaders, and to reclaim their homes on the isles off the coast of the lands of the Scots (especially Halgerd’s home on Canna). There they encountered local politics…

Map of Scotlandtree

King Causantin of Alba, ruler of the combined thrones of Dál Riata and Pictavia, had called a meeting of all of the northern Kingdoms, inviting representatives from the Britons of Alt Clud, the Scots of Dál Riata, the Picts of Pictavia, and the exiled Vikings who refused to serve the Norwegian King. In the woods on the way to the meeting, the small bands of royal representatives clashed and tempers ran high. Secrets were uncovered about the past activities of all of the delegates, letters from years ago were looted and read, and a wandering monk made strange and terrible predictions about kingship.

The Britons of Alt Clud

Alt Clud, sometimes known as Strathclyde, was the last great British / Welsh northern kingdom. Their capital was the great fortress of Alt Clud, Dumbarton Castle, which was sacked by Ivar Ragnarsson 6 years before this meeting, in 870. Their king, Arthgal, died 4 years ago in 872, in somewhat mysterious circumstances: it might have been illness, but it might have been poison… Alt Clud was now ruled by his son Rhun, married to the king of Dál Riata & Alba’s sister, Flann.

Young Prince Eochaid, son of King Rhun of Alt Clud, nephew of King Causantin of Dál Riata and Alba, was the representative of the Britons sent to the meeting. With him travelled his father’s household warrior Beath map Beath and his mother’s close friend Anneth. When they encountered the mysterious monk, the monk predicted “Your Father Shall Be The Last King Of Strathclyde” and “Cinead United Two Kingdoms Through Murder. Murder Will Be Required Again To Unite All Three.” The letters the Alt Clud delegation carried said:

Eochaid map Rhun map Arthgal,
My son, I am proud of you. You have grown strong and healthy, and will one day be a worthy successor to me. You also have a strong fire of ambition inside you: I believe that you may well be an even greater king than I.
However, you have not yet proven yourself in battle, and you must do that before the people will follow you. I send you now to be trained by my most loyal advisor and friend, the man who made me what I am today. Listen to his advice, and he will guide you well.
Your father and king,
Rhun map Arthgal map Dumnagual, King of Alt Clud
Year Of Our Lord 874


Beath map Beath,
Without you, I would have nothing; it is you who made me into the man and king I am today. You have been a reliable figure by my side through the years, training and guiding me, as well as a strong warrior when needed. Without you, I would not have survived the burning of Alt Clud, and I would not sit on the throne. I thank you for your many years of good service, and I beg one more favour of you.
I am too busy to supervise the training of my son Eochaid. He is a bold and ambitious lad, and I pray will one day replace me. But to do so he must first prove himself in the field of battle. He has often practiced and fought in play, but I ask you to train him to fight as a true warrior, to get him bloodied and achieve his first kill. Only then will the people accept him.
Your friend and king,
Rhun map Arthgal map Dumnagual, King of Alt Clud
Year Of Our Lord 874


Anneth,
Thank you for your many years of service. You came with me to Alt Clud from Dál Riata all those years ago, when I came to marry Rhun map Arthgal, and you have been a loyal friend to me. You have been my shield, protecting me from those who would harm me, and my most trusted friend and ally. Together we have steered our husbands, pushing them to be the best that they could be and to gain power and glory.
Please do the same for my son, Eochaid. Help him to fan his ambition and drive for power, and he could achieve true greatness, greater even than my husband.
Your friend and queen,
Flann, daughter of Cináed mac Ailpín
Year Of Our Lord 876

The Scots of Dál Riata

The Kingdom of Dál Riata on the west coast originally included most of the islands. The Scots came here from the sea: they were driven out of Ireland by fierce inter-family strife some 400 years ago. They brought with them Christianity, and it had vigorously spread out from such centres as Iona. They were ruled by Causantin mac Cináed, eldest son of Cináed mac Ailpín, brother to the queen of Alt Clud Flann and Aed (his current heir).

