Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

Egil Skallagrimsson of Egil’s Saga



While Prince Ivar was in Baghdad, his lieutenant Sihtric Ui Imair was settling into Dumbarton Rock with his very pregnant wife Brianna and the Hraes’ fleet of York.  They were monitoring the Anglish princes that had taken control of York after the Saxon King Athelstan had invaded Scotland unopposed three years earlier.  He was not to take action against the Anglish as long as Athelstan did not interfere with Hraes’ Trading Company business in Angleland.  And King Athelstan was a fan of the Hraes’ Khazar Vayar so he allowed the Hraes’ stations in Angleland to carry on with business as usual.  But trouble would come from a different angle.  King Constantine II of Scotland began building up his army, which was against the Anglish Peace Treaty of 927, and he started to establish alliances with Earl Owen of the Strathclyde Britons and his new son-in-law, Jarl Olaf of the Danes of Dublin.  Once Constantine had a strong enough force he led his army south into Northumbria and attacked the Anglish princes of York, Earls Alfgeir and Godrek.  On the plains north of York the Scottish forces of King Constantine fought with the Anglish troops of the Earls of York and Earl Godrek fell and Earl Alfgeir fled south with his surviving forces.

Earl Alfgeir met King Athelstan in London and told him how the north had fallen to the Scots.  When Athelstan heard of the size of Constantine’s invading army, he sent out messengers to raise the fyrds, a system of volunteer forces set up by his grandfather, King Alfred the Great, from thirty three fortified shires throughout southern England.  It would take time to raise forces from all the shires, so Athelstan collected up troops from the shires surrounding London augmented by a large Viking force that he had been hiring as a standing army and set off to confront the Scots.  The Viking mercenary army was led by Thorolf Skallagrimsson and his younger brother, Egil.  Earl Alfgeir led his own forces and King Athelstan appointed his officers to lead the troops of the different shires.  Athelstan sent a cavalry force on ahead to challenge the Scottish king to a combat on the Vin Moor between the Vin Forest and the River Trent.  The king’s message included a request to limit plundering since the winner would rule all England.  The battle was to take place in a week’s time and whichever party arrived first should wait for up to a week for the other party to arrive.  Cavalry officers then marked out the field of battle with hazel poles and set up their encampment on a small rise south of the moor.

King Athelstan’s army marched north up the Roman road from London to Lincoln then halfway up the Roman road to York and Hadrian’s Wall.  Vin Moor was located just south of the Humber estuary between the Trent River on the west and the Vin Forest bordering the east.  They arrived there and began setting up their tents between the Cavalry tents that had been set up previously.  The tents ranged from the River Trent to the Vin Forest and filled in a row or two behind those in the front, but the rise made it impossible to see from afar how deep the tents ranged, making the army look much larger than it really was.  Athelstan had not accompanied his army, taking a far more circuitous route north through Mercia, gathering up more and more fyrd troops as he progressed.

The Scottish army was camped to the north on the moor and had no hill to hide their numbers, but their numbers were already immense before King Constantine’s son-in-law Olaf Guthfrithson sailed up the Humber at the head of a fleet of six hundred warships.  He had left Dublin with two hundred warships full of Dubgall Vikings and had gathered up twice more that number from Viking longphorts in Northern Ireland and from Viking settlements in the Hebrides, the Orkneys and Shetland Islands along the way to Northumbria.  The Ui Imair and Finngall Vikings of Southern Ireland were unsupportive of his campaign, so when he called upon Sihtric and his Hraes’ fleet at Dumbarton Rock to join him, Sihtric told him he couldn’t without orders from Kiev.  When Olaf stopped at Bamburgh to ask Biorn to join him, he got much the same answer.  His thirty thousand men set up their twelve hundred campaign tents behind the fifteen hundred tents of the Scots.  Soon they were joined by King Owen and the Strathclyde Britons, who added eight hundred tents to the encampment.

The English camp, on the other hand, was severely undermanned.  Every third tent was empty and the manned tents were half full.  When Scottish officers would approach on horse, the Saxons would stand about in front of the empty tents as if they had more men than tents.  Each day the Scot emissaries came, the Wessex officers would tell them that Athelstan was about to arrive or that he was in the town just south of the moor and each day more and more Saxon and Anglish troops would arrive to fill the empty tents.

On the appointed day of battle, Prince Edmund, King Athelstan’s brother, arrived and told the Scottish envoys that he brought a message from their king, telling them that, while their massive army was ready for battle, Athelstan wanted to avoid the slaughter of his subjects, so he wanted Constantine to go home and, to that end, Athelstan would give him one silver shilling for each plough in Scotland and in that way establish a new understanding.  When the emissaries returned to the Scottish camp, Constantine and Olaf were drawing up their formations for the upcoming battle, but Constantine had them stand down and he met with Jarl Olaf and Earl Owen and their officers and they discussed the offer.  Some wanted Constantine to accept the offer while others were against it.  Many Scots felt that the campaign had been successful so far and to go home with vast tribute and no further loss of life would be even more so.  Others felt that rejecting the initial offer would bring about a better one.  But the Vikings wanted plunder and the Britons wanted to shed themselves of the Saxon yoke.  So, the next day the Scots sent their emissaries south across the moor with a message rejecting the offer.

