After successes in 841 the Chieftains Njal from the Shetlands and Grim from the Orkneys agreed to raid further up the Seine, perhaps as far as the City of Paris where Charles the Bold sat precariously on a throne. At a bend in the river near Rouen they agreed on a small side expedition to obtain some provisions. Unfortunately for Njal and Grim this allowed a mixed group based on the retinues of the Norman Duke William to bring the raiders to heel.
The raiders were desperately short of horses – not much space in a drakkar – but they were seasoned and set up watch posts to scan the countryside and give early warning if the Franks decided to contest the right of plunder. One of these, manned by Sven the Toothless, caught sight of the Norman horde and gave the alarm. Grim and Njal called in their parties and gathered their men on a series of low hills. Wagons overburdened with commandeered provisions and the wealth of the Rouen
countryside made their way to the drakkar in the Seine.
Njal aligned his band on the west side of the line, his flank secured by a hill covered in thick thorny bushes and rough rocks. He placed a motley band of Frankish mercenaries, who had hired on over the past two years on his left. The bondi led by Grieg was next occupying a low hill, then Bjork with his lightly armed bondi. Njal himself led the hird on the next hill.
Grim had set Bran’s band of heavily armed Norwegians in a valley between Njal and Grim’s own hird on the next hill. Ivor the Boneless and his bondi extended to the east and the far right was held by a band of Northumbrian mercenaries. A swampy lowland secured Grim’s right flank.
Both Grim and Njal threw skirmishing thralls in front of the main line.
The Normans advanced in five main groups. On their right (west) was a band of Swabians on loan from Charles the Bold’s brother. Then came a band of foot knights under Count Geoffrey. The Norman horse under Odo and William in person held the center. To their east was a band of bondi and finally the Norman left (west) flank was formed by Count Eustace’s foot knights. A swarm of archers was a dozen paces ahead of the battle bands.
William had but one order – crush the invaders!
The battle began auspiciously for the Normans. Superior archery killed nine Vikings at a loss of only two Normans. Then the impulsive young leader, Bjork, charged, leading his mostly-naked band headlong into Geoffrey’s heavily-armed knights. A few minutes later, Erling led his javelin armed thralls forward to engage the Norman archers in front of Grim’s line. Better to die fighting than as mere deer under the
William ordered the cavalry forward. “Ride down the thralls! Make the gully run with the invader’s blood!”
The gully was the gap between the Njal’s hirdmen’s hill and Grim’s hirdmen’s hill – where Bran and the Norwegians stood.
Bjork’s attack was more showy than substantive. After recovering from the sight of naked men with short spears charging his solid mass, Geoffrey split his forces and destroyed the islander bondi while attacking Njal’s Hill with half his force. Likewise, the Frankish mercenaries made little headway against the Swabians.
Geoffrey’s foot knights struggled up the little hill and were easily repulsed by Njal’s hirdmen. The islemen’s only other action was spillover when Robert, Count of Rouen, trampled Njal’s sling armed thralls and charged up the hill only to be cut down by the massive two-handed axes of the Vikings.
Against Grim the Norman attack was aggressive and fearless but met by individual skill, luck, and determination.
Aimerii, Bishop of Valery-au-Bouchonne, led the Norman cavalry over the thralls, and personally skewered Erling. However, the thralls, using agility to dodge inside the long Norman lance and use their javelins as short spears caused unexpected losses on the Norman elite. One, Svelard, forever after known in song as Svelard the Incredible, killed three Norman horse, before finally being trampled by Odo the Meek, son of the Count of Brittany.
With the work of the thralls, Bran still faced hard work in the gully. He would have likely been done for but for the work of Grim and Ivor the Boneless on Grim’s Hill. Assaulted by Eustace, Duke of Rheims, and his foot serjeants, Grim and Ivor absorbed the first shock in their shield walls on the hill. Then Grim, with a roar heard in Valhalla, led his men forward. Eustace was slain and the cavalry assailed from the flank. Hugh, Count of Vergennes, shouted, a bit too loudly for William’s taste, “Time to go home!” and led the retreat. Afterwards Hugh was known to say, “I knew they couldn’t catch us if we rode away!”
On Grim’s right the final scene played out as the most lightly-armed footmen in the Norman battle-line attacked the Northumbrian mercenaries. Here the story was that of luck and pluck. The Northumbrian band had but a single archer, Fredrik. As the footmen charged down he shot one and then another whose spear missed the intrepid archer by inches. The charging men bypassed him to hit the main line but even then, he shot two more before the tide ebbed back past him.
William’s men, led by Hugh, withdrew from the battle. Geoffrey and the Swabians were mainly intact, having been on defense most of the day. The vaunted cavalry had suffered 70% losses and would be hard-pressed to oppose any more forays. Eustace’s band was likewise decimated.
Grim and Njal had suffered heavy losses but not enough to stop their expedition. The continued up the Seine, terrorized Charles the Bold and eventually retired the next year, drakkars full of loot.
Svelard the Invicible Thrall was given a warrior’s funeral. Fredrik was offered (and accepted) the vacant post of Thrall-Captain, replacing the dead Erling.
Diatribes are simply often humorous recountings of the games played by the Long Island Irregulars. We play with toy soldiers and are unabashedly happy to have never lost this part of our childhoods..