The next morning as I was finishing my breakfast, Oswald entered the room and announced that I would not be needed at the meeting of the Witan and could spend the day as I chose. But he said that he would accompany me.
‘I will be your second hound,’ he said, stroking Rip’s head.
We wandered down to the river and began to stroll along the bank. The morning mist was still heavy and every so often we would lose all sight of anything other than the closest bushes and trees. Oswald said nothing although I heard him grunt with pleasure occasionally. Perhaps it was hard being a warrior, I thought, and he liked this chance just to walk and enjoy the morning.
Finally, I plucked up the courage to ask him what was intriguing me.
‘Yesterday I had a dozen guards when I went down to the river. Today I only have you. Why has there been this change?’
‘Yesterday there was much doubt about the motives of Edwin and Morcar,’ said Oswald. ‘Today there is less. Or perhaps the wise ones choose to cloak their doubts. Besides,’ and here he smiled broadly, ‘I am not alone.’ He gestured to the hill to our left. I peered and could make out some five or six warriors with lurchers upon leashes.
‘There’s only six,’ I said.
‘Half the fear, half the men.’
I picked up a stick and began to swing it through the air, slashing at thistles and grass. ‘But why should we fear Edwin and Morcar?’ I asked. ‘They are Englishmen and should be loyal.’
‘There are many who question the slowness with which they journeyed south to join King Harold for battle. Perhaps if their armies had been with him then he would still be alive.’
I fell silent at these words. If only he were still alive. I thought less about the earls’ treachery and more about how much I missed him.
‘If he was alive then you wouldn’t have to guard me,’ I said. ‘I wouldn’t be important at all.’
Oswald stopped and turned towards me. ‘And would you prefer that?’ he asked.
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘Of course I would.’
He ruffled my hair.
We walked in silence for a little while.
Then I said, ‘And would you prefer that?’
Oswald laughed. ‘You are wise for your years. How should a warrior answer that and stay safe? Which answer would you prefer? That I am loyal to you the King of England or more loyal to Harold who I know you loved?’
I did not answer for a moment. Then I swung at a particularly large thistle. ‘I would prefer that you told me the truth.’
Oswald placed his hand upon my shoulder. ‘Then I shall do so,’ he said. ‘I would prefer that Harold was still alive for he was a great and noble man. If he was alive the Norman Duke would be food for battlefield crows instead of the threat he is now. If Harold was still king then you wouldn‘t be called to a task which shouldn’t be thrust upon one of your years.’
We gazed at each other for a moment. I felt a sudden liking for Oswald.
We got back an hour or so after noon and at once noticed a change. People seemed on edge and they moved more swiftly. I caught the sense of this and my stomach swooped. One of the older warriors hurried towards Oswald and spoke quickly in his ear. My fingers gripped the fur on Rip’s neck as I watched them, waiting for what would happen next. Oswald turned to me.
‘I think we should take you to the Witan,’ he said.
I hurried after the two men. Four guards were at the door, swords unsheathed. They stood aside for us and we entered the gloom of the hall. A few men nearby looked up at me but most continued to stare at the Archbishop and a few of the senior counselmen.
‘Take your place, Edgar,’ Oswald said quietly.
I slipped across the hall and onto the throne. Stigand glanced at me for a moment but without pausing in his speech.
‘If we are to take this action,’ he continued, ‘then every one of us must be in full agreement.’ His eyes swept across the hall. No one spoke and no one moved.
He remained silent for a long moment and when he spoke again his words were slow yet sure.
‘The army will gather at dawn two days hence and march out to meet the invaders at Wallingford.’
Again there was a silence. Then one of the counsellors began to beat upon the table with his fist. Another took up the rhythm and then another and then two more. In a moment the whole hall was beating out the time and a low growl rose from out their throats. The hairs on the back of my neck rose up. We were going to fight the Normans.
This extract is from ‘The Lost King: Resistance.’ It is the first novel in my series about Edgar Atheling, last native King of England. It is available from all e-book outlets.
- Christmas 1066. The Lost King: Resistance. #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)