Prince Edmund entertained the emissaries with food and drink while he deliberated upon a second offer to be made on behalf of his brother, the king.  He offered them, in addition to what had been offered before, a silver shilling for every free-born man in their army, a silver mark for every officer in charge of at least twelve men, a gold mark to each captain and five marks of gold to every earl or jarl.  Edmund told the envoys to tell Constantine he had two days to respond to the offer.  Again, the Scots and Britons and Vikings discussed the offer and decided to make a counter-offer.  The Scottish emissaries returned to the Saxon camp and told Prince Edmund that they would accept his offer as long as King Constantine and King Olaf kept Northumbria and King Owen and the Strathclyde Britons would be an autonomous kingdom alongside Northumberland.  Prince Edmund told them that such decisions of land title were for the king only, so, he would have to go to Athelstan in the town to affirm the counter-offer himself and that it would take three days.  He assured the envoys that he didn’t think the king would allow anything to stand between his subjects and peace and he offered to take some of the envoys with him to the town of Frodingham to hear the kings answer for themselves.  The envoys agreed to the three days respite and three of them went with the prince to Frodingham and three returned to the Scottish camp.

King Athelstan had just arrived in Frodingham, a town founded by King Frodi of Denmark, the Saxon king mused as he brought in the last of the Saxon fyrds of Sussex and the Anglish fyrds of Mercia.  His army was ready.  They had stalled the Scots long enough to raise the combined army of England.  He listened glibly to Prince Edmunds offers he had made to the Scots and he told the Scottish emissaries, “Take this message to King Constantine and his son-in-law Olaf, I give him leave to return to Scotland with all his men unharmed, but he must leave behind all that he has plundered and then there may be peace between our lands.  Henceforth, as well, he must acknowledge himself as my tributary king.  And Earl Owen of Strathclyde may return to his land in peace as well, but Jarl Olaf the Dane, he can fock off back to Ireland.  There will be no peace between us.  I shall be talking to King Ivar and King Gorm about the actions of their Danish subject in Northumbria.  Now go back and tell all of how things stand!”

Prince Edmund escorted the envoys back to Vin Moor, apologising for his brother, the king, all the way back.  The envoys got back to their camp at midnight, woke their king and gave him Athelstan’s message.  King Constantine had all his leaders roused and had the envoys repeat the words of King Athelstan.  Everyone now agreed that their course of action was to get ready for battle.  The emissaries added that Athelstan had just arrived in Frodingham as they’d rode up with the last of the fyrds trailing behind him and the Saxons now had a great army assembled.

“It is all transpiring,” Earl Adils started, “just as I warned you all it would.  The Saxons are a tricky bunch to deal with.  While we’ve been sitting here contemplating peace, Athelstan has been travelling through his burroughs raising his fyrds and now he has a great force put together.”

His brother, Earl Hring, of the Strathclyde Britons agreed.  “We must attack their army on the moor tonight, before King Athelstan joins them with the rest of his fyrds.  Let my brother and I ride out with our men right away and catch them off guard.  They may be overly confident now that their king has arrived with the rest of their army.  If we can rout them tonight and capture their camp and their baggage train, then we can see if our offer pleases the Anglish in the morning.”

King Constantine liked the plan and added, “We’ll have our Scottish and Viking troops ready to join you at first light.”

Earl Owen roused up the Strathclyde Britons and gave them a fine speech before sending them off with Earls Hring and Adils across Vin Moor to attack the Saxons.  Dawn was just creaking in the east, but the forest kept the light back, when one of Thorolf’s Viking scouts began sounding his war horn and came riding back from his listening post halfway across the moor.  Prince Edmund knew that the Scots would be pissed when they learned of what his brother had said to the envoys and Thorolf knew Olaf, so he had his men ready for any kind of surprise.  But he certainly wasn’t expecting to be attacked by Strathclyde Britons.  Earl Alfgeir led a column of his Anglish troops onto the moor by the river and Thorolf led his column of mercenary Vikings onto the moor by the forest.  His brother, Egil, was with him and their banner was carried by Thorfinn the Strong, a Norwegian warrior, as were all their men.  They carried thick Norwegian shields and heavy Norwegian war gear.

