A cold fear suddenly caught at me. Who was in charge of our army? Archbishop Stigand had seemed to be the leader and now he was gone. Would the men expect me to lead the battle after all? Or would Edwin and Morcar be our captains?
I was still lost in these thoughts when we came out of the forest. There below us stood the ordered ranks of the Norman army. I gasped. The Norman army was far larger than ours and ready for battle. And somehow I sensed that it was far more deadly.
In the centre of the field fluttered two flags. One I guessed belonged to the Duke of Normandy. The other was the White Dragon of England, stripped from our fallen warriors atHastings. Our men gazed upon this flag in silence.
Our army was drawn up as I had decreed; Edwin on the left flank, Morcar in the centre and my Housecarls and the men of London to the right. All around me I could hear the snorts of the horses and the jangle and creak of their harnesses. It was the only sound in that whole vast army. I looked down the line to see if Edwin or Morcar would lead the army forward. But before any of our men made a move, a cry went up from some of the Housecarls. My gaze followed where they were pointing.
From the Norman army three men came riding slowly across the meadows towards us. The two men at the front were dressed like holy men, although underneath the garments of one I thought I could detect a glimpse of mail. The third, a herald holding a flag of truce, was dressed in full chain mail, a great black cloak billowing behind him.
‘Envoys from Duke William,’ said Oswald quietly. ‘But I do not think they are coming to sue for peace.’
Suddenly, with a tumult of hooves, the three men approached our foremost ranks. They halted a few yards away and one rode forward and called in a clear loud voice. ‘I come to parlay with the leaders of the English.’
I stared in utter astonishment. The envoy was Archbishop Stigand.
‘He must have been captured,’ I mumbled.
Oswald shook his head. ‘He must be a traitor,’ he said.
For a long breath no one in the English army moved. Then one horse stepped out from our centre and stood facing the Norman envoys. It was Morcar. A second horse broke ranks further to the left and trotted along the front of our army. I could see even from this distance that it was Edwin. When he reached his brother they bent their heads together for a while. Then, together they trotted out until they were half way between our men and the Normans. The five men spoke together for what seemed an age.
I heard a warning voice speak urgently in my head. ‘I should be there,’ I said to Oswald.
Oswald shook his head once. He did not speak but his hand reached out and grasped firm hold of my horse’s bridle.
Still the five men spoke together, their words a mystery to all the host of men watching. Then Morcar looked down the ranks. He kicked savagely at the flanks of his horse and came racing towards me. I felt Oswald’s grip tighten. Behind me I heard a long, low scraping noise. My Housecarls were sliding their swords from their scabbards.
I gazed intently at Morcar when he got close. His face looked drained of all blood and there was a strange, fey look in his eyes. ‘Edgar,’ he said quietly, ‘these men are envoys from the Normans. One is Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of Duke William. The other is Archbishop Stigand. They say that Duke William desires no more bloodshed and that he will embrace peace if we submit to him and acknowledge him to be our king.’
‘But I am the king,’ I said. My lips felt like ice.
Morcar did not answer. I looked up at Oswald. He stared impassively ahead, avoiding my gaze.
I turned back to the earl. ‘Morcar, tell me what I should do. I am the King of the English. The Witan proclaimed me so and I am of the blood of Alfred. Surely we should fight? What do you think? What should we do?’
- The Lost King: Resistance. #SampleSunday #amwriting #kindle (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- The Lost King: Resistance #samplesunday. (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)