In Praise of Byrhtnoth

By Lord Janos Katona

Panta’s foam plied our prows;

Sails sated by Njord’s breath,

Calm currents carried us

To light on land, sheltered

By shallow sea from strike.

On Saxon shores, our band

Sought not turmoil or strife!

We wished but wealth, to wed

Their bounty, take our bite

And demand our dividend.

Boldly bid Olaf, but

Byrhtnoth denied our due,

Defied us our Danegeld,

Our gold and guarding garb

And flared his fangs to fight!

Paid they their prosperity,

The women of their warriors

Would weep not as widows!

Warm would be their bedding,

Full families still forged.

But over-heart made Byrhtnoth bold,

The pay he offered paltry:

Spear tips and sword blades,

Tendered not as tribute

But thrust forth as a threat.

Tide turned, transformed water

To land, led our legion

To lay them low, to meet

Their mettle with our might

And bring fury to our foes.

Byrhtnoth brought his brigade:

Bare peasants with pikes!

But fierce was the fighting

Their devotion to duty

Full equal to our own.

Olaf, blood boiled by battle

Begged a boon of Byrhtnoth.

“Grant us a gap aground,

For greater is the glory

You will find from your foes!”

And Byrhtnoth, bold and brave

Gave grant to Olaf’s ask!

To Saxon soil we strode

Full forceful in fighting,

With steel and soldiers matched.

Now commenced the killing!

Warriors wielded wounds.

In the pow’r of the press

Byrhtnoth did fall, bloodied,

Thus reborn in Valhalla!

Their leader lost, foes fled!

Ranks ran, returned to homes

To cower from our clout!

Their backs bared, braying as they

Huddled low on horses.

But the field was not forgone!

Still Saxons stood, swords drawn!

Faces ferocious, they fought!

Loki could let them live.

Freja could recast the runes.

But Asgaard meddled not with men,

Nor stayed the fight afield.

Granted we their grave-lust

And began their journey to join

Their leader in new life.

At Viking we were victors,

Won the Warriors’ Way.

But those who dare defy our might

Pay passage through the gate

Of eternal meat and mead.

Originally published in The Clarion, July 2014