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.

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…