/ Language: English / Genre:adv_history / Series: Norman Conquest

Winter of Discontent

Iain Campbell


Iain Campbell

Winter of Discontent

NORMAN AND ANGLO-SAXON GLOSSARY

Ballista- a siege or field weapon of Roman design, shooting a bolt similar to a small spear.

Barrels- Firkin (ale), 9 gallons. Kilderkin, 18 gallons. Barrel, 36 gallons. Hogshead, 52 gallons. Tun, 256 gallons.

Bot- compensation payable under the West Saxon legal system

Byrnie- a sleeveless waist-length vest of armour, usually chain-mail.

Chain-mail- a series of round links joined together, each riveted to four others, which when made into sections were sewn onto a leather undergarment. This provided good protection against cuts and reasonable protection against thrusts or arrows. A hauberk and coif weighed about 40 pounds.

Charger- a large and strong horse used in battle.

Church Services- Matins midnight; Lauds dawn; Prime 6.00am; Terce 9.00am; Sext 12.00noon; Nones 3.00pm; Vespers 6.00pm; Compline Sunset. Hours varied depending on season (ie the length of the day). Used as a standard statement of a specific time (eg ‘an hour before Vespers’).

Coif- a piece of chain-mail that covered the neck and head, leaving the face clear.

Cog- a smallish single-masted merchant vessel- the standard marine transport of the Middle Ages.

Curia Regis- the Council advising the Norman kings, successor to the Witenagemot.

Destrier- large French-bred trained warhorse.

Ealdor- English word for chief.

Fyrd- English militia comprised of freemen who were not professional fighters.

Gambeson- quilted padded jacket worn under armour, to absorb the force of a blow. Frequently used without over-armour by archers.

Gebur- Generic term for English freeman/freewoman.

Hackney- a medium sized multi-purpose horse, usually a cheaper horse of lesser quality.

Hauberk- a sleeved or partially-sleeved chain-mail garment of mid-thigh to knee length.

Heriot- a fee payable to secure the right of succession to land under English law. Similar charge under Norman law was a Relief.

Hide- an area of measurement of land (similar sized parcels were called carucates in some shires) comprised of 4 virgates. A hide theoretically comprised 120 acres although this was somewhat variable. 100 hides made up the shire division of 100, although again this was not immutable.

Huscarle- professional English warrior.

Landbok/Landboc- the book of ownership that proved ownership of the land.

Laen- a form of land ownership by long-term lease on varying conditions. Usually for life, or ‘for three lives’ (that of the recipient, his widow and heir).

Longbow- a bow of Welsh derivation made of yew wood in a way that made it a naturally composite bow, providing greater power. Depending on the size of the archer, the longbow was usually 5–6 feet long and fired an arrow 39 inches long- a ‘cloth yard’.

Money. English. Pounds, shillings and pence. A gold Mark (not English currency) equaled ?12, or 240 shillings. French. The same system. The denier equaled a penny, 12 deniers to the sou, 20 sous to the livre.

Onager- a simple catapult of Roman design throwing rocks around the size of a man’s head. Used as a siege weapon.

Palfrey- a smallish horse suitable for riding by women.

Pontage- toll fee payable to use a bridge.

Rouncey- an all-round horse, suitable for many uses including general riding and also as light cavalry.

Scale armour- small plates, usually metal, sewn in an overlapping fashion onto a leather jacket. Provided reasonable protection at lower cost than chain-mail, due to the lower labour content.

Seax- English fighting knife, usually large, worn by freemen and freewomen as a sign of their status.

Snekke- Norse word for the normal-sized longship. A fast and maneuverable warship 60 feet long by 9 feet wide with a crew of about fifty, usually with 10 oars a side. Powered by a large square sail or oars.

Tabula- Roman board game similar to backgammon

Taxes amp; Charges. Danegeld, English tax levied to bribe the Danes and Norwegians not to attack- levied at two shillings per hide of land prior to 1051. Corvee- unpaid labour provided in lieu of payment. Banalities, fees charged by a lord for use facilities such as a mill. Estovers (the fee for the right to gather wood). Pannage (fee for the right to have pigs eat the acorns in the local forest).

Wergild- The value placed on a life for compensation purposes in England. 200 shillings for a freeman or freewoman, 1,200 shillings for a thegn. No wergild was paid for death of a slave, but compensation of value of the slave was paid.

Witenagemot- Council advising the English king.

Other English words used in this book.

cifes — whore

cifesboren- bastard/ whoreson

galdricge — immodest

grim — fierce

herer?swa — commander

Hlaford — gentlemen

Horsbealdor — Horse-master

nydh?mestre — mistress

scamleast — enchantress

unfrod — inexperienced

unges?lig — accursed

ungleaw — stupid

wealh — foreigner

English social classes. Slaves (theows) at the bottom of the ladder, somewhat less than ten percent of the rural population. Freemen, known collectively as geburs, comprised, in ascending order cottars (who held a cottage from the laenholder or bokholder, in return for 1–2 days a week of labour, and usually worked for pay for the rest of the week). No right of occupation passed on the death of the cottar. Sokemen, held the right to farm collectively-owned village land, and usually also land in his own right, and able to sell or pass this to his family. Cheorls were usually moderately wealthy men with the right to farm a substantial amount of communal land and privately owned land. Owed the lord work-rent or paid cash for the ongoing right to use the privately owned land. Thegn- a man who usually owned his land owed military service for the land he held. Uniquely, a merchant who engaged in foreign trade could be deemed thegn-worthy (ie of equal social status as a thegn). Earl- holder of large parcels of land, usually geographically based, and who administered a geographical area. Equivalent to a French duke.

French Social Classes- The Norman system was based on a hierarchical system with lower members holding (but not owning) land in return for either military or financial obligations to their superiors, as vassals. The lowest level were the villeins, who held no hereditary rights to the land they laboured to farm. A villein was free in that he could abandon his land, but could not sell, gift or will it. Freemen were essentially rent-paying tenant farmer who owed little or no service to the lord, but formed only a small portion of the rural population, usually specialists such as blacksmiths etc. Knight — a man who owed military service for the land he held but usually did not own it. Baron- held land from the king or duke in return for substantial military obligations. Some of his land may be owned by him as a hereditary entitlement, or alod. Townsfolk were generally deemed to be freemen.

CHAPTER ONE

December 1067-January 1068

Sir Alan of Thorrington rode north from Winchester on Thursday the 27th December in the Year of Our Lord 1067, on the Feast of St John the Apostle, having participated in the Christmas Feast overseen by King William of England. With him was a large party; his wife Anne of Wivenhoe and her maid Synne, both riding in a light cart being pulled by a horse; his newly-appointed seneschal Robert de Aumale; Brand, the leader of Alan’s huscarles; Osmund the scribe; Alan’s servant Leof and nine huscarles, the latter professional English warriors. The cart also contained several chests of belongings and the rolled up chain-mail armour of the warriors, wrapped in oiled leather bags.

Alan was a tall and slim but physically powerful young man of just twenty years with red hair and brown eyes, his hair and a small beard now growing long in accordance with the wishes of his wife. He was originally from Gauville in Normandy, had fought at Hastings with his friend Robert- and he had saved Duke William’s life during the battle. The previous year he’d received as a reward from William six manors in the Tendring Hundred in Essex.

Within the last few days he had received a further four manors on the Welsh border as reward for his largely unsuccessful attempt to assist the English against abuses being perpetuated by those royal officers responsible to administer the Heriot land-tax, or Relief tax, imposed against the land of all those in England who had not supported William at Hastings. This attempt by Alan had earned him the enmity of Bishop William of London, Ralph the Staller, who was the earl of East Anglia, and the influential priest Engelric, together with their minion Robert fitzWymarc, the part-Breton sheriff of Essex who had came to England before the Conquest and had received advancement from first King Edward and then King William. Bishop William and Earl Ralph were appointees of Edward the Confessor from before the Norman invasion, the former a Norman and the latter half English.

Alan had married Anne in the summer of that year. Unusually, it was a love match, she being the young and much-abused widow of Aelfric, the former thegn of Wivenhoe who had died at the battle of Stamford Bridge. The daughter of Orvin, a wealthy merchant from Ipswich, she was now eighteen years of age. Short at just over five feet in height, petite, with long auburn hair and large brown eyes, Anne was an extremely intelligent and astute woman who had taken the proceeds obtained from Alan’s victory over of a large Danish raiding force and in a short time transformed it into a small financial empire. This allowed Alan the finance to do as he wished in the areas that interested him. These were raising, equipping and training a significant force of men-at-arms, scholasticism and tinkering in his workshop building engines of war. For a knight Alan was most unusual, being well educated, erudite and cultured with a fine understanding of the arts. This was all a result of a failed attempt to join a Benedictine monastery in his youth.

Usually Anne rode ahorse and traveled well. It was unusual for her to decide to ride in the cart with her maid, but she was feeling ill.

It was raining and cold with a vicious north wind. The men rode soaked and chilled, while the women sat partially sheltered by a large oiled cloth over the cart.

From Winchester to Gloucester is a journey of 85 miles and they took two days, resting overnight at Chiseldon in Wiltshire. Hereford was a further forty miles beyond Gloucester, with their destination of Staunton a further nine miles again beyond that. As Anne was not feeling well, and with no immediate urgency in their travel, Alan had suggested that they break their journey at Gloucester for several days, partly as none of the party had visited that city before.

They entered through the East Gate, where Alan enquired of the guard captain as to whether he could recommend an inn frequented by wealthy merchants. At his suggestion they proceeded up the aptly named Eastgate Street to the ‘Bear and Bull’ Inn.

With the city’s history back to Roman times, the main thoroughfares were paved with stone, although piles of refuse and excrement littered the roadways. The rain had not been heavy enough to wash the rubbish away and it lay wet and slippery, ready to catch the unwary. It was late afternoon, about an hour before Vespers, and the dull sky presaged an even earlier than usual fall of darkness this wintery day. Most of the hawkers and street vendors had departed to their homes, the shop-keepers were closing their premises, moving display goods inside and closing the wooden shutters of the poky little shops.

A number of houses in the south-west corner of the town had been demolished and the motte of a new castle was being built, with piles of earth, stone and rubble standing in what would become the bailey. The building site was currently deserted due to the poor weather and late hour. Within the confines of the town walls houses, halls, shops, inns, taverns, churches, workshops and factories were crammed together. The large mass of St Peter’s Abbey dominated the northern part of the town, towering over the one and two storey buildings that made up the majority of the buildings in the town.

The air was foul with the stench of excrement, rotting waste, the contents of the vats which the tanners and dyers had emptied onto the street at the end of their working day, the smoke of hundreds of chimneys and the fumes from the iron foundries that were the main industry of the town. On the other side of the town, beyond West Gate, lay the docks and the River Severn, with the wooden bridge over the river barely visible in the failing light and the light drizzle that was falling.

“What is it about towns that makes everybody use the streets as a midden?” asked Osmund rhetorically.

“It’s because nobody’s in charge,” replied Brand. “In a village if you don’t use the common midden and just dump your rubbish anywhere, your neighbours soon let you know they’re unhappy- and the muck makes good fertiliser in the fields! Here nobody cares. Ah! Judging by that hanging sign it looks as if we’ve found our lodging place.”

Once inside the inn Anne checked the quality of the rooms while Alan enquired as to the board of fare that evening. Both were satisfied, and three rooms were taken at two pence a person a night, including food. The huscarles would sleep in the Commons near the fire, at a penny each. As darkness fell the men drank mulled ale in the common room by the light of smoking rush torches and the blazing fire. Alan, Anne, Robert and Osmund sat at a table near the fire sipping warmed wine. Being Saturday there was no restriction on the provender available and after the usual vegetable pottage they ate rabbit and veal stew, pork pies and spiced roast lamb. Alan, something of an aficionado of fine cheese, declined to partake of the lack-luster cheese-board offered, instructing the taverner that he should obtain a more suitable offering for the following night.

The next day was Sunday. Sunrise wasn’t until shortly before half past eight and the weary travelers slept late before breaking their fast on pottage and day-old bread. Anne missed breakfast, being ill in her room and attended by her maid Synne, the only one of her four maids to accompany her on this journey. Eventually Anne appeared downstairs and spoke for a while to the wife of the taverner. The drizzle had turned to heavy rain, but despite this Anne asked for the services of one of the huscarles as an escort when she ventured outside. She declined both of Alan’s suggestions that she either stay warm inside or that he walk with her. Well rugged up against the weather she left together with Synne and the huscarle, returning damp and bedraggled an hour or so later. Alan and Robert were playing a game of ‘Fox and Geese’ with a wooden playing board and pegs. Robert’s Fox had cornered nearly all of Alan’s Geese. Anne bullied them, together with Osmund and Leof, into changing their clothes to attend the noon Mass at Sext at the nearby abbey, only a few hundred paces away.

The vast stone nave of the abbey, with its huge columns and high vaulted ceiling, was chillingly cold. The Benedictine monks sitting in the massive wooden Choir had their breath freeze before them as they sang and they hid their hands inside the sleeves of their black woolen habits. Despite the weather several hundred of the town’s 2,000 residents were in attendance, including those sufficiently well-dressed as to clearly be the leading burgesses of the town. The singing and chanting of the monks was a thing of beauty. However the abbot, who was a tall man of spare build wearing rich vestments, was the only person in the church with a chair or a cushion on which to kneel. The hour and a half taken to cleanse their souls, alternately standing or kneeling on the cold stone, were a trial to the congregation. “By St Peter’s toenails, it’s as cold as a witch’s teat in here. What have we done to deserve having to pay such a strong penance for our sins?” Alan whispered to Anne. She replied with an elbow in his ribs.

After the parting benediction they hurried back through the heavy rain to the ‘Bear and Bull’, quickly quaffing a warming drink on their arrival and gathered close to the fire, rubbing their hands by the flames while their cloaks were dried in the kitchen. Washed clean of sin, either by attending Mass or by the rain, they felt uplifted and comfortable.

The huscarles passed the time by either sitting near the fire and playing knucklebones for small wagers or outside in the stables tossing horseshoes at a stake driven into the ground. Alan was about to resume his interrupted game of ‘Fox and Geese’ with Robert when Anne asked him to come upstairs to their bedroom. The room was not large, little bigger than the bed with its down mattress and quilted counterpane, and had a small brazier in one corner to take the winter chill from the room. Anne sat on the bed and indicated with a pat for Alan to do the same.

“I have good news, my husband,” she said. “You’ve probably guessed by now, but after seeing a midwife of this town this morning I can confirm I’m with child,” she continued quietly but proudly.

“Praise be to God!” replied Alan fervently, his face suffused with emotion as he hugged her to him. “We’ll get this business dealt with in Herefordshire and get off back home to Thorrington. Are you able to travel?”

Anne laughed delightedly and said, “I’m pregnant, not sick. Pregnant women travel all the time. I’ll just take it easy and travel in the cart instead of riding. The child isn’t due until early August, so it’ll be May before I’m much restricted.”

After another hug and kiss they went downstairs, Alan keen to share the good news with his friends. It was nearly dark outside, the abbey bells having just tolled for the None service at three in the afternoon. The men who had been outside had come into the warmth cast by the roaring fire in the inn’s Commons. The fire, smoking rush torches, the usual smells of stale ale and stale rushes that identified any inn, together with the sour smell of unwashed bodies, made the air thick and noisome.

After making the announcement to his close associates Robert, Osmund and Brand, the news was quickly passed to the rest of the party and Alan found himself having to pay for celebratory mugs of ale and listen to the often ribald words of congratulation from his Anglo-Saxon troopers. Not least amongst the things causing Alan to be in good spirits was the genuine enthusiasm with which his retinue had received the news, showing that the Norman knight and his Anglo-Danish wife had indeed been fully accepted by the parochial men from Essex in the year or so that he had been lord of Thorrington and the somewhat lesser time that Anne had been its lady.

The next morning the weather had improved to a slight drizzle, but still with a bitingly cold wind howling from the north. Accompanied at her insistence by Anne, and with the youth Leof in tow, they went to Cornhill to negotiate for a cartload of flour- wheat and rye. All the lands on the Welsh border had been devastated by invasion barely six months ago and Alan had no doubt that even basic food items such as bread would be at a premium on the border. For that reason he was buying at Gloucester, rather than Hereford, as at this distance from the ravaged area prices should still be reasonable. Anne handled the negotiations, first checking the quality of the goods on offer and then negotiating a good price, with delivery to Staunton-on-Wye and the wagon to leave on the morrow. The muddy dirt tracks that passed for roads would be in such poor condition after the rain that delivery was expected to take at least two to three days after leaving Gloucester.

Next they passed out of North Gate and entered the Monastery of St Oswald, located next to the river just outside the town walls. The monastery was not as large or as prosperous as St Peter’s Abbey and the Sext Mass which they attended at noon was conducted in a small chapel rather than at the main altar. The service was conducted in Latin by a Canon and proceeded expeditiously, the small congregation gathered presumably not being adjudged worth the effort of a sermon or more than basic bible readings. Afterwards Alan approached an acolyte and obtained an invitation to dine in the refectory before seeing Brother Brunwin, the librarian. The fare provided at the table in the refectory was plain, basic and relatively meager.

Alan had a project in conjunction with Brother Leanian, the librarian at St Botolph’s Priory at Colchester, in which as Alan moved around the country he sought out various books on Brother Leanian’s ‘wanted’ list. In return, when the books were copied in exchange for books held at Colchester, Alan also received a copy. He had built up a considerable personal library of over two dozen books, including medical and military texts, poetry and classical works from the Greeks and Romans, as well as a number of books of English poetry.

On being ushered into the small dark room that was the library, Alan cast an eye at the small collection of books that lined one wall and immediately reached the conclusion that it was unlikely there would be anything of interest either to himself or to Brother Leanian. After a brief discussion Brother Brunwin took Alan’s list and then stood to read it in the light cast by the sole window of the room. Nearby were two monks sitting at small tables copying and illuminating basic religious texts. Alan’s expectations were fulfilled, in that Brother Brunwin would have wished to obtain many of the works on Brother Leanian’s ‘available’ list, but had nothing to offer in return.

Leaving St Oswald’s they walked the short distance to St Peter’s where they entered the larger and more brightly lit library overseen by Brother Alwin. This library was of obvious learning and industry. There were over a dozen small oak desks each with a wooden book-holder. Half a dozen monks in black habits were studying and making notes on wax tablets- even scraps of parchment were valuable and any important notes would be copied out later.

“Several of these Brothers are our scholars and teachers,” explained Brother Alwin. “We have something of a reputation as to the abilities of the scholars who live amongst us.” Half the adjoining large workroom was taken up by a dozen wooden desks and work-benches, each with a copy stand; each was occupied by a monk, all with the utmost care copying ancient tomes onto sheets of parchment or vellum. Three were undertaking what appeared to be commercial works, copying Psalters or Books of Hours for sale.

Here Alan was more successful and an agreement was reached to exchange three books between the abbeys. Two were medical works by Hippocrates and Galen, in Greek, and one an early English religious text from the seventh century. The copying would only take two months or so as the books were not large and Brother Leanian had specified he did not want ornate illumination. Alan would then receive his own copies in due course from Colchester Priory.

The following day the rain stopped, although the wind was still bitterly cold. Well protected by warm clothes and cloaks, and with Anne and her maid Synne sitting wrapped in blankets on the light cart, they departed out of West Gate, rode across the wooden bridges over the River Wye after paying the pontage fee and headed north to Hereford.

Before departing from Winchester Alan had sent word to his manor at Thorrington in Essex for more men to meet them at Hereford. He expected the arrival of Normans Baldwin, a trained man-at-arms, and Warren, an archer; also the Anglo-Saxon huscarle officer Leofwin and a force of five huscarles and ten Anglo-Saxon mounted men-at-arms from the company that Alan called his ‘Wolves’. Although they had further to travel, the slow progress of Alan’s party meant that the men from Essex should have covered the greater distance in less time.

Normally Alan would have expected the 37 miles from Gloucester to Hereford to be accomplished in half a day, as even with a horse-drawn light cart he would have expected to achieve seven miles to the hour. Instead it was nearly dark as they rode over the wooden bridge over the River Wye outside the gates of Hereford, again pausing to pay the toll fee, and then passed into the town which lay on the north side of the river. The road from Gloucester had been turned by the rain into a track of thick mud. The horsemen had walked their beasts at the side of the road on more firm ground, but even so each step taken by man or beast had taken effort as the soaked ground sucked at their feet.

The poor horse pulling the light four-wheeled cart had endured the worse of the journey, being forced to remain in the morass that the road had become and to strain to drag the cart, which often had its wheels mired almost to the axle. Several times the cart had become stuck in the mud and the men and horses had to strain to pull it clear. As they rode towards the town gate Alan noted the town walls looked as if they were newly repaired or improved. The town was one of the few in England to have had a castle before the arrival of the Normans and the bulk of that structure dominated the city to the east of the bridge, being located on the north bank of the river.

At the South Gate of the town Alan found that word had been left for him by Baldwin that they had arrived the day before and had taken lodging at the ‘Three Sheaves’ inn. The Captain of the guard suggested that Alan may wish to consider patronising the ‘Lion’, as he felt that the ‘Three Sheaves’ was probably a too rough for ladies of quality. The Lion was on Broad Street and not far from the Three Sheaves which was on Castle Street, the two streets being separated by the cathedral and its square.

Alan took the advice offered and they proceeded along Wyebridge Street, turned right into Middle Row and then left into Broad Street. The Lion was easily identified by its painted hanging sign and was just a little way up Broad Street. The inn was inspected and found satisfactory, catering mainly to well-to-do travelers, and two rooms were taken at a two silver pennies each for the night, with board for the room occupants included. Alan, Brand and Robert walked the short distance to the Three Sheaves. It catered, as the Captain had indicated, to a rougher clientele, mainly soldiers and carters. Baldwin, Warren and Leofwin, together with fifteen men, had taken two large dormitory-style rooms. Alan negotiated for another similar room and board for ten men and stabling for all the horses at a cost at this cheaper establishment of an extra five silver pennies a day for the room and three pennies for the stabling.

They returned to the Lion, where Alan instructed his men to take the horses to the Three Sheaves’ stable. He wanted to arrange the transfer of all ten of his huscarle escort, but Robert and Brand demurred- they remembered all too well the attempt on Alan’s life during a hunt just days before at London and the powerful enemies that he’d made by opposing the earl of East Anglia and the bishop of London in their extortion from the people of East Anglia in the absence of King William over the summer. In the end it was agreed that four huscarles, the youth Leof and the maid Synne would remain with Alan and Anne. Synne would sleep on a straw mattress on the floor in the room occupied by Alan and Anne, to protect the maid from any unwanted attentions- Alan and Anne being too tired to require privacy. One huscarle would stand guard outside Alan’s bedroom each night.

Dinner that evening was the inevitable pottage, a thick vegetable soup flavoured with a little meat which for most people in the country was their main meal, a re-heated roast of lamb cooked the day before, beef pie and vegetables braised in stock, accompanied by wine, mead or ale depending on individual preference.

Over the meal Alan and Anne heard what Baldwin, Warren and Leofwin had learned locally. They had not ridden to the manor at Staunton, but on their approach to Hereford from the east had passed through damaged and burnt villages and manors. Little damage had been noticed by Alan and his party on their journey north from Colchester, but it soon became clear that the land north and east of the River Wye had suffered severely- although apparently not as much as that to the west, where Alan’s manors were located. Alan agreed with Anne that next day she could accompany them on the nine mile ride to the west to the manor of Staunton, but specified that she would return that night to Hereford as there was little likelihood that suitable accommodation would have survived in any of his manors. Synne would remain in Hereford.

Next morning they rose early and were finishing a substantial breakfast when they heard the noise of the others of the party arriving outside. Anne was feeling better that day and rode ahorse, although side-saddle rather than astride. They had to wait several minutes by the gate before it was opened at first light and then they rode west on the road that ran on the north side of the River Wye. Swainshill, Bridge Sollers and Byford were, if not devastated, certainly still significantly damaged even six months after the invasion.

After a ride of nine miles they reached Staunton, which was a little over a mile away from the river. The village of Monnington lay on the north bank of the River Wye. Bobury was to the south-west and Norton Canon to the north-east. The former was about two miles away and also on the river, the latter about three miles distant, and the four villages comprised the land which Alan had recently received from the king’s hand.

Alan’s party was nearly thirty strong, the huscarles and Wolves wearing their armour, and engendered considerable concern as they halted in the centre of the village. A number of villagers were looking on and Alan called to a nearby gebur, a freeman of low station, to fetch the village headman and elders. He then he dismounted and assisted Anne from her horse. Baldwin barked several sharp commands in Anglo-Saxon English and four pairs of Wolves, each in their distinctive green-dyed wolf-pelt cloak, moved slightly away into defensive positions, looking about alertly.

Alan and Anne stood next to the rouncey Alan had been riding, a chestnut stallion called Fayne, and Anne’s white palfrey Misty. Both lord and lady had hands on hips and were looking about them. Staunton had, or rather until recently had once had, forty or so cottages around a large village green. Of these some fourteen were burnt-out shells and most of the others showed signs of damage and hasty repair. White-washed wattle-and-daub walls were smoke-blackened; roofs were recently re-thatched; those sheds and outbuildings that remained either bore scorch-marks or were missing walls or roofs. Some buildings, such as the tavern, had been repaired more thoroughly. Only very few, such as the small white-painted wooden church, showed no damage. Most of the cottages had pig-sties or chicken runs, or both, behind them. Barely half had any livestock in them.

The manor Hall, behind a wooden palisade, was a burnt-out ruin. “A good call by you on my sleeping arrangements,” commented Anne quietly.

Alan grunted in reply, “There’s damn-all left here,” he agreed.

Several cheorls, freemen of moderate means, approached, dressed in rough and plain tunics and trews. “God Hael, gum?eod! I am Alan of Thorrington. This manor, and several others nearby, have been given into my hands.”

The village headman introduced himself. He was a dark-haired man called Siric, above middle years but not yet elderly. He was large but not corpulent, perhaps because of lack of food in recent times. He named the other men with him and they then quickly showed Alan and the others around the village and before conducting them to Norton Canon, Monnington and Bobury. The damage to the two latter villages, which were on the river, included the ruination of their watermills, with the water-wheels being smashed and the buildings burnt. ‘At least the water-races and the mill-stones themselves still exist,’ mused Alan. They were back at Staunton by early afternoon, bringing with them the headman and elders of each village. They crowded into the tavern at Staunton as the Moot-Hall was still under repair.

Hlaford! You clearly have had a difficult time over the last six months or so,” began Alan as he addressed them. “You’ve lost loved ones and valuable members of your communities. The previous lords died fighting to protect what was theirs, and King William has now given these manors into my hand. I hold directly from the king.” That comment caused some raised eyebrows and mutters. “I speak to you in Anglo-Saxon English, a language with which I am familiar. I hold other lands in East Anglia. My wife Anne is Anglo-Saxon, or at least Anglo-Danish,” here Alan gestured in her direction. “So are most of my warriors. Sir Robert de Aumale is my good friend and I have appointed him seneschal of these manors.

“Because of the damage to these lands the king’s taxes have been remitted for three years. Other than obligations to provide customary labour and also food for my men, any obligation owed by the villages to me as lord are waived until Christmastide, and possibly longer. There will be twenty armed men in my employ here at Staunton under Sir Robert to protect you. I expect every fit freeman, irrespective of whether or not they have military obligations, to train and be a worthy member of the fyrd. Every man. You live in the shadow of the Welsh mountains and the men who ride east from them. You know from what happened just a few short months ago the need to protect your own village. I will provide the weapons and my men will provide the training.

“A fort will be built here at Staunton. This will be not to oppress you, but to protect you. All will contribute labour to its building and all will be entitled in time of war to seek its shelter. This labour will be the traditional burgh-bot given to make or maintain fortifications for the village. Workers will be provided food and drink as is usual on each day of labour.

“I acknowledge the difficulty with food. The Welsh carried off all the milled flour and burnt what they could not carry away- even your seed stock for the spring planting. I’ll bring in seed for you to sow and provide it to you at no cost. Some of your oxen were hidden and can still pull a plough. Others were stolen or killed. The ploughs were burnt, but the village smiths can make new ones within a few weeks- the plough-shares themselves remain. Men may need to plough the land by hand come springtime, but I will provide what assistance I can. Your dairy cattle were taken. Probably half of your swine remain, as you were quick enough to drive them into the woodland, where taking them was difficult for the Welsh. Similarly with your cattle.

“I advise regarding the lord’s rights, that for this year only until Christmastide, I waive the traditional lord’s rights regarding taking boar, deer and wild cattle in the woodlands, for the own use of each man and his family. On an on-going basis, I waive the right to take fish by hook and line in the river, hare and fox in the fields, and pigeons. This should put meat in every pot every night.

“One wagon of flour should arrive tomorrow or the next day. I’ll send several others over the next few months. That will be rationed out and distributed free of charge to those in need.

“I’m not, generally speaking, a generous lord. But I recognise that these are difficult times and that those who have a call on my generosity are in need. You are my people; we have mutual obligations. When your villages are in a better position, should I then be in need, I would expect your support- as I now support you.” Alan nodded and sat down.

After several short speeches of appreciation from the village headmen, Alan, Anne and Robert walked over to the site of the former manor Hall, walking through its blackened walls and collapsed roof.

“It’ll be easier to start again,” commented Robert.

Alan grunted agreement. “Where?” he asked.

Robert pointed. “Probably just over there. This time a ditch and rampart, plus the palisade. Do we need a motte?”

“It’s not really worth the effort involved,” replied Alan. “The Welsh don’t go in for prolonged sieges and you couldn’t get all the people into the small tower for safety anyway. It should be sufficient to have a nine or ten foot deep trench, with spoil on the defensive side, and properly made embankment with a palisade on top; the old timber can be reused. That should be nearly impossible to breach quickly. You won’t be burnt out of house and home again, with the Grace of God, and some basic precautions.”

“So let us go and smite the Philistines on the other side of the border, for the Lord our God is with us!” commented Robert.

Alan clapped him on the shoulder. “Let’s just kick arse and let God worry about the rest!” he replied with a laugh.

Appropriately, at that time the parish priest Father Siward walked into the village. The small thin man wore a brown habit and with a straggly moustache, he looked for all the world like an anxious mouse. Siward had been visiting his congregation at Byford and had his rectory nearby at Monnington. He ushered Alan and Anne into a small annex off the church sanctuary, the vestry where he changed his vestments before celebrating Mass. Siward urged them to sit at the stools while he perched himself on a small table after he had offered what hospitality he could, a cup of sour communion wine.

“What of your parishioners’ spiritual needs?” asked Anne.

Siward showed himself to be both quick-witted and compassionate with his reply. “The last six months have been a difficult time for the parish, and indeed the shire. The Welsh swept in like… not a plague of locusts as they were much more violent and dangerous than that, but you know what I mean. They stole everything they could and what they couldn’t steal they deliberately spoiled. The standing crops were burnt and the spare seedstock ruined. There are many still without the shelter of their own homes. Food is scarce and bellies empty. Fortunately, the river provides us with fish for meat and we were able to harvest some vegetables. There’s no grain for bread, or even to ferment to make ale! The dairy cattle and milking-goats were stolen, so there’s no milk and no cheese. The worst is the loss of the oxen. Without them we’ll be unable to plant more than a small amount of crops, even if we are able to procure any seed to sow. Most of the other cattle, sheep and swine were driven off into the forest and many were saved, but it’s been a struggle to keep them alive in the winter with most of the fodder gone. However, we’ve enough livestock to breed back to former levels, given time. Let us pray to God that the remainder of the winter is not harsh and that God gives a bountiful harvest in the autumn.

“The hardship of the body has affected the spirit of the people. Perhaps worst of all is the loss of loved ones. My parish lost 57 men killed and 16 women, together with some lytlings. Another 11 men and 21 women taken captive, for whom their families also grieve but without the knowledge of their fate. Lytlings are left orphaned, or with but one parent who struggles to provide for them. May Mary, mother of God, give them comfort.”

“I share your wishes for God’s future bounty and will include these lands in my prayers each day,” said Alan piously. “Bleddyn has followed one of the principals of Vegetius. ‘The main and principal point in war is to secure plenty of provisions for oneself and to destroy the enemy by famine. Famine is more terrible than the sword’,” he quoted. “I understand that the English, under Harold and before, have treated the Welshmen roughly. I’m sure that in the time since fitzOsbern has been on the border that he’s done nothing to endear himself to the Welsh. They raid us, we use heavy-handed punitive measures against them.”

“Christian kindness has been lacking on both sides of the border,” confirmed Siward.

“I’ll have twenty men-at-arms stationed here at Staunton under Sir Robert de Aumale, mainly Englishmen but led by Normans We will build a… not ‘castle’ as such, but a strong defensive position where all the people can take refuge. Generally the people don’t take this well. How do you think the people of these manors will react?”

“After last year, they will react very favorably. You could fill the castle with Moors, and as long as they were here to defend them the people of your villages wouldn’t care! Safety is the most important thing to them now,” replied Siward. “If you can protect them they wouldn’t care if you were Lucifer himself.”

“And would they train and fight?” enquired Alan.

“They fought last summer. Many died wielding pitchfork and spade supporting the local lords of Staunton and Monnington and their few retainers. If you equip them, train them and lead, yes they’ll fight,” replied Siward.

Alan cast an eye on the gathering darkness outside the small window in the vestry. “Father, I thank you for our discussion. I must away to Hereford with Lady Anne, but we’ll return on the morrow and talk further. Hopefully tomorrow a wagon should arrive from Colchester with flour and we’ll arrange for some sacks of barley to be brought to make ale- such a lack will not be acceptable to my men!”

Anne added, “Can you please arrange for me tomorrow to meet with a delegation of the womenfolk from the villages, including the wives of each of the head-cheorls?”

Siward nodded acquiescence. “Certainly! I’ll have them here and you can conduct your meeting in the church nave,” he replied.

“And can you conduct Mass for all at Terce or a little after, depending on when we can arrive? Perhaps a suitable homily from the pulpit to help us in our efforts and build a good relationship with the locals?” asked Anne.

Siward nodded his agreement and Alan and Anne took their leave after a parting benediction from the priest, mounting to ride back to Hereford with an escort of four men-at-arms.

After a ride of a little over an hour they arrived back at Hereford just as full dark was falling and the guards on the West Gate were struggling to push the heavy gates closed, narrowly avoiding having to pay a bribe to have the gates opened after nightfall.

Even though it was only a little before four in the afternoon, in the gathering darkness the street vendors were packing away their wares and the merchants were closing their shops. Alan and Anne proceeded immediately to the warehouses of the grain merchants, hoping to find them still open. After a few minutes in the first grain store Anne shook her head and led the way out, sure that the merchant was seeking to take advantage of them. However, the prices in the second store were similar- five times the price that they had paid at Gloucester. They limited their purchase to four bushels of barley. The next stop was a brewery. Given their new-found knowledge of the cost of the raw materials used in the brewing process they were not surprised to have to pay top price for a brew of quite moderate quality. Alan purchased seven hogsheads of ale, each of 54 gallons.

They arrived back at the Lion inn just as dinner was being served. Menjoire soup, herbelade pork pies, spinach tarte and mustard lentils. This wasn’t an overly rich meal, but one Alan and Anne were sure would be considerably better than whatever Robert and the others were eating at Staunton that evening.

After dining they spoke to the inn-keeper and had his pot-boy show Leof the way to the house of Moses the Jew on St Owen’s Street, to deliver a message. Leof returned not long afterwards and advised that Moses was at his counting-house and disposed to meet them.

Again with the assistance of the pot-boy they set out with an escort of two huscarles carrying rush torches to light the way in the dark. The boy needed no such assistance and within a few minutes indicated a door set in an otherwise blank wall. On knocking they were admitted. The boy, Leof and the huscarles remained in the entry foyer as Alan and Anne were ushered further inside by a young man. When they entered his chamber Moses rose from the chair at a table where he had been sitting and gestured them towards chairs placed opposite. He was relatively old at about 45, tall and thin with a lean face and prominent hawk-nose. He was dressed in traditional black robes and head-covering, and his long hair, in ringlets at the side, had streaks of grey.

His eyes took in the good quality but understated nature of the clothing of his guests as Alan peeled off his leather gloves and tucked them in his belt. “Good evening, my lord and lady. How may I be of assistance?” he asked.

“Good evening to you also,” replied Alan, pulling a small roll of parchment from his pouch. “This is from Malachi in London and I think will act as suitable introduction, although I do not read Hebrew.” He paused while Moses quickly perused the document and nodded once respectfully. Alan continued, “I am Alan of Thorrington and this is my wife, Anne of Wivenhoe. I have four manors to the west and I’ve appointed Sir Robert de Aumale as seneschal of my lands. Unfortunately, they’ve suffered some depredation and will require some financial support from me. I wish to open an account here, transferring?100 of the funds I have on deposit with Malachi. I understand that you arrange that by Note of Hand. If you wish to have the relevant documentation drawn for me to sign? Myself, Lady Anne and also Sir Robert will be able to draw on these funds as required.”

Moses half-bowed. “Certainly, my lord. If you would care to wait a moment, I’ll have wine and sweetmeats served while the documents are prepared.”

Moments after the Jew left the room a servant appeared with a flask of very good Angevin wine and a plate of candied ginger, dried fruit and nuts. Moses returned shortly afterwards and they chatted about general matters for fifteen minutes or so until an assistant hurried in with the paperwork, which he placed on the table. Moses carefully read the two documents and then turned them for Alan and Anne to peruse. The documents were written in Latin; one was a request to Malachi to transfer the nominated amount, and the other dealt with instructions authorising withdrawals. Alan and Anne swapped documents to read and then signed each with the quill and ink provided.