King Causantin was hosting the meeting, and as such he had already arrived before everyone else. His son Domnall (protected by the mighty warrior Éremón), currently too young to be king or his father’s heir, made his own way to the gathering and on the way clashed with the other delegates. Whilst Domnall was trying to travel in diguise, the wandering monk recognised him and predicted “You Shall Be King Of All Three Kingdoms” and later “You Will Not Be King When Your Father Dies, Picts And Britons Will Rule Before You.” The letters the Scottish warband carried said:

Domnall mac Causantin,
You are my son, and one day will rule all of these kingdoms. But you are not yet old enough. So you must be careful, and avoid being captured by those who might do you harm. Don’t let anyone except for your guards know who you are, call yourself “Gormgus” and travel secretly. Trust your bodyguard Éremón and your nurse Orlaith to protect you, and take their advice, but remember that you are a prince. You are in command, not them.
We must travel to the meeting by separate paths: it would be too dangerous for us to both go together, if we were ambushed we might both be killed. I will see you at the meeting. Good luck.
Your father and king,
Causantin mac Cináed, King of Alba
Year Of Our Lord 876


Éremón,
I am dying. You are one of the last who still remember the full story of my conquest, the terrible things we did to secure my throne. The feast where we ambushed the Pictish nobles, killing them all whilst they were guests under my roof…
I worry: will God punish me for what we did, or will he see that we did what we had to, to provide strong leadership to these lands? The Picts and the Scots and Britons were too fragmentary, too divided in the face of Englisc and Viking: they needed a strong hand to hold them together. My only regret is that I failed to command the Britons of Alt Clud.
You and your troops have helped me be that strong hand, and have become some of my most trusted weapons. You are the youngest of my household troops, so to you I ask that you look after my descendants. One day one of them shall pull all of our peoples together, to repel the Englisc and the raiders. Guide my children, and guide my children’s children. Protect them, and help them to achieve their potential.
Your friend and king,
Cináed mac Ailpín, King of Alba
Year Of Our Lord 858


Éremón,
You were always a loyal protector to me, my brothers, and my sisters. I ask you now to visit my sister Flann in Alt Clud. After that terrible raid they had recently, they are experiencing a time of hardship. Make sure that she is being well treated.
If you encounter any of the Pictish trouble-makers there, make sure that Arthgal sees where his loyalties should lie.
Your friend and king,
Causantin mac Cináed
Year Of Our Lord 872

The Picts of Pictavia

Pictavia is a broad term for the patchwork of independent ancient kingdoms on the east coast. The Picts were the original inhabitants of the whole area: before the Welsh or Scots arrived, there were Picts. But their time had passed, and their power was in decline. 30 years ago Cináed mac Ailpín, the Scottish king with a Pictish mother, killed most of the rest of the Pictish nobility and took the crown. He combined the Picts and the Scots into one nation, “Alba”, now ruled by his son Causantin.

But some Picts were disaffected, and had rallied behind the last surviving nobles: Lathir and her husband Giric. Lathir and Giric journeyed to the meeting, cautiously seeking allies to overthrow the hated Scots… The monk told Giric that “Though You Are Not Of Royal Blood, You Shall Rule Alba” and told Lathir “To Defeat The Scots, You Must Embrace The Britons.” Lathir also had several letters, from a Pictish resistance group:

Lathir,
As you know, Cináed mac Ailpín only conquered the Picts through a horrific ambush. He lured all of our nobility to a grand feast, and then had his warrior Éremón slaughter them whilst they were guests under his roof.
The brutality has not stopped there. Our people are ground under the yoke of the Scot oppressors. We lost our nobility to mac Ailpín’s treason, and are now ruled by his murderous son Causantin, with his father’s thug Éremón at his side. We must unite in order to regain our freedom.
You and your husband Giric are the greatest amongst us. Your parents and Giric’s were cut down by mac Ailpín’s treachery, but you both survived. If you stand tall, and say that you seek freedom, many will listen and follow.
The True Picts
Year Of Our Lord 865


