An Intriguing Read


I give this book five well deserved stars.

It takes  a while to get going.  But, Andrew G. Claymore’s science fiction novel ‘The Black Ships’ is worth taking the time to read. The premise is intriguing to say the least. What happened to the employees of a mining company sent to Mars? What actually occurs is not for me to tell, but for you to find out as I did – you won’t be disappointed.

Like most people we meet in everyday life , some we instantly like, others we detest. To that end, Claymore has created a fascinating cross-section of individuals for you to conjure with.  If, like me, you love believable pure Science Fiction, you will find this a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Friend or Foe?

Much to everyone’s great relief the departure of Professor Malcolm and his small group of likeminded supporters meant that the UK Advanced Science Institute’s staff could now concentrate on their work in a far more relaxed atmosphere, free from the ridiculous bureaucratic protocols, deliberately created by Malcolm to place endless numbers of impossibly complicated health and safety checks in the path of anyone using the Teleportation Gate.
Since Briggs insisted that he be the guinea pig when his Gate was initially employed, allowing him to witness the opening moves of the Battle of Hastings, two other targets had also now been successfully observed. As a consequence, the relevant historical records concerning the periods in question were soon corrected.

Briggs’ initial trip back in time was soon followed by two others when observers were first sent to seek out Rædwald, the king of the East Angles, and then Harald Hardrada, the king of Norway, slain at the battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire. In both instances many anomalies in the historical accounts of both men were ironed out once and for all.

Which individual or event during the Dark Ages (the roughly five hundred year period from when the Romans departed Britain’s shores for the final time in the fifth century, until the invasion of William, Duke of Normandy in the eleventh) should be the next target? Briggs posed the question to the Institute’s entire staff in the canteen while they all ate lunch, the day after he sacked the last of Professor Malcolm’s sycophantic cronies.
Now that the Institute was finally free to pursue its true purpose, as far as he was concerned it mattered little what your job was. Literally anyone, from the various academics and lab technicians, researchers and post grad students, to Andrew, the Canadian born history undergraduate who delivered the mail each day within the Institute as well as the cleaners and the canteen staff responsible for their meals were free to make a suggestion.
Briggs made it known that he was also willing to consider anyone as a future observer, providing they had an eye for detail, an attribute he deemed necessary for each trip, mainly to accurately recall all details for the historical research department’s inevitable corrections to the relevant previous histories.
He went on to say, “I would ask you to consider two things before you volunteer your services as observer. First of all, travelling back in time does not mean that you are somehow immortal in the targeted period, far from it in fact. It would be nice if it were possible. But, despite what the writers of science fiction stories may have you believe, you can be killed! No one knows that better than me, when my own Norman ancestor, Gilberte de Brige had his sights set firmly on killing me at the Battle of Hastings. Another thing you need to be aware of is that should you personally kill anyone during your excursion back in time; in all likelihood you will be responsible for terminating someone here in our time by ending the life of their distant direct ancestor. It is a concept difficult to comprehend I know, but never the less it is a fact! Secondly, I would ask you to bear in mind that the roughly five hundred year time period we are currently concerned with was hardly a peaceful one. As an observer, believe me when I tell you that you are placing yourselves directly in the path of danger.”
The canteen fell silent for a few moments as what Briggs said had a sobering effect upon everyone as it slowly sunk in. A quiet voice broke the silence. “You want suggestions from us Doctor Briggs, have you ever thought about taking a look at Hengist and Horsa?”
Briggs almost choked on the spoonful of soup he had just put in his mouth, “who said that?” he enquired. A hand went up from behind the canteen counter. Briggs rose from his chair and went to where the Institute’s canteen manager still stood with her hand held uncertainly in the air.
“Why not, well done Maggie?” Briggs grinned as he leant across the counter to give her a reassuring peck on the cheek, making her blush deeply in the process. “Hengist it is. We stand more chance with him than his brother. Supposedly Horsa was killed soon after arriving here in England while fighting Vortigern. Ladies and gentlemen eat up; we have a lot of work to do beginning this afternoon. I have a feeling that this will prove to be our most challenging target so far. The year the brothers actually arrived on our shores is highly debatable. We know precious little about mid fifth century England. Let’s get to work and find out the truth for Maggie.”
His historical research department had an unenviable task ahead of them over the next few weeks, sifting fact from fiction. For a start, Hengist and Horsa were supposedly the first chiefs among the Angles, Saxons and Jutes here in England according to what Briggs’ team now knew were the debatable Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, and Bede’s highly questionable Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum. Both could hardly be considered accurate accounts any more. At best they were third, or even fourth hand tomes, containing a mix of fact and fable with a lot of artistic licence thrown in for good measure by the writers concerned, simply because they were produced hundreds of years after the events contained within their pages actually occurred, long after any first hand witnesses had died.
Knowing what they did, Briggs and his team wondered why it was that a hard core of eminent historians beyond the Institute’s walls still continued to insist that both works are the definitive historical accounts of the British Isles during the Dark Ages and beyond into what became known as the early Middle Ages, even though the Institute’s findings and corrections were widely known and accepted by the academic historical community in general. Quite simply, their entrenched attitudes defied all logic.
If the Chronicles and Bede were to be believed, the brothers were invited as mercenaries by Vortigern, king of the Britons to assist him in his fight with the Picts. To sweeten the deal, allegedly he gave them the Isle of Thanet (now no longer an island but part of the Kentish mainland) as their foothold in the land. According to the Chronicles, the brothers arrived sometime in 449AD at the head of a considerable force of Jutes at a place long since vanished from the landscape called Ipwinesfleet, (likely located somewhere on Kent’s north coast) specifically gathered together for the mission from the growing number of inexperienced young warriors in their over populated homeland, anxious to prove themselves.
From what Briggs observers would later be able to confirm as fact, the brothers clearly saw this as a golden opportunity for the expansion of the Jute nation overseas, using their military assistance in Vortigern’s endless fights with the Picts as nothing more than a flimsy pretext for invasion. What better way to conquer a new country relatively unhindered than by being invited in by its ruler?
While the idea of being present at the first of many invasions by the Jutes, Angles, Saxons and other Germanic peoples was undoubtedly of interest to some, the specific event which Briggs and his team wished to know more about concerned what actually happened at the later confrontation between Hengist, Horsa and Vortigern in 455AD, around six years after their arrival. All available historical accounts including the Chronicles and Bede’s work contradict each other on many points about the event in question.
No one took much notice of two more warriors walking up from the beach through the early morning mist towards Hengist’s stronghold. By now Briggs had long abandoned his notion of non-participation by his observers, realizing from his own experience that circumstances demand you join in instead of merely standing in the background watching. He asked both Max and Lars if they were prepared to go back in time yet again, realising that it was a silly question under the circumstances. The thought of witnessing history at first hand was their reason for volunteering in the first place. He asked them both to go this time, simply because he sensed that to send a lone observer into a largely unknown and violent situation would be imprudent to say the least. Hopefully they could protect each other, should they get into any kind of tricky situation.
In the intervening six years since he had first arrived, Hengist had taken a wife from among the local Briton families, who bore him a daughter. According to the later accounts in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and by Bede, supposedly it was her seduction of Vortigern that was the cause of what can only be described as the Night of The Long Knives, when her father’s men murdered Vortigern’s Britons during a peace accord. Nothing could be further from the truth. It simply did not add up.
Both the many contributors to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and Bede were only partly right in this instance. The seduction of Vortigern is clearly contentious for several reasons, the chief one being the girl’s age at the time. How the scribes and Bede expected their readers to seriously believe that a four or five year old girl could possibly seduce a grown man, let alone become his lover defies all logic, unless her father and the king of the Britons were nothing more than sick paedophiles trading her for Vortigern’s perverted sexual needs.
Whatever the truth of the situation, Lars and Max now found themselves at the beginning of a bitter war between Hengist, Horsa and their former ally Vortigern.
Since their arrival in the British Isles, both Hengist and his brother had won every battle they ever fought in the name of Vortigern. In that regard they were far more successful than his Britons. Realising their army of Jutes was by far the most dominant fighting force in Kent Hengist began to believe they could actually take the land, making it their own fiefdom.

