Monday, January 16, 2012

Godwinson

The sun is going down on the battlefield, the third time since I slept last.
It hurts, and I am so very very tired.

Once I was great king!
Only last week I had won a great battle, and invaders who thought to lodge in my land's castles
now lodge in the crops of the crows and ravens up in the north.
Today, I lay, huddled in this chain byrnie, the horrible arrow lodged in the bone behind my eye.
Oh, it hurts.
This was the end of it. I did not fear dying...that was the simple and it comes to all men.
it is the pain of living.
but the king must not be half blind or the land will be half blind.
If the king be half dead, then the land will be half dead.
There were two great arrows that hit the land only weeks apart, one missed the eye...the other...well.
It is hard to concentrate...the pain is so intense, and there was so much yet to do.

My commitas is still tightly gathered around...the bastards had circled them on the hill, but my commitas had not run!
Oh no, not them! My brave fyrdmen had run right after the gaulish swine, only to find that it was a trick.
But they were fyrdmen...farmers first, warriors second, fighters always. Now mostly all dead.
The bastard faked a retreat, and stole them away from their wonderful defensive shield wall.
A wonderful wall it was too!
A hundred men wide, a great arc on the side of the hill facing the horsemen.
They refused to come close, those horsemen!
They had tried at first, then his shield wall had faded back a dozen paces revealing the slanted pikes,
planted pikes that even the horses recognized as a greater hazard than those shouting iron covered monsters with the axes.
Every pike had a name engraved on it....the owner, the clan, the district...the names of the owners.
All dead now, the last service their masters gave for me, their king,
was when the living dragged their prized boar spears from their bloody curled fingers.
I ordered them placed in shallow holes in the turf, to form an obstacls to the bastard's horses.


Oh Edith...it has come to this!
Every quill on that hedghog of death is a dead fyrdman.
Upon becoming a warrior, his father gave him an ancient forged spear, and upon dying, I put them to use.
None will dare to charge into them...for they dance and flicker in the setting sun, the ghosts of their fallen owners still
guiding them into a foe's horse, or his chin strap. Or maybe it is merely the breeze catching the broad flat heads,
making them bounce on their slender shafts.
I prefer the mystical explanation. Maybe if the Normans believe it too, they will leave us alone until morning.
Oh it hurts. Look, over there...it is Odo! The bastard's bishop!
Look at him whistle his great vine staff around his head like a centurion of old!
He likes to kill with that heavy stick. But he can always say he never shed blood!
A pious claim from a man of the cloth!

Oh my dear Edith....you are not here to see me now.
And why should you be? You are not my wife, but you are the mother of my children.
Oh what will become of them now! The bastard will not let them live!
Enough. I must concentrate...I have orders to give.

Ho, priest...please come close.
Yes yes, I know...there is much work for an ankorite in this foul place.
But I need you now.
You must move swiftly to safeguard my family.
I have done all I can now...this is the charter for the abbey in Winchester that we spoke of, and another in Devon.
And I have a third charter right here....no, you cannot have it yet you greedy man. I will sign it when you make me better.
The field is lost, and I shall retire with my commitas.
You and your gang of white clad ghosts will move me and what is left of my bodyguard out of here
I don't know where I will go. The battle is lost.
I am lost. The kingdom is lost.
And I am tired.
I feel sleep coming upon me. Move me to safety as far away from here as you can.

Good morning.
How long have I been asleep? I feel my wounds have actually begun to heal.
The sisters of St. Mary hmmm?
Wait...that is in Chester. My, I WAS asleep for a long time! You must tell me all the news!
No, there is nothing I can do.
They really brought my Edith on that foul battlefield to identify me?
Oh Edith of the Swan Neck. My precious lady.
Oh that was ill done! But they think I died there do they? Well good.
I cannot rule now with only one eye, and who knows...maybe my cousin the bastard will do a better job of it.
No, they call him the bastard because he IS a bastard.
The apple of his old man's eye, but still a by-blow, and the only country he will ever rule is one he takes by force.
But we got along well enough as children. He used to vist me, I would go hunting with him.
He is saying that I once offered him the kingdom if I was dead?
Bold words. But naught I can do about them is there.
No, it is time I simply vanish from the world, and the cloister is as good a place as any.
Better than most.

Ah yes, the charter. Well, here is my signature. You can see the bishop dated it last year.
The bastard might actually recognize its valididty.
There is much more. I do not have the power of a king, but I DO have plenty of gold.
And remember, it was I who was anointed at Kingston, not him!
If you want it, it is yours. A bit at a time mind, so it will reward you to keep me whole
healthy, and out of William the Bastard's hands.
Come close and I will tell of the hiding place of the first cache I put aside before I went up to Stamford Bridge.