Business transacted, they then left and returned to the Lion, retiring upstairs to bed nearly immediately.

Next morning they ate a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs and bread, knowing that Staunton would not be able to offer much in the way of fare for the mid-day meal, before taking to the road. On the way they passed both the wagons from Gloucester and Hereford carrying supplies.

On arrival Alan asked Robert, “Did you have a good night’s sleep?”

“Probably not as good as you, but the villagers have taken us into their homes and are providing what food and accommodation they can. Nobody can ask for more than that. They can’t give you what they don’t have!” replied Robert with a shrug. “By the way, this is David, the steward. He was off in Hereford yesterday trying to barter dried fish for flour.”

Alan nodded to the stocky dark-haired man at Robert’s side. “God Hael, David! I have good news. In about an hour two wagons will be arriving. One is from Gloucester, carrying sixty bushels of rye and wheat flour and the other is from Hereford with four bushels of barley for the taverner to use to make ale, and seven hogsheads of brewed ale. I’ll arrange for further supplies from Gloucester; they can come up the river by boat to Monnington. Anne, if you’d like to get the ladies baking when the supplies arrive, we can have something of a celebration.”

“The men went out this morning and took some deer,” said Robert. “I’ll send them back out again and see if we can get some boar and more deer, maybe some wild cattle. There are quite thick patches of forest a little closer to the border. The men will appreciate having ale to drink- drinking water is too damn dangerous!”

While the hunters headed out, Alan conducted Robert, Osmund, Father Siward, Siric, David and the head-cheorls of Norton Canon, Monnington, and Bobury- by name Aella, Bearn and Defan respectively- to the selected site on a slight rise just to the west of the village. “Hlaford!” he began. “Here we’re going to build a fortified bailey. Or burgh, where the people of your villages can take shelter in time of trouble. All the villagers owe traditional burgh-bot labour for fortifications.”

They paced out an oblong 100 paces by 70, Alan marking the site to show the ditch and rampart, the towers at each corner and each side of the gate on the eastern side; then the position of the Hall, kitchen, stables, armoury and granary- Alan intended that the food supplies for the village also be secured.

“Build the stable first, followed by the Hall. Then the ditch, rampart, palisade and towers. Next, build the armoury and finally the granary, which won’t be needed until late summer. Also dig a well.” Alan showed them the sketch plans he had drawn the night before. “I want you to have all available labour engaged. You have a couple of months until the harvest is due to be sown. These plans aren’t grandiose and the facilities will be fairly basic. Half-timber construction with wooden frames and wattle and daub walls. Slate stone floors. Wooden shingles for roofing- not thatch. You have recently learned how easily thatch burns! Shingles burn, but not so easily or quickly. The workers, men and women, will be given food and drink each day. After that’s done we can repair the Moothall and the mills, and also the fish-farms at Monnington and Bobury.

“Do we need to invite men and women to come and live in these villages to replace those who were killed or taken?” continued Alan. “Yes? Very well, David I want you to have the word spread in Gloucestershire that we are looking for suitable people and that land will be granted to them in laen- but wait until we’ve sufficient food available to feed them!

“Siric, Aella, Bearn and Defan, have your blacksmiths as quickly as they can make new ploughs as replacements for those destroyed, and repair those damaged in the raid. They’ll be needed in a few weeks. When they have spare moments they can make spearheads and arrowheads. Robert, arrange for a supply of steel bars from Gloucester and also two wagons of grain each week. It’s so much cheaper there than in Hereford that it’s worth the cost of transport. I’ll provide the funds and I’ll send swords from Gloucester- that would be the best source as they have ample foundries and a suitable supply of iron, coal and charcoal from the Forest of Dean. David, do you have two or three reliable men we can send by ship to Cardiff to buy Welsh bows? Good.”

“This all promises to be a most expensive exercise,” commented Robert.

“True, but we need to rebuild what was here so we can all prosper in the future, and for them be in a position to defend it so it’s not all destroyed again next year. I expect each village to provide ten bowmen and twenty to thirty fyrdmen. Then you can be in a position to mount an effective defence. I’ve given instructions to Moses the Jew that you’re to be provided with what funds you reasonably require- but you’ll need to provide proper accounts,” replied Alan briskly. “Now, let’s see how matters are progressing in the village.”

In fact matters were progressing well. The supply wagons had arrived and been emptied. The smell of baking bread wafted over the village for the first time in months. The fish-traps at Monnington had been emptied and cleaned fish lay waiting to be baked or fried. The deer and other game caught earlier were cooking over open fires and the hunters were returning with further catches that would shortly be roasting or boiling with vegetables. The inhabitants of Norton Canon, Monnington and Bobury were drifting in to join the villagers of Staunton in partaking of their new lord’s largess. The gathering was convivial and Alan, Anne and Robert circulated and chatted with the villagers, ascertaining needs and receiving thanks for the provender they had supplied.

Two days later Alan, Anne, Synne, Osmund, Brand, Leof and an escort of four men rode east towards Essex and home.

CHAPTER TWO

Thorrington February 1068

The winter in the east was deep and bitter. Snow lay deep and icy blizzards blew from the north. In Tendring Hundred the villages were well built, well-provisioned and reasonably affluent. Farmers stayed inside during the short winter days unless the weather was fair, repairing tools and caring for the animals that were mostly housed indoors, often in the same rooms as the human inhabitants. On those days when it was possible to venture outside, the geburs performed minor repairs to fences or hunted for the small wild animals that Alan had given them leave to take- fish, hare, foxes and pigeon. No doubt also the occasional partridge, pheasant and deer were also quietly taken, although Alan was not concerned as long as this was not too blatant a breach of his rights.

Alan, Anne and their household generally stayed snug near the fire in their newly-built, luxuriously-appointed and centrally-heated New Manor Hall at Thorrington. This was a masterpiece of engineering and planning, constructed of a stone-built lower storey, half-timber upper storey with a wood-shingle roof. The floor and walls were heated by a hypocaust furnace located in an adjoining building with the warm air conducted underground and then up the walls through flues, in a manner used in the past by the Romans. The Hall fire, largely only for appearances given the effective heating of the Hall, had a metal canopy which channeled the smoke away up a metal chimney. Light came though eight glazed windows, four on each side of the Hall. Alan had reached into the past for inspiration and had spared no expense in construction. The Hall even had a bathing house located next to the kitchen, where the water in a large tub made from a tun barrel cut in half and big enough to accommodate several people, was heated by the kitchen fires. Probably the biggest innovation was the self-flushing latrines, where water piped from a nearby spring was used to wash away the waste- a common feature of Roman buildings, although now an unheard of luxury, and one which Alan had copied.

Alan conducted regular sword and spear training drills for his men in the covered salle d’arms next to the armoury. Owain the Welsh archer conducted training for men with the longbow on any day when the weather permitted.

As Alan had been away in December when the Hundred Court had been in session, Leofstan, the thegn from Great and Little Holland and the second largest landholder after Alan, had taken that duty. However he had bound over the more serious cases to be heard when Alan and Osmund were present, as Osmund’s understanding of the law and his ability to find the correct sections in the court text-books was the best in the Hundred. This meant that the list for the January sittings starting on Monday 21st, the Saint Day of St Agnes, was very long. Indeed, it appeared that the late autumn and early winter had been a period of considerable petty lawlessness in the Hundred, particularly in the manors held of the Bishop of London at Clacton and St Osyth by his men Normans Roger de Montivilliers, Geoffrey of Rouen and Fleming Albyn of Bruges, and the young French Angevin Gerard de Cholet who was tenant of Sheriff Robert fitzWymarc’s village of Elmstead.

Sitting jointly in the Old Hall with Leofstan and thegn Godwin of Weeley, Alan heard the usual litany of minor crimes. Assaults, petty theft, two counts of illegal possession of animals and illegal intercourse (with women, not animals). There were also serious crimes of theft, rapes and two cases of unlawful killing. Civil cases were also listed for hearing, one of selling a sick cow and two cases of encroachment on the land of another.

West Saxon law required that the person laying the complaint give oath in support of his claim. Each freeman was required to be a member of a frithbogh of ten men, who gave oath as to his truthfulness. They were also the tithing of ten men who would, if he was found guilty, share in the payment of the required bot, the fine or compensation. A freeman could compound his penalty for serious crime by paying an amount equal to his wergild, which was 200 shillings for a cheorl, cottar or sokeman. A thegn’s wergild was 1,200. Such amounts were usually totally beyond the ability to pay of the individual man, and often also of the tithing- although the prospect of being hung from the gallows-tree did tend to make men undertake their best efforts to find the required funds when needed. Many of the theows or slaves in England had become enthralled due to inability to pay the bot or compensation required for breaches of the law.

Cases were not brought lightly. A person making accusation found to be false was heavily fined if the court found that the actions had been brought with malice; those convicted of perjury faced eternal damnation by being forbidden to be shriven or buried in consecrated ground. These were simple country people who believed in the truth and for whom the penalty for perjury was treated with the utmost seriousness and fear. Cases of mis-identification were rare as they lived in small tight-knit communities where all knew each other well, and those from neighboring villages at least by sight. Few of the cases were disputed.

The minor cases usually took little time as the defendants mostly pleaded guilty and paid the small fines of a few shillings for injury to their victims. Injuries such as bruising, loss of teeth, broken bones etc each had a set compensation bot specified in the Dooms which formed the English written law.

They then moved on to the more serious cases. As usual in rape cases they turned on the question of consent. One man was acquitted through lack of certainty on the part of the judges regarding his understanding as to whether the wench was consenting or merely submitting. He was, nevertheless, ordered to pay bot to the girl of twelve shillings. The other man was convicted. Neither he nor his frithbogh could pay his wer, and so he was hung from the gallows-tree to the delight and entertainment of the villagers. One of the unlawful killing cases was found to be justified by self-defence. In the other the case man was convicted and sent to be held at the gaol in Colchester until the wer of 200 shillings was paid, the frithbogh saying it would take time to sell cattle and swine to enable payment.

One man, a Norman of low class from the village of Elmstead and in the employ of Gerard de Cholet, was convicted of theft. Without the option of payment of wer, as Norman law applied to him, his right hand was struck off and he was forced to abjure the Hundred. As there was a blizzard blowing at the time, and weakened by blood loss, it was unlikely that he would have made it as far as Colchester. Most probably a hungry wolf in the forest near Alresford ate well that day.

The cases were now heard in the Old Hall at Thorrington village, instead of the previous use of the tithe-barn. Given the warmth inside and the appalling weather outside, the Hall was packed with people with nothing better to do. Godwin and Leofwine were in no hurry to finish, both being provided with snug quarters at the fortified New Hall, and they decided to deal fully with all pending matters, spending five days to achieve this. They were assisted on several days by thegns Edwald of Alresford, Bondi of Ardleigh, and by special invitation for the first time the Englishman named Leax, formerly of Hertfordshire. He was Engelric’s newly-appointed steward to the lands he held of St Paul’s of London at Birch Hall. With the additional judges two courts were able to be held, one at each end of the Hall, with the second using the services of Brother Wacian as scribe.

Lent had begun exceptionally early, Ash Wednesday being on the 6th February. As usual, Alan and Anne attended Mass on such a festival, together with nearly everybody in the village. As they walked across the small wooden bridge over the Alresford Creek Alan noted that the water of the stream was frozen solid.

Despite the packed humanity it was bitterly cold in the small wooden church. The palm crosses from the previous Palm Sunday were burnt and the ashes mixed with Catechumens oil. Each person present had a cross traced on their forehead, Brother Wacian saying to each. “Remember, O man, that ye are dust, and to dust ye shall return.” The beautiful penitential Psalm 51 was read by the priest, not because he could not remember the words but so that he had the pleasure of handling the beautifully copied and leather-bound English-language bible that Alan had, as an act of contrition for his previous sins, presented the church the previous year. As with all services in the country that were held outside cathedrals or abbeys, the service was conducted in the Anglo-Saxon language and the simple village folk recited from memory the familiar required responses.

Accepted practice for Lent in this part of England was that two smaller than normal meals were permitted each day, but that red meat, fowl, eggs and dairy produce were not permitted except on Sundays- each Sunday being deemed a ‘mini-Easter’ Feast Day. Usually this would not have caused a problem, but Alan was concerned about the severity of the winter. He held Anne back after the service ended and asked Brother Wacian if they could talk. Brother Wacian led them into the rectory, where a warm fire was burning, and invited them to sit.

“Brother, I have concerns about the Lenten requirements this year. Lent is a time of prayer, penitence and self-denial, preparing us for Holy Week and Easter. This year, as Easter Day is very early, so is the commencement of Lent. In fact we celebrated Candlemas only three days ago! One day we are celebrating Christ’s presentation in the temple and nearly the next we are preparing for his death!

“This year is a very severe and hard winter. Our people are well-fed and usually well-provisioned. My concern this year is that when we are not having blizzards we are having strong winds. These are communities that rely on fresh fish, which are always abundant in the sea nearby, and we have little store of dried or salted fish. Our fishermen have hardly been able to get their boats in the water for two weeks. If this continues until Easter, our people are likely to be so weakened that they may have difficulty in performing the ploughing and manure-spreading the following month. Those who are pregnant such as Anne, or who are ill, would also weaken. May I ask that you grant a dispensation on each Sunday for the following week on those occasions the weather has prevented fishing for the preceding three days, permitting fowl to be eaten that week, in moderation and perhaps only once in the day?”

Brother Wacian frowned. He was quite strict in his religious observations and his requirements of others to do the same. This idea was distasteful and offensive to him, but he did recognise that his congregation had both spiritual and physical needs. He also recognised that the person making the request had the ability to dismiss him at any time, although he allowed that to have little bearing on his decision, and also that Alan himself had obligations to his people. After a few moments reflection he replied, “Let us see how things progress over the next week or so. A week without meat will not hurt anybody- they can fill their bellies on vegetable pottage and bread, and those who planned in advance also with dried or pickled fruit or vegetables. If the weather stays inclement, I may agree to your request and grant a partial dispensation on a week-to-week basis, for the good welfare of the people. Obviously I would not myself so partake.”

“Thank you, Brother Wacian. Hopefully, it will not be necessary and the Good Lord will grant us fair weather- but if he does not it behooves us to care for our people as best we can.

“Also, as you know, Anne attends the three Masses said here at Thorrington each week. She would like, when possible, for you to provide her with the Eucharist each day. Again, given the weather and her condition, may I request that you do this and perform a shortened service at the New Hall?” Brother Wacian agreed easily enough, after all it was only a few minutes walk and would take little of his time. He could perform the service in the late evening and no doubt would often then be invited to stay for the evening meal, which was no small consideration for a man who was single and did his own cooking most of the time. The women of the parish did provide him with the occasional crockpot of cooked stew or baked pies- outside the Lenten period. Brother Wacian wasn’t a good cook and that was one of the things that he missed after leaving the abbey, not that the food provided in the abbey refectory was anywhere near the quality of the provender on offer at Alan’s high-table. He also missed lively intellectual conversation, which wasn’t something that could be offered by the villagers but which certainly occurred at the table of the highly-educated lord and his lady.

On the way back to the New Hall, Alan and Anne passed arm-in-arm over the wooden draw-bridge crossing the defensive trench and through the gate in the wooden palisade between the towers that contained the ballistae which Alan had built partly from plans dating back to Roman times and partly from his own tinkering. Anne commented, “Of course, the fact that you hate fish didn’t have anything to do with that request, did it?” asked Anne. Alan laughed and patted her bottom without replying.

The next day dawned cold but windless. Alan took horse with his steward Faran and two men to ride the thirteen miles to his manor at Ramsey in the north of the Hundred. Ramsey was a neat village located about a mile inland with some 55 cottages, a mill and a salt-house, being administered for Alan by the steward Durand. The steward was under close supervision as he was a hang-over from the previous tenants Aelfhare and Bertholf Kemp, who had attacked Alan after he had taken possession, with Alan’s archers killing them in his protection. Ramsey also had Alan’s horse breeding stable, run by studmaster Roweson, an elderly thickset white-haired cheorl who had been in charge for twelve years under both Alan and before him the Kemps.

The journey to Ramsey was difficult with the horses walking through thick snow and Alan and his men were more than happy to receive a hot bowl of vegetable pottage from Arlene, Durand’s wife and housekeeper. The stew had a surprisingly strong flavour of bacon, on which Alan didn’t comment. After all Ash Wednesday had been only the day before and presumably the pottage had been on the make for several days. The meal was accompanied by ale and fresh bread, although made of rye and without butter due to the Lenten restrictions..

The stud was a short distance from the village and Alan rode out in the early afternoon. Roweson greeted them as the knight and his men dismounted. The yard was surrounded on two sides by horse stalls and on the third by several cottages used by the staff, and a large barn where hay, oats and carrots were stored.

“God Hael, Ealdor!” Roweson called as he limped forward, seemingly to have significantly aged in the months since Alan had seen him last. Presumably the cold was making his joints stiff.

“God Hael, Horsbealdor!” replied Alan warmly, clapping the old man on the shoulder. “How progress things?”

“Well enough, Ealdor! Well enough! We now have 76 breeding mares. The 34 from last year plus 16 of the fillies who were yearlings last year- we lost one in the summer to snake bite; we also have the 6 you bought at Ipswich and those others bought at London and Colchester. We still have the 3 stallions, and your stallion Odin in season. The 14 geldings are now about 18 months old and ready to start training, but of course not ready for heavy use. Of the 76 mares, 68 are in foal- some arrived too late to be bred for the season. Two ‘slipped’.

“Our problem is going to come in spring. All the horses are in stalls to protect them from the weather. They’re crammed in two or three per stall, except the stallions of course. We have 25 stalls. When the mares foal we won’t have stalls for them all. We also won’t have enough meadow or fenced fields- we’ll be up to our eyes in horses! I suggest you use some of your land at Great Bentley, which has good meadow and pasture land. Build stalls, say another 25 or 30 there and 10 more here. If you build a stud at Great Bentley it will also need cottages and a barn. That’ll take care of this year. My assistant Brunloc can run Great Bentley under my instruction. When is this master horse-trainer you promised going to arrive? We can train the horses to be ridden as usual, but you want them to be trained for war, which is a different thing altogether.”

“Sorry, I’d forgotten about that,” admitted Alan. “I’ve had too much to think about. We need him here… when?”

“As soon as you want the horses to be trained to fight! That beast Odin is like nothing I’ve ever seen! A vicious beast, but intelligent and tractable- when he wants to be. If you have 50 men on horses like him, you’d be damn hard to beat,” replied Roweson. “I used to think that what you were saying was crap, but I’ve seen him out on the training-field and any competent man-at-arms on a horse like that… I’m not surprised you Normans beat Harold.”

“I’ll attend to it and send a letter to my father and ask him to get the best man available.” Alan paused and then asked, “So what do you expect from the breeding program?”

“That depends,” said Roweson with a shrug. “I think you chose good animals last year. We should get a good batch of foals from the mares we bred to the big stallions. If we keep doing that for a few years the resulting horses will be nearly as large as your destrier Odin. Big, strong, plenty of endurance, reasonably fast- although not very quick to change direction. The main problem will be temperament, which is why I want this person you have promised to work magic with them. The best horse in the world is useless if you can’t get it to do what you want. One thing’s for sure, in four or five years we’ll have bred all the warhorses you could reasonably want. You’ll probably need four or five stallions at stud by then.”

Alan inspected the horses and stables. Each horse had a blanket buckled on to keep them warm. The stalls were clean, obviously mucked out daily, and with fresh straw. Chaff and oats were available for the horses to eat. The horses looked rough in their winter coats but were clearly well fed and comfortable. The mares looked at him placidly and accepted the carrots he offered. As Roweson had said, the only real problem was overcrowding with two or three mares, nearly all in foal, in most stalls.

After taking his leave Alan and his men returned to Ramsey for the night. They wouldn’t have been able to return to Thorrington before nightfall, and trying to travel through the deep snow in the darkness was not a viable option. Durand and Arlene vacated the master’s bedroom to sleep by the fire in the Hall. Alan spent an uncomfortable night in a bed that smelled strongly of its former occupants, scratching at the bites of the fleas that swarmed off the skins that formed part of the bedding.

They departed next morning after a breakfast of porridge sweetened with honey. Ramsey had eight taxed beehives and at least two dozen that didn’t ‘appear on the books’ and which disappeared each time the tax collectors were in the area. It was hard to hide a forest, a salt-house or a mill, but beehives were supposed to be moveable-and were valuable. Alan had a reasonable suspicion that there were more hives than even he knew about, but as long as Durand kept his cheating within reasonable limits he wasn’t too concerned. Osmund had ‘passed’ the accounts for the mill and salt-house when he’d inspected them in the autumn, so Durand wasn’t being as blatant in his larceny as Kendrick, the previous steward of Thorrington.

The party, now including the head-groom Brunloc, paused at Great Bentley for several hours while Alan and Brunloc discussed the requirements for the new horse-stud with the young steward Tamar and the head-cheorl Alstan. Horse paddocks and sites for buildings were marked out and orders given to commence construction as soon as possible, weather permitting.

Back at Thorrington Alan reported to Anne the outcome of his journey. Brother Wacian arrived just before darkness fell, at about four in the afternoon. He conducted a simple and abbreviated service for Anne. Alan and most of the household, including the soldiers from the barracks, also attended, kneeling on the fresh rushes spread on the floor of the main Hall. Cutting the service to the ‘bare bones’ with no gospel readings, no homily, only one Psalm was read (actually recited from memory, like the rest of the service, as the priest hadn’t brought the Bible or Missal) and two hymns which were sung mainly because the congregation expected it, the service including the presentation of the Eucharist took a little over twenty minutes. Bother Wacian was hungry and the smells emanating from the kitchen did not encourage him to delay.

Like most lords of the manor, Alan and Anne usually ate with most of the household, although the common soldiers usually ate in the barracks. The high-table was placed close to the fire, with Brother Wacian again marveling at the construction of the metal hood and metal chimney which drew the smoke out of the Hall while admitting neither wind nor rain. Alan’s design problems had been overcome with the suggestions and assistance of a London metal-smith several months previously. At the same time the windows had been sealed against draughts by the installation of broad-sheet blown glass of a slightly greenish tinge- the colour due to the soda content which allowed lower working temperatures and longer working periods, which made it much cheaper than clear glass- although still ruinously expensive.

Because the weather had been reasonably clear that day Anne had arranged for several fishermen to be on special missions. Alan hated fish and Anne was not fond of it day after day. For the previous few days she had arranged for shrimp to be caught in baited traps in the freshwaters or tidal waters of Alresford Creek and Barfleet Creek near Thorrington and the Colne River.

The previous night the boat fisherman had been able to go out and lay baited traps offshore for lobster, which had been retrieved and the lobsters were sitting in holding tanks of seawater and being purged of their waste, which took several days. Scallops and mussels had been gathered, again mainly sitting in the salt-water holding tanks awaiting future use. Today flounder and other flatfish had been caught in the shallows. She had plaiced orders (*pun intended) for flatfish, catfish, cod and haddock, but not the oily herring. Live fish were preferred, and dolphin if caught. Small holding-pens for live fish had been established on the tidal section of Alresford Creek.

Anne hadn’t been entrusted with the operation of her previous husband’s household and, this being the first Lent period since her marriage, she intended to fully extend her intellect to the problem of catering for forty days to a husband who hated fish. The non-availability for six days of the week, for religious reasons, of eggs and dairy products did not help as this reduced the available range of sauces and other dishes.

Frankly, Alan, although in other ways quite devout, was not particularly concerned about complying with dietary restrictions. The previous year had been the first in which he’d had any control over what appeared at table and he was sure that the Good Lord appreciated his other qualities. He was to some extent a servant of his stomach, even at risk to his immortal sole (*pun also intended). But Anne was in charge- and each Sunday he would be free to eat his fill of red meat, swine, eggs and dairy produce. ‘If you eat enough of something in one day maybe you wouldn’t miss it for the next six,’ he mused.

In fact Anne had arranged for Otha the cook to have more than enough to work with. Tonight’s meal was mussels and scallops braised in white wine and with garlic and onions, with Lenten foyles of cabbage, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, almond milk, currents, salt and pepper. Tomorrow would be flounder with ginger sauce, fried gourd and cress with almond milk. Whether an interesting menu could be maintained with limited ingredients for forty days would be a challenge.

Unfortunately, food which should have been lightly braised was cooked to death, the mussels and scallops being as tough as old boots and the foyles burnt. Alan and Brother Wacian had eaten worse and chewed away without complaint, although also without much enjoyment. Fortunately there were no local restrictions on wine, and Alan broached a flagon of fine Bordeaux red to make up for the poor food. Alan suggested that Brother Wacian and Anne play a game of Tabula while he wrote a letter to his father. The need for a top-quality horse trainer was the immediate cause, but had made Alan recognise that it was many months since he had written to Normandy. He mentally reassured himself that the reason for this was the difficulty in having messages delivered overseas, but he wasn’t entirely convinced by his own argument.

The letter was dispatched to Aaron the Jew in Colchester, with a request that he have it forwarded to the Jewry of Amiens and hence to Alan’s father at Gauville. The delivery method would be relatively expensive, but quick and certain.

February passed slowly. Winter’s hard grip remained on the land and the days when the peasants could work the fields, the fishermen ply their boats and nets or the soldiers train outside were rare. Manure and marl were supposed to be carted to the fields and spread, but this was behind schedule. Alan was again going to use the three-field system on his land. This, together with other innovations such as increased sowing rates and selection of seedstock, had the previous year provided him with nearly double the crops grown in the more traditional two-field system still used by the villagers. The extra grain had also allowed him to keep additional livestock over the winter, instead of slaughtering all but the breeding stock in the autumn, which in turn would allow an increase in the size of his herds in the coming year.

The salthouse owned by Alan on Barfleet Creek was one of the few areas of activity. The salt that had been harvested from the salt-pans at the end of the summer had been cleaned and stored in sacks stacked on racks above the ground to avoid moisture, and was now being milled and placed in barrels ready for sale when the roads re-opened. A little less than half the salt in storage belonged to Alan, the remainder belonged to the villagers who were charged ten percent of the harvest for the use of the storage and milling facilities. Alan owned similar salthouses at his manors of Bradfield, Ramsey and Great Bentley, and two each at Beaumont and Great Oakley. Many of the other manors in the Hundred had similar salthouses and these formed an important part of the local economy, being the main cash-earner for most villages. Alan and his villages had increased the number of saltpans the previous spring to allow extra funds to pay the geld tax that King William had re-introduced the previous year.

At least three mornings a week Alan conducted training for his warriors in the covered salle d’armes, keeping his own edge and improving the skills of the recruits. His deputy Hugh did the same at the manor he was supervising for Alan, albeit in his case outdoors when weather permitted, due to lack of indoor facilities. There was no training ahorse for the men-at-arms as the deep snow on the training field precluded this.

Alan spent most afternoons tinkering in his workshop, with the occasional assistance of the village carpenter, building the eight ballistae and two onagers he intended to dispatch to Staunton in the spring. Life settled into a boring rustic existence while the people, animals and land waited for spring.

The holding pens by the Alresford creek for the live fish worked quite well, allowing fresh fish and shellfish to be kept, although the tanks for the crabs and lobsters were not as successful due to their cannibalistic nature. They were placed in the tanks to be purged, which made them hungry- so they tried to eat each other.

The shellfish, lobsters and crabs were reserved for the high-table. The Hall servants and soldiers ate fresh fish when available, and salted when it was not. There was only one week when because of protracted storms Brother Wacian granted a dispensation to the villagers to eat the meat of fowl, which Alan took advantage of despite the Hall having ample supplies of salt fish, having some of the chickens, peafowl, pheasants and quail which were usually kept in pens killed to provide variety to the diet.

By assiduous effort a varied and interesting menu featuring seafood, albeit with usually just one main course, was maintained. After the first disaster Anne had made it clear to Otha the cook that, at least at high-table, they expected well cooked and well presented meals. Being bored and cooped up inside was bad enough without having to eat poor food. A good meal, with fine wine, gave the day a lift. While the dietary restrictions of Lent caused some problems it didn’t mean that they had to eat fish stew every night.

Each Sunday, as permitted by custom, cows, calves, pigs, chickens and sheep were slaughtered and cooked for the eighty or so occupants of the Hall and barracks; dishes featuring eggs were prepared and cheese eaten. The hoi polloi as usual ate food of a basic but filling nature, while Otha was required to use every drop of her talent to produce high-quality meals for the high-table. Brother Wacian was a frequent guest at table. To his chagrin and embarrassment he began to put on weight, which he was not supposed to do while suffering the privations of Lent.

In the middle of March the weather improved and the frozen earth softened enough to allow ploughing to commence and the spreading of manure to be completed. The mares and cows were due to drop their young in another month or so and the sows were farrowing.

CHAPTER THREE

Essex and Wales March 1068

Alan had always prided himself on his self-control and temperament, but he did admit that on the very few occasions he lost his temper it was something memorable and spectacular.

On this occasion, after receiving a message passed on by his clerk Osmund, he was absolutely incandescent with anger. He was standing in the salle d’arms, the covered training room just off the armoury. Alan had been drilling five men in the large room with its dirt floor, with the assistance of Brand the huscarle and with the youth Leof observing and learning.

There were four oak posts, each six inches thick, set deep into the dirt floor. Two had straw dummies attached. Alan drew his sword in a flash and within moments had reduced each of the straw dummies to chaff. A double-handed backhand swipe at the next post had the sword penetrate half way before becoming stuck. Alan with a conscious effort opened his hands and released the hilt. He loved that sword and he wasn’t quite that angry that he wanted to break it. Snatching up a two-handed Danish war-axe from the rack of weapons, he reduced the fourth post to kindling in moments before standing with the axe-head on the ground, leaning against the haft and panting slightly.

Brand raised his eyebrows, dismissed the men and took the axe out of Alan’s unresisting hands, putting it back in its slot in the weapons rack. “Now that you’ve got that out of your system, let’s go inside and sort out what we need to do,” he said in a deliberately bland voice. He looked at Leof and pointed at the still-quivering sword embedded deep in the wood. “Get Aethelhard the blacksmith,” he instructed the youth.

They walked the short distance to the Hall. Anne sat in a chair near the fire, wearing a green velvet dress and a cloak lined with ermine fur, sewing some sort of garment. Her belly was by now slightly swollen, with her first child expected in the autumn. She gave a cheerful smile until she saw that Alan’s face was like thunder and asked, “What’s the problem?”

“The damned Welsh raided over the border again and burnt and sacked Norton Canon for the second time in six months,” explained Osmund quietly. “Robert’s messenger just arrived. As you know Alan was waiting until the spring crop sowing was over before he punished them for their last transgression. They beat him to it.”

Leof came into the Hall, carrying Alan’s sword which Aethelhard had extracted from the oak post in the salle d’arms. Alan saw him and handed over the baldric and scabbard for Leof to put the sword away.

It was Maunday Thursday, 20th March in the year 1068, Easter being very early that year.

“The Feast of the Annunciation on 25th March is on Tuesday next week, in five days. Another damn Quarter Day with taxes to be paid! I want two ox-carts with flour and seed grain on their way to Staunton tomorrow. Yes, I know that day is Good Friday, just do it! No, make that three carts and add some sacks of dried beans and barrels of dried or salted fish or beef. The Vale can’t support or feed our men. Brand, have ten huscarles ride on the wagons. The rest of us will leave on Wednesday, escort the taxes to Colchester and then proceed to Staunton. That’s a journey of four days if we push it, 225 miles. The ploughing here is complete. Any sowing or harrowing still needing to be done after Lady Day can be done by the women and children and those men left behind. I want all 30 of the mounted men-at-arms we have, the Wolves, and 40 of the 50 longbowmen. I also want 50 of the 63 infantrymen who answer to me. Put their armour and a supply of 2,000 arrows on the carts leaving tomorrow, so the men can march unladen. I’ll leave Hugh in charge here with Anne and a small force in case anything happens here. Contact the thegns and invite them to send along their mounted men-at-arms and huscarles, and pass word to the men of the fyrd that I’d welcome any trained man who wishes to march with us, paid at a penny a day.”

Alan then had an argument with Anne, who wanted to accompany the force, finally having to invoke his position as ‘senior partner’ to specify that somebody in Anne’s ‘delicate situation’ could not spend most of each day on a horse, covering 60 miles or more a day.

Despite the solemnity of the Easter season the estate began to hum with activity. The Mass commemorating the celebration of the first Eucharist by Jesus and the Disciples was conducted with a congregation that had many of its members with other things on their mind. The Gloria was sung, the church bell rang and fell silent, to so remain until Easter Day. The ceremony of the washing of the feet was neglected that day.

On Good Friday, as was normal, Eucharist was not celebrated. Instead the congregation gave penance, with a long line to see Brother Wacian for absolution- particularly those men due to march west a few days later. The Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross and the Stations of the Cross were performed by the priest.

Holy Saturday was supposed to be a day of reflection and prayer. While those who were able did conduct themselves thus, for many others it was a time of frantic activity- shoeing horses, checking and repairing armour and sharpening swords. Alan’s personal army would be marching to visit God’s vengeance on the Welsh and they intended to be ready and leave nothing to chance.

The following morning the Vigil was performed before dawn, followed by the service for Easter Day. Within the crowded church the Paschal Candle was lit and the Exultet chanted. The congregation heard readings from the Old Testament, the singing of the Gloria and Alleluia and the Gospel of the Resurrection. The sermon given by Brother Wacian was specially written by him to provide comfort and reassurance to the warriors going to war, promising eternal life for all who truly repented and believed. Baptisms were performed and the congregation renewed their baptismal vows. The afternoon was spent in feasting and drinking, the village celebrating the end of the privations imposed by Lent.

Alan and his men marched on Wednesday 26th March, the day after the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. With the coming of spring each day was now over 12? hours long and Alan expected to cover a substantial distance each day. His force of 30 mounted men-at-arms, 50 infantrymen and 40 longbowmen were gathered at Wivenhoe, together with another 23 mounted men, thegns and their retainers, and 89 fyrdmen. The Hundred men were coming along out of a sense of adventure and wanted to put their newly-acquired fighting skills to the test.

Including his men already in Herefordshire, or recently dispatched thereto, Alan would be able to field over 250 swords. The Hundred men and Alan’s foot-soldiers marched out together as the day was dawning. The mounted men-at-arms would accompany the slower ox-carts carrying the taxes to Colchester and then catch up with the others later in the day. Alan had sent Osmund, Leof and half a dozen riders on ahead the day before to make arrangements at each of the places Alan intended to stay overnight, Stevenage, Oxford and Gloucester, for food and accommodation to be available- which was no small undertaking given the size of the force mustered.

After safely delivering the taxes and leaving Wybert, Anne’s steward at Wivenhoe, to attend to obtaining the necessary receipts, Alan and the mounted men caught up with the foot-soldiers at Bishop Stortford in the afternoon. The men were in good heart, singing as they marched. They carried only their weapons and a few personal items, usually wrapped in a blanket draped over their shoulders.

After ‘roughing it’ at Stevenage for the first night, the following night was spent in relative comfort at Oxford. Alan received a message from the sheriff requesting a visit the next day to explain why he had brought a small army into the city. He penned a polite note back, declining to attend and saying he and the ‘army’ would be marching west at dawn.

On arriving at Gloucester the following evening Alan was greeted at the city gates by the sheriff of that shire, with a similar query. Clearly a rider had been dispatched from Oxford. As his tired men straggled to a halt behind him, glad to be finished marching for the day, Alan replied briefly, “Reinforcements for William fitzOsbern. Trouble on the Welsh border with raids and so on.”

Alan was a little surprised at how much attention he was drawing, but on reflection would have to agree that if somebody led over 200 armed men into Essex he would have some concerns and want to know where they were going and what they would do when they arrived. “Brand, move the men through. It’s nearly dark and the gates will be closing soon. Get them to their lodgings and get them fed.”

“Does Earl William know you’re coming?” asked the sheriff with annoyance, as the few men he had standing in front of the gate were shouldered aside.

“Possibly, but I’m sure we’ll be welcome when we arrive,” said Alan vaguely. “Now, please excuse me, Sir! I’m tired, dirty, hungry and thirsty. I’ll proceed to my lodgings.” He made a mental note that if he needed to move men around in the future it would be in smaller groups of 20 or 30 at a time, so as not to attract attention.

When the next day they crossed the bridge over the River Wye in the early afternoon, Alan turned the force west along the road leading up the Wye River valley and towards the border instead of proceeding into the city of Hereford.

Near Byford, about two miles east of Staunton, they came across Osmund and three men sitting alongside the road under a tree which was just bursting into leaf. Osmund rose to his feet and walked the few paces to the road where Alan was at the head of his men. “Good afternoon, my lord,” said Osmund, as if the meeting were occurring in Alan’s Hall instead of the wilds of Herefordshire. “The mens’ weapons are in a clearing in the trees just to the north,” here he nodded towards a large stand of trees on the hills by the farm of Mansell Gamage. “There’s provender also. I bought that yesterday in Hereford and brought it here this morning. There are cooked cold meats, beef and swine; bread; cheese; boiled vegetables; fruit and ale. There’s fodder for the horses and a stream with fresh water for man and beast. There are more than enough provisions- although they cost a small fortune!”

“No questions were asked?” queried Alan.

Osmund gave him a look so ‘old-fashioned’ that its bones were bare, which expressed his disapproval. “I purchased from over a dozen different suppliers. I used our own carts. It took all fucking day!” he said sourly.

The men and horses disappeared into the trees. Firm instructions were given that no fires were to be lit. The infantry collected their armour, or in the case of the archers their extra sheaves of arrows, and set up the leather ten-man tents that Alan had provided. Guards and scouts were set for the first time on the expedition. The men ate as darkness gathered before heading to their tents. Alan met with Robert and the three spies who had been surveying the Wye valley on the Welsh side of the border for several months, gathering the information Alan needed. He intended to rest the men and horses all of the next day and to use the light of the full moon to move into position to attack the following night.