A pretext had to be found to remove Vortigern from the scene for the brother’s dream to become reality. If they were to rid Kent of the Britons once and for all, they would need help. And so Hengist sent word to the Jutes’ fraternal cousins, the Angles for assistance. After reading Hengist’s account of ‘the worthlessness of the Britons and the richness of the land’, they sent word back that they would soon arrive, bringing with them a band of fierce Scythian mercenaries, recruited from the shores of the Black Sea.  

Dawn gradually broke over the peaceful hamlet of Aylesford on the banks of the River Medway. In the open countryside to the east, Max and Lars stood shoulder to shoulder in the Jute’s shield wall in front of Hengist, on the ridgeline above a tributary stream of the river. Not far below where the opposing armies of Jutes and Britons were, they could see Horsa with his combined force of Angles and Scythians, who he had divided up into small commando units, all hidden from Vortigern’s view by a slight dip in the landscape behind the scrubby tangle of briar and brambles growing out of the stream’s northern bank, ready to pounce on the advancing ranks of Britons.
Vortigern had drawn up his ranks of tattooed, near naked Britons in three rows on the grassy flood plain on his side of the stream, unaware of the hidden surprise waiting for him when he crossed it. He believed that the assembled Jute army behind their shield wall on the ridge above the stream was his only opposition. For over an hour insults were traded back and forth as the warriors on both sides began psyching themselves up for battle. Meanwhile nearby Aylesford’s residents hastily departed the scene should the forthcoming battle spill over into their hamlet.
What Max and Lars experienced next would make anything either of them encountered on their previous trips back in time, simply pale into insignificance when it came to naked mindless savagery.
At a blast from his horn, Vortigern’s by now almost insane warriors launched themselves towards the stream and the shield wall in the distance, screaming like Banshee’s. As they scrambled up the opposite bank of the stream hampered by the brambles and briar, Horsa’s Scythians and Angles stood up blocking their advance, before mercilessly attacking them as they struggled to untangle themselves from the thorny undergrowth. His commandos hacked limbs and heads from bodies with relish. They cleaved open ribcages with their iron battle axes and split stomachs with their swords, which in turn spilt steaming entrails onto the ground. Vortigern’s warriors didn’t stand a chance. The stream was soon choked with the butchered remains of the majority of Britons.
Unlike the way Hollywood normally portrays their heroes as bulletproof while engaged in spectacularly long battle scenes in their movies, or how television producers make endless numbers of sanitized historical programs depicting wars, specifically designed for broadcast when families are gathered together, the real thing is far more violent and usually over in a matter of minutes. To that end, less than fifteen minutes after the battle had begun Vortigern rapidly retreated from the field with a pitiful handful of survivors.
Horsa had not died that day after all. So when did he die? Max and Lars had to find out. That was the reason for them being here in the first place. They needed to stay.
A few days later, Vortigern’s son Vortimer, sought revenge for his father’s humiliating defeat by beginning a series of sieges against Hengist and Horsa’s fortified stronghold on the Isle of Thanet. In all, he was to take the fight to the Jutes on four separate occasions over the following months. The next encounter after the failed siege attempts at Thanet was at the river Derwent, the third at Epsford, where during the bloody confrontation, Max and Lars witnessed the death of Horsa, and Vortigern’s other son, Catigern.
Vortimer’s last encounter on the battlefield with Hengist was at a place vaguely described as ‘the stone on the shore of the Gallic sea.’From what Max later related, it was somewhere on Kent’s south-eastern shores near where the English Channel and the North Sea merge, close to present day Dover, or perhaps Deal, not far to the north of the Channel port (he couldn’t be absolutely certain) where Hengist’s army was soundly defeated before the survivors fled to the safety of their ships.
In the end the Jutes prevailed when Hengist sent an invitation to Vortigern to sign a peace accord. The king of the Britons agreed and duly arrived with his entourage, only to witness the slaying of his remaining son Vortimer and his Britons by Hengist’s men. To save his own skin, reluctantly Vortigern ransomed himself by handing over Essex, Sussex and Middlesex as well as a few of his previously conquered lesser territories. Despite the fact that Hengist’s young daughter was nowhere to be seen as she and her mother had not been present, the Chronicles and Bede were at least correct about the massacre.
During the obligatory debriefing after their return, Max and Lars were able to confirm a few of the other entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles concerning the brothers as being correct, along with a handful of the assertions made by Bede.
Later after the debriefing was over, the two men sat with Briggs talking in general about their latest brush with history. They were completely astounded when he informed them that despite the fact that a little over fifteen hundred years had passed since the events they witnessed had occurred, most of the long established old families still living in the county today can trace their ancestry directly back to Hengist and Horsa’s Jutes and Vortigern’s Britons through their DNA profiles. The very idea that the present day descendants of Kent’s first inhabitants still lived in the area, oblivious to the fact that back then they and their neighbours in all likelihood would consider one another as either friend or foe, somehow appealed to both Max and Lars…

When Dreams Come True

I’ve always been extremely uncomfortable with the idea of the European Union since it was first postulated and formed. To me it is nothing more than Adolf Hitler’s insane dream come true. 
He wanted a united Europe under German leadership which he named The Thousand Year Reich to control all aspects of Europe, and its country’s populations. While Europe may not be the fascist state he hoped for, if he was still alive he would undoubtedly approve of Germany being the key player when it comes to what is said and done. 
With France agreeing with everything Germany says as you would expect of a weak kneed sycophant, while the rest simply tag along behind hoping for crumbs from the negotiation table, not wishing to upset the two most powerful members, Europe is fast becoming a collective of sick states. 
Why all politicians support such a warped concept defies all logic. Very few countries abstained from joining the union. Switzerland is the shining example of courage and common sense prevailing over blind stupidity. 
While the UK is technically in the union, we have not fully integrated into it thank goodness. We are subject to the EU’s mindboggling number of ridiculous laws – many of them simply defy all logic. Then there is the fact that as a nation we suffer from the totally legal freedom of movement by the EU’s citizens. While we have millions of our own out of work constantly harassed by our government for not gaining employment, people from other nations protected by the EU’s laws, freely enter to take up those self-same jobs, thereby denying our unemployed from earning a living wage – a situation we are powerless to prevent.
Despite all of this somehow or other we still retain a certain degree of autonomy, not to mention our own currency which many of our neighbours on the Continent dearly wish they still had since being force to accept the Euro. Our Prime Minister David Cameron recently went on record as saying that after the next election he will give the country a simple yes or no choice to stay or leave the EU in the form of a referendum. I’ll believe it when I see it. A week is a long time in politics let alone a couple of years…
While the idea of an amalgamation of states undoubtedly works in a relatively new country like the USA, wishing former sovereign countries to become nothing more than vassal states within a political alliance for the mutual benefit of all, as well as adopting one currency, is simply asking for trouble. Think about the recent financial collapse of Greece, Ireland and Spain if you need examples. Expecting various countries to all have the same approach to how their countries are run is plainly insane. Italy may be the next nation to fiscally fall by the wayside unless the EU is not careful. Here in the UK, all the indicators currently point to us still being in a triple dip recession, something which the average man on the street has known for ages even if our idiotic government vehemently denied it until it became the main headline on the BBC six o’clock news last night (25/01/2013).
To the rest of the world, I say only this –  be careful what you wish for, it may yet become reality…     

