They sent three hundred warriors to kill one man.
It wasn’t enough. Mercia lies broken but not beaten, her alliance with Wessex in tatters.
Coelwulf, a fierce and bloody warrior, hears whispers that Mercia has been betrayed from his home in the west. He fears no man, especially not the Vikings sent to hunt him down.
To discover the truth of the rumours he hears, Coelwulf must travel to the heart of Mercia, and what he finds there will determine the fate of Mercia, as well as his own.
INTRO: This is the opening scene to the whole series. No one knows who this character is, and it ends on a bit of a cliff-hangar, but this is the readers first introduction to Coelwulf.
My hands are bound too tightly. I’ve told the buggers that, but they’ve ignored every word I’ve said since my capture.
My wrists, I know, are red-raw from trying to work my hands loose . The bugger who tied me up did far too good a job.
And yet I’m tied to the horse more by luck than any great skill. It seems they don’t mind if I fall off, as long as my damn hands don’t come untied.
It’s about how it looks, I know that, and yet I’m furious all the same. Ahead, the settlement of Repton is coming into view far too quickly for my liking. Not that I like any of this. That emotion couldn’t be further from what I’m experiencing right now.
Inside my trews, my legs are slick from trying to grip the damn horse’s sides. And it’s not even a bad horse, but without my hands on the rein, I can only use my knees, and he seems particularly stubborn about taking such half-hearted commands.
He’s a bugger as well.
I’d use my boots, but they’ve been taken from me, and my heels lack the impact they need to convince the damn brut to follow my instructions.
The warriors who escort me are dour-faced and sheeted in their battle gear, complete with helms, and weapons close to hand.
I’ve tired myself out trying to talk to them, and now I await my fate. I hope it won’t be long in coming.
In the far distance, I can see the sails on the ships as they bob on the River Trent that the Raiders have used to infiltrate to the heart of Mercia. They flash in all shades of colour, from bleached white to vibrant red, a reminder that the four men I’m about to face are allies by chance, and not by choice. If only
I could exploit that.
Beneath me, the horse stumbles, and a cry rips from my throat, fearing I’ll fall and land head first on the hard-packed earth we travel over.
The summer has been hot, the threat of drought a persistent problem, although so far the crops have survived. The people will be fed come the winter. I’m not sure that I’ll be here to see it.
I angrily shake off a hand on my shoulder that attempts to right me, aware that the fingers bite too deep for it to be a kindness.
Hard eyes greet mine, and I refuse to offer any thanks, even a muffled one. I refuse to even think it.
I do not like this. Not at all.
The church at Repton, St Wystan’s, houses the Mercian royal dead. I hope I won’t soon become an addition.
It’s not a huge settlement, but at the moment it stretches long beyond the splattering of defences and canvasses crammed with the Raiders, that spill beyond the makeshift ditch that now surrounds the church. There are thousands of them, and the jeering has only just begun.
They sent three hundred and more men to bring me to Repton. It was supposed to be a peaceful endeavour, but I ensured it was none of those things.
Now they bring me, bound and gagged, my tongue stuck to the linen rag in my mouth, and if I could, I’d kill the lot of them. My escort raises their heads, still helmed in iron, daubed black to look even more menacing, and with leather encasing almost all of their bodies. Only a flicker of flesh shows here and there, and mostly where chinstraps hold helms in place. They look fearful, but take the acclaim with heads held high, as though it’s all to be expected.
A gloved hand reaches over and grips the harness of my horse. I refuse to meet the eyes that belong to the hand. I do prepare for my horse to come to a halt at the barricade that blocks the entrance to the interior of Repton. Many warriors watch our progress with suspicious eyes.
Smoke erupts from the fires behind us, but inside Repton, only three tendrils of smoke drift toward the sky, one from the monastery, one from the church, and I would suspect the third from a forge where a blacksmith labours to keep the enemy in the weapons they require.
“Jarl Sigurd,” the voice of the gate warden speaks Danish, but I understand the intent all the same. I’ve been listening to the Raiders for almost all of my adult life. “I see you’ve found him. The other jarls were becoming concerned.” I don’t hear the rest of the conversation, my eyes raking in the scene in Repton itself.
Few people are walking about, but it’s early, daybreak a myriad selection of oranges and mauves on the distant horizon behind me. I stare into the darkness of the night not yet touched by the sun, and I don’t like what I see. Not at all.
My heart pounds in my chest, my breath coming shallow around the rag in my mouth. I wish it hadn’t been needed. I feel my head pounding, my breath growing ragged, and then my horse lurches forward and once more, a hand reaches to steady me in the saddle. Maybe I’d rather fall here, splinter my head on the well-trodden ground and never know anything ever again.
But I’m not given the option, and then I’m through the barricade, and being forced from my horse by eager hands, their breath too hot on my face. I wince. My eyes bulge, and I start to choke.
In one swift movement, the rag is ripped from my mouth, and liberal water poured into my parched mouth. I swallow with the hunger of a starving man, beckoning for more, dismayed when the rag is once more thrust into place, and I’m being led to the next set of defences.
I'm an author of historical fiction (Early English, Vikings and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest , as well as two 20th-century mysteries). I was born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since 1066. Raised in the shadow of a strange little building, told from a very young age that it housed the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia and that our garden was littered with old pieces of pottery from a long-ago battle , it's little wonder that my curiosity in Early England ran riot. I can only blame my parents!
I write A LOT. You've been warned!
Find me at www.mjporterauthor.com and @coloursofunison on Twitter.
PUBLICATION DATE: 23rd April 2022
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