…I’ve got to get people interested in my latest novella Autumn 1066 somehow. So, here is the opening chapter as a teaser.
Down the centuries, particularly during the period known as the ‘Dark Ages’, the British Isles was always seen by invaders as a legitimate target for exploitation. This novella concerns the last few weeks of Anglo-Saxon dominance, ending on the 14th of October, 1066.
Aldred shivered in his blanket beneath his shield. The weak light of dawn began to illuminate where the warriors of the Fyrd slept in a series of shallow frosty depressions on either side of Ermine Street, the old Roman road. The ancient route stretched from London to Lincoln and on to York. Where they were was a mix of open grassland and salt marsh. In this part of England, there was precious little cover for the countless number of housecarls and thegns already following King Harold northward. The flat landscape Aldred lay shivering in, is typical of the waterlogged fenlands in the northern part of the shires of Cambridge and Norfolk as well as those of the East Midlands.
By the time they eventually arrived at their destination there would be no hiding the swelling ranks of the Anglo-Saxon Fyrd, which steadily increased in number with every mile, as they marched northward. In an attempt to make the army far less conspicuous, at least from a distance, the king banned anyone from lighting a fire at night to cook and to keep warm, on pain of death. For the moment at least, surprise was still on his side. The further north they marched, the greater was the chance that enemy spies would soon spot their approach. The glow of a fire, even hazy wisps of smoke, could so easily be spotted at a distance or smelt on the wind by anyone on the lookout for any sign of the King’s approach. Especially on a cool clear September day like today. With daylight steadily increasing, the king’s older brother, Gyrth, the Earl of East Anglia, would soon begin the rounds by kicking the backsides of Harold’s housecarls, who in turn would wake the thegns of the Fyrd in a similar rough manner for what lay ahead.
Only a few days earlier, troubling news had reached Harold Godwinson at the palace of Westminster in London after he had been elected king by the Witan in accordance with Edward the confessor’s dying wish, naming Harold as his legitimate heir over that of his teenage nephew Edgar Ǽtheling.
Harold’s banished brother Tostig and the Norwegian King, Harald Sigurdsson, known as Hardradå (hard ruler) by his warriors, had joined forces in southern Scotland, after his large invasion fleet of three hundred long ships manned by warriors eager for battle, had just arrived. Tostig’s smaller contingent of Norman mercenaries, loaned to him by Duke William of Normandy, soon joined the fleet, while Tostig was temporarily elsewhere.
The disgraced Anglo-Saxon earl had set off to recruit Scots mercenaries of his own after first crossing the North Sea to the Low Countries to obtain additional Flemish warriors from his father-in law. Now that he was back, Tostig was impatient to be on the move to reclaim his earldom in Northumbria. To his astonishment and annoyance, the seasoned Norwegian campaigner was in no hurry. As far as Harald was concerned, he had more pressing matters on his mind.
A few weeks earlier, Tostig had set off from Normandy with Duke William’s blessing to retake his lands in Northumbria in exchange for promising him his support for what was seen by William as his legitimate claim to the English crown. Hardradå’s reason for invasion was also to lay his own claim to the English crown. Both William and Harald shared a common ancestor with Harold Godwinson in the Dane Canute who had previously ruled England. For his part, Tostig wanted his brother either driven from England’s shores forever, or executed. Not entirely sure that William had the stomach for the task at hand, meant that encouraging the bloodthirsty Norwegian king to do the deed was probably the better option.
Tostig first landed on the Isle of Wight where his men ran amok among the local Anglo-Saxon population. Eventually he and his small force of Normans were routed by an overwhelming force when word of an invasion rapidly spread across the island. This left him no choice but to head back out to sea to travel up England’s east coast to seek a temporary safe haven. On his eventual arrival in southern Scotland he immediately swore fealty to the terrifyingly short tempered Norwegian king, purely for fear of his own life.
