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From: Antony Bradbury
Remote Name: 188.8.131.52
The messenger arrived at the ships, almost at the time that Hardrada was killed. He sought for and found Eystein Orri sharpening his weapons on a stone.
“Sire, Harold Godwinson has engaged the King in battle. The King requires you to come at all speed with your armour and weapons.”
Orri looked toward his men and related the message. They to a man were eager to engage the Saxons. They had been sitting about on the ships awaiting the call. Dropping their rope repairs, leather cutting and bone carving, they almost fell over each other in an attempt to get off their ships.
“Gather your shields and weapons. We will be off to do battle at once. Sergeants, see to it that the men are ready to march. It is going to take us a while to get there, so bring plenty of water; it is hot.” Orri called to the sergeants. The men did not need any coaxing.
“Where is Olaf?”
“I’m here Eystein.” Olaf rested himself on an oar whilst chewing grass and taking in the warm Sun.
“Did you hear the news? Asked Orri.
“Yes, father will be just fine, he just needs a back up to make sure we are in full control of the situation.”
“Like shit he does! They have next to no armour, and only half the men he needs to make battle. You stay here Olaf, in case the very worst happens. I want you to be ready to sail at a moments notice.”
“That’s fine by me Eystein, you go get your head chopped off; you’re the warrior. I’m just a prince of the realm, what do I know of such things?”
“Stop buggering about Olaf, this is serious stuff. Your father is obviously in deep shit and you make light of the situation.”
Turning to his sergeants, Orri called. “Are you and your men ready? Well, let’s make a move.”
The men walked for nearly three hours across country to save time, not following Harald’s route. The sun was hot, very hot; the men sweating and carrying all their armour plus extras for the men ahead, little knowing that, not one of their countrymen had survived the last few hours. The flies buzzed and the mosquitoes bit. The men were hot and bothered. There was not a tree. No shade to be had. Many of the men used their shields to protect themselves from the hot sun.
At last, they reached the site of the previous battle. All was quiet; too quiet, it was almost supernatural. Orri stopped the advance taking stock of what was before him.
“What have we got?” Thought Orri, “There must be signs of life somewhere.” Then he spotted a very large formation of warriors around the Land-Ravager banner. He felt a great relief at the sight of Harald’s pennant and smiled, becoming a grin as he turned to admire his warriors. “We are in time. Follow me to the Land-Ravager.” Ordered Orri, his arm pointing in the general direction of the standard.
The men grouped in file five abreast. They marched onward into the trap that other men would not have fallen for given good intelligence ahead. Then Orri spotted the pile of corpses four feet high to his right. He could not distinguish one body from another. The men moved on toward the Land-Ravager, closer still. Orri realised they had been tricked; the bodies were all that was left of Hardrada’s fighting army. It was too late, a superior force that had full advantage of the land, forces and the situation that surrounded them. A trumpet sounded. With a rush, Brithnoth’s men came from behind the bank and stormed down the slope towards Orri and his men. Ulf and his men threw down the Land-Ravager and marched toward Orri’s meagre force, which, by now, realised they had to make a defensive stand. Harold’s force came from the front, cutting off any forward movement or escape.
“Form a circle, lock shields and keep tight.” Instructed Orri. The shield wall formed around their leader. The men knew they had to tough it out. They were not going to give in to anyone. Again, the men began to chant; their natural fears put aside as the adrenaline flowed in the veins of each man. They began banging their shields and chanting their mantras, psyching themselves into frenzy.
“Sergeants, keep it tight at all times, no matter what happens, we can get out of this, but we need time.” Called Orri, full in the knowledge they were now surrounded. He knew too, that to surrender would mean disgrace for all his men. It was a case of fight and die, simple as that.
