‘It would be a pity to lose your one remaining eye, Lord Esbjorn’ I heard a familiar voice say quietly.
I squinted and saw a knife pointing directly at Esbjorn’s one eye.
It was Godwin.
He had sprung from nowhere, months after I had seen him last.
He edged the blade closer until it touched the very orb.
‘You would not dare to strike,’ said Esbjorn. ‘You would be slain in an instant.’
‘And you will be blind,’ said Godwin. ‘Who would follow you then I wonder.’
‘Enough,’ said a voice quietly. It was Cnut. I heard a chair move. ‘Have done, uncle, have done Saxon. The only one who would enjoy this sight is William.’
I felt the pressure of the blade release and I turned and stared at Esbjorn. His face was impassive, despite the fact that Godwin’s dagger was still jammed in his eye. Merleswein nodded at Godwin, to signify that I was now out of danger.
But he did not move his blade.
I waited long seconds before I spoke.
‘My friend will release you if you promise never to beat this girl again.’
Esbjorn’s body grew rigid and his mouth worked as though he was muttering a curse so potent that I would be struck to my knees. Eventually he gave a tiny nod.
Godwin sheathed his knife and took care to step back from Esbjorn’s reach.
Cnut forced a laugh. ‘You seem to like the girl, Edgar. Perhaps my uncle will seal our alliance by giving her to you.’
‘She has work to do,’ said Esbjorn. ‘We will not be able to take the castle without her.’
‘Then maybe after she has done her work,’ said Cnut. He gave a wide smile which seemed to act like balm upon the room.
Esbjorn growled and then opened his arms in a gesture of reconciliation. ‘Forgive my anger, Edgar. And I will forgive your watchdog.’ He turned and smiled coldly at Godwin.
‘On my terms, yes,’ I said.
I turned towards Godwin and gestured him to sit on the bench. I stumbled to my seat, struggling to prevent myself spewing.
I stared up at Godwin and placed my hand upon his shoulder. I could find no words to say.
He smiled and bowed his head.
A moment later Olaf come across to me and reached out a hand.
‘I salute you, Edgar,’ he said. ‘I have never known anyone cross my uncle in the way that you did. You must have high courage indeed.’
I nodded my thanks but his words sent a shiver of fear into my heart. As if I didn’t have enough enemies already. To make one of a monster like Esbjorn was the height of folly.
‘I guess you might want to know about the little wench you championed,’ Olaf continued. ‘We call her the Worm because that is what she is. She lives in filth, she eats filth and she has no human emotions. What she does have is the ability to climb like a rat. We use her when we want something to clamber up a cliff or an impassable wall. No height, however high or sheer has ever defeated her.’
‘And how do you propose to use her now?’ asked Athelstan. ‘To climb up the walls of the castle?’
Hearing this Esbjorn laughed aloud. ‘Not with all the sentries that the Normans have on the battlements. I doubt even the Worm could clamber up there unseen. No, we have figured out a better path for her to take.’
He took a long swig of ale before continuing. ‘We have found out that in each of their castles the Normans have a shit-house high up in the wall. It is built above a long straight chute which goes down all the way to the river below. Where the shit comes down, our Worm will crawl up.’
Athelstan could not help himself and shuddered at the thought.
‘Yes,’ said Esbjorn, ‘the chute is every bit as grim as you imagine. It is sheer and narrow and the walls are slimy with piss and shit. It would never cross the mind of the Normans that anyone would be able to climb up such a path. But they don’t know our Worm. Once she has reached the top she will sneak down and open the gates to us.’
‘How can you be sure she will do what you want of her?’ asked Siward.
‘Because climbing through dung and risking death is preferable to what she will face if she doesn’t,’ said Olaf.
None of us thought to remind him that Esbjorn had promised that no more harm would come to her.
‘There are two castles,’ said Athelstan. ‘How will you take the second?’
‘Once we have attacked one then the Normans may try to succour it from the second. If they do then we can smash our way in when they send their soldiers out. If they decide not to come to the rescue then we will have to rely on the Worm to open that gate as well.’
‘But won’t the Normans in the second castle be forewarned?’ I asked. ‘Surely it will be too dangerous for her to seek to open this gate.’
Esbjorn shrugged. ‘I think they will be too busy looking out at what is happening to their friends to notice a piece of filth like the Worm at the gate.’
I doubted it and thought the plan flawed. I kept these thoughts to myself, however.
This extract is from ‘Wasteland’ the third in The Lost King series. The third novel will be published shortly.
- The Earthworm An Extract from ‘Wasteland’ #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
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