There are some men whom you can trust to be rocks, steadfast in any storm the world will throw at them. Such a one was Gado, the son of the king of the Vandals. He scorned to be confined to his native boundaries. He had become battle hardened and skilled in hunting so now he wanted to go out into the world and know everything. He was just at that age that separates boyhood from manhood, perhaps the happiest time of all.
He came to England, where he met Offa, who was then king. This was the time when the Vikings were beginning to look at Offa’s lands with greed in their hearts. The Viking leader at the time was known as Cunnanus because he was so ugly that his midwife, on first looking at him, is said to have remarked, “By Odin, the child looks like a cross between a cunt and an anus.”
The Vikings were of the opinion that they should have the resources of Britain but were concerned by the reports they had heard of Gado’s prowess. But then word came to them that Gado, in his continual search to win honour, was away fighting in France and that it had gone badly with him and he had been killed. This gave them heart. They decided to invade, greedy for English spoils.
But we should never take gossip for granted. Even as the Vikings were setting off on their invasion Gado was preparing to return to Offa. Adverse winds prevented his arrival until after the enemy had landed but Gado, on hearing the news, went straight to meet Offa outside Colchester, where he had advanced with his army; a blessed place because it was here that St Helena had found the true cross.
The Vikings were amazed when they saw Gado approaching with a hundred horsemen. Cunnanus, alarmed, cursed his advisers who had got him into this position. Gado approached the Viking leader under a flag of truce.
“Do you come in peace?” he called.
“What is that to you?” replied Cunnanus. “You, who can never stay at home; do you come in peace when you are forever searching for quarrels that don’t concern you.”
“Yes, I come in peace, for I bring peace to the innocent. A hunter up of quarrels? You are right, for I do diligently seek them and I resolve them.”
The Vikings were filled with fear and wonder but remained determined to take the town. Offa stationed all but five hundred of his best men in the centre of Colchester. He sent Gado and his chosen men to the main gate where the first attack could be expected. Swein, the nephew of Offa, was given command of the other gate.
The Vikings, seeking to avoid a confrontation with Gado, chose this gate to attack but Swein resisted the attack with such determination that the Vikings feared they had made a mistake and attacked Gado instead. Swein repulsed two charges by the marauders, although almost half his men were also killed.
When he could see another assault preparing Swein sent word to Gado, asking for his help but Gado was loath to weaken his own position in case this was just a ruse and told Swein to sort out the danger himself. Swein, blushing that he had asked for help and it had not come, charged the Vikings, scorning to live, until Gado, in pity, ordered him to retire.
This Swein did, retreating to the centre of town where Offa waited. The Vikings swarmed through the gate like a great rush of water, sure of victory but they were met in the square by Offa and they dashed themselves against a firm barrier.
Gado, seeing that the climax of the battle had come, made a sortie out of his gate and took the Vikings from the rear. He was like a sickle in a reed bed, leaving a line of dead behind him wherever he went and soon that number included Cunnanus. With their leader dead and finding themselves surrounded the Vikings surrendered. It was agreed that they would be given ships to take themselves and their dead back home. Gado was richly rewarded by Offa and was made one of the great lords of the English.