He had hardly seemed to close his eyes when Alan woke with his shoulder being shaken. “What the fuck…?” he queried as he sat up with the blanket draped over him falling away.

Brand was bending over him. “The scouts to the north report movement. Thirty or forty men moving towards Yazor on horseback.”

“Shite!” Alan said as his brain snapped into action “Get the men-at-arms awake. There’s no time to put on harness, so we’ll fight without armour. Get the archers and some infantry on the backs of the extra horses- all are to be my men, no fyrdmen.” Alan looked longingly at his rolled up chain-mail hauberk and instead quickly pulled on his padded jacket with sewn-in metal plate inserts, acknowledging that donning mail armour took at least fifteen minutes- which time he didn’t have.

The men were on horse and moving within ten minutes, most of that time taken with putting the tack on the horses. Then they were moving north on horseback between the trees of the forest, the bright light of the full moon making movement relatively easy. After a ride of several minutes they came to Offa’s Dyke. This deep ditch with the spoil piled on the eastern side had been constructed several centuries before by the Saxons to try to prevent Welsh raiding parties moving east. Without maintenance it had fallen into disrepair but it was still a considerable obstacle and the men had to dismount and lead their horses over a section where the ditch and wall had collapsed.

The scouts sent on ahead returned to advise that the Welsh had dismounted and left their horses in the trees just to the west of the village of Yazor, along with five attendants. Alan sent ten of his men who were foresters or poachers ahead and soon received the signal that it was clear to proceed. On arriving at the tree line he ignored a pair of booted feet projecting from behind a bush, other than to think that his men must have been busy- otherwise the boots would have been removed by now.

Screams and shouts could be heard from the village that lay just ahead.

“What men have we got?” Alan demanded of Brand.

“Thirty mounted men-at-arms and ten swordsmen. Twenty archers,” replied Brand.

“If we send them into the village, the villagers will attack us and we’ll be blundering about not knowing what we’re doing,” said Alan, expressing uncharacteristic caution.

“The best course is to stay here and wait for the Welsh to come back for their horses,” agreed Brand. “Of course, that doesn’t help the villagers!”

Alan grunted in reply and looked about. It appeared that Yazor had largely been spared the ravages of the summer invasion, which was presumably why the Welsh were paying their visit tonight. “They aren’t my villagers! There are several haystacks over to the north, just past those houses. Set fire to them. That should get the Welsh moving out of the village when it attracts their attention.”

It was Brand’s turn to grunt. “Probably,” he said. “But apart from our men at Staunton they wouldn’t expect to see a man-at-arms closer than Hereford, six miles away.”

“Do it! I don’t want to send my men into a confused fight to defend a village that isn’t my responsibility. If I do I’ll lose ten or fifteen men. I don’t intend to lose a single one,” instructed Alan.

Minutes later the haystacks burst into flame, like giant beacons drawing attention. Shortly afterwards the Welshmen appeared, either carrying sacks of booty or with a woman draped over their shoulder. After a brief discussion, they moved as a body towards the trees.

Alan was standing with the archers in the shadow of the trees. “Loose!” he instructed. At a range of barely thirty paces it was impossible to miss. Fifteen Welshmen fell riddled with arrows, several being double-targeted. “And again! Loose!” Another nine Welshmen fell and Alan instructed the swordsmen to take the few remaining survivors into custody.

Riding into the village Alan was unable to locate the village head-cheorl and after leaving a message he departed back to the camp at Mansell Gamage.

Of the Welshmen, 29 of the 42 raiders were dead, shot down by the archers in ambush. There were no wounded. The 13 survivors, hands bound, were marched under guard to the camp. The only English casualty was a swordsman who had tripped over a log in the dark and sprained an ankle.

While the dead Welshmen were collected and thrown into Offa’s Dyke, Alan and a dozen men escorted the bewildered freed captives back into the village and returned that part of the portable wealth of the village that the Welsh had stolen and which his men had not had the opportunity to purloin. In the dark they were still unable to locate the village headman. Whether dead, fled or in hiding nobody knew. Instead Alan spoke to several of the older cheorls. Several dead bodies were being brought out and taken to the church, presumably men who had shown resistance. Alan felt a pang of guilt about that but accepted Brand’s assurance that had he and his men rushed into the village with swords drawn it was most likely that even more villagers would have died, as both his men and the Welsh would have struck first and asked questions later. At least the firing of the haystacks had interrupted the Welsh and prevented them from burning down the village and killing all the livestock. Anyway, it wasn’t his village and they were not his geburs. Defending them was somebody else’s responsibility and getting his own men killed or injured unnecessarily was something to be avoided if possible.

Alan arrived back at the camp shortly before dawn, feeling weary and fatigued. Baldwin the Norman man-at-arms and Ranulf the Saxon huscarle had tried to question the Welsh captives without success. The latter were pretending they spoke only Welsh. Alan chose not to disclose that he had some knowledge of the Celtic language, learned as a child from a Celtic-speaking nursemaid from Brittany, and dispatched a man to Staunton to summon two or three interpreters, and to advise Robert that the foray intended for that night would be delayed to allow his men to rest. The 42 captured Welsh hill-ponies were fed, watered and allocated to some of those who had hitherto traveled on foot.

At dawn two days later Alan, in full chain-mail harness, was sitting astride his warhorse Odin outside the village of Talgarth in Welsh Brycheiniog. The village of Hay-on-Wye, eight miles to the north-west and just on the Welsh side of the border, had been sacked but not burned the evening before as the raiding party had moved west following the path of the river. This provided much easier movement in a landscape of steep barren hills and mountains cut by deep fertile river valleys.

Alan expected that the other half of his force under Robert and Brand should be at Builth Wells to the north-west after an overnight march of nineteen miles. He looked to check that the men surrounding the village were in place and standing in plain view, an archer every thirty paces and three groups of armoured foot-soldiers. Thirty mounted men-at-arms and mounted thegns were at his back. Turning he looked to the north-west and could in the distance see the gray pall of smoke now issuing from Hay-on-Wye.

The village was stirring, men and women emerging from their ramshackle thatched cottages. After a few moments the villagers saw first one then another of the English soldiers and shouts of alarm could be heard. Men ran to the lord’s Hall, a long building near the middle of the village. Apart from the church it was the only substantial building in the village. There was a palisade of sorts around the Hall, built of wood posts and piles of thorn branches.

The church bell began to peal a warning. Odin fidgeted, tossing his head, and Alan leaned over to pat his neck. Several messengers could be seen running back from the Hall to the thirty or so huts and cottages that comprised the village and after a few moments men, women and children began to hurry to the Hall, glancing fearfully over their shoulders at the silent and still warriors surrounding the village.

After a pause of perhaps fifteen minutes a small group appeared from the Hall. Two were mounted on hill ponies and another six marched behind on foot. Their leader, a stockily-built man with mid-length dark hair was wearing a chain-mail byrnie and woolen trews, with a sword at his belt. The others were armed with swords, but unarmoured. The six men on foot were clearly warriors and Alan assumed that the other mounted man, thin and elderly, was an adviser.

The Welshman’s eyes cast about, taking in the fact that the archers carried longbows and were dressed in uniform padded armour, the uniform equipment and clothing of the men-at-arms, and the more motley appearance and equipment of the thegns and their retainers. He also noticed that all the mounted soldiers facing him were horsed on big strong animals totally unlike the small hill-pony he rode. Their appearance clearly marked them as English. “God hael!” he said in Anglo-Saxon English as he halted some five paces from Alan.

“You are Idwallon ap Gryfydd?” demanded Alan, in the Celtic tongue. The Welshman nodded in reply. “Then I bid you greeting, Prince of Brycheiniog,” continued Alan, switching to Anglo-Saxon English as he was more comfortable with that language. “I am Sir Alan of Thorrington and Staunton.” Idwallon took in the full-length sleeved hauberk, the Norman-style helmet with nasal guard that was placed on the saddle pommel and the massive destrier on which Alan was mounted. Alan continued abruptly, “I bring you a message in several parts.”

Here he threw a sheathed sword to Idwallon, who caught it. After a brief look the Welshman’s already strained face blanched. “That is the first part. The second is the smoke rising over there at Haye-on-Wye,” Alan indicted with a jerk of his head before looking up at the rising sun and then continuing, “And also the smoke which you will shortly see rising from the north-west, where as we speak most of my men will be sacking Builth Wells. In a few minutes my men will enter your village and strip it bare. I see all your people are in the Hall. As long as you and they stay there until I say they may leave, which will probably be in two days, they will not be interfered with. This time. I give the people of your village more consideration than your men showed my people either last summer, or those at Norton Canon a few weeks ago. This time. My local vassal, Robert of Staunton, who is currently visiting Builth Wells, wanted to be less generous and to mutilate every man caught in Brycheiniog by removing his index finger so he could not hold sword or bow. I said no. This time.

“This time we are stripping the Wye Valley clean, the proceeds of which will be given to those in my villages in Staple Hundred which have suffered the depredations of your people. If there is a next time, we will totally depopulate the Valley and kill or enslave every man, woman and child. This… little exercise… is a friendly warning. I know that you Welsh take pride in your raiding and see it as youthful fun, a manly activity. Your land is poor and your men gain some profit from raiding their richer neighbors.”

Alan pointed at the sword held by Idwallon. “It is an activity with some risk both to those involved and to their kin, and now has no profit. Ah! My men have arrived at Builth Wells.” Alan pointed to a thick cloud of smoke starting to rise in the distance to the north-west. “If Brycheiniog still had a king, I would be making that point to him, rather than the lord of Cantref Selyf. Your men are skilled raiders, and the local English tell me the Welsh are renowned for their ability to catch their enemy in ambush.” Alan paused, pointed at the squadron of Wolves sitting silent and menacing on their horses, before continuing, “I don’t think you would want them to visit again, next time with all restraint removed. Sow the wind and you will reap the whirlwind. Let not one of your men set foot in Staple Hundred. Also, every captive taken from England is to be delivered here within the hour.”

“The village?” asked the old man next to Idwallon.

Alan looked calculatingly at the ramshackle collection of huts, cottages and sheds. “Your people are poor enough. I’ll instruct my men not to torch the village. This time.”

“And my son?” asked Idwallon, looking at the sword in his hand.

“Lies in a ditch near Yazor,” replied Alan.

“What of Twedr ap Rhein?” queried the old adviser.

“The son of your brother Rhein ap Grfydd, lord of Cantref Twedos?” asked Alan addressing Idwallon. “I know not. If he’s not in the ditch, he’ll shortly be arriving at York on his way to Northumbria to be sold as a slave. Nobody of that name introduced themselves after they were captured.”

Idwallon asked, “My son’s body. May I recover it?”

Alan gave him a piercing look and then nodded. “I’ll give you that courtesy. Also that of Twedr ap Rhein, if he’s also in the ditch. Provide two unarmed men who knew them both and I’ll have them escorted to Yazor and then back to the border.”

“And the other bodies?” asked the adviser.

“Don’t push me too far, old man,” replied Alan. “I’m showing some courtesy to the lords of Selyf and Tewdos. The others stay in the ditch to be eaten by the crows as the carrion they are. If there is a next time, they’ll be joined in hell by hundreds of their countrymen. You may leave.”

Every horse, cow, pig and sheep in the village and from the surrounding hills was gathered up and driven down the valley towards Staunton, together with the bags of flour from the granary. Alan left some sacks of grain seedstock, and the village had sprouting crops in its few fields. Fourteen English who had been held captive as slaves, five men and nine women, were received, questioned and escorted away towards home. The men ate the village chickens as they waited to hear that the force sent to Builth Wells had successfully withdrawn, which took two days as the animals and wagons seized from that village were driven down the winding and often overgrown and marshy valley. The Welsh sat quietly behind the wooden palisade, offering no resistance and no offence. The English set a strong guard and slept in the cottages vacated by the Welsh.

Alan and the thegns hunted the next day in the overgrown valley with its ancient trees and tangled thickets, bringing back deer, boar and wild cattle for the men to eat. No alcohol was permitted and the few barrels of ale or mead in the village had been broached and the contents spilled on their arrival. Rigorous discipline was imposed, something that some of the Anglo-Saxons, particularly the thegns and their retainers, had some difficulty in accepting.

Alan noted the very different nature of the countryside. On the Welsh side of the border the land was very hilly and in places mountainous. The hills were bare and barren with poor soil, but supported large herds of cattle and to a lesser extent flocks of sheep, now all on their way east. The river valleys were fertile, cut deep and wide, but farmed only half-heartedly. The Welsh preferred a semi-nomadic life in the hills and looked with contempt at those who farmed the valleys. The nature of the land and their preferred lifestyle condemned the Welsh to a relatively poor existence.

When Robert rode in to advise that the last of the carts and animals from Builth Wells were nearing the border, Alan withdrew his men and they cautiously marched north-east towards England. The valley ahead was well-scouted and men had been placed to guard all likely areas of ambush.

Once back over the border and in England Alan, Robert and the thegns rode ahead to Staunton. They passed herds of cattle, sheep and pigs being driven along the road, riding around each to avoid dispersing them and causing unnecessary work for the herders.

When they arrived Staunton had the air of a giant livestock market. The villagers of Norton Canon, Mannington and Byford, which together with Staunton had been devastated by the Welsh invasion of the previous summer, were collecting the livestock allocated to their villages. Some of the livestock were probably being taken back home after being stolen by the Welsh the previous year.

Most important were the oxen and seedstock. It was getting late in the season, but the villagers would now be able to plough and sow their crops, which most villages had not yet been able to do as the Welsh had the previous summer taken or destroyed their oxen and seed. Alan was also providing some relief for nearby Bobury, Yarsop, Yazor, Bishopstone and Bridge Sollers, even though they were not his villages, and had suggested that the oxen and ploughs from his villages be loaned to those villages when their initial work was done at home.

After a rest of two days Alan began to dispatch his men back to Essex in groups of twenty or so, again with the heavy equipment and armour being transported by wagon to make the march easier. The fyrdmen and thegns should be back attending to their spring farming duties and Alan knew it is never good to have a large number of armed men sitting idle. Each group was led by a suitable sergeant who carried funds to cover food and accommodation on the more leisurely march east. The men were told they were expected to be home within five days.

Alan spent several more days with Robert, sorting out details and checking progress with his villages, before intending to ride east with Osmund and the thirty Wolves. Unfortunately, before he left he received an instruction from William fitzOsbern, the former co-Regent, that Alan attend on him at Hereford as soon as possible. Alan swore long and loud, while recognising his temper was getting worse. He had hoped to slip into Herefordshire and back out without being noticed. Had fitzOsbern been at the northern end of his fiefdom at Leominster, twelve miles north of Hereford, he may well have achieved it- but not when the earl was at Hereford, which lay right in Alan’s path.

Alan left his men and horses at an inn near the castle and walked the remaining short distance together with Osmund and four huscarles. He was dressed well, but not ostentatiously and was shown immediately into the castle Hall, where fitzOsbern was sitting at a table near the fire and doing business with a well-dressed Englishman, seemingly a merchant, with an elderly man in a monk’s habit sitting nearby and scribing onto pieces of parchment with a small quill pen. Immediately Earl William had dealt with the matter before him his steward had a word in his ear and came to usher Alan before the Lord of the Western Marches. Osmund followed and stood by Alan’s shoulder.

Alan was surprised that fitzOsbern, the king’s cousin, rose to clasp his hand in greeting and say, “Welcome, Sir Alan! Please sit and take a cup of wine. How fare your manors in Staple Hundred?”

“Much better now, thank you Lord William. We’ve overcome many of the problems caused by last year’s invasion and the geburs are sowing this year’s harvest as we speak. They had ploughed some land by hand, but now have oxen.”

FitzOsbern raised his eyebrows in surprise. “It was a bad thing when the Welsh king Bleddyn and his half-brother Rhiwallon led his men across the border in force. Not so much an invasion, as there was no attempt to hold onto any land they occupied, but a massive raid. They devastated nearly every damn village and manor from the border to the River Lugg. It was so bad that King William has granted a relief from taxes for three years, reduced the Heriot Redemption fee for the English to a quarter of the usual rate and deferred even that for three years- and William doesn’t give away a single penny unless he has to. The English have had the same problem for hundreds of years and we’re no closer to an answer. Now I hear that you have brought an army to Herefordshire. May I ask what you intend to do with it?” fitzOsbern asked.

“Hardly an army,” replied Alan. “And it’s no longer in Herefordshire. My manor of Norton Canon was raided and burnt a few weeks back and I brought some of my men to deliver… chastisement. I invited the freemen of my Hundred to come along and join in if they had nothing better to do. Most of them will be half way back to Essex by now.”

FitzOsbern frowned. “So quickly? What changed your mind? Did you decide it was too difficult?”

Alan laughed. “Not at all,” he replied. “They’d done their job. It’s never a good idea to have armed men sitting idle as they get into trouble, so I sent them home. Staunton now just has its usual garrison of twenty men.”

Even more confused, fitzOsbern gestured for Alan to continue.

“We crossed the border and sacked Hay-on-Wye, Builth Wells and Talgarth. You’ll have little trouble from the Welsh in Brecon for the next year or so. We passed on a very strong message to stay at home, killed a lot of warriors, and took every horse and animal we could find. We recovered a total of 37 English captives taken last summer. The lords of Brycheiniog now understand what the outcome will be if they cross the border again. I explained it to Idwallon myself at the same time I advised him we had killed one of his sons,” explained Alan.

“You had Idwallon in your hands and let him go?” asked fitzOsbern incredulously. “How much ransom did he pay?”

“Nothing. I didn’t ask for any ransom. Judging by the state of his village he wouldn’t have had two marks to rub together. And we took every animal they had. Every cow, pig and sheep- down to the last chicken. What wealth he and his Cantref had was in those animals.”

“How many men did you lose?” queried fitzOsbern.

“We had nine dead and seventeen wounded- eight seriously,” answered Alan.

FitzOsbern shook his head in wonder. “Every time my men cross the border we achieve nothing, as was the case with the English before us. The Wesh won’t stand and fight, disappear into their hills and kill us from ambush. They have a man with a bow behind every fucking bush. How did you do it?”

Alan had no intention of telling one of the foremost knights in Christendom, who had commanded the Norman right wing at Hastings, how to fight a battle. “Speed, strength, planning and intelligence,” he commented. “The Good Lord was kind to us in our endeavour.”

FitzOsbern frowned. Alan realised after a moment that the other had misunderstood what he meant. “By ‘intelligence’ I meant information,” he hurriedly explained. “I knew what Welshmen were where. We struck unexpectedly, with stealth and speed like the Welsh do when they attack us. Now, Lord William, I really must be on my way if I’m to be in Gloucester before they close the gates this evening.”

FitzOsbern waved a hand in dismissal. “I presume I’ll be seeing you again in about two weeks,” he said. “The king will be sitting at London on Ascension Day on the 1st of May, and Duchess Matilda is to be crowned as queen on 11th May. King William has called a meeting of the Curia for the 5th of May, two days after the Feast of the blessed Apostles St Philip and St James. You’ll probably find your Summons waiting for you at home.”

“Ah! The king has finally brought Duchess Matilda to England? Excellent! I’ll look forward to seeing you then, Lord William,” said Alan before taking his leave from the second most powerful man in the land.

CHAPTER FOUR

London May 1068

Alan and Anne sat at ease in comfortable chairs in the Solar of their London town-house at Holebourn Bridge, just outside the city walls at Newgate. The house had been substantially renovated and extended since their purchase of a bankrupt Englishman’s property the year before via Malachi the Jew. With them sat Alan’s English scribe Osmund. A slightly ferret-faced tall, thin and balding Englishman named Gareth was being shown into the room by Alan’s young servant Leof, who had been sent to the disreputable tavern in the Shambles called ‘The Dancing Bear’ to fetch the Londoner. Gareth was extremely unprepossessing, dressed in clean but poor clothing, but Anne had explained to Alan the importance of her relationship with the man who she had engaged as her spy after the failed assassination attempt made against Alan in late November.

It was Thursday the 28th of April 1068, three days before the Feast of the Ascension on 1st of May. King William’s wife Matilda was due to be crowned Queen of England on Pentecost, the 11th May. Alan and Anne had travelled south from Essex and arrived the day before after a leisurely two day journey from Thorrington in Tendring Hundred near Colchester, Anne and two maids travelling on a light cart in the beautiful spring weather.

“Thank you for agreeing to come to see me, Gareth,” she said, patting the small rotundity of her five-month pregnant belly.

“Congratulations, m’lady,” said Gareth in a gravelly voice that showed his origins near the wharves of London.

Anne nodded. “Thank you for a job well done before Christmas,” she said, referring to the fact that Gareth, unable to determine which of three important officials upset by Alan’s complaints on behalf of the English regarding financial abuses had attempted to assassinate him, had provided a warning by stabbing a long dagger into the bed next to the head of each as they slept and placing an arrow beside their pillow.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t find out which I was. I’m reasonably sure it was Ralph the Staller,” he said, referring to the earl of East Anglia. “One of his men left the hunt abruptly at about the point Sir Alan was shot in the back, but I wasn’t able to obtain confirmation.”

Anne smiled and said, “I heard that Bishop William wet himself when he woke and spent two days by the altar at St Paul’s, and Earl Ralph dismissed the captain of his Guard.” Gareth smiled and nodded in reply. “Anything further?” asked Anne.

“Not at this time m’lady. You’ve been out and about in the wilds, so I’ll keep my ear to the ground now that you’ve returned back to civilisation. Obviously m’lord will need to take suitable precautions. Wandering back alone from a tavern in the town late at night while the worst for drink would not be a good idea! We may have frightened them off, or we may have just frightened them a little and made ’em more cautious. My henchmen have been out and about since you returned yesterday, but have no results as yet.” He paused while Aidith the serving-wench delivered a pint of ale and waited until she had left and the door closed again. He took a pull of the ale, sighed in pleasure and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Anne then spent some considerable time questioning him on the current state of the convoluted politics of both the Norman royal court and the English nobles to bring herself up to date, before thanking him for his time and dismissing him.

“He’s worth every penny of?5 a month,” said Anne. Alan winced at the reminder of the cost, similar to that of buying a manor, but had to admit that due to the trading business conducted by Anne they could more than afford the cost. After all, she didn’t quibble about his spending funds to equip and maintain a small army.

** * *

Anne had arranged another poetry recital for Beltane Eve, the night of 30th April, one of the two times of the year when mortal rules were believed to be suspended and supernatural occurrences were most common. She decorated the Hall in an appropriate manner and had advised the guests that the evening would not be late, as that year the Feast of the Ascension fell on the following day. Sunset was due at 7.30 in the evening and she had arranged for the soiree to commence at 3 in the afternoon.

Once again she had arranged for half a dozen musicians, with flutes, pan-pipes, lutes, a tambour and a harp. Osmund would again perform, together with two other poets hired for the occasion. The program would include French, English, Roman and Greek pieces. Most of these the largely uneducated noble ladies attending would not understand the poems, but Anne’s music parties were quickly becoming ‘must go’ social occasions and invitations were gladly accepted.

This time Anne had concentrated on a different clique of women to those invited to her previous performances. On this occasion she had invited Hawise Sourdeval, wife of Stephen Count of Brittany; Beatrice de Builly, wife of Robert Count of Eu; Adelize de Tosney, wife of William fitzOsbern; Heslia Crispin, wife of William Malet and, the jewel in the crown of the evening, King William’s niece Countess Judith. Alice de Tosney, wife of Roger Bigod and Anne’s close friend was also in attendance, as were several English women of high status, including Erlina the wife of Thorkel of Arden, and Aethelu, the wife of Regenbald the Chancellor. Of particular note amongst the English ladies was Adelina of Lancaster, the newly married bride of William Peverel, who was a Norman and close associate of King William- Peverel being half-English himself with an English mother named Maud who had been the daughter of the noble Ingelric.

With the exception of Countess Judith most of the ladies of the Norman court were not used to fine dining. Usually the ladies stayed at home while their husbands roamed the countryside either fighting or attending on their duke. The noble husbands were used to campaigning and wouldn’t notice if they were served a boiled boot to eat, as long as it was cut up fine and had a sweet-tasting sauce. The fare that Anne had arranged was entirely of a different dimension. The guests were met by servants with cups of sweet white wine from the Loire. Mead and innocuously-presented fruit punches, heavily laced with white wine, flowed like water. Exotic finger-food was presented- savory pastries, candied ginger and orange, dried fruit and nuts; quiches, mushroom pastries, truffles, pates and individual Lorenz pies.

The musicians played quietly as the ladies chatted and become quickly more voluble as the alcohol took effect. When the recital began each of the performers presented an item in turn as the ladies sat quietly on the chairs provided.

After the initial set of performances the main course of the meal was served at a side-table, the ladies helping themselves to servings on small wooden platters. Bourbelier of wild pig; braised stuffed quail in white wine sauce; pork tarts with saffron; Picadinho de Carne de Vaca; Egredouncye; cold sage chicken portions, and other items.

The main bracket of poetry, lasting well over an hour, was followed by individual singing performances by several of the ladies, accompanied by the musicians, the singers including Anne and Alice de Tosny, who both had excellent voices. Two of the other ladies rose to stand by the musicians and after a brief discussion on music and tempos cast their inhibitions aside and let their voices soar.

Dessert was presented, made of various sugared pastries, individual fruit pies with cream and fried sweet items such as apple frictella, losenges fryes and cryspes. Then the, in the main slightly tipsy, ladies rose and took their leave to be home before dark — after all it was Beltane Eve and nobody wanted to be out after dark when the spirits were at large. Their escorts were hurriedly summoned from a nearby tavern where they had spent the evening, and the ladies perambulated home.

Still dressed in her finery Anne walked into the Solar, where Alan had spent the evening at first by the light from the glass-paned window and currently by candle-light. Anne insisted that her functions were female only get-to-know-you sessions where she could meet and build relationships with the important women at court, and the only men present were amongst the servants and performers. The ladies seemed to like the relaxed atmosphere and freedom from the masculine supervision of their husbands.

“Good party?” asked Alan, looking up from the book he had been studying. An empty platter at his elbow held the remains of some of the same food that the guests had eaten earlier and the wine jug was half-empty.

“Yes, thank you,” replied Anne. “A nice group of ladies, although in the main somewhat elderly,” said the eighteen year old, referring to ladies in their thirties. “There are some very astute women amongst them. Only a handful can read or write, of course, so the finer nuances of the poetry are beyond many of them, but they enjoyed themselves and at least could pretend to understand what was being said. What are you reading?”

“A medical book, part of the Hippocratic Corpus. This volume is Of Regimen and of Dreams. Brother Leanian, the librarian at Colchester Priory, sent it to me shortly before we left Thorrington. It’s one of the books I found at Gloucester Abbey.” Alan sighed and closed the slim leather-bound volume. “I really have my doubts that disease is caused by the disruption of the blood causing humors in the body, or at least that the medicines and regimens recommended have any effect. Most of the volumes deal with practical matters such as how to reduce a broken bone, surgery, eye diseases and so on. Those are invaluable. As to the others, I don’t know. Brother Anselm, the infirmarer when I was at Rouen Abbey, had spent time with the Moors whilst a captive. They, or at least some of them, apparently believe that the body is sometimes affected by something from outside.”

“Like being taken over by an evil spirit?” asked Anne with interest.

“Not really, but I’ve never studied their books, or even had them explained to me. I can’t read Arabic anyway. It makes some sense, because we do know that a dirty wound will fester and a clean one may not, so outside influences do exist.”

The next day was Ascension Day and Alan’s whole household walked into the city to attend Mass at St Paul’s Cathedral at Terce rather than attending at the small local church of Church of St Edmund the King and Martyr, the latter of which was located outside the walls of Newgate and very close to the house owned by Alan and Anne. The huge stone-flagged nave was packed with the town’s citizens and Alan presumed that the many other churches in the town would be similarly crowded. The nobles were in the main attending at the service at Westminster Abbey with the king and his wife, who at the moment was still only a duchess. The service at St Paul’s was, other than the homily, conducted in Latin, and so was unintelligible to most of the congregation. Still, they could appreciate the singing, the pageantry and aura of holiness- and what you can’t understand is all the more impressive for many people. Bishop William himself presided over the service with several Canons doing most of the work. He noticed Alan at the altar when he was receiving the Host and gave him a baleful look.

Alan had come to enjoy his trips to London as they were something of a holiday from the duties that usually beset him, running his manors, training soldiers and dispensing justice in the Hundred- although he disliked the squalor and overcrowding of the city. It was a pity that looking over his shoulder for an assassin took the edge off his enjoyment. Still Alan was content to spend time quietly at home, in the Abbey library or wandering the city and enjoying its bustling nature, the range of arts and crafts represented by the various guilds and the incredible variety of goods available.

Anne’s advancing pregnancy somewhat restricted the shopping trips that she so loved, but meant that she had ample time to deal with the trading and shipping business she ran. The goods that had been in the warehouse in Fish Street on their last visit were long gone- sold, replaced and sold again. Her small fleet had begun to ply the seas for the season in early April after the spring storms had abated. At the moment the Zeelandt, captained by the Norwegian Bjorn, an elderly red-bearded man of immense experience, courage and good-humor, was sitting at the London docks unloading its cargo of fine Bordeaux wine. On its return trip it would carry ingots of copper and tin from the mine in Devon now partly owned by Anne, barrels of whale oil and salted or dried fish from Norway, barrels of Stockholm tar and bales of English cloth and wool. The goods from Norway and the Baltic had been brought south by another of Anne’s ships, the Birgitta.

Of the other ships in the small fleet, Birgitta traded with the Baltic and Norway, exchanging cloth and wool for preserved fish, whale oil and tar. Stormsvale plied back and forth between Haarlem, Ipswich and London, trading the other items in the inventory for dyes, fine lace and a variety of other continental goods. Apart from exchanging goods, each voyage also resulted in a profit of close to fifty percent. Anne was enjoying the additional time and the convenience of not running a manor ‘in the middle of nowhere’ and using this to best effect to have her business run like a machine. She’d taken the opportunity to employ as her business manager Jacob the Jew, formerly employed in Malachi’s business, and spent long hours with him at the office in the Fish Street warehouse attending to the books of account and establishing lines of credit for the transfer of funds. She’d made it clear that she expected to see him each Quarter Day for a full accounting, either at London or at Thorrington.

Sunday dawned warm and clear and the days were now becoming longer, with sunrise at half past four in the morning and sunset at half-past seven in the evening, giving nearly fourteen hours of sunlight. Alan had hired a punt to take them upriver for a pleasure cruise, just the two of them and the poleman. Being Sunday, they attended at the early morning service at the local Church of St Edmund at Prime and then departed from the stone steps by the river bank at Queenhithe about two hours later. They were leisurely polled upriver past Baynard’s Castle, located in the south-west of the city precinct, then past Westminster and into the relative quiet of the river beyond. Chelsea and Battersea passed slowly by. The river was flowing quite strongly and even close to the bank the boatman had to exert himself.

Anne was sitting at the rear of the boat facing forwards, wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat that Alan had insisted she don to protect her fair skin from the spring sun, and trailing her hand in the water. For much of the distance the river was lined with willows now in full leaf, and in places the woodland came down to the water’s edge. Anne exclaimed from time to time as she saw deer, and once a fox with a long red tail, coming to the water to drink, causing Alan who was sitting opposite her and facing backwards towards the boatman, to have to turn and look. Swans and ducks swam at the water’s edge or could be seen resting on the riverbank. On the occasional mudflat, or in the several swamps caused by low-lying land, wading birds could be seen.

They paused in the early afternoon for the mid-day meal at Putney, after a journey of five miles, leaving the punt to partake of the fare at a local tavern, washed down with ale in Alan’s case and apple juice for Anne. The return journey took much less time with the boatman mainly steering and allowing the current to carry them along. They arrived back at the Queenhithe steps just after five in the afternoon and, as Alan handed Anne out of the punt, it swayed alarmingly as they stepped out. He then he pressed into the boatman’s hand the agreed fee of three pennies. Anne gave Alan a kiss and thanked him for a wonderful day.

They walked past the Bishop’s palace, incongruously nestled between the two fish markets, where fortunately the fishmongers had already cleaned up for the day, and then up Bread Street to call in at a bakery as Anne was tempted by the sight of cream-cakes on display, along Chepe Street and out of Newgate to walk the short distance to their home at Holebourn Bridge.

Anne had arranged for Bjorn, the captain of the trading cog Zeelandt, to dine with them that evening as he was due to sail the following day and she was anxious to hear from him how his first voyage of the season to Bordeaux had proceeded. The old Viking was always a font of wonderful stories once his mind and tongue were lubricated with several quarts of ale.

Bjorn was a big bear of a man. Hairy, aged but still immensely strong, and as Alan could attest still very swift with an axe. His weather-beaten face was dominated by a large red nose and the bluest eyes Alan had ever seen, surrounded by wrinkles caused by years of staring into the sun. He was sitting waiting for them in the Hall, with the maid Synne sitting on his lap and seemingly enjoying his attentions despite the fact that the Viking was old enough to be her father. He released the woman with a sigh of regret, but received a look that promised an interesting night before Synne walked out of the room with a swing of her bottom.

Alan raised an eyebrow to Anne before he greeted their guest. “God Hael! I hope we find you well, Bjorn,” said Alan formally.

Bjorn rose from his seat, embraced Alan in a bear-hug and patted his back, and then turned to Anne. With more gentleness he also embraced her and then gave a kiss, a pat on the bottom and, after a step backwards, a pat on the belly. “Growing fat!” he commented with a smile. “Due late summer? I thought so!” he gave her another kiss, Anne giggling as the whiskers of his large red beard and moustache tickled. Bjorn clearly had a relaxed attitude of dealing with his employer, treating her like a favourite niece.

“Just a moment,” said Alan, as he quickly went to his office and returned with an earthenware quart crock and three small cups. As they sat down he bid Bjorn to down the small portion of ale remaining in his quart pot, and poured into a small cup which he set before Bjorn. He filled it and then poured a thimble-full into his own cup and the same into that of Anne. “From Finland. Aqua Vitae- ‘The Water of Life’,” he explained as he took a careful sip and winced. Just then Osmund wandered in and took a seat at the table.

“Thor’s balls! I haven’t had that for years! Drikke!” exclaimed Bjorn taking a deep pull that drained half of the cup at once. His face immediately turned red. Anne took a sip from her cup, blinked as tears appeared in her eyes and gave a small cough. “Good stuff!” continued Bjorn, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Alan hoped he wasn’t going to drink the whole jug, as even with Bjorn’s capacity it would put him into an alcoholic coma and he was due to sail next day. Bjorn filled his cup back to the brim, offered the jug to Alan and Anne, both of whom shook their heads, and to Alan’s surprise he then put the stopper back into the crock and placed it firmly on the table out of his own reach. Clearly he had drunk Aqua Vitae previously and respected the fierce spirit.

“How went the journey to Aquitaine?” asked Anne.

“Well enough,” replied Bjorn. “It was a little stormy on the way there, and the return took longer than I’d like. We were stuck in Lorient for over a week waiting for the wind so we could get around Finistere. Your Factor in Bordeaux is doing a good job. He’s importing spices and other luxury goods directly from the Moors. There are five-pound sacks of grains of paradise, saffron, ginger and cumin. There’s turmeric from further east for curries, together with black pepper, cinnamon and cassia. Nutmeg and mace. Damned expensive stuff. Costs nearly the same as gold, but that is the Factor’s worry not mine. I’m just transport. Not to worry! I store them ‘high and dry’.”

“Some of them are actually worth more than gold, particularly the saffron,” said Anne in a quiet voice.

“Do you know, we actually ate gold at a party last year,” commented Alan. “One of the dishes of food was gilded with gold leaf. How stupid can you be, to be that ostentatious just to impress people with how rich you are? It’s not as if it has any flavour.”

Bjorn shook his head in amasement at the antics of the nobles. “Just give me a good smoked pork hock to chew and a jug of the Aqua Vitae!” he replied.

“Any problems with pirates?” asked Anne.

Bjorn waved a dismissive hand. “No. After we sank that one last year using the big cross-bow and the fire-arrow, when they come out from Brest, Guernsey or Alderney they take one look at us, recognise who we are and take off like flying-fish.”

“Ballista and Wildfire,” corrected Alan automatically, and then asked, “Flying-fish?” certain that Bjorn was making a joke.

“Yes, there are fish that fly. Their fins are like little wings and when they’re being chased by bigger fish they jump out of the water and fly for… oh fifty paces or so. You see them mainly in warmer waters. You can catch them with hand-nets, or they may fall onto the deck. Very sweet eating,” replied Bjorn. The lack of a mischievous twinkle in his eyes made Alan believe him, no matter how outlandish the story.

Just then the servants brought in dinner. It was the simple but tasty fare that they preferred at home. In this instance beef and kidney pie, herb pork sausages and rabbit stew, with mustard vegetables and fresh bread. They were aware that Bjorn hated eating fish, as a result of his upbringing in Norway where there were few other sources of protein. Dessert was a variety of piquant cheeses with bread and fresh butter- Neufchatel, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Cheshire and Romano, mainly imported from France or Italy- and dried or candied fruits and nuts. Bjorn reverted to ale after he had finished his cup of Aquae Vitae. Alan and Osmund drank a fine Bordeaux wine and Anne fruit cordial as she was making an effort to reduce her drinking due to her pregnancy.

“You promised last time to tell us about your journey to Vinland,” reminded Anne.

