I have to admit that the best ideas came from Esbjorn. Even such experienced warriors as the Danes at his command would find it hard to attack Norman castles. To take any fortified place the two best methods were siege or treachery. A siege was out of the question as William Malet, the commander of one of the castles, had laid in supplies to last six months and boasted of it.
Treachery was always a possibility. The Danes were already at work in the city seeking out English or Danish servants who might be bribed to open the castle gates. So far, this had produced no result, mainly because the Normans
had ejected all able-bodied servants from the castles. There remained only women, children and elderly men who the Normans worked to exhaustion so that that they would prove no danger to them.
‘These Normans are more cunning than we gave them credit for,’ snarled Esbjorn. ‘So we shall have to think of another plan.’
He threw a cup at one of his warriors. ‘Fetch the Earthworm,’ he said.
I exchanged a glance with Athelstan. What on earth could Esbjorn mean by
A few moments later the Dane returned. He held a thick rope in his hand. It was attached to the waist of a slight figure who he half led, half dragged into the hall.
‘Here is the Worm,’ cried Esbjorn, grinning at us. ‘Lug it here.’
The poor creature was thrust close to the table so we could all get a better look. It was a child as skinny as a farm-cat, clothed in a loin cloth and a shirt which were
filthy and torn. A thatch of unkempt hair framed a face daubed with mud and filth.
Two black eyes stared out, aflame with a murderous rage.
Esbjorn laughed aloud at the child. It clenched its fists and spat at him. But Esbjorn’s rage was fiercer and he dragged the child close and rained punch after punch upon the face and head.
I was sickened by the sight of this but too terrified to speak. Indeed, all at the table were struck dumb by the violence. It appeared that we would all watch as the child was battered to death.
Finally Merleswein stood up, seized Esbjorn’s hand and swung him away from the attack.
‘Lord Esbjorn,’ he cried, ‘for God’s sake leave the boy alone.’
Esbjorn glared at him for a moment and nodded.
‘I shall. For your sake not God’s,’ he said. ‘But this is no boy.’
He laughed and tore the shirt from the beaten child to reveal the small breasts of a young woman.
‘This little hell-cat is female.’
The girl’s hand grabbed the shred of shirt and she tried to cover up her nakedness. Esbjorn smashed the hand aside and started to fondle her breasts. She shuddered and turned her face away. I could see hot tears slipping silently down her cheek, carving a runnel through the dirt.
I did not know what I planned to do but I stood up, walked over to the girl and quietly drew her away out of reach of Esbjorn. I dared not look at him but I could feel his baleful glare beating down upon me.
The next moment I felt the point of his dagger pressing against my throat.
‘You swaggering little piece of pus,’ he snarled. ‘You come here with your
ragamuffin claims to lordship and your flotsam followers. You feast in my hall, sit sneering at my board and then you have the gall to come between me and my chattel.’
He spat in my face.
The hall fell silent. I realised that every eye was focused upon Esbjorn and me. Yet I seemed to have been snatched to an eerie world of shrunken senses, of swirling mists and frozen time. I could see little and hear less. Instead I was overwhelmed by the stench and taste of rotting flesh.
This is my time of death, I thought.
Tears welled up in my eyes but I forced myself to turn towards Esbjorn, feeling the knife point gouging across my neck.
‘You do wrong, Esbjorn,’ I whispered. ‘You do wrong to this girl, you do wrong to
the laws of hospitality and you do wrong to me who has greater claim to lordship than even you, who is merely brother of my equal.’
Esbjorn snarled and I felt the knife slide its way further into my neck, breaking skin and drawing blood.
This extract is from ‘Wasteland’ the second in my novels about Edgar and his resistance to the Norman Invasion of 1066. It is available as an e-book for $2.86, £1.92 or €2.68 or equivalent worldwide.
The third novel in the series will be published shortly.
- William of Normandy gives a lesson in diplomacy. #HistNov #SampleSunday (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- Never Beaten #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- ‘Peace Making.’ #SampleSunday #HistNov From my soon to be published novel. (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- To the Danes at York. Wasteland. #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)