Before Stamford Bridge

Byzantine Constantinople

Briggs sat in his office half-heartedly listening to Professor Malcolm drone on endlessly about how his sub-committee, specifically set up to keep him and his cronies occupied and away from the Institute’s daily affairs, had devised a clear set of protocols regarding the use of the Teleportation Gate which they insisted must now be followed. 
His mind drifted while he stared out of the window, stifling a yawn while secretly hoping that the ground would open up and swallow the bloody man and his infernal sub-committee once and for all. 
Doing his best to ignore the aging academic’s affected nasal voice, typical of anyone born into England’s snooty, privileged elite who are taught from an early age at exclusive public schools like Eton and Harrow to use received pronunciation whenever conversing, to differentiate themselves from what their social circles deem to be the common rabble, in other words the majority of England’s population; Briggs began conjuring with names from the past. Who among the many would prove worthy of further investigation? 
Since he had delivered a paper barely a month earlier to the Royal Society on the first successful trip back in time to witness the battle of Hastings, Dr Gilbert Briggs’ UK Advanced Science Institute was inundated with requests from countless academics, researchers and authors, in fact anyone with an interest in history across the nation and beyond, to visit specific historical events. 
There were so many that Briggs demanded his researchers not only do preliminary research on each one, but also prioritise them into four distinct categories which he facetiously termed, Yes, Maybe, Could Be, and Not a Bloody Chance in Hell, much to the great amusement of his team. In other words, for most of the requests it would be years before they would be looked at again. 
In the meantime, Britain’s long history gave him a number of possibilities to choose from until someone more worthy of his time appeared. To his way of thinking, most of those listed in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were nothing more than bit players. A few stood out as possibly worthy of further consideration. At a pinch, some may even prove to be vaguely interesting. 
One thing Briggs and his team soon came to appreciate during their search for targets is that the process of nation building at best produces a mere handful of individuals who could be said to stand out from the crowd. 
Brought back to reality by Malcolm’s incessant droning on about his protocols, Briggs suddenly experienced what could only be described as a Eureka moment. “Where are you going man, I haven’t finished with you yet? Damn it all, get back here!” the professor indignantly demanded, when Briggs suddenly got up before rapidly heading for the door to his office.
“Sorry. See my secretary; she will arrange another appointment for you in a month or so. I’ve just remembered something extremely important which demands my immediate attention.” 

Malcolm was beside himself with fury. “Well really, this is the final straw. I resign, do you hear me Doctor Briggs – resign!” 

Briggs strode off down the corridor heading for the historical research department. With the merest hint of a smile on his face, he muttered, “resignation accepted you old sod – good riddance!” Now perhaps he could get on with business without any more interruptions and deliberate interference by fools. He made a mental note to sack the rest of Malcolm’s supporters within the Institute at the earliest opportunity.
Harald Sigurdsson had led a life most people with an adventurous spirit could only ever dream about. In fact his life story read like a tale written by the likes of H. Ryder Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, or perhaps even Jack London. Like most people beyond Norway’s border, Briggs knew precious little about the man except that he was born sometime during the year 1015, only to die in his fifty-first year on the 25th of September, 1066. 
As the king of Norway, he had arrived in England at the head of a Viking invasion force to support Tostig Godwinson, who promised him the English crown when they beat his brother king Harold. Both he and Tostig perished during the fierce battle with Harold’s Anglo-Saxon army on and around the stone ford crossing the river Derwent close to the area known as Stamford Bridge in the East Riding of Yorkshire. In Harald’s case he would die soon after being struck in the neck by an arrow.
The popularly held belief that Stamford Bridge was actually a village at the time, supposedly accessed via a bridge straddling the Derwent, which, according to legend was defended singlehandedly by one of Harald’s berserker warriors, is nothing more than a myth.
Harald was the oldest son of the Hardrada clan, part of the Fairhair dynasty of Norway. From 1030, at the tender age of fifteen, until he returned to become the rightful king of Norway, ruling as Harald the third after the death of his nephew Magnus the Good in 1046, he spent the intervening years in exile as a mercenary, first in service to the Kievan Rus’ court where he met his future bride, Elisiv of Kiev, and later in the employ of the Byzantine Emperor, Alexios Komnenos.
Since sending someone back through time to simply tag along with Harald on the off chance that something previously unknown about him may occur was clearly out of the question, one specific event in his life had to be chosen. After endless debate, Briggs and his team unanimously decided that their observer should investigate the considerable amount of time Harald spent as commander of the Byzantine Emperor’s Varangian guard in Constantinople.
Owing to the way the Teleportation Gate appeared to bend time, whoever he sent back as an observer would feel as if they really were there for a number of years, even though in reality it would be no more than a few hours before they were returned to the present.
They had all agreed with Briggs that there was absolutely no point in sending anyone back to accompany Harald during his abortive invasion of England, simply because it is one of the most widely recorded events in English history, second only to the battle of Hastings. Over the next two weeks Briggs poured over everything the researchers could find on Harald Sigurdsson; or Harald Hardrada as history would remember him, during his time in Constantinople.
Harald arrived in the fortified city sometime in 1034, soon after being discharged from duty in the army of the Kievan Rus’ grand prince, Yaroslav the Wise, where he rose to the rank of captain. He and his posse of cut-throats joined the many mercenaries already heading for the Byzantine Empire’s capital in search of adventure, employment and riches.
It was during his long voyage south through Russia and the Ukraine aboard a longboat on the great rivers, following the age old Viking trade routes with the Middle East, that Briggs sent his new ‘observer’ Max through the Teleportation Gate to join him. He had been chosen specifically for his command of Old Norse, his powerful build and almost photographic memory. He was recommended as a future observer by one of the young female research undergraduates employed at the Institute. Briggs found out later she had put his name forward simply to rid herself of his unwanted amorous advances, a fact which Briggs kept from him.
The Byzantine Emperor at the time in question, Alexios Komnenos, had many enemies especially within his own court who were only too willing to end his life. Like his predecessors, Alexios could not place his personal safety in the hands of his own army, simply because they could be bought. Instead he relied upon his totally loyal Varangian Guard, made up exclusively of Germanic peoples from the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland as well as a growing number of disaffected young Anglo-Saxon warriors from England.
The Guard was first formed under Emperor Basil II in 988, following the Christianization of Kievan Rus’ by Vladimir I of Kiev. By the end of the eleventh century, it would be made up solely from the ranks of those Anglo-Saxons who now found themselves disinherited by William, Duke of Normandy and his Norman invasion force.
Max in his new guise as Nils Holdstrum, stuck to Harald like glue. In fact they became firm friends. After meeting Harald he decided to ignore Briggs’ instructions, issued before he travelled back in time, that under no circumstances must he form any kind of relationship, or have any personal involvement with Harald or any other player in the unfolding events, citing the very real possibility of Max altering history.
When Harald rose through the ranks by his deeds to become the commander of the Varangian Guard, he promoted Max as one of his captains. During the time they spent together in the Emperor’s employ, along with their comrades they saw action on at least one occasion beyond Constantinople’s massive walls, in the partial reconquest of Sicily from the Arabs in 1038. They also fought alongside a contingent of recently arrived Norman mercenaries who had come to Italy seeking adventure, along with Lombards from Apulia. Soon after the Sicilian campaign, the Byzantine catepan or local ruler, Michael Doukeianos, had a force of Varangians, including Max and Harald, stationed at the town of Bari on the Adriatic coast of the Apulia region of Italy.
Barely two years later on the sixteenth of March, 1041, another army of mercenaries arrived on the scene to threaten Byzantine control. Once again Max and Harald were called upon to fight. This time their enemy proved to be none other than their former allies, the Normans. They engaged in what amounted to a one sided battle near Venosa. Many of their fellow guards drowned in the subsequent hasty retreat across the Ofanto River, after losing the day. Both Harald and Max were lucky to survive.
On the first of September of the same year, Exaugustus Boioannes arrived to replace the disgraced Doukeianos as catepan. But he fared no better than his predecessor. Two days later on the third of September, Max, Harald and the remaining Varangians under his command were soundly defeated in battle once again by the Normans. It was during this moment of utter carnage and total confusion on the battlefield that Max was suddenly whisked away. Like all of Brigg’s observers then and now, he was returned much against his will.
Somehow Harald managed to survive until the following year when he returned to Kievan Rus’ a wealthy man, to marry his first love, Elisiv, and to plan his campaign for the Norwegian crown. Four years later in 1046, he would finally succeed when his nephew Magnus the Good died soon after agreeing to share the kingdom with him, having no stomach to fight his own uncle. From then until his death on the twenty-fifth of September, 1066, at Stamford Bridge, as Harald the third, thanks to his austere no nonsense rule, Norway became a relatively peaceful country. On his death, he was survived by his second wife Tora Torbergsdatter and his four children, Ingegard, queen of Denmark and Sweden, Maria Haraldsdatter, Magnus the second and Olaf the third of Norway. 