“Ah!” replied Bjorn. “That was a few years after the voyage down the Volga to Constantinople and back via the Levant, Greece, Italy and Iberia. I’d spent my gold by then and was again a sailor with little in my purse. It should’ve been enough to last me for life, but it’s surprising how a sailor can spend money,” he said with a smile. “That voyage was also with Knut Sweinsson, three longboats this time. It would have been in… oh about ’32 or ’33. I was twenty-five. We were promised that the voyage west would see us rich. Fucking liars! It was 250 miles west across open ocean to the Shetlands, then 250 more north-west to the Faeroes- both windswept desolate hell-holes. Why anybody would want to live in either place I know not- I thought Norway was bad enough. Then 400 miles north-west to Iceland. It was summer, so the weather was reasonable. Iceland is just a land of rocks and ice. Some grasslands in the south grazed by sheep.

“Greenland- another 1,500 miles west. It has some trees and vegetation. The local Norwegians farm cattle, hunt and trade seal and other furs and whale oil. There are native people there, broad flat faces and slanted eyes, who don’t cause any real problems. They’re nice enough people.

“Then Vinland. Sail south-west nearly 2,000 miles further and you can’t miss it. It’s fucking huge, but you do need to go some distance south down the coast to find reasonably hospitable conditions. There’s forests, grassland, lakes and wild animals. Deer, elk, seals, including one whose young has pure white fur. Lots of birds and fish. We had a good look around and couldn’t find signs of any minerals except coal. Nothing you couldn’t find a lot damn closer to home!

“In the recent past the Vikings had two settlements for a very brief period of a year or two. It is difficult to set up colonies so far away and when the natives, the skr?lingar, are very fierce. We spent the winter in Vinland and sailed back the next year, nearly starving and totally penniless. The natives in both Greenland and Vinland have nothing we want, and want nothing we have. They wear skins, have weapons of stone and bone and live in houses made of animal skins or pieces of wood. They have no money and no precious metals or jewels. They don’t want any trade, even if they had something to trade. At least the natives in Greenland don’t fill you full of arrows or try to stick a spear in your guts every time they see you.

“ Knut died in Vinland at our camp, killed by the skr?lingar, as were many of our men. If he hadn’t been, when he got back he would have gutted King Sveinn Knutsson like a fish for gulling him into undertaking the voyage by promising a rich land where you just had to bend over to pick up the gold pieces. Three ships and 210 men departed. One ship and 21 men returned, without a single silver penny to their name.”

Alan, Anne and Osmund spent the evening picking further details out of Bjorn’s capacious memory and enjoying the story.

On Tuesday 6th May the King’s Council, the Curia Regis, the Norman-dominated successor to the Saxon Witenagemot, was convened in the Hall at Westminster Palace as the bells of the adjacent abbey rang for Terce. Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury blessed those attending and intoned several prayers in Latin. Chancellor Regenbald called the meeting to order and began to conduct the meeting on behalf of King William, who sat on the raised dais next to Regenbald with Duchess Matilda his wife at his side.

The royal couple wore thick robes of red velvet together with, in William’s case, a small gold crown- and for Matilda a golden diadem. Alan was sure that they would spend an even more uncomfortable day than he, despite the padded cushions on which they sat. Already the room was warm and the atmosphere was rank with the smell of many unwashed bodies. With the heat, lack of ventilation and relative darkness in the Hall, Alan expected that the soporific effect would soon have most of those assembled nodding off to sleep. No agenda had been circulated or announced, but the front benches were packed with the king’s close associates, including Roger de Montgomerie, Hugh de Grandmesnil, Geoffrey de Mandeville, Richard fitzGilbert, William de Warrene, Count Stephen, Robert Count of Eu, William Peverel and Hugh de Montford, the English earls Waltheof, Edwin and Morcar, the English archbishops Stigand and Ealdred- and not least the king’s half-brothers Bishop Odo of Bayeux, Robert Count of Mortain and his cousin William fitzOsbern.

Those who were not present was of as much interest as who were. Edgar the Aetheling, the last of the line of King Alfred, had fled north to Scotland with a number of nobles, including Maerle-Sveinn who had been sheriff of Lincolnshire under Harold and who had previously been confirmed in that position by William.

Apart from Matilda, two women were in attendance on the front row of seats. Queen Edith, widow of Edward the Confessor, and King William’s niece Countess Judith. Behind them sat the lesser lords, including Roger Bigod, Hugh fitzGrip, Ivo Taillebois and many other Norman lords, together with the many Norman and English bishops and middle-level thegns such as Tovi, sheriff of Somerset, Thorkel of Arden and Eadric of Wiltshire. Alan sat amongst this august group. Behind again sat a rabble of assorted persons whose position at such proceedings was at best questionable.

Proceedings started with a rambling discussion of disputes between several bishoprics as to land, offices and privileges. King William and the duchess sat and listened to the sometimes heated arguments for an hour or so, before rising to leave at a suitable break. All present stood as the couple walked into a side-room arm-in-arm, the diminutive duchess appearing very small alongside her husband. There was a general break for a few minutes while some of the others, particularly in the front ranks of the nobility, also chose to retire. A few of the more conscientious left scribes to take notes of important points for their later attention.

At about eleven in the morning, as the second of the ecclesiastical disputes was about half-heard, Alan gently lifted the head of a quietly snoring Roger Bigod from his shoulder and leaned him back in his chair before rising to squeeze down the row of Curia members and out into the corridor outside. A flunkey directed him to first the garderobe where he relieved himself, and then the refreshment rooms. As a member of the Inner Council Alan was entitled to join the ‘rich and famous’ in the room set aside for their use, and entered to help himself to food and drink, both of fine quality. He noted several of the mighty lords either standing or sitting together and chatting, or in some cases leaning back asleep on chairs. Out of interest he called into the room set aside for the lesser lords, largely still unoccupied despite their relatively greater numbers. The flunkey advised there was no room set up for the hoi polloi- if they required refreshment they could leave the premises and apparently nobody would care whether they returned to cast whatever vote they may have.

The second case was winding up as Alan returned to the Hall. He didn’t bother waking Roger to ask him his opinion and voted based on what he had heard so far, the case seeming quite simple.

There appeared little logic in the way that matters were presented to the Council, or whether the king was in attendance in the chamber or not. His comings and goings didn’t appear to be determined by the seriousness of the matters at hand. Knowing the administrative abilities of both William and Regenbald, Alan could only assume that the muddled presentation was deliberate.

After a break for a leisurely luncheon, the king was in the chamber when the issue of rulership of Northern Northumbria was discussed. This land had long been ruled by the Bamburgh family, with a line of earls going back to the time of Alfred the Great and beyond. Whilst there would hardly have been a person in the Chamber who was unaware of recent events, Chancellor Regenbald ran through the details to be entered into the written record being taken by several scribes. The appointment by King Edward of Earl Tostig, Harold’s brother, his rejection by the northerners due to his alleged depredations, his subsequent revolt and dispossession which led to the Norwegian invasion the month before the other invasion led by William, Tostig’s death fighting beside the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge against his brothers, the appointment the year before by William of the Englishman Copsi from Yorkshire as earl and his prompt murder just five weeks later, almost as soon as he set foot north of the Tyne, by Osulf of the Bamburgh family- this taking place at Newburn.

Copsi’s murder was particularly reprehensible in that when the house where he was staying had been attacked he had fled to a nearby church for sanctuary and his attackers had burnt the church down- Osulf himself decapitating Copsi as he sought to escape the building, raising the bloody head in triumph on the steps of the burning church. Osulf had in turn died in the autumn, apparently killed by a band of robbers.

Regenbald announced that it was the king’s decision to appoint Gospatric, son of Maldred and of the Bamburgh family, as earl of Bamburgh. Alan wondered privately how much the purchase of this position had cost Gospatric. Nobody saw Copsi’s murder as an expression of anti-Norman feeling. His crime had been to be a Yorkshireman in Northumbria- and the men of the north hated the southerners at least as much as they hated the Normans.

Regenbald also announced the king’s decision regarding changes in the clergy. Wulfwig, the bishop of Dorchester-on-Thames, had died and now Regmigius, a French clergyman from Fecamp, was appointed. Godric, the abbot of Winchester, was deposed for ‘salacious activity’. His replacement was another Englishman, Aethelwig the abbot of Evesham. Abbot Beorhtric from Malmesbury was moved to Burton and replaced with a Frenchman named Turold, who was also from Fecamp Abbey.

Next followed several cases regarding disputed ownership of land. Beorhtsige of Foulton and Brune of Tolleshunt, both from Essex, lost their land as they could not produce the landbocs and their predecessors had died at Hastings. Westminster Abbey lost Kelvedon Hatch, as its donor Aethelric had fought against King William before his coronation. The abbot of St Benet’s Holme in Norfolk, Aefwold, was exiled for organising the defence of the east coast at the request of Harold, and his men Eadric and Ringulf lost their lands and were exiled with him. The meeting petered out late in the evening, largely as everybody of any influence had already departed to their quarters.

The next morning the Curia resumed with the announcement that Bishop of Wells Giso had been restored the manor of Banwell in Somerset, which had been taken from him by Harold. Next Regenbald dealt with the revolt of Exeter in the west, which had been resolved only a few weeks previously. Again, all those present knew the details, as both Norman knights and English thegns paid close attention to politics.

After the announcement of the geld tax that year, Exeter had revolted and ejected the sheriff and his men from the city. In reply to the king’s formal demand for submission, the citizens of the town had been ill-advised enough to seek to bargain with the king. This was probably due to the presence in the town of Gytha, the widow of Earl Godwin and mother of Harold, who had considerable influence.

William’s response had been swift and firm. Despite the season being mid-winter, Exeter had been besieged and surrendered after eighteen days. Other than encouraging the citizens to surrender by blinding one of the hostages the town had given and mutilating another by removing his nose, King William had shown remarkable clemency- perhaps because it was clear that the revolt had little support amongst the English in the south-west. Many of the local thegns had responded to the call to arms to fight on the side of the new king. Also Queen Edith, widow of King Edward and a firm supporter of King William, had interceded on behalf of the town, which formed part of her dowry. Gytha and her party had fled the town before its surrender, most of the noblemen taking ship to Ireland to the court of King Diarmid of Leinster.

Whilst there was nothing of news in this recitation, the political outcome soon became clear. Rougemont Castle had been constructed in Exeter and was entrusted to Baldwin de Muelles, brother of Richard fitzGilbert, and he was appointed sheriff. Brian of Brittany was given command of a force of soldiers to be based at Wells. Robert of Mortain received the manor of Bishopsgate and given permission to erect a castle. The Bishop of Coutances, Geoffrey de Mowbray, was made Port-Reeve of Bristol.

It had been immediately after the Exeter revolt that Edgar the Aetheling and his party had fled north to Scotland, presumably because they expected to be implicated.

After a protracted midday meal, the Curia resumed its hearings during the afternoon. Alan thought the process something like trying to find small jewels in a bucketful of sand, with lots of dross and the occasional gem that made it all worthwhile.

At mid-morning on Thursday, after the hearing of a further land dispute, Regenbald announced that judicial powers in Mercia, except in Cheshire (which was firmly in Earl Edwin’s grasp) would be given to Aethelwig, the abbot of Evesham. Evesham was an abbey much favoured by the Mercian earls, so this of itself shouldn’t be of much concern to the earls, mused Alan, but it certainly showed the king’s lack of favour to the earl of Mercia. The next announcement came as something of a surprise. Roger de Montgomerie was to be appointed earl of Shrewsbury and given leave to build a castle, the land to be carved out of Earl Edwin’s holding. The making of earldoms out of the larger scirs of the major earls was not without precedent, but the scowl of Edwin’s face and that of his brother Morcar showed their feelings about this announcement.

That evening Alan had arranged for several of the middle-level thegns and knights to attend at Holebourn Bridge for dinner. The Normans were his good friend Roger Bigod, Ivo Taillebois, Robert le Blond, Bernard de Neufmarche, who held land near Alan’s demesne in Hereford, Roger of Arundel and William de Courseulles. Roger of Arundel and William had recently profited by the grant of manors following the Exeter revolt. The English thegns attending were Thorkel of Arden who was the sheriff of Warwickshire, Aetheldred of Yalding in Kent, Godric the Steward who had charge of royal manors in Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk and Sigar of Thriplow in Cambridgeshire. There was also an older man of slightly higher rank, Eadnoth the Staller, sheriff and the King’s Master of Horse in Somerset.

They were a relatively young group, most of the Normans in their twenties or thirties, with the English on average slightly older. They spoke Norman French, which most Englishmen of quality could speak fluently as most were well-travelled and had journeyed overseas to the continent, usually several times. The men were a little reticent at first, the English and Normans not being known to each other.

“An interesting day at Council,” commented Roger Bigod as a conversation-starter, taking a sip from his cup of wine and setting it back down on the large table around which they all were seated. He paused and nodded to Alan, saying “Nice wine! From Bordeaux? I thought so. Very nice!” The others had at their elbows, according their preference, wine, ale, cider or mead. Anne sat at the head of the table with a jug of fruit juice. Beside her Osmund held a pint jack of ale.

“Indeed,” replied Eadnoth. “I rather think that the king set a few cats loose in the pigeon loft today. I think that Earl Edwin was less than happy with the effect of the charters on his position.”

Alan shrugged and said, “Well, I can understand William’s position. He invades the country, wins by force of arms and is crowned king. He receives the homage of the country- well, most of the country. Then Eustace of Boulogne, who led the Norman right flank at Hastings, leaves the country in a huff- then comes back and attacks Dover castle before fleeing again. An invasion by the Welsh and some renegade Englishmen in Shropshire lays waste to that shire and Herefordshire. There’s the trouble in the north involving Copsi. Then Gytha, Godwin’s widow and Harold’s mother, incites rebellion in Exeter. The Aetheling and many of his party take horse and flee to Scotland. Presumably they were involved in the revolt. The thing I found surprising was that King William neither burnt Exeter to the ground nor demanded much in the way of recompense.”

Eadnoth put his pitcher of ale on the table and wiped his moustache before he said, “That was probably because I and others made it clear to the king that the revolt had little general support in the west, and indeed little enough support even in the town. Myself and a number of other thegns brought men to fight with King William; also Queen Edith used her position and influence on the king.”

“The king seems concerned about the defection of the Aetheling,” said Ivo Taillebois, who held land in the mid-north. “That’s not surprising considering William treated him so well. He’s not only confirmed him in his previous extensive lands, but also gave him new lands and honours. It seems that it’s going to make the king more suspicious of the English in the future and may be why he’s started to clip the wings of the earl of Mercia.”

“As you said it’s probably not surprising, but also probably not helpful,” said Godric. “We all saw Edwin’s face and that of his brother Morcar. I’d be surprised if we’ve heard the last of those changes. It’s a cycle- the more the English show their discontent, the more caution William shows and the more he favours you Normans. That just makes the English even more discontented, and William reacts again.”

“I wouldn’t trust those bastards from the north myself,” growled Eadnoth, like a true Southerner. “Tostig convinced Hardrada and his Norwegians to invade. Then Edwin and Morcar didn’t march south to support Harold at Hastings. Those events together meant that Harold lost at Hastings. If the Northumbrians and Mercians had shown loyalty, William would still be a duke sitting in Rouen Castle. Now, if they show him the same lack of loyalty… well, the king doesn’t strike me as being a very forgiving man and I would expect that the Northerners will suffer his wrath.”

“As will we Southerners,” said Aetheldred. “We’ve already had enough problems in Kent caused by Odo. The English still hold most of the official positions in the royal administration. The church is still largely controlled by men of English birth and those Frenchmen who are of the clergy here in England were largely appointed by King Edward, not William. We have three sheriffs in this room, two English and one Norman, which is about the average. Most of us middle-level thegns, and those geburs who hold and work the land, are largely unaffected. A significant uprising, or a long period of disturbance and lawlessness, can see all that swept away. We’ve been invaded many times before and accommodated our conquerors, eventually ending up once again in control of our own destiny.”

“So lie back and enjoy being raped?” asked Anne.

Godric winced at the imagery and replied, “Not enjoy, but endure. A rape is a transitory matter. Afterwards one may be emotionally or physically scarred, but life can go on more or less as before.”

“But if you struggle too much the rapist may decide to stick a knife in your ribs in response to your biting his hand or kicking him,” agreed Roger Bigod.

“Queen Edith agrees,” added Alan.

“A very, very sensible woman,” commented Eadnoth with several slow nods. “If resistance was possible she’d be in the front rank carrying the flag of Wessex. It’s not, and she recognises that fact and does what she can to help her countrymen. Her intervention at Exeter was essential in avoiding wholesale bloodshed- after all, the town belongs to her.”

The conversation drifted away from politics as the food arrived, delivered to the table on large wooden platters from which the men helped themselves, placing their food onto their bread trenchers, cutting with the knives from their belts and using their fingers, or where necessary a carved spoon, to eat. Alan shared a trencher with Anne and cut her food for her so she could maintain her air of decorum and cleanliness, which is hard to do if the sleeves of your dress are soaked to the elbows with the juices of food or gravy. The chosen fare was relatively plain, as the men were all experienced soldiers rather than courtiers. As it was a Thursday they could eat boiled or roast meats of beef, swine and lamb; herbed grilled capon with yellow pepper sauce; several dishes with exotic spices for the more adventurous; pork rissoles with green garlic sauce; Daguenet peas with ginger, currents and honey; braised parsnip with onions, cheese and spices and Makke beans with onions in red wine. Dessert was candied orange, fresh apple pie with cream and gingerbread. Loaves of fresh wheaten bread were placed on the table with pots of freshly churned butter, the guests helped themselves by cutting off hunks with their knives.

The servants kept bringing the drinks and the men kept emptying the jugs. By the time dessert had been finished the jokes and stories had become ribald, and Anne rose, bidding their guests good evening, and motioned for Aidith the serving-maid to follow her, leaving the further care of the guests to Aidith’s father the butler Aitkin. Although the men were married, and given their ages probably more or less happily, a buxom wench serving at table was likely to end up with her bottom pinched black and blue.

Darkness fell a little after half past seven that evening and the men chatted amiably on, telling taller and taller stories as the cups of wine and pints of ale disappeared. Finally, at about ten the guests called it a night, all deciding that they would leave at the same time so that they only had to pay one bribe to the guards at Newgate to get back into the city as the gates had closed at dusk. The going rate was a silver penny, but if they left individually the guard captain would receive a shilling in total. Like all the well-to-do who had seen hard times, they didn’t want to waste money.

Alan knocked on the Solar door. “They’ve gone,” he advised. “Would you care to come out?”

“A good meeting?” asked Anne, as Alan took her into his grasp and started to hum a tune, after a moment adding the words as they began to dance in the Hall, ignoring the servants clearing up. Once the rhythm was established Alan replied, “Yes, a good opportunity to talk and establish relations between people of different cultures. You take the lead, you’re better at it and I’ve had a few cups.”

Anne sang quietly, just for the two of them, as they moved together around the open floor, before they proceeded hand in hand up the stairs to the bedroom.

On Saturday 10th May the spy Gareth called to see them in the late afternoon, slipping in quietly and presenting himself unannounced in the Hall. Alan made a mental note to chastise Ranulf, the man in charge of the guard.

“God Hael, m’lord and m’lady!” Gareth said in his gravelly voice as he lowered himself onto a bench at Alan’s waved invitation.

“What information do you have for us, Gareth Haroldson?” asked Anne.

“Bishop William, Engelric and Ralph the Staller appear not to be actively plotting against you at the moment. However, Earl Ralph is looking to further his control of East Anglia. Men in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex who have held freely in the past are being pressed to hold under him and are being offered his ‘protection’ in return. A few who have declined have had problems with ‘robbers’ raiding their villages. I’m aware that he dislikes the influence you have in Tendring and I think that you can expect some action on his part at some stage in the not too distant future. I’ll keep a close eye on him and his actions on your behalf.

“The main news relates not so much to your immediate interests, as it is high politics. You know, of course, that King William has taken steps to reduce the earl of Mercia’s influence and to increase his own control of that region, and that Edwin and Morcar are unhappy about that. Also that the Aetheling and a number of nobles fled to Scotland last month, and that it’s not a long distance from Scotland to Northumbria. The three Northern earls, Edwin, Morcar and Gospatric, met with some of the Aetheling’s agents- and also those of Bleddyn of Wales and the Danish King Swein Estrithson. The word I hear is that they are talking about inviting the Danes to invade.”

“In which case we shouldn’t have too much to worry about,” said Alan as an aside to Anne. “Swein hasn’t won a battle yet! He kept losing to Harold Hardrada and his Norwegians. His claim to the throne is that his uncle was Cnut, who seized the English crown by invasion.”

“You’ve said a number of times that the English should accept the Norman conquest because they wouldn’t be able to win in a battle against the Normans,” said Anne thoughtfully.

“That’s true. I’ve said it oft enough that I don’t need to go through the reasons again, but the main fact is that none of the available English leaders can beat William.”

Anne replied, “I wouldn’t be as dismissive about their chances as you are. What if either Edgar the Aetheling or Earl Waltheof grew a spine? Yes, they’re both young, but William was even younger when he started his fight to assert control of Normandy.” Before Alan could interject Anne waved him to keep silent with a small movement of her hand. “I know that you’ll reply that Edgar still couldn’t beat William. But what if William wasn’t there? What if he dies? His sons Robert, Richard and William are all around ten to twelve years of age.

“Which son would rule which lands? Who would act as regent? Matilda? FitzOsbern and Odo? Look what a bad job those two have done running England for only six months while William has been away! Robert of Eu and Robert of Mortain would be too old. The French and the Angevins would be lining up to attack Normandy, and the Danes and Norwegians to attack England. I’d suggest that the Norman control of England could be wrested away with one hunting ‘accident’ or one cup of poisoned wine, because without William the Norman barons would all go back to squabbling and fighting amongst themselves! King William is the mortar that binds the Normans together. Remove the mortar and the building collapses.”

Alan frowned in deep thought before nodding. “You’re right. Both myself and the other Normans have always thought as if he’ll always be there. Even apart from assassination, there’s always the vagaries of life; a storm at sea or a fall from a horse. I’ll have to stop being so arrogant and presumptuous.”

“Those are traits that you share with many others, my dear. And not all of them are Normans,” said Anne patting his arm.

The next day was Pentecost, the 11th May and by co-incidence a Sunday. It was also the day of Matilda’s coronation. At Westminster Morning Mass was said by Archbishop Stigand at Terce. The prelate entered dressed in his richly coloured and decorated vestments and moved towards the altar at the head of the procession of senior clerics, behind an acolyte swinging a golden censor creating a cloud of incense. A second acolyte carried a heavily illuminated bible on a red cushion and a third carried a large cross of gold.

Ealdred, the Archbishop of York, and a plethora of other bishops in their mitered hats followed in a long line behind the cross and moved to a line of chairs placed at one side of the Sanctuary. The Nave of the huge stone church was filled to capacity with nobles and their retainers, and the rear of the Nave was a packed mass of ordinary citizens. The common folk didn’t usually attend High Mass at the abbey, but they had been encouraged to come and see their new queen.

Apart from the king and his queen to be, the congregation was standing as no chairs or pews were provided. The choir was in elaborately-carved wooden stands on each side of the Nave located just before the Sanctuary and just beyond the two Transepts. In the Sanctuary the altar rail glistened with gilding and the large altar, covered in a white cloth embroidered with gold, was ablaze with light from many candles in golden candlesticks. Beautifully carved and exquisitely painted statues of Jesus, the saints, Mary and the Infant Jesus were in their places in the fore-part of the Nave, the Transepts, Choir, Ambulatories and the Sanctuary. Over the altar towered a massive figurine of Christ Crucified, made of wood and gesso.

Despite the light streaming through the stained glass windows, illuminating the religious scenes depicted on the windows, the interior of the abbey remained dimly lit. Alan mused that there must be hardly a see or abbey in England whose bishop or abbot had stayed at home, and there were also substantial numbers of Norman clergy in attendance. The English included both archbishops, and most of the seventeen bishops- Durham, Winchester, London, Wells, Cambridge and many more, including all four of the monastic sees of Christ Church Canterbury, Old Minster Winchester, Worcester and Sherborne. The Normans included Geoffrey of Coutances and the bishops of Caen, Rouen, Ely and Pointiers. Also present, of course, was Odo of Bayeux, the king’s half-brother. There were too many abbots and abbesses, priors and prioresses to conveniently count.

The Benedictine monks in the choir chanted alternately through the antiphon while the congregation was sprinkled with lustral water. Then followed the Acts of Penitence, the Kyrie (sung in Greek), Gloria, the Liturgy, and so through the familiar steps of the service. The whole service was spoken or sung in Latin or Greek, who caused no difficulty for the Normans, due to their familiarity with the service even if they didn’t understand the words, or the more educated of the English. A regiment of priests attended to distribution of the host at seven altars, three altars in each transept and at the high altar. The high altar was used by the clergy and the assembled nobles, and the side-altars by the hoi polloi.

Alan could not help but mentally compare this theatrical performance with the simple ceremonies that would be taking place, conducted in English, at this moment in the manor churches at Thorrington and Staunton.

Finally, after the Dismissal, the candles on the altars were extinguished and the archbishop and his deans and acolytes departed in procession. The remainder of the clergy and the congregation stayed in their places awaiting Stigand’s return and the coronation. Two ornate chairs were placed before the high altar, slightly to one side.

After several minutes Stigand returned, dressed in different and more ornate vestments. He was joined by Archbishop Ealdred of York, Wulfstan the bishop of Worcester, William the bishop of London and Odo the bishop of Bayeux. King William and Matilda rose in dignity from their seats at the front of the Nave and proceeded, after making obeisance before the altar, to be seated facing the crowd. Matilda’s tiny body, barely four feet two inches tall, was dwarfed by that of her husband, who was a man of above average height and solid build. During this time the Benedictine monks had been singing various religious musical pieces in plainchant.

As silence fell Archbishop Ealdred approached the Lectern and gave a speech lasting for some fifteen minutes extolling the importance of the position of queen, the vice-regality of the position, Matilda’s own virtues of integrity, honour, decency and dignity- together with the fact that she had already given the king several heirs. Archbishop Stigand led the congregation in a series of prayers for her continued health and the assistance and support she would bring to her husband the king. As she was not to be crowned monarch, the ceremony did not proceed as a coronation as such, but rather as a crowning. Matilda and William rose and then knelt side by side at the high altar. Matilda was anointed with chrism and blessed by Stigand, who then raised a small golden crown high in the air before placing in on Matilda’s head. After several more prayers William and Matilda rose to face the crowd and the shouts of ‘Vivre la Reine! Vivre le Roi!’ rent the air, repeated many times.

With Matilda’s hand on William’s arm they proceeded at a sedate pace out of the side entrance in the North Transept, closest to the palace located just to the east of the abbey. After they had departed the assembled clergy rose and exited via another side door to the west and into the Cloisters, before the congregation began to disperse. Most departed out of the main doors to the south, but the members of the Curia and other notables had been invited to a feast to be held in the Hall of Westminster, part of the palace, and they also departed via the northern exit.

It was a walk of just a few paces in the sun before they entered the expanse of the Great Hall. The massive open space with its high vaulted ceiling was already thronged with the rich and important of the kingdom. Anne was fatigued after standing for so long whilst pregnant and her back hurt, so Alan found her a chair against the wall with a small group of other ladies and went in search of Regenbald the Chancellor. He found him in conversation with Roger de Montgomerie and Robert of Eu, together with some lesser nobles, and eventually managed to whisper in his ear that he needed a word in private. After several minutes Regenbald took his leave from the others and directed Alan into a small room near the Exchequer.

“And what can I do for you, young man?” asked the Chancellor.

“The king may well be aware of this already, but I have heard word that there’s been a meeting between Earl Edwin of Mercia, Earl Morcar of Northumbria, Earl Gospatric and agents of Edgar the Aetheling, King Swein of Denmark and King Bleddyn of Wales,” advised Alan.

“The king indeed has a good information network, which reports through me, and is aware of this,” replied Regenbald. “Indeed, these men have also been on contact with others including King Diarmid of Ireland, King Malcolm of Scotland and the illegitimate sons of Harold who fled to Ireland. However, I do thank you for your information and your concern,” he said, clapping Alan on the shoulder. “It’s nice to have some loyal men in the kingdom! The king is, of course a past master at politics and knows how to deal with disloyalty and outside invasion threats, based on his time as duke. Extra information, or confirmation of what we have heard elsewhere, is always welcome, so please pass on whatever information you receive.”

Alan inclined his head in acknowledgement of Regenbald’s compliment. “What’s he going to do about it?” he asked.

“Give them enough rope to hang themselves,” Regenbald answered with a wry smile. “The real problem would come if Philip of France invades Normandy, or Fulk invades Maine, while William is busy here in England. Fighting a war on two fronts would be difficult.”

“I don’t understand why men who have retained their wealth, power and prestige would risk it all. Cospatric will have just paid a fortune to buy his earldom, which he risks throwing away. It’s not as if anybody except either Edgar the Aeltheling or Swein of Denmark would be crowned king. Edwin, Morcar and Cospatric would still remain earls.”

“But they would have more influence and be given more lands, here in the south. After all Godwin was ‘just’ an earl, but he ran the kingdom because King Edward was so weak. I think that these crows expect to be able to exert similar influence over Edgar. The men of the north hate King William and the Normans, but it’s not personal. They would hate any English king from the south also, except possible the Aetheling. Harold they accepted because he went north with a small force and negotiated with them- but they still revolted against him, even his own brother Tostig. That’s been the curse of the English for so long, the inability of its noble families to see beyond their own interests and to loyally support the monarch. There are many more who have accepted the situation and come to an accommodation. These are mainly men of lesser station, but also apparently Earl Waltheof, and your friends Thorkel of Arden and Eadnoth the Staller who both have enough lands to qualify as barons even though they do not formally hold that station. Now if you’ll excuse me, the king and his new queen will shortly be making their entrance into the Hall and I’m expected to be there to act as Master of Ceremonies.”

A thoughtful Alan returned back to the Hall, where he saw Anne sitting with a number of her new-found friends and sipping a cup of fresh apple juice. By now the Hall held probably 500 people, mainly standing and chatting while they awaited the arrival of the royal couple. A group of musicians, flautists, players of the lute, dulcimer, tambour, drums, cithara, pan pipes and the long straight trumpet began to play near the middle of the Hall. A choir also began to set up, awaiting their turn to perform.

With no prior announcement the king and queen walked in through a side door that came from their private chambers in the palace, accompanied by several flunkeys. They were still wearing the rich robes used for the Coronation and wore their crowns. Conversation ceased as all quietly bowed or curtsied to the royal couple, who walked arm in arm to the high-table which had been placed on a raised dais. William waved to the musicians to continue and slowly conversation resumed around the Hall. The great Norman lords and their ladies, Roger de Montomerie, Geoffrey de Mandeville, Hugh Grandmesnil, Robert of Eu, Hugh de Montford, William Warrene, William Malet, and of course his half-brothers Odo of Bayeux and Robert of Mortain and his cousin William fitzOsbern, attended on the royal couple. The men and their wives were tied by close bonds of kinship and marriage and it was like a family reunion. The young English earls Morcar, Edwin and Waltheof eventually were brought forward to make their obeisance to both the king and the newly-crowned queen. Here gathered on one dais were the men who held nigh on three quarters of the land in England that was not in Church hands.

Anne espied Queen Edith, the widow of King Edward, talking near the dais with Countess Judith, the king’s niece, Hawise Sourdeval the wife of Stephen Count of Brittany and Alice de Tosny the wife of Roger Bigod and a good friend of Anne. Presuming on her acquaintance with them Anne took Alan by the arm and led him to the group. Alan was introduced to those he did not know, and kissed them all on the hand with impeccable manners. The ladies were much taken by the young, tall, handsome man with flowing red hair and fine but understated clothing of black silk tunic and hose embroidered in silver thread and wearing sensible black half-boots, instead of the foppish and garish clothing and footwear adopted by some of the younger courtiers. At twenty years of age Alan and his wife- two years younger, auburn haired, shorter than her husband by a head, her slim figure temporarily spoiled by being five months pregnant, and dressed in a specially made dress of Hunter Green velvet that artfully sought to disguise her condition- made a striking couple.

Just then William and Matilda left the dais and started to circulate, immediately gravitating to the Englishwoman whose support after Hastings had been instrumental in having William accepted and crowned as king. William, while a hard man, recognised his obligations and he genuinely liked the 39 year old daughter of Earl Godwin who had been King Harold’s sister. Edith dipped into a curtsy, as the others in the group either curtsied or bowed according to gender. William reached out and took Edith by the hand before she had hardly started her obeisance, raised her up and introduced her to his wife.

Matilda still retained her beauty, despite her 37 years. At 4’ 2” she was as tiny as a doll, dwarfed by her husband, who at 5’ 11’’ was taller than average and solidly built. Her elfin face showed intelligence, grace and determination. She was polite and well-spoken. She was also three months pregnant with her tenth child by William- not her least contribution to the monarchy. This would be her fifth child in six years and Alan wasn’t sure how she and William had managed to have enough time together to achieve this over the last few hectic years.

Queen Edith introduced the others in the group who were not known to Queen Matilda. Matilda smiled at Anne and patted her arm in a sisterly fashion and took a step back to peer up at Alan. “You, Sir, I have heard of from my husband. He describes you as his most…interesting…vassal, and something of an enigma. I thank you for saving the life of my husband, but this seems to be but one of a number of interesting feats- not least marrying against the ban imposed on such matters!”

Alan smiled easily. “Given the example of yourself and my liege, I was sure that this would cause no problem. Like yourself and the king in your time it was something we wished to do, and at least we didn’t have to face papal disfavour!” William gave a bark of laughter and Matilda grinned. “And I paid a penance of six longboats,” concluded Alan.

Matilda nodded, still smiling. “Cheaper than our having to endow two abbeys! But yours was a generous gift to the king, and an example of one of those things I was referring to before. Overcoming an invasion by the Danes all by yourself!”

Alan laughed. “My queen, I didn’t have the resources to man the ships, and they do no good sitting rotting on the beach. It is better to have the king think he owes me a favour! We all need those favours at some time, and it did distract him from the question of our marriage!” Here he put his hand on Anne’s arm and continued in a somber tone. “As to the Danes, I wasn’t standing in front of them all by myself. The sheriff of Essex was sitting safe behind the walls of Colchester while Lexden and Winstree Hundreds were devastated. Villages were burnt; women were raped. Men, women and children killed. Thegns were impaled and tortured to death. None of the ‘civilised’ rules of warfare apply in such cases. Every man in the south of the Hundred came, and most of those from the north and east, even the slaves came with what they had- except the men from fitzWymarc’s villages. They wielded sword, bow, spear, hay-forks and sharpened sticks. They fought for their very lives and those of their families, and they fought well. We planned, set an ambush and defeated a larger force of professional warriors- at considerable cost. We took the longships and rescued hundreds of English captives being carried into slavery,” he concluded.

“That’s the dichotomy I was talking about,” replied Matilda. “Just about every man I know would be crowing about his victory. You are concerned more about those lost. And fitzOsbern tells me you had a recent successful action in Wales, which has his admiration as all he manages to do is lose men in ambushes. How did you manage that?”

“Well, I must say that I am rather more proud of that raid than of the defensive battle at Wivenhoe,” said Alan modestly. “I run a really good ambush myself. As for the success in Wales? I obtained good information about their land and where their men were. I made sure they didn’t know where we were or what men we had available- we arrived secretly and struck immediately. My men are well trained. We cut up a large Welsh raiding force a couple of nights before, which substantially reduced the men they had to oppose us. We went over the border like an Act of God- fast and hard, with a clear plan and clear objectives. I had a firm talk to Idwallon, the Cantref lord, and he understands the need to leave my lands alone.”

“Didn’t your intercepting the Welsh raiding party alert them to the presence of your men?” asked Edith.

“None returned to tell, my lady,” replied Alan dryly. “That was part of Idwallon’s lesson. One of his sons fell in the raiding party.”

“And William tells me that you think we need a navy?” asked Matilda.

Alan nodded. “The Irish raid our west coast. The Norwegians raid Northumbria and the Danes raid East Anglia. All do so several times each sailing season. They come over when they get bored at home and going raiding is the national pastime for all of them. Fifty longships, spread between Chester and Bristol in the west and York, Ipswich and Colchester in the east, can stop those raids by making it too costly for them. Fifty ships would also allow us to harry any invasion fleet if the Danes come. Otherwise we just sit on the land and try to guess where they are going to land next, always arriving too late.”

“That would be too damned expensive,” said William. “50 ships at 30 or 40 men each is 2,000 men.”

“And the cost of the ships. Merchant ships are useless and we need longships, and the cost of swords and cross-bows,” agreed Alan. “Still, you’re receiving a lot in port taxes and the geld this year will bring in what…?50,000? More? The merchants can be levied to contribute to the cost.”

William scowled at being told how to spend his money and looked away. “Come, my dear. The servants are bringing out the food and setting up the tables and we’ve some others to talk to.”

Matilda smiled at Alan and Anne. “I look forward to having further discussions. And I’ve heard how wonderful your music soirees are, my dear,” patting Anne’s arm. She chatted with the other English ladies in Anglo-Saxon for several minutes, being of English descent she could speak the language fluently although with a Flemish accent, before allowing herself to be led away.

“How much would it cost?” asked Queen Edith with interest, also in Anglo-Saxon English.

“Probably?10,000 to buy the ships and weapons. That’s a once off expense that could probably be halved by having the ports contribute a certain number of ships each, together with those lords who have their demesne close to the sea. Many of the Norman lords donated substantial numbers of transport ships a couple of years ago. The ongoing cost would be less- 2,000 men at a shilling a week, say just over?5,000 a year.”