Lathir,
We were sad to hear that your trip to get an alliance with the Britons of King Arthgal of Alt Clud was unsuccessful, as the butcher Éremón was also at court and argued against you. We must have allies in order to overthrow the Scots! Perhaps Arthgal’s successor will be more amenable? Or perhaps we could even make alliances with the Northumbrians, or the Vikings, or the Norwegians? We will follow where you lead.
The True Picts
Year Of Our Lord 872

The Vikings

Vikings had been slowly settling on the islands off the coast of the land for the past 100 or so years, sometimes peacefully with agreed rents (like Hallgerd holding Canna) and sometimes more violently. In the past year, the Norwegian King Harald Fairhair (Hallgerd’s cousin) had swept through the islands, claiming them all as part of Norway and forced everyone to bend the knee or to be exiled. Whilst his advances on the mainland had been stopped, and he had left the rule to his servant Jarl Sigurd, Sigurd still ruled all of the Isles from Shetland to Mann with an iron fist.

There were two groups of Vikings travelled to the meeting: the Westmen were exiles from the isles, seeking to reclaim their homes, whilst the Oestvikingae were just looking to hire themselves as mercenaries. The wandering monk told Hallgerd of the Westmen that “Your Cousin Has United Norway, But His Sons Will Tear It Apart” and “Norway Will Only Be Forever United When Ruled By A Christian.” He told Hauk of the Oestvikingae that “You Will Serve Great Kings” and “You Will Serve Two Christian Kings.” The Westmen carried these letters:

Grimkell, Hersir of the Westmen.
I thank you for your aid in raiding Alt Clud. If you and your warriors ever want to march under my banner again, you will be most welcome. We put the fear of the true gods into those lily-livered White-Christ worshippers!
I hope the raid was successful for you, and your ships left laden with silver?
Ivar Ragnarsson
870


Hallgerd,
I am sorry to hear that Arthgal didn’t listen to your “little talk” about recruiting him as an ally against Dal Riata, so you wouldn’t have to pay rent any more for Canna. The pride of the man, to resist us even after we burnt his fort! I am sure you gave him a piece of your mind.
Perhaps his successor will be more persuadable? If not, maybe we need to return to raid Alt Clud again, once we’ve finished conquering the Englisc…
Halfdan Ragnarsson
872

The Englisc of Wessex

Whilst no Saxons were invited to the meeting, a lone ambassador from Alfred’s court had travelled up to the North to fetch information for his ever-watchful king. He bore this letter:

Cynric,
Your Welsh cousins in the North are having problems with Harald Finehair’s invasion. They seem divided and more interested in fighting each other than the Norwegians or the Vikings.
What I would like is for them to be united, under a single powerful ruler, who will fight the Vikings and Norwegians but not the Northumbrians. Meanwhile I shall unite the south, and we will divide the country between the two of us.
Do what you can to help them achieve this? Try to sort out what is going on in their in-fighting, and give support to whoever can unite them?
Alfred, King of the Englisc and the South
Year of our Lord 876

The Feast

On the way to the meeting the Britons and Scots became united in friendship, based on their shared devotion to God, respect for kings, and the fact that both of their princes were grandsons of Cináed mac Ailpín; whilst the Picts and Vikings ended up as loose allies, united in disapproval of centralising rulers like Cináed or Harald. The factions only laid down their arms and forgot about their animosity when the two young princes, Eochaid of Alt Clud and Domnall of Dál Riata, proved their diplomatic skills by reminding everyone that the larger and more immediate target was the Norwegians, Jarl Sigurd and his King Harald Fine-Hair.