After Stamford Bridge, Harald was returned to Norway. Initially buried at Mary Church in Trondheim, where his body remained until the end of the twelfth century, he was then re-interred at Helgeseter Priory, until it was demolished in the seventeenth century. What happened to him after that is pure conjecture. One thing that no one within the closed world of academia, or outside it for that matter, can deny is that Harald Sigurdsson otherwise known as Harald Hardrada, or Harald the third, was one of history’s most significant players.

Wuffa’s Sword

A month had passed since Dr Gilbert Briggs became the first human ever to travel back in time; in his case, to witness the battle of Hastings. As the new director of the UK Advanced Science Institute based in the city of Norwich, Gilbert had demanded that he be the first. Not for selfish reasons as his detractors within the Institute would have the academic world believe, but merely because he was not prepared to gamble on anyone else’s life. He was the one responsible for designing the Teleportation Gate and the minute homing chip, designed to be inserted beneath the observer’s skin; therefore in his eyes, it was his responsibility to test it. 
Many lessons had been learned during that first use of the Gate. As far as Briggs’ nemesis Professor Malcolm was concerned; under no circumstances should anyone who may be a direct descendant of the people existing at the target be sent through the Gate ever again, citing the narrow escape Briggs had experienced to back up his argument, secretly hoping the whole programme would be closed down. 
Malcolm was the senior academic Briggs had replaced as head of the Institute. He led a small number of the more senior academics within the Institute determined to block Briggs’ every move. The majority of the scientific community in the know largely ignored his protestations, preferring to back Briggs.
The trouble with Malcolm’s argument is that the further you travel back in time, the more likely you are to be related to the people you have been sent to observe, particularly if the target is anywhere within the UK and across the Continent and parts of the Near East.
While Malcolm and his cronies continued their pathetic attempts to disrupt the programme, Briggs, who was taking a break from his own personal research regarding his Norman ancestor Gilberte de Brige who had nearly killed him that day during the battle of Hastings, suddenly thought of another historical figure worthy of observation. He was fascinated by the man since his early childhood growing up in the small market town of Beccles in north Suffolk on the border between the two counties, not forty miles south of the Institute.
Ever since he first read about the discovery in May 1939 of the ship burial beneath Mound One at Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge in southern Suffolk, four months prior to the opening gambit of the Second World War, commonly referred to as the phony war, he had often wondered about whether or not its occupant was indeed Rædwald, the legendary king of the East Angles (the Scandinavian people who occupied what is now Norfolk and Suffolk at the time) as the world had been led to believe.
In his early teens whenever he accompanied his parents on their annual visit to his mother’s relatives in London, Briggs usually waited until they were all deep in conversation before sneaking away to catch the bus to the British Museum, spending many happy hours wandering around the room where all the rich grave goods found during the Sutton Hoo dig were displayed, marvelling at the seventh century workmanship.
In particular what got his attention was the gold belt buckle, the equally exquisite garnet encrusted cuirass clasps, and the remains of a plated iron helmet and face mask with its magnificent modern day replica mounted alongside for comparison purposes, produced for the British Museum by the artisans of the Royal Armouries, showing how it must have looked on the day of the burial when it was carefully placed alongside the body. 
Then there was the garnet cloisonné pommel of the deceased’s sword, equally as exquisite as the buckle and clasps, not to mention the pattern-welded blade still within its scabbard, with superlative scabbard bosses of domed cell work and pyramidal mounts, and the remnants of a once magnificent shield. Were they the sword and shield of Rædwald’s legendary grandfather Wuffa? Briggs was determined to find out one way or another.
Gilbert’s choice of Lars as his observer was inspired. The long haired, well-built young Scandinavian was currently engaged in a post-doctoral study of the University of East Anglia’s precious copy of the saga of Beowulf. With his extensive knowledge of the ancient Geat language which quickly developed into Old English, a Germanic language at the time, who better to send through the Gate? After all it was widely believed by historians that Rædwald’s ancestors, the Wuffing dynasty, originated in Lars’ home country of Sweden.    
The only real decision left was where to send him – Rendlesham, the hypothesised seat of Rædwald’s power, not far from Sutton Hoo, or to the site of the decisive battle at the River Idle, flowing through what is now Nottinghamshire, between Rædwald and his arch enemy at the time, Æthelfrith of Northumbria. In the end Briggs took a calculated guess by deciding on Rendlesham, even though he had no definitive proof that the hamlet actually was Rædwald’s powerbase. It may even have been at nearby Gipeswic (Ipswich), the East Angle’s predominant port at the time.
The other problem was the date. Although it is generally accepted by historians that the king died sometime in 624AD, what month was anyone’s guess. Nor was the actual date of the battle at the river Idle actually known, except that it occurred either in 616 or 617AD. If Lars appeared on the scene too late or early he may miss Rædwald altogether. And so after much discussion between Briggs and his historical section, the 22ndof September, 616, was decided upon. If their calculations were out, Lars could always travel back again at a different date and time.
They were in luck. When he arrived in Rendlesham it was night time. The king’s great wooden hall, surrounded by the guarded walls of a wooden stockade, dominated the hamlet. On entering the hall Lars saw that it was filled to capacity. At the hall’s centre, surrounded on three sides by long wooden tables and benches, stood the great brazier. Above it, suspended by a chain from the hall’s ridgepole, was a large iron cauldron from which slaves fed the ever hungry assembly. The thick wattle and daub walls were lined with expensive, richly coloured wall hangings made by the finest artisans.
He marvelled at the sight before him from his vantage point in the shadows beside the doors at the opposite end of the hall facing Rædwald the undisputed king of the East Angles, seated below what Lars had been sent here to find – Wuffa’s mighty sword and shield. To the king’s right were his two sons Rægenhere and Eorpwald and their uncle Eni (Rædwald’s younger brother).
Lars said later that finally being able to put actual faces to names from dusty history books was initially unsettling. And yet here he was and there they were…
On Rædwald’s left was his wife Eabæ, a daughter of the royal house of Essex, who Rædwald had originally married on the death of her first husband, to seal a peaceful alliance between her people the Saxons and his. The mother of his beloved sons was still a beauty despite being in her late thirties – old for the time.
Rædwald had become king of the East Angles at the age of twenty on the death of his father Tytila, inheriting his crown and his badge of office, Wuffa’s great sword and shield. Later the venerable Bede would contemptuously dismiss Rædwald as nothing more than a mere footnote in England’s history and therefore of no real importance, by simply observing: filius Tytili, cuius pater fuit UUffa (son of Tytil, whose father was Wuffa). The cleric could not have been more wrong.
Barely a month since, Rædwald had driven out Eabæ’s firstborn son Sigeberht by her previous husband, who’s claim to the East Angle throne was at best tenuous since she had produced two rightful heirs for her new husband.
Rædwald’s desire to kill him soon forced the young man to seek exile in Gaul. Thanks to his loyal thanes and ceorls, Rædwald learned of his stepson’s treacherous plot to murder young Rægenhere and his infant brother Eorpwald in order to take his place as next in line to the throne. Under the circumstances, the usurper was extremely fortunate to escape with his life.
Lars followed the king’s gaze as he now glowered at the cause of his latest dilemma who was seated with his thanes and ceorls, to one side of the hall. Edwin, the true heir to the throne of Deira, brother in law of Æthelfrith of Northumbria, had sought Rædwald’s protection after attempts were made on his life at Æthelfrith’s command.
