Sunday, 27 January 2013

Stamford Bridge

There is an unattested story that, during the Battle of Stamford Bridge, one giant Norseman delayed the entire English army at the bridge, killing many, until a man from the other side floated down the river to underneath where he was standing and stabbed him from below. In The Sign Of The Raven (New York, 1980), Poul Anderson makes this giant Viking a real person, Gunnar Geiroddsson, whose story had been carefully prepared, starting in the previous volume. Unaccountably, en route to England, Gunnar threw his ship's cage of chickens into the sea during a storm, explaining afterwards that this was a sacrifice to Ran.

Harald, who has been the central character throughout  the trilogy, falls at last:

"Thunder and night rolled over him." (p. 265)

- and Anderson neatly summarises what happened to the survivors afterwards. If Harald had defeated Harold, then William, - no mean feat -, then his wife would have become the first Queen Elizabeth of England.

In 1088, Elizabeth, now an Abbess back home in Kiev, hears from a visitor, Jon Ulfsson, how Norway has been changing: towns; trade; guilds; churches; chimneys; glass windows; fine clothes. She pronounces that:

" 'The old North died at Stamford Bridge.' " (p. 281)

- and, when Jon leaves, she listens:

"...till the hoofbeats faded into stillness." (p. 282)

- a haunting conclusion.

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