Edith reached out and patted Alan’s arm. “It’ll never happen, my dear man. The idea is good and the cost is modest- but William is a soldier not a sailor and he’s not used to living on an island. He has a continental frame of mind and doesn’t think in terms of protecting coastline or shipping. He’ll increase the town garrisons, even though that won’t work and will be just as expensive. It’s a good idea, though not likely to be adopted. Now shall we go and sit at table?”

The meal was a typical Norman feast, with fairly simple food and lots of it- heavy on boiled and roast meats and vegetables, beef, pork and chicken. Here at the table of one of the ‘high and mighty’ they had additional delicacies such as peafowl, duck, swan and venison, roasted or braised in broth. The food was relatively simply prepared and presented with a range of spiced or herbed sauces and gravies. At this table at least there were fine French wines from the Loire and Bordeaux, red and white, and the ever popular honeymede and ale. The men and women at Edith’s table were mainly English middle-level thegns, sheriffs, household officials and their wives, all known for their loyalty to King William. Apart from Alan there were also several other Normans including Roger Bigod and his wife Alice, William Peverel and his newly married wife Adelina of Lancaster, Bernard de Neufmarche and Aubrey de Vere.

“My lady, last time we spoke you mentioned you were considering leaving public life,” said Alice.

“That’s true,” replied Edith. “I’ve had enough of public life. I married Edward in ’45 and, apart from the year he forced me into a nunnery when he exiled my father, I had to deal with the tribulations of a husband who was a weak king and interested in little other than religion. Twenty years of a loveless marriage to a celibate man who hated me because of my father and what he did to Edward’s brother. I was willing enough, for the sake of the kingdom, but he would have none of it. A man with little interest in the kingdom he ruled, or its people. I did what I could to ensure proper rule. On Edward’s death my brother Harold was crowned, and within nine months he and three of my other brothers were dead. Last month my mother Gytha Thorkelsdottir, Godwin’s widow, encouraged the people to revolt, including my own town of Exeter.

“I’ve had enough and done enough! Godgifu is a friend of mine and is abbess at Wilton. I’ll take the veil and retire into a quiet and contemplative life in comfortable surroundings. I’ll bestow some of my lands on favoured servants, such as Azur here, and some on the abbey, while retaining a few to provide life’s comforts until I bequest them in my will- after all, I have no children. England needs only one queen, and that’s now Matilda,” she concluded.

“Perhaps if you left that decision for a little while, my lady,” suggested Alan. “Your intercession in the conflict at Exeter last month was important both for its people and the kingdom. Both the king and the people respect you. Difficult times lie ahead.”

At that Edith’s head jerked around and she looked Alan in the eyes. She nodded at the truth of what he said as she had her own sources of information as well. With a reluctant sigh she said, “You’re right. Perhaps a few more months, in addition to the past 22 years, should be easy enough compared to what I’ve endured in the past. Now, enough of these matters! Let’s listen to the music and talk of inconsequential things!” she commanded.

CHAPTER FIVE

London May 1068

Alan had arranged for his seneschal Robert to come to London from Herefordshire to report progress at Staunton and Alan’s other manors on the Welsh border. They met at the house at Holebourn Bridge, where Robert would be staying together with the four men who had ridden with him. He arrived in the late evening two days after the coronation, tired and dirty from the road.

After bathing and changing his clothes Robert met Alan and Anne in the Hall. The day was warm and the central fire wasn’t lit. Light streamed in through the rare and expensive glass windows. Sitting at the table Robert drained a quart of ale to settle the dust in his throat before switching to wine, a red of reasonable quality from the Loire. Alan had arranged for food to be placed on the table and Robert helped himself to first an apple and then fresh bread, butter and aged cheese. The evening meal would not be for another hour or so, but Robert was fatigued and hungry after his travel from Oxford that day, a distance of 60 miles, and the previous day of travel from Staunton to Oxford.

“So, how progress matters?” asked Alan.

“Reasonably well,” replied Robert. “The winter hasn’t been too severe on the border, not like I hear you had in Essex. That was fortunate, given the there was hardly any food and most of the houses were damaged. We’ve got the new Hall and stables completed. The men are sleeping in the Hall until the barracks is built. The trench for the fortifications has been started. Obviously the villagers have had to spend most of the last month ploughing and sowing.

“Because of the food situation Father Siward gave a dispensation from Lenten eating restrictions. People needed every morsel of food they could get from anywhere to avoid starving. The people have been taking fish from the river, as you allowed, and also the garrison has been hunting wild cattle, boar and deer in the forests for their own use and to provide to the villagers- so they didn’t have to poach. It’s no use forbidding what is going to happen anyway, as a man will do anything rather than see his family go hungry, but if we kill the game at least the villagers don’t get into the habit. That and the wagons of grain and flour that you provided from Gloucester kept the wolf of starvation from the door. The Welsh have been behaving themselves, at least in our area. I understand they’re still active up in the north. That’s given us the respite to survive and rebuild.”

“The bad news, I’m afraid,” announced Alan, “is that William fitzOsbern advised me that we’re required to do our knight’s service at Chester and support his expedition against the North Welsh in Rhufoniog and Rhos, in Gwynedd. I tried to get him to agree that our raid into Brycheiniog counted as our military service this year, but he wouldn’t have it. We’re required in Chester on 1st June.”

“That’s not fair!” exclaimed Anne.

Robert chuckled. “Nobody’s every accused fitzOsbern of being fair! He’s a mean and arrogant son-of-a-bitch, although extremely capable.” He then looked at Alan and asked, “Are you taking everybody? And what is the objective?”

“Objective? Who knows? Certainly not Earl William, I think! Just march around and make a nuisance of ourselves as repayment to Bleddyn for the invasion last year, I expect. The idea this year seems to be to stay on the flat lands near to the north coast and steer clear of the mountains- fitzOsbern has at least learned that lesson. I’m required to provide six men. I’ll take ten, but send some of the remainder at Staunton where they’ll be close by if I decide I want them and where they can be some use if Bleddyn decides to take the opportunity to try to attack fitzOsbern’s southern flank while the earl is busy in the north. If the earl did have a specific objective in mind I’d probably take more men. Make sure you get that defensive ditch, rampart and palisade up in the next few weeks. The local geburs there should be able to get that done quickly now they have ploughed and sown the fields.”

“I’m really not happy about you going off on campaign. You must be careful,” said Anne with concern.

Alan gave her a kiss and quipped, “I’ll be careful. Hey, this is what I do and I’m good at it! ‘Yeah though I walk through the Welsh Valleys I shall fear no Evil, for I am the meanest and most suspicious bastard in the Valley’. Jesus, Mary and Joseph will protect me, I’m sure.

“Robert, you’ve still got those Welsh mountain ponies? Good! Make sure they’re shod and ready to move if we need them. The men from Essex will be at Staunton in about ten days. I’ll go direct to Chester after I pick up my men at Thorrington. You’ll need to increase the number of supply wagons from Gloucester to feed the extra men. There’s still no food in western Herefordshire,” he added.

* ***

Alan decided to take the opportunity of a quiet day to take the family to the races. Each Saturday on Smithfield, less than a quarter of a mile from the house at Holebourn, was held the horse fair where horses were offered for sale. Large draught animals, chargers, rounceys, hackamores, palfreys and ponies were standing tethered or being led by grooms. Unbroken horses shied skittishly, pulling at the reins which held them and rolling their eyes. The horses were periodically being led to display their gait and moved with shining coat, rippling muscles and quivering ears.

Every half-hour or so an impromptu race was put on by the owners and handlers of the higher-quality horses for sale. These were led to the line with smaller grooms mounted on their backs, and they would race several times around a clearly-defined circuit, each seeking to prove to the buyers that they had the fleetest horse. This was what most of the people had come to see, as they had neither the need nor wherewithal to buy a horse, and bets were exchanged on the outcomes- with the horses being encouraged with shouts and oaths by those onlookers with financial interests. The jockeys encouraged their horses to greater efforts with spurs, switch and voice. The horses clearly enjoyed the proceedings, stretching out to attempt to beat their rivals.

Alan was accompanied by Anne and Leof, with two discretely armed huscarles as a precaution against anything untoward occurring, as any crowd in the city was likely to contain cut-purses and other rogues. They wandered about looking at the animals and the antics of the crowd, enjoying the occasion.

The same area was used on other days of the week as the livestock market, being close to Newgate and providing easy access to the slaughter-yards at the Shambles. Despite farmers regularly bringing wagons to clear the manure from the ground for them to use as fertiliser, the party had worn stout shoes which were soon mired.

Alan saw a large bay charger that he liked the look of and watched its race. It proved not to be the swiftest of the animals, but had a smooth action and ample stamina. After its race it recovered its breath quickly and fidgeted only moderately as it received its post-race rub-down from its groom. Alan had the saddle replaced, adjusted the stirrup straps and inserted the bit before taking the horse through its paces. Its smooth action made the ride pleasant and on dismounting Alan struck a deal with the owner. He handed over his earnest-money deposit, arranging to have the animal delivered to his stable on Monday when the balance of the money would be paid.

The next morning Robert rode for the Welsh border. Several days later Alan and Anne, with their escort and the newly acquired horse, traveled through the Great Forest to overnight at Norton near Chelmsford after a journey of 42 miles, and then the further 36 miles to Thorrington the following day.

CHAPTER SIX

Thorrington and Wales Early June 1068

At Thorrington the bucolic pursuits of agriculture were in full swing. The crops had been sown months before, had germinated and were growing. Fields had turned bright green with the new growth. Now the men were ploughing the fallow land. Small groups of three or four men walked behind the heavy wooden mouldboard ploughs pulled by four straining and bellowing oxen, shouting encouragement or goading the beasts with whips or sharp sticks as required. The light soil in Tendring Hundred allowed the use of half-teams of four oxen, compared to the heavier soils elsewhere which required eight beasts.

Cows had calved, sheep lambed and pigs farrowed, the young trotting at the heels of their mothers or gamboling nearby.

Ditches were being cleared and sheep shearing commenced, which would continue for several months. The woman were gathering fruit and making preserves for use during the winter- pickling, drying, making jams and chutneys. Most of this activity would continue through the warmer months as different fruits ripened, but the first apples were already ripening and suitable for placing in barrels for storage in cool places. Later would come the other varieties of apple, and pears, quinces, plums, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants. Generally the villagers didn’t preserve food in honey, which was usually sold as one of their few ‘cash crops’, but with her access to imports that were relatively inexpensive to her Anne would also, in addition to the local traditional methods of drying or making jams, arrange preservation of fruit with olive oil or candying with sugar.

Alan’s trusted lieutenants the Normans Hugh and Roger had been given the manors of Great Oakley and Bradfield respectively to administer- not enfeoffed but appointed as seneschals. At Staunton were the other Normans, Robert as seneschal and Warren training the local men as archers and spearmen, with the Englishman Leofwine leading the ten huscarles and Ledmer commanding the ten Wolves mounted men-at-arms permanently stationed on the Welsh border.

At Thorrington in Tendring Hundred the Welshman Owain of Cardiff was responsible for training some of the fyrdmen of Alan’s manors to use the longbow, and the Englishmen Brand commanded ten huscarles. Edric, Ainuf and Acwel each commanded a troop of ten Wolves, one troop of which was stationed at each of Thorrington, Great Oakley and Bradfield. Barclay, Aethelbald and Oswy commanded squads of part-time archers who had undergone a period of training with Owain in the use of the longbow, but whose members were scattered amongst the manors under Alan’s control. There were five squads of English foot-soldiers spread amongst Alan’s eight manors, not as highly trained or well equipped as the huscarles, but each with helmet, sword or spear, shield and a waist-length byrnie vest of chain-mail, and who had each undergone a period of basic training and continued to train regularly at least twice a week.

On arrival at Thorrington Alan called a meeting of his officers to be held the next day at noon. Messengers spurred their horses as they departed, to try to reach their destinations and deliver their message before dark. Alan ate an early meal, hurriedly prepared by Otha the cook from whatever was on hand. Given they were hungry from their journey there was no complaint at the simple fare.

Alan spent most of the evening in discussion with the Welshman. “Owain, I don’t want to insult you, but some of us will be marching to fight on the Welsh border in a few days. I don’t want to put you in a position where you have any personal conflict between your duties and your loyalties, and I propose to have you here in Thorrington continuing to train bowmen, although many of those in my employ will be in the west. I trust that this is acceptable to you?”

Owain looked uncomfortable and fidgeted a little on his seat at the small table in Alan’s office just off the Hall. “I understand you’ll be going to Chester and fighting against Bleddyn in Gwynedd? I’m from Cardiff in the south, a hundred miles from where you’ll be campaigning. Indeed the men of the north are as foreign to my people as those of Herefordshire, or more so. Bleddyn is from Gwynedd and means little to me. I’d have no difficulty in going with you to Rhos in the north and being your man.

“To give a brief history of Wales, our land is divided into parcels of a hundred households, or a tref. Several of these together form commotes and in turn two or three of these form a cantref. There are four traditional kingdoms- Gwynned, Powys, Deheubarth and the south-east, the latter now the princedoms of Morgannwg, Brycheiniog and Gwent. Position is determined by what a lord actually holds, not his birth or position. What he holds depends on his military and political strength. The lords of the cantrefi have no obligation to support any man as ‘king’ or ‘prince’. Occasionally a man arises who’s able to control enough cantrefi himself and have enough lords support him that he becomes High King. This happens perhaps for a few years once every generation, possibly less. Bleddyn is such a man. He is ‘King’ of Wales, but if he turns his back for a moment, somebody will put a knife in it and Wales will return to its usual situation of independent states, the leader of each doing what they want.

“In times of a strong king there is less raiding along the border- but when the king decides to cross the border the warriors number in the thousands, not dozens. Welshmen are nearly all warriors, although not with the formal training that you give your men. They move fast in attack and are deadly in ambush. Because of their disposition and lack of training as a unit they don’t fare well in battles where the opponents are face to face. They know that, and avoid such confrontations.

“FitzOsbern will go into Wales wanting to force a battle. That won’t happen. There’ll be ambushes and night raids, and a man with a bow behind every bush. Villages will be abandoned ahead of his troops, with no people present and the livestock that constitutes wealth in Wales driven away and hidden. FitzOsbern will burn the villages, but a wattle and daub thatched cottage takes only days to rebuild.

“The Welsh made a different choice to the English, after the Saxons pushed us out of the lush lands of what is now Herefordshire. We chose to inhabit the bare and windswept hills, raising cattle and sheep, rather than living on the lowlands and tilling the land. The south and north coasts have arable land and there are a number of river valleys that would support more agriculture, but our rulers have chosen to live in the uplands. The valleys and coastal lands are inhabited and used by those who are seen as inferior. The swamps in the main remain undrained and the vegetation uncleared. Most of the arable land is still oak forest or swamp, or covered in briar and gorse. Moving over the hills and the mountains is difficult, but no more so than moving through the tangled undergrowth in the valleys. There are only two significant towns, Cardiff and Caernafon, both with about 2,000 souls. In the main, my people live in the hills in small villages, hamlets and isolated farms.

“This makes it difficult to subjugate the land, or more particularly the people. It also ensures its perpetual poverty. The English took from us what is now Hereford and Cheshire, lands of rolling hills suitable for agriculture. They didn’t want to take the hill-lands, not seeing the benefit as being worth the cost. So now the English borderlands bleed month after month to Welsh raids- usually not much blood, but a constant drain.

“The English made many deep expeditions into our lands. Their armies were met with ambush by warriors who disappeared into the trees, and raids on their camps. Many more English were killed than Welsh, again a constant day by day bleeding with ten or twenty bodies a day being sent back to England for burial. The fighting has always been savage, even when it was against the English. The English fear and hate the Welsh because they’re afraid of us. Afraid of the death-dealing arrows that come from ambush. Afraid of our raiding parties. What a man fears, so he also hates. There has been atrocity after atrocity, on both sides of the border. Men, women and children massacred, often horribly. Houses burnt and crops despoiled. It’s gone on for so long and both sides are equally at fault.

“Your expedition against Brycheiniog was perfect. Fast and with clear objectives achieved on the first day. Your men were well-disciplined and caused no physical harm to the villagers- which is unusual in any punitive expedition. Anybody can understand the… clout… given by many swords and spears. The swords speak very loudly. Frankly, if the Normans and English campaign in Gwynedd, even if they take Caernafon, I wouldn’t give a shit. My people hate the people of Gwynedd more than they hate the people of Herefordshire, as the English raid us less often!”

After this lecture on Welsh politics Alan was thoughtful and retired to consider the information he had received.

That evening Alan gave orders that two troops of horse, two squads of infantry and one of archers would march on the 29th May. One troop of horse would accompany him to Chester and the remainder of the men would go to Staunton. Anne would take over responsibility for his manors in Tendring Hundred, although she wouldn’t have to sit on the Hundred Court. Osmund and Brand would assist her at Thorrington, Hugh at Great Oakley and Roger at Bradfield. Twenty mounted men-at-arms, ten huscarles, thirty infantry and forty militia archers would remain to protect his estates, where no immediate danger was envisaged. Two wagons and seven oxen were to be bought at Colchester for what was expected to be a one-way journey to Staunton carrying the armour of the cavalry and infantry, tents and other equipment. There they could either be sold at a profit or used for transport between Staunton and Gloucester.

They rode out of the village to waves and shouts of encouragement. Alan, with the lad Leof as his personal servant, Owain, Edric and nine other green-clad Wolves rode to Chester via Northampton, Tamworth and Stoke, a journey taking four days through weather that had turned overcast with occasional showers. The men’s wolf-skin capes helped to keep them dry. The rolled-up armour, wrapped in oilskin cloth to keep it from rusting, tents, pots and other baggage were carried on pack horses.

They approached Chester from the east in the late afternoon. They had not pressed hard- the ride could have been accomplished in three days but there was no need to unnecessarily fatigue either man or beast with there being no immediate hurry. Chester was surprisingly quiet and after riding through the East Gate and presenting themselves at the castle they discovered fitzOsbern and his men, including forces belonging to Hugh de Grandmesnil and Roger de Montgomerie, both of whom held lands within a day’s ride, had marched into Flintshire two days previously. When Alan asked where they were bound he was told abruptly, “West. Just follow the smoke.” Alan insisted on having a note of hand to confirm the attendance of himself and his men, and also insisted on the provision of quarters in the castle for the night. The steward was reluctant to provide quarters, but finally agreed when Alan pointed out that space must be available as the castle was near empty. Alan saw no need to pay for bed and board for his men unnecessarily when they were on the service of the king.

The next morning, after breaking their fast on porridge and fresh fruit and obtaining provisions for a week from the commissary, they rode out over the wooden bridge over the River Dee and into Flintshire. The men were in full harness, wearing coats of mail and with helmets on heads and shields on shoulders, looking about themselves attentively. Even Owain and Leof had each been provided with a mail byrnie, helmet, shield and sword. Although Flintshire was not hostile territory, the path of the army was indeed clear to see. Perhaps there were no burnt farms or villages as yet, but the passage of a large number of men was obvious to the eye. The village of Buckley hadn’t been burnt, but a quick inspection of the tavern revealed that all food and drink had been requisitioned.

The land on the Welsh side of the border was sparsely populated, with few villages or farms. The fertile land in the river valley was heavily wooded with large stands of oak trees and tangled undergrowth. As they approached the hills to the west of Buckley they firstly met a number of horses carrying wounded men east, and then wagons carrying the more seriously injured. Close to the north could be seen a pall of smoke. Alan assumed this was, or had been, the village of Caerwys.

They came upon the army shortly afterwards in the first range of hills some ten miles west of Buckley and a little less than five miles from the village of Denbigh. The road proceeded down a narrow valley between the hills of the northern part of the Moel Famu, which acted as something of a watershed with streams running away both north and south down gullies cut by the ages through the hills. Both the valley and gullies were thick with vegetation, trees and bushes including gorse and bramble, with just a narrow defined track. In a small relatively clear area of valley were nearly a thousand men, mainly milling around with no apparent purpose or direction. A few small fires had been lit, around which men were sitting, some cooking food.

Alan stopped and asked one of the sentries for details of what had happened. Apparently, several hours before three groups of Welsh warriors had dashed out of the narrow side-valleys on their hill-ponies and attacked the middle of the Anglo-Norman column as it had moved ponderously forward, while at the same time men had appeared at close range from behind bushes, loosed half a dozen arrows each into the surprised invaders and then taken to their heels. The Welsh had come and gone in less than five minutes, leaving about 70 Normans dead or wounded. Alan looked at the sky and mused that unless the leaders got things moving soon the army would be stuck in the hills for the night, in a position that invited further attack as the dense vegetation and hilly terrain permitted stealthy approach at any time.

Alan instructed his men to dismount and eat, and rode towards the knot of men who were clearly the leadership group, although no banners flew. As he moved closer Alan could hear fitzOsbern shouting at a hapless underling. FitzOsbern glanced up to see who was approaching and gave up berating the poor man, who promptly took the opportunity to disappear. Still with a sour expression on his face, as Alan was dismounting fitzOsbern said, “Ho, Sir Alan! Well met! Hopefully now we’ll have somebody who knows what’s going on!”

“Good afternoon, Lord William,” replied Alan as he removed his helmet, pushed the mail coif back off his head and wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his left leather gauntlet. “You seem to be having some difficulty.”

FitzOsbern snorted angrily, “The fucking Welsh won’t stand and fight! A little while ago there was a sneak attack on the column from both flanks at same time by men on horses, with the head of the column being hit by arrows coming out of nowhere- they’d let the vanguard go through unmolested. Now that prick, wherever he’s gone now, tells me that in the last hour we’ve lost three men standing sentry, throats cut or hit by arrows at close range!”

“Well, we did know that the Welsh are masters of ambush and raids, and avoid pitched battles against trained men. Unless caught unaware, they fight on their own terms, or not at all. Why didn’t your scouts find them?” asked Alan.

“We’ve stopped sending them out. This is the second day we’ve been on the move and we’ve sent scouts out each day. Hardly one returned- they just disappear. The men won’t go out anymore in less than troop strength. Also, our supply train is being attacked as they move west. We’ve got to put a strong guard on every damn wagon, but going east there’s no problem. I don’t understand it.”

Alan raised an eyebrow. Still this wasn’t his problem- fitzOsbern was an experienced campaigner, although clearly not in this type of campaign, and was being lavishly rewarded to be responsible for what was happening. Alan was just a minor lord here to do his forty days knight service. “Ah… presumably they prefer to spent their time attacking wagons full of supplies, rather than empty ones, or ones with wounded soldiers in them. The more wounded men in Chester, the more effort and resources have to be put into caring for them, and the greater the cost to their lords and England. Dead men require no effort or care, once they’re in the ground! If suitable, Lord William, I’ll take my men and join one of the cavalry squadrons. I think I saw the colours of Roger de Montgomerie’s men, although his lordship himself seems to be absent. I’d assume we’ll be moving soon, if we are to reach Denbigh by dark?”

Alan took fitzOsbern’s grunt of a reply as consent and returned to his men. Moving over to de Montgomerie’s men he found the man in charge of the squadron to be Guy de Craon, who held several manors near Shrewsbury. Guy was less than enthusiastic about having Englishmen in his command, the rest of whom were Normans, Flemings or French, but accepted that in Wales the English would be just as useful as his own men, despite their reputation as poor fighters ahorse, as a set-piece battle was very unlikely. Alan and Guy were very polite to each other, Alan being Guy’s social and political superior, but Guy being endowed with leadership by default due to the mantle of his powerful master.

The column started to move soon afterwards, with most of the men in the column trudging slowly on foot. Alan’s men, together with those of de Montgomerie, were on horseback about one-third of the way down the column. Even there it wasn’t safe. In the four miles to Denbigh the column was attacked twice more from ambush, arrows suddenly flying from close range into the densely-packed Anglo-Normans. The arrows flew for about two minutes, ten to twelve shafts for each Welsh bowman, and then as the Normans reacted and formed up the Welsh melted away into the trees.

“Fuck this shite for a lark!” shouted Edric in Anglo-Saxon English as he brought his sidling horse up alongside Alan, three arrows stuck in his kite-shaped shield. “These stupid Norman bastards are going to be the death of us all if we keep this up! I don’t mind getting a sword in the guts after I’ve cracked a few heads with my axe, but I’m buggered if I’m going to get an arrow in the back from a man I never see!” he roared in frustration.

Alan was shaking his head, trying to clear the ringing sound caused by receiving a glancing blow from an arrow on his helmet- a yard-long arrow thicker than a man’s thumb fired at close range packed a considerable punch. Two of de Montgomerie’s men were lying on the ground and not moving- injured or dead Alan couldn’t tell. His own men were uninjured, but one of their horses had been badly hit and would require to be put down. The rider was already securing the horse of one of the fallen Normans as a replacement mount.

They emerged from the narrow valley through the hills into the broad fertile valley of the Afon Clewyd. Denbigh lay about a mile and a half further on, over a ford through the river. Despite the thick vegetation in the valley there was no further attack as they approached the village.

Denbigh was totally abandoned. All livestock, down to the last chicken, had been removed. Every bale of hay and every sack of grain was gone. Only a few unpicked vegetables remained in the cottage gardens. Inside the roughly-made thatched cottages were only worthless bedding and easily replaced household items- pottery, basic furniture and the like. After scouring through the village some of the men dug through recently turned over soil near the cottages, looking for possible buried caches of coins or jewels, without success.

William fitzOsbern was sitting on a bench at a roughly-made table in the manor Hall, Denbigh being the local commote village, talking forcefully with Bernard de Neufmarche, Guy de Craon, Aubrey Maubanc, Raoul Painel and Osmond Basset. Alan walked up quietly and took a seat, listening in to fitzOsbern giving the rough edge of his tongue to everybody.

After a few minutes he asked politely, “My Lord William, can you please explain to me the objectives of the expedition?”

FitzOsbern blinked in surprise. “Objectives? To punish the Welsh for last year’s invasion and make sure they don’t do it again, of course! I’ve been campaigning in South Wales for the last few months. Bleddyn and Rhiwallon of Powys attacked my town of Hereford, so I’m up here in the north attacking their own lands to see how they like it!”

“Shock and awe,” nodded Alan in understanding. “Godwin and Harold tried that, without any real success in their various campaigns. It didn’t work.” After a moment’s pause to carefully choose his words he continued, “But what is the immediate objective. What are we going to do in the next week? Do we know where we are going? Have we sent out scouts or obtained intelligence about the enemy? Could you show me on the map where we are bound next?”

FitzOsbern looked embarrassed and Alan asked with asperity, “You do have a map don’t you?”

“Not with me,” replied fitzOsbern. “I have one at my castle, but I’ve learned in the last few months not to trust that very much. I’ve got a couple of good local scouts.”

Alan beckoned Leof over, gave him whispered instructions and the youth hurried out to the tent that Alan’s men had erected on the village green. “While we’re waiting, what’s our supply position? You said earlier today that supplies aren’t getting through.”

Osmond Basset answered, as there was no fault to be levied against him. “We marched with each man carrying three days rations.”

“And tomorrow is the third day,” concluded Alan, at which the others nodded. Leof came hurrying back with a rolled piece of parchment. “A peculiarity of mine,” said Alan. “I like to know where I am and where I’m going. This is a very rough map, drawn by a Welshman who never lived hereabouts, but who did campaign here five years ago. Here’s Denbigh. Here’s Buckley, eighteen miles east, towards Chester. We can expect our supply wagons to be attacked for the whole of that distance. Chester’s a further ten miles east. Our options are to go south down the River Clwyd Valley to Ruthin. Why we’d do that, heading into the mountains, and what we’d do after that, I don’t know. But that is one direction we could go.

“We could head west, across open hill-land. Why, again I don’t know, because there’s fuck-all there. Or we can go north, up the Clwyd Valley to St Asaph and Rhuddlan. It’s about eight miles to St Asaph, then about three miles to Rhuddlan. Then the options are to move east to Prestatyn, or west to Betws and Abergele. Going west, we can continue through to the Afon Conwy, which near the coast has to be crossed by ferry. I’m sure we can expect the ferry to be tied up on the other side,” he concluded dryly. “That wouldn’t matter anyway, because in two days you’ve lost one in ten of your men and nearly run out of supplies. By the time we get we get to the River Conwy at the rate we’re going we wouldn’t have enough men left to mount a guard on a privy. Or we can head east, back to Chester with our tails between our legs, which is not something that would appeal to anybody and isn’t required just yet, but again is an option.

“Logically, that gives us one choice for our next move. North. Bleddyn is not stupid and will know that. After that we can head east and home via the coast, or go west and cause some havoc in the direction of Caernafon. Realistically, Abergele is probably as far west as we can go, and there are some coastal fishing towns that way. There won’t be anything to loot and little enough to eat, so what we’d be achieving I don’t know, but certainly no less than we have so far. We can burn people’s houses, which they can rebuild in a few days. We can possibly burn some fishing boats, although if the fishermen have any sense they’ll just sail them up the coast a little way as we approach.

“The main problem is logistics, as in most campaigns. Food for man and beast. You’ve got as much chance of getting a wagonload of supplies through to your men as a chicken has of surviving in a henhouse with half a dozen hungry foxes. We aren’t fighting in a densely populated area with lots of towns and villages where you can demand and expect the population to provide what supplies you want. I suggest that you send a message back to Chester with somebody who looks wounded- several riders in fact. Get them to have a sailing cog off the harbor at either Prestatyn or Abergele, whichever direction you want to go, in three days time. They can have a load of whatever food you want. Then have the boats follow us along the coast. The Welsh have no warships, so the cogs should be safe enough and will be much more effective than trying to bring supplies through the hills.

“Speed. Every Welsh warrior is mounted on a pony and can move large distances every day, even through forests and hills- and move fast. Most of our army is on foot and plods along. Next time I suggest you have every man on a horse, so you can move fast enough that the Welsh can never catch up and don’t know where you are.

“Scouting. I want every man in the army who has been a poacher, gamekeeper or huntsman here in an hour. Most of your men are probably from the towns, so I don’t expect much from this.

“We’ll spend tomorrow here gathering food before we move off. Ah… another thought. If we move west along the coast we do not burn the villages. We’ll then have to return east, and if you really want you can burn them after we use them for shelter in both directions.”

FitzOsbern and the others looked stunned at the stream of information. Osmond Basset said in some perplexity, “But there’s no food here to gather!”

Alan gave a bark of laughter. “Of course there is! There are the vegetables in the gardens, which we can gather. The forests around here will be swarming with deer, boar and wild cattle and wild fruit. The huntsmen can get to work, protected by our other men. There are fish in the river just to the east. I’m sure there will still be a net or two amongst the cottages. And you can’t move a herd of cattle, sheep, swine or whatever very far, and certainly not without leaving a trail. The Welsh can’t make them magically disappear. They’re around here somewhere. I’m sure we’ll be eating well tomorrow. Now get the huntsmen here,” instructed Alan before he strode out to speak to the men in his own tent.

An hour later Alan was pleasantly surprised to find twenty-two men standing in the Hall. Four were his own, including Owain. Most were Englishmen.

“Good evening, Hlaford!” he began. “You’ve just volunteered for special service. As ‘men of the forest’ you have special skills. Firstly, tomorrow you’ll be hunting wildlife to feed the army, since the supplies have just about run out and it’ll be several days before we get more from Chester. Several of you will be tracking the herds that the villagers have tried to hide. They’ll be out there, within a mile or so, in a clearing in the forest. Find them.

“The day after tomorrow we march north up the Clwyd Valley. You’ve seen what the valleys are like here- dense forest with thick undergrowth. And, as we’ve found out so far, a bowman behind every bush. Those other bastards in the army couldn’t find their arse if they used both hands and a map. I’m sick of people trying to shoot arrows in my back. I’m sure you are. It’s time for us to go hunting men- the most dangerous game!

“You’ll go ahead of the army, on foot with several men who you trust to be not too loud in the forest to watch your back. I’m sure you can train them to move quietly, since your lives will depend on it. We’ll have ten scouting groups each of six men, under your command and direction. Small groups of Welshmen you will kill yourselves; report back any larger groups you find for us to send you support. The army will move as fast or as slow as you direct.

“I want every bush checked. I want to know the name of every fucking fox! The only Welshman I want to see is one with your arrow in his back! Take your time. Do it right. The Welsh will expect it to be easy. They’re used to both us blundering about like blind oxen and won’t expect to be hunted. Don’t you expect it to be easy- it won’t. The Welsh know each valley, every stand of trees and every stream. They already know the names of the damn foxes. We need to move safely across unfamiliar country, but as quickly as we can. But I’m sure that any competent poacher… sorry hunter… can be blindfolded and still be able to tell if there is a warrior within 100 paces.

“We’re going to leave behind us a trail of dead Welshmen who never even knew we were there. Whatever weapons you want are yours. If anybody doesn’t have a bow, let me know. Any questions? No? Good hunting!”

The following morning dawned overcast and soon rain began to drizzle down. Alan arranged for his own ‘huntsmen’, Owain, Wulfric, Leofwine and Swein, to track where the local livestock had been hidden. The hunters were set loose before four in the forenoon- dawn was very early. Apart from Alan’s four men, six others went into the local forests to hunt wildlife.

Twelve other poachers went to hunt men, departing on foot and most taking with them one or two men who they took the opportunity to train to move silently and to whom they could whisper the secrets of the forest.

Those hunting food had quick success. Wildlife teemed in the river and forest. Owain quickly found the tracks to where the swine had been driven. They were a mile or so from the village, feasting on acorns from the oak trees. Two swineherds ran off as soon as the English appeared. A small herd of cattle was found by Leofwine and again the herdsmen decamped quickly. Other hunters found herds of deer or wild cattle, additional men being called in to kill the wild animals before they could escape- unlike the domesticated animals which returned happily to the village and their fate.

Large fires were lit to smoke and dry meat and fish to last for the next few days. Other animals were roasted or boiled for immediate consumption. Vegetables, once picked, were boiled for use that day or placed into sacks for future use- peas, beans, cabbage and carrots. The only regret of the men was that there was no bread and no ale.

To the north the poachers were having success in locating the enemy, but not yet killing them. Ten groups of hunters moved silently on foot down the path through the trees and tangled undergrowth on the west side of the river, leaving before first light. Another two pairs worked down the path on the east of the river. As expected, the enemy was on the west of the river. They knew where the invaders were and where they were most likely to go. It would make little sense for the Anglo-Norman force to cross the river at Denbigh and then do the same again to cross back onto the west bank at St Asaph, at the confluence of the Rivers Elwy and Clwyd.

Moving in conjunction, the Anglo-Norman scouts moved fifty or so paces at a time through the trees on each side of the path, avoiding the path itself. One pair would creep forward, carefully scan the forest and listen. They were seeking not only the direct signs of the enemy, but also the sights and sounds of the forest that would indicate the presence of danger. When satisfied they would wave one of the supporting pairs forward.

The discipline of the Welsh warriors was less than perfect. They could often be heard talking, about what the Anglo-Normans knew not as they were speaking Welsh, but presumably grumbling about the rain which was now falling more heavily. In other cases their location was given away by the birds, or a few times just by the feeling that somebody was watching and that something foreign was in the forest. Then the scouts would pause until either satisfied they were wrong or had located the men sitting in ambush.

Each ambush site was carefully mentally recorded and they reached the edge of the forest near St Asaph a little before noon. There they turned and beginning the journey back. The return was quicker- the positions of the enemy were known but not taken for granted. The same procedure was followed as before, but in a more abbreviated manner. No additional ambush places were located on the return, but the hunters did take the time to diverge and follow pathways to the nearby hills where they found large caves. Groups of people could be seen; sometimes these were solely warriors; other times they were villagers who had taken shelter. Occasionally the caves were used to house livestock. Again, note was taken for later report.

After the scouts returned Alan spent half the night in discussions with them, with a large piece of parchment, quill and ink. Although illiterate, the huntsmen had the incredibly retentive memories that the unlettered usually possess. They’d paid particular attention to their surroundings and could describe the journey virtually step by step. Alan carefully recorded the information from each man onto the parchment.

Next morning the army, with replete stomachs after a large breakfast and carrying meat and vegetables for a week of campaigning, moved out well before first light. The hunters acted as pointer-dogs, bringing small parties of soldiers within close range of the unsuspecting Welshmen, who were then attacked from the rear or the flanks. Of the 23 ambush points identified, only two noticed the approaching danger in time to resist.

The caves containing the villagers were left unmolested, although Alan had to argue long and hard with fitzOsbern to achieve that, citing the need to move quickly and the unnecessary delay that would occur. The earl wanted to visit vengeance on every man, woman and child in Wales, but an argument that they needed to stay focused, stay compact and move quickly if they were to be successful won the day. The caves with livestock were visited and, to the regret of all, the animals were slaughtered except a few driven off to be cooked for the army pots that night. Cattle, swine and sheep were worth money, but not here and now. They couldn’t drove them to England through hostile territory and they were the main wealth of the Welsh hillsmen. Killing them removed the wealth of the Vale for many years.

The caves with warriors were another matter entirely. No soldier willingly proceeds in enemy territory with a known force of the enemy behind them and 100 men were sent to each such cave to attack with stealth and without warning. Over 100 ponies were taken, putting more of the invaders on horseback- although with no overall improvement in the pace of advance, which had to be that of the slowest foot-soldier. However, the horses offered greater mobility and options for later. Many of the Norman bowmen swapped their weapons for the superior bows used by the Welsh, taking these and the larger arrows from slain Welshmen.

From Denbigh to St Asaph was a little more than nine miles. Moving with caution, taking out the ambushers and clearing the caves, they passed into the vale of the Afon Elwy and saw St Asaph a short distance ahead. The few lookouts were easily dealt with, as the Welsh thought enemy were nine miles away and no warning of their approach had been received.

