‘You didn’t get summers like this under old King Edward,’ said Godwin with a whistle, early one morning. ‘We should all get down on our knees for having such a wonderful king.’ He paused and stared at me. ‘I wonder what weather you will bring when you become king.’
I punched him on the shoulder. I was finding it increasingly hard to know whether he was being serious or a clown.
Then, out the corner of my eye, I saw Oswald gesturing urgently to us from a doorway.
I don’t know what instinct made me do it but I stilled the temptation to rush across to him and strolled instead. When we reached him he touched his finger to his lip and beckoned us into the deep shadows behind. Athelstan was waiting there.
‘Be silent and listen,’ whispered Oswald. He glanced around as if the walls themselves were spies. ‘Edwin and Morcar have fled the court and raised a rebellion against William.’
‘Never,’ I said.
‘Just listen,’ Oswald hissed. ‘What you do next may prove the life or death of you.’
My heart began to race at his words. ‘Immediate suspicion could fall upon you,’ he whispered. ‘William is in the worst rage anyone has ever seen but also in a sweat of fear. He is like a ravening wolf, thirsting for blood.’
Tears suddenly clouded my sight. I had felt adult for a long while now but suddenly all I wanted was to be held by my mother. ‘What should I do?’
‘I am not sure of the best counsel,’ continued Oswald. ‘But I think it best if you make your presence known to William right away. He will fear that you’ll join with the rebels so you must be in his sight at all times.
‘Humble yourself before him, Edgar, eat dirt. It is the only way you can survive.’
I glanced up at Athelstan. I could see that he was uncomfortable with Oswald’s words but he did not contradict them.
‘Now be gone,’ said Oswald. ‘Be natural and act surprised when told the news.’
He turned to his son. ‘Godwin, guard Edgar with your life. Your own life is as nothing now. I hold you to this.’
Godwin nodded and turned to me, his eyes shining.
We walked out into the sunlight. My head was whirling with the news. I saw my feet step one in front of the other, could feel the hot sun upon my head, yet it was as if I was trudging slow through a clammy nightmare.
Where was William? If I was to follow Oswald’s advice it was vital that I find him straightaway. But if he was in such a rage as Oswald described he may well slay me before I had chance to prove my loyalty.
I turned to look at Godwin and felt my eyes confused and pleading for help. He stared back at me, his own eyes full of sorrow but helpless, quite helpless.
‘What shall I do?’ I whispered at last.
‘I don’t know, lord,’ he said.
I stared at him in silence, stunned. Why are you calling me lord, I wanted to scream. I’m just a boy, I’m just a boy. Jesus help me but I want to be safe.
I saw Godwin’s head turn from side to side as if assassins waited at every turn.
‘We must hurry,’ he said. ‘We must get to William right away.’
All at once my head became clear. In front of my eyes I saw a golden meadow, hot under the sun. And far in the distance I saw a shining sea. A gnarled old thorn tree rose out of the waters, a golden crown hanging from a branch.
I looked into Godwin’s anxious face.
‘No,’ I said. ‘We must flee.’
The Lost King: Resistance is the first of the series of books about Edgar Atheling, heir to English throne in 1066. It is available as an ebook for £1.92, $2.90 or €2.68.
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