Here is another extract from my novel The Lost King: Wasteland.
The next day Cnut and Esbjorn came to our camp to make the final arrangements for the assault. We spent the day putting the final touches to what, essentially, was Esbjorn’s plan. We felt chastened by the fact that his arguments were always best. Yet we knew in our hearts that he was a master of battle and we could not match him.
Before dawn the following morning, we led our warriors out of the camp and down to the banks of the Ouse. The night was dark with only the toenail of a
moon to show the way. Once we had reached the river we each took hold of the cloak of the man and stumbled like a string of blind beggars towards the walls of the northern castle. I had never tried to travel so far by night and was astonished at how difficult it was. It took us four hours to travel a distance we would have managed in one by day.
Finally we reached our allotted position and slid down on our weary haunches. After a while we heard the quiet call of an owl, repeated three times. It was the signal of the Danes. Within minutes they had slithered close to us.
In the east the first faint sheen of day began to dispel the night and I gradually discerned the shapes of the Danes. Cnut and Esbjorn were at the fore and behind them I could make out the figure of the Worm shivering in the cold. Her bonds were still upon her and a filthy
rag was bound tight around her mouth.
Esbjorn slid out his dagger and pressed it to her throat.
‘Now Earthworm,’ he whispered. ‘There is the path you are to climb. Once in the castle hurry down to the gate and throw it open.’
‘What about the sentries?’ asked Merleswein.
In answer Esbjorn pulled the gag from the Worm’s mouth and replaced it with the naked blade. ‘She can sting as well as climb,’ he grunted.
He grasped her head in his huge hands and held her in
his gaze. ‘No thought of treachery, little one,’ he said. ‘For you know that if you fail me I shall hunt you down and watch as my dogs tear you to shreds.’
I was astonished by his words but her quick intake of breath showed that for the girl this was a threat more potent than any nightmare. She nodded once and then
scrambled along the castle wall to the mouth of the chute.
She swung her arms up, felt for a hand-hold and slithered into the hole. I turned to look at Godwin, my gorge rising at the thought of what she would have to climb through.
‘She’ll never make it,’ he whispered.
I nodded bleakly.
But the Danes had no such doubt and, moving like ghosts, made their silent way to the gate. We followed and waited with them, blades drawn and trying not to breath.
The minutes crept past. Above us the sky was growing grey and to the east a faint smudge of red stained the horizon. I tried to calm my fears. Soon
the day would be so bright the Normans could not fail to see us. I glanced
around and guessed that there were about fifty Danes waiting at the gate. Swift Norman arrows could put paid to every one of us in minutes. I clenched my jaw
to try to keep hold of my nerves. In the castle a cockerel crowed, piercing the silence.
I sensed the men around me move nervously at the sound but Esbjorn and Cnut waited patient and untroubled. A sudden need to cry out took hold of me, a
madness to break the excruciating tension. Merleswein grinned at me and gave a quick wink.
Then, two yards in front of me, the impossible happened. The castle gate slid open a fraction and the Worm stood there, bloodied blade in hand. Swift as wolves the Danes leapt up the path and poured into the castle.
Our men seemed dazed by the speed of events but within moments we followed. My Housecarls crowded around me, a solid wall which would be hard for any enemy to breach. I would be in at the taking of the castle but as much as possible I would be safe from harm.
‘Get me the girl,’ I whispered to Merleswein. He reached out and swept the Worm within the safety of the shield-wall.
‘You stay with me,’ I said to her grimly.
She cowered, her eyes wide in terror. Then her head tilted, as if in recognition,
and she crept to my side.
Wasteland is the second in The Lost King series of books concerning Edgar Atheling’s war against Norman the Conqueror’s invasion of England. It is priced $3.00 or less and equivalent currencies.
The next novel tells of his decision to take the fight to a broader front. It will be published later this August. If you would like advance notice of the publication please contact me via this blog, on email@example.com or on Twitter @martinlake14
- The Plan to take York Castle. #HistNov #SampleSunday (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- The Earthworm An Extract from ‘Wasteland’ #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- Esbjorn the Dane. #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- To the Danes at York. Wasteland. #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)