The Finnsburg Incident: A.D. 448-449
Two longships, driven by a cold wind beating against their sails, appeared in the river estuary. Both crews rolled up the sails and took off the masts. The larger longship twisted off its hungry dragon figurehead, as did the older, smaller longboat with its ravening wolf's head. Both figureheads were stowed below so as not to frighten the land spirits and to proclaim peaceful intent to any men watching on the shore. Men put on their finest armor, strapped on their weapons, put shields on hooks near the boat's oarlocks. Then they were ready to visit. The first snowflakes of a major storm fluttered down.
Up the river, powered by muscular rowers, glided the two longships. The longships turned around a bend in the river, and then proceeded towards decked pilings on the bank near a palisaded large town of 1500 souls.
The boats tied up, the newer, bigger one first, then the smaller, older ship. The townsmen, led by a stout, middle-aged man with an air of authority about him greeted the younger man who led the newer ship. The steersman of the older ship, a huge man, disembarked and strode towards the young captain, stopping two paces behind. The townsmen were arranged in a rough square behind their king; the boatmen lounged against their boats. Women and children were not in sight. For an instant, the two leading men watched each other, like the leaders of rival packs of wolves warily waiting to sniff one another. Then the older man spread his arms. The younger man stepped forward, and both men embraced.
The older man spoke. "Welcome to Frisia and my capital city of Finnsburg, Hnaef Half-Dane. I am honored that you and your men come to feast with me for the winter, as we agreed last summer. Has my son Frithuwulf been a good page?"
"I thank you for your hospitality, King Finn Folcwalda, my brother," said King Hnaef. "I have brought back your son; he is a good page. I brought my best retainers, sixty valiant warriors who honor me with their presence this winter. I look forward to seeing my sister, Queen Hildeburh. But first let me present my retainers for your inspection."
Hnaef turned and gestured forward the big steersman of the older boat standing two paces behind him on his right. "This is Octa Wihtgiling, commonly known as Hengist," as the man stepped forward and nodded at Finn. "He has been a valiant retainer for several months now."
Finn stiffened. "So this is Hengist," he thought. "The name is well-known, even notorious." Finn stared at the man while his mind raced to find suitable words.
Hengist meant "stallion," and like a great beast he towered two hand's- breadths over Finn and Hnaef. A short-sleeved mail byrnie snugly covered his massive frame to mid-thigh. He wore a conical iron helmet under which flowed shoulder-length, sun-bleached, reddish-blond hair. Steel gray eyes directly met Finn's eyes. Finn met the stare and then broke off eye contact in favor of further inspection.
Strapped on Hengist's left side lay a scabbard containing a long double-edged sword with a bronze hilt and pommel and a woven silver wire handle. On Hengist's right waist a long sax-knife followed a Frankish throwing ax. Finn realized that Hengist was truly a magnificent fighting man any king would want as a follower!
Finn further realized, "Hengist might become a danger to me. My best retainers, Garulf for one, are implacable foes of this man. He is a dangerous man in his own right."
Hengist was of noble blood; claiming decent from the Father of the Gods, Woden. He was a member of a royal family, supposedly Wihtgil's oldest son.
"What is Hengist doing with Hnaef? Whatever the reason, I bet that I'll wish Hengist wasn't here long before spring comes," Finn thought.
Hengist was not only strong and massive of body; his quick, relentless mind would follow his own interests to the detriment of those who directly opposed him or thought that he was controllable. A leader in his own right , he had led raiders against Britannia at an early age. He had challenged and easily slaughtered several doughty warriors in various duels, sometimes so quickly that bystanders thought that treachery was involved. But nothing was ever proven, and few wished to challenge the dangerous victor. Even in these cruel times, he was notorious for his ruthlessness if crossed. But he covered these traits with a mask of uncommon courtesy and great personal charm. "Hnaef is a fool to retain this man, whatever his reasons! Hengist is a ravening wolf, not a pet lapdog!"
Finn met Hengist's eyes again, then nodded as if he knew what he faced and was yet undaunted. "Yes, the name of Hengist is well known," Finn said. "How many men did you bring into King Hnaef's service?"
"Several hundred, but only twenty-four of my men were deemed worthy to enjoy your hospitality, sir. Following my example, my tribe and clansmen enjoy King Hnaef's friendship."
"But not all of your tribe. Some of your disaffected Jutes enjoy my rule!" stated Finn. "Let there be no trouble in my court this winter!"
"Of course not, sir! I am under the control of King Hnaef, as doubtless your men are controlled by you, King Finn. My great-grandfather found it easy to kill or drive away any Jutes fool enough to oppose him," said Hengist.
Hnaef, with a look of anxiety, interrupted, "And this is Sigeferth of Sweden," pointing to a wiry man with grizzled blond hair who stepped forward and nodded at Finn. Hengist took advantage of the interruption to back off, then slip away toward his boat. Hnaef continued, "And of course you know my cousins, the brothers Ordlaf and Guthlaf Hunlafing," gesturing forward two burly-looking men who moved alongside Sigeferth.
Finn frowned, as if he had wanted to say something and was annoyed at the interruption. Then his face cleared and he said, "Yes, of course. I am proud to meet the Hunlafings. But let's postpone the rest of the introductions until we go inside. This storm might freeze the river tonight. I refuse to let it freeze us. Come inside to a hall that I've set aside for you and your men. Queen Hildeburh will be glad to see you, and I can hardly wait to talk to my boy, Frithuwulf."
"Agreed," said Hnaef. Turning to his men, he said, "Secure the ships and let's bring in our gear. Time to settle in for the winter."
Finn turned to his troop. "You men help our honored guests and lead then to their quarters. Let them settle in, then lead them to my Great Hall, where we'll celebrate their arrival."
A cheer went up, then the two groups of men dissolved and mixed, going to the boats, guests and townsmen alike. As Hnaef turned, Finn placed a hand on Hnaef's arm and said, "Excuse me , Hnaef. I need to have a word with you in private as soon as possible."
Hnaef nodded, then ordered a servant to stow his gear in the allotted hall. Then the two kings walked obliquely towards the town. When they were out of earshot, Hnaef stopped, turned towards Finn, and asked, "What bothers you, Finn?"
"Where ever did you get that man Hengist? He is a menace! Don't you know that my chief retainers are exiled Jutes, specifically Garulf, pretender to the Jutish throne and blood-foe of Hengist?"
"No, I didn't know that Garulf was around. Hengist's Jutes are my allies. Friends to my people when they left Sweden. So when Hengist swore fealty to me this year I took him on. Normally I would have to swear fealty to him. As for some disaffected Jutes, who is king around here? Can't you keep your wolves leashed?"
"I am, and yes, they are under control. I just don't want bad blood spilled this winter. Can't you send Hengist home?"
"No! Not without affecting things at home for the worse and making a dangerous enemy! My people were allowed to settle on vacant Jutish lands, so I owe Hengist's family a debt of honor. If I make him leave, there goes my honor! Besides which, he is the best warrior that I've ever seen. If I lost a man like that, under such circumstances, I'd never get others to swear fealty to me. It would be easier if all of us left for home. Do you want that, Finn?"
"Of course not. I married your sister and entrusted my son to your care so that the petty raiding and blood feuds would cease between our tribes. Garulf is presently on my borders. He is keeping an eye on the Franks. When he returns, I will send him back. Perhaps trouble can be averted."
"Let's hope so, " said Hnaef.
" Hildeburh will be glad to see you and Frithuwulf. Let's go inside and warm ourselves over a horn of ale."
"Agreed," said Hnaef. "But that's not the best way to warm up. Is there a
sporting woman or grieving widow in town?"
"I wouldn't know. While this is my town, I have a reputation to uphold. Ask one of my men-at-arms. They would know. I don't prosecute the working girls unless they are indiscreet," Finn said.
