King Malcolm had already heard much of what I had to tell. Of the meeting with the Danish fleet at York, the fire in the city and how we took the two castles and slaughtered all of the Normans in them. I did not speak of Anna’s role in the capture or, for the moment, anything at all about her.
I told them of our journey down the river towards the mouth of the Trent, of my attempt to raise the people of Lincoln to our cause and our disastrous battle with the Normans.
‘You were lucky to escape,’ Malcolm said.
‘Yes.’ I fell silent, thinking back on how that had happened. ‘If it had not been for Count Robert of Mortain I may not have done. I suspect he allowed me to escape.’
‘Robert of Mortain? William’s brother? Why would he let you escape?’
‘I don’t know.’ I shrugged. ‘He is an honourable man.’
Margaret shook her head. ‘How can a Norman be honourable?’
‘I have learnt there is honour in many men, even my enemies,’ I answered. ‘And low dishonour and treachery amongst those who claimed to be my friends.’
Malcolm raised an eyebrow.
‘I speak of Esbjorn, the brother of the Danish king,’ I said. ‘We assumed that the Danish army was led by the princes, Cnut and Olaf. We were wrong; Esbjorn is the real leader. He is a fearsome warrior. And a man of the greatest evil.’
I swallowed, thinking of how he had used Anna. I shook my head to clear my mind of it.
‘I know little of him,’ Malcolm said.
‘He betrayed us to William,’ I said. ‘That is all you need to know. And also this. If it suited his purpose he would caress you with honeyed words while readying a knife to plunge into your heart.’
‘Edgar and he were not good friends,’ Godwin said lightly.
Malcolm shot a glance of disapproval at him.
‘Esbjorn met secretly with William,’ I continued. ‘He arranged to sell me to him.’
Malcolm looked visibly shaken at hearing this. His huge head shook in disbelief.
‘So how did you escape from Esbjorn?’ he asked.
‘We wouldn’t have done without the aid of Willard the outlaw. It was he who led us to safety after the defeat at Lincoln. Then, when we found out about Esbjorn’s treachery, Willard broke into the Danish camp and helped us escape. We travelled up river and eventually came to where Cnut and his men contested the river-crossing with the Normans.’
Malcolm frowned. ‘You went to Cnut even though Esbjorn had betrayed you?’
‘Not willingly. We were caught by Danish longships and taken to him.’
Margaret gasped at this. ‘You must have been in fear of your life,’ she said.
I shook my head. ‘Not at all. I came to respect Cnut.’
Malcolm frowned at this and he shook his head in surprise.
‘Respect a Dane?’ he said. ‘I wonder if that is truly wise.’
I smiled grimly.
I drew out the sword Cnut had given me and handed it to Malcolm.
‘He gave me this in thanks.’
Malcolm held the sword high and examined it closely, running his eyes down the blade and marvelling at the keenness of it.
‘This is a magnificent weapon,’ he said. ‘I had heard the Northmen are great swordsmiths. It is a kingly gift.’
‘It was not made by any Viking,’ I said. ‘Cnut told me that it had been forged by Wayland the Smith.’
Margaret looked outraged at the mention of this pagan hero. Her reaction amused me and, for the first time in weeks, I felt a smile grow on my lips.
Malcolm handed back the sword, with some reluctance I noted, and asked me to continue.
‘Cnut held the Normans for many weary days,’ I said. ‘But in the end the Normans found a place to cross the river far to the west. Cnut was outflanked and had to take to his ships to escape.’
‘And what did you do?’
‘I had no wish to return to Esbjorn,’ I said. ‘We made our way north.’
‘It was then that William began to hunt you in earnest?’ Malcolm asked
‘We fled north and came upon a thegn called Thorfinnr. He was a good man and gave us sanctuary during the worst of the winter. But eventually William’s wolves heard rumour of our whereabouts and ravaged Thorfinnr’s villages.’
I found my hand going to my mouth at the memory.
‘They nailed Thorfinnr to the door of his hall.’
Margaret gasped and made the sign of the cross.
‘Thorfinnr was a strong man,’ I continued. ‘We prised the nails from the door and carried him to safety. His eldest daughter, Estrid, was taken by one of William’s barons. We could do nothing to save her. The younger daughter, Freya, we brought here to safety.’
‘Blood of Ironside’ is the third novel in The Lost King series. All the books in the series are available on Smashwords, Kobo, Nook, Sony Reader Apple, and other devices for $3.08, £1.97 or €2.68. Please check out the individual retailer web-sites. You can buy my books on Kindle by clicking on the links below, by clicking on the covers to the right (for the UK) or through Amazon outlets in your own country.
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- Blood of Ironside (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)