Earls Hring and Adils saw that they hadn’t caught the Anglish by surprise so they split up into two columns as well, with Adils leading his men against Earl Alfgeir and Hring leading his men against the Viking army.  Thorolf led his Viking column against Earl Hring’s Britons and they clashed shield against shield and neither side would budge and they spread across the moor to the forest and battled hard.  Earl Adils Briton troops crashed against Earl Alfgeir’s Northumbrian troops, who immediately began losing ground.  This early advantage encouraged the Britons to redouble their efforts and they soon had the Northumbrians fleeing for the safety of the Anglish encampment whose warriors had just now begun rousing themselves for battle.

Earl Adil’s men chased after the fleeing Northumbrians, but soon left off to attack the Viking army that was beginning to drive back Earl Hring’s Britons.  Thorolf broke away from the shield wall and told Egil to grab men out of the line and form up a shield wall to protect their rear from a returning Earl Adils.  He told Egil they would slowly form a wedge and back their wedge up to the forest so they couldn’t be attacked from all sides.  “We just have to hold ourselves together until the rest of the Anglish army gets out onto the field.”

So, that is what they did, but the fighting grew fiercer as dawn warned the Britons that they were running out of time and Earl Adils pressed Egil’s Vikings so hard that Egil flew into a rage and began killing Britons all about him.  Thorolf saw this and, not to be outdone by his young brother, flew into a rage himself, threw his shield onto his back and began swinging his heavy halberd and, as Britons were falling all around him, he carved his way to the standard of Earl Hring, cut down the bannerman then drove the spearhead of his halberd right through Hring’s mail coat so the tip peaked out from between the earl’s shoulder blades.  Then Thorolf lifted up Earl Hring on his halberd and slammed the butt of the spear into the ground so hard it drove the earl right past the spearhead to the axe-head of the halberd, making a ring-mail tent pop up on the back of the earl and there he died.  Thorolf grabbed one of his men and had him hold steady the spear shaft that the earl was impaled upon, then he pulled out his sword and started cutting down more Britons.  Egil saw this and began carving his way towards Earl Adils, but the earl had seen his brother die and he knew their surprise attack had failed.  The Anglish army was on the field now, so he took as many of his men as he could save and they fled south past Egil’s men and flew into the woods.  The Strathclyde Briton army broke up and fled the field back north across the moor with the Viking army chasing after them until they saw the Scottish army marching out onto their end of the moor.

The Anglish army, led by Prince Edmund, had already been assembling on the southern end of the moor, so, it just seemed natural to begin marching north against the Scots, a thing English princes and kings would get in the habit of doing in the centuries to follow.  But the Norwegians were exhausted from an hour of battling for their lives, so, they retreated to the Anglish camp to break fast.

Meanwhile, back in Frodingham, King Athelstan was leading his troops from the fyrds of Wessex and Sussex north to the Vin Moor.  They could see the brown brick tower of Brunan, a Roman ruin on the Trent, as they marched up the Roman road to York.  They left the road and marched west across a field south of the Vin Forest and then north onto the south Vin Moor and soon entered their encampment.  King Athelstan grew angry when he saw his Viking mercenaries eating while his Anglish army was fighting but quickly learned that Thorolf’s men had fought a great night victory over the Strathclyde Britons of Earl Owen and that Thorolf had killed Earl Hring in the fighting and that his brother, Egil, had driven Earl Adils off the field of battle.  Thorolf explained that they had just finished eating and were heading back into the fight.  King Athelstan surveyed the field of battle and could see that their shield wall was losing ground on the right flank by Vin Forest and suggested that Thorolf lead half his Vikings just right of center and that Egil lead the other half further right, along the Vin Forest.

“I don’t want Thorolf and myself separated in battle again,” young Egil complained to the king.”

“We must follow the orders of our king,” Thorold apologized.  “If you’d rather, I’ll take the Vin Forest group and you can help Prince Edmund towards the center.”

“As you wish,” said Egil, “but I’ll be regretting your decision.”

The Vikings headed back onto the filed of battle while King Athelstan formed up his Saxon army behind the camp tents and gave them all a rousing speech.  Out on the battlefield, Thorolf could see that the Anglish were being overwhelmed on their right flank by the large number of Scottish troops facing them.  The huge hand and a half broadswords of the Scots were hacking the round Lindenwood shields of the Angles to pieces.  Egil and his men peeled away from their column and joined the line to the right of Prince Edmund’s vanguard and Thorolf’s troop continued right and joined the line further right along the Vin Forest.  Thorolf and his men worked their way to the forefront of the shield wall and began driving back the Scots.  Thorolf could see several Scottish Earls surrounded by their men and he began driving the Scots back with his heavy halberd along the vin Forest edge.  He wanted to lead his men up along the forest edge and attack the Scottish flank to get at the Earls, but he got ahead of his men and reached a part of the Forest that Earl Adils and the remnants of his Briton army had been hiding since night and they burst forth from the woods and attacked Thorolf with halberds and struck him down from the side and killed him at the edge of the forest.  The Britons then joined up with the Scots and started driving back Thorolf’s men, buoyed by the loss of the Viking leader.

