|UK edition||Publisher||:||SilverWood Books|
|USA edition||Publisher||:||Sourcebooks Inc|
The year is 1066. Earl Harold Godwineson of Wessex is lawfully chosen and crowned by the English Lords as King of England - for there is no-one else with the ability to defend the land against the threat of conquest by Duke William of Normandy.Power and Passion, Love; Loyalty and lust for a throne - One Kingdom, Two Men, One Crown
Morale was running high among the English; twice, now, had they beaten off the Norman whoresons; their casualties - even counting those fool men of the fyrd who had not heeded the King's orders - amounting to less than half the Norman dead strewn over the battlefield. Aye, the line had dwindled to only two or three men deep in places, but shortened, gathered in towards the centre, they ought to be able to withstand a third assault.
Food and drink were passed from man to man, those women who had come - wives, mostly, who had no childer to care for - issuing flat-baked barley cakes, wheaten bread and recent-picked sweet and juicy apples. It was from the women, too, and the priests, that the wounded sought aid, hobbling, being carried or supported to the safety of the baggage line. Not that there was much that could be done for many of them, beyond the comfort of a clasped hand or a pretty smile and the offering of prayers.
Harold threaded his way to the front of the wall, clasping men by the hand, gripping their shoulder as he passed, praising, encouraging or sympathising with those who sported minor wounds.
Pointing to a bloodied rent in one man's byrnie, he
exclaimed, 'Godfin! Is that a wound to your side?'
'Nay, my Lord, 'tis nothing serious. An arrow poke to me belly. Could 'ave been worse 'ad it been lower. Might have nipped me in the family tool department, eh!'
Godfin offered a skin of ale to his king, with a laugh and nod of appreciation. Harold accepted, lifted the pig's bladder to his mouth and drank a mouthful. It was strong-brewed ale, stuff for men.
'By the Christ,' Harold jested, wiping his lips and handing it on to another man, 'we ought give some of this to those bastards down there - it's strong enough to blow their balls off!'
It was easier to laugh and joke, for the terrible carnage at the front of the line would be too sickening if there were not something to balance its horror. The stench was appalling. A horse wandered, broken reins trailing, lamed in the foreleg by an axe stroke that had gouged part of his lower shoulder away; another stood, head lowered, bewildered that he could no longer see, for a sword had slashed across his face; a third struggled to rise, not understanding that he no longer had a hind leg . . . Not four yards from the shield line, a man lay, moaning, calling piteously for water, his stomach and entrails exposed, black blood oozing. Already the ravens were circling the field. One, more brazen than its companions, landed a few feet from the dying man, hopped closer, its beak preparing to pick at the exposed flesh. They went for the eyes, these nauseating scavengers. The soft flesh of the eyes, not caring whether a man or beast still lived . . . Thrusting aside two of the men who stood in the front rank, Harold pushed his way through to the open hillside, his dagger in his hand. A ruffle of unease spread through the men as he stepped out of their protected shielding, but he ignored it. He waved his hand menacingly, chasing the obnoxious bird away, bent and touched the man's shoulder. A Norman, a young lad, no older than his second son, Edmond.
'Give me water, my Lord!' he croaked in French, and
Harold answered him in his own tongue.
'There'll be water in plenty awaiting you, son.' With his dagger, he slashed neat and quick across the boy's throat. Aye, he was a Norman, but no one deserved to die that way. Except perhaps William himself . . . No - Harold, shouldering his men aside, returned behind the lines, dismissing the thought from his mind - no, not even Duke William, for if he thought that, then he was no better than him. Uncaring, unfeeling. Ordering this day of death, causing this mighty pain and suffering for no reason except his own wanting of something that could not, by any lawful right, be his. No, Harold was not like that.
'See to those beasts,' he ordered. 'End their torment.' He made his way back, all the while exchanging cheerful banter. All the while driving and driving away the thought that hammered and screamed in his mind: My brothers are dead. Both my beloved brothers, both are dead!