The two kings walked to town together, talking of inconsequential things. The snowfall increased.
Hnaef and his men feasted in Finn's Great Hall, a long building 120 feet long and 20 feet wide, with a 50 by 20 foot crosspiece at the eastern end where Finn and his family had private chambers. The private chamber was divided from the main hall by wooden walls that were two feet over eye level. Kingly dignity meant that a curtain would not suffice for the needs of privacy. King Finn's retainers slept in the main hall, giving warmth usually provided by farmyard animals. Since Finn was a king, the only animals allowed in the hall were some well-behaved dogs. A fire in the middle of the main hall provided warmth. Because it was a cold outside, the smoke went straight up towards the soot-blackened roof and out a fire hole, without too much smoke billowing inside even though an iron pot boiling a mutton stew hung over the fire. The high roof had wooden shingles set over planks, instead of the cheaper barley-straw thatch. The walls inside were wooden, giving a lie to the outer stonework held by mortar. The floor was well-packed dirt, making things easier for Queen Hildeburh's serving women. Finn's retainers stacked their sheepskin sleeping sacks in the southeast corner of the main hall.
King Finn's place of honor, a long table in the exact center of the north side of the building, had Hnaef sitting opposite Finn, even though his proper place was at the opposite table across the width of the room. Hengist, Hnaef's best retainer took Hnaef's proper place. Even though Queen Hilbeburh's normal place was at a table for the women at end of the hall next to the cross-hall partition, tonight she was allowed to sit with Finn, Hnaef, and Frithuwulf. Frithuwulf, still formally Hnaef's page, also was allowed to sit at the king's table. Even though this was the first banquet of the winter and a formal affair, tonight the usual standards would be relaxed.
Queen Hildeburh's serving women mingled among the tables serving food and drink. The first thing served was the ox sacrificed to Woden that had been sanctified soon after Hnaef's men had arrived. Since Hnaef had arrived safely and the harvest had been good, the gods needed to be rewarded. On the first night, as a sign of King Finn's generosity and wealth, all the warriors would be served mead. Also on the menu were roasted ducks, the ever-present mutton stew, and fresh all-wheat bread, not the usual barley and rye bread. The feast would last well into the night, with all smugly thinking while sobriety lasted about the snowfall and heavy winds whistling outside.
For the most part, Danes and Frisians mixed freely together. But Finn had at his banquet a few Jutes who had not gone with Garulf. These Jutes were in self-imposed exile from their native country. Hengist and his men watched these Jutes warily. There was no open conflict, however.
Soon after the banquet started, a minstrel started singing the lay of King Eomenric the Goth. King Eomenric once ruled an immense territory between the Black Sea to the eastern Baltic, outside Rome's rule. At first an able and wise king, he had subjugated a number of native tribes under the Goths. His great deeds in assembling his empire caused him to become feared, not only by his weaker neighbors, but by some of his fellow tribesmen. One of his subchiefs had defied him, then left his realm. So he summoned the subchief's wife, a woman named Sunilda, and condemned her to death. She was tied to two wild horses, who were driven apart, tearing her arms from her body.
Sunilda's brothers, Ammius and Sarus, arranged an ambush of Eomenric one day, wounding him so severely that he was left for dead by the enraged brothers. Eomenric's bodyguard drove the brothers off, whereupon they left for Constantinople to enter the Eastern Roman Emperor's service. King Eomenric recovered. He was aware that some of his own tribe thought that he had become a tyrant, and that he had deserved his wounds, although no one dared say anything.
Several years later, an Asiatic people, the Huns appeared in the east. They defeated a nomadic warrior people, the Alans, that lived east of Eomenric's people, sending them into Eomenric's territory as refugees. Then the Huns met and quickly defeated Eomenric's best army. An aged and heartsick Eomenric killed himself with his sword upon seeing his life's work being overrun by the "bastard children of demons and unclean spirits."
The aged minstrel was cheered when he finished with his song. King Finn tossed the minstrel a small purse of silver. The warriors loved this epic. A great king had extended his realm by deeds of valor and justice when he was young. But he had let power rise to his head and then acted like a tyrant. He had acted unjustly, making an innocent woman be punished because of her husband's deeds. Did one kill a dog for defending his master? It wasn't right to kill an obedient woman for loving her husband. But justice had been done. First by the brothers of that woman, then by the gods, who had let the tyrant live to see his kingdom and his dreams finished. The gods were harsh sometimes, but they delivered justice. Let every king take a lesson from Eomenric's fate!
Some of the warriors got in a drunken argument as to whether Eomenric belonged in Valhalla for his great deeds of valor or if he belonged beneath the wet tree roots in Hel as troll-bait because of his injustices. The only part that the warriors didn't like was where the coneheaded Huns had ended up winning. Huns had pointed heads because Hunnic mothers bound their infant's heads to fit under helmets when they were older. That started another drunken argument as to why girl babies' heads were bound as well.
All the chieftains had cheered the minstrel at the end of Eomenric's saga, but afterwards both Finn and Hengist sat in silence, each thinking his own thoughts over the aftermath to the story that the minstrel hadn't sung.
After Eomenric's death 75 years ago, the Goths had divided because of different policies as what to do about the Hunnic victory. Some fled into the mountains. Others fought the Huns again, and were defeated. They then crossed the Danube into Roman territory, wanting to serve the Empire in return for safety. The Roman emperor had given permission for the Goths to enter, but allowed some of his officials to cheat and oppress the refugees. These officials sold dog meat to the starving Goths. In return, the destitute Goths had sold their weapons, comrades, wives, and children to survive on such rations. In a spirit of desperation, the Goths then made an alliance with the Huns and Alans. The combined forces caught the foolish Eastern Roman Emperor alone before his western colleague could join him. The best legions were mowed down by the barbarian cavalry. After the battle, the temporary alliance split, each tribe going its own way. Each tribe, be they Hun, Alan, or Goth, fought against or for Rome, depending on the advantage to be gained at the moment.
Forty years ago, some Goths had sacked Rome; the first time that had ever happened. The Alans and Huns had penetrated deep inside Europe, sending some other Germanic tribes in motion. The Huns usually fought among themselves, but a few years ago an able chieftain named Attila had killed his brother and fellow king. Now he ruled an undivided tribe only a few hundred miles and several tribes away. No telling what might happen next.
Both Finn and Hengist had been thinking about this matter. Hnaef, a simpler soul, was chatting old family matters with his sister Hildeburh. Frithuwulf and his younger brother Frealaf, who had been allowed to come to the royal table, listened to their uncle and mother discuss family history. Some warriors were still arguing about why Huns bound girl babies' heads when they didn't wear helmets. Most of the men were discussing foreign women that they had raped, although some had paid for services rendered.
Finn had been staring into space, when he accidentally caught Hengist's eye. Both men locked glances, each unwilling to break eye contact. Hengist smiled an insolent grin, then ostentatiously broke eye contact. Finn flushed, annoyed.
Hengist pondered, "I wonder if Finn is thinking about what the future holds. One thing for sure, he doesn't like me very much. I wonder why? Perhaps I have been too insolent, not deferential enough. There are a number of exiled Jutes here. Maybe that's it. Some people who left Jutland for some reason are his retainers.
"One thing for sure, I had better watch my back this winter. I will discuss this with Hnaef tomorrow."
The drinking continued, although a few of the retainers had passed out. A few of the retainers started boasting about battles fought, and bloodfeuds won, but were hushed by cooler heads. No one wanted to start a fresh feud while people were in their cups. Hengist, remembering Finn's hostility and the evident dislike of exiled Jutes, drank moderately. Hnaef, excited to see his sister and youngest nephew, also drank sparingly. The men-at-arms on either side lacked any such motivation. They drank according to each man's capacity. Finally Finn called an end to the festivities when the casks of mead allotted to the banquet were emptied. Hnaef's men, the sober ones, helped their unconscious comrades to their feet, then all trudged through the drifting snow and heavy winds the short distance to their quarters for the winter, Finn's father Folcwalda's great hall.
