Phew, it’s been a long journey but my new novel about Alfred the Great will shortly be available on Amazon Kindle. I’ve posted two extracts on the blog already. Here’s another.
The war-band were standing quietly now on the northern ridge of the hill. They looked towards the west but considering that the newcomers seemed to be their friends they seemed strangely sombre.
The neighing of the horses was louder now and Ulf could hear the sound of their hooves pounding along the timber path which led from Lyng.
And then they appeared. Twenty men, fully armed on powerful steeds. Two men rode at the front, one in a scarlet cloak of finest weave, the other in a tattered grey cloak spattered with mud. The horsemen careered to a halt and the two leaders slid from their horses and looked around.
The eyes of the man in the filthy cloak darted everywhere: taking in the island, the hut, Cenred’s warriors waiting in line, the watery and marshy land around them and the men posted on the mump to the east. He brushed his hands through his hair and nodded. The man by his side turned to their followers and ordered them to dismount.
He must be a rich lord, Ulf thought, staring at his costly garments. Beneath his cloak he wore a mail-shirt with no tunic to cover it. A long sword hung from a thick leather belt which was studded with gem-stones. A rich lord indeed.
The other man looked ill-favoured in comparison. He flung back his cloak but he wore no mail-shirt beneath, only a mud-stained padded tunic in forest green. On his belt hung a small sword in a stained scabbard and a hunting knife. His leggings were tattered and torn as if had spent weeks running through briers and thick thorns. He looks more like a peasant than a warrior, Ulf thought. But he was riding at the head of the column so he must be important. Perhaps he’s the rich lord’s companion.
‘Is there any sign of the Danes?’ the man asked Cenred.
‘None, my lord,’ Cenred answered. ‘The surrounding land seems deserted.’
Ulf frowned. Can this man be a lord as well? Surely he’s too drab and poor?
‘Does anybody live here?’ the man continued. His voice had an authority which his appearance lacked. ‘In that hut, perhaps?’
Cenred nodded towards Brand and his family. ‘Just these five.’
‘What about food?’ the man asked.
‘These people have very little,’ Cenred said. ‘We took hay for our horses but did not touch much of their store.’
‘Then we must hunt and fish and forage,’ said the man. ‘Perhaps the peasant can help. He must know the lay of the land.’
Cenred turned and gestured Brand to approach closer. The family drifted after him, reluctant to let him go closer on his own. Ulf hurried to walk by his father’s side.
The man in the scarlet cloak stared at them as they approached. He looked shrewd and thoughtful. The sort of man who made swift judgements and was rarely mistaken in them. He examined them closely, especially Brand. And as he looked at the two women he frowned.
The man in the the threadbare clothes paid no attention to the family. It was as if his mind had now moved far away. By his form and figure he looked to be about thirty years of age. But his face looked older, worn and weary as if the troubles of the world were hanging from his shoulders. He had hair as yellow as summer corn but his eyes were dark as hazelnuts.
‘My lord,’ said Cenred. ‘The peasant and his family.’
The man stirred as if waking from a dream and looked at Brand.
‘You live here?’ he asked in a mild tone. He seemed not to notice his battered face.
‘I do,’ Brand said. ‘This is my land. These men are scum and deserve to die.’
Hild reached for Brand’s arm to try to calm him but he shrugged her off. The man’s mild look had been replaced by one of surprise which looked ready to turn to anger.
‘You have no right to be here,’ Brand said, stepping closer and staring into the man’s eyes.
‘He has every right to be here,’ said the man in the scarlet cloak. ‘This is Alfred, King of Wessex.’
Ulf blinked in astonishment.
Brand turned towards the warrior and then back to the poorly-dressed man. ‘The King?’ he mumbled.
Alfred nodded. ‘For the moment, at any rate.’
The new book will be available shortly.