The Welsh village was unprepared and unsuspecting. St Asaph had a long history, back to the Romans and before. It had a Celtic monastery, despite its small size of less than 500 souls. William fitzOsbern sent a group of trusted men to guard the gate of the monastery with the first wave to attack the village. The men had been strictly instructed not to burn the village- or at least not until they departed. As the Anglo-Norman force approached from the south, a stream of villagers fled into the forest to the west and north, meaning that there were few people in the village when fitzOsbern’s men entered. This was by no means a disadvantage as it minimised problems with controlling the men. Only a few aged and sick remained, and the few who were caring for them were generally left unmolested. And there were the monks in the monastery.

Prior Gryffyd met William fitzOsbern at the gate of the monastery and invited him inside. Alan and the other officers were busy trying to maintain control of the men sacking the village, to ensure an orderly looting with no disputes between the looters and a minimum of rapine and destruction. Stripping the village clean took little time. There were barely forty rough cottages with minimal contents of value and many soldiers doing the searching. The village, poor as it was, did replenish the food supplies, and allowed bread to be baked while the men gathered vegetables and killed and cooked swine and chickens. Between the contents of the cottages and the tavern there was enough ale for each man to sup a quart, much to their satisfaction as all knew that water is unhealthy to drink.

The scouts were already working their way downriver to the next village of Rhuddlan, a little over three miles away. Alan would have liked to push on and secure Rhuddlan that afternoon while the enemy were still unawares and unprepared, but accepted that moving professional troops away from a village that had not yet been thoroughly looted was impossible and that they would have to be satisfied with one village a day.

Rhuddlan was an important place. It was strategically located on the middle of the north coast of Wales on the coast road between Caernarfon and Chester, and at the lowest point that the River Clwyd could be bridged. As the seat of Cantref Rhos, and formerly the seat of the then Welsh king Gruffydd ap Llywelyn until just five years previously, Alan was hopeful that King Bleddyn would make a stand there- not that Alan expected fitzOsbern to fight fair. Hereto on the march along the river they had encountered mainly local forces and fought with superiority of numbers and equipment. Now they may face warriors called together by their king, who could call on several thousand men and outnumber the invaders.

Alan went to visit Prior Gryffyd to request that Mass be said for the army. After all they were soldiers and it would be at least a week since they last attended Confession and took the sacrament, and there would be few soldiers who hadn’t incurred significant sin in that time. Unfortunately, Prior Gryffyd was less than accommodating. Apart from the village being sacked, and presumably in due course to be put to the torch, Earl William had made it clear that every scrap of precious metal from the monastery, from the few silver coins in its coffers to the gold furniture on the altar, was to be handed over to him if the monastery was not to suffer the same fate. Only the reliquary, which was decorated only with thin gold leaf, and its contents were to be excluded. Alan thought this ungenerous and counter-productive but was unable to do anything to sway the earl from his intent.

Sunset was after eight and a nearly full moon rose at a little before ten. Sunrise would be shortly prior to four. Alan had advised fitzOsbern to have the whole army in position at Rhuddlan before first light. FitzOsbern, unused to such tactics, was alarmed at the novel approach, but in the end agreed when Alan advised he’d used the same tactic against the Welsh on the southern border. The army marched as the moon rose, crossing the River Clwyd at the bridge just east of St Asaph and taking the less frequently used path down the east side of the river. The western path was more easily traversed, but later crossed the river at the bridge at Rhuddlan itself. While Alan was confident in his planning, he wasn’t arrogant enough to assume that they could seize what would be a well-defended bridge and bring across an army in the face of strong opposition, nor that Bleddyn would be foolish enough to allow them to do so.

The scouts were out, clearing away first the Welsh scouts that had been sent to observe the Anglo-Norman camp, and then the lookouts stationed along both banks of the river- as a lookout on one side of the river would almost certainly see or hear the progress of an army on the other bank just a few dozen paces away. A small rear-guard remained at St Asaph until dawn, keeping the monks inside the monastery and to fulfill the task of firing the village as they departed. Alan saw that as a waste of time, as the only asset of value in the entire village other than the monastery was the water-mill, which had been thoroughly demolished on Earl William’s order early in the first day, but it was the traditional way of making a point clear out here on the border.

The Vale was flat, with virtually no rise in land anywhere. The oak forest was dense but the bridle-path was easily enough traversed, although with only one or two men able to ride or march abreast the column of troops was quite long. To the south of the village a number of fields had been won from the forest, and after the Welsh look-outs had been removed, the Anglo-Normans formed up and prepared themselves on one of these fields. Alan, Earl William and several of the other officers rode to the tree line to observe the village. It appeared that there were a substantial number of warriors in the village, more than it could accommodate as there were dozens of camp fires smoldering in the open, each surrounded by a group of men.

“There lies the enemy, Lord William, if you’d wish to give the order to form up and attack? I’d suggest that you fall on them quickly, taking them by surprise, as it appears we may be outnumbered,” suggested Alan.

“At last I’ve caught a Welsh army in the field!” exclaimed fitzOsbern with delight. “Bring the men up. Infantry here and here,” he said pointing. “Archers there and there… and there. Cavalry in the centre and both flanks. One squadron to loop around to the enemy’s rear to cover them if they fall back. Sir Alan! If they retreat, where would they go?”

“Across the bridge to the west and try to hold us off- or possibly east. I’d expect they’d try to move west and use the river for defence, as that would also put them on the same side of the river as their fall-back towards Abergele and Caernarfon. I’d suggest several cavalry squadrons to go direct to the bridge and secure it. That would bottle them up and give them nowhere to go,” replied Alan.

Earl William nodded. “Do it, Basset!” he instructed the young Norman lord by his side. Presented with an enemy and a tactical situation Earl William was in his element, giving instructions and in total control.

In less than half an hour, and still by the light of the moon, the Anglo-Normans hit the Welsh camp like a fist. Unexpected and unforgiving they smashed through the camp in minutes, slaughtering the dazed and unprepared men who staggered from their beds. By the time they reached the village itself the warriors billeted there had heard the shouts and were alerted, pouring from the cottages brandishing sword and shield. But the Welsh were fighting as a mob, surprised and disorganized, whilst the Anglo-Normans were fighting like a well-oiled machine. The Welsh fell back towards the Cantref Hall and the horse-lines at the north of the village. A large contingent decamped from the Hall, presumably Bleddyn and his professional warriors. As dawn was breaking the Welsh were rallying and moving west towards the bridge.

Osmond Basset had taken his squadron of fifty or so horse, de Grandmesnil’s men, directly to the bridge. Unfortunately for them the bridge had a strong guard, who were now well alerted to the danger and who were armed with long spears. Equally unfortunately for the Norman troops, the approach to the bridge was narrow. This combination meant that the Welshmen, now fighting fiercely, were able to hold off Basset’s attack. Further, within minutes as the Welsh rallied to the north of the village and took to their horses, 200 or more very angry Welshmen on ponies were engaging the rear of Basset’s force. Basset’s men now had their back to the bridge and were being peppered with arrows from that direction, the large arrows punching clear through the chain-mail armour on the backs on the Normans, while at the same time they tried to cope with the attacks of the mounted Welshmen. The small group of Normans near the bridge was like a piece of metal being hit repeatedly on an anvil, and with nowhere to go they broke and tried to escape to the south. FitzOsbern sent some men to provide cover to the remains of Basset’s force, now numbering about twenty.

The Welsh had secured the east side of the bridge with about 400 men either on horse or on foot starting to organise themselves, and began to cross to the west side of the river in good order. Meanwhile many of the Anglo-Norman troops, particularly the foot-soldiers, were engaged in looting the village- to Earl William’s great anger. When the last of the Welsh crossed the river the bridge was then damaged by them sufficiently to make it at least temporarily impassible without totally destroying it, as after all the Welsh knew that they would have to rebuild it in a few days. As the last of the Welsh fell back across the bridge the first Norman troops were being strung up by the neck on the trees on the village green in punishment for their dereliction of duty.

FitzOsbern didn’t want to reduce the strength of his force too much and so restricted himself to hanging ten of the most blatant looters. The point was made very strongly. Looting is permitted only after the battle is won, not during the battle. Discipline would be maintained at all costs.

After the hour or so that it took fitzOsbern to get his men back in hand, Alan, fitzOsbern and the other officers stood on the east bank of the river, carefully out of arrow-shot of the Welsh on the other bank. “An interesting situation,” commented Alan. “Bleddyn can either stand and oppose our movement to the other side of the river, or he can moved west and fall back to the other side of the River Conwy. That would abandon Abergele and Betws yn Rhos to us, along with several fishing villages along the coast- Llandrillo-yn-Rhos and Llanwst. Whether it is worth his while to defend them, or worth our while to attack them, are both questionable.

“We won’t be able to cross the River Conwyn and threaten Caernafon or Bangor, both of which would be worth taking, and we don’t have a large enough force to go south to where we could cross the Conwy. You’re in your element here, my lord!” said Alan to Earl William. “You’re trained to force an opposed river crossing, and no doubt have done so in the past. The co-relation of forces is also interesting. If we force a crossing, will we have enough men left to move forward? The Welsh receive reinforcements every day and we do not. A difficult decision, Lord William.”

Bernard de Neufmarche added his own comment. “The men are tired, my lord. They marched all night and have fought hard this morning. They need food and rest and will not be able to move until mid-afternoon.”

FitzOsbern scowled. While an extremely intelligent man and not illiterate, nor was he well-lettered or used to a debating chamber. He wasn’t used to having military considerations presented so quickly and thoroughly, nor with such erudition. It took him a minute or so to work out what Alan had said. Having finally, after over a year of effort primarily in South Wales, brought the Welsh king’s army into the field to oppose his forces, he couldn’t engage them. “How do we get to them?” he demanded simply.

“I don’t know, Lord William,” replied Alan with a blank expression. “Conjuring a way to get 800 men across a river 70 yards wide and too deep to ford, in the face superior numbers of enemy troops who will be shooting arrows is something beyond my experience. I did manage to find Bleddyn and his men, though.”

“Neufmarche, keep 100 men near the river. The remainder can rest and eat. We’ll see what Bleddyn does over the next few hours,” ordered fitzOsbern.

“And then, my lord?” queried Neufmarche.

“I’m buggered if I know at the moment! Thorrington is right. We’d lose 200 men just to get across the river, probably more, given their damn archers. We’ll think about it and rest the men. The Welsh aren’t going anywhere at the moment.”

Six hours later, with no change to the situation, fitzOsbern called his command group back together. “Ideas?” he demanded.

“Well, we could send a force of men back upriver to seize and hold a fording point,” suggested Guy de Craon.

“If we had a dozen longboats, we could hold their force here while we slipped 500 men behind them, to either attack Bleddyn or sack the villages behind him,” commented Alan.

“Wishful thinking won’t help!” barked fitzOsbern angrily.

“Well, I’ve been trying to get the king to have that sort of a naval force and it would allow plenty of options for attack. Perhaps you might like to talk to him about it also? That would give you more options in the future,” replied Alan.

“Is that the best you can come up with?”

“Well, this is why you receive such large grants of land and command of an army, because you have to make the hard decisions!” said Alan with a sardonic laugh. “Seriously, de Craon’s given you the only viable option if you want to bring them to battle. We can’t force an opposed crossing here. There are several points we could cross just upstream. One is about a mile away. The river channel there is narrow, about twenty paces, but deep, and with mud banks on both sides. We have now, what… 400 horses, including about 200 ponies we’ve captured over the last few days? The horses can swim across and the men can hold onto their saddle pommels for assistance,” said Alan.

“No mud flats!” interjected Bernard de Neufmarche. “The horses will get mired in the mud and make a lot of noise. I’ve been in that situation before. Spearmen slaughtered us while our horses were stuck in a swamp. There are places where the river is not much wider, but with both banks firm. If we must force a crossing, better at that sort of place.”

Alan nodded agreement and said, “We can leave 50 men on this side of the river, build camp fires which they keep banked up and they move about making noise and movement. We can leave those who are lightly wounded or can’t swim. We’ll have to move damn fast and at night. The Welsh aren’t stupid and will have their scouts out and be fully awake tonight. We’re not going to get any more cheap and easy wins! I can see two problems. One is if we get caught with half our men over, they’ll get wiped out. The second is if we are successful in making a crossing, we’re on the opposite side of the river from safety, with no easy way to get back. The bridge is broken. We would have to win.”

“A third point. Not many men can swim with forty pounds of metal on their back. I know I can’t,” said de Neufmarche. “It would be risky. Damn risky!”

“Your call, Lord William,” commented Alan. “You either get to face Bleddyn in battle with no route for retreat- and if the battle goes against us your army will be completely destroyed. Or we can sit quietly here and wait for Bleddyn to make a move.”

FitzOsbern scowled, thumped his fist angrily against a wall several times before saying harshly, “Cast the dice! Let’s see where they fall! Do what you can to chose the best place and get our men across quickly without being seen.”

While the others organised the men, Alan carefully scouted the river, making sure that no special attention was drawn from the Welsh. As Bernard de Neufmarche had said there was a place about a mile to the south, around two bends up the river, with firm banks on both sides and trees reaching down to the water’s edge. Alan disappeared into the village and raided the blacksmith’s workshop, the water-mill and several fishermen’s cottages. The soldiers stayed out of sight at the south side of the village, the men-at-arms stripped off their armour, rolled it up and carefully marked their ownership. Sunset was at eight twenty and it was dark in the forest shortly afterwards. They would have an hour and a half before the moon rose and fortunately the night sky was overcast with heavy clouds.

Alan had used his time to prepare his men, who moved to the chosen spot after the scouts had declared it clear. Six men stripped naked and swam across the narrow river with no weapon but a knife, each towing a piece of rope.

The rope on the most downstream side was used to pull a fishing net into place, for the safety of any men who were swept downstream by the gentle current. The other ropes were attached firmly to large oak trees. Three were simply to assist men crossing by providing a hand-hold, and two were fastened higher, about ten feet above the ground and wound taut.

The scouts crossed the river using the ropes and placing their bowstrings under their hats to keep them dry as they struggled through the cold water. They restrung their bows immediately when they emerged dripping on the west bank. Alan returned to the east bank, bringing the end of another lighter rope with him, and was stringing a mechanism from one of the ropes when the first of the soldiers arrived. The horsemen dismounted, checked their rolled-up armour was firmly tied to their horses and then swam across beside their horses, being pulled along as they held onto the saddle pommels or the horses’ manes. They patted the shivering horses as they struggled out of the water and then quickly slipped on their armour and girded themselves with their weapons, before rubbing down the horses. The archers were starting to cross on the two rope lines, one every ten seconds or so. The foot-soldiers were lining up next to the zip line, their armour and equipment being placed into a large basket hanging from the rope, which was pulled across and then sent back empty.

While the men had been instructed to be quiet and that their lives depended on this, it is impossible to move 500 or more men and nearly half as many horses silently. While there was no shouting of instructions and little muttered conversation from the men, except when they emerged from the freezing cold water to stand in their wet clothes in the night wind, arrows started to come out of the forest about an hour after the first soldier had crossed.

The moon could be seen just rising behind the clouds, but cast little light in the forest. FitzOsbern had just crossed and was buckling on his armour- his padded gambeson and armour had been sent over on the zip line and so unlike most of his men he was at least dry after he had wiped off the cold water after emerging on the west bank. Alan was surprised that they had been given an hour, but thought that perhaps a part of that time had been taken up by Bleddyn trying to believe the Anglo-Normans had been foolhardy enough to cross the river under his nose. By that time there were over 300 men on the west bank and on fitzOsbern’s instructions they increased the defensive perimeter and began to push through the trees heading north towards the Welsh camp.

It was pitch black beneath the trees in the forest. Away from the river the bowmen of both sides were useless as no target could be seen in the gloom of the forest. The armoured foot-soldiers of the Anglo-Norman force had two advantages as men blundered into each other and used sword and knife at close quarters. Firstly they had the protection of their armour, which the Welsh lacked. Secondly the front rank knew that everybody they met ahead of them was an enemy- a knowledge that the Welsh also lacked. When the Welsh sought to identify a shape looming ahead of them, all too often the reply was a blade in the guts. The captured Welsh ponies used in the crossing were tethered to trees and left behind as the infantry fought their way north, fighting against both the Welsh and also the forest itself as they groped through shrubs, brambles and gorse. The men-at-arms were dismounted and led their horses as they moved behind the screen of infantry. Mounted men are next to useless in a forest, and in the darkness all they were likely to do was hurt themselves by crashing into low-hanging branches if they mounted. More and more men slipped across the river.

At the same time the men at the village on the east bank of the river were doing a good job in keeping the main attention of the Welsh, with loud shouting and men and horses hurrying back and forth. Some Norman archers approached to the riverbank and began to lob arrows towards the Welsh, who were sufficiently far back not to be hit, but again this did act to fix their attention near the bridge. At that time all that the Welsh could know was that a force of infantry was south of them on the same side of the river and pressing north, were very close but that no archers or horsemen had been seen.

At about two in the morning fitzOsbern halted the Anglo-Normans just inside the edge of the forest near the clearing where the main Welsh force was sitting waiting for whatever eventuated. Dawn was due just before four and the Anglo-Normans took the opportunity to organise and array themselves, while continuing to receive reinforcements moving north from the river crossing.

Alan was now in full harness, with mail coif and helmet covering his head. Only his thick protective leather gauntlets needed to be pulled on to complete his protection. He was standing next to his charger, Fayne the chestnut stallion he used when he believed that the fierce destrier warhorse Odin was unsuitable. Odin had been left behind in Tendring and at this time of the year would be siring new offspring as the mares would have foaled and now again be in heat.

The sky was still heavily overcast and first light was a little before three-thirty. Just as the first tinges of light were appearing in the sky, and just minutes before the Welsh would be able to see the paucity of men on the east bank of the river and realise their danger, fitzOsbern gave a shouted command. During the wait the Anglo-Norman force had been put into rough order in the trees at the edge of the forest. The horsemen now walked their charges the few paces necessary to emerge from the forest onto the long and wide meadow where the Welsh were positioned. The men mounted and then sat silently on their horses, and only the occasional clink of horse-tack or armour or snort of a horse could be heard. There was a whinny as a mare in heat was given a nip by a neighboring stallion. Behind them the infantry were moving up, occasional curses being heard as men blundered into gorse bushes or patches of briar.

The Welshmen had not formed a camp as such. They were experienced raiders and knew better than to set up camp with tents, horse-lines and so on or to sleep when in close contact with the enemy. Rather, they had lit some cooking fires and sat up most of the night with weapons close at hand, snatching what light sleep they could wrapped in their cloaks. Horses were tethered close to their riders.

Shouts of alarm rang out as the Norman horsemen moved onto the clearing. Alan was pleased to see that the field was used as meadow and wasn’t just lying fallow, so it hadn’t been ploughed. It took only moments for the Norman cavalry to form line in their troops of ten or a dozen riders. No effort was made to organise the usual squadrons of 25 men. As the infantry struggled out of the forest behind them a horn was sounded, signaling the attack.

Although taken by surprise the Welsh reacted quickly. Those few who had armour had slept in it, if sleep they could. First one, then several, horns blew repeatedly from the Welsh lines. It was a matter of moments for the men to put on their helmets and grab their weapons- but moments were a scarce commodity as the Norman cavalry approached at a canter. Again, it took less than a minute for the archers to string their bows, which had been left unstrung to protect the bow-strings from dew during the night with the strings being kept warm and dry in a pouch next to the archer’s body, and to grab a sheaf of arrows- but again it was time that they could not spare. The Welsh horsemen had left their ponies saddled and near at hand, but it took time even after they had armed themselves to unhobble the horses and swing up into the saddle. Some horses broke loose and ran about, adding to the confusion. Men were shouting and waving arms urgently.

The Normans made no attempt to co-ordinate their attack. To do so would allow the Welsh time to organise. In the face of a disorganised defence there was no real need for coordinated attack. They increased speed from a trot to a canter and went to a gallop about 75 paces away from the first of the enemy. At the same time the first of the arrows from the Welsh bowmen began to strike. Welsh swordsmen and spearmen were forming knots around small groups of archers. The Welsh horsemen, who had been resting further back from the river, were by now mainly in the saddle. The Welsh had been aligned north-south, facing east towards the river. The attack from the south meant that the Norman charge would be met by less than half the Welshmen.

Alan felt two arrows strike the wooden laminate shield that he was holding carefully in front of him, ensuring as much protection as possible. Another passed so close to his cheek he could both feel and hear it as it whistled by. Alan had chosen as his first target a group of a dozen or fifteen infantry, mixed archers, spearmen and swordsmen, who were frantically trying to get themselves into some sort of formation.

At twenty paces Alan cast his eyes to the left and then the right, to ensure there was no immediate risk. He could feel and hear the other ten men in his troop thundering alongside; the glance that he had made had shown them to be almost knee to knee. He then refocused on his prey, rising slightly in his stirrups and learning forward as he couched his lance- which was more like a large spear- and aimed himself at an archer who was drawing his bow and looking slightly to Alan’s left. Before he could loose the arrow Alan’s lance took the man in the throat, nearly ripping his head off as the momentum pulled the lance free.

Alan quickly re-aligned the tip of the lance towards a swordsman who was back-peddling and trying to get out of the way. As Fayne smashed into two other men, hurling them to the ground where they were trampled by the horse, the lance caught the swordsman in the chest under the arm. The force of the blow and weight of the man splintered the lance, leaving Alan holding just half of its previous length. A glance over his shoulder as he dropped the broken haft and drew his sword showed just one man still standing, a swordsman.

As they had practiced, the troop slowed slightly and formed an arrowhead formation with Alan at its centre. Suddenly one man toppled over and fell, struck in the shoulder by an arrow. The remainder closed up and continued, now again at a canter. Two or three individuals on foot were struck with sword or simply ridden down.

A group of Welsh horsemen closed from the left, swords drawn and shouting loudly. Alan pressed with his knees, instructing Fayne to turn. The small group of horsemen swung together in response to his lead. Most of his men had discarded broken lances. Those who still held them made full use of the extra range, plucking three of the Welsh warriors from the saddle before the two groups met. The Welshmen tried to swerve to avoid the charge, intending to use the greater mobility of their smaller mounts to circle and catch the Englishmen from the flank or behind. The Englishmen forced their mounts close to the Welshmen, in many cases the horses crashing into each other. Then the greater weight of the larger horses Alan had acquired for his men showed its worth, with several of the smaller mountain ponies being knocked over or staggering and unbalancing their riders.

Alan found himself facing a mounted Welshman. Alan had the advantage of longer reach as he was a tall man mounted on a horse four hands taller than the diminutive pony ridden by his opponent. The Welshman was stockily-built with long black hair streaming down from under the conical metal helmet he wore, dressed in a sheepskin jacket and woolen trews. He carried a small round shield, but like Alan he could not bring it into play as the two horses were nose-to-tail with the men’s sword arms next to their opponent.

Traditional swordplay on horseback was limited to either letting the momentum of the charge work for you, with the sword largely held still, or when engaged just simply flailing and bashing against each other until an opening occurred. Obviously the finer points of footwork he had learnt as a swordsman were useless to Alan now, and a horse cannot be quickly and precisely maneuvered- if anything the Welshman had the advantage in that regard. However, as he stood in his stirrups to increase his height and allow more body-weight behind his blows, Alan used what skill he could, with deft and subtle changes of angle and direction of the blade and several pre-planned series of blows.

In the Paris salle de’armes Alan had been trained to maintain peripheral vision by having men hit him with sticks from the side while he was fencing against the Sword master. That skill saved him now, as he saw from the corner of his left eye a blade rise above eye-height on his left, previously unengaged, side. Alan slightly raised the shield strapped to his left arm and ducked his head fractionally, causing the sword to deflect off the top of the shield. The opponent on Alan’s right had seen the blow coming and had paused to watch the outcome. That pause cost his life as, without taking his eye off his opponent, Alan swept his sword aside and lunged, putting six inches of steel into the Welshman’s belly. He then spurred Fayne forwards and in the one motion pulled his sword clear, swiveled in the saddle to face his left, brought the sword across, raising it slightly so that it cleared Fayne’s pricked ears, rose in his stirrups and swung the blade with all his weight behind it. The opponent on the left was unbalanced after his own blow had unexpectedly missed and held his small shield several inches too low. Before the Welshman could realise his danger Alan’s blow had passed over the top of the shield and struck off his head.

As Alan had intended, the spurs had caused Fayne to take a convulsive leap forward, clear of the immediate scrimmage, and Alan took a quick look around. His troop had achieved near parity with the number of horsemen they faced, the Welsh having been whittled down from about fifteen to ten. However, another two of the Wolves were down and another was reeling in the saddle. A few paces away Edric was engaging two Welshmen, keeping them at bay with mighty swings of the single-handed axe that was his preferred weapon- the movements of his axe being surprisingly subtle for such a weapon. Alan used the pressure of his knees to have Fayne move to Edric’s assistance and plunged his sword into the unprotected back of one of Edric’s assailants. Edric quickly finished off the other one, axe smashing aside the shield and then sweeping back in a butterfly motion to strike his opponent in the chest, and then nodded his thanks to Alan.

A gaggle of foot-soldiers ran past, making for the trees to the west. Edric turned to dispatch several, and as the Welshmen flowed around the Englishmen Fayne suddenly screamed and then reared before crashing down backwards, as a Welsh swordsman had cut the hamstring on one of the horse’s hind legs. As Fayne fell, Alan slipped his feet from the stirrups and threw himself sideways to the left, away from the falling and thrashing horse, casting aside his shield, so that he could protect himself by rolling as he hit the ground. The contact with the earth drove the air from Alan’s lungs. As he rolled he knocked the legs out from under a Welsh spearman, who fell backwards with Alan on top. Alan’s sword was caught underneath the Welshman, held in place by their combined weight and unable to be retrieved. As he lay face to face with his foe, Alan felt the scrape of steel on steel as his opponent sought to use the knife now in his right hand to find a weak spot or join in the armour. The knife was uncomfortably close to one of the buckles under Alan’s left armpit. Alan grabbed the man’s knife-hand with his own left hand and released his grip on his now useless sword. He tried to punch his adversary, but as he was lying partly on his right side he was unable to get any power into the blows. Then he saw a pair of booted feet walk into his limited field of vision and waited for a blow to his unprotected back. There was a swish, a blur of movement and his foe’s head flew away. Blood fountained, spraying over Alan and the legs of his saviour.

Alan rolled to his right, pulling his sword out from under the still twitching body, as Edric offered him a hand and helped him to his feet. “That accursed unges?lig ruined my trews!” said Edric looking at his blood-drenched legs.

“I owe you a flagon of ale, Edric.”

“Well, I thought that for a wealh you aren’t a bad herer?swa. The Welsh have all pissed off into the trees, so lets get the men together,” replied Edric.

Alan used his sword to quickly dispatch the still kicking and struggling Fayne and took possession of one of the chargers that was wandering ownerless on the battlefield. Seven of his eleven men were still in the saddle, elated at their first taste of victory in a serious fight. They retraced their path to find the missing four men, two of whom were dead and two injured, one severely as he had received a spear in the belly.

FitzOsbern had some men repairing the bridge and soon the dead and injured Anglo-Normans were able to be taken back to the village. Within minutes the dead of both sides had been stripped of anything useful- armour, weapons, jewellery and occasionally clothes and boots. The remaining villagers who had not had the opportunity to flee were instructed to cross the river and gather up the Welsh dead, under careful guard to ensure that they didn’t collect any weapons that may be found in the long grass.

The village head-man decided that the Welsh dead would be buried in a common grave-pit near the church. A similar pit was dug for the Anglo-Normans, again using the villager’s labour. There were about 250 Welsh dead, and about 50 wounded- probably about half the number that had been in the field that day. Nearly 100 Anglo-Normans were dead, mainly from the cavalry that had borne the brunt of the fighting, and 30 seriously wounded.

FitzOsbern had won his battle over the Welsh king, but at a high price. Fully one third of his cavalry, the cream of his army, was dead or wounded- and this despite the fact that the Anglo-Norman surprise attack, being on one flank of the Welsh army and accordingly meaning that only a part of the Welsh army was able to fight the Normans at any one time, had been made under the most advantageous conditions possible.

The Welsh women of the village were instructed to care for the wounded, which they did conscientiously and without apparent favour.

The battle had taken less than an hour from start to finish and had started very early. It was still only mid-morning when fitzOsbern called into the Cantref Hall where the injured were being treated. He was still in armour when he entered, walking with a slight limp, dirty, disheveled and covered in blood. Some was his own blood from cuts to his cheek from an arrow and his thigh from a spear. He moved amongst the wounded, dropping onto one knee next to each Norman or Englishman with words of encouragement and thanks, before approaching Alan, who was assisting the village wise woman to tend a severe arm wound suffered by a Welshman.

“Warm work this morning, Sir Alan!” commented fitzOsbern. “Those Welsh buggers fought damn well, considering the tactical disadvantages they had.”

Alan nodded and replied, “Nobody has ever doubted their courage or skill, just their lack of training. Fuck!” he exclaimed as a ligature slipped and blood spurted from the arm he was working on. “I don’t think this man is going to make it. Can you get the village priest in here? There are quite a few men who need to be shriven before they die, and I’m sure our men would rather be prayed over than not- even if the prayers are in Welsh.”

“He’s doing burials at the moment,” replied de Neufmarche, who had followed fitzOsbern into the Hall.

“The dead can wait. They have all eternity. Just get him!” instructed Alan. De Neufmarche nodded and gave instructions to one of his men.

“We managed to get the attention of the ship that we had arranged go to Abergele, as it was sailing past,” commented fitzOsbern. “It’s unloading some supplies near the bridge at the moment.”

Alan nodded and suggested, “Get the less badly wounded men taken on board and have the ship sail back to Chester. They’ll probably get there by tonight and it’ll be much easier for the injured than traveling on a bumping wagon on a rutted dirt track. If we get two ships tomorrow, we can send back the more seriously injured once they’ve had a chance to stabilize, and also the captured weapons and armour. If we send that booty back by road the Welsh will almost certainly take it back,” he suggested.

“Good idea,” replied fitzOsbern. “How long until you are finished here? The men will be resting for the day and tonight.”

“Another couple of hours. I’ll have something to eat then,” said Alan.

“Good. I’ve got a few flagons of fairly indifferent wine we found here in the Hall. It’s probably Bleddyn’s. We’ll drink that over roast swine and boiled beef. The cooks are busy with some of the fresh meat from the village’s herds.”

“Isn’t it Friday?” asked Alan.

FitzOsbern frowned in concentration for a moment. “Possibly. I’m not sure just what day it is. But I don’t hold with that on campaign anyway. Just call it Thursday!”

****

Alan washed himself at the horse-trough outside the tavern after stripping off his sweaty and river-sodden armour and padded gambeson. Then, free of sweat, blood and grime, he donned a clean rough tunic and trews without armour. He was confident that there was no chance of an attack by the Welsh for the next few days.

FitzOsbern had taken over the tavern as his headquarters. None of the soldiers were unhappy about that as they knew that they’d cleaned out all of the ale barrels before the commanders took possession. FitzOsbern, Guy de Craon, Raoul Painel, Osmond Basset and Bernard de Neufmarche were seated; all were still wearing armour, although all appeared to have at least washed their heads and hands. Aubrey Maubanc was amongst the seriously injured in the Hall and Alan was doubtful as to his chances.

The expedition leaders chatted about the battle for several minutes before fitzOsbern called them to attention. “Right, mesires! Let’s get to business. A hard-won victory this morning, but a win nevertheless. Bleddyn appears to have escaped, along with about 400 men. We have supplies from the village. The wounded are being sent back by ship and we’ve been re-supplied with both food and arrows, so we won’t have to provide guards for the wagons. What do you suggest we do next?”

“Strike while the iron is hot! God is clearly on our side!” said de Neufmarche with fervour. Several others joined in with suggestions, some with expressions of caution regarding the reduced strength of their forces.

After a few minutes Alan said, “Lord William, mesires! We need to look at what our objectives are. The main objective was to bring Bleddyn and his warriors to battle. We’ve achieved that and achieved victory, although at a high cost- but that’s what happens in battle. We discussed the other day what our capabilities were. That’s not changed, except the number of men in our force has decreased. We can’t force a way across the River Conwy. We had enough trouble getting over the Clwyd. We can’t fight our way through the hills and go around the river. What we can do is sack Abergele, Betws and a few smaller villages.

“Bleddyn will control the crossing of the river to Aberconwyn. He can bring in more men. If he calls a full muster he can raise enough men to swarm us under. He has two options. Sit back and do little other than resume ambushes and small raiding parties, or raise an army and come after us. The second option will take him a week or so. Our options are to fall back to Chester, content with what we’ve achieved, or plunder Rhufoniog and Rhos- for what that’s worth. If we return to England now Bleddyn will claim victory.” Here fitzOsbern snorted in disgusted agreement. “If we are to avoid that, we have to strike west. It’ll take Bleddyn a couple of days to rally his men enough to defend, and a week to raise enough to face us again in battle. If we put every man on horse, we can sack Abergele, Betws, Llandrillo and Llanddulas in one day. Also Llanrwst if we want to push on to the Conwy. It’s 6 miles to Abergele; 10 miles to Betws; 22 miles to Llanrwst. We can send men there and back in a day on horseback. Using the ponies we now have, we can even put the infantry and archers on horse and move the whole lot 40 miles, fight a battle and get back before dark. Get in and out fast. We can make a point without giving Bleddyn a chance to catch us if we move fast. Then we get back over the border before Bleddyn gathers a new army together. Unless you intend to stay here and build a castle?”

“Maybe we’ll intend to stay another time,” said fitzOsbern thoughtfully. “I’m sure that de Craon, Painel, Basset and de Neufmarche here would all be interested in carving out manors, but it’d need to be planned in advance and we’d probably have to use ships to re-supply or move produce until we’ve pacified the countryside. You’ve made that point well.”

“Certainly the land in the Vales is good enough to make it worth the effort,” said de Neufmarche with interest. “But it’ll take a lot of men to win the land and then hold it.”

FitzOsbern continued, “As to tomorrow… yes. Good advice. Three columns, with 40 cavalry, 80 mounted infantry and 20 mounted archers in each. Targets- one column to Llanrwst, one to Betws and the third can take Abergele, Llandrillo and Llanddulas, which are closer. Rally back here tomorrow night. Who wants which? Yes, de Craon, you can have Llanrwst. Basset, with the losses you’ve had, you can share Betws with Painel; de Neufmarche, you can have the rest. What do you want, Thorrington?”

“I’m happy to stay with the force here, Lord William. We’ll guard the river crossing and then you can join one of the raiding parties if you wish. Have some fun!” said Alan.

FitzOsbern laughed and said, “Fine! De Craon, I’ll join you and bring an extra 50 men. That’ll leave you just under 300, Thorrington, mainly infantry. That should be plenty to defend here and have you look after our backs. Make your arrangements. We ride at first light!”

The rest of the day was spent clearing the battlefield of weapons and armour and selecting the infantry and archers who could ride to accompany the raiding parties the next day. The men were kept firmly in hand with their sergeants and officers ensuring that the villagers who were still present were not harmed. In any event, the villagers had earned the gratitude of the Anglo-Normans for their care of the wounded.

The following day the raiding parties mounted up and moved off at first light. Alan had 100 men equipped and ready to fight at any time, 25 on each side of the bridge and 50 ready to give immediate assistance. The other two thirds of the men either relaxed on the village green or got some extra sleep. Soldiers know to always sleep when they had the opportunity and the men knew that one third of them would be on guard duty that night when the raiders returned.

Alan was visited at noon by the village headman Cadwy and the priest Father Madoc. The priest knew some Latin and it transpired that both could speak Anglo-Saxon English reasonably well. “What is your intention regarding the village, my lord?” asked Cadwy after the usual pleasantries had been exchanged.

“That would be up to Earl William fitzOsbern,” replied Alan. Both Welshmen frowned at hearing the name. Earl William had already built a reputation on the border as being a hard man. “I’ll do what I can, but the purpose of this expedition is to punish your people for the invasion of England last year, so I expect he’ll order the village burnt.”

“But our people didn’t take part in the raids!” came the expected reply.

“Perhaps not from here- perhaps from further south, or east or further west, but the raids were by your people.” Alan shrugged. “As I said, I’ll do what I can. Certainly there’ll be some sympathy for the assistance given to our wounded. There’ll be no killing of innocents or ravishing and I’m reasonably sure that no captives will be carried away as slaves.” Alan paused and continued, “You might like to conduct a dawn Mass in the morning and invite us raiders. It’ll be Sunday. Even somebody as hard-hearted as Earl William might find it hard to burn down the houses of people with whom he’s just said Mass.” After another pause Alan pointedly said, “Prior Gryffyd at St Asaph refused to say Mass. You probably saw the smoke from here.”

Cadwy gave Father Madoc a sharp look and the priest took the hint, “Of course, we often celebrate Mass at dawn on a Sunday,” lied the priest. “Your people are Christian, as are we, and it behooves us to pray together for peace and understanding, and the safe and early return of your people to their homes. Would English or Latin be preferable?”

Alan managed to keep a straight face at the way that Father Madoc had managed to place absolutely no emphasis on the word ‘early’. “Probably Latin,” he replied. “Most of the men are Normans. They’re still unlikely to understand the service, but at least it’ll be more familiar to them. Do you have somebody who can translate into Norman French the readings and prayers and your homily? I’m sure that you will choose these very carefully. No? Well, if you wish, Edric can do that, from English to Norman French, if you keep things short and use simple words. If not you’ll lose your audience anyway. The Norman men-at-arms and knights are simple men with simple ideas. In that case you may prefer to do those parts in English, as you’re more comfortable with that language. Excellent! I look forward to seeing you and all your villagers at dawn!”

