Gunnar was born in the settlement of Avaldsnes on the west coast of Norway, to parents who were prosperous from their farms and from the raids which brought both wealth and thralls to work the land. When he was only fifteen, Gunnar's father Axel was killed by a bear while hunting in the woods, and Gunnar became the head of his family. Gunnar was ambitious to prove that he was as good a warrior as his father, and made plans to sail across the sea to Francia, where he had heard tales of rich plunder and soft men.
That spring, Gunnar assembled his war band for the raid, with his father's companions, veterans of many voyages, and his best friend Sven and the other young men of the village, eager to prove themselves. He took also some of his most trusted thralls. It was not a large band, but it was sufficient, and Gunnar owned ships enough to carry them across the sea.
Shortly before they departed, a group of three strange warriors approached the farm. They were filthy and dressed in the skins of bears, and they brought Gunnar his father's skull, which they had taken from the cave of the bear who killed him. Among them was a woman, armed like the men, and accompanied by a fierce woflhound. These were Berserkers - those who became the bears they resembled in battle, fighting utterly without fear. They asked Gunnar if they could join his raiding party, to atone for his father's death. Gunnar was happy to have them.
Their passage across the seas to Francia was uneventful - the weather was calm and the wind steady. They arrived on the coast, and began sailing along it. Soon, they spotted a settlement on the coast from the smoke of hearth fires rising into the sky. They landed and found a rich farmstead, defended only by a few poorly armed men. As they attacked, an alarm was sounded, and it was not long before the local lord came with his mailed soldiers, riding a massive horse.
It was too late - Gunnar and his band were able to easily beat their weak foes and plunder the village before being chased back to their boats by the lord and his soldiers, leaving burning cottages and barns behind them. The plunder was incredible to Gunnar - he and his band would be rich!
Sailing further along the coast, they came across a man fishing in a small boat. When captured, he told them of a rich compound not too far inland. There was great wealth there, but it was guarded by many armed men. When pressed, the man explained that there was a back entrance which was rarely watched. Gunnar and his band could sneak into the compound and surprise the defenders before they knew anything was happening. The fisherman would show it to them in exchange for his freedom.
The compound was a short march inland, but everything was as the fisherman had said. They slipped into the compound beneath a shower of arrows, attacking the guards who were spread around the perimeter, watching from their places on the walls. The attack was not sudden enough, however, and two of the berserkers were slain despite their bravery, including the shield-maiden, whose fierce dog refused to leave her side even after she had fallen. Soon Gunnar and his band retreated back the way they had come, heading for their boats - this was too strong a force to overcome!
As they retreated to their boats, however, they found that the lord and his men had come with mailed soldiers and many archers to cut them off. It was a fierce battle, and Gunnar and his band took the lives of many, but many were slain in return. Impressive feats of arms were performed on both sides, with many soldiers running in fear when they saw the heads of their companions taken from their bodies with a single stroke. Among the cowards was the enemy lord, who fled in terror, shouting something about his horse bolting uncontrollably. None were weak enough in the head to believe his lies.
Gunnar had nearly reached his boats when he saw that not all of his companions had gotten away from the enemy. Turning back, he returned to the fight, slaying dozens of his foes. At length, almost all his warband lay dead upon the field among a heap of their slain enemy, save only Gunnar, one of his father's brave companions, and the last of the Berserkers. Chased by a small group of the Frankish soldiers, they reached the ships. Setting all but one alight, they fled to sea, glad to be alive, but full of grief for their fallen. Still, they would be rich beyond belief when they arrived home, and what stories they would have for the skalds to sing!
But the Norns decreed that it was not to be. A huge storm blew up, and with so few to man the oars, and those wounded, Gunnar's ship was driven onto the rocks on the coast of Francia. All of the treasure was lost at sea when the ship sank under the waves, and the three survivors washed up on the shore. They pulled themselves together and ventured along the coast until they found a village. Here, there were many boats, but also many guards. Following Gunnar's lead, they snuck through the village to steal a ship, but were soon spotted. Gunnar died from the many spear-thrusts of the Frankish guards, as did his father's old war-brother, but I was only wounded, and survived.
My bear-skin and sword were taken, and I spent many years chained to a plough. At length, my body and spirit broken, I accepted the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and was allowed to retire to the monastery of St. Rougecourt, where I write this tale by candlelight, my vision failing and my body soon to follow.
Such is the tale of Gunnar Axelsson.
An account of a Vikingar campaign, based on the Ravenfeast rules by Little Wars TV. Photo courtesy of Wargames Tonight. Written by Arofan Gregory. Copyright (c) 2021. All rights reserved.