This sample from Wasteland (Book 2 of The Lost King) follows on from last week.
So we made our own plans to attack. We decided not to go south with our whole army. It would prove hard to provision such a large force in the cold days ahead and, besides, the Danes had built a fine stronghold which would provide my army with protection against an attack by William.
We decided instead to make good use of the arrival of Eadric the Wild. He was a master of the small armed band and he schooled us in the selection of men who would be skilled at slipping unseen through the countryside. He advised that we form bands of no greater than a dozen men. They would all travel independently to a meeting point where they would gather together to attack. Until that time they would have freedom to fight as they saw fit.
‘How many bands all told?’ asked Merleswein.
‘As many as will suit your purpose,’ said Eadric. He paused. ‘But I have learned to my cost that too many bands contain too many tongues. If you wish to remain secret you must limit your numbers.’
In the end we decided on a dozen bands of a dozen men. Despite some misgiving I left Gospatric in command of our army. I wanted Waltheof to remain with him but he persuaded us that he would be more use in the south close to his own earldom, the home of his warriors. It was also vital that we take Merleswein with us because of his knowledge of Lincolnshire. He would be able to raise the men of the shire better than any one else.
‘We should leave someone trustworthy with the Danes and Gospatric,’ Athelstan said to me quietly as we walked alone by the banks of the river.
‘Don’t you trust Gospatric?’ I asked.
He pursed his lips. ‘With you, certainly,’ he answered. ‘On his own, probably. But with Esbjorn?’ He shrugged his shoulders.
‘But who can I trust other than you and Merleswein? Would that Oswald were still with us.’
‘Indeed. But he is not. So we must make shift to do without him.’ He tapped his lips with his finger. ‘How about Siward Barn? He is a man of honour.’
‘He seems it.’ I paused. ‘But we don’t know him very well, Athelstan. Has he really proved his loyalty?’
‘Perhaps not.’ He sighed. ‘Then we have exhausted our candidates.’
I gazed at him. ‘Except for you.’
Athelstan looked astonished. ‘You wish to go south to attack the Normans without me?’
‘I don’t wish it.’ I fell silent and kicked at a tree-root which hung over the river-bank. ‘But maybe we have no other choice.’
Athelstan stared at me in silence. I had no wish to venture into peril without him. My heart shuddered at the thought of it. But I could think of none better to leave behind to keep watch upon Esbjorn and Gospatric.
I had thought that I was getting used to making difficult decisions but this one felt different. For the first time I was consciously putting my cause before myself, as though they were two separate things. I wondered at this. I could not quite comprehend how I could disentangle the two. Yet I had done so. The cause had, of a sudden, taken on a life itself, a potency greater than me.
Athelstan must have glimpsed something of this for he took my hands in his. His gaze combined sorrow and pride. ‘I will do this,’ he said. ‘But only if you take Merleswein, Godwin and Siward Barn in your company.’
‘And Waltheof?’ I asked.
Athelstan shrugged. I chose not to ask him why he did so.
Two days later, a dozen bands of a dozen men gathered at dawn on the edge of the marshes. As I waited with the loyal followers that Athelstan had insisted should accompany me, Eadric the Wild approached and asked to join my band.
‘I know more of this type of warfare than any of your people,’ he said. ‘The king should have the best close by him and I am the best.’
‘I am sure he is,’ Siward Barn murmured quietly to himself while rubbing his nose thoughtfully. ‘But this makes our band thirteen men.’
We all paused, wondering at this unlucky choice.
‘It makes a band of twelve,’ Godwin said. ‘Edgar leads the whole of the company and is merely attached to us. We can’t really count him.’
Everyone nodded vigorously, desperate to convince themselves of his argument.
Athelstan and Anna stood beside us as my men made their final preparations. Each warrior took care in tightening the straps on his horse, checking weapons and supplies.
Athelstan was nervous at my going without him but had worked hard to reconcile himself to it. Anna, on the other hand, was furious at being left behind. She had caused a scene when I had first told her that she must stay with the army and had not spoken to me for days. Now, however, she stepped towards me and kissed me swiftly upon the cheek.
‘Take great care, Edgar,’ she said. She turned towards Godwin and spoke with a steely tone. ‘And you keep good watch over my lord. You shall answer to me if any harm comes to him.’
She turned and ran back to the tents. I could sense my men struggling to hide their amusement at the scene. I did not understand why.
We mounted our horses. They too seemed weary and forlorn. The gloom of the cold marshes seemed to make beasts as dispirited as men.
Cnut strode towards us through the drifting fog. ‘God speed, Edgar,’ he said.
He stroked the neck of my horse. ‘I wish I was coming with you’ he continued. ‘I have a great desire to fight Normans and even more for the chance to fight William himself. But I cannot prevail upon my uncle to mount an attack and I am sworn to stay with him.’
‘I understand,’ I said.
‘I hope that you have the good fortune to fight William,’ Cnut continued. ‘But remember that there are very few of you, so be watchful.’
‘Thank you for your concern,’ I said, a smile growing on my lips despite myself. ‘But have no fears. We aim to raise large numbers of the men of Lincolnshire to our cause.’
‘Then I wish you every good fortune in that.’ He gave a wry smile but did not sound hopeful.
He slapped my horse upon the neck and we trotted out towards the high path which led towards Wulf’s farm. As we picked up speed I turned in my saddle and glanced back. Cnut was still there, watching. He raised an arm in farewell. I wondered what was in his heart as he watched.
Wasteland is the second novel in the Lost King series and is available in e-book from most outlets.
I am writing the third in the series now.
- Eadric the Wild. #SampleSunday #amwriting (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- Wasteland. Decisions, Decisions. #SampleSunday #histfic (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- Wasteland. #SampleSunday #histfic (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- Uneasy Alliance. Wasteland Book 2 of The Lost King. #SampleSunday #amwriting #Kindle #Nook #Kobo (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)