Egil could see Thorolf’s banner falling back, so he knew something had happened to his brother.  He left one of his lieutenants in charge and broke out of the line, charging over to the right flank and he saw, at once, Earl Adils and the Britons he had been battling the night before.  He joined Thorfinn the Strong under Thorolf’s banner and began hacking his way towards the earl with his sword called Adder.  It was a blood-snake he had captured in Courland, with an edge so sharp, the armour of the Britons could not withstand it.  Soon he was face to face with Earl Adils and he killed him with two strokes from Adder.  Once the Earl fell, the Britons started to fall back and Egil took up Thorolf’s stratagem of outflanking the Scots.

King Athelstan was watching the battle progress as his army stood in line formation ten deep behind the tents of their encampment.  When he saw the Scottish line wavering at the edge of the Vin Forest he signalled for the line to advance and the army crested the hill and started down into the valley and the Scots could see a full Saxon army arrayed before them and coming down across Vin Moor.  Their shield wall shuddered and fell back two full paces as though swept by a wave, and the earls of the Scots on the east end of it, and the Jarls of the Dublin Danes on the west end of it could be seen riding their stamping mounts and shouting at their men on the wall to hold fast.  But the damage had been done.  Their confidence was rattled.  As the fresh Saxon army swept through their worn Anglish allies and hit the Scottish shield wall, it shuddered back three paces as though hit by another wave, and soon the swelling sea of Scots and Danes were swept away by fear and the fetters of Odin took over and the huge Scottish army began to melt away.  Anglish cavalry that had been keeping horses watered by the rivers edge were loosed upon the retreating foot soldiers and Saxon horse that had been held in reserve by the king joined in on the rout and ran down fleeing Danes.  Egil Skallagrimsson’s Vikings cut down the last of the Britons that had killed his brother and they chased after the fleeing Scots, throwing spears into their lightly armoured backs and pulling the spears back out as they ran past the fallen bodies, and throwing them into the backs of more fleeing Scots and pulling the spears back out again.  Prince Edmund lead the English army forward in the slaughter and his brother, King Athelstan, rode back to the town of Frodingham.  The Scots fled north through their own camp and the English paused to plunder the Scottish baggage train but the cavalry was ruthless and relentless.  The Scottish army waned as the evening waxed and the few found flight under cover of darkness.  Earl Owen was halfway to Strathclyde by then, and King Constantine was riding hard for Scotland, having left many Earls and one son dead on the battlefield.  Jarl Olaf and his Dublin Danes fled across the Vina’s Moor, or Dinges Meer as some called it, until they reached their ships on the Humber, but they left two thirds of their fleet on the riverbank because they had few men left to row them. 

Egil Skallagrimsson returned to the battlefield after killing many men and he found the body of his brother, Thorolf, and he washed it and prepared it and his men dug a grave on some high ground by the edge of the woods and they placed Thorolf’s body and all his weapons in the grave and Egil put a gold ring on each of his brother’s arms, then they built an arched howe of stones in the grave and they covered it with earth and sod.  Then Egil made a poem of praise for his brother:

            Earl Hring’s killer                  feared no other,

            Fiercely fell Thorolf,              a warrior’s life brief,

            ‘Neath Vina’s verdant green    lie the bones of my brother,

            Sore is my sorrow                though I hide my grief.

            Earl Hring sought steel,      Thorolf fed the ravens,

            Earl Adils, the steel storm,    my Adder, his bane,

            Jarl Olaf, the steel game,    played he like a craven,

            Fleeing west over water      while I wallowed in the slain.

When Egil recited his praise words to King Athelstan in Frodingham, the king gave him an arm-ring of gold.  So Egil added this verse:

            King Athelstan sits               in his coat of mail,

            A ring of gold he set             on my right arm regal,

            Where falcons rested,         the gold glows pale,

            Honour was earned             by the feaster of eagles.

Then King Athelstan gave Egil two heavy chests of silver in compensation for the loss of Thorolf and another heavy chest of fine silver for his fine service, all to take back to Iceland with him.  Sagas were written about Egil’s life and the one called Egil’s Saga tells the story of the Battle of Brunanburh.

King Athelstan went to York and instilled Saxon princes there and he saw the plundering that was done by the Scots and sent messengers to King Gorm of Denmark apologizing for the damage done to the Hraes’ station there.  Princess Hraegunhild and Prince Hraegunar could not stop the Scots from plundering York Castle so Athelstan sent craftsmen from London to help repair the damage and he told them he hoped the Hraes’ would return in the fall with goods to replenish the store.  But goods were transferred from the London station and then the York station was resupplied by the Hraes’ warehouses in Rouen, so business recovered quickly.