Over a fabulous evening banquet, King Causantin of Dál Riata and Pictavia persuaded everyone to work together to fight that common foe. King Causantin’s servant asked if Prince Eochaid wanted Causantin to stand judge over the alleged murder of  King Arthgal of Alt Clud 4 years ago, now that the letters had been discovered which might prove who did the terrible deed. The letters (reproduced above) showed that King Arthgal’s court at Alt Clud was being visited at the time of his death by Lathir of the Picts, Hallgerd of the Westmen, and Éremón of Dál Riata, and might even suggest internal stresses inside his court… However, Prince Eochaid said that he did not want to seek a judgement at this time, that keeping the alliance united against the threat of the Norwegians was more important. Outside any formal legal proceedings many people speculated that Hallgerd was the probable killer, which she strenuously denied.

Beath map Beath claimed that Causantin’s servant was just stirring up trouble by seeking to discuss long-forgotten grievances, and that Causantin should watch out for him. Beath map Beath was actually right about Causantin’s servant, who by this point had reported to Lathir that he was a True Pict, revealing the tattoes of loyalty that decorated his torso. He had been working for her cause all these years, becoming trusted by Causantin, and now saw the time to strike if she gave him her blessing…

Meanwhile, as a show of friendship, the Westmen returned a holy relic, thought lost in the burning of Alt Clud 6 years before, back to the visitors from Alt Clud, only demanding a very small fee for the years of protection they had given the relic.

Among other discussions, King Causantin was persuaded to send his young son Domnall off to be fostered by the great Viking Styrkar, a famed foster-father who would return Domnall when he had come of age, with fighting experience and ready to rule.

Course followed course, and people got rowdy. Causantin’s servant got the nod from Lathir, and fetched his master a bowl of the latest course, with ‘added mushrooms’… Causantin devoured it eagerly, even whilst Beath map Beath tried one last time to warn him about his servant. Causantin mocked the warnings, saying that his servant had been faithful to him for many years. At this his servant finally snapped, shouting that he was a Loyal Pict and had only worked for Causantin to gain his trust, after his parents were murdered during Cináed mac Ailpín’s treason, but that he hated the Scottish oppressors. Causantin rose up to shout back, but then clutched his throat, falling, retching and frothing, to the floor. The king was dead. The Butcher Éremón apprehended his servant, and dealt out swift and vicious justice, killing his lord’s murderer just seconds after his lord died…

In the weeks that followed, Causantin’s brother Aed took control of the throne, despite some people claiming that Domnall or even Eochaid should be the ruler. But the lands of the north were still torn, with the list of unavenged murdered kings growing ever longer; the Picts still seeking their freedom; the followers of Domnall and Eochaid both pushing their claims to the thrones; the Norwegians still triumphantly holding the isles; and the monk’s prophecies not yet fulfilled. Clearly there are more stories to be told in the north, more adventures and excitement to come!

Historical Note – Scotland in the late 9th century

Exactly what was going on in Scotland at this time is a bit unclear, and the reports are contradictory. Our version of history sticks to some of the sources, but obviously can’t follow them all. Historically, Cináed mac Ailpín might have just been a Pict, and “MacAlpin’s Treason” is probably just a later medieval legend. But it was just too cool not to include, and who doesn’t love some simmering racial tension? Similarly how and when Arthgal and Causantin died is disputed but none of the sources match the deaths we gave them, some king lists omit people that we included, and we invented all of the bodyguards and gave names to unnamed figures (particularly the women, who aren’t included in the king lists that give us so much of our contemporary knowledge). The importance of the mad monk with prophecies was meant to reflect the Witches of the Scottish Play (which is actually set 200 years later) and the medieval epic poem known as the “Prophecy of Berchán”.

treeafter

King Aed of Alba probably only ruled a year, before being murdered by Giric of the Picts. Giric and Eochaid son of Rhun possibly united the three kingdoms and ruled together, until both being defeated by Domnall son of Causantin in 889 – there are no other known kings of Alt Clud / Strathclyde until a few decades later. After Domnall’s death, rule of Alba alternates between descendents of Causantin and Aed.

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Horley Scout Camp event, 3-5 June 2016

Our next event will be a fabulous plot and banquet event with lots of fighting and running around in character, held at Horley Scout Camp near Banbury, Oxfordshire. Hauk of the Oestvikingae is in charge so expect surprises and excitement!

