For the next couple of weeks I’m going to be posting extracts from the third in my series ‘The Lost King.’ It tells the story of Edgar, the heir to the English throne and his resistance to the Norman Conquest. It will be available as an e-book this summer.
The guards cried out and pointed to the south. Ten score of Northmen were galloping like fury towards us.
‘How many men have you, Malcolm?’ asked Athelstan.
‘It may not be enough.’
I shielded my eyes with my palm and peered at the approaching horsemen. They did not spare their steeds, driving them with desperate speed towards us. The air was filled with their savage and exultant cries.
‘Christ in heaven,’ whispered Anna, taking a step backwards and clutching at her throat.
I followed her gaze. Racing at the head of the Northmen was Cnut, son of Svein Estrithson. Riding by his side was a dreadful sight. Esbjorn.
I felt Anna shrink to my side and clutched her by the arm.
‘There’s no need to fear,’ I said. ‘I’m here with you.’
She gazed up into my eyes and I felt the doubt and terror in her heart.
The Northmen careered to a halt and stared up at us.
‘Little Prince Runaway,’ cried Esbjorn when he saw me. He roared with laughter and spat in my direction. The Northmen yelled with approval at his action.
Cnut, however, shook his head and took a pace forward. He looked up at me and waved his hand.
‘How goes it Edgar?’ he called. ‘It is good to see you.’
Esbjorn gave him a look of contempt and stared back up at us before stepping to the fore.
‘Is Malcolm Canmore here?’ he cried. ‘I came to speak with Malcolm Canmore.’
‘I am he,’ Malcolm said, drawing himself up to his full impressive height. ‘Who seeks to talk with me?’
‘I am Esbjorn, called by my people the Scourge of Satan. Fear not, King Malcolm, I come not to wage war against you but to talk peace.’
‘His every word is a lie,’ hissed Anna.
Malcolm turned to look at her, his face alarmed.
Esbjorn saw and followed his gaze. His voice rang out with false laughter.
‘Is that who I think it is?’ he cried. ‘Is that my Earthworm? Surely not. When I saw her last she was covered in shit and piss. And the blood from the men she’d butchered ran down her naked breast.’
Anna cried out and rammed her fist into her mouth. I felt her begin to slip to the ground.
‘Godwin,’ I cried.
Godwin swept her into his arms and raced down the steps to the courtyard. I watched her as he carried her into the Hall and I thought my heart would twist from out my chest.
‘What do you want, Esbjorn the treacherous?’ I cried in a fury.
I saw Athelstan step forward as if to stop me but I brushed him aside.
‘Have you been sent by William who you fawn upon?’ I called to Esbjorn. ‘Are you hot from his bed and hurrying to do even more of his bidding?’
Esbjorn shuddered like a bull before charging. He reached his arm out towards me and I shrunk back as if he might clutch me from the high stockade and dash me to pieces upon the ground.
‘Your tongue is golden but your bowels are yellow,’ he cried. ‘Come down here and I’ll wrench your tongue out and feed it to my hounds.’
‘What manner of man is this?’ said Malcolm, eyes wide with horror.
Esbjorn clamped his heels to his horse and charged at the gate in his fury. The poor horse was more terrified of its master than any injury and crashed itself futilely against the woodwork.
I shot a look at Cnut wondering what he would do. He merely leaned forward, hands crossed lightly upon his saddle, and watched his uncle with the utmost calm. At one point he glanced up at me, raised a sardonic eyebrow, then returned to watch the assault upon the gate.
‘He’s almost through,’ said Athelstan.
‘Summon my guard,’ Malcolm cried before leaping down to the courtyard, calling me to follow him.
I raced down the steps, slid to a halt and turned towards the gate.
The heavy timbers buckled under the heavy blows and shards of wood flew everywhere. Esbjorn’s huge axe was hacking out an opening.
Malcolm glanced round and saw Godwin racing back into the courtyard with my guards close behind. In a moment they were followed by two dozen of Malcolm’s men.
Suddenly, I felt to my left the reassuring bulk of Hog and next to him Willard and the rest of his men. They nocked their arrows and raised their bows.
Malcolm saw this and gestured for the gate to be flung open.
‘Don’t slay, just terrify,’ Athelstan said to Willard.
The first two novels in the series are The Lost King: Resistance and The Lost King: Wasteland. They are available in e-book format on Kindle, Kobo eReaders, Nook, Sony Reader, tablets and smart phones.
They are priced at $2.99, £1.99 and € 2.75 or equivalent.