Slowly the Saxon warriors moved forward to within feet of the shield wall, tempting the men to rush at them and break the wall of solid interlocking shields. Taunts from the Saxons were echoed in kind by replies from the Norse men within. Harold thought that the only option was to rush the wall with full weight and force, they may, perhaps, break through. Harold had an idea brewing; he had a grin as wide as a barn door at the thought. He had some men come to him, and gave them particular orders. The chosen men then returned the ranks. A few moments later, the Danish were astonished to see men standing above them using the shields of their comrades. Then, with a gush, streams of urine pored from above, soaking the men in the shield wall. Up came a shield here and there to defend against the piss from the bloodied men above. Harold’s men rushed the wall, breaking it with vigour.
“Stand fast! Stand fast!” Orri called, “We can defeat these men if we stand fast!” Orri took a blow on the helmet from a sword but managed fend off the next blow, killing the man before him with a straight thrust of his sword.
The fighting began in earnest, as before. The battle was fierce, each man killing his nearest enemy until at last there was a general route of the extremely tired defenders. The Saxons fought like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Orri’s men began to scatter, being hacked down by the Saxon battle-axe. They became vulnerable targets. Many took to the water behind them, only to drown as their armour and jupons became a soaking mass. The river turned red with the blood of the dead and wounded defeated Norsemen. Eystein Orri fought on, until, he too was brought down by a blow from a Saxon battleaxe. His eyes bulged as the blow struck his chest, slicing through his mail armour. He fell to his knees; on his lips came the sound of ‘Maria’. As he gurgled, he saw his ancestors in Valhalla. His last word before blackness overcame him was ‘duty’. His head rolled from his body from a second blow from a Saxon battle-axe. Eystein Orri had indeed done his duty to his King. Once more, the ground was flooded with the blood of the Saxon and Norse dead. Just as darkness was closing, not one Norseman was left standing. There was now silence as finally the battle halted. The only sounds were a few moans from wounded men, many of both sides dying or pitifully wounded. The Saxon wounded being eased away to have their wounds dressed. Harold’s housecarls mingled through the Norsemen wounded; the slaughter continued as the enemy wounded were put out of their misery by the cutting of the throat, no matter how trivial the wound. The crows swooped down picking at the eyes of the dead, followed by the seagulls and other carnivores.
Harold’s men were fighters to the core, so too were the Norsemen. Harold, though elated, felt a sense of shame at the waste of good men on both sides. He looked about him, the ground red, not a blade of green grass could be seen. The carrion were now in a frenzy of feeding that made Harold feel sick at the sight of the carnage before him. The sky began to darken and a down-pore washed the field.
“Ulf!” called Harold. “Go see to it that the men left on the boats be brought to the battlefield by first light. We have no idea how many there are, but you had better take a contingent with you in case there is any fighting to be done. Take the horses, you should be there before midnight. Don’t alarm them that could be dangerous for you. Just call on them and tell them they have lost the battles, Hardrada is dead and they must come as our prisoners. If there is any sign they may fight, then torch the ships.” Ulf stood looking in the twilight at the thousands of bodies of good men, wasted for a cause they could never hope to attain, all for the greed of one man who had it all anyway.
“Ulf!” Harold called once more. Ulf was startled into attention.
“Sorry Harold, my thoughts were elsewhere, what was it you were saying?” Harold looked a little irritated for a moment. Brithnoth took Ulf to one side and briefed him on what Harold had said. Harold walked toward the two men; he was feeling a little perplexed.
“What is the matter with you Ulf?” Harold asked.
“I’m on my way Harold, see you at first light.” At that, Ulf took off rounding up the best of the rest of his men to accompany him to the ships.
Brithnoth took Harold by the arm.
“You know Harold, I was reading Ulf’s mind. He was thinking it a shame we could not have taken these men south with us. They have been brave warriors, a fit and formidable force well able to fill our ranks, and now that Hardrada was dead, they could have been useful to us.”
“I had thought of that Brithnoth, but their leader was a young and dedicated man, he had a job to do, and that was to die for his master. No coaxing could have changed his mind. Neither too would the men who fought with him have come to us. I would be proud to have such men in my ranks. Come, we must leave the field and get our men rested, for tomorrow we have plans to secure York, and then we must to return to London.”