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The Raven Banner Falls, 876 A.D. (Earleywood, March 2016)

In 875 news arrived that King Harald Finehair of Norway’s fearsome warlord Jarl Rognvald had conquered the islands off the north coast of Britain, from the Orkneys to the Hebrides to Mann: the lands that many of the Westmen call home. His army had also landed in Northumbria, attempting to bring all the Vikings in Britain under his rule. Meanwhile, the Northumbrians had risen up, wanting freedom from any foreign ruler.

The Westmen, Oestvikingae, and Holmbyggjar weren’t having that, and so marched North to fight King Harald off, under Halfdan Ragnarsson’s leadership. Sadly, due to being shipwrecked and then ambushed, they arrived too late for the big battle: by the time they arrived, Halfdan’s men had broken the invading Norwegian army. The Vikings of DAS were sent to look for Jarl Rognvald’s son, Ivar, who rumour had it had been killed in a Northumbrian ambush. With him had fallen his standard, the Raven Banner.

Looking for the Raven Banner, many warbands descended on the area where Ivar was rumoured to have died. The Vikings wanted to get it to rally all of the raiders in England to their cause and to demoralise Rognvald and Halfdan; the Englisc wanted to stop any of the foreign kings achieving pre-eminence, to keep the Vikings fighting each other; and some dangerous elite lone wolves from the Norwegian army were hoping to grab the banner and take it back to their forces. After an initially fruitless search, the banner was uncovered by Thorhelm of the Oestvikingae. The Oestvikingae were then attacked by a Norwegian, who was being aided by a Saxon mercanary, Athelstan of the Sumorsaete. As they fled, they ran into the Holmbyggjar, who smashed aside both groups to take the banner for themselves. Halla then took the banner and went into hiding, protecting it to return it to King Guthrum.

A lone Norwegian

Everyone in the area began searching for Halla, who utilised all of her skills to remain unseen. Finally the Holmbyggjar found her, and teamed up with the Oestvikingae to break out past the encircling forces: a Norwegian, Athelstan, and the Cilternsaete refugees who had fled from Mercia into Northumbria. The Englisc won, only for Athelstan to turn on the Norwegian, stabbing him in the back and proudly winning the banner…

The chase

After a break for lunch, the hunt for the banner continued. With the Norwegians driven out of the area, the Vikings turned on the Englisc in earnest. The Westmen soon overpowered them and captured the banner. Then the Oestvikingae stole the banner from their hiding place, and the chase was on! The woods descended into madness as people fought for the banner, desperate chases down paths with ended in bogs and holly bushes. At the end of the day, despite a particularly successful stint by Wulfgar of the Cilternsaete as the banner bearer, the Westmen were triumphant and proudly bore the banner out of the woods.

The victors

That evening, the Holmbyggjar held a great feast. Two mysterious visitors joined the hall. One was from Jarl Rognvald and King Harald Finehair. He said that King Harald acknowledged the victory against him, was retreating to Norway with Jarl Rognvald, and that they revoked all claim to the Kingdom of Northumbria: at which the hall rejoiced. However, he then added that Jarl Rognvald’s brother, Jarl Sigurd, would remain in control of the Kingdom of the Isles, from Mann to the Hebrides to the Orkneys. This distressed the hall, particularly those of the Westmen who called those isles their home. The second visitor was Herjolf Asgrimsson, huskarlar of King Halfdan Ragnarsson. He passed on messages from Halfdan. To the Westmen, successful bearers of the Raven Banner, he said that he entirely supported their claim to the isles which they called home. He would not allow any of his followers to take the isles from them, and would support them in reclaiming the isles from the Norwegian Sigurd. To the Oestvikingae and the Holmbyggjar he offered land. He said that attacking Wessex before we have properly secured our conquests is rash, and that we must completely subdue the North before marching South.

The Holmbyggjar disagreed, saying that they followed King Guthrum not Halfdan, King Guthrum who had offered them (and all who supported him in taking Wessex) land in East Anglia. The time to consolidate our victories is once they are complete, once there is no free Englisc kingdom. And to do that, Wessex must fall.