Hengist let the drunken men settle down for the night. Some men simply flopped upon the ground without bothering to get into their sleeping sacks. Hnaef and Hengist had matters to discuss. Hnaef told Hengist Finn's concerns.
"Yes, I know," said Hengist. "I've had people stare at me before, but not disaffected countrymen. Garulf hates me because a century ago an Angle ancestor of mine removed his family from the leadership of the Jutes. When Garulf's family started a fratricidal civil war over the succession, my great-great-grandfather Wihtlaeg said enough was enough and appointed a younger son king over the Jutes. Garulf's family was spared, but they were no longer kings. They and their retainers scattered to Saxon and Frisian territory. There is bad blood between our families, but due to separation, little bloodshed."
"There will be precious little separation this winter," observed Hnaef. "Do you think it best for us all to go home tomorrow?"
"Sir, if you wish me to go home, I will. I realize my presence here could be an embarrassment."
"No. Your presence at my side these last few months has been a source of pride to me. If I sent you away, there would be differences between us. Others would say that I failed in my obligations to my retainers. You know that loyalty cuts both ways, and I have always been a man who pays his debts. What I ask of you is that you not be the first to draw the sword. And if you leave, we will leave together."
"If we don't leave, then I suggest that we take care. Our men should not go out separately, at least three-fourths stay together at all times. We maintain a watch at night, and bar the doors. Should I put you down for the watch?"
"What do you think?"
"Very well, sir. You have the watch after myself tonight. You and I are the only ones fit to guard anything tonight. We will bar the eastern door tonight. Finn's men are as drunk as ours, there will be no attack tonight."
The next morning a disconsolate Hnaef saw that his ships were icebound.
"There will be no going back to Denmark this winter," Hnaef thought. Many leagues of swamps, frozen rivers, and well-armed, dangerous tribesmen blocked an overland trip. "With luck, myself and Finn will keep trouble from happening between our retainers. Hengist will obey me, although he doesn't have any give in his backbone."
Hengist's precautions were enforced, and for a week all went well. Queen Hildeburh made much of her son Frithuwulf, although he was still Hnaef's page until spring, when Hnaef would leave for home. Frisian and Dane got along well, but the opposing Jutes that served each king made little pretense of friendship. By unspoken agreement, a surface politeness was enforced by both kings. Then just before sundown, Garulf and his men rode into Finnsburg.
Leaving his horse with a servant, Garulf, a burly man of average height, strode into Finn's great stone hall at the head of fifty personal retainers. He glared at Hengist for a moment, then faced King Finn and bowed. "Sir, your borders with the Franks are safe this winter," said Garulf. "I have heard a number of interesting things concerning our guests. Why is Hengist the wolf's-head here?"
"He is here by my consent, Garulf. And as long as he is my guest, the customs of hospitality will be enforced. Do I make myself understood?"
"Yessir. But his family stole a kingdom from my fathers. I hope that you don't regret keeping this wolf in the house, sir!"
"My family stole nothing from you, Garulf!" Hengist interrupted. "My family, by might of arms -- kings-- decided that your family -- rascals-- were unfit to rule the Jutes. Your family, due to greed, started a civil war among the Jutes. One brother killed his older brother in order to seize the throne; then the older brother's son killed his uncle. Your family was justly stripped of the rulership."
"To make room for your family," sneered Garulf.
"Yes, and rightfully so. Be grateful that you kept your lives. If the Jutes wanted your family to remain kings, they could have fought on your behalf. But your civil war killed so many, and left such a bad taste in people's mouths that they were happy to have our rule."
Garulf reddened. His hand grabbed his sword.
"Enough!" thundered King Finn. "There will not be another word spoken of this matter. He who disobeys me in this matter will be banished to a far village and will spend the winter in discomfort!"
Hnaef broke in. "Finn, I am quite capable of keeping order among my troop. I insist that disciplining my troops, not that they have needed it, is my concern, not yours, Finn."
Finn turned to Hnaef and said, "You are a guest here, Hnaef. Best keep that in mind. I will be master in my own house."
"My men are tired. Do I have permission to leave, master?" Hnaef asked. Hnaef's eye swept the room. His men stood up. Finn, shocked at the turn the conversation had taken, said nothing. A moment passed, then Hnaef at the head of his retainers left the hall. Silence enveloped the big room.
Finn found his voice. "Our guests are tired and have decided to turn in. I suggest we do the same. I want a word with you, Garulf."
Queen Hildeburh stood up and touched her husband's arm. "Hasty tongues spoke cruel words. Let tempers cool, my husband, so that blood won't be shed."
"Didn't you see how your brother treated me, woman? I'm not the one who started this. I don't want trouble either, but I won't run from any trouble that might occur. Go to bed!"
Hildeburh shot a look of appeal at her husband's face, but seeing no encouragement there, left the great room. Finn turned to Garulf.
"Do you have any idea of the trouble that you have just caused me, Garulf?"
"I'm sorry, sir. I lost my temper. But I have always tried to serve you to the best of my ability."
"Sir, your guests have spurned your hospitality, publicly defied your rule, and have shown you contempt. When will you teach your so-called guests some manners?"
"Hnaef is my guest. He didn't know that Hengist wasn't welcome here."
"Hnaef couldn't care less. You notice that he didn't stop Hengist from egging things on. Hengist is a butcher, he would kill us all if he thought he could get away with it. Let's teach him an unforgettable lesson."
"I have no great love for Hengist. I'd love to get rid of Hengist, but he can't be separated from Hnaef and my son. It would be best to let things lie."
"Sir, if you let them get away with this, your people won't respect you. You can roll over and let Hengist walk over you, or you can teach him a lesson. Let them stew for awhile, and then when they sleep we can disarm them. Only Hengist and his cut-throats need be killed then. Your son and Hnaef will be safe."
"It's too risky. Hnaef will become my enemy."
"Not if he's captured. You can make up later this winter."
"I don't know . . . . " Finn, indecisive, pulled on his beard.
"If your good name don't matter; if you don't wish to eliminate your enemies, consider this: My father was your best retainer as well as your best friend. I have saved your life several times. One of those times you promised me a great favor that you would fulfill when I asked," Garulf said heatedly. "I ask you now for Hengist's life!"
"All right! All right!" Finn threw his arms up in the air. "Do what you want! Just remember this: My son Frithuwulf and King Hnaef must survive. I know nothing of this matter. If you fail, you are on your own. Strike quickly and accurately."
Garulf bowed and said, "It will be as you say, sir. If not this night, then some night soon."
When Hnaef and his men arrived at their quarters, Hengist apologized to Hnaef. "I seem to have gotten us all in trouble, sir. What will we do to do to get out of this situation?" asked Hengist.
"Well, what happened is past. Garulf would have caused trouble, regardless of what you said. In the morning I will talk with Finn and mend the situation. If he will send away Garulf and his Jutes for the winter and replace them with Frisians from the outlying villages, perhaps peace can be maintained. Bar the doors and maintain a double watch tonight. Wake me up an hour before dawn so I can think. And let's hope for the best."
"As you say, sir. I will sleep lightly tonight. All will wear their armor. Good night."
The eastern and western doors were barred, after everyone was sure that no one would have to use the latrines. Hengist assigned watches, with himself and two others initially guarding the western door and three men guarding the eastern door, the only entrances to Folcwalda's great hall. The Danish brothers, Ordlaf and Guthlaf each headed the middle watches. Sigeferth was assigned to Hnaef's watch. The men were told to sleep well, but not too deeply. Be ready if called upon to fight. The men listened, and went to their beds.
Meanwhile, Garulf assembled his personal guard and all the Jutes present in Finn's court before his arrival that afternoon.