“I’ll see camp is set in an orderly fashion Harold. Are you off to York just now by any chance?” asked Brithnoth.
“You old devil, you just want me to bring that wench Matilda back with me don’t you? She has probably married a baker by now. I’ll see to it she is brought first thing in the morning Brithnoth, I won’t let you down old man.” Harold smiled as he mounted his horse and rode off toward York.
The morning light shone through the window of Harold’s bedchamber. He awoke to spasms in his legs and was in so much pain he called for help in getting up from his cot.
“I hate cramps Cedric, I would rather have a tooth pulled by a farrier than these. I get them more often these days my boy, a sign of old age perhaps?” Cedric called the chambermaid in to serve breakfast.
“This will be the first decent meal you have had since we left London father.”
“You called me father?” Cedric just smiled and left the room to the maid and Harold to his breakfast. Harold ate and dressed, the cramps in his leg getting better, but they still pained him.
The maid hummed a happy tune to herself as she served her King.
“What do they call you?”
“I’m called Billie Whitehead my lord, Billie of the downs on account of my pure white hair and that I take the goats and the sheep to the downs for my master, sire.”
“Well Billie, I like your petty face and your smile is rather pleasing. Would you like to be in my household?”
“Oh sire, what would my parents say; I could not leave them surely, and what of my brother Nicholas and my sisters Rachel and Hayley?”
“What age are you Billie?”
“I turned nineteen in June sire.”
“Well, bring your father to me in one hour, I will see to it he is fully compensated. Now off you go, take the day off from your chores. I’m sure the goats and the sheep won’t mind.”
“Thank you sire.” said Billie slightly embarrassed. Harold excused her as he walked through the doorway to see the clouds rolling over soon to cover the sun’s warmth. Life felt good. He stood wondering if there was to be any more fighting to be done. Would anyone attempt to invade England after this ignominious defeat of Harald Sigurdsson? Harold began to shiver in the cool breeze. “Would the bastard attempt a crossing now I have secured my kingship? Should I send a message to the bastard warning him off?” Harold thought against sending any message, “Let him come, he will be surprised at his greeting.” He muttered to the wind.
Harold had assembled the ship’s company at York by noon. The men of the fyrd were rested and a fresh guard made up from Morcar’s battalions brought into escort the captured men back to their ships with a message that they should never return.
Olaf stepped forward and looked Harold in the eye. “I wish to take my father’s body to his homeland to be buried on the soil of his homeland.”
“He will be buried as I promised, in seven feet of earth.” Ordered Harold indignantly. “I lost many good men and many good friends, the cost will be paid. You, my boy, learn this lesson, and learn it well. England will be free of all foreign influence for the next thousand years. Go, tell that to your people.” Olaf was ushered outside; he was to be escorted along with his kin to await the twenty-four ships allocated for their return to the land of their birth.
Olaf boarded the ship, and with his men. They weighed their anchors and pushed off into the river and sailed down with the brown tidal surge with the bloated bodies of their comrades floating along its banks. As the sun beat down the smell entered the noses of the men and made them retch. The carrion picking for their lunches and the dragging by foxes of those torn limbs of men who fought valiantly in vain for their King, only to be used as food for the wild beasts of England. The men sang laments as they past by. Their wish was to be in Valhalla with their King, friends and companions.
Maria held her flowers to her breast; her nose smelled the pleasing aroma from their multicoloured heads. She began to hum a tune that came into her head. She felt little butterflies in her tummy and patted it with a smile. She looked up as she noticed a housecarl some way off approaching her. As he got closer, she could see by his demeanour that all was not well.
“No, do not come near. He is dead?” The housecarl nodded.
“They are all dead.” The flowers dropped from her hand. The tears welled in her eyes as she stood looking toward the shoreline where she and Orri once made love in the grass. She walked slowly toward the shore and into the sea to be with her man. Part of a chapter from my forthcoming book 'Hell Comes With Th e Wind'
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