The gate flew open and Esbjorn charged in.
He truly did look like a raging bull and we were the puny dogs pitted against him. His face was scarlet with rage and he bellowed like a wolf, raised his axe and charged towards me.
‘You’ll need a second eye-patch,’ cried Godwin as Willard and his men aimed a second flight towards him. These arrows were closer still, some grazing Esbjorn’s arms and one slicing across his hand so that the blood spurted.
He hefted his axe and gave me a murderous look, trying to judge whether he could reach me quicker than an arrow.
‘This one will pierce your heart,’ said Willard, stepping forward. ‘That’s if you have one, of course.’
Esbjorn did not move but his solitary eye darted fire towards me.
Behind him, Cnut ambled through the gate. ‘You must knock more gently upon King Malcolm’s gate, uncle,’ he said. ‘You’d get a less hostile reception.’
He slipped from his horse, strolled over and embraced me.
‘It’s good to see you, my brother,’ he said. ‘Very good.’
I sheathed my sword, his sword, the one forged by Wayland the Smith, the one he had given me for saving his life in battle.
‘It’s good to see you too, my brother,’ I said. ‘Though I’d have preferred it had you been alone.’
Malcolm ordered a feast in honour of the Danes. Shortly before it was to start he summoned me to his chamber and questioned me about Esbjorn.
‘There is clearly much ill-blood between you,’ he said, pouring me a cup of wine. ‘I think you were unwise to taunt him into such a venomous rage and I pray that no greater ill come from it.’
I sipped at my wine. ‘You may be right, Malcolm, but I find it hard to imagine that our hatred could get any worse.’
Malcolm gave me a questioning look and I thought it best to tell him everything of my dealings with Esbjorn.
I told him how Esbjorn had kept Anna, first as his lover, then, when she refused him, as worse than his lowest slave, housed in his kennel with his hounds. I told him how he had used her to scramble up the latrines into York Castle in order to open the gate. I told him how I had thwarted the Dane when he had almost beaten her to death and how Godwin had threatened to stab out his one remaining eye.
I said how he had pretended to be my ally while negotiating with William to sell me to him.
‘What do the Danes call him,’ Malcolm asked. ‘The Scourge of Satan? He is aptly named.’
‘Yes. And the Danes are well used to monstrous men.’
‘Perhaps I shall ask your sister to prey for him,’ Malcolm murmured. ‘That may be the only thing with sufficient force in our armoury.’
I smiled at his words.
‘But fortunately, we now have more than Heaven on our side.’ He rubbed his hands together with pleasure. ‘I sent for five hundred warriors from Edinburgh. They arrived a few minutes ago. We are more than a match for the Danes now, even if they are led by this spawn of Beelzebub.’
‘Thankfully the whole of the Danish army is not under his leadership any more. Let us hope that Svein at least can master his brother.’
- The Lost King: Mercenary #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)