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Raid

Raid

By K. BensleyPublished 3 years ago Updated about a year ago 8 min read
17

It was the year of our lord, 980 AD. Aethelred was king and I was not yet a man.

...

As soon as I opened my eyes I knew it was far past dawn. I’d be in for a beating from Brother Aldwin if he knew I’d missed morning prayers again. My ambition of becoming a priest had waned since being aware of joining the fyrd and the potential of the king’s army in a few years. In truth, I dreamed of learning to wield a seax rather than being taught my letters to be a scribe for the church.

Dusting myself off, I left the bedroll on the rushes and ran out of the church into the blinding sun where the whole parish seemed to be busy working. I immediately thought to get water for the kitchens first so I could accomplish some of my chores while hiding at the same time.

Grabbing a wooden pail in each hand I took the shortcut through the bull pen as usual. It hated me, it hated everyone but it hated me more because I took pleasure in taunting with rocks and jumping the fence to run to the opposite post before it could reach me . If I was to become a warrior I’d need to be brave and fast. Some folk thought I’d been hit on the head, I saw it as good training.

The beast’s odour was rancid in the early heat, smelling him behind me as I leaped the fencing with ease. I wonder if I could still do it while they’re full. Excited at the prospect I skipped down the hill towards the river.

Kneeling on the edge of the river I used the current to fill each pail then put them to one side to drink and wash my face with a cold wet hand. A pale shimmering reflection looked back, as clean and fresh as I could be.

Looking up, there was a man on the opposite side of the river, staring.

“navn?” His thick voice boomed towards me. From that one word I knew he wasn’t Saxon, a Dane. Enough of them had passed through Escomb in my lifetime.

Something was off though, dressed lightly with no armour, yet he still held a spear and a sword at his waist. I realised standing there rooted in silence, fear had taken hold.

What in god’s name do I do?

Seeing the Norseman’s scowl only made it harder to know what to say, he must have thought I was ill of mind. A flicker of colour beyond him and between the trees let me know more men were with him. I couldn’t see how many but it didn’t matter, a raid was a raid and we had no protection while the Fyrd had been summoned to Dunelm for a war in the South.

Turning to run, I glimpsed the warrior as he stretched his arm back to launch his spear.

Jesus!

It didn’t matter that he was on the other side of the river. I’d heard stories of their spearmen. Panicking, I ran a few steps, hesitated, then dived into the nearest cluster of bushes.

I cried out at a sharp pain, which at first I thought was the landing but it was the spear. It nicked my leg on the way to burying itself into the ground next to me.

Glancing behind, he'd gone. I needed to warn the village before they got to the bridge on the other side, then the village.

Agony shot through me when trying to stand. The bleeding looked like it wouldn’t stop either, so I ripped off an arm from my already threadbare tunic and wound it tightly around the hole. Only because I’d seen it done like this by the monks many times.

It was a lot of effort to pull the spear from the ground but once free, I used it to lean on and support my weakened leg.

This is heavier than I expected.

Struggling to climb the hill, I managed to sound off a pathetic “alarom!” But it was obvious the villagers already knew from the look of panic on their faces. Some were rushing for the stone walls of church and a few were scurrying off into the woods.

As an orphan, I had no family but I still had loyalty to the parish, they had raised me since I was just a boy after all. Accepting the duty to defend those within the church seemed the right thing to do, I wanted to head for the woods like the others but I’d never forgive myself. This was a chance to show some bravery while being a good Christian at the same time.

Raids rarely ended well though.

People eyed the spear suspiciously as I hobbled towards the church in evident pain, Brother Godwin was stood reassuring the passing villagers that sought refuge within. “Where in god’s name have you been?” He said with genuine concern.

I briefly explained what happened while he gasped at my wound and reapplied the makeshift dressing with a tighter knot, it felt better. “Do you want to guard the doors with me? Hopefully it won’t end in bloodshed but seeing how they tried to skewer you already, we’ll need the lord’s assistance” I didn’t need to answer, he knew me well enough and my interest in becoming a soldier.

As the last of the people were safely inside, Brother Godwin told the closest person to fix the locking bar on the inside as he pushed the doors to. Turning around towards me his face relaxed slightly but then grimaced as the sound of the raiders could be heard entering the southern edge of Escomb.

We looked a motley pair, one barely a man and built like reed, the other an aging monk with little authority. He was the only member of the clergy who didn’t run, so it was his duty to speak for the village while Priest Adewold was gone. It spoke of his courage at least.