All three raiding forces returned together. Basset and Painel had paused at Betws to support fitzOsbern and de Craon as they rode back. De Neufmarche had done the same, returning to Abergele after destroying the coastal fishing villages. There had been no fighting- at least with the Welsh, although some arguments had occurred amongst the Normans over booty. Alan had ensured that food was ready. Cooked meat, vegetables and fresh bread and butter were on tables set on the green. The villagers had attended to the cooking and had also produced items such as cheese and nuts, and had gathered fruit. It appeared that Cadwy had been having discussions with his people.

Those in the raiding parties were fatigued after a hard day’s riding and looting and retired early with replete bellies.

Next morning the church bell rang just before first light and the villagers streamed towards the small wooden building. Father Madoc had in fact set up for an outdoors service, and the Normans and English also answered the familiar call of the bell. The bell kept tolling until there were few who were not present, other than the sentries and the guard party on the bridge. The smoke and aroma of additional food being cooked behind the tavern and fresh bread from the bakery wafted about.

Father Madoc appeared to have been burning candles during the night preparing for the service. The Gospels and homily repeated the themes of love for fellow man, helping your neighbor, the Good Samaritan- and God’s vengeance and damnation against those who sin.

After taking the Host fitzOsbern stood next to Alan at the back of the gathering. “I suppose you had nothing to do with this?” he said

With an expression of total innocence Alan replied, “With what? The villagers have been accommodating, despite having their valuables removed the first day we were here. The priest has been equally accommodating. They prepared dinner last night and breakfast today, which it looks like it should be ready soon.”

FitzOsbern gave him a flat look. “I have a reputation to maintain! Burn the mill and the salt-house. Despoil the salt. Slaughter enough animals to feed us for the day. Leave the rest of the grain, flour and animals. Except the horses- bring them with us. Everything else can stay. They’ve earned that much charity. I want my reputation to be hard, but fair! Let’s eat and get under way!”

Prestatyn was not so lucky and three hours later it lay behind the marching army, sacked and burnt and with its animals all slaughtered. Holywell lay next in their path. The army had not moved far, only fifteen miles, but looting two substantial villages takes time to do thoroughly and after sacking Holywell the army camped for the night. As indicated by its name, Holywell was a place of considerable local religious significance. St Winefride’s Well with its adjacent chapel was a place of pilgrimage. The chapel, well and church were left untouched when the army departed the next day, but the rest of the village was burnt.

As the small army moved forwards fitzOsbern kept the men under close control. There was a long history of savagery and atrocity committed on both sides of the border. The discipline rigorously imposed on the Anglo-Normans was not out of any benevolence or compassion, but the need to keep a small force in hostile territory under control and ready to fight at a moment’s notice. FitzOsbern and most of his leaders had no objection as such to a little rape and murder, but such activity was distracting. Looting was taken as normal. Rape, torture of civilians and the abusing of children was frowned upon.

Miscreants who overstepped the line were strung by the neck from convenient trees in summary judgment when caught. Each village was professionally plundered by men who obviously had considerable experience in locating places where valuables may be hidden. Generally, the villagers and the occupants of the scattered hillside cottages had seen the approach of the army and had fled into the hills and forests. However, Alan was suspicious that the armed bands visiting the dwellings which were away from the main route of march were extracting revenge for those killed or enslaved in Welsh raids or ambushes- and were then perpetuating the ongoing circle of violence.

Holywell to Flint was five miles and was reached at about seven in the morning. Because the Welsh living on the northern border itself did not raid frequently and were fairly peaceful, fitzOsbern directed that the village, and the others on the further sixteen miles to Chester, remained unmolested other than having to provide food for 800 hungry men and nearly as many horses. They crossed the River Dee into Chester in the early afternoon. The castle was immediately on their right as the army crossed the bridge and fitzOsbern gave orders that the bridge guard be increased to 100 men, that the downstream Saltney and Higher ferries be guarded and men be sent upstream to Aldford. He didn’t expect Bleddyn to launch a major attack, but it didn’t hurt to be prepared.

With the castle barracks full and Englishmen not being given priority for available accommodation, Alan and his men set up their tent with many others outside the town walls on the meadow by the river. Their share of what booty was available from the campaign was thirty Welsh ponies. Short, at twelve or thirteen hands, but strong, sturdy and intelligent, they would be of benefit and Alan would pay his men a good price to buy them. He also had twenty or so swords and helmets as part of his share of loot.

Alan went to the abbey to check on the wounded. From his troop, Wulfwick, the man with the spear wound to the stomach had died. Manwin, who had received a bad arm wound, appeared as if he would live but the churgeon had removed his left arm near the shoulder. If he survived, Alan would arrange his transport home and a suitable job and pension.

After a week and a half of abstinence Alan took his men to a local tavern for a good meal and a few pints of ale. Six hours later and blind drunk, the local town guard were more than happy to open the gate to let them out and get rid of them, after one urinated in the guardhouse and another vomited on the Captain of the Guard. The whole town was delighted to hear of the successes against the perfidious Welsh, and so the recently returned troops were given some leeway instead of being beaten or clapped in irons. The guard captain, as he wiped himself off, did make it clear to Alan that the courtesy would not be repeated and that Alan in future was required to keep his stomach’s contents to himself.

The following day Alan was not well. It must have been something he had eaten, he thought as he lay on his straw palliasse in the tent on the Green outside the town walls, wishing that the bells of the many churches in the town would fall silent. Fortunately his troop was not on duty that day.

The next day, while Edric led the troop on a mounted patrol upriver south to Aldford in accordance with the instructions of fitzOsbern’s Constable, Alan himself called to see the earl at mid-morning. This was a time that he had heard the earl was usually busy with the paperwork and minutiae of running the earldom, the martial nature of commanding on the Border Marches requiring constant attention. He wanted the earl busy and distracted when he saw him.

As befitted both his station and standing, Alan was shown immediately into the office where the earl was sitting behind a table piled with pieces of parchment, talking with his Steward and his Victualler, while two scribes sat at each end of the table making notes. “Good morning, Sir Alan. Take a seat and I’ll be with you when I can,” said FitzOsbern waving Alan towards a stool.

“No hurry, Lord William. Whenever you are ready,” replied Alan as he sat. Moments later a servant poured him a cup of wine.

After about five minutes the Steward rose to leave, the Victualler remaining, presumably with other unfinished business. FitzOsbern looked up at Alan and asked, “Yes?”

“Lord William, now we are back at Chester and no further sorties intended, I thought that I would ask your permission to leave my knight’s service here early and travel to my estates near Hereford to ensure their readiness should Bleddyn attack in the south, rather than remain here in the north,” said Alan. “You’ve more than ample men here to cover any response by the Welsh here, but methinks the forces in the south may be stretched a little thin. Bleddyn is just as likely to strike there as here. Indeed, more likely if he has any sense.”

Another flunkey hurried into the room and stood waiting, holding several pieces of parchment. After a moment’s pause fitzOsbern nodded and replied, “Yes, you have my leave. Let me know if you see any shortcomings in my garrison at Hereford.” FitzOsbern paused again and continued, looking Alan in the eye. “You and I need to have a long talk before next summer about strategy on the border. This year the king intends to wear his crown at Gloucester at Christmas. We can talk then. My thanks for your advice over the last two weeks. You have a clear head on your shoulders and a fine appreciation of what can and cannot be done. I look forward to working with you next summer.”

“Can’t I do castle-guard at Ipswich?” asked Alan plaintively. “Duty in your service is onerous!” FitzOsbern gave a bark of laughter at what he was certain was a joke, as every knight wanted to be where the fight was. As he waved Alan away he was still chucking.

Alan and his men rode out of Chester at first light the next morning as the gates were opened, crossed the wooden bridge over the River Dee and headed south. The men were armed but not wearing their armour, as the road didn’t run close the border for most of its distance. Each man led a chain of three or four ponies, each with saddle and tack. They pushed hard. It was 94 miles from Chester to Hereford and Alan intended to cover that distance in one day, with the men swapping between the several horses they led to keep the animals fresh. It was 20 miles to Whitchurch and a further 21 to Shrewsbury, where they stopped for a meal at mid-morning, moving at 10 miles an hour. Then Shrewsbury to Leominster, crossing the River Lugg several times as it also wound its way south. Then the short ride further south to Hereford.

The land, particularly in the river valleys, was rich and closely farmed, with a number of villages at regular intervals- most of which still bore the marks of the Welsh invasion the year before. The road was dry. High cloud kept the summer day from becoming too warm. Making good time, Alan decided that rather than stop at Hereford they would push on the further 9 miles to the west along the River Wye valley to Staunton, where they arrived an hour or so before dark, after 14 hours on the road.

Dirty, sweaty, sore, stiff and tired, the men dismounted and walked about to stretch their legs. In the time since Alan had last been here the villagers had completed building the Hall, barracks and stables. The protective ditch had been dug, the earthen rampart constructed from the spoil of the ditch and revetted with turf to make a nearly vertical earthen wall which was about half completed, as were the eight small wooden towers. The gate and the drawbridge over the ditch were complete and in place.

In the Hall the window shutters were open to let in the breeze and the last of the light- Alan and Anne had no intention of ordering expensive window glass for what was a rough but adequate frontier outpost- and where they didn’t themselves reside. Robert, Warren the archer and Leofwine the huscarle were in the Hall. Ledmer was leading the mounted Wolves on a patrol up the Wye towards Hay-on-Wye on the border.

Robert reported that the border had been unusually quiet and that there had been no reports of movement of warriors in the upper reaches of the Wye Valley from the spies that they had recruited in Hay-on-Wye and Rador. Training of the villagers of the manors as militia spearmen, swordsmen and archers was progressing well. The thirty Welsh bows ordered from Cardiff had arrived, the bowmen were starting to become moderately proficient and the fletchers had made a reasonable supply of war-arrows.

Alan advised his seneschal that a further supply of swords and helmets, from his share of the spoils of the northern campaign, would be arriving by wagon in a few days, which would complete the intended outfitting of the militia, giving fifty each of spearmen, swordsmen and archers- most of the adult male population of the four manors. The weapons Alan was providing were similar to those used by the Welsh, mainly taken from them in the raid made by Alan’s men earlier in the year and the recently concluded expedition. Only Alan’s mounted men-at-arms and huscarles, ten of each being stationed at Staunton, were provided with chain-mail armour. The militia would fight unarmoured in the manner of the Welsh or the English fyrd, or themselves fashion armour out of thick boiled leather.

“I’m glad things are quiet,” commented Alan, taking a pull from a quart of ale to wash the dust of the road from his throat. “That means that the rest of the men I brought from Essex can go home. They’ll be needed for the harvest in a few weeks, and that’ll cut down the amount of supplies we need to bring in here. Today is Tuesday. They can leave on Friday the 13th and will be back home in three days. We’ve got 70 ponies now. I’ll leave 40 here, so you can move your infantry and archers quickly. The others can go to Thorrington, or more likely Wivenhoe and Great Bentley. You’ve already got 25 chargers and hackneys for your men.”

“There is some news that probably hasn’t reached Chester yet,” commented Robert. “Three of Harold’s bastard children who fled to Ireland returned last week with a raiding party of Irishmen and landed near Bristol. Godwin Haroldson was in charge. They raided the shipping in the channel and in Bristol harbour on the Avon and tried to take the city. The locals repelled the attack- they didn’t want anything to do with him and the thegns and fyrdmen led the fight. Then the raiders moved down the coast in their ships to Weston, sacked and burnt that village and then moved up the River Axe, about four miles south of Weston. That was one of Gytha’s old manors, so perhaps they thought they may get a better reception there. Eadnoth the Staller caught up with them there and beat them in battle, but he was himself killed leading the fight. Tovi the sheriff was also there, as was Eadnoth’s son Harding, and they pressed the fight after Eadnoth fell. The Haroldsons then packed up and went back to Leinster in Ireland. Gytha departed at the same time, apparently with several boatloads of treasure and household goods.”

Alan gave a small sigh on hearing the loss of his friend, one of the few remaining influential Englishmen and who, as confirmed by his actions, had been loyal to his oath to the new king. “So we’re likely to be having the Irish continue to raid the west coast,” he commented.

“That won’t affect us much up here,” replied Warren. “They’re unlikely to go up the Wye past Gloucester.”

The bulk of Alan’s men departed east several days later, one of the three carts previously brought west with them returning under escort carrying the armour and heavier equipment. Thirty of the archers and infantrymen now rode ponies, and the twenty Wolves rode their chargers. To avoid attention they split into four groups, one of which included the wagon. Three groups were on horseback and one on foot. No danger was expected but they took to the road with weapons handy.

Alan spent another week checking the progress of training of the fyrdmen and was well satisfied with the work that Robert, Warren, Leofwine and Ledmer had achieved, and was confident that if the occasion arose that his men would be equal to the challenge. He also spent time visiting each of the manors, talking to the head-cheorls at Monnington, Bobury, Staunton and Norton Canon, visiting each to inspect the repair of damage from the Welsh invasion the previous summer and how the current harvest was progressing.

The grain was standing high and thick and, absent any heavy rain or high winds, the harvest promised to be good. As most of the livestock that had been stolen had been replaced when Alan had in his turn raided the Welsh, full granaries would restore his manors to relative affluence- although most of the remainder of western Herefordshire would not be so lucky and shortage of livestock and grain would continue to cause hunger in most of the shire during the coming year. The suffering of the other villages on the border meant that Alan’s manors would receive a high price for any produce they sold. The fishery at Bobury had been repaired and dried fish were being sold to the merchants in Hereford. The repairs to the water-mill at Monnington would be completed in time for it to be used for grinding grain after the harvest.

Satisfied that all was as well as could be, Alan rode east for home with Edric, the six remaining Wolves and his servant Leof.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Thorrington Late June 1068

As he rode past the fortifications and through the gate at Thorrington Hall Alan felt conflicting emotions. He was glad to be home, but heavy-hearted that four men who had ridden out with him did not ride back. Three would not be returning, and the fourth was now a cripple who would return when fit enough to travel. The men had been young and only one was married, with one child. Alan didn’t look forward to visiting the widow and telling her the lie that her man had died painlessly and easily, for he had died screaming in agony and trying to push slippery entrails back in place after he had been disemboweled by a spear. At least the men who had returned the previous week had brought the news and Alan didn’t have to watch a welcoming face turn to fear at the absence of a loved one. The widow would be given employment in the Hall kitchen, at least until she found herself another man- and longer still if she wished. Hugh had already trained a reserve of additional men and the Wolf troop would be brought back to strength by the end of tomorrow, although they would need to train together for several weeks to build the instinctive movement and trust that is needed in battle.

For the four miles from Wivenhoe to Thorrington their passage had been welcomed with smiles and waves from the workers in the fields and the villagers. The manors were abuzz with activity. Alan had timed his return so as to be present for Midsummer Day on 24th June, in three days time. Apart from being a Feast Day dedicated to St John the Baptist it was a day when the manor lord was expected to provide food and drink for all. It was also a Quarter Day when rent and taxes were due, and a traditional festival for all the people.

The folk of the Hall, both those who dwelled therein and those who came daily from the village, were gathered in the forecourt, warned of his approach by word racing ahead of his arrival. In the front row were Anne, now significantly larger of belly, Osmund the clerk, Faran the steward and Brother Wacian the priest. Behind were Otha the cook, wiping her hands on her apron, Teon the stablemaster, Brand the huscarle and half a dozen of the lesser servants and maids. Alan dismounted, handing the reins to a stable boy who led the charger away to be rubbed down, fed and watered, and took several stiff steps towards his wife. He bent to embrace and kiss her, then with his arm around her shoulders he greeted the others and they entered the Hall. It was only mid-afternoon as Alan and his men had taken a fairly leisurely three days to ride from Staunton.

At the table in the Hall, while eating a small repast of bread, butter and cheese, Alan and Edric gave a brief account of the time in Wales. Brand and Ainulf sought details, but Alan put them off by saying that he’d have a more detailed discussion another day with the two Englishmen, together with Hugh and Roger. Alan gave the servants instructions to ensure that the water in the bath-house was hot.

No wanting to put off something unpleasant, Alan, Edric and Anne walked to the small but neat village cottage where Lufian, the wife of the dead soldier Leng, lived with her baby daughter. The young woman was quiet and sad but resigned to her situation. Anne had already visited her and offered a position at the Hall when the news had been received the week before. Lufian and her child would not want for food or shelter.

Once back at the Hall in the late afternoon Alan and Anne soaked in the bathwater piped in from a nearby spring and heated by the fires in the kitchen. The bath was a tun barrel cut in half, with steps and several internal benches set at different heights, and now held warm water. Both stretched in pleasure as the hot water loosened sore back muscles, and in Alan’s case shoulders and legs. Alan had a jug of fine Bordeaux and a cup on the floor next to him. The sight of the water lapping at his wife’s breasts soon made him forget most of his aches and he took her into his arms.

As a result dinner was eaten somewhat late. Being a Saturday there were no dietary restrictions and Otha the cook had gone out of her way to create a series of dishes to tempt the palates of those who had eaten roughly-cooked meals for nigh on a month. A thick and creamy chicken and leek soup was followed by boiled beef with green garlic sauce, quails braised in white wine, grilled honeyed pork chops with ginger, three types of vegetables- carrot, peas and beans- carefully cooked and spiced, apple pie with thickened cream and the piquant cheeses that Alan favoured- Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Neufchatel, Parmigiano and Romano. All were accompanied by fresh bread and freshly-churned butter, and ale, wine, herb tea or fruit juice according to taste and inclination.

The returned soldiers and their families attended Mass the next day en masse, the service being held in the Old Hall due to occasional showers sweeping in from the sea and the size of the congregation being too large for the small wooden church. The Tithe Barn was often used in such instances but was currently unavailable due to the quantity of goods gathered for payment of taxes, rents and tithes. Brother Wacian gave thanks for those returning safely and said prayers for the souls of the three men who would not return.

Alan, Anne and the household attended Mass again on Tuesday, Midsummer Day and the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. On this occasion the congregation squeezed into the small church. Following the service, as the smoke from the cattle, swine and sheep roasting over open fires and the steam of boiling cauldrons containing joints of the same animals drifted past, Alan discussed with Brother Wacian and head-cheorl Toland whether a larger church should be considered, and the expense and difficulty of using stone. The matter was left unresolved for further discussion by the village moot.

Faran and Osmund were kept busy collecting and recording the rent and taxes, the latter then dispatched to Colchester under guard, partly in cash and partly in kind- mainly sacks of grain or salt.

Anne’s business manager Jacob the Jew arrived from London as previously instructed several days later. He and Anne were closeted together for two days as Anne checked through the books and ledgers, carefully calculating profit margins, examining alternative suppliers and trying to anticipate market trends based on the information that Jacob drew from his large network. Alan spent some time listening in and was interested to hear that trouble was expected from the Danes resuming raiding in the autumn, King Swein of Denmark having given his permission for this activity. This would impact the voyages of the ships Birgitta and Stormsvale between Ipswich, Norway, the Netherlands and London, the two ships effectively running a shuttle service back and forth to their respective trading ports every two weeks. Zeelandt’s very profitable but longer and less frequent voyages to Aquitaine wouldn’t be affected.

“And what do you intend to do about the northern voyages? Do you intend to halt them, based on this information?” asked Alan.

Anne sighed and replied, “It’s all a hypothetical risk at the moment. As far as I’m aware there’s been no increase in attacks on merchant ships- yet. Each voyage brings in more in profit than the ship itself is worth. I don’t see any reason to halt the trading based on rumour and speculation. We’ll consider the information and warn the crews to be more careful. If and when the risk eventuates we can review the policy. There are a number of ships trading on these routes, so it’s unlikely the first attacks will be on our ships.”

“We could put some trained soldiers and ballistae on the cogs so they can protect themselves, as we did with Zeeland,” suggested Alan.

“We’ll wait and see,” replied Anne with finality in her procrastination, before turning back to the Jew. “Anything else?”

“Yes, my lady. There is the issue of the outstanding loans,” said Jacob, pulling out a ledger from amongst a pile of others. “You made twenty-three loans to thegns, interest-free for a period of twelve months.” Here his face took on a slightly pained expression at such largess. “That was so that they could pay the Redemption Heriot charged by King William on all English landholders to retain their land. The money was due six months ago. Of the loans, nine have been paid in full. As instructed by you, I gave the others an additional six month grace period and warned them clearly that their land would be forfeit if they did not pay. Ten have made part payment, not less than one-third of the due amount. Four have paid nothing, despite being given another reminder a month ago. Under the terms of the agreements you could foreclose on all of the fourteen manors and seize their lands for your own.”

“What do you think, Alan?” asked Anne.

“It’s your money. You made the loans and it’s your decision,” replied Alan. “As they’re not paying interest, there’s little reason for them to reduce what they owe. They risk losing the land, but maybe they’re gambling you won’t foreclose. Maybe they simply can’t pay, in which case they should never have made the arrangement.” He paused and then asked Jacob, “What interest rate would the Jews have charged had they made the loans?”

“Secured against land, just five percent. A month,” answered Jacob.

Alan winced. “And we hold the landboc deeds of title as security?” he asked.

Jacob looked affronted. “Of course!”

“As I said, it’s your decision, my love. I would say that I’d probably treat those who have part-paid differently from those who have paid nothing. How much money is involved?” said Alan.

Without needing to check his ledgers Jacob replied, “A total of just over?38 from the four non-payers. A further?27 and some pennies from those who have part-paid.”

“That’s a lot of money, then” said Alan. “As I see it the options would be to give them more time, to foreclose or to start to charge interest- which would at least give them a big incentive to pay the principal. We are, of course, forbidden to loan money at interest, so any such arrangement would need to look as if the loan has been refinanced through the Jews.”

“Where are the four manors of those who haven’t paid anything?” asked Anne.

“Two in central Essex, one in Suffolk and one in Hertfordshire, my lady” answered Jacob.

“Seize those estates immediately. There’s no excuse for them not having made the effort to pay something after eighteen months. Give the other ten written formal notice that they have one month to repay in full, and verbally advise them that you can provide finance- which we will fund, although obviously you won’t advise the defaulters of that fact. Go through the books of the seized estates and advise me whether the steward or somebody else in the household is capable of administering the estate or whether we need to appoint another steward,” instructed Anne brusquely. After a moments pause she added, “We’ll also need to see if their taxes are paid up to date. Get the part-paid ones to provide proof they have no debt to the Crown, and that the money we provided was used to pay the Heriot. The last thing we need would be for the king to seize the estates for arrears of tax.”

Alan nodded and then after a reflective pause, during which he characteristically rubbed his bearded chin, he said, “With this news of the Danes I’ll order that the manor house at Ramsey improve its fortifications. Harvest isn’t for another four or five weeks and with the labour from at least my four villages in the area that work will take less than a week. You may wish to do the same at Wivenhoe. I’ll also move some of the horses at stud from Ramsey to the new stud at Great Bentley, where they’ll be safer.” After another pause he asked Jacob, “As a matter of interest, how much wealth do we have at the moment?”

Jacob frowned. “I’m not entirely sure. It varies day to day depending on sale and purchase of cargoes. It would take some time to work out the value of the land you own, the land that my lady will own once I foreclose, the value of her businesses, the value of merchandise- and whether its value is taken at cost or at sale price. The values of the mining and fulling businesses, well those would depend on what somebody would pay. Those would be at least?1,000 by themselves. I can tell you that you have?3,715 cash on deposit at call. At a rough guess I would say about?6,000 in all, almost certainly quite a bit more.”

Alan snorted in disbelief and said, “And two years ago I was a landless knight with less than a shilling in my purse. Now I, and my wife, have more money than most of the earls, and all from the proceeds we gained by defeating the Danes in battle last year- and Anne’s good management of that seed-money.”

Anne smiled happily. “I told you, I’m a merchant’s daughter and learned how to turn one penny into two at my mother’s breast. Each voyage of the ships gives a profit of at least 50 percent. From Aquitaine the profit margin is closer to 200 percent. Our Factor buys wine direct from the vineyard and in London we sell direct to the larger houses, if they buy by the tun, and to the retailers. He also buys spices and luxury items in bulk. We really could make a lot of money if we invested the spare cash in extra ships and more merchandise- but we can’t spend all the money we’re making now, so why bother? I don’t think either of us want to build up a merchant empire.”

“Certainly not me,” replied Alan. “I just don’t understand it or have the gift of making it work, unlike you and Jacob- nor frankly do I have the interest. Nobles or warriors aren’t supposed to engage in trade. We’re earning more money than we can spend and that’s more than enough.”

“We could hold parties and serve the guests food covered in gild,” said Anne mischievously, knowing Alan’s hatred of ostentation. Alan snorted in reply.

“What do you think of the idea of endowing a hospital, or perhaps a lazar house at Colchester?” asked Alan. “I believe that the abbeys and priories receive sufficient patronage and that doing something practical for people in need may be a suitable use for surplus funds. Charity is encouraged by God.”

“Not a lazar house,” replied Anne. “Leprosy and other similar infectious diseases, plagues and poxes and the like, are God’s punishment on those people who have somehow offended him. I wouldn’t see it as being fit to endow such an institution. Perhaps establishing and maintaining an orphanage would be a suitably pious gift.”

Alan inclined his head to acknowledge his wife’s words but not to indicate agreement. After a moment’s pause he continued the previous conversation with Jacob. “Exactly where are these four manors that Anne is just about to acquire?” he asked.

Jacob had to refer to his notes as he’d memorized the financial information, but not the geographical. After a pause he replied, “Ah… In Essex there is Markshall near Halstead on the Colne in Hinkford Hundred, owned by Gothmund; Norton in Ongar Hundred near Chelmsford, owned by Godhild of Greensted; Claret Hall in Hinkford Hundred, owned by Leodmer the priest. Bushley in Danish Hundred in Hertfordshire, owned by Leofwin- who is a substantial landholder with many manors and should be able to pay.”

Alan nodded and said, “At least they’re all in areas that should be relatively safe from attack. The manor at Norton should be useful, as we usually break our journey to London at Chelmsford and we can stay there overnight. None of the manors are more than a day’s ride away. I’ll have a look at them in the next few weeks, on behalf of their new owner,” he concluded with a smile.

Next day Alan rode the short distance east to the horse stud at Great Bentley to inspect the facilities and check on progress. While Alan had been away in the west the long-awaited horse trainer, named William, had arrived from Amiens with a young assistant named Ivo. Alan wanted to see how the training of the horses to fight in battle was progressing.

Great Bentley was a little less than two miles from Thorrington and so Alan and Osmund arrived after a journey of just a few minutes. Great Bentley was a wealthy village and while it had just three hides of land under cultivation it supported nine plough teams. It had extensive woodland able to provide forage for hundreds of pigs and a salt-house owned by Alan, although no mill- the villagers used Alan’s mill at Thorrington. Most importantly from Alan’s view, it had extensive meadowland and pasture. Cows and sheep can be supported by grazing on the grasses on the wasteland. Horses are more delicate, requiring better grazing and supplementary feed. Alan had given most of the village and its cropping fields to the thegn Swein in laen, but had retained most of the woodlands, meadow and pasture.

The stud was located near the stream to the west of the village, closest to Thorrington. As Alan approached he was delighted to see in the fenced-off pasture over two dozen mares with foals at heel, nursing or gamboling about on their long legs. In a larger field were some twenty or so of the Welsh mountain ponies. These, together with others at the other manors, were being retained to provide the means for his warriors to move swiftly. Alan knew that these hardy beasts would need little in the way of facilities or attention.

In the last few months a collection of buildings had been constructed to create the horse establishment. Two cottages, forty stalls, a hay-barn, a small granary for horse-feed, sheds for storage of tack and equipment and a large fenced training enclosure with sand spread thick on the ground. In the enclosure a man was working a horse at longeing with the long-rein, with the horse trotting in a circle and learning to answer commands. In a clear but unfenced area another young horse was being halter-broken, led back and forth by a man holding the halter reins.

Workers, men and women, hurried purposefully as they mucked out stalls, refilled water-troughs, groomed horses, collected droppings and performed the multitude of the other tasks in a stable. A farrier was checking the hooves of a yearling, picking out dirt and stones and trimming one of the fore hooves. Two men, one of them Brunloc, were working ‘backing’ a yearling, one holding the reins as the other quietly flipped a blanket on and off the back of the horse, which was sidling and tossing its head, snorting and whickering. A group of a dozen riders were just returning from an exercise ride, their horses sweaty and blowing.

After dismounting and handing the reins of their mounts to a groom, who then led the horses away, Alan and Osmund walked over to the training enclosure and leaned against the wooden railing as they watched William gently and with patience work the horse, a yearling mare, with voice and arm movements. Whilst he held a long whip, it was not used. After about fifteen minutes Brunloc came over and leaned against the fence next to Alan.

“How good is he?” asked Alan.

Brunloc nodded and said, “He’s good, and so is Ivo. What he’s doing at the moment myself and half a dozen of the men here and at Ramsey could do, working with yearlings and taking them through to being broken for riding at two years of age. You work with each horse every day to get them used to people and instill the basics for building on later. They’re intelligent creatures and very inquisitive. We have to overcome their fears and their automatic ‘flight’ response to run from anything they’re unfamiliar with. That involves making us humans the leader of the herd, somebody to be trusted and followed. That in itself, including breaking them for riding, takes nigh on two years.

“William spends most of his time training the older horses for battle, able to be controlled without using reins and not be frightened of noise or other distractions. He’s training them to use the ‘fight’ part of their ‘fight or flight’ instincts. He started about a month ago and is working with the older horses you bought as mounts for the Wolves. The first batch is more or less finished. Eight are back in the stables at Thorrington, two have been held back for further training and he’s just started on the second batch of ten. It’ll take him at least six months to complete the training of the mature cavalry horses you already have. Between here and Ramsey we have nearly seventy foals born in the last few months, over thirty weanlings from last year and about twenty yearlings. There’s plenty of work for all of us.”

Alan nodded his understanding and asked, “And how did Odin perform?”

“I wish I had his vigour! He can rut for hour after hour! He covered thirty of our best mares. Based on the foals born this season that he sired last season, your desire for big strong beasts with strength, stamina and speed will be more than met. But since the rutting season is over, may I suggest you take him away? He’s a real handful to control. William may be used to that type of horse, but he’s too smart and willful for me!”

Shortly afterwards William of Amiens finished his work with the horse he had been training and walked over to greet the young master he had not yet seen. Reasonably elderly at about thirty-five, he answered Alan’s questions in a respectful but not subservient manner. He described his past experience and his training philosophies, and admitted that he had made the journey to Essex in response to the large stipend offered, twice what his previous employer had paid.

After twenty minutes or so of discussion Alan nodded and waved William towards the chestnut yearling colt that was being held on a halter by a stable lad. The lad had been standing waiting patiently, not so the horse which had been tossing its head restlessly for several minutes.

Alan had been invited by Edward to hunt in the thick woods near the thegn’s manor at Alresford, and had taken with him his page Leof and huscarle Brand, who was enjoying his new status as landowner. Alan had invited Brand and Leof as part of their education process. Edward had also invited Alfward of Tendring and Aelfric of Old Hall, making a hunting party of twenty-two, divided into two groups, with the beaters supplied by Edward. The beaters had been sent deep into the forest before dawn and could now be heard shouting and ringing bells as they advanced through the forest, driving the game towards the waiting hunters. Edward had cheated slightly by erecting some short sections of permanent deer-fencing in what was one of his favourite hunting patches, but not cheated to the extent of erecting Hides. The deer-fencing would restrict and channel the areas through which the game could run.

Alan had handed Leof a boar-spear, a stout spear with a broad metal head, while he and Brand carried strung hunting-bows with a hunting arrow already notched. The spears were for protection against any boar, bear or wolf that may be flushed, although the latter would almost certainly be canny enough to easily avoid the beaters. Archery wasn’t one of Alan’s strong-points and he had little confidence that he would be able to even hit a fast-moving deer, let alone kill it, and he shared the distaste of all hunters of having a wounded animal escape. On such hunts he usually was one of the spear-carriers, but today it made sense for the two youths to carry the spears while the men performed what was expected to be the main activity of deer-hunting.

In the absence of a Hide Alan and his men had selected a patch of bushes for concealment, with an area ahead that was some 30 paces deep and contained only trees and not bushes, allowing a reasonably clear field of fire. Alfward and his men were about 50 paces to their left. The other hunting party with their host Edward was about 200 paces to their right. Part of what the newcomers were being taught today was to maintain situational awareness to minimise the risk of ‘friendly-fire’ injuries. Hunting taught young men a range of martial skills and was not just a social day out. Apart from bonding with their fellows and learning how to keep track of what men were where, they also learned patience, how to move stealthily in a forest, readiness to respond in an instant and to act instantly in mutual support in the event that a dangerous quarry was flushed.

Suddenly, as the shouting beaters drew nearer, a small group of half a dozen deer, led by a stag with magnificent antlers, burst out of the bushes. Alan and Brand each loosed two arrows, all missing, and then the swift-moving animals were out of range. Moments later were shouts of success as Alfward’s party had managed to kill one animal, one archer wounding it and slowing it enough that another could shoot to kill.

Alan turned to Brand and commented, “I can use a sword and you can wield an axe. Neither of us can use a bow!” Brand gave a chuckle in reply.

No further animals appeared and shortly afterwards the beaters could be seen approaching, their brightly-coloured clothing and ringing bells making it clear to the hunters that they were to put down their bows.

The beaters were fed, given a tankard of ale and a brief rest and instructions before they returned to the forest. Edward had provided a sumptuous picnic for the hunters, with smoked spiced meats, cold portions of roasted duck and capon, gammon, cheese and fresh bread, all washed down with wine or ale.

After the meal the hunters moved to another section of forest, to which the beaters had been instructed to move and drive the game. Brand and Leof joined Alfward’s group, while two cheorls, each with an attendant, joined Alan’s group. A short time later the hunters were half a mile away in a different and more densely-vegetated section of forest. Again the beaters could be heard as they approached, although at first it appeared that all the game in the forest had gone to ground and were in hiding. Once again the beaters were following the basic requirement of approaching from downwind of the hunters, so that the prey couldn’t scent the hunters as they waited.

Suddenly, from the bushes some ten paces away appeared a sow with five piglets running close behind, and then a moment later a large boar who had positioned himself between the apparent threat and his mate. The sow and piglets ran past without being molested by the hunters who were following the hunting precept that a female with young was never attacked- based on the requirement to have something to hunt in following years. The boar, however, was another matter and was fair game. The two Englishmen loosed their arrows at him. Alan had more sense and dropped his bow, drawing the sword that he wore at most times he was outside his own Hall, like most men of station. A hunting arrow wasn’t going to stop an enraged boar that was ten paces away. The one arrow that did strike the boar in the shoulder did get his attention, making him turn to directly charge the hunters, which his poor eyesight had previously prevented him from seeing.

With a squeal of fright the two cheorls turned to flee, but one was slightly too slow and the enraged and wounded boar was on him, gouging him from behind with sharp tusks. Alan took a step forward, sword held low. The boar saw the movement and turned ready for another charge. As the beast launched itself forward, Alan crouched ready to allow the animal to impale itself on his sword, intending to then roll clear. At the last moment there was a movement from Alan’s right and Leof interposed himself, spear held low and aimed at the boar’s chest- but with his eyes tightly closed. There was a scream from the boar and then Leof felt himself grasped by the collar and dragged to the side. Alan’s voice in his ear shouted, “Keep your eyes open, and when you’ve stuck him get the fuck out of the way! A dying boar with a spear in the chest can still kill you! Well done, boy!” Alan gave him a gentle buffet on the shoulder and then ruffled his hair. After a moment of thought while he considered the boy’s young age he said, “See Brand on Monday morning and start weapons training. You’ve got the guts to make a fine warrior!”

The injured cheorl gave up the ghost an hour or so later, despite the best efforts of those in the hunting party. Although Alan had tried to assist he wasn’t overly upset about the fate of his fellow-hunter. After all, he hadn’t known the man, who had died not by mischance but due to his own stupidity and cowardice. Alan wasn’t disappointed with the outcome of the hunt. While he had a vague sense of regret about the death of the cheorl, he was satisfied that the day had proven to have had substantial benefit.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Thorrington August 1068

It was mid-August. The warm dry weather that everybody prayed for had not happened and for the last two weeks while it had been warm it had also been wet. There had been frequent heavy showers but no heavy soaking rain that would flatten the crops. Alan’s own crops of wheat, rye, barley and oats, sown and harvested first by the villagers as part of his lordly perquisites, were now in his granaries, threshed and winnowed. About half of the villagers’ grain had been harvested and the farmers had been waiting anxiously for the rain to stop and the crops to dry to permit the remaining grain to be threshed and to be stored without mildewing.

Alan had ridden through the light rain to Beaumont at the request of Siric the steward and head-cheorl Alstan. They were standing up to their knees in the crop in a section of the village land where had been sown rye, that most important of grain which formed the basis of the villager’s diet. Alstan handed Alan several heads of rye, and held some stalks of wheat in his other hand. The plant heads had a white tissue on them and drops of honeydew. Alan looked closely at the crop close to him and could see a few other plants similarly affected.

In reply to Alan’s raised eyebrow Alstan spoke a single word. “Ergot!”

“Holy Mary, Mother of God!” said Alan. Alstan and Siric nodded solemn agreement. “How bad?”

“We’ll burn the wheat crop as soon as it dries enough,” said Alstan. Alan winced. Wheat and salt formed the cash-crops that the village sold to buy items it couldn’t produce; rye fed the villagers; oats and barley fed the animals in winter. “This is the worst patch of rye. It’s not a high infestation at the moment and probably half, maybe two-thirds, of the rye strips are clear at the moment. The oats and barley seem alright- they’re always less affected by disease. We’ll have to burn the stubble and inspect almost each grain of the crop. We can’t feed any of the hay or grain to the livestock of course.”