Aldred kicked the shin of the shivering youth sleeping with his back to him. Cynric still had his arms wrapped lovingly around his longbow, minus its plaited and bound bowstring made from deer sinew. Whenever the temperature fell below freezing, he always kept it inside his shirt next to his skin to keep it pliable. His quiver of fire hardened, hazel shafted arrows with Goose feather fletchings, each bearing his mark as their manufacturer, lay across his crotch.
“Come on lad wake up!” Before they left to join the Fyrd, Aldred had promised his sister that he would look after his nephew, since the youth had been told by their Housecarl Betlic, that he was now old enough to serve the king in time of war. Growing up, Cynric had made a name for himself in the small farming community where both he, his mother and uncle lived in the southern part of the shire of Cambridge. His reputation as a meticulous fletcher, together with being an excellent shot when it came to hunting wolves or boar with his grandfather’s well-seasoned Yew longbow, spread far and wide.
“I’ve never been so far away from home before uncle. Where are we?” Cynric yawned before adding, “have you got anything to eat? I’m hungry.”
“We’re barely a day’s march from home lad. You’d know that if you kept your mind on why we’re here. Now come on, shift yourself daydreamer. If you’re hungry, nibble on one of your mother’s excellent oatcakes.”
“But they dry my mouth out! Haven’t we got anything else to eat uncle?”
“No! Now bite off a small bit and chew it slowly. Better that than what you usually do at home!” Aldred growled. “Get a shift on and join the rest of the Fyrd. The king still has to recruit more thegns, housecarls and their levies from Northampton, Rutland and Lincoln before we reach the river Humber. If your belly is still complaining after the piece of oatcake we can always find something else to eat along the roadside. For god’s sake boy – shift yourself! I’m damned if I’m being punished by Betlic because you want to drag your heels to admire a tree! While you’re at it, remember that from now on, before we start out each morning you’d best string your bow. The king may have need of it before the day is over,” Aldred replied while shouldering his shield, and hefting his spear. As they set off he checked that his father’s scramasax was secure at his belt, as well as his trusty all-purpose seax.
“How much farther north are we going uncle?”
“I’ve already told you all I know. We’re heading for the Humber! It’s not for the likes of you and me to question where or why we’re heading there. You’re in the king’s Fyrd now! We just follow orders lad. When the time comes, I’ve no doubt we will fight alongside king Harold.”
As the Fyrd began marching behind Harold’s horse and those of his brothers, Gyrth, the earl of East Anglia, and Leofwine, the earl of Kent, friendly banter could be heard breaking out among the ranks.
“What do you think Beadurof?” Colby wondered.
“The shapely hips on the comely wench yonder. Hey Aldred, we’re glad you brought your beautiful niece with you,” Colby added, “Oh Beadurof my heart is rapidly beating. Will you just look at the way her hips swing and sway?” he sighed. “Not to mention how the cheeks of her beautiful backside quivers as she walks. Very desirable, don’t you think?”
“Well if she gets cold sleeping on her own tonight or any other night from now on, I’ll fight you for the honour of protecting her Colby. I’ll keep her warm at night, always providing she lets me have my way with her that is. What say you my beauty? Do you want to be the lover of a lusty man with fire in his veins?” Beadurof replied with a huge grin as he blew a kiss in Cynric’ general direction while continually thrusting his crotch back and forth.
Aldred bit his tongue as he fought hard not to smile. When viewed from behind, because of his slender build, long blond hair and tender years, his nephew could so easily be mistaken for a young female at a distance. Smirking to himself, he briefly glanced in his direction. Cynric’s face flushed bright red with anger at the good natured jibe by his uncle’s oldest friends.
If after reading the opening chapter, you wish to read the entire story, click on either of the following links to buy a copy, or go to the amazon link relevant to your country:
Don’t forget to write and post a review for it on the Amazon link you bought it from. Far too many good stories like Autumn 1066 fall by the wayside, due to public apathy these days…