The Oestvikingae were torn. They wanted to attack fresh lands, lands rich in money. But they had previously been loyal to the Ragnarssons, and switching allegiance to Guthrum felt like a betrayal.

The Westmen, however, were clear. Following Guthrum and taking Wessex seemed like the best choice, the most strategic. But the Westment never followed the sensible option. And so they would be marching North, to retake their homes, before returning South.

Meanwhile, the Englisc sat and listened, biding their time and preparing to carry word of the plans south to Alfred, the last free Englisc king. Whatever was coming, he would prepared… Herewulf Thegn proudly told the story of how Athelstan tricked the lone Norwegian wolf to claim the Raven Banner by pretending to be a mercenary, and his implication was clear: Alfred of Wessex was cleverer than any Viking king, and the Englisc would outfox any invaders just like Athelstan had.

Historical Note – The Raven Banner
The Raven Banner is one of those things that much has been written about, a lot of it rubbish. Historically the first appearance of it is in 878, 2 years after our current period, when Ubbe Ragnarsson invades Wessex and took with him “the war-flag (guðfani), which they called Raven”. Later it is also used by the Kings of Northumbria and Norse-occupied Ireland, the Jarls of Orkney, King Knut, King Haraldr at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, and banners with ravens on appear in the Bayeaux Tapestry. In several sources it is magical or cursed: the army that carry it always wins but the banner bearer always dies, or the image changes depending on if they’re going to win or lose, or so on.

The only Viking source that depicts something that might be the Raven banner is the coins minted by the last descendant of the Ragnarssons to rule Northumbria, in the 940s. Two of his coins depict banners or ravens, and Hauk combined them to make our version. If you want to read more, the Viking Answer Lady has a very good article.

RavenBanner

 

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DAS in 2016 / Britain in 876

In 2014 we followed the events of 874, building up to King Burhred being driven out of Mercia by a coalition of Viking leaders and Ceolwulf ascending to the throne of Mercia as a Viking puppet king. However, in exchange the Vikings lost their unifying leader, Ivar ‘the Boneless’ Ragnarsson.
In 2015 we looked at 875, with the Viking leaders setting out in different directions after the feast at Earleywood: Halfdan Ragnarsson marching north to try to pacify the rebellious Northumbrians and drive off the invading Norwegian King Harald Finehair, whilst Guthrum went to Cambridge to keep the East Anglians under tight control. Meanwhile, the Vikings of DAS found their longships attacked by King Alfred of Wessex’s navy, were driven ashore, and hiked cross-country from Cadbury to the borders of East Anglia. The Englisc spent the year ambushing and chasing them, forcing them to fight for every step they took across the country.

In 876, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that:
This year Rolla penetrated Normandy with his army; and he reigned fifty winters. And this year the army stole into Wareham, a fort of the West-Saxons. The king afterwards made peace with them; and they gave him as hostages those who were worthiest in the army; and swore with oaths on the holy bracelet, which they would not before to any nation, that they would readily go out of his kingdom. Then, under colour of this, their cavalry stole by night into Exeter. The same year Healfden divided the land of the Northumbrians; so that they became afterwards their harrowers and plowers.

This gives us some good clear plotlines to follow. We have the resolution of Halfdan’s fight against the Northumbrians and Harald Finehair’s Norwegians, followed by the division of Northumbria. This will take place at Earleywood, acting as a bridge between 875 and 876 and a resolution of the plot from last Earleywood‘s banquet. Further small clashes in Northumbria as the boundaries are drawn up could easily also occur, if people are looking for plots to run later in the year.

