I was awake long before dawn on the appointed day. I pushed Rip’s head off my chest and leapt out of bed. ‘We are going to fight the Normans,’ I told him as I struggled into my clothes. He yawned loudly. I had told him this twelve dozen times already. ‘I am the King of England,’ I told him, ‘and I lead my host to battle.’ He yawned and scratched at his ear. ‘To battle,’ I cried, ‘to battle.’ He sprang up at my cry, first among champions, tail wagging furiously. I led the charge down to breakfast.
I was hungry but could hardly swallow my bread and cheese so took them with me as I stepped out into the cold air. It was still black night and stars glittered above my head. I turned to the east but there was no sign of the sun. Above the horizon a clear white star shone bright.
‘The morning star,’ said a voice. ‘A good omen.’ The familiar shape of Oswald emerged and placed a hand upon my shoulder. There was a second figure beside him, but not a tall warrior. He came close and I saw that it was a boy of about my age, although taller and broader.
‘This is my son, Godwin,’ said Oswald. I nodded at the boy and he nodded back.
‘I thought he would be a good companion for you,’ continued Oswald. ‘But mind you keep yourselves out of trouble. The army will march swiftly and I won’t have time to look out for both of you. Be ready to ride at dawn.’
Oswald nodded and strode off in the night. I stared in silence at Godwin for a little and he stared at me. Finally he spoke.
‘Are you really the King of England?’
‘So I am your subject?’
There was a long silence between us.
‘But we can still be friends,’ I said at last.
Godwin nodded. ‘I’m glad. Herrig was my friend but he died of a fever. He coughed up blood and a lump of black matter as big as an egg. Then he died.’
‘Perhaps it was his soul,’ I said. ‘The black matter.’
‘Or maybe the imp that was causing the fever,’ said Godwin. He paused, as if realising that he had contradicted me. ‘On account of it being black,’ he explained, quickly.
I did not answer for a moment. I did not know what a king should do when he was contradicted by one of his subjects. Should I insist it was a soul, even though I believed that Godwin’s idea was more likely? Would he take it as a sign of weakness if I changed my mind? What would Harold have done, I wondered?
‘I think you are probably right,’ I said finally. ‘If it were black then it was more likely to be an imp than his soul.’ I paused. ‘Unless, of course, Herrig was really evil.’
I heard Godwin say ‘hmm’ thoughtfully and I smiled. ‘I don’t think he was that evil,’ he said at last.
‘So it must have been an imp,’ I decided.
I saw Godwin nod in the first glimmer of morning.
‘Let’s visit the horses,’ I said.
Godwin and I helped a groom saddle up my pony. Godwin did not have a pony but I ordered that the grooms find him one. This greatly impressed him. By the time we had mounted the dawn had come, cold and clear, with a streak of red where the sun would appear. My heart began to hammer in my chest and my head swam. By this time several of my guards had joined us and they looked searchingly at me. Could they hear the pounding of my heart, I wondered? Would they think that I was a coward? I tried to think of anything other than the coming battle but no other thoughts would stick in my mind. I looked at Godwin. He seemed as excited as I was.
‘How do you feel?’ I asked.
‘Excited,’ he said.
‘How do you know you are excited?’
‘Because my heart is pounding like a blacksmith at the anvil,’ he said.
I leaned towards him and listened. I could not hear his heart at all. I smiled in relief.
‘Is your heart beating as hard as mine?’ he asked.
I shook my head and gave as stern and unconcerned look as I could. Godwin seemed impressed.
The Lost King: Resistance is the first in a series of books about Edgar Atheling and his resistance to the Norman Conquest. It is available from all e-book outlets. The third book in the series will be published this summer.
- ‘We’re going to fight the Normans.’ #SampleSunday (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)