At first Rædwald had been in favour of either killing him, or simply returning him. But his wife Eabæ and Paulinus, a monk and member of the Canterbury mission had reminded him of his recent religious conversion in Kent and his new Christian duty to honour his gift of sanctuary.
Reluctantly he sent Æthelfrith’s ambassadors back to their lord empty handed after Eabæ had pleaded with him to listen to the monk, reminding him that he now served two sets of gods, the new Christian god and his old ones Tiw, Wodin, Thor and Freya.
Completing the picture before Lars’ eyes, Rædwald’s faithful wolfhound Ceolwulf lay at his master’s feet gnawing on a cow’s thigh bone, snarling should any other hound stray too close. While his master was still king, Ceolwulf was the leader of the pack both here in the hall and on the battlefield.
Because of Edwin, Rædwald now had no option but to answer Æthelfrith’s declaration of war. He had already sent his most trusted thane Egfrid to spy on Æthelfrith’s army near the River Trent at the western boundary of the kingdom of Lindsey, two days earlier. When Egfrid returned, plans would be made for a surprise attack. 
The massive carved doors of Rædwald’s hall swung open, noisily striking the wooden poles on either side of the doorway, making Lars jump. Egfrid, together with his ceorls entered; he motioned for his men to go and eat, as he strode forward to the high table where his old friend the king sat.
Rædwald stood to greet him. “What news of Æthelfrith’s army?” he demanded.
“My lord, Æthelfrith has an army already assembled near the River Idle. He is not there yet; he tours his kingdom gathering more to his banner. His thanes are thirsty for blood.”
“Then we have no time to lose. Lord Edwin, will you fight for your birth right or will you cower here in my hall?” Edwin instantly stood up knocking back the bench he had been seated on. Drawing his sword, he strode to the centre of Rædwald’s hall beside the brazier. “Great king I stand by your side ready to do battle with my brother-in-law Æthelfrith and his army. He sought to kill me, denying me Deira. Now it is his turn to die.”
Rædwald simply nodded. Within the hour he had sent word to all his thanes along the route north to the River Idle to prepare for battle. The two day march began almost immediately. Lars insinuated himself into the ranks of the long column of warriors not far behind Rædwald. 
The king of the East Angles rode at the head of his steadily growing army dressed in his magnificent polished, ornately decorated helmet, with its protective cheek pieces and cranium ridge overlaid with gold, beneath which his protective face mask with its prominent gold brow ridges, who’s ends were decorated with tusked Boar’s heads, together with a nose and moustache inlaid with gold, hid all from view but his piercing blue eyes.
His rich cloak was held in place by smaller versions of the garnet encrusted solid gold clasps fixing his cuirass. His belt was adorned with its ornately worked solid gold belt buckle.
From where he marched in the column, Lars recognised the sword sheathed at the king’s back. Only days earlier he had stood beside Gilbert in the British Museum closely studying its pommel and hilt guard in preparation for this very moment.
The sword was a work of art more than a weapon of war, expertly forged by Swedish artisans in the middle years of the sixth century from pattern-welded rods of iron, edged with steel, which created a beautiful shimmering wavy effect along its entire length, with its pommel and hilt guard of solid gold, both inlayed with garnets.
Striding effortlessly beside his king’s horse was his faithful thane and shield bearer Egfrid proudly carrying his king’s mighty circular wooden shield with its outer covering of thick hide. Its edge was covered in ornate gold filigree work depicting writhing serpents; at its centre stood a gleaming gold plated shield boss. Lars also recognised the mighty shield’s finely crafted adornments after seeing them close up at the Museum. At least one thing was abundantly clear, the sword and shield did belong to Rædwald. Whether or not they actually first belonged to his grandfather Wuffa was not immediately clear to Lars.
Rædwald’s faithful wolfhound Ceolwulf trotted in front of his master’s horse, closely followed by his own army ready to rip Northumbrian throats. 
When dawn broke on the mist covered east bank of the River Idle, a little known event in England’s history began to unfold before Lars’ eyes as Rædwald formed up his considerable army into three columns across the river’s floodplain, following the long established tactics last employed on this island by the Roman legions, two hundred years previously.
To the left Edwin stood ready with his men. To the right Rædwald’s oldest son Rægenhere and his men prepared for battle. Rædwald sat motionless astride his horse at the head of the central column with his old friend Egfrid ready to protect his king’s back.
Across the marshy meadow ahead of his army, the mist began to lift as the September sun slowly burnt it away, revealing Æthelfrith’s encampment. At Rædwald’s command, the three columns formed their shield walls and began shouting “Out, out, out!” while banging their iron tipped spears against the back surface of their shields as they purposefully began advancing in the characteristic crablike manner of warriors with shields locked together.
Lars stood a little distance away in low scrub behind the advancing columns, unsure quite what to do next, praying he would be forgotten in the heat of the forthcoming battle. Briggs’ account of his own near fatal experience at Hastings still registered vividly in his mind, reminding him of the dangers of personal involvement. 
Æthelfrith’s more seasoned fighters attacked the three shield walls in a ragged open formation, believing that their superior numbers and skills would win the day. With each charge at Rædwald’s shield walls, Æthelfrith’s crazed warriors fell in great numbers. His men, who were attacking Rægenhere’s shield wall, believed they were fighting Edwin. In the ensuing carnage, they succeeded in killed Rædwald’s much loved son.
Rædwald’s faithful hound Ceolwulf and his brethren joined the battle with canine relish, savagely tearing flesh from bone, biting Northumbrian throats in their own frenzied attack.
The tide of battle slowly turned in Rædwald’s favour as his three column’s shield walls relentlessly drove forward to where Æthelfrith stood surrounded by his most faithful thanes. Despite the danger, Lars followed on behind. The excited, inquisitive small boy in him wanted to get closer to the action.
On hearing of the death of his son, Rædwald, with Egfrid at his back, sought out Æthelfrith and slew him with the great sword. With his demise the battle of the River Idle simply petered out rather than end decisively. No one bothered to give chase as the few survivors of Æthelfrith’s Northumbrian army rapidly fled from the scene.
Soon after the battle, Edwin succeeded Æthelfrith as ruler in Northumbria which also gave him control over the lesser kingdoms of North Deira and Bernicia. He later became the first Christian king of the Northern English. His now considerable military strength enabled him to conquer the Brythonic kingdom of Elmet, and also to lead his army to victory as far south as the Saxon kingdom of Wessex. As for Æthelfrith’s sons, they went into exile among the Picts and Scots, vanishing from history.
Grief stricken over the death of his son Rægenhere, Rædwald sheathed the great sword and returned home a broken man. A few years later in 624, he died aged forty-four. 
On returning to the Institute Lars asked to be sent back. He wished to attend Rædwald’s funeral out of his deep respect for a great warrior. Briggs agreed and asked to accompany him. They watched through the early morning mist of the November day when Rædwald was laid to rest with his belongings including his sword, helmet and shield on a simple cot within a purpose built wooden chamber aboard his recently repaired boat,which had been brought overland from nearby Gipeswic. The boat was then buried beneath the tumulus at Sutton Hoo now known as Mound One.
England would never see his like again. Barely a generation after his death the East Angles ceased to be a separate people when the inevitable intermarriage between Angles and Saxons forged a new nation.   
Thanks to Lars’ extremely detailed written account, many gaps in the sketchy history of Rædwald’s East Angles had been filled in. Briggs now knew beyond any reasonable doubt that the remains of the helmet, sword and shield in the British Museum exhibit were indeed formerly owned by Rædwald. Whether or not they actually belonged to Wuffa would probably never be known.