"Finn has given me permission to kill Hengist. Hnaef and Frithuwulf must be spared, though. We attack at dawn, before Finn gets a chance to change his mind. A quick attack, with surprise in our favor, will minimize casualties on our part."
"But sir, won't Hnaef and Hengist be expecting trouble tonight? If we wait a while, we can get them drunk or separated some night and then kill them all," said Guthere, Garulf's advisor, a grizzled old veteran with a reputation for sagacity.
"We might not get this chance again if Finn changes him mind. You all know that Finn's mind changes like the wind. So we strike tonight and finish this matter now. If you come across some of Hnaef's men drifting into Folcwalda's hall tonight, kill them if they are Jutes and you can do it quietly. We will go to our barracks and sleep for a few hours. Then we will get our gear together and plan our attack before dawn. Get ready for glory and loot, my fearless wolves!"
Garulf and Guthere consulted together, and selected some of the more dedicated and alert retainers to observe the approaches to Hnaef's barracks. Then the two men went to their allotted positions in Finn's Great Hall.
Several hours passed. Five of Hnaef's men staggered through the streets, but four of them had Danish tribal markings, so the small group wasn't molested. Killing the drunken fools would have been easy, but they would be missed. Hnaef's men pounded on the barrack's western door and after a pause were admitted. Three hours before dawn, Garulf and Guthere went to the barracks where most of their personal retainers were housed, woke their warriors, and then planned the upcoming attack.
"We rush both doors at the same time. If the doors are barred, we break them down with some heavy beams. We rush in and kill Hengist and his men. Under no circumstances do we try to kill Hnaef. Frithuwulf's life is sacred, being but a boy, he should be unarmed. Anyone who kills him will have to answer to Finn," Garulf said. "Are there any questions?"
No one spoke up, then Guthere said, "Sir, don't be the first one at the door. It will do us no good to kill these men if you don't survive to lead us back to our country. You are well armed , with a good coat of mail, but even you can fall. Let us, your valiant retainers, have a chance to seize glory."
"I thank you for your advice, old friend. I understand your concerns. But a leader must lead, not sit in safety while his comrades and followers are killed. As for leading us back to our native country, we have been gone too long. Hengist's family have controlled Jutland too long. There is nothing for us there, much less support from the people."
"Then why do we need to kill these men that visit with us?" Guthere asked.
"Because of honor, and vengeance. That is what we live by, and if fate requires it, that is what we die by. I will be the first one in the door after it is battered down." Standing up, Garulf surveyed the faces of his men. "Sharpen your spears and swords, put on your best armor. Glory or Valhalla awaits!"
An hour passed, then Garulf and his 120 Jutes headed towards Hnaef's barracks. Not a soul stirred in the streets of the town. The wolfish dogs of the townspeople snarled and growled at the men, but few of them barked. Noisy dogs were the first in the stew pot.
Garulf motioned some men bearing a beam to the east door and waited until the team assigned to the west door was in position. Standing three paces behind the ram at the western door, he signaled for the assault to begin. The sturdy oak door shuddered beneath the assault, but held. A moment later, the team at the eastern door joined in.
At that moment, Hnaef standing next to the western door was stirred from his pondering. Leaving Sigeferth to hold the door, Hnaef immediately awakened Hengist. Hengist got up and asked, "Is the roof on fire?"
The sleepy men started to stir, some faster than others. Hnaef rousted some of the heavier sleepers, while he answered Hengist's question. "No. The roof is fine, but we are under attack! Under cover of darkness, armed enemies approach to bring a final end to an ancient blood-feud. Now the moon shines, wandering behind the clouds, and awful deeds are coming that will bring to a bitter end this famous hatred between the Jutes. So get up! Awaken, my fearless wolves! Grab your swords and spears, prepare for valor, be resolute! Greet the foeman at the door! Kill all those who would attack us!"
All of Hnaef's warriors had slept in their armor. Strapping on their swordbelts and grabbing shields and spears, Hnaef's men waited for the doors to break open and deliver the onrushing enemy. Ordlaf and Guthlaf guarded the eastern door, with Hengist as a back-up. Hnaef, Sigeferth, and Eaha held the western door.
The western door splintered, then broke open. Sigeferth hacked at the arm of one of the ram carriers, crippling the man. The ram carriers dropped the ram and scattered away to seek shields. The wounded man backed away from the door, allowing Garulf to step forward, carrying a spear.
"Who holds the door?" Garulf challenged.
"Sigeferth of Sweden. I am a famous adventurer and notorious man-killer! If you wish, come forward and find your fate!"
Garulf hurled his spear at Sigeferth's shield, intending to stomp on the embedded spear and wrest Sigeferth's shield arm to the ground, then hack on his neck. Instead, the spear glanced off the metal-covered boss of Sigeferth's shield, into the hall, where it struck the unarmored side of Frithuwulf Finning, Hnaef's young page. True to his heritage, the boy made no outcry as he tried to pull out the spear. His life's blood gushed out of his wound and he collapsed amid outcries of "The boy is dead."
Sigeferth smiled and said, "Finn will really be happy now, won't he? You killed the boy. Can you handle a man?"
With a roar of outrage, Garulf charged the door, followed by his retainers. Garulf's shield clashed with Sigeferth's shield. Sigeferth fell upon his back, but he thrust forward with his sword, impaling Garulf. Garulf's dying counterstroke split Sigeferth's head. The two opposing warriors lay like husband and wife entwined in the embrace of death, oblivious to the struggle around them. First in the hall, Garulf was the first townsman to die. But Valhalla would gain more recruits that night.
Guthere, Garulf's advisor and most trusted retainer, tried to form a wedge with thirty men who had charged into the hall after Garulf. But Hnaef and his men counterattacked, managing to pinch off at the shattered door any reinforcements coming to Guthere's aid. Hnaef and Eaha stood at the left and right side of the doorway respectively, and used their swords against any hostile Jute wishing to come to Guthere's aid. Bodies piled up in front of the door. Slippery blood made the footing treacherous, aiding Hnaef and Eaha in their task.
Swords and battle-axes hammered against shields; knives were turned away by mail coats. Occasionally a sword or spear managed to get past a man's shield and a mail ring would part, letting the point claim a warrior's life. Deprived of reinforcements, Guthere and his men were crushed together, then killed one by one. None of the invaders made it out the doorway. Sometimes a defender died, however. A spear flashed through the doorway and struck Hnaef in the throat, killing him.
At the eastern doorway Hengist commanded Ordlaf to unbar the door.
"But they will come in if we do that," Guthlaf objected.
"They are going to do that anyway, once they break down the door. It will be difficult to fix while under attack. Besides, I've grown fond of that door. If we open the door at the right time, those fools might rush in with their hands on the ram, without shields or weapons. We can kill them and take the ram. Quickly now, open the door on count of three!" said Hengist.
Taking position, Ordlaf and Guthlaf complied. Eight hostile Jutes manning the ram flew inside, followed by fifteen others. Ordlaf and his brother quickly shut the door again, in the face of their enemies, while Hengist and his men quickly slaughtered the luckless attackers. Lacking shields, the eight ram carriers were quickly impaled by spears and at swordpoint, but the remaining attackers tried to form a shield wall and regain control of the doorway. Hengist's men kept the door defended against Garulf's fifteen, and whittled away at their numbers, killing them one by one. When the attacking Jutes were down to seven men and could no longer form an effective shield wall, Garulf's men were quickly killed; well within earshot of their comrades outside the door and the other side of the hall but beyond all help from their comrades.
"Now barricade the door! Use this first," Hengist said, pointing at the dropped ram. "You five, come with me," choosing five soldiers at random, then charging towards the west door where a battle still raged. When Hengist got to the other end, he found that he could not approach the fighting. The defenders had formed a barrier around the invading Jutes. When the last of Garulf's men inside the hall were killed, a silence fell in the great room. Hengist saw Hnaef's body and then took charge of the situation.
