Swan’s Neck Ch. 08: Death of Harold

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When the night came it was with a terrible suddenness.

Now I have come to this, I do not know my quill will scratch the words. My emotions, even at this distance are too raw. My anger remains hot and red: with Tostig and his arrogance; with Edwin and Morcar for their selfish uselessness; with Harold for his certainties; with William the Bastard, just for being; and with men, the whole fucking race of them, for their resorting to violence and their love of it. There is my sorrow: at so many hurt beyond the enduring of it; for the widows and the orphans; and for the wreck of the England we had made and loved. How can my words capture all of that? And why would I wish them to?

But chronicles are written by the victors, and already I hear, even here in Kiev, stories of what happened which I know to be a lie. I also owe it to Gytha, and my daughter, that there should be a record. I wish, however, that another quill had the scribing of it.

The nights were already beginning to grow longer, and Ealdgyth and I would snuggle up for warmth in the early morning, as well as for love.

‘My darling,’ she whispered to me, running her fingers down my neck and upper arms, ‘has this to do with whatever it is you are doing most afternoons with Walt?’

My Lady looked at me quizzically.

I blushed.

‘Does what, my Lady?’

I played for time.

‘Well, I like it, but I would say your arms are becoming almost muscled, and I have noticed your touch is firmer, your thrusts more forceful,’ and she giggled, ‘not that I am objecting. You have not discovered men have you?’

I looked lovingly at her.

‘No, my darling, it is just that Walt is helping me develop my strength, I have found some of the household tasks a little demanding, and would like to be more resilient; he is helping me.’

‘I see, helping you be more … resilient, is it?’

She laughed.

I pulled her to me.

‘Men, indeed,’ I muttered, as my hands snaked down between her thighs, cupping her cunt, my middle finger penetrating her wetness, as its neighbours fixed their attention on her bud and her arse. On a sudden I wanted her.

Usually, it was my Lady who took me, but this early September morning, I wanted her with an urgency I had seldom felt, though I had felt that energy directed at me by her,

As my fingers entered her holes simultaneously, my thumb pushed against her bud. My mouth fastened on her swollen left nipple, drawing it out, as my fingers explored her holes, filling them, pushing in, wanting her so badly. I sucked hard on her nipple, my other hand kneading her breasts, my fingers stroking her soft flesh. As one hand played with her breasts, my other worked her cunt urgently, with my thumb pushing her bud, circling it, as she responded to my desire. I felt suffused with energy, wanting her, on fire for her in a way that I had never before felt. She responded in kind.

I felt her press into me, as though she wanted my fingers as far in her cunt and ass as was possible. She was jerking her body in time with the rhythm of my hand, and I could feel her juices kadıköy escort coating me as my lips caressed her nipples, one after the other. The feel of her surrendering herself to my passion sparked something deep within me, a flame burned strong and bright, like a bonfire in the dry season.

As I drove my fingers in, questing for the very heart of her desire. She began to buck, her breath suddenly shallower and more urgent. My teeth fixed on her nipple, just holding it taut, the merest hint of a bite, but it was enough to push her over the edge. She rode my hand like a steed as she came to her climax, and I held her close as she shook. We were so together, as one person, melting each one into the other, uniting: one.

We snuggled, blissful in the post-coital warmth.

But, there was a chill in the air that September morning, or so it seemed to me, as I dragged myself up. It felt on rising, to be a foretaste of the autumn that was bound to come. I remember it was the first time since April that I felt the need to reach for my robe. The harvest was in, and it had been a good and an early one. All was safely gathered in before the winter storms began

‘Miss there is a rider approaching,’ the maid-servant shouted.

As we never had news from anywhere, this could not portend well. I told the maid to get Ealdgyth ready, whilst I went out into the courtyard, just as the rider was dismounting.

‘I have a message for Ealdgyth the fair.’

‘I am her wife, you can give it to me.’

He started but had clearly been told that I was there.

‘You are Danegyth, yes?’

I admitted to the offence.

‘I am from the King, madam. We have news that Tostig and Hardrada have landed in the north. King Harold sends you both his best regards and bids you have no fear. Now, Madam, I must ride to join the army.’

And, so saying, he did.

That was how we heard that the invasion had started.

I calmed my Lady, who was, understandably agitated.

That afternoon, I had my session with Walt.

‘It is coming,’ he said, ‘and I have what you wanted ready.’

The blacksmith was a knarled older man, in his fifties, old for a man-at-arms. He had fought in the wars in Brittany, and in Normandy. His skill at the forge had probably saved his life. I liked him. He was gruff, fierce, but kind to me. He had been dubious about my plan, but six months in, he was an enthusiast.

‘You have thought ahead. I hope to God it is for naught.’

So did I, but God needed a help sometimes and was, I thought, more likely to help those who helped themselves.

It was tense that month. We went about our work, but every day we wondered what the news would be.

Then, at the end of the month, another rider came, with the joyful news that King Harold had caught the Viking forces off-guard and destroyed them. Tostig and the Hardrada were both dead, along, it was said, with six thousand of their men. But it had been hard pounding, as our Lord had lost nearly that number.

But then came the worse news. William kağıthane escort the Bastard had landed at Pevensey with, it was said, seven thousand men. Harold was in York. There was panic.