A disappointing read

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the AmazonThe Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

 2.0 out of 5 stars The Lost City of Z – what a con!, 15 Jan 2013
Jack Eason

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This review is from: The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer’s Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon (Kindle Edition)

As a student of history, I was seriously disappointed with the Lost City of Z for two reasons.

First of all, the book is supposed to be about Colonel Fawcett’s last abortive expedition into the Matto Grosso, not about a writer who believes his own life is more fascinating than the subject of his book! No one gives a damn about your personal reminiscences.

Anyone who takes four chapters before he begins telling the background to his subject’s story, seriously needs to take a step back. This isn’t about Fawcett’s last expedition, so much as his life up until he set off for the Matto Grosso for the final time and about Victorian explorers in general!!!

Secondly it is full of typo’s and spelling mistakes, showing how it was rushed through the publishing process.

Make up your mind Mr Grann, is this book about you, Victorian explorers and attitudes in general, or Colonel Fawcett’s last expedition?

View all my reviews

Of Fyrdmen and Shields

When the breakthrough finally happened in September 2097, Dr Gilbert Briggs, the new head of the UK Advanced Science Institute based in Norwich, volunteered to be the first human guinea pig. No one knew if he would survive. The Institute’s more senior academics instantly disliked him, mainly because of his youth. When they became his subordinates they all secretly hoped he would be disassembled on a molecular level forever. As the boss, he was adamant that no one but him would be the first to travel back in time.
Three years earlier, he had been employed as a very junior postdoctoral researcher at the Institute when the rudiments of time travel shifted from pure theory to a practical attempt at building a working device. There was one thing none of his detractors could deny, no matter how much they may loath him – he was a gifted academic with an analytical mind. He had achieved two superb doctorates at the University of East Anglia, one in theoretical physics, and the other in experimental engineering.
For years the only attempt at time travel in its other guise, teleportation, barely succeeded when a few particles were moved from one teleporter to another. Whether or not they had altered irrevocably was the subject of much debate within the academic world back in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Up until that moment teleportation was only possible within the realms of science fiction. But like all the fantastic, seemingly impossible things dreamt up by imaginative writers, time travel was about to become a reality.
The successful breakthrough was finally achieved when a laboratory rat was sent from one teleportation unit, lost for a few brief seconds, before reappearing at the other seemingly unharmed by the experience. That was five years ago. Now the long awaited next step could be taken thanks to Briggs’ brilliant engineering breakthrough – the Teleportation Gate.
The time had come to send a human test subject to a place and time in the past and return them intact to the present. The Institute’s most senior academic, Professor Malcolm, had grave misgivings over his former juniors’ breakthrough. Since the academic world had shifted its gaze away from him towards young Briggs, Malcolm did his level best through his contacts in the old boy network to have Briggs removed. Like the rest of the senior academics at the Institute, he seethed with jealousy. Publically he backed his young boss. Privately, like his colleagues he hoped the young upstart would die.
Briggs was suitably attired for the occasion in clothes of the period he was about to go to. All evidence of anything twenty-first century was removed from him. The only item he would take with him from the present was the minute teleportation chip, another of his innovative designs, which was in effect a miniaturised homing beacon that sat hidden beneath the skin at the nape of his neck, enabling the Institute technicians to lock on and return him.
Briggs was being sent back to eleventh century England. His mission was to observe all that unfolded on the momentous day at Hastings when the decisive battle of the Norman invasion took place. It was heavily emphasised by the Institute’s historical research department that under no circumstances was he to participate in any way other than mere observation. Should he do so, he may inadvertently change history.
Briggs was about to step into the unknown. Gathering up his bag and staff he strode to the Teleportation Gate. The operators checked that his chip’s homing signal was being received and preset the destination date and place. Nodding that he was ready; he stood patiently waiting for the process to begin. The technicians checked over all of the gate’s failsafe systems one last time; then at his command, the teleporter’s power slowly began to build.
His body began to tingle, not in an unpleasant way. Every atom within his body was excited by the process as the gate slowly disassembled him before sending him back in time.
Before he realized it he found himself standing on a small mound at the edge of the Great Weald – the massive forest that still covered the English countryside back then, behind Senlac ridge where the Anglo-Saxon army’s vast shield wall stood. The date was October 14th 1066.
His mind drew comparisons between the empty eleventh century countryside he was now observing and the heavily populated East Sussex of the twenty-first century that he knew. He lifted his hand to shield his eyes while taking in the scene before him.
In the far distance immediately below where the Anglo-Saxon army stood defiant, Briggs could see cavalrymen on their horses and behind them the foot soldiers and archers of the invading army from across the Channel.
By landing his invasion force at Pevensey, Duke William had forced King Harold into a bloody showdown. His Norman army marched the relatively few miles up from the beach after hearing that Harold had just arrived and was assembling his army in readiness for battle.
Briggs stared in utter amazement at the very real and tall figure out of England’s historical past – the Anglo-Saxon king Harold seated on his horse, a little way behind his shield wall.
A body of heavily armed bearded fyrdmen walked out of the forest behind Briggs. “What are you doing here lad? You should be down there with our brothers, not skulking up here on the hill like a coward!” Briggs felt rough hands haul him to his feet. A spear point dug into his back as he was prodded down the hill to the shield wall. Despite the passage of time, Briggs could understand the old English that his accuser spoke, or at least some of the words.
“Here’s another volunteer my lord,” his accuser informed Earl Gyrth, brother of King Harold, and the Housecarl in charge of the shield wall. A sword and shield were thrust into Brigg’s unwilling hands.
Somehow he had to make sure he was at the back of the wall no matter what. Gyrth had other ideas. He roughly shoved Briggs into the shield wall between two of the toughest warriors in King Harold’s fierce army of fyrdmen. For what seemed like an eternity Briggs and his fellow defenders stood there as William’s knights prepared to charge uphill to the waiting defiant Anglo-Saxons.
Then he saw William give the command to his cavalry. As the chainmail armoured cavalry rode forth, Briggs’ compatriots began beating their swords and battle axes on their shields crying “out, out, out,” psyching themselves up into a frenzy of blind hate for the invaders who now rode at full gallop up the slope towards them.
Briggs glanced behind him and saw Harold slowly riding behind the line encouraging his recently blooded army. Only days earlier they had successfully beaten the Viking invasion force of Harald Hardråda and King Harold’s own brother Tostig Godwinson at the battle of Stamford Bridge near York. Now the Norman’s, a mix of Viking and Gaul blood, threatened from the south. Hearing of William’s arrival, Harold force marched his tired army to meet the new threat. Gyrth had urged him to delay his arrival to gather more men, but Harold’s need to defend his realm overruled his brother’s concerns; time was of the essence.