"How many have been killed or wounded on our side at this door?" Hengist asked of Eaha.
"Six, sir, counting King Hnaef and the boy. Sigeferth died first, but he killed Garulf. There are eight wounded here," Eaha said.
"Three killed of ours at the western door, along with four wounded. Garulf's bunch got the worst of it. Serves them right for their treachery," Hengist said.
"Five wounded at the eastern door," Ordlaf corrected. He had left his brother Guthlaf in command at the eastern door. "One of those wounded might not make it tonight. What do you think we should do, Hengist?"
"Let the wounded fall back from the doors. We will use them as a reserve force. Bind up and bandage their wounds." Pointing to three men who hadn't been involved in the struggle, Hengist said, "Cedric, Aethelwulf, Gundred, stay clear of the door, but pull in the dead. Collect any loose weapons, strip the armor off the bodies of our enemies. Then stack the foemen's bodies in front of the broken door like firewood. We will use them as a barricade. Then let's see how much they want to come in then, over the bodies of their friends."
Garulf's Jutes, lacking leadership, did not charge the doors on either side. They had lost over 60 men out of the original 120, counting the ones killed and wounded trying to assist Guthere and his men by going through the broken eastern door. No one wished to charge the doors again and risk becoming bottlenecked at the door. After consulting with each other, five set off to get Finn. The rest watched the building, not intending to let Hnaef's and Hengist's men escape.
Hengist walked over to the eastern doorway, and peered out. He quickly counted the dead lying out of reach of the door. Then he stepped out of hostile line of sight. "How many enemies do you think we killed?" he asked Eaha.
"Probably better than fifty or so. They drug back some of their dead and wounded, so we don't know for sure. We killed close to forty inside the hall so far," .replied Eaha.
"The enemy that counted was Garulf. With him dead, the worst of our problems might be over, if Finn isn't behind this matter so far that he can't back out. I wonder what Finn's position is?" Hengist wondered aloud to Eaha.
Hengist didn't wait for his reply. Turning to Ordlaf, he said, "Time for a council of war. We need to figure out where we stand, now that Hnaef is dead. What we shall do. Agreed?"
The meeting was held near the broken eastern door. Since the western door was intact, it would give ample warning of any attack coming from that direction if it was battered down. The two men in charge were Hengist and Ordlaf, each because he had men under his respective command. Each man had a duty now to avenge their fallen king, Ordlaf doubly so because Hnaef was a kinsman. The only question not answered was whether Finn was involved. And if so, how could the remainder of the forces get into a position to avenge Hnaef?
Hengist was chosen the leader of the survivors. He was the leader of the largest number of men. Ordlaf commanded a substantially smaller number of men, most of Hnaef's retainers being responsible directly to the slain king. Hengist also had the reputation of being the most formidable warrior of all present. That order of business completed, a quick inventory of provisions was made. That done, Hengist addressed the warriors inside.
"Warriors of Hnaef! We have survived treachery, and have lived to see another day. We have killed the man who is responsible for Hnaef's death, Garulf, and many of his followers as well.
"We have food left over from ship's stores. We can cut a hole in the roof and melt snow for water. The walls are stone, with six inches of snow on the roof. We can't be burned out.
"But our position is serious. We have enemies outside who outnumber us. If Finn decides to lead Garulf's Jutes and adds his Frisians to oppose us, we will not see our homes again this side of Hel. They might eventually break in and kill us all, or wait outside like wolves and starve us out. If we did cut our way out, where would we go? Our boats are frozen in for the winter, and both the land and natives are hostile. We are far from home and our future looks bleak.
"All that I can do is lead us all to whatever fate the future holds. If that means that we die, we die together, covered with glory. At least we have lived to fight another day," Hengist said, pointing outside the door, where the sun made a shadow outside the door.
Garulf's Jutes stood outside, out of spear range, balefully looking in at Hengist's troops in the hall. Then another group of armed men appeared, Frisians with Finn at their head. Finn stepped forward.
"Hail the hall! Who speaks for you in there?" asked Finn.
Hengist moved to the broken door. "I do, now that king Hnaef has been killed due to treachery," Hengist said.
"And the boy?" asked Finn.
"First one killed, and by Garulf. Your acquiescence in this matter availed you naught, Finn."
"There is not much love lost between us, Hengist. I have nothing against Hnaef's Danes, though. They are free to come out and will not be killed. They might not wish to die with you, Hengist."
"I'll let you ask them," Hengist said. Ordlaf stepped forward to the door.
"Did you hear what I said?" asked Finn. "I have nothing against the Danes, never did. I didn't want Hnaef to die, or my son either."
"We Danes have something against you, Finn. You killed our king and my cousin! If you had kept Garulf on a tight leash, this bloodshed need not have happened. Now you have started a blood-feud, Finn!" Ordlaf said.
"As you wish! If there is to be a feud, you will not live to avenge Hnaef!" Finn turned to his men. "Bring up a beam and batter in the other door. Assault the hall. Kill them all, every last one!"
Turning to the remnants of Garulf's Jutes, Finn said, "Now that your leader is dead, it is your duty to avenge him. Your blood-foes are inside. I grant you the honor of assaulting the broken west door, while my men back you up and assault the east door."
A large Jute said, "But sir, we are weary from the fighting. We have many wounds; our armor has been damaged. My helmet has been pierced. We won't be able to force an entrance."
"Oh?" said Finn. "Didn't you hurt any of those men inside? How is it they have endured their wounds? Who was the most valiant? Hnaef or Hengist? They are your enemies, but if the situation was reversed, would they whine about their hurts? Assault the hall like a warrior or you will die like a dog, here and now! If I had known that Garulf had such men serving him, I'd never have let him start this battle."
The Jute flushed and put himself at the head of his shamed men. They waited for another beam to be brought up, then Garulf's remaining Jutes, followed by Finn's Frisians assaulted the western door, while the eastern door was pounded by Frisians manning the ram.
The morning and afternoon was a disaster for Finn's Frisians and Jutes. Attack after attack proceeded as planned, but the attackers failed to gain the stone hall. While the attackers had broken down the western door, frozen blood and stacked corpses kept the attackers from gaining an entranceway there. Some attackers tried to jump over the piled corpses, but alert defenders speared them in mid-flight. Finn put more and more attackers in line to clear the door, but the most that made it through were five of Finn's best Frisian men-at-arms, who were quickly slaughtered by Hengist and his men.
The assault on the previously unbroken eastern door was even more difficult for the attackers. The rammers managed to smash the iron-reinforced oak doors into splinters eventually, but behind the door was an immobile barricade, made from wood obtained from bed furnishings and reinforced with the beam used for that morning's unsuccessful attack. Floor stones added weight to the barricade. When the door was finally shattered and the attackers pulled it down, spears flew out and killed some unwary Frisians. The ram was useless against the barricade, and anyone who tried to tear it down got a spear in his ribs. Finn's casualties mounted steadily as the day progressed. The defenders, however, suffered few casualties. Behind their barricades they were seemingly invulnerable
Finn eventually gave permission to fire his father's stone hall, the one enclosing the defenders, but the snow-covered roof refused to burn. Finn's casualties, 36 killed and 23 wounded, had occurred since he had taken command and ordered the assault that morning. Half of them were the remainder of Garulf's Jutes, with the rest of the casualties consisting of his best, most aggressive men. Then the remaining Jutes refused to fight any longer unless Finn led the next attack. Even Finn's remaining Frisian knights paused to see what their king would do next.
Finn frowned, then moved into sight of the defenders guarding the western door.
"Hengist! Are you going to stay in there, afraid of a little man-to-man combat? Why don't you come out and fight?"
Hengist moved up to the doorway and smiled. "You don't take me for a fool, do you sir? If it's a duel that you want, come inside and you can go man-to-man with me."
"You are a young man in the prime of your strength. I am an old man."
