August 12, 903. 8000 Norsemen embarked on hundreds of ships, launching the largest invasion since the Sons of Loðbrok descended on England some 36 years earlier. They came aground in Holland, daring the armies of Queen Irmengarde to meet them on even ground. Like thunder, the hooves of the Frankish knights bore down on Ragnarr's men. They had never seen a true, united, Southern army such as this, always having raided and been away before forces could muster. A devastating charge of the Karling vanguard forced them to abandon the center, falling back to the sea.(opens in new tab)
The battle of Dorestad was the bloodiest the Northmen had ever seen, and while they managed to seize victory with a series of clever, last-minute maneuvers, it came a the cost of nearly 3000 men—over a third of their host, whisked away to Valhall over several days of fighting. Ragnarr acknowledged that these Franks were true warriors, and he would not underestimate them again. Yet still, the Franks had lost just as many, and fled the field as the ground drank the blood of both sides.
As the Norsemen regrouped to take the nearby islands, intriguing news arose. With Queen Irmengarde's armies shattered, the ambitious Duchess Agaete of Holland had forced her liege's hand, winning Holland's independence from Lotharingia. Ragnarr grinned wickedly. He now longer had to deal with the armies of a vast, Karling kingdom. Only a single Frisian noblewoman, and whatever peasant army she could muster.
Inevitably, the Frisians rose to defend their home, and were set upon by Ragnarr's remaining forces. Whereas Dorestad had been the closest confrontation they ever faced, The Battle of Haarlem in November of 904 was the most lopsided. Without the Frankish knights to support them, 3300 of the enemy fell to the fierce, northern host. Only some 500 of Ragnarr's men were lost. King Ragnarr found the wounded, Frisian commander on the battlefield afterward to accept his surrender.
"You are brave, Frisian," he is said to have told his enemy, "And your people followed the True Gods of the North once. Follow me, and help me find this cave of wisdom, and you may yet earn a chair in Valhall."