Empty Triumphs

SYNOPSIS: The Baltic (985-6). Ethelwulf the Wanderer and his company arrive in the court of the aged Harald Bluetooth in Denmark. Along with the giant Thorgrim the Short, Ethelwulf is persuaded to help a Wendish tribe plundered by the mysterious Sons of Hel. There follows the horrors of pagan rites, the treachery of a king and then the enforced recruitment into the forces of Styrbjorn, claimant to the Swedish throne. The attempt is a disaster and Ethelwulf has to somehow slip away without the slur of ‘niddering’.
With extensive Factual End-Notes.
EXTRACT:  'Then he heard a sound to his left and stopped breathing, merging into the trunk of the ash tree which had given initial shelter. Again a sound, and then came a figure, black-cloaked, creeping along the ground with eyes on the abandoned boats. Ethelwulf waited till the figure was two yards away; then he moved, so quickly the figure could only turn its face before a hilt smashed its nose to a bloody mess. With a grunt the figure slumped forward. Ethelwulf grabbed the unconscious form with his free hand, with his arm curled around the throat of the helpless man he stepped out into the open and dragged his way towards the closest dying ember. He’d not gone two yards before a spear flew out from somewhere and buried itself in his living shield. The unconscious form jerked in protest and sagged even more against his body; now there was the added weight of a spear dangling towards the ground. Ethelwulf was sinking to one knee with this increased burden as a figure left the sheltering forest with a fiendish battle-cry. At the last moment Ethelwulf pushed his dead shield towards the new attacker and prepared to defend himself. Just then an arrow struck the arm of the black-haired opponent who yelped with pain and hesitated in mid-stride. Ethelwulf thrust out his sword at the attacker and a spear struck the ground next to him as he crabbed his way to the left. The Wanderer automatically turned to face the new attack and his opponent seized his chance; with a scream the black-haired warrior launched himself at the Saxon leader. Ethelwulf was knocked off his feet as the figure smashed into him, forcing him to drop his sword. He could feel rotting breath as both men rolled in the mud; furiously Ethelwulf punched at the side of the head of battle-crazed brute as he felt a sharp pain in his side. With a vicious drive of his knee he felt the exultation of striking home into the guts of a Son of Hel. As the man shrunk back, in a dream Ethelwulf managed to retrieve his weapon which cut into the warrior's throat. Blood spurted out as if to welcome the blow and without a sound the man rolled over.'
END-NOTE EXAMPLE:  52. The rainbow bridge linking Midgard & Asgard which would crumble as the enemies of the gods crossed it for the final conflict.

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