The man who became Knut Rauðfeldr - he of the Bloody Cloak - grew up in a small village near the forest. No one knew his parents, as he had been found by a widowed peasant near the woods, wrapped in a ragged wolfskin and abandoned. Although his foster-father was a poor farmer, Knut always wanted to be a warrior, and it may be that his ambition made him work more than other boys to become hard and aggressive.
When he returned from his first raid, at the age of only 13, his woolen cloak was so drenched in his own blood and that of his foes that he was named Rauðfeldr, which is "red cloak," by his companions.
But the raid which made him famous was an expedition to the coast of Francia. He had convinced many vikings to accompany him, although he had at that time no great reputation. He had three of his closest friends, his fellows from other raids, and one of their hirdmen, but most of his company were bondi and archers and thralls - desperate men who had lost their lands to a neighboring Jarl and would starve if they did not find another source of wealth. One man - an Úlfheðinn - joined the raid when he heard that Knut had been wrapped in a woflskin when he was found: "A brother wolf!" he declared. Another joined their band - a wanderer - who kept himself apart until they were underway, when it became known that he was no other than Erik Flokisson, a warrior of great repute, but known for his capricious habits. He was famous for fighting without a shield, an axe in each hand. Knut was worried that the man might be unreliable, but was happy to have such a reknowned fighter among his band.
They set sail in two ships under fair skies and with a strong wind. The oracles were auspicious in their message, and spirits were high. After four days sailing they made landfall on the coast of Francia, somewhat to the south of where they had planned. Before them lay a wide estuary, the mouth of a river which a captured priest later told them was called the "Loire" in the Frankish tongue. They rowed far up the river, and reaching a shallow stretch beached their longships and moved inland. Before long, they came to a prosperous settlement. Knut was suspicious, but his men, lead by Erik Flokisson, wanted only to attack. His hand forced, they did so.
There were several houses, and a large number of animals, but few women - it looked as though the settlement had been warned, and the women and children had fled, except for one well-born lady and a priest, who had been pre-occupied when the warning came. There were some Frankish spearmen and archers, and a few peasants, but these were little threat. The only warrior was a mounted man in mail - he charged forward but was surrounded and quickly slain. All of the soldiers were put to the sword, and the village was sacked.
Some of the houses had been stripped almost bare of any wealth, but others had been abandoned in haste, and it had been a prosperous settlement: Knut and his band were very pleased with their haul. They camped, and searched the surrounding area for the missing women and children, but did not find them. Both the priest and the woman were taken prisoner. When they counted the treasure they were overjoyed - it was a huge amount of gold and silver, and so easily won! They had lost only a couple of men.
The priest had divulged the location of a monastery a short way north along the coast, and Knut decided that it was to be the next target. He had heard stories of raids on such places, where there were great treasures and few guards. They sailed down the river and up the coast, finding the monastery where they had been told it would be. In the event, it was neither as rich nor as easy as Knut had hoped.
As they advanced on the monastery, they could see the monks running in terror a for the mouth of a cave. Protecting the monks were a number of ragged men with slings, bows, spears and axes - farmers with improvised weapons. They pressed on under a hail of arrows and sling stones. As they drew close, they saw that the local lord had been alerted, and was on his way with a band of his hearth-guard: mailed warriors with swords and the Frankish kite-shields, and a look of grim determination in their eyes. These were no soft monks or peasants!
The battle became fierce, and both Erik and Knut were sorely wounded as they waded amongst their foes trading blows. Their attack was so terrifying, however, that all fled except for the enemy lord and a handful of his hearth-guards. These fought to the bitter end, but even some of them began to run when their lord was butchered by mighty blows from Erik's twin axes.
The cells of the monks contained some little gold, but the monks who had buried their real wealth had all escaped during the fighting, and Knut decided that it was best to return home: he had lost many men, although most were bondi and thralls. The berserker had also fallen. Wounded, Knut and Erik - now fast friends - returned to their ships and sailed home.
There was great celebration on their return - never had such a rich store of plunder been taken! At the feast that night, Knut was offered the hero's portion. But rather than take it, he turned to Erik and passed it to him. In this way, he became known not only as a great warrior and wise leader, but also as a man of great generosity.
Such is the tale of Knut Rauðfeldr.
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.