Spears, shields and spells

This week I’ve finished developing a Norse-sounding military hierarchy for my books. It’s  loosely based on very early (BC) armies — Roman, Greek, Etruscan, and what little we know about how the Norse / Vikings fought. I also made a lot up 🙂

My base military unit is a pair of warriors: a shieldbearer (front line) and a spear-wielder (second line). Two pairs of these warriors are the next biggest “formation.” There are 10 pairs of warriors in a shieldwall (if they’re making a square). The length of the line varies by terrain/tactics as does its depth. Every warrior also carries hand-to-hand weapons: mostly axes and long knives (seaxes), but there a few swords here and there (mostly used by Jarls).

Pure archers are a part of each Aesir (and Jotunn) warband, but about half of my “spears” are proficient enough with bows that they can switch if necessary. Each warband also has at least one healer who has been trained at Baldr’s academy (my invention).

The Aesir also have baresarkers (berserkers) but they are very few in number — these are elite, magically empowered warriors who report directly to the Alfather or Almother. Several baresarkers figure prominently in my first book.

I’ve organized my armies into warbands. Currently, each one is ~105 people strong. It is led by a Hersir and there is a short chain of command down to the warrior who’s in charge of each wall. I’ve tried to account for all the other duties that must exist — signals/comms, cooks, guards, latrine, smiths, etc. There are no independent/pure archer or cavalry warbands (among the Aesir and Jotunn).

To make things easier (for me and my readers), I’ve assumed that the basic military structure is the same for Jotunn and Aesir — despite a few key differences. The Vanir and Alvar fight differently, though, as do the Svartalvar.

The Aesir have three basic military groups:

  • Garrisons: Comprised of older men and women along with those young boys & girls who are learning about military life before they are compulsorily enrolled in the army. In my fictional culture, everybody learns how to fight. Most don’t end up doing that professionally, though.
  • Army: The largest fighting body of Aesir, led by Tyr and Ullr. It is comprised of multiple warbands. Their main job is border protection and internal security along the roads. These warbands are on their way to becoming more specialized (e.g.,. cavalry only, archers only, etc.).
  • Einherjar “Those who fight alone”: This is my elite fighting force — and are an important part of the story. To become Einherjar a warrior has to distinguish him/herself on the battlefield. Over time, and particularly since Odin went wandering in my book’s backstory, the Einherjar have grown large and begun to sprawl. (My Einherjar are not (yet) those you know from myth.)

All three of the above groups use horses (everyone knows how to ride) to get from one place to another, but they typically dismount to fight. They will also use ships to get from place to place, when possible.

Jotunn warbands are called “vegr.” That’s the Old Norse word for “road” or “way.” When speaking of death, the Old Norse would often say “he/she is on the road to Hel.” That phrase translates to Helvegr — which I thought  would be a cool name for a military group. So, all the Jotunn warbands are called XYZ-vegr. Helvegr is the best of them all and it is led by Beli.

The vegr are roughly the same size as Aesir warbands (about 105 warriors), with a few important differences. Namely:

  • The Jotunn use shaman who double as healers. The Aesir don’t have the same level of access to magic as the Jotunn do. For reasons.
  • Jotunn shaman also picked up a couple tricks from the Alvar and Svartalvar and the magic they use which allows the Jotunn to control wildlife.
  • And since the Jotunn don’t have access to horses, their shaman have figured out another way to move about Utgard’s vast desolation.

The people in my books refer to magic as “seidr.” In actuality, seidr is a sub-type of magic, but it’s the most common type. Seidr is what Odin learned from Freyja. But, Odin knows other types of magic: galdr, necromancy, runes & shapeshifting to name a few.

Each type of magic allows the practitioner to do certain things, assuming they have a power source. I show that power source being used in multiple different ways and I show the POV running out of that power source. Acquiring more is an involved process that I show Odin engaged in about mid-way through the book.

Note: Odin and others, including the Jotunn, use one type of power source, but Freyja (and the Svartalvar) have figured out other ways to power their magic. This becomes a thing in future books.

Certain practitioners only use certain types of magic — e.g., Freyja only uses seidr — but Odin uses them all (he is the Father of Enchanters, after all). Some don’t have any magic at all, like Frigg, but she uses items created from seidr. Thor is a hybrid (over which I’ll pull mystery’s shroud), but the visible source of his power are three Svartalvar-crafted implements: hammer, gloves and belt.

Overall, my magic system has rules and my characters use magic to do things important to the plot. In my initial books, the characters all take magic for granted so I don’t spend much narrative time explaining it — just enough to make sure the reader knows what’s happening and what the rules are.

There’s a lot more I could write about the magic system & how I developed it, but I think I’ll wait on that until I get some commentary back from beta readers of the line-edited book. Gamers are really good at figuring out what works and what’s broken.


New fantasy author working on the first book in series inspired by Norse myth.

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