The Danes broke camp and boarded their longships for the journey down river. My army had to march by foot and were forced to take a route a few miles to the west of the river.
Cnut asked me to sail with him in his longship, Firesnake. I was reluctant to put myself in his power but Athelstan convinced me that to refuse would be an insult and also look cowardly.
On the first day of November Gospatric and Waltheof led my army south while Athelstan, Merleswein, Godwin, Siward Barn and I boarded Firesnake. It was a beautiful ship and deadly. It was one of the largest ships in the fleet, more than a hundred feet long, with sixty Danish oarsmen perched upon their sea-chests and a further fifteen squatting in the stern. We stood with Cnut and his bodyguard on the prow.
The steersman blew a sharp blast on a whistle and a young boy by his side began to beat time upon a small side-drum. I watched as the oarsmen listened to the beat, some with heads nodding in time, all sucking the rhythm into their bodies.
Finally, when he judged that all the oarsmen were at one with the beat, the steersman blew a longer blast and the crew pulled at their oars. The drum sounded, the men strained, the oars sliced through the stream.
I was astonished. The huge ship leapt like a fiercely spurred horse. I watched as the prow cut through the water, churning it into a whitening foam. With each pull the ship increased speed. Finally, the oarsman raised his arm and the drummer began to slow his beat a little. We settled into a pace which, while fast, was comfortable enough for the rowers to maintain for a good while. I peered up at the dragon’s head high above the ship. It looked like it was flying.
I took a breath. Such a sight had inspired terror in my countrymen for hundreds of years. Now, here I was, speeding along in its maw.
Wasteland is available on all e-readers. Please click on the picture link on the right to go to Amazon or search on Nook or on Smashwords for other readers.
Price $2.97, £1.92 or Eur 2.68