The line of charging horses and their riders unnerved Briggs; he was absolutely terrified. He was completely out of his twenty-first century comfort zone.
His mind screamed, “this is not supposed to be the way the mission happens. I’m only an observer for Christ’s sake!”
He instinctively ducked when a Norman sword swung dangerously close to his exposed naked head as the knight rode along the line of stabbing Anglo-Saxon swords and swinging battle axes, probing the impenetrable defences of the Anglo-Saxon shield wall. His shield was locked firmly in place by the two on either side of him. Blindly he thrust his sword through the gap in the shield wall on his right, hoping and praying that it would remain un-bloodied; the last thing he wanted was to instantly wipe out a twenty-first century individual by killing his ancestor! The Norman knights rode back down the hill relatively unscathed by their probe of the shield wall.
Harold jumped from his horse and came over to where Briggs and his companions stood. His gleaming helmet bore a gold band in the shape of his crown. He was clothed in his chainmail hauberk. At his side, his sword hung from his belt. At his back was his shield. Briggs studied Harold Godwinson at close quarters. He was a fine looking, handsome moustachioed man with long flaxen hair. If he had walked down any street in twenty-first century England, all female heads would have turned to admire him.
The fyrdmen of Harold’s shield wall still continued shouting “out, out, out,” to the rhythm of their swords and battle axes being beaten against the back of their shields, defying the Norman invaders below them, taunting them.
Minutes before Briggs was unceremoniously forced into the shield wall, William’s archers had unsuccessfully launched a black cloud of arrows on the fyrdmen and their shield wall, largely to no effect. Now to pile insult upon insult, one or two within the shield wall temporarily dropped their shields, turned and contemptuously bared their buttocks at the invaders, accompanied by raucous laughter from their fellow Anglo-Saxon defenders.
One young Norman knight bristled at the insult to his lord and master, Duke William. Taking it very personally, he rode forth at full gallop to the vocal encouragement of his fellow knights. Briggs could hear the incensed knight’s horse’s laboured breathing over the thunder of its hooves as it charged up the hill straight at where he and Harold were. The knight had snatched a spear from one of the foot soldiers as he rode through the ranks. He tucked its shaft under his right armpit as he urged his mount on with his left hand which was protected by his long shield.
Briggs stood transfixed as he recognised the charging Norman’s very familiar coat of arms, brightly displayed on his shield. Galloping towards him was his own ancestor, Gilberte de Brige, angry and bent on doing harm. Briggs was on the point of yelling out to him in twenty-first century French that they were related, but quickly thought better of it. Gilberte’s horse was closing the distance rapidly.
Time seemed to slow almost to a standstill as Gilberte grew ever closer; Briggs studied his ancestor closely despite the great personal danger he was in. Compared to the angry warrior charging at him, his own generation were pussy cats. Any ridiculous twenty-first century fleeting thoughts of sitting down for a friendly chat with his ancestor that Briggs may have had, instantly evaporated as Gilberte closed the gap, with bloody vengeance in his eyes.
“For god’s sake when will I be returned to the twenty-first century?” his mind screamed again. He had lost all concept of time since he first arrived here on the battlefield. Was it ten minutes ago or an hour?
Gilberte was close enough now that Briggs could clearly see his facial features beneath his helmet and nose guard. “God almighty, the family resemblance is uncanny. If we stood side by side, we could pass for twins!” Briggs thought.
Gilberte’s protected right hand tightened its grip of the spear’s shaft as he was now only a few feet from Briggs and the shield wall. Despite his chainmail hood and helmet emphasising the sound of his own blood pounding in his ears, Gilberte, like his terrified descendant in the shield wall ahead, could hear his horse’s laboured breathing and pounding hooves. The heat of the day and the effort of charging uphill made the magnificent animal sweat profusely, creating lines of white foamy lather that broke through its dark chestnut coat and beneath its saddle and the colourful saddle cloth that also bore the family coat of arms.
Briggs could now hear the metallic rustling of Gilberte’s chainmail armour and the clanking of his shield against his armoured left thigh. That cruel spear point was directly aimed at him, ready to end his mortal existence.
“Come on, come on! When the hell is the recall going to happen?”
Briggs caught a whiff of Gilberte’s horse’s laboured breath and sweat as it mingled with the heavy body odour of his fellow defenders. He struggled to break free from the shield wall, but he was firmly locked into place by the two powerful warriors at either side of him. King Harold stood immediately at his back, sword drawn, ready to parry the spear should it pierce the wall.
“For the love of god, recall me now, get me the hell out of here!” Briggs’ mind pleaded.
Time seemed to slow even more as the tip of Gilberte’s spear savagely struck the edge of Briggs’ shield, travelling past his shoulder. Harold dodged it and swung his sword at the cruel point as it searched in vain for flesh. At the same moment, Gilberte’s exhausted steed crashed into the shield wall at full gallop, unhorsing its rider and sending the fyrdmen of the shield wall flying. Gilberte was catapulted over the wall and fell in a heap behind Briggs and Harold.
Harold raised his sword over his head ready to strike down Briggs’ ancestor. Microseconds later, Harold, Gilberte and two dazed Anglo-Saxon fyrdmen who had survived the bone shattering impact, stared in utter disbelief as he slowly began to dematerialize in front of their eyes. For the briefest moment, they all forgot about the battle they were engaged in on that fateful day.
“Gods blood man! You had specific orders from the history wallahs only to observe. What possessed you?” Professor Malcolm cried out in anger and frustration, conveniently putting aside the fact that without Briggs’ genius, what had happened minutes earlier would still be nothing more than an unproven theory that he and the rest were incapable of solving.
Briggs sat quietly while everyone ranted and raged at him in the debriefing after he had regaled his account of what had just happened in his life minutes before, and yet more than a millennia in the past, still quite unable to fully comprehend what he had actually witnessed and reluctantly been subjected to.
Because of his unwilling participation in the battle, important lessons had been learned. While technically no one, even Malcolm, doubted it was a resounding success, it would be a long time before the Institute made any more attempts at sending someone back into the darkest reaches of time. Safeguards against personal participation in historical events by possible descendants in the future had to be worked out thoroughly before another attempt was made.
Briggs had only one unanswered question that night as he sat brooding in his flat. “What happened to my ancestor? Did he survive the encounter unscathed?” He assumed that he must have survived. But had he? Perhaps he had already fathered the next generation before the invasion, in which case whether or not Gilberte survived the day was largely immaterial.
He now had a new mission. The first step was to search through his own family’s ancient records and the many historical accounts of the Battle of Hastings, written a few years after that fateful day when England as an Anglo-Saxon nation ended forever and the Normans took control. No matter how much biased authors like William of Poitiers, William of Malmesbury, Florence of Worcester, and Eadmer, embellished their various accounts in favour of William, Briggs would seek the truth.
Had Gilberte charged the shield wall that day on his own, Briggs was determined to find out? After all he may have been a thoroughly nasty individual and a product of that barbarous time, but he had clearly demonstrated his determination and his sense of honour to his frightened descendant, traits which still prevail deep within his psyche over a thousand years later…