I felt the grooves of wear in the wood of the spear as I gripped it anxiously. It was taller than me and the blade looked like it had only seen a whetstone this morning. Distracted, I glanced towards movement at the houses, five of them, no six. Not much of a raiding party but we were also defenceless. Their intentions became obvious as they rounded up the few villagers who’d refused to leave their homes. A large overweight Dane was tying their hands, another was carrying a coiled rope towards the cattle. They’re here for slaves and livestock.

“What’s the plan?” I said in panic, hoping for reassurance.

“We haven’t had time to hide the church silver, maybe we can make them an offer but that would mean opening the doors.” As the monk said the last part, he knew that wasn’t an option.

Then the screams began.

Although it was at a distance, I could see William, the farmer’s hand protesting as his home was being torn apart by two of the raiders. He was abruptly kicked to the ground by the smaller one, which prompted his wife to rise up and attempt to defend him. This only made him step forward and coldly thrust his spear into her stomach. He then kicked her back as her writhing body folded around him. She fell into the other villagers, who were now screaming in anguish. The fat Dane hit the miller’s son with the back of his hand. It seemed to send the message as everyone stifled their misery.

Godwin was now quietly praying in Latin, eyes closed, he was saying the same few words over and over. Feeling guilty, I thought of saying my own prayers but to myself.

Lord, give me strength and…..

Dread hit me like a bucket of cold water as two Norsemen headed towards the church, one of them being the one I’d met earlier.

Grabbing Godwin’s sleeve without realising, he opened his eyes, “let me do the talking, I know a little Danish” he said with confidence and started to walk down towards them.

Keeping a few paces behind him, I gripped the spear tightly trying to work out how or if I’d end up using it. I’d never even held one before today.

The two of them were laughing, probably at something they’d just done, as they walked with purpose towards us. The one whose spear I had, stopped momentarily in his tracks as he recognised me, and the spear. He smiled, uncertain of what that meant I shifted uneasily. He snatched the spear from his fellow Dane and began to run this way.

I froze.

Godwin stepped in front, “we can offer a fine tribute if you leave us be.”

Hearing nothing but the scuffle of footsteps and a grunt, Brother Godwin’s throat was impaled by the spear.

Collapsing to his knees the monk tried to say something in Latin amidst the gargling, I recognised a word from the prayer he’d said before.

Glancing to the smiling face of his killer, something came over me.

Anger?

Without thinking I levelled the spear and charged with a thrust towards the grinning heathen as he leant over trying to pull out his own.

Roaring with a broken voice as I did so, the tip hit soft flesh. I seen and felt as it entered a hands width into his belly.

Staring in disbelief as he growled in pain, he dislodged his own spear in one fluid motion and swung it round to crack the side my head with a flash that I didn’t see coming.

On the floor, I opened my eyes to a painful brightness and a throbbing in my head, feeling the warm blood running down its side.

Looking around I could see Godwin’s pale and lifeless body curled up a few yards away. He did not deserve that.

The other Norseman was hunched over the body of the one I speared.

If he noticed me I’d surely be finished proper. I could hear commotion coming from the village, crashing noises and screams, the Dane seemed oblivious.

Attempting to bring my hands up behind me so I could start to move away and up towards the safety of the church brought about the worst agony I’ve ever felt.

I repeated my prayers and tried again, Lord, give me strength and protection for what I’m about to face.

I managed to move a few yards before collapsing.

Spinning on the spot at the noise, the Dane’s red eyes narrowed as he noticed I was alive and moving.

It was in god’s hands now. I said the prayer out loud now, even though it was little more than a whimpering croak.

“Lord, give me strength and protection for what I’m about to face”.

He marched towards me after grabbing the spear covered in Godwin’s blood, or was it mine?

“Lord, give me strength and protection for what I’m about to face”.

Stopping, he loomed over me blocking the sun slightly as he whispered something.

I was confused, not because I couldn’t understand him but because I could hear the sound of hooves.

He was suddenly thrown in the air, landing a few yards out of sight in a crash of limbs.

A snorting bull stood over me wild eyed. I could see two arrows jutting from its flank.

Its head shifted to where the Dane had landed, it charged again, waited and went on to charge a third time before I gave up straining to listening.

Perhaps taunting the bull had made it truly hate man, or it did anyway and god had heard my prayers.

I still wasn’t safe though.

That was until I could feel pairs of hands drag me up the hill towards the church.

“He’s still alive”

“You are one lucky sod.”

Short Story
17

About the Creator

K. Bensley

Writing is a hobby that I’m looking to explore and improve upon by creating a variety of fictional content.

Please enjoy.

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