Ealdgyth was worried. With the King so far north, who knew what William might do?

But as the days passed we heard the news that Harold was marching south at a speed unknown in modern times. We received news on the second of October that he was in London, and then, the following day that he had marched south. Then nothing. We waited.

The tension was unbearable.

There was no word. That was not good.

Gloom settled on us.

Late in the afternoon of October fourteenth, Ealdgyth began to sob.

‘He is dead.’

That was all she said. She broke down in my arms and I held her.

That night there was a blood-red moon.

She wept in my arms, shaking. I had no words. They were so close my King and my Lady; she knew.

I was awake before dawn.

I went down to the forge, where already Walt was working.

‘I have it, are you sure?’

I nodded, stripping to my under-kirtle. He dressed me.

‘Get the guard, I ordered.’

I had set a watcher at the ford. At just after seven, he came, reporting that there was a detachment of cavalry approaching. Only the Normans used cavalry; they had won.

We had prepared for this.

I set the archers in the small thicket through which the road passed, and I had a small detachment of men in the ditch ahead of it.

We crouched.

They were talking loudly. I understood them.

‘There will be some bitches to rape here,’ one man swore.

‘There will, while the army fights, we can fuck. We shall fuck them so many ways they will need carrying. These English whores will know what a real man feels like when we have had them.’

I gave the signal.

The archers fired, with deadly accuracy.

Three men hit the ground at once, and as the other three rode for safety, we pulled the rope across the road, causing the horses to stumble.

Rising from out ditch, we went in among them.

They fought. Walt struck out with his great-sword, killing the first of them. But the boastful one, having struck down two of ours, headed for his back. My sword met his, just in time.

‘What,’ he declared, ‘you English send boys to fight?’

‘No,’ I said, pulling off my helmet and letting my hair flow, ‘we English bitches have our own claws you French bastard.’

As his mouth dropped open, I brought my sword up, striking him in the vitals, under his chain-mail into his manly parts, twisting the sword as I did.

‘That, you bastard, is how English bitches deal with rapists. Rot in hell!’

He died slowly.

Walt clapped me on the back.

‘That was a sweet blow, well-struck! Your practice was not in vain.’

I cleaned my sword on the Norman’s tunic.

‘That was the first,’ there will be more. Quick now, get these wretches in the ditch. Hide the horses. They were never here.’

Breathing heavily, kartal escort I got back to the house.

My Lady, who had just risen, looked in astonishment.

‘What?’

‘This is what I was doing with Walt. We just defeated a marauding group, raiders I think, opportunists, but there will be others. We must put our plan into operation.’

‘My Lady,’ came a voice, ‘there is a man with a white flag approaching, he wants to speak to My Lady Ealdgyth.’

The maid was shaking.

We walked out, an odd pair, my Lady in her robe, me in my mailed suit.

The messenger dismounted and knelt.

‘My Lord William sends his condolences. Your Harold is dead. We need you to come to identify his corpse.’

My Lady held on to me for support.

‘Is this your Norman diplomacy, man?’ I glared at him as I spat out the words.

‘I am sorry young knight, but it is urgent. The monks want to bury Harold with honours, but we need to know it is him, and they are not sure.’

There was naught for it; numb though we were, we had to go.

Ealdgyth was white. She shook as I dressed her, and let me organise her; she had ceased to function. I took control. We took two horses and joined the Normans. In that last wild ride we abandoned decorum, straddling the horses and grateful for the drawers I had chosen for us, we rode like the wind.

It was a grim ride, with not a word spoken. My lady was weighed down by grief, and I was weighed down with her grief. Not even the Normans were so insensitive that they could not feel our sorrow.

At last, we came to the coast.

Of that field at Hastings, I cannot write. No, not even now. The stench made me want to vomit. The birds of prey circled, came in, pecked, flew off. There were piles of swords, shields, mail shirts. The wounded were everywhere. It was a vision of Hell. No, it was Hell itself.

Our guide brought us to a stout figure with a cropped head. It was the Bastard.

He looked at us.

‘You are Ealdgyth the fair, the wife of Harold?’

My lady looked at him.

‘I am, and this is my adopted daughter, Danegyth.’

‘I am glad you have a supporter, my Lady. I promise you here you will come to no harm, my quarrel was with Harold, and with his death, it is over. The monks have begged me to give him an honourable burial, and I will do it, but he needs to be found,’

Was there a flicker of compassion in those gimlet eyes?

So we walked the field.

We went to where the Housecarls had made their last stand, around their Master the King. Each one of them had died from a sword or lance thrust to the front. They died like men. And there, in that shambles, we found my Lord Harold. All the bodies had been hacked, and his face, disfigured by an arrow wound, was not easily made out.

My Lady wept. It was the great scar on his lower torso which we were able to use to convince the Normans, though Ealdgyth had known by instinct.

She held him until they came to take him to the monks. Her tears bathed his poor battered face, and we performed our own Saxon rites, sending his soul to the ancestors in Valhalla. We mourned him. Then the monks came.

They bathed him and prepared him for burial.

We stood at twilight as they lowered him into the English ground that received the remains of the last Saxon King of the English.

That night we slept. It was a dark sleep, troubled by demons.

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