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to allow them time to muster in full force. Their king was not near, but far away in the south, when we arrived here. There was then not a handful of men opposed to us, which might easily have been brushed aside. Now it is otherwise. It is my advice that my brother Ring and I this very night should attack the enemy SO
as sufficient light appears in the sky to distinguish them, and before the king and his main army can come up. If we succeed in routing them, and send them flying to the rear, they may spread a panic through the host that is with the king.”
Olaf approved of the proposition, and at once the brothers Ring and Adils collected their men, and marched in silence by the light of the stars over the heath till they reached a position at striking distance of the Norse vanguard, and there paused, awaiting the first streaks of dawn. Before proceeding further, it will be as well to state where the place was where the decisive battle was to be fought. That place is called by the Norse writer Vinheath, by Simeon of Durham, Wondune, and by the Chronicle and English historians who followed the Chronicle, Brunaburh. Many sites have been suggested, but the balance of probability is in favour of Boroughbridge, with the Swale on one side, and hills, once clothed by a forest, on the other. The reasons for this determination shall be given later.
The date of the battle was 937.
As soon as daylight appeared, the word to advance was given, and the men under Ring and Adils dashed forward.
The outposts of Thorolf gave the alarm, the cow-horns brayed, and the Northmen sprang to arms. Alfgeir, the earl, commanded the English contingent, that had been swelled by new arrivals, and the body of men under his command greatly outnumbered the Norse mercenaries under Thorolf.
Thorolf was thus armed. He carried a broad and thick shield on his arm ; on his head a stout helmet; by his side his sword, named “Long"; in his hand he bore a spear, with a head two cubits in length, and four-edged-in fact, composed of four blades welded together, and tapering to a single point. Egill was similarly equipped; he wore at his side a sword called “the Adder." Neither of the brothers was protected by a breastplate. Theofrid Strangi was the name of Thorolf's standard-bearer. All the mercenaries bore Norse shields, and were armed and harnessed in the Scandinavian fashion.
The body of men commanded by Thorolf had the forest on one side, that of Alfgeir had the river on the other. Adils and Ring perceived that they had failed in their attempt to take the enemy by surprise, and they accordingly prepared to engage in a pitched battle—not, be it understood, with the whole of the English army, but with the vanguard some miles in advance. They marshalled their forces in two columns, or, to use the old English expression,“ battles,” each under its own standard; one, that of Adils, was to attack the body of English under Alfgeir, and that of Ring to contend with the Norse mercenaries.
To the winding of the cow-horns Adils charged, and with such impetuosity that Alfgeir gave way, after having made but a brief stand; his men were put to the rout and fled. Alfgeir, with his horsemen, galloped over the plain without drawing rein, till they reached the burgh where was the King. But into that Alfgeir did not venture, fearing to encounter the reproaches of Athelstan and the derision of his councillors. He continued his flight to the south, not halting till he reached the coast, where he took boat, and escaped into France, never to show his face again in England.
Now, when Thorolf saw the rout of Alfgeir, he bade his brother move his standard against Adils, whilst he remained with his flank protected by the wood, contending against Earl Ring.
Such a fury of battle took hold of Thorolf, that he flung his shield behind his back, and grasping his four-edged spear with both hands, he drove in among the enemy like a ploughshare, piercing, mutilating, prostrating all before him. He forced his way to the standard of Earl Ring, killed the standardbearer, and cut down the ensign. Then, rushing forward on the Earl, he skewered him with his terrible spear, so that the point came out at Ring's back. He did more; putting his foot on the butt of the shaft, he levered the quivering Earl into the air in the sight of his followers, then cast him down, and wrenched the weapon out of his body.
Thorolf now drew his sword, and smote with it all who stood in his way. The followers of the Earls, bordermen, some Britons, some Angles, seeing that the banner was down and that the Earl had fallen, gave way and took to flight, and to escape pursuit took refuge in the wood. Adils, unable to stand against Egill, lowered his own standard
to allow the Norse
mercenaries to suppose that he had fallen, and he also, flying, found a place of concealment in the wood. There was much slaughter among the fugitives, but the pursuit could not be carried far, lest the Norsemen should rush upon the main body of the army of the Confederates.
Thorolf and Egill withdrew their men and returned to the camp, to which, in the meantime, Athelstan had come up. Tents were pitched, the battlefield visited, that the wounded might be removed to the rear, and the dead be suitably interred. Although the body of Adils could not be found, it was believed that he was dead, as well as his brother Ring.