Oh Edith. I did not intend to shock you with my presence...but no one could tell you before now.
I hear they walked you all over that place of death looking for me!
They dragged the armour off the still wrigging corpses did they? Well, it is only to be expected.
It is expensive stuff. Some of those chain shirts were worn by a half dozen men during the course of that week!
Each would take it from one who did not really need it any more.
And William has brought all the spears to Winchester?
Ah good. So many proud fathers will make songs about their sons.
Yes, it is the women's lot to weep. But the fathers do as well. While they sing.
I think we shall be safe here...though I understand if you wish to be with your father.
They killed him too did they? Oh I AM sorry. He is not wasting any time is he!

What is that? The Bastard's son, here? After so many years!
He is seeking a rumour that I might be alive? Well show him in.

What seek you here sir? The son of Godwin? No, he died at the lake of blood.
You think I look like him do you. Well look well.
See this great wound in my eye?
A man with one eye cannot be king. You know that as well as I do.
None would follow his banner.
None would rise with him at their head.
You would do well to seek a man sound in sight and limb, and let an old Ankorite like me be.
The bastard knows it too does he. So why are you here?
To assure me of my comfort?
A true son of a king are you, but I thank you to merely the sleeping dog lie in peace.
They are building a church on the spot where Godwinson fell?
Oh the foolishness of men.
Come join me on my daily walk.
It is the highlight of my day.
You wish you had this much peace and quiet? Be careful what you wish for!
I get very little peace.
Each day, the ghost of another person who depended upon me comes up to me.
Disturbes my walk. I must tell them to join me in the chapel.
Often they do! But never twice.

Who will comfort MY ghost when my time is come?

Odo choked on a chicken bone! Oh that old faker. Where did you bury him.
Ahh, back in Normandy. Good. I never liked him.
Good morrow you you sir, and may God bless.

(Harold Godwinson's ghost still walks from the Ankorite cottage outside the cathedral
to the chapel in Chester every night,
but it ignores mere men such as we! A royal ghost, much come down in the world.
I hear that once in a while, he is joined by a female in nun's clothing. It is popularly
supposed that is Edith, the lovely swan necked mother of Godwinson's children who went
to the Abbey of St Mary after the great battle of Hastings. They
are together, but still in hiding after centuries. I think it is because they love each
other too much to be parted...her to heaven, and him to hell, so they stay here.
A love eternal.











4 comments:

Kit and Kaboodle said...

Wonderful stuff! It feels especially real, having traipsed around the ruins of King John's Hunting Lodge on Sunday which I wrote about on my blog yesterday. Different King, different battle, but you can still get a sense of it all echoing down the centuries in such places :-)

Kit and Kaboodle said...

PS...

Henceforth my swan-guide shall be referred to as Edith!

stag said...

Thank you.

Just a first draught.

I banged it out about an hour after I read of the legend of the ghost in Chester.

If you wish to read some of my other efforts, please visit my web site...

http://www.southtower.on.ca and scroll down to "library". When you get there, you can check out my military stories, as well as a series of little stories I wrote to prove a point.

From the Essential Norman Conquest web site...

Edith Swan-Neck

Edith Swan-Neck bore Harold Godwinsson six children: Godwin, Edmund, Magnus, Ulf, Gunhilds and Gytha. Gytha married Vladimir II, Grand Duke of Kiev and numbered amongst her descendants are the kings of Denmark, Hungary and, by way of the kings of Aragon, the kings of England and France. Harold married Edith "in the Danish manner" and when it was politically expedient, married under English law another Edith, the widow of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn whom he had overthrown in battle. She was the daughter of Alfgar, earl of Mercia and brother of Edwin and Morcar. That Harold's first marriage was a love match is undoubted. After Harold was slain at Senlac Hill there was difficulty in identifying his corpse, perhaps because it had been mutilated or maybe as it had been stripped of clothing and insignia. Edith Swan-Neck is said to have been waiting nearby, and was sent for to point out the body of her beloved.

The legend that perhaps Harold had survived to recover in Chester is an old one...and of course an Anglo Saxon king must not be damaged. I thought the analogy between the two armies which attacked, one failed the other succeeded with the two eyes might have been too clever by half. What do you think? Too forced?

Kit and Kaboodle said...

I think analogies are often only as good as the people who 'get' them. So, if a reader had little understanding of the history you refer to, the concept would be entirely lost on them. Conversely of course, for those in the know, there's often treasure to be found lurking deep within the prose, which can be a source of added delight. I confess it was lost on me until you pointed it out and there was an 'ahhh yes' moment, but then, I have no particular expertise on such things. To be honest I guess it just depends on who you're aiming your writing at. Thank you for the links which I'm just about to go off and investigate!