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
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.
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.