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The History Maker
Oliver Moor

The stars fade as the grey dawn comes. The crawling mist hides the field from my sight, but still I see it, blood-trodden, a cattle-wade in winter. I hear sounds of battle, and intermingled with them I hear the harsh laughter of the carrion birds who now gorge themselves upon the bodies of my slaughtered brethren. All night I have hidden from the enemy, amongst our dead: our dead who fought to the last and who died with honour. I have hidden amongst them but my soul will have no place with them. I have failed them twice. I led them to their death. Then I ran from my own death: a death which now I wish would embrace me. I have lost us the King. I have lost us the Kingdom. The Lord Harold is dead, hacked and defiled by the bitter blades of the enemy. The Kingdom is in the hands of Guillaume of Normandy.

We were so certain of victory. The King had given orders on the previous night that we would join battle at once. Though exhausted, we gave a great cheer. Had we not defeated the mighty Hardrada, just days before? That night we drank our fill. We sang of heroes and of battles won. No Norman pretender would take the English throne! The very fact that such a pretender stood on English soil was enough to enrage us. We knew, too, that the vile Normans had been killing our yeomanry, and that our women had been subjected to wicked atrocities. Our blood ran like rivers of fire through our veins. The love for our King was strong. We had right on our side.

The day began well for us. Our King had chosen the field wisely. We had the higher ground, and looked down the slope of Caldbec Hill at our barbarous enemy preparing for battle. The bright sunlight shone on their metal helms. We could hear their horses whinnying and snorting. Their footsoldiers prayed and wept as we watched -- they knew the fate that lay in store for them. As the sun drew higher, we watched them mass into lines. Our housecarls formed into a great wall, and we in the fyrd massed behind them. Our anger shaped us into a single raging beast. We yearned for Norman blood. It did not take long in coming. From the ranks of the Normans a single minstrel advanced. The housecarls beat on their shields with their battleaxes as he approached, then cut him down as he charged into them. On all sides battle was joined.

The cowardly Normans did not want the honour of fighting knight to knight. They instead elected to fight from distance, firing their arrows like clouds of biting flies into our midst. We laughed at them, for the arrows indeed did little more damage than flies. They smote our shields, and we broke those that fell on the ground amongst us. The Norman footsoldiers flung themselves forwards. Our brave and noble housecarls were as iron cliffs against which they hurled and destroyed themselves. They never yielded, even as the Norman cavalry charged them. Several times I saw a housecarl fell a horse and rider with a single mighty blow. Our spears and javelins brought down many more. I myself dispatched at least three footsoldiers to a fiery Hell. By the middle of the afternoon, our triumph seemed certain. A lull came in the fighting. The Normans were counting their losses and surely were thinking of withdrawing. We, too, had many injured and dead, but our spirit was strong. The noble Harold stood amongst us, urging us not to yield and to defend to the death both the honour of the King, and the glory of the Kingdom. Victory, he assured us, was at hand. Surely we would drive the enemy from the field and into the sea from whence he came.

Perhaps it was this final entreaty that filled me with a madness. The fight resumed. The Norman infantry attacked with a fury we had not seen before, and we responded in kind, hacking and hewing at faces, hands and limbs with a manic frenzy. Many hundreds were slain in minutes, and to our right the Normans were in full retreat, pursued by the fyrd and housecarls. In front of me the Norman cavalry returned, but seeing their infantry in bloody pieces before them, turned as a body, and fled. "Stand your ground! Stand your ground!" shouted the housecarls. But I could not. "Victory! Victory is ours!" I shouted. "Finish them!"

I found myself possessed with the strength of ten. I knocked aside two of the housecarls. "Finish them! Drive them into the sea!" I screamed. With a roar, the fyrd followed me, splitting our shield wall asunder and charging headlong downhill toward the retreating Normans. Then disaster. I tripped and fell. The fyrd howled past me as I lay sprawled on my face in the mud at the foot of the hill. As I raised myself to my feet, I saw a great mass of our men halted and fighting for their lives. The Norman cavalry had turned to fight. The retreat was a deception. And we -- or rather I -- had succumbed to the deceit.

We were routed. I ran, stumbling, distraught and overcome with fear, back up the hill. Over the heads of cavalry and men, the Norman archers fired the last of their arrows high into the sky. Now they caused chaos. With the shield wall decimated, the arrows felled many housecarls, who were forced back to the hilltop. The enemy broke through the last of the fyrd and charged. I threw myself to the ground, yards from where the noble Harold, and the last of the housecarls stood, gallant to the last, as the cavalry fell upon them. The King had sustained a grievous wound from a Norman arrow: his precious blood ran down his face, but still he fought on to the last. I alone witnessed the great King Harold cut down by a Norman sword, and I alone saw him fall. Then I pressed my face into the earth and silently wept.

I have lain here in the earth throughout the cold night, surrounded by the stench of the dead and the cries of the dying. Now the sun is beginning to lift the mist. But the land is bereft of its King and of its true destiny, and I have been the cause. My despair at what I have done overwhelms me. I pray that God will have mercy upon me. I wish only to join my brethren at His side. I fear, however, -- I know -- that my love for my King has cost me my immortal soul. May His judgement be swift. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. Amen.

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