Then we have the shenanigans as Guthrum’s Viking forces seize Wareham, give hostages to Alfred, and then sneakily break their oaths to seize Exeter. This could easily provide plot for several events: there’s the march across Wessex to get to Wareham, the attack on the town, the siege of the Vikings (perhaps with foraging parties creeping out to try to fetch more food), making the peace, and then the breaking of the peace and the mad dash to Exeter. This action also spills over into 877, when Alfred tries to retake Exeter.
The oath-taking and hostage swapping should provide good banquet entertainment: who will be chosen as hostages?
For those that watched the (terribly costumed and only very loosely historical) Last Kingdom series, the attack on Wareham is Episode 4: it’s the city where Uhtred is given as a hostage to Guthrum and only survives Guthrum murdering the hostages thanks to Young Ragnar.

And, of course, we have a raid on Normandy, led by Ganger-Hrólf / Rolla / Rollo. This first attack on Rouen proved successful for Hrolf, who stayed around in northern France and eventually ended up founding his own semi-separate state of Normandy there by 918. His great-great-great grandson was William the Conqueror. The early life of Hrolf is somewhat obscure, but some sources say that he was the son of Rognvald, Harald Finehair’s general who was in charge of the attack on the Scottish Isles. So we can perhaps tie this Normandy raid into the events of our continuous calendar?

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Looting the Looters, 875 A.D. (Flaunden, November 2015)

The Vikings, laden down by loot from Medhamstead Abbey and fleeing the forces of Wessex, pushed into East Anglia to meet up with King Guthrum’s forces who were busy putting down the uprisings there. However, they found themselves slowed by their riches, harried by Englisc and also by those Vikings without treasure. In the ensuing clashes much treasure changed hands, including the Oestvikingae loosing the holy sheep’s shoulder blade which they stole from Cadbury.

Confrontation

One particularly mighty piece of loot was the Chalice of St. Botolph (an East Anglian abbot and saint of great repute). This chalice was said to have worked many miracles in the hands of the Englisc, turning aside sword-blows to save its bearer. It changed hands many times this day. The Westmen lost it to the lone wandering scop Cynric of the Sumersaete. Shortly afterwards, the marauding Oestvikingae sprung upon him and wrestled it from his grasp, and they then took their axes to it and chopped it to a more manageable size. They then tried to hide the majority of it, but they kept being disturbed by the Cilternsaete and Holmbyggjar. The Holmbyggjar soon cut down Hauk, stole most of the Chalice, and fled far to the East pursued by Thorhelm, leaving everyone else looking for them in vain.

Grimkell

In the evening, the local Englisc hosted a feast for the Vikings, under the rules of King Ceolwulf of Mercia. Much eating and drinking followed, including toasts to numerous Gods and Saints. There was a lot of talk of current affairs: of King Ceolwulf’s rule, of King Harald Fairhair’s raids on the Islands, of how the gathered company would act if they were a King. There were also many songs, from rousing and bawdy sing-alongs to the scop Cynric performing hauntingly beautiful tunes.

There was also much talk of the Chalice of St. Botolph. There was speculation that it might be cursed, so many times had it changed hands that day: that any who held it would lose their fights, and not hold it for long. Thus the Holmbyggjar divided its pieces up, between the Oestvikingae and the Westmen. The Oestvikingae and the Westmen then challenged Cynric to an arm wrestle for control of it, and he confidently and consecutively defeated five men to gain control of the entire Chalice and restore it. However, then the curse of the Chalice struck, and he was defeated at the hands of Hallgerd, who in turn was rapidly defeated by Guthwald. After that demonstration and confirmation of the terrible curse, none challenged Guthwald, as none wished to bear such an unlucky relic…

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Earleywood event 18-20 March 2016

The first DAS event of 2016 will be at Earleywood Scout Centre, 18-20 March. This is a great location, with showers and bunk beds and everything.

You can catch up with the DAS rolling plot by reading the DAS Chronicle. It’s 875: this summer King Alfred went out to sea with an armed fleet, and fought with seven ship-rovers, one of whom he took, and dispersed the others.

Many questions remain be answered in 876. What’s your favourite cheese? Where is the shoulder bone of St Dunstan’s sheep? Is Ælf truly a turncoat? Come to Earleywood and we may find out!

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