Section from
  "Pendragon's Banner"

October 459

ß I

With an exhausted grunt of effort Arthur, the Pendragon, raised his sword and with a deep intake of breath, brought it down through the full force of weight and momentum into the skull of an Anglian thegn. Another battle. Arthur was four and twenty years of age, had been proclaimed Supreme King over Greater and Less Britain three years past by the army of the British - and had been fighting to keep the royal torque secure around his neck ever since.

The man crumpled, instantly dead. Arthur wrenched his blade from shattered bone and tissue with a sucking squelch, a sickening sound, one he would never grow used to. Oh, the harpers told of the glories of battle, the victory, the brave daring skill - but they never told of the stench that assaulted your nostrils, bringing choking vomit to your throat. Nor of the screams that scalded your ears, nor the blood that clung foul and sticky and slippery hands and fingers, or spattered face and clothing.

He turned, anxious, aware that a cavalryman was vulnerable on the ground. His stallion was somewhere to the left, a hindleg injured. The horses. Hah! No harper, no matter how skilled, could ever describe the sound of a horse screaming its death in agony. There was no glory in battle, only the great relief that you were still alive when it was all over.

With slow-expelled breath, the Pendragon lowered his sword and unbuckled the straps of his helmet, let them dangle free, his face stinging from the release of the tight, chaffing leather. He was tired. By the Bull of Mithras, was he tired! Arthur stabbed his sword blade into the churned grass and sank to his knees. His fingers clasped the sword's pommel as he dropped his forehead to rest on his hands, conscious suddenly of the great weariness in his arms and legs and across his neck and shoulders. It had been a long day, a long season. He was bone tired of fighting and the stink of death. He had a wife, two sons born, another child on the way; he needed to be with them, to be establishing a secure stronghold fit for a king and his queen; to be making laws and passing judgements - raising his sons to follow after him. A king needed sons. Llacheu would reach his fourth birthday next month. He needed Gwenhwyfar, but she was to the north, more than a day's ride at Lindum Colonia, uncomfortable in her bulk of child-bearing. Love of Mithras, let it be another son!

"Pendragon's Banner" by Helen Hollick