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28mm Viking Skirmish action by Mike Proudlock

In the year 750 the king of a small realm in SW Norway died without heir during the winter. As the news of his death spread and the winter snows melted, his Jarls began to plot how they could become his successor, particularly the brothers Thorald and Thorbrand who felt they had the best claim by blood.

A Thing was called to discuss the succession. Most of the Jarls attended with their followers, although Jarls Svein and Thorald did not appear. At the instigation of Jarl Ragnar, Jarl Thorbrand persuaded the Thing to declare Svein outlaw on various trumped up pretexts, including insult to the Thing by not attending such an important asembly, but really intending to seize his lands and divide them between himself and Ragnar. With Svein outlawed, a raid was planned against him by Ragnar and Thorbrand, supported by the other two Jarls, Olaf and Thorir who were to be rewarded by the any spoils from the raid.

Skirmishing near the village

The combined forces of the 4 Jarls were spotted by Svein's men as they approached a small 's settlement on his lands and near to the border with Thorbrand's holdings, and he evacuated the women, children and cattle from the threatened settlement while he prepared to defend his lands with his assembled forces. Unbeknownst to his enemies, he had allied with Thorald, who had arrived with some of his Hirdmen and were just outside the threatened settlement.

Geography was not kind to either defender or attacker, with a swift-flowing and deep stream running through the village, in full spate with the spring melt, and only crossable at a single ford in the village. Svein arranged his troops with a small holding force on the south side of the stream and his main shieldwall to the north, ready to move as necessary to meet the attackers, but intending if possible to fight the main action defending the ford so that he would have the advantage against the larger number of opponents. The attackers, meanwhile, deployed exclusively on the south side of the stream and advanced in several lines on the greatly outnumbered defenders.

Defenders at the ford

Svein's men drew first blood with his two archers and a slinger killing one of Ragnar's Hirdmen with their first shots, and wounding one of his archers. It was clear, however, that they could not hold against the number of men advancing on them so, while trying to inflict as many casualties as possible, they started to fall back towards the ford. One of Svein's archers was hit before he could move and lagged behind his comrades. The remaining archer and the slinger tried to provide covering fire as the wounded man struggled to his feet and ran across the field towards them, pursued by Ragnar in person, who tried to run him down. The wounded man managed to get away as Ragnar scrambled over the stone wall, but stumbled on the ploughed land and fell. Ragnar, isolated and without cover was a tempting target for the missile troops, and an arrow quickly whistled past his ear while a slingshot actually hit him, although he was saved by his armour. Seeing the jarl advancing rapidly on them, and under fire from enemy archers, the archer and slinger fell back rapidly, leaving their injured comrade to be slain by Ragnar as he struggled to get to his feet.

Before they could cross the far field wall, Svein's archer was shot down by one of Ragnar's men, but an arrow from one of Thorbrand's men just missed Ragnar. Thorbrand afterwards protested vehemently that this was an accident and a risk of war, but Ragnar, always suspicious of his rivals, was not convinced that it was not a deliberate attempt to remove another rival for the throne.

Fighting at the ford

Ragnar and Thorbrand's men were rapidly lapping around the north side of the field, threatening to cut off Svein's remaining men. To give their lighter equipped friends time to escape, the other men on their side of the stream charged into the advancing enemy. For two of these men the fight was brief and bitter. One died immediately on the sword of his opponent, the other, more heavily armoured, man was pushed back and then fell under a flurry of blows. This left a single, lightly protected Bondi to hold the flank as the surviving slinger started to cross the ford. Outnumbered and with no expectation of reinforcement, Svein's man attempted to break off and get to the safety of the ford and the main body. As he turned, he was wounded by one of his opponents meaning they were able to catch him just before he entered the ford. Turning at bay, he was attacked by three men, but survived their onslaught, defending himself valiantly although his spear was shattered. He managed to avoid further attacks as he attempted to draw his sword, forcing two of his opponents back, although suffering a further wound in the process, and then attacked his third tormentor, forcing him back enough to have a chance to break for safety, although at the cost of his sword that was knocked from his hand and spun into the river. Impressed by his courage and fighting spirit, his assailants stood back and allowed him to make his way safely to the opposite bank. During this fight, however, the slinger had been less fortunate, almost making it across before he was hit and killed by a long-range arrow shot.


Svein's troops, reinforced by Thorald's men, had formed a shield wall on their side of the stream and were ready to repulse the attackers. Thorbrand, however, decide to use his missile troops, now opposed only by a few thralls with javelins, to torment his enemy and force them to move. Unable to afford many missile casualties in the face of so many opponents, Svein and Throrald launched an attack across the ford, with the lines meeting in the stream. Limited by the width of the ford, Thorbrand was unable to use his superior numbers to surround the defenders, although after the incident with the arrow, Ragnar ad his men had decided to seize some of the plunder available in the southern part of the village. Olaf and Thorir meanwhile had slowly been advancing around the southern edge of the village and were only now getting anywhere near the fighting.

The clash of shields

The fighting in the river surged backwards and forwards, with injured men at risk of drowning, especially if armoured, if they fell in the swift flowing waters. Thorald was hard pressed for a while on the right of the line, being pushed back to the North bank, while the other end of the line pressed forward onto the South bank, cutting their way through the attackers. With the fight in the balance and causalities mounting, Ragnar decided to get into the fight, throwing himself into battle in the centre next to Thorbrand. Thorbrand himself, having disposed of one opponent, found himself facing an opponent with a Danish axe and was rapidly pushed back to the south bank then further back towards the village, losing first his sword then his seax as well as receiving a light wound. Unarmed, and being pressed by his foe, Thorbrand decided to break off, successfully escaping from the fight and running for safety, an act clearly visible to many of his men, Olaf and Thorir and their men.

In the river, Ragnar found himself face to face with Svein, and a fierce fight ensued, brought to an abrupt end when Ragnar's unusual fighting style with a weapon in each hand, enabled him to plunge his seax into Svein, killing him instantly.

Ragnar strikes Thorbrand runs


With Svein's fall, Throrald decided to withdraw, taking Svein's surviving men with him. The victors were able to plunder the village and Thorbrand left a small garrison to hold the newly captured territory.

Thorald took Svein's family under his protection, and as a consequence gained effective control of the remainder of Svein's lands, much to his brother's disgust. Svein's sons declared a blood feud against Ragnar to avenge the death of their father, and started planning how to seize back their captured land from Thorbrand. The eldest does need, however, to persuade the Thing to instate him as Jarl in place of his father, which may be a challenge given the power of the other Jarls, incluing Thorald who has little incentive to give up the territory he has gained.

Throbrand will have to do something to repair his reputation after being seen, however justifiably, to run from battle.

Olaf and Thorir might have cause to be concerned about how their lack of involvement in the fight until the very end might be seen by both Ragnar and Thorbrand, and any actions that might result.

Ragnar, after the incident with the arrow from behind, feels he has reason to be suspicious of Thorald and his ultimate intentions, and to take appropriate precautions.

The scene is set for more fights for the skalds to sing about in the great halls….

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