Segrim awoke to the sound of voices raised in alarm, his head pounding in pain and his eyes blinded by even the slim sliver of sunlight that shone between the flaps in his tent. He had drunk himself into a stupor during the night before, filling his belly with roast pig and all manner of alcohol that he could find until at last he fell asleep still wearing his shoes—and now he was left to savor the bitter aftertaste of his excesses.
Sure of a conflict, the man took a deep breath to steel himself before gingerly rising from sleep and preparing to make his way out into the open. He closed his eyes to shield them from the light and groped blindly for his helm of iron and the cap he wore underneath it. Clumsily placing both upon his head, he did not bother to waste more time tying the chinstrap of his helm. For a moment he considered putting on his looted byrnie too, but he did not think he had it in himself to work the shirt of rings over his head. Besides, he did not want to make a target if it were Saxons that had stirred the camp to commotion today. Such fine shirts were not common among the warriors save for Åse’s wealthiest followers and the lady herself, and even the dead Saxon he had looted the byrnie from had been a warrior of status—there had been a fine sword with the warrior too, but he had given that to the man who helped him kill the Saxon warrior. Still working blindly, he curled his fingers around the handle of his shield, silently praying to any who might hear him that he would not die in such an ignoble state this day. Something is amiss,
he thought as he pushed open the flaps of his tent and winced in the red light of dawn. The spectacle helm he wore did little to blot out the sun’s light, and for the battle-prowess that Segrim possessed, he was dubious of his ability to fight this hour. The air was thick with the smell of woodsmoke and all around him the sounds of battle rang in his ears, the clattering of shields and the marching of feet and the crying of men fated to die.Saxons,
he thought. Saxons for certain.
He drew his seax and brandished it, stepping out of his tent despite his dulled senses and the ache in his head, ready to struggle against any who might dare attack him. Thetford smelled like death, the battle already begun while Segrim was caught unawares. Again he thought of his shirt of rings, but he did not wish to waste any more time if the Saxons were preparing to burn the ships.
Segrim was never one to run from fighting, but he was no fool; he knew when the fighting was lost and already he had seen even the bright and decorated helmets of Åse’s housecarls approaching the ships. In the distance, one of the ships was already smoking from the Saxons’ efforts, a black plume rising into the sky above it. He ran for the strand, cutting down what enemies he could in the chaotic conflict, shoving through the returning Saxon army and leaping over both the bodies of the slain and dark puddles of blood.
One Saxon had nearly struck Segrim in the side, but an ally had knocked the spear away and Segrim replied with a thrust to the Saxon’s throat—but then another Saxon came with a bloody axe, killing him who had saved Segrim’s life and biting deep into Segrim’s shield. Fearful of fighting in his half-blind state, Segrim had dropped the shield behind him and cursed himself broke from the fighting. Again he ran from the Saxons, once stumbling over the corpse of one of the first men to enter Thetford’s church but soon scrambling for the shore again.
Segrim grew desperate as more of the Danish ships burned, wading and then swimming through the water at the end though he feared for his seax’s blade in the salt-sea. At last he climbed over the edge of a longship, panting heavily as he slipped his iron helm from his head and set it down, looking out among his companions as he made a grim count of the survivors he knew. He could hear the Saxons crying out for their victory on the shore, but he focused on those still alive around him and their escape from the slaughter.
The Saxons had arrived well-armed and powerful and it was only through desperate struggle that the Danes had managed to escape, much less Segrim. Perhaps White Christ’s power sent them here,
Segrim mused, but he did not linger long on the thought for it only reminded him of the jaws of hell and the crimes he had committed back home. Besides, if what Kjartan had promised was still true, they would soon be far from that home; far from the demesnes of Christ and of the Norse gods both as they ventured into the unknown. Whatever gods ruled the West, he prayed that they would not look unkindly upon him and that under their protection, even the mighty hand of White Christ could not reach him.
But theirs would be a long journey, and even now Segrim feared that things would not be as he hoped, that the Saxon attack was but the first of a long line of punishments set out for him by whichever god ruled his fate now. As good of a warrior as Segrim may have been, he was no match for their mighty powers and he dreaded the cursed life of an exile that Semund had told him of; he recalled the exile of the nithing Cain and the unending punishment the mighty Measurer had cursed him with. Segrim grew sick at the thought, stumbling away from his fellow sailors and taking a deep breath to steel himself, but it was to no avail—his nausea quickly overcame him and he thrust his head over the gunwale, hurling a mixture of beer and putrid bile into the waters of the river Thet.