"True, but I have some wounds, sustained in today's fighting. I haven't noticed you assaulting the door."
Finn winced at that rejoinder, but went on. "Hengist, this fight need not continue. The person who wanted you dead, Garulf, has been killed. This fight killed my son and has earned me the hatred of my brother-in-law's people. I didn't want that to happen. Can't we work something out? It is to everyone's advantage that we do so. We can kill you all eventually, but at a cost that I've grown unwilling to pay."
"What are you willing to pay for peace, Finn?"
"You will have your lives, for one. I will feed you until spring, then you all go home."
"How do we know that you won't change your mind, if pressured like Garulf pressured you? No, we need to be treated with honor, fed and housed in this hall, and given the pay and privileges that you give your warriors. Anyone who brings up the past, reminding us that we have a blood-debt that remains unpaid, will have to be punished by you immediately. We won't stop fighting until you guarantee peace, a much better peace than the one broken by treachery."
"Do you speak for all inside, Hengist?" Finn asked.
Hengist glanced at Ordlaf. Ordlaf nodded and said, "You speak for Danes and Jutes. You have led us well since Hnaef died. I trust you. Negotiate for us all, Hengist."
Hengist said to Finn, "I speak for all inside. Do you agree to our peace terms? Will you swear an oath of peace to Woden, without any quibbling or reservation?"
Finn paused for a second, raised his right hand toward the sky, and said, "I swear, without reservation that these men, retainers of Hnaef, will be fed and supported like my own warriors until they are able to sail for home in spring. No one, on pain of death, is to bring up insulting words concerning this bloodshed. The dead on both sides are to be burned with honor. Those men inside may live apart in their present quarters, so that peace may be maintained. If I break this oath or allow it to be broken, may the Father of the Gods, Woden, curse myself, my family, and my country!"
"I find that acceptable," Hengist said. "We will serve you until spring. Then we shall leave. I will guarantee peace on my part, King Finn. Come, get your honorable dead. We will burn them in peace tomorrow morning."
Finn looked around at his men and ordered them to get the bodies of their dead, both Jute and Frisian. Each side got to work, collecting their dead and taking them inside so that dogs would not eat the bodies. Finn additionally ordered that separate funeral pyres for each side be established outside of town. The slain would be buried at noon after sufficient wood had been collected and kinsfolk had a chance to grieve over their dead. Finn ordered his servants to fetch sufficient food and drink to feed Hnaef's surviving men.
A slight altercation occurred when Finn claimed Frithuwulf's body.
"This is my son's body!" said Finn.
"But he died on our side, killed by Garulf," Hengist argued. "He was in Hnaef's service when he died."
"Hengist, we both want peace for the remainder of this winter. Must we fight over this boy's body?" asked Finn. "If you won't let me have my son's body for peace's sake, then let me have his body for the benefit of his mother, Queen Hildeburh."
Hengist thought, then answered, "For the benefit of his mother, and to maintain peace, take the body of your son."
The bodies of warriors on both sides were sorted out. Weapons were picked up and given to the side that had owned them. Finn's servants returned with sufficient food to feed Hengist's men for the night. Blankets were stretched over the broken doors to keep out cold air for the night. Hengist's men retired inside their hall. Finn's fighting men went to Finn's Great Hall. The townspeople dispersed to their homes.
That night Hengist had a short council with his men. Due to their protected position in the hall, only twelve men had been killed and eighteen wounded. Four were seriously wounded and might soon die, but the rest would probably pull through. Since they were picked men, champions of either King Hnaef or Hengist, their armor and shields had protected most of the warriors from serious wounds. Of those seriously wounded, it was thought that a man either lived or died, but he was expected to be quick going about either option.
"I didn't like dealing with King Hnaef's killers, but they gave us honorable terms," Hengist said. "I think that Finn will honor his oath, but it pays to make sure. We will stay together as much as possible and do nothing to endanger the peace. A watch shall be maintained at night. Now let's turn in and prepare for the morning."
The next morning, an hour before noon, the defenders went over to their respective pyre outside the southern wall of the town's palisade. Their pyre was 100 yards away from where the townspeople were to burn their dead. A cold north wind blew as Hengist's troops took their king and thirteen comrades to the pyre. Two more men had died the night before as a result of their wounds. The bodies were placed atop the wood.
Before they could light the pyre, they observed Queen Hildeburh having an argument with her husband. Queen Hildeburh seemed to be having the best of the argument because after her gesture towards a body, her servants took the body off the pyre containing Finn's dead warriors, put it on a litter, and took it, with the Queen following, towards Hengist and his men. Frithuwulf's body was on the litter. The servants stopped and Queen Hildeburh stepped forward.
"Queen Hildeburh? What can I do for you this morning?" asked Hengist.
"I want you to burn my son beside his uncle. In the presence of so many heroes, my son will take his rightful place in Valhalla. Since he died at the side of his uncle, it is fit that he stay by my brother's side forever."
"And what does King Finn have to say about this matter? I don't wish to jeopardize the peace. Won't he hate me all the more if I assent to this?" Hengist asked.
"He hates you already. But he dare not break his oath before Woden, lest he become forsworn and become known as an oath breaker before the gods and men. Please, do as I ask, Hengist."
Hengist nodded, and the servants cleared a place beside Hnaef's corpse. Then the torch was applied to the tallow-impregnated dry wood of the funeral pyre. The flames, hesitant at first, quickened, and in a minute the whole pyre was engulfed in flames.
The stink of burning human hair and flesh hit the nostrils of the men around the funeral pyre. Soon a hot blaze forced everyone a respectful distance away from the pyre. Human features crumbled, flesh fell away from inflicted death wounds. Blackened flesh clung to the bones as flesh occasionally popped over the steaming of an occasional green piece of wood. Hengist and his men stood around, looking at the fire in silence; a silence broken only by the fire's roar and whine and by Queen Hildeburh's sobbing and cries of grief.
Hnaef's body had been burned with his armor on. A spear, shield, and sword had been placed beside him. Since he had not been buried with a proper burial mound placed over his grave due to the earth's chill, these weapons placed beside him were an extravagance permitted only a king. After the fire burned out, the armor and other ironwork would be taken home and reworked by a competent smith. Hnaef's kingly sword, Hildeleoma the Battle-Bright, had not been placed by his side. Burning it would ruin the handle and destroy the temper of this sword, renowned through the Northland for the sharpness of its edges.
The rest of the dead men were burned with their mail shirts. Their armor would have to have the holes repaired by a smith anyway. He could restore any needed temper later. Most of the dead men sufficed with the addition of their personal spear and shield being burned at their side. A sword was deemed too valuable to burn.
After a couple of hours, the fire burned out. Crystallized bones collapsed at the touch, leaving a few cracked teeth in the ashes. The human ashes were collected in an urn, to be scattered in their native land. The blackened iron armor and weapons were gathered in a sack and the men to Finn's hall for a night of feasting dedicated to the memories of their dead comrades, celebrating and fighting in Valhalla. Nothing stronger than water would be served that night, so that the peace wouldn't be disturbed by drunken memories of the previous day's events.
That night, the conversation was stiff and formally polite. Everyone wanted the peace to last. Hengist sat in the place of secondary honor, at the table across from Finn, where Hnaef sat when he was alive. Garulf's surviving Jutes had been sent to the next village, several miles away. Finn was annoyed because they hadn't been able to finish what they had started. Now they might as well be out of sight where no more trouble could be caused. Queen Hildeburh turned in early. Hengist sat until the social conventions had been satisfied, and made his men stay too. When Hengist thought that all the social niceties had been fulfilled, when most of the funeral feast had been consumed, leaving only a few leftovers, he stood up and thanked King Finn for his kingly hospitality.
"I thank you, Sir, for the funeral pyres and feast that you have provided for us, your guests and armed servants. You have fed us well, now we request permission to leave your presence for the night. We await with anticipation the chance to serve you to the best of our ability, and for your next invitation."
Finn remained seated. "Any king would be pleased to have such valiant troops such as yourselves. We will have another great feast a week from now, and with better drink. You all have the freedom of my town whenever you care to see it. If I have any duties that I require of you, my warriors, I will be sure to so command."
Hengist bowed. His men trooped out, Hengist following. A servant woman closed the door behind him.
The week passed in peace. The minstrel, at Queen Hildeburh's prompting sang a romance about a king's son marrying an enemy king's daughter in order to promote peace between two hostile tribes. Later, the son-in-law killed his father-in-law when the peace couldn't be maintained, taking the hostile tribe under his rule. The wife loved both her father and husband, so she felt compelled to kill herself for the sake of honor. Some of the warriors wept at the familiar tale, whether it was because they were deeply moved or whether they cried because they hadn't had anything to drink except water for a while and were lachrymose, no one thought to inquire. The ale flowed freely, and social inhibitions were relaxed. Some of Hengist's Jutes even got up and sat next to some of Finn's Frisians.
The weeks passed. Hengist gradually became friendly with Finn. Finn had always respected Hengist, so he was open to Hengist's courtesy. Ordlaf, Guthlaf, and the rest of the Danes were reserved with Finn, but friendly to Frisians in general. The nightly watch that Hengist maintained because of fear of renewed treachery was reduced to only two men on each watch. The doors remained barred for the night, ostensibly because of the cold. With the exception of Hengist, the men took turns exploring Finnsburg, then some of the outlying villages when the weather permitted. Even the Danish brothers, the Hunlafings Ordlaf and Guthlaf, tentatively explored Finnsburg and the outlying countryside. Hengist merely walked around the town and to his ships, with his friend Eaha Cerdwulfsson, for exercise. He seldom spoke, except to give an order. With the exception of feast nights spent with Finn, Hengist sat in Folcwalda's hall and looked into the fire late at night, brooding.
Finally, after four months of snow and ice, spring showed signs of returning to Frisia. The first significant sign was ice beginning to break up in the swifter portion of the river. Soon the longboats would be freed from winter's grasp and the winter-exiled warriors could return to their homes in Jutland and the inside islands, Fyn and Zealand. Ordlaf's Danes made wagers as to what day they could go home. Ordlaf asked Hengist for a word alone. The two men went inside the hall and sat down.
"I thank you for your service to my cousin, King Hnaef. Your obligation to him ends when you go home, a free man from service. I have noticed that you sit apart from the men at night , and that you look into the fire long into the night. Do you long for vengeance from those who have slain your king?" asked Ordlaf.
"What would you have me do?" asked Hengist.
After looking around the hall and seeing that they were alone, Ordlaf went over to his bed and took out a scabbarded sword, Hnaef's royal Sword, Hildeleoma. Ordlaf then placed it across Hengist's lap. Hengist looked up at the Hunlafing brother but held his peace.
"This sword belongs to a king, killed by treachery from within his own house. His blood cries out for vengeance. It is my duty as a relative and retainer to avenge him. You were his best retainer, so you have a similar duty to perform. Strike down that crowned viper Finn and this sword and the office that comes with it will be yours!" Ordlaf urged.
Hengist pondered the matter for a second, then said, "The throne is not a thing that you can give. It must be agreed to by the Council of Nobles and Elders. But if you will support me, along with your brother, that will clear out of the way much opposition. But whether the Council approves me for King or not, the sword is mine. You will also owe me a tremendous favor that I can call upon whenever I want. Agreed?" Hengist asked.
"Agreed," Ordlaf said.
"We need to figure out how to get reinforcements into Finnsburg. One of us will remain here while the other goes home for enough men to take care of Finn and his men. Since you are related to Hnaef, you go home and get your relatives and my brother Horsa to come back here. I will pretend to be quits with you since I swore fealty to Hnaef alone and now Hnaef is dead. It will take the better part of a week to sail up the coast past Jutland to where you are settled on the islands. Then it might take a few days to inform and gather your relatives. Another week to sail back, bringing my brother here on the way back. So three weeks from when you leave, we need to make arrangements for opening the town gates. Understood?"
"So far. You say that your brother Horsa will come?"
"He will if you tell him the situation. He is a good man to have around. That is why I entrusted him with the leadership of the Jutes when I decided to serve Hnaef. In any case, tell him on the way back. Horsa can keep a secret, but I don't want this plan to get out until it succeeds. Pick him up on the way back here."
Ordlaf nodded. He was following Hengist's train of thought closely.
Hengist continued, "In any event, noise it about that we have come to a mutual parting of the ways, you and I. That since Hnaef is dead, my oath died with him, and that I wish to stay in Frisia for a little while before sailing home. We must explain my not leaving when you leave, Ordlaf."
"Very well. We Danes will leave the first day our boat can leave. That should be two weeks from now. You wait a fortnight after we leave, then send a trusted man outside the city to meet with one of my warriors, disguised as a plowman. They will meet at the large linden tree outside the town in the afternoon. The plowman will tell your man which night we will attack, most likely the same night that we arrive offshore. You and your men open the town gate. We will have our revenge on Finn. How do you think we should treat the townsfolk after we break in, Hengist?"
"Like we would treat any town that we intend to sack. We would be fools to leave anyone around who would wish to further the cycle of revenge. Let us not be like Finn, a fool who let trouble happen, and then couldn't finish the job Garulf started. A king should know that the best policy in dealing with one's enemy is to either kill him or let him be. No! Let all our enemies fear us and hesitate to first draw the sword!"
"Hengist, I agree with you, but with one exception: Queen Hildeburh has tried to keep the peace, and she never was our enemy. She is my kinswoman. She and her household except for Finn must be allowed to survive. To do otherwise will bring up demands for revenge from within our people."
"Very well. Queen Hildeburh, her children, and her servants will be spared. The rest of the town will be treated as fair game. While some will condemn us for treachery, we will ensure that none say anything aloud."
On that note, Ordlaf and Hengist stood up and clasped hands. Then Ordlaf left the hall while Hengist put Hildeleoma in a sack under the bed.
Ten, then twelve days passed. Tree buds began to grow, then swell. The river ice began to break up, finally allowing passage down river to the open sea, which due to its salt content seldom froze. Ordlaf told his Danes to prepare to leave the next morning. Finn professed sadness to see the Hunlafings leave so early, then asked Hengist if he was leaving as well tomorrow morning.
"No, sir. Not just yet. I served King Hnaef, not his relatives. I will head for home later, when the soil is ready to be turned. I am not in the mood to leave that Ordlaf and his bunch suffers from. I do have your permission to stay, do I not?"
"The custom of hospitality requires me to let you stay as long as you wish, Hengist. Do so if you wish," Finn said.
The next morning, all of Finnsburg watched the Danes leave in Hnaef's longship. Hengist and his men stood on the dock, long after Ordlaf and his men had disappeared from view. Then they went back to the town.
Two weeks passed. Hengist swore Eaha to silence, then told him to spend his afternoons loafing in the outlying fields. "Give everyone the idea that you love plowing and learning new farming methods, you wily, wolfish rascal. Pay attention to anyone standing around the big linden tree in the large clearing northeast of town. Wear your cloak with the tribal markings outside. We want the spy to recognize you for a Jute. Got your story straight, Eaha?"
"Yes, Lord. I will tell all who ask me that I am intensely interested in the plowing of strange fields."
Hengist grinned, then said, "Yes, I bet that you are. But that might not be the best way to put it. Don't wear your armor or take a shield. We are on the best of terms with our friends, the Frisians."
Five days passed. Eaha came into town at noon. He told Hengist that five ships bearing 250 men would attack tomorrow night. Till then, the ships would stay to sea, out of eyesight of the Frisian shore.
That night, Hengist informed Finn that he intended to leave for home the day after tomorrow.
"It is nearly time to start planting in Jutland. It has been a long time since I have seen home. I intend to sail at first light the day after tomorrow.
"I would like to thank you for your hospitality, King Finn. You have provided for us this winter as if we were your own people."
"We have been glad to have you here this winter. I shall be sad to see you leave, Hengist. You and your men are great warriors, men of valor. It will be difficult to replace such men.
But if you must leave for home, then go, with my blessing. May we always be friends," Finn said.
Hengist smiled politely, then lifted a horn of ale, and spoke aloud, "Men of Jutland! We sail for home at first light the day after tomorrow. Say good-bye to our friends and prepare to leave tomorrow. But for now, I drink to King Finn's health and long and glorious reign. Waes heal, Hlaford Cynyng! Health to you, Lord King! "
Finn raised his drinking horn, then said, "Drinc heil! Drink to me, then!" That was a signal for everyone to drain his horn of ale in a single gulp, if possible. After a long winter spent drinking heavily as supplies permitted, nearly all managed to do so, with the rest faking that they had emptied their horn. Then the customary feasting began.
Hengist spoke to Finn during the banquet. He didn't want too much food and drink prepared tomorrow night. They has a lot of rowing to do the next morning. Rowers with hangovers didn't row well.
"Certainly, Hengist. As you wish." Finn said. After all the drinking this winter, his supplies of old ale had become depleted, although he had plenty of barley remaining to brew more beer. If Hengist didn't want his men to drink before a hard day's work, it was no skin off his hide.
The next day Hengist's longship was prepared for the voyage home. Hengist told his warriors that he wished to speak to them all before the last banquet given in their honor. In any case, they should not eat or drink too much because he wanted them in rowing form first thing tomorrow morning. They were dismissed until then, to say good-bye to their friends and wrap up loose ends in their personal lives.
That evening, just before the banquet, Hengist closed both doors to his hall, and spoke to his assembled men, all eighteen of them. Five men had been killed the night of Garulf's attack, one man died of wounds received that night. Hengist knew the individual strengths and weaknesses of each man assembled to hear his words.
"Tonight, four hours before dawn, we leave this hall, overpower the guardsmen at the gate, and let in our countrymen who will avenge King Hnaef's death. We will sack the town, sparing only Queen Hildeburh, her children, and a few of her servants. Finn is not to be killed by any of you. I reserve that pleasure for myself. The rest of the town is yours. If you see a likely girl that you want for your own, you may reserve that particular pelf for yourself in lieu of money. But don't stop to rape or loot until we have killed all of our enemies. The weapons and armor of any enemy that you kill is yours, as is customary. All gold and silver is to be put in the common treasury and to be divided by share. You all know the penalties for disobeying these orders.
After we open the gates, we rush Finn's Great Hall and kill any opposition. I look forward to surprising Finn tonight. Are there any questions?"
No one spoke. Hengist surveyed his men, looking at each face. There was no reaction other than a few nodding of heads. These men could be trusted to carry out his orders. While each Jutish warrior had a right to speak frankly in disagreement to his king as long as he did it with respect, it seemed that each warrior agreed that this was indeed the proper thing to do.
"Good," Hengist said. "We leave tomorrow as planned. We will bring a lot of things home that we didn't plan on this fall when we came to visit. We will now attend Finn's final banquet. Don't eat too much, and definitely don't drink too much. I have come up with a reason for moderation. Remember, we are leaving tomorrow. Tell anyone who asks that you have to leave early and row hard tomorrow. Now let's attend this last banquet."
The small force of Jutes ate and drank sparingly, except for the toast to King Finn. King Finn's retainers were under no such compunction. Since their honored guests were leaving tomorrow, there would not be much reason for a lavish banquet until the spring equinox. Then they would have to do a little plowing and plan the summer campaign to defend the frontiers against the Franks. Might as well drink up tonight, then see off their guests in the morning was the common thought of Finn's men.
Hengist got up and made excuses for an early end to the banquet for himself and his men. After a final toast to King Finn's health, they left Finn's hall and went to their quarters. Finn and his men stood up when they left as a sign of respect, then both Finn and his men resumed drinking and eating. Queen Hildeburh and most of her serving women had turned in earlier and left the men to their fun.
Hengist set up two short watches. He called for volunteers for guard tonight, wanting primarily those men who didn't care to sleep before battle. Then he put Eaha Cerdwulfing in charge of seeing that the rest were awakened at the proper time.
Most of the men slept soundly, although a few were awake before the last watch awoke the men an hour before the scheduled attack. Then Hengist and his eighteen warriors spoke in low tones, waiting. Finally, well-armed and ready, Hengist at the head of his men sneaked towards the stockade gate nearest the riverside.
Taking cover in the shadows of a building, spearmen killed the two sentries guarding the gateway before they could raise an alarm. Hengist's men dragged the bodies away. Then they took possession of the gate and opened it. Eaha took out a tinderbox and started a small fire, the signal for Ordlaf's force to rush the gate from their hidden positions in the nearby forest. Within a few minutes Ordlaf and his small army appeared and were let into the town.
Not wasting any time, the attackers moved to Finn's great hall, while other groups of men led by those who had spent the winter in Finnsburg fanned out to attack private residences that contained military-age males. Since many of the houses were not barred, many of the Frisians were killed in their sleep. Some of the Frisians managed to grab weapons, but since few were wearing their armor to bed, most of them were quickly killed. The attackers killed the Frisian men and boys over twelve. Women and children were spared. Slaves were always useful to perform tasks that gentlefolk didn't care to do themselves.
The Frisian warriors in Finn's hall were asleep when Hengist's men entered the hall. They had eaten too much and drank too much ale for most of them to put up an effective fight. They were quickly slaughtered to the last men by vengeful Danes. Finn and his family were quickly taken without incident and brought before Hengist and the Hunlafing brothers.
"What is the meaning of this?" Finn demanded. "I spared your life, Hengist. I gave you hospitality. Took you into my service. And this is the way you repay me?"
"We were your guests to begin with, before you allowed Garulf to kill your brother-in-law and son. They died because of your treachery. I owe you nothing except the point of this sword!" Hengist said, drawing Hildeleoma. "Recognize this sword, Finn?"
Hengist stabbed Finn under the ribcage. Hengist pulled out the sword. Blood spurted out of Finn's belly as he collapsed and died.
Turning to Hildeburh, Hengist said, "You are to be spared and taken back to your people, the Danes. Your children will be spared as well. After we finish sacking the town, anyone that we don't want to take back as a slave to Jutland will be released in the morning."
"How could you do this to me?" Hildeburh asked. "Please, spare the town."
"Queen Hildeburh, I spared your life because you were honorable. You refused to condone your brother's death. Your son will be spared because your cousins, the Hunlafings, wish it. Frealaf might come after me later, bound by his duty to avenge his father, but I am prepared to risk this. Your town will be sacked because it had a weak fool for a king. The ruled live or die according to the capacity of their rulers. This is the nature of mankind as we know it and I neither desire nor am able to change it. May Freya protect you."
That night the town was burned. Most of the remaining men were killed. Most of the women who were not going to be sold in the slave markets as virgins were raped, depending on the inclinations of their new masters. When dawn came, the rubble was searched for valuables. Children and women were taken aboard the longships, to serve as slaves far from their native country. When the Jutes and Danes were satisfied that all of Finn's treasury had been recovered, they prepared to sail away. True to his word, Hengist released Finn's twelve-year-old son Frealaf that morning, giving him his father's armor, shield, and sword.
"Take care that you behave yourself much better than your father chose to do. I leave you in charge of your kingdom," Hengist said, pointing to the collection of old-men, middle-aged women, infants and young children weeping in the ashes of Finnsburg. He boarded the leading ship. The Danes and Jutes untied from the docks, and began rowing up the river to the sea.