Alan nodded. “You know what the infected grains look like? Good. You’ll have to watch closely for your people suffering St Anthony’s Fire- a burning feeling in their arms or legs, seizures, vomiting or hallucinations. Also poor circulation in the arms and legs, particularly toes and fingers. We don’t want people getting gangrene. I’ll let the other villages know. When you get your harvest in, tell me what you have and whether you need more rye grain. And let’s all pray to God that it stops raining and we get a nice dry wind!”

By late August the prayers had been partially answered, with the heavy rain having improved firstly to scattered showers and then to two weeks of blessed dry and sunny weather. The fields of each village in the Hundred had swarmed with virtually the whole population. Men, women and the older children advanced in a line, field by field, backs bent and sickles moving in rhythmic motion, the cut crops being gathered into sheaves tied together with a stalk, which the younger children and the elderly then placed in stooks at the end of the field to be collected later by wagon or cart. Even the professional soldiers took time out from their training to take part in the most important rustic pursuit of the year. Only the very young, very old or very sick- or the very rich and important- were absent from the fields.

Alan had spent several part days in the fields early in the harvest, when his own fields were being reaped by the villagers in priority to their own as part of the duty that each villager owed his lord- in this aspect English custom and that of the Normans were similar. While he felt that his time could be better spent otherwise, working up a sweat in the fields next to the villagers and then sitting with them in the shade while they consumed the lunch he provided them of rye bread, cheese and ale was a beneficial bonding process. Whilst his back ached from bending low for several hours at a time, he at least found that the calluses he had on his right hand from sword-practice prevented blisters being caused by the sickle. His left hand was another matter…

Early on Wednesday 27th August 1068 the blessed event that Alan and Anne had been awaiting took place. Anne had been unable to sleep, with increasingly powerful cramps in her abdomen. The last few hours, with Alan snoring gently next to her, had been really annoying. If she was awake, why should he be asleep…. After a sharp contraction and a grunt, Anne elbowed Alan and said, “It’s time. Get the midwife.”

After a delay of several seconds as he came awake and gathered his thoughts, Alan lit a candle for light and did as he was bid, shouting, “Synne! Call for the midwife, boil some water and let’s get on with the rest of it!”

Alan had not been in Anne’s good books for several weeks. She’d been grumpy about lack of sleep, the discomfort of the child moving within her, particularly when the active child kicked her bladder, and dissatisfaction as to the restrictions imposed on her by her gravid state. She’d been spending several hours a day soaking in the hot-tub to help with the pain and aching in her lower back. While she had appreciated his regular anointing of her swollen belly with an expensive oil imported from the Levant and his delight in feeling the child move within her belly, the comments he had made to try to encourage her had not been welcome. Statements such as ‘easy as shelling peas’ or ‘the village ladies give birth and are back out in the fields within a couple of hours’ had struck entirely the wrong note. As a result Anne had told him she would follow normal practice and he would be banished from the birth-chamber.

As the ladies hurried into the room Alan was unceremoniously ejected and wandered out into the Hall, where most of the household were still asleep lying on straw-filled palliases. He sat leaning back against the warmth of the hollow brick wall which formed part of the innovative central-heating system in the building, just one of the details incorporated into the complex of buildings which Alan had designed and built just under two years previously, in part using ancient Roman technology. He dozed fitfully until the Hall slowly came awake with the approach of dawn. First the kitchen staff rose from their beds and departed to the kitchen, which as tradition dictated was located in a nearby building to minimise the risk of fire, then the stable-hands and other servants began to go about their duties. The trestle tables and benches were set up and the servants were provided with their usual light breakfast of day-old bread with a sop of ale or mead and cheese and butter. Alan broke his fast on buttered toasted bread with strawberry jam washed down with diluted mead.

Alan was aware that in birthing prolonged labour periods were not unusual, but when the cries of pain and distress could be heard from the bedroom upstairs continued through to midday he decided that action on his part was required. Not wanting to burst in where he may be neither wanted or needed, he called for his body-servant Leof, who had been sitting nearby since Alan had been roused, to bring the maid Synne from upstairs.

Synne appeared moments later, looking tired and worn. “How go things?” demanded Alan.

“Lady Anne is having… a difficult labour and is in some pain. There appears to be some problem with the child’s passage, but the midwife is confident,” she replied with obvious concern.

Alan nodded and announced, “Enough is enough,” rising and going from the Hall into his study. There he rifled through his medical textbooks and then spent several minutes studying a scroll written by Hippocrates. In the summer sunlight of late morning he then walked the few steps to the building that served as his workshop where he gathered several surgical instruments and placed them and half a dozen small jars of herbs, unguents and potions into a bag, washed his hands in alcohol and marched resolutely back into the Hall. After ascending the staircase to the upstairs family living area, he pushed past the female servant by the door.

Anne was sitting naked on a birthing chair, with her feet drawn up and placed on footrests on either side. She was covered in a sheen of sweat and her long auburn hair was wet and matted. The midwife named Rowena, as white-haired as her name indicated, crouched between Anne’s spread legs, her arms bloody to the elbows. There was a pool of blood on the wooden floor.

Alan elbowed the midwife aside and crouched in her place. The child’s head projected beyond the cervix and Alan used his left hand to support its weight. “What’s the problem? Obviously not a breech!” he demanded.

“The shoulders won’t come through… I’ve tried several ways to ease the shoulders through. We just need to let the contractions push the child through,” replied Rowena in a peevish tone.

“Contractions and gravity obviously aren’t working,” said Alan with annoyance. While he had no practical experience of child delivery, he’d made a point to carefully read and note the details in the medical tracts he owned and had just refreshed his memory. “You four, pick Lady Anne up and place her on the bed. Slowly, as I have to support the child’s head as we move… That’s better. Now, Anne, legs up and lift the knees up to your belly. This widens the pelvis and flattens the spine. Good… good.”

After several minutes without success he continued, “Rowena, put pressure on the belly above the child, pushing gently downwards, while I pull gently on the head. Good… Try again. And again. Now stop the pressure. I’m going to manipulate the shoulders. Rowena, hold the child’s head.” Here Alan pressed the child’s forward shoulder towards its chest and the rearmost shoulder towards its back, the baby’s head turning to face its mother’s rectum. Alan resumed supporting the head. “Now, Anne, you push, and Rowena place pressure again on the belly.” Alan exerted gentle pulling pressure on the head, and with a corkscrew motion first one and then the other shoulder slipped through and the baby was in Alan’s hands. “Thanks be to God! A daughter!” he continued. “Now Rowena, please continue as normal.”

With a sigh of annoyance the midwife took the child from Alan, turned her upside down and smacked her bottom with a hard slap to make her suck air as she howled in protest, before handing her back and clamping and cutting the umbilical cord. Bowls of warm water were at hand and Alan used one bowl to wash the blood and fluids off his daughter, her arms and legs jerking convulsively as she continued to squall, before wrapping her in a warmed soft blanket handed to him. On instruction from the midwife the maids washed Anne with cloths and warm water, changed the bed linen and slipped a nightgown around her, before Alan handed the baby girl to her mother. After a suggestion from Rowena, Anne slid a nipple into the little pouting mouth, stilling the cries.

Alan looked on happily, gave a big sigh or relief and pointed at the midwife. “I suggest that you and the lass you are training come to see me on Sunday afternoon for some instruction. I have several books with illustrations that you need to look at.” After a tight smile and a nod he handed a small leather purse made heavy by a dozen silver pennies. Rowena hefted the purse in her hand and with a satisfied smile sketched a brief and somewhat ironical curtsey, issued some rapid instructions to the maids and departed.

It was Monday 1st September, two days before the Day of St Gregory. The crops had been harvested and much of the harvest had already been threshed to separate the grain, although this work was not yet complete. Alan had declared the day a feast-day to celebrate both the successful harvest and the birth of his daughter. Oxen had been roasting over fires since the previous evening and sheep and swine since early that morning. A mountain of fresh bread had been baked and was sitting together with fresh-churned butter and cheeses on several tables. The villagers from Thorrington, nearby Great Bentley and Wivenhoe were taking advantage of the largess provided by their lord and thronged the village green.

Brother Wacian celebrated Mass at mid-day, which the size of the crowd dictated be held outdoors. Given the good weather the priest had arranged for the altar and the lectern to be brought onto the Green. In the bright sunlight he conducted a moving ceremony of thanks for the joint joys bestowed. He particularly enjoyed reading from the beautiful leather-bound bible and Psalter in Anglo-Saxon English that Alan had bestowed on the Church, his hands almost fondling the books as he turned the pages. The books were beautifully written and bound, although absent of extensive illumination as they were meant to be working tools and not works of art.

With Mass said, the congregation joined the children who had been playing noisily nearby and Alan’s servants rolled out the barrels of ale and mead to be placed next to two drink-serving tables. Alan had not seen any need to provide wine for the villagers, although several jugs were available for the thegns and their sons who had attended. Not long afterwards other servants carried in huge joints of meat. Otha the cook and several assistants, including the village butcher, set to carving meat for the assembled villagers. Otha knew what the villagers wanted- lots of the red meat that they had so little opportunity to enjoy and plenty of simple fare, with quantity being more important than quality.

Alan and Anne had invited the local thegns from Alresford and Tendring, and Leofstan of Great and Little Holland. From Alresford had come Algar, Edward and Edwold, and from Tendring came Frewin, Ednoth and Alfred, together with their wives and children, most of the latter being young adults. A number of uninvited villagers from Alresford, St Osyth and Tendring had attended and were partaking of the feast provided but, given their small numbers and his good humour from a successful harvest and the birth of his daughter, Alan made no issue of this.

Anne, still worn from the ordeal of the birth, circulated only briefly before returning to the Hall with the more noble guests. Alan spent several hours moving amongst the cheorls, sokemen and cottars and their families, receiving their good wishes. He also noticed a number of slaves present with their families, all of whom kept well out of his way knowing that they should not be there, and also chose to ignore them.

The food disappeared as quickly as it could be brought, as did the drink. Later, in the early evening sunlight, as the consumption of provender slowed, the villagers began to dance and carouse to the music provided by a few of the local villagers with suitable talent. Periodically Alan appeared from the Hall and circulated amongst the villagers.

Inside the Hall the windows were open to allow the cooling breeze from the nearby sea to circulate and the fire was unlit. The seven thegns and their six wives, Alfred of Tendring recently becoming a widower, together with a dozen sons and their wives sat at table. Otha had made a point to produce a meal of greater sophistication for the nobles. As well as roast beef, swine and mutton brought from the roasting pits, the table also held stuffed basted pheasant, marinated chicken, sauteed lobster with shallots and mushrooms, poached fish in garlic sauce, herbed venison stew and six separate dishes of vegetables- parsnip, carrot, beans, peas and beet- steamed, sauteed, roasted or baked with different herb sauces or white wine. The guests helped themselves to the buffet several times and Alan prepared the food for Anne, with whom he was sharing a bread trencher, so that she didn’t despoil her gown, cutting and slicing the food so that Anne could spear it with her eating-knife without getting juices or sauce on her sleeves or dress.

Unusually, conversation was limited to local affairs, with no discussion of matters affecting the country generally. They enjoyed the local gossip and discussion of rustic pursuits, before the guests were shown to their beds.

Nine days later, at Sunday Mass the day after the Feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, baby Juliana was christened in the village church by Brother Wacian in the presence of most of the villagers. Roger and Alice Bigod, the Norman sheriff of Suffolk and his wife who were close friends of Alan and Anne, had arrived the evening before in response to the rider sent north. Also present were Anne’s parents Orvin and Lora and her brother Garrett and his wife Ellette, who had travelled from Ipswich.

Leofstan, the Thegn of the nearby villages of Great and Little Holland, a wealthy and influential man in the local community and Alan’s deputy on the Hundred Court, and his wife Erlene stood together with the Bigods by the font and swore their oaths as Juliana’s godparents.

CHAPTER NINE

Thorrington and London Mid-September 1068

Alan shifted his grip on the sword hilt and stepped forward, bashing his shield into his opponent before launching a series of powerful overhand blows which sent the other man reeling. He then stepped back to observe his opponent reposition himself and shouted, “No you stupid bastard! Why are you pointing your sword at the ground? It’s not a fucking shovel! Keep your sword in the proper position! You can't be tired yet as we’ve only been going for five minutes! That footwork isn’t what I showed you. You can’t swing the sword properly if you’re unbalanced. Keep your feet a shoulder-width apart and step with one and then the other foot to keep your balance, instead of jumping around like a bloody hare! Now let's do it again!”

Moments later, after performing several beat-parries to deflect his opponent’s sword, he crashed the hilt of his sword into the face of the young man, making sure that the blow was delivered by his leather-gauntleted fist so as not to smash the youngster’s face. The young man stepped back to clear his head, a spray of blood from his nose as he shook his head. “That's enough of that for the moment. We’ll work on your technique more tomorrow.”

Alan was training six new members of the fyrd in basic sword technique and fighting, and this was the youths’ third half-day of training. He then addressed the whole group. “Fighting in the line is different to what we’ve done so far. You don’t have the room to move to put yourself in a better position or disadvantage your opponent. You are crammed in tight with a man at each side and men behind. Also the footing is usually treacherous, with bodies and equipment lying everywhere. In the line you fight as a unit, not individuals. The men in the line provide mutual support. If you get killed because you can’t handle a sword, that's tragic. If you kill one of your companions because of your mistake, that's unforgivable.

“Udell, you stand there. Eadwold stand to his left. Averil you stand on his right and Wulfhere behind him. Putnam, you stand on my left and Dreogan to my right. Eadgard, you pick a spear from the rack and stand behind me. Wulfhere, you get a spear also. Stand half a pace apart so that you're not crammed in tight. Most of your opponents will be right-handed and have their shield on the left.

“Now we’ll just walk through this. You’re each responsible for the man to your front. If you can provide support to the man on each side, without getting yourself killed, you do that. You have to be aware of what every man within three paces of you is doing, as each one of them can kill you. You can’t fixate your attention on one man. Now Putnam, Dreogan and myself step up. Putnam and Dreogan you push your shields against those of Averil and Wulfhere, but watch what I’m doing. I can step forward to my opponent easily enough, but moving back is difficult because Eadgard is in the way. Udell’s shield is on my sword-side, and mine the same for him as we face each other.” Alan had made a slow wide overhead forehand sweep of his sword, clipping Dreogan, who was standing to his right, on the helmet. He then did the same with an overhead backhand blow, narrowly missing Putnam. “As you just saw, there’s no room for flashy swordplay and you’re more likely to kill your comrades than your opponents. Keep the sword low, hit them with your shield and try to stab them in the guts. You’re fighting a battle, not a duel. If your opponent is put out of the fight, even for a few moments, you can assist the man on your right.

“Udell, you are dead. Step back for moment. Now you can see Eadwold’s unprotected side is open to me. He’s concentrating on Dreogan and I would have a moment or two before the next man steps in front of me to do this.” Here Alan took a diagonal step with his right foot and performed a lung-thrust to Eadwold’s stomach. “Note how I've kept my shield protecting my left side, which my movement has made vulnerable. Also note I’m on Averil’s left and he can't hit me without turning, taking at least half a step and exposing himself to the man on my left. If he tries to hit me without moving, it would be a very weak blow on the backhand, with him being off-balance. The chances of me being injured in this case while killing Dreogan’s man are slight. Unless,” here Alan gestured to Wulfhere with a sharp inward motion of his right hand, “There is a spearman behind either of the three nearest opponents, in which case I'm in trouble. My shield should protect me from a man either standing where Wulfhere is at the moment, or behind Eadwold.” Here Alan waved Wulfhere to stand behind Averil and continued, “But where he's standing now, I’m a dead man.” Wulfhere pushed slowly forward with his spear, gently hitting Alan in the chest as he remained extended in his lunge towards Averil. “I say again, you must be aware of what everybody within three paces is doing and what weapons they have. I may have killed Averil, but that doesn’t console my widow. Keep yourself alive!”

Alan noticed that his steward Faran had come on to the training ground and obviously wanted to speak to him. “That’s enough for today. We’ll do some more mutual-support training tomorrow. Also, tomorrow I’ll show you some ways to deal with a man who is using the two-handed axe. Brand here will help demonstrate. Make sure you wear brown trousers.” Here Alan indicated the massively-built huscarle who was standing watching. “I’ll get Brand to take over now and I'll see what Faren wants. Spend another half an hour in one-to-one swordsmanship and then break for the meal. Brand please take over.

“What is it, Faran?” he asked his steward.

“There’s a young lad presented himself at the Hall. He’s absolutely filthy. He insists on seeing you but won't say what it's about. He says he’s your man.”

Alan frowned in puzzlement, shrugged and walked to the weapons rank, where he replaced the training sword and shield before doffing his helmet, turning his back to Faran and raising his arms for the steward to untie the buckles and leather thongs on the mail hauberk and assist in pulling the forty pounds of metal off over Alan’s head. Wearing his rust-stained and sweat-soaked padded gambeson and a pair of woollen trews he walked into the Hall.

Waiting there was a youth about fourteen years of age. He was small in stature, lean almost to the point of emaciation, dirty and wearing clothes that were little better than rags. But his face looked familiar. Alan stared at him closely, before the lad said, “My name’s Linn, my lord.”

Alan nodded to indicate his recollection and pointed to the door to the left at the end of the Hall. “Go into my office and sit on the bench next to the table,” he instructed. “Faran, get some food and drink for the lad. Some bread, cheese and beer will do for the moment and he can eat with the servants when we have the midday meal shortly.”

A few minutes later Alan was sitting in a chair in his office, with a quart jug of ale in his hand to quench the thirst caused by his morning's exertions, and watched the youth wolf down the simple fare that he had been provided on a wooden platter. “So what did you and the other man, Pierce, find out when fitzWymarc released you last year to act as spies amongst the bandits?” he demanded in an abrupt manner.

The boy spoke through a mouthful of food, “Well, my lord, as you know I sent word that I'd been sent to the south and that Pierce had run as soon as he was freed. I tried to pass on information to the sheriff, but I don't know if it was received nor did I get any response, so I gave up after a while. Sending messages by other people was too damn risky. Now I’ve been sent back with another band, led by a man named Eadwyn. They are eight of them in the forest near Alresford, using the same deserted woodcutter's cottage used by the last band. Two have brought their women and there’s a young lass who they seized in Lexden Hundred who is kept in thrall. She’s about my age. She’s badly used by the men and the other women use her as a servant.”

“How long have they been there?” asked Alan.

“A little less than a week, my lord. They haven’t started waylaying any travellers yet and have restricted themselves to stealing a few pigs from the sties of the local cottars while they get themselves familiar with the area and the boltholes where they can hide. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to slip away, as a leader wants me to steal some wine for him from the tavern.”

Alan spent several minutes questioning the boy about the bandits’ daily routine. “Linn, I’m glad that you remained true to the promise you made when you were released after being caught previously. I’ll lead some men to the woodcutter's cottage and we’ll attack at dawn in two days. Make sure that you and the captive lass stay out of the way when we kick in the door. Now, I’ll get my steward to give you a decent meal, which you look like you could use, and two skins of poor quality wine such as you would expect in a village tavern. I’ll see you at dawn the day after tomorrow.”

It was half an hour before dawn as Alan crouched behind bushes a hundred paces from the abandoned woodcutter’s cottage in a clearing in the forest near Alresford. With him were ten of his own men, including Brand and Edric, and thegn Edward of Alresford with four of his men. It was Edward’s land and Alan had thought it politic to advise him of the situation and invite him to participate in the punitive expedition.

“Remember, there are eight bandits, a lad who’s on our side and three women. One of the women is a captive and she is to be left unharmed. So is the lad, Linn. We don’t know which of the three women is the girl, so don’t hurt any of the women. Several of us saw Linn the other day and we’ll go in first. Myself, Brand, Edric, Aeldrid, Thrydwulf, Redwald and thegn Edward. It’s only a small one room cottage so there’s no space for any more. Four men remain outside the door in case any dash out. You, you, you and you. The others, who are the archers, I want at the edge of the tree-line. These men are bandits and, except for the boy and girl, I don’t care if they survive to see the sun rise. Preferably not, as that would save the trouble of a trial. Right! It’s first light, so let’s kick arse!

The darkness was indeed just relieved by a tinge of grey as Alan stood outside the door of the cottage and nodded to Brand. The huge huscarle raised a booted foot and with one massive kick smashed in the rotten wooden door. The assault party stormed in, all wielding the seax large fighting-knife in preference to a sword- better for use in the confined space. Inside was almost pitch black and the attackers found their targets by stumbling over them as the latter rose groggily and shocked from the vermin-infested straw palliasses on which they had slept.

A hastily-lit torch was carried in by the last of the assault team and provided the required illumination. The bandits had been taken completely by surprise and had little opportunity to resist. Four men and one woman lay dead. Alan had no quarrel with his men about the fate of the woman, as in the darkness any figure standing had been fair game. In a corner Linn was lying atop a woman, holding her down and talking quietly in her ear. The other four men and one woman were quickly bound and thrown outside, where they lay supine and in shock. Alan stepped over to Linn and gave him a hand to rise, before slapping him on the shoulder. Linn in turn helped the girl up. She was thirteen or fourteen and would have been reasonably comely if not covered in filth, wearing dirty rags, with her hair matted and tangled.

“This is Eab? the lass I told you about,” said Linn, as the girl clung to him like a limpet.

Alan nodded. “The cooking place appears to be outside. Is there anything fit to eat here?” he asked prosaically.

“Not much. There’s a part-joint of swine-flesh over there, but not enough for your men,” replied Linn.

“No matter, we brought some rations. Come outside and have some cold smoked meat, bread and cheese. We have a few skins of ale. We’ll take this filth off to Thorrington for trial and hanging. Which one is Eadwyn?” Linn pointed to a corpse lying in a pool of blood. “Pity,” said Alan. “He might have had some information we could use. Never mind! Perhaps the others know something.”

They were back at Thorrington by midday. The captives, including the remaining woman, were placed manacled and under guard in the Tithe Barn. Alan and thegn Edward wanted justice to be swift and messages were sent out for a trial the next day. The idea was to have a fair trial and the captives hanged as soon as possible. Linn and Eab? were instructed to bathe and were provided with fresh clothes, food, drink and a place to rest.

At mid-morning the next day Leofstan, the thegn of Little and Great Holland and the largest land-holder in the Hundred after Alan, called to order the court sitting in the Old Hall at Thorrington. With him on the bench were Brictmer of Great Bromley and Edwold of Alresford, the latter one of the several thegns who held lands in that village. Alan and Edward of Alresford were not on the bench as they were likely to be called as witnesses. Osmund was acting as clerk, providing a written record of the evidence.

The defendants were arraigned and their names and villages of origin ascertained. Leofstan adjudged them as not being oath-worthy, being caught in brigandage. Being from outside the Hundred they had no frithboghs or relatives to speak for them.

The allegations were first put to the four men and they were given the chance to speak, despite not being allowed to give sworn evidence. None admitted the charges, but nor did they have a convincing reason as to why they had been staying at an abandoned cottage in the middle of a forest many leagues from their own villages.

Linn was called, adjudged oath-worthy despite his young age and not having any local relatives, sworn in and gave evidence as to what he knew of the men and their depredations elsewhere, and their theft of livestock locally. Eab? although again not a local lass, was again adjudged oath-worthy and gave evidence as to her abduction and subsequent abuse. The men were allowed the opportunity of rebuttal, again without any convincing statements.

One of the women, Aedilhild, was called and adjudged oath-worthy. She said that she had joined with one of the men several months before and had not participated either in any brigandage nor abuse of Eab?. Leofstan, although usually a very conscientious judge, was just going through the motions of providing justice as this was an ‘open and shut’ case. As lunchtime neared he called an end to proceedings. He wanted to eat a fine meal at the New Hall and be home by dark.

Leofstan, Brictmer and Edwold, together with the clerk Osmund retired to the Judge’s Chamber at the end of the Hall. They were accompanied, in a breach of proper legal procedure, by Alan and Edward.

In the Judge’s Chamber was a table set with pints of ale, two jugs of good French wine, cups and a large platter of nuts, fresh fruit, candied orange, dried dates and cheeses. Each helped themselves as was their inclination.

“Well, it seems straightforward enough,” commented Leofstan. “I move that the four men are guilty of kidnapping, rape, theft and brigandage. All in favour? Well that was easy. Alan, can you arrange the tree, rope and boxes? Now as to the woman Aedilhild, that’s more difficult. She’s probably not, strictly speaking, guilty of any offence as she has the defence of being under the control of her man, although they were not married. However, I don’t think she should go unpunished. What do you think, Brictmer and Edwold?”

Brictmer replied, “I agree. She did participate of her own free will, even if she has a legal defence to the more serious charges. I suggest that she be convicted of assault of the woman Eab? and be ordered to pay bot of twenty shillings and in absence of ability to pay have one ear cut off, with her to abjure the shire. With that she’ll be getting off lightly as she was a willing participant to all that was done.”

The others agreed and they walked back out into the Old Hall, where Leofstan announced the judgment, to the delight of the assembled onlookers, who were looking forward to the entertainment of the hanging.

The official party removed themselves to the New Hall, where they wined and dined in style, and at mid-afternoon the four bandits were hung from the gallows-tree. Hemp ropes were placed about their necks. Each stood on a large box. As a matter of courtesy to the condemned Alan had arranged for each to have their own box on which to stand, so all could be kicked away at the same time and the condemned men swing and twitch together. The villagers had granted themselves a half-holiday to watch the spectacle and were disappointed with Alan’s decision. They preferred to watch the gallows-bait hanging and kicking one by one as they gasped out their lives, and to have the executions carried out in succession rather than together. Having simultaneous hangings made it difficult to keep track of the bets as to how long the victims would each take to die. The villagers sat on the village green, chatting and eating the food and drink that they had brought, laughing and exclaiming as the convicted men twitched and writhed at the end of their ropes.

As the last body was cut down from the tree and bundled with the others to be thrown into a common grave outside the consecrated land of the church graveyard, Alan was unmoved. These men had already wreaked far worse fates on others and would have again done so in the future in the land under his jurisdiction.

Back at the New Hall as they sat at table and ate and supped Alan chatted with the thegns who had attended at the trial. He and Anne then met with Linn and Eab? in the office-room situated off the Hall. Both youths were now clean and dressed in second-hand clothing which Faran had located. Alan noticed with a smile the way that Eab? sat close to Linn and that he put his arm around her shoulders. Eab? was offered a safe return to her own village, which she declined, and both were offered places as servants at the Hall, which they accepted happily.

Satisfied with the results of the last few days Alan and Anne retired to their bedchamber for some well-deserved rest.

Alan was sitting in his office at New Hall Thorrington, looking through the figures for the current Quarter income, taxes and estate estimates provided by his clerk Osmund. It was late afternoon and his headache arose from trying to make sense of the information he had been considering and not from straining his eyes, as the room was well-lit with a large glass window near where he was sitting.

He looked up as his steward knocked on the door and entered.

Faran said, “Excuse me, my lord, but there is a messenger from Jacob the Jew who has ridden from London today. He’s very fatigued and I’ve sat him at the table in the Hall and provided him with food and drink before he falls over.

Alan nodded and instructed, “Fetch Lady Anne and we’ll see what the messenger says.”

Ten minutes later, with a jug of good Bordeaux wine and a platter of fresh bread, dried fruits and nuts and cheese on the table and his wife at his side Alan watched the messenger hurried to the table. He waved a hand at the provender on the table and the messenger was quick to place some food on a wooden plate and start to eat. Alan poured himself and his wife each a cup of wine.

“In your own time and when you are ready,” said Alan impatiently.

The messenger took the hint and stopped stuffing himself. “My lord and lady! Jacob the Jew sends news. He regretfully advises that he has been informed that your house in London has been foully attacked and your butler Aiken has been slain. He urges you to attend to resolve matters.”

A brief questioning ascertained that the London town-house had been robbed the day before and Aiken, who was in charge of that property, killed during the robbery. Aidith his daughter had contacted Anne’s business manager Jacob for assistance.

Alan looked at Anne as he gave instructions to Faran. “Arrange horses and the cart for dawn the day after tomorrow, with food and drink. Two maids for Anne. Ten mounted men-at-arms. I’ll take Osmund and Leof as usual.” Anne nodded her agreement. Alan was unhappy to be leaving at this time, with the Quarter Day of Michaelmas, when taxes and rents were to be received and paid, a little over a week away, but could see no other alternative.

They departed at first light on Tuesday the 23rd September 1068, with Alan wishing to make the 71 mile journey in one day. With 13 hours of daylight he expected to be able to achieve this despite the women, child and servants being in a light horse-drawn carriage, as the road was dry. Firstly they proceeded northwest to Colchester, via Alresford and Wivenhoe, crossed the wooden bridge over the Colne at the city, pausing to pay the pontage fee to the toll-collector as they did so, then turned south-west on the London Road, passing through Stanway and Kelvendon.

Each village had their wooden bridge over a river where again a fee had to be paid. They passed through several other small villages until they reached Chelmsford on the Rivers Can and Chelmer. They’d pushed hard and covered the thirty odd miles in time to eat an early midday meal at a tavern in Chelmsford, forgoing a visit to their nearby manor of Norton. From Chelmsford to London the condition of the road made travel slower, although the lack of recent rain meant that the roadway was firm. Until Chelmsford the road had passed through land that was moderately intensively used, with villages every few miles, each with their area of cultivated land and with an intervening section of waste before the land belonging to the next village. It was a warm and dry late autumn day and throughout the shire the harvest had been gathered. In the fields outside the villages along the way teams of oxen could be seen drawing mould-board ploughs through the soil to perform the autumn ploughing and the fruit trees were being pruned. Outside the granaries in each village men, women and children could be seen threshing and winnowing the harvested grain, with the stooks brought in from the fields standing in piles awaiting attention.

Shortly after leaving Chelmsford the road entered the immense Waltham Forest with its trees of birch, oak, beech and hornbeam. For much of the way the massive trees formed a canopy that provided a leafy roof over the dirt roadway, which was usually about five paces wide. Occasionally animals such as deer, muntjac, squirrels and hares could be seen bounding away from the approaching humans. A plethora of birds winged through the trees, those feeding near the road frequently bursting into flight as the riders approached.

Until they had entered the forest, on the more open sections of road fellow-travelers had been common, mostly on foot. These were villagers going about their business, itinerant tinkers and costermongers festooned with their wares or drawing a small hand-cart, merchants traveling with their goods in ox-drawn carts and the occasional mounted party of the more highly-born. On entering the forest this traffic had dwindled sharply and what travelers there were moved in groups of a dozen or more.

In the late afternoon when they left the confines of the forest near London the road became more crowded than ever and several of the men-at-arms rode ahead to force a swift passage. They entered the city at Aldgate and turned to the right down Cornhill. Alan always disliked this part of the journey- riding hot, tired and sweaty and having to force a passage through streets almost choked with foot-traffic and slow-moving wagons, with bottle-necks caused by stalls displaying a variety of merchandise. He hated the congestion, the stench and the filth of the city, and the frustration at moving at a snail’s-pace through the crowds. He was tempted to ride on ahead and leave the women and servants in the wagon to follow, but reined in his impatience as he knew that Anne would not appreciate being so treated.

The mound of the newly-built wooden royal castle by the river dominated the eastern part of the city to their left and had been visible for several miles as they had approached the walls. Once the travelers were on Cornhill the castle disappeared from view behind the wooden buildings crowded together along the narrow streets and alleys. Shops, factories, warehouses, merchant’s offices, craftsmen’s workshops, taverns, tenements, houses both poor and grand and churches stood shoulder to shoulder, most one or two storeys high but a few of the tenement buildings were as high as four storeys, some leaning drunkenly out over the street. There were occasional patches of clear land, mainly where wooden buildings had been destroyed by fire and the ruins demolished.

Alan always felt almost claustrophobic in the narrow streets, hemmed in by a mass of humanity and hardly able to see the sky. Whether he found the noise or the smells of the city more offensive was a moot point. There was a constant hubbub of noise. Costermongers, stall-holders and touts shouted their wares or services. Beggars stood or sat at busy corners displaying sores and missing or deformed limbs and crying for alms. Gangs of street urchins called and shouted as they ran through the alleys and side-streets. The bellow of oxen; braying of donkeys; the whinnying of horses pulling wagons; the creak and rattle of cartwheels; the clang of church bells from a myriad of churches, many ringing in isolation as their priests and congregations chose to interpret time slightly differently to that announced by the bells of St Paul’s Cathedral when they announced the Vespers service.

Whilst the noise was almost constant, the smells varied. Always present was the smell of unwashed bodies, rotting household rubbish thrown onto the street and human and animal excrement. On passing premises occupied by fullers, tanners or dyers the particular stenches of their occupations became dominant, principally the smell of urine or animal faeces. At the Chepe markets were the smells of rotting fish and vegetables, blood and offal. The road passed north of the square where St Paul’s Cathedral stood, but the spires of the church and the looming bulk of Montfichet Tower and Baynard’s Castle could be glimpsed through gaps in the buildings. Having passed through the city they eventually exited the walls at Newgate, crossed the wooden bridge over the Holebourn stream and a few minutes later were at their London house in Holebourn.

The party dismounted in the yard and stood stretching tired and aching limbs. The stable-boy Tiw hurried out. From his red eyes Alan could tell that the young lad had obviously been crying, but he appeared beside himself at the opportunity to care for the horses of the traveling party. A slightly-built woman of medium height with long black hair, well dressed in an ankle-length gown of brown wool with an embroidered hem, stepped out of the doorway and gave a grave nod of welcome. This was Jemima, Jacob’s wife, who Alan and Anne had met only twice previously. Next to her stood a middle-aged man, by his dress also Jewish. Two burly Englishman also appeared, and then the cook Wilda peered through the doorway.

“Good evening,” said Jemima in her quiet voice. “Welcome to your home. I’ll send somebody to fetch Jacob. This is Tomer, my brother-in-law. You two men, help Tiw with the horses.”

Once inside they saw the maid Aidith, who gave a quick curtsey and disappeared into the Buttery to fetch jugs of ale and food for the weary travelers.

The ten men-at-arms, led by Edric, sat at one table in the Hall, while Alan, Anne and Osmund sat at another and Alan gestured for Jemima and Tomer to be seated. The servants who had traveled from Essex, including Bisgu the wet-nurse who was holding baby Juliana, sat at a third table.

Without being asked Jemima said, “Three days ago, in the evening after dark, a group of thugs forced their way into the house. Aitkin and Aidith were inside. Wilda was in the town and Tiw was sleeping in the stables. They ransacked the house for valuables. Aitkin gave them what money you had left in his care, but they were unsatisfied. They raped Aidith, and when he tried to prevent that Aitkin was stabbed to death. Although she was beside herself with grief, Aidith sent Tiw to Newgate to raise the alarm with the guards and to tell Jacob about what had happened. With Aitkin dead she couldn’t think who else to tell. Jacob asked me to come and care for Aidith and arranged with Gareth for him to lend some men to provide security. Aidith, Wilda and myself tidied up the mess- there was quite a lot of breakage. It would appear that the thieves took about thirty shillings and some gold and silver items. They made quite a mess in the buttery, as they smashed the barrels of what wine and ale they couldn’t carry off and the room was awash.”

“Thank you for your assistance,” said Anne with genuine appreciation that the family of her Jewish business manager would put themselves out in such a way to be of assistance.

Just then a tall thin balding man with a ferret-face and wearing nondescript clothing slipped into the room. It was Gareth, Anne’s spy. Presumably he was trying to show his competence by arriving just after they had and without being summoned.

“Good,” said Anne. “You’ve saved me the trouble of sending for you. What happened?”

“A group of thugs from Chepeside appears to have singled out your house for some reason. Why I can’t say, as there be more worthwhile targets both inside and outside the city walls. I’ve identified who they are. Do you want to question them?” asked the spy in his deep gravelly voice.

“No,” replied Alan. “You ask them whether anybody put them up to this, and then dispose of them all. Make a point that my property and my people are to be left alone. That’ll be cheaper than providing guards here all the time.”

Gareth nodded his understanding of the instruction and rose to leave. “Thank you for your assistance,” said Anne.

“No problem, m’lady. It’ll be on this month’s bill I send to Jacob. I’ll get to work then! I’ll see you tomorrow evening.”

Shortly afterwards Wilda the cook emerged from the kitchen and whispered in the ears of the maids Synne and Esme. They left with some reluctance to assist with serving, as they were Anne’s personal maids and not serving-wenches. The hurriedly prepared meal of herbed mutton and vegetable stew with rye-bread was tasty, washed down with the ale that Jemima had bought from a local tavern and wine that Jacob had sent from the business warehouse. Afterwards, with a platter of dried fruit, cheeses and nuts on the table, Anne called in Wilda and spoke to her regarding who she could recommend as a new butler to run the household. After some thought she made several suggestions, which Osmund noted down for further action. Then, weary to the bone, Alan and Anne retired to the bedchamber upstairs.

Next morning Chancellor Regenbald proved that Gareth wasn’t the only person with a good spy network, as a message arrived quite early with an invitation for Alan to lunch with the Englishman at his chambers in Westminster.

The proximity of Westminster Palace was one of the reasons that Alan and Anne had chosen to buy a house outside the city walls and to the west of the city. Rather than bothering to undertake the tack-work required to ride the short distance, Alan chose to walk with two men-at-arms in company.

He was ushered into the Chancellor’s chambers, where Regenbald was sitting on a cushioned chair with his left leg raised and supported by a padded stool. With him was another man, elderly and plump with a hawk-like nose and wearing clerical garb. Regenbald waved Alan to a seat, as he carefully placed a cup of wine on the small table next to him. “Sorry not to greet you properly. Gout!” he said indicating his foot. “Congratulations on your martial efforts this year. William fitzOsbern was impressed- and with his experience and ability he’s not a man who is easily impressed. Firstly, let me introduce Herfast, who is replacing me as Chