A new story for your enjoyment...I hope. Set during the 'dark ages'.
Let me know your opinions.
As I used the whetstone on my old long sword, keeping the edge keen that had saved my skin numerous times, my mind travelled back down the years as I prepared to tell the Skald my story.
My days as a Norseman had started on a beach a lifetime ago.
I lived in a small fishing village on the wild coast of Cumbria, my Mother was a Celt, my Father a Saxon. My Father Osmond was a harsh man, he was a former soldier who had lost the bottom half of his right arm in a border skirmish with the neighbouring Northumbrians, and it had left him bitter.
My mother Erlise was the light of my life. She had long auburn hair and eyes of cornflower blue and a heart of pure gold. To me, growing up as a boy she was the most beautiful Woman in the world.
She had met my Father when he had been young, handsome and happy, at least so she said. I could not ever think of my Father in that way, to me he was either drunk or in a perpetual black mood at what the fates had brought him.
Looking back across the years, now I can see why a fighting man would feel the pain of losing his sword arm so badly, and I think I can understand him a little better given the hindsight of a long life.
My Father when he was not drunk, just about eked out a living as a Fisherman, something he could still do one handed I suppose. My Mother spun and made clothes for the local gentry, she was said to be able to make the finest clothes in all of Cumbria.
I was so proud of her.
And on the day the Dragon ships came I became proud of my Father.
For the first and the last time.
Chapter One – One life ends, another begins.
‘Aed, you can help me with the nets today and the crab pots too. Come on boy hurry up, we need to beat the early morning tide’. Father had woke me early, summer was a good time for us, with long daylight hours and decent weather, we could take our small boat out and get a good catch, then raise our crab pots.
I rushed to put on my tunic and trousers, only stopping briefing to splash water on my face from the wooden bucket that collected rainwater outside of our simple front door.
‘Aed, don’t forget your weapon boy’, my father reminded me to grab the spear that I must always carry. I didn’t see the need for it personally; I couldn’t see a rogue haddock or cod attacking us. However I took it from my father’s left hand and mumbled my thanks. Father had said that a man should always be prepared, and at thirteen years old I was almost as tall as Osmond now.
My mother had already got up that morning; she was tending our neighbour Becuma, an elderly woman who was nearing the end of her days, as I said my mother had a heart of gold.
Most of the people of our simple village were Celtic like my mother, father was one of the few Saxons to live in the village, even though I spoke both languages, I felt myself more Celtic, after all it was the tongue I heard spoken all around me and the culture that I was immersed in every day.
Father was in a rare good mood this morning, he was looking forward to a days sailing, it was one of the rare occasions I saw him smile, the only other time was when he taught me to fight. Mother had always chastised him for training me, she said I was going to be a fisherman, but father said I could make more money as a retainer for the local gentry, that meant walking around acting mean, but never actually doing any fighting.
Secretly I wanted to be neither, I was a reasonable fisherman, but not the best and I didn’t want to end up as lackey to a local lording either. No, I wanted to be a soldier, like my father. He had taught me well. I maintain to this day that my father could beat most men one handed, he never told me how he lost his arm, but my guess is he had been swamped by numbers, I could never see one man being able to best him in single combat.
I have never seen a man, who was able to fight as well as him…that’s an untruth, I see one when I look in the fine Miklagaard mirror that I own.
We had to walk a mile to our small boat; we were too poor to live close to the bay, but we made good time, and walked down the shore, stowed the lunch bread, cheese and ale that mother had prepared for us and pushed our boat out into the surf.
I rowed out while my father took the tiller, and about fifty yards out we raised the sail and looked for where the sea was darkest and the sea birds the thickest.
Simple signs for a fisherman to read and act upon.
After a short while we could see no obvious signs, so we rounded the headland to the portside of the bay, and with a good tail wind began to gather pace and as we flew faster my father’s grin grew wider and I smiled back like a simpleton. Happy times, I’m glad I have that memory of him.
I had my back to the bow, with my father sitting in the stern facing forward, suddenly he leaned forward and squinted to block out the Sun.
‘We need to turn back Aed’, father’s smile had vanished and been replaced with a look of concern. I turned my head to see a large sail not far from us. It was a dragon ship, that had somehow not spotted us. ‘It’s probably come to trade father’.
It may sound strange to you, but in those days the Norsemen would often come to trade with simple villages such as our own, we had nothing much to steal, but we could trade with them for supplies and information.
‘No Aed. Their dragon head is mounted, were turning about, we must warn the village’. With practised ease I helped my father tack our small boat, and turn us around until we caught the wind and were making good process back around the headland.
The dragon ship had now noticed our small vessel and I could hear a Norse command, shortly followed by their oars being levelled, then placed in their rowlocks and dipping into the water as one, the movement was practiced, simple and beautiful…and terrifying.
Father responded with everything that he could to drag extra speed out of our little boat, he told me to throw everything overboard except our weapons, so I began hurling things over the side, all the time saying the Lord’s Prayer that we may outrun our foe.
My father shouted as me as we rounded the headland, ‘Aed, we will make it to the beach before them boy, only just though. You must grab your spear when we hit the beach, and run back to hide your mother, as you run shout, shout your head off boy, you must wake the sluggards in the village, and make sure that they send a messenger to Lord Fergus, his men will be needed’.
‘But father what about you, what will you do?’, I looked at my father’s face and I knew what he planned to do.
‘I’m going to delay them lad. Promise me one thing, if they look like they will take the village, you must take care of your mother, do you understand Aed, you must give me your oath?’
I stared at my father, his eyes were moist and I knew exactly what he meant. I felt tears prick at the corner of my eyes and gulped and managed to croak out an answer, ‘Yes father, I understand, I swear by all the saints, I will make sure they cannot harm mother’.
Father looked at me, and I shall never forget this, he said, ‘I love you son, I am sorry if I have been hard on you, but I wanted to make you better than me, a better man, a better warrior’. I have never forgotten those words, my father was man of few sentiments, and those words came from his heart.
My father’s attention snapped from me and he began to bellow, scream and curse out warnings to the other fisherman on the beach as we got closer, he had no need. The rest of the fisherman took one look at us racing like lunatics to the shore line, chased by a band of laughing, whopping Norsemen, aboard a massive dragon ship, and they ran in all directions, some to hide, some to protect their families and others to grab their weapons.
I had my spear clenched in both hands now, as our boat slammed over the surf at full speed, and landed with a crunch on the sandy beach, if we had wanted to sail again, we couldn’t have, as a massive crack now showed in the keel. The dragon ship had slowed behind us, not wanted to risk coming into the beach at speed, they had time on their side…and manpower.
My father gathered his wits first, pushed me out of the boat and told me to run, I looked at him, he pointed up away from the beach towards our home, I nodded and began to run, shouting in warning all the way telling people to send someone to Lord Fergus.
As I ran I could see people running in all directions, but many of the older men had picked up anything to fight with, scythes, hammers, hoes, rakes, shovels, hunting spears, wood axes and even the odd long sword.
They were streaming towards a solitary figure standing calmly on the beach holding a spear in his left hand awaiting the wrath of the Norseman.
One of the Miller’s sons was sitting aside his father’s horse, he was being given instructions, and he set off whipping the poor animal in a panicked frenzy in the direction of Lord Fergus’s hall.
I was only halfway home, already people were running off into the hills to hide, as our small chapel had wrung its bell. The pride of our village, that bell was. We were the only village for miles with our own bell, made for us by the smiths of Carlisle.
Word had already reached my mother already of my father’s actions; she was running towards the beach against the human tide of the other villagers when I saw her. I grabbed her by the arm, and she stopped running.
‘We must get to your father, he will need us’, mother was breathless with panic, worry and fear.
‘No mother, father had told me to take care of you, we must leave the village NOW’. Just then we both heard a might roar and a clash of arms as from our vantage point over the bay we watched the Norsemen swarm over the thin defensive line of the villagers, I could just make out the figure of my father by his distinctive fighting style.
I watch entranced as men fell all around him, my father’s spear whirling, and crushing, spearing men until fear seemed to grip the Norsemen and a circle of space opened up all around him.
Then seemingly a dozen axes flew out of the Norse shield wall and my father was down. He could not carry a shield to protect himself, his only weakness.
My mother let out an animal howl of distress as she watched my father fall, and almost in the same instant the Norseman destroyed what was left of our defensive line and ran in all directions, charging like demons carrying fire and sword.
I looked at my mother; she had fallen to the ground, a sobbing uncontrollable heap. Already the first Norseman were surging up the hill towards were they had seen most of the women and children flee.
I could already hear screams as the first women and girls were caught by the Norsemen and I realised that we would not be able to outrun them.
My mother looked up at me; she smiled and placed her hands between my own on the spear. ‘I know what Osmond would have told you to do Aed, he was so proud of you, do not fail him now. I forgive you my son; you are doing the right thing’.
I closed my eyes as the tears rolled down my cheeks, and as I pushed my mother pulled with me, straight through her beautiful alabaster throat, I watched as her eyes glassed over and she fell to the ground, her fine auburn hair a cascading pillow covering her face, the same colour as my own. Her blood pooling at my feet, the first person I had killed….my own mother. Even then I knew I had done the right thing, to spare her from the torments of the Norse, as I stood I there I could hear the crying and screaming of anguished women, I knew I had saved her from these evil men.
My name is Aed. The name my mother had given me, a strong Celtic name.
It means fire, the fire of my hair, my heart, my soul, the fire in my stomach that gives me courage. I took the spear out of my mother’s throat and stood waiting grimly for the Norse.
I would make them pay and then join my parents at the gates of St Peter….