A Cautionary Tail

Sparkle lived in a pile of leaves high up inside an old hollow tree in a forest not far from here.
Once she had warmed up, she was a very busy little soul. But when it was cold, or when it rained or snowed, she simply curled up in a ball with her beautiful golden feathery tail wrapped about her with just her tiny nose poking out.
The winter had been a particularly harsh and cold one. Traces of snow from the last heavy fall still clung to the old tree’s foliage above Sparkle’s nest as it gradually melted in the weak warmth of the early spring sunshine. All throughout the land new signs of life stirred now that the weather was changing for the better.
Sparkle’s nose twitched. A great sneeze escaped as she involuntarily rid herself of a tiny feather that had found a temporary home in one of her nostrils at sometime during the winter while she slept.
She opened one eye and peered out from behind the protection of her tail. All around her she could hear her neighbours stirring from their winter slumber as the sun slowly warmed the world. Sparkle yawned, stretched and open her other eye. It was time once more for life to continue in its age old way.
She rolled over and stood for a few moments as her heart pumped furiously, rapidly driving away the torpor she had been in throughout the long dark months of winter. Sparkle busied herself tidying her nest, grooming her fur and magnificent tail before she plucked up the courage to hunt for food.
It was still too early for her to collect her favourite berries. But she knew her secret larder at the foot of the tree beneath one of its giant roots would be full of the nuts and berries she had gathered last autumn; always providing of course that the squirrels hadn’t found it and emptied it.
Sparkle timidly peered out at the world.
Beyond the safety of her nest she had many enemies who like her were ravenously hungry and would not think twice about catching her for their supper. Fortunately for her, the old tree she lived in already had its new covering of leaves, meaning she could hide from the vigilant eyes of her woodland nemesis, the grey owl that lived close by. If danger presented itself she had an alternative route down to the ground inside the trunk.
Many times during her short lifetime Sparkle had nearly been caught by the wily owl. She had often escaped at the last possible second by diving beneath a leaf, or by clinging to the underside of the branch she was on, before dropping to the leaf litter on the forest floor below where she could quickly disappear from view.
As the sun climbed higher in the sky she decided to take a chance and step outside. She sat in the entrance to her nest for a short time checking for signs of danger before scurrying down the tree’s great trunk to the ground below.
Sparkle uncovered the entrance to her larder and peered nervously inside. Last year, she had nearly been caught by an Adder who had made her larder its new home. But thankfully all was clear as she entered. She ate her fill before beginning her long climb back to her nest, this time in the relative safety of the old tree’s hollow interior.
There was so much to do in the coming weeks. She hoped that the male she tolerated would be back. By now Sparkle was two years old, a great age for a Dormouse. She needed to have a brood of her own before the year turned once again to winter.
The sun disappeared below the horizon bringing the day to a close. Sparkle busied herself before bedtime rearranging the new supply of leaves on top of the old in her nest. A noise outside her home made her extremely nervous.
A beam of sunlight signaled dawn as it tracked slowly across the hollow in the tree’s trunk revealing all that was left of Sparkle. Her magnificent golden feathery tail lay discarded in the now empty nest. 
A young Pine Martin had found its evening meal…

What a let down!

I’ve been playing video games since the first ones appeared – remember PacMan and Tetris?

When the PS3 came along I bought one and plugged it in to my 42″ TV and my surround sound system.

Since then, when I have a couple of hours to spare, I insert the current game’s disc and sit down in my favourite chair (recliner) with the hand controller, and like millions of others I am instantly transported into another dimension.

It’s a given that for a game to work it must have a beginning, middle and end. Imagine how I felt when I finally came across a game which while promising to be excellent, instead led to bitter disappointment. I am talking about Skyrim – Elder Scrolls V.

It starts off with such a hiss and a roar (literally). It promised so much. There are four main quests which you work your way through. Along the way there are numerous smaller side quests. You can also choose whether or not to be a nice individual, or perhaps a thief or an assassin, along with what gender and race you wish to be.

The game is just so vast (the amount of physical detail is amazing) that my PS3 often stalls. The telltale sign that it is about to happen is when it begins to ‘stutter’. That’s usually the time to quit and delete a few saved games. There are several glitches in the game, too numerous to mention here. Plus, some quest items you collect along the way unfortunately stay with you after you have completed the relevant quest(story). No matter how hard you try you simply cannot delete them from your inventory – very annoying!

Having finally done all of the main and side quests I was expecting Skyrim to reach a logical conclusion. After all, throughout all of the quests your co-characters give you the impression of something likely to happen in the end – nothing doing!!!

And yet, despite the lack of an ending, the stuttering, and freezes, there is something compelling about Skyrim – Elder Scrolls V. Will I play it again? Silly question. I’m about to start again in an hour or so.