Knut Hallgrimson the Black Visits Essex

When fields freeze hard it's time to board
our sleek longships, skim across the sea
to English shores, a banquet table
where I'll feast on food and slaughter --
no man's my equal, none have more
of wandering Odin One-Eye's favour.

I lead our men ashore through reeking
swamps and mist this wintry morning,
wade with care through reeds and half-light,
seek a solid path to firmer land:
icy fingers clutch at ankles,
bog-sprites tug me down
in English slime.

My sister's son, closest kinsman,
slips off the narrow track I've found
and starts to sink fast
in the mire: despite blood-ties
I cut his cries off quietly, quickly
at the neck lest he should wake
some Saxon scout in wait
behind the sedge, some man
who's slain no more than midges
in the summer months.

We take the foolish levies sleeping,
fall on them in roaring tides, a flood
of hard-eyed men, drench the field
with blood -- my sword drinks deep
as Danish iron bites through their ranks
until they break and run, all except
some gaunt black crows, their priests,
who bear no arms but wave a cross of twigs,
curse us in some tongue of evil omen:
I choke their spells off, send their souls
to everlasting darkness, ice and cold.

I've no fear of death -- when my time comes
I'll join a band of bolder men to take my share
of golden rings from Odin's hands
in fair Valhalla's high-peaked hall,
stand with the Gods, fight their foes
until the world's consumed in flames
at Ragnarök, the end of days. 

But now the pickings of this land await
our easy harvest.  The season's work
has now begun.



© David Nourse 2010


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