The brothers Thorolf and Egill received thanks from Athelstan for the gallantry they had displayed, and the King bade the entire army rest that night, and prepare for a general engagement on the morrow.
Next morning, early, Athelstan reviewed his host, and appointed Egill to command one wing and Thorolf the other. To this arrangement Egill did not readily consent. Said he: “I have no desire to be parted from my brother. We have ever fought side by side ; place us together where is the greatest danger, and we will do our duty, only let us be together."
However, Thorolf said: 'We must let the King decide according to his judgment, and submit."
“I will submit," replied Egill, "if you desire it, but I do not relish being separated from you.”
When the army was drawn out, Thorolf was placed in the wing covered on one side by the forest, and the wing commanded by Egill was covered on the further side by the river.
Olaf disposed his army in two "battles." He had his standard erected in that confronting Athelstan and Egill; his other “battle” was disposed over against Thorolf. This latter was commanded by the Scottish king, and most of the men in it were Scots. Thorolf's object was to break up this wing, then turn, describe a semi-circle, and take Olaf Cuaran and his Norse and Irishmen in the rear. But he was unaware that Adils and the remnant of his men had concealed themselves in the wood, and as he advanced against the Scots, these latter broke out of cover, and took him unexpectedly in the flank whilst fully engaged with the enemy in front. He was by this means overpowered, and fell pierced by many spears. His standard-bearer had to beat a hasty retreat to save the banner from capture. When the 1 The Aigla says
Scottish earls,” but it ignores Constantine.
Scots saw that the commander of the Northmen in the pay of Athelstan had fallen, they raised a shout of triumph that reached the ears of Egill, and when he, looking across the field, saw his brother's ensign in retreat, he made sure that Thorolf was dead. Then rushing to that part of the heath where Thorolf had been, stung with fury and mad with grief, he urged his men to follow him, and striding before them, whirling his sword, "the Adder," he flung himself upon the foe. The standard-bearer, Thorfrid, at once pressed forward and attended him, so that his advance was marked by the progress of two ensigns. Before his long blade the enemy were mown down as grass before a scythe, and he cut his way to Adils, whom at one blow he cleft from the head to the shoulders.
On the death of the Earl, the men of the ambush gave way, and fled among the Scots, pursued by Egill and his Vikings. The flying men broke the Scottish line, and the men constituting it made no determined stand. They wavered, then broke and fled. Then, when this wing of the enemy was routed, Egill and his mercenaries wheeled about and went to the aid of Athelstan. A great slaughter ensued. Bursting
. through the bodyguard of the King of Dublin, Egill cut down, as he supposed, Olaf the Red. The rout now became complete. Every man of the invaders who could be overtaken was slaughtered without compunction, and no quarter was given. The wide grey plain was strewn with corpses. The lay of Brunaburh says :
There lay many a warrior
With swords mill-sharp.
poem in the Chronicle calls Olaf always Anlaf. He fled, according to the same authority, to his ships, which had probably coasted north from the Humber. Returning from the field, Athelstan entered the burh from which he had set out, there to pass the night. Egill, however, had followed the fugitives, dealing slaughter among them, till the night fell. But even then he would not rest till he had discovered the body of his brother.
1 Olaf Cuaran was not killed in the of " the young Olaf." In the lay of the battle, but his son was.
Egill, in his
battle in the Chronicle, it is said that lament for his brother, speaks of the fall Constantine lost his son in it.
Next day he had Thorolf buried with all solemnity, girt in his harness, and with his sword and spear at his side. Taking off his own golden armlets, he thrust them above the wrists of his brother. Then a mound of earth was heaped above him, and Egill sang the following lay :
Forth the never fearing
Then Egill, with his followers, entered the hall where sat Athelstan on his high-seat drinking ale. The King welcomed him, and bade room be made for him so that he might be placed over against himself.
The hall was a long building, with seats running parallel with the wails, and facing each other across the hearth, a stone trough in the floor in which burnt the fire.
Egill seated himself, cast his shield at his feet, and laid his sword, half unsheathed, across his knees. He sat bolt upright, speechless, and wearing a stern countenance Egill was broad-faced, broad-browed, heavy-eyebrowed. was not long, but was remarkably broad; the lips thick and large; his chin was very broad, and so all his jaw, thick neck and broad shoulders, so that when he was angry he
, SO appeared more savage than other men. He was well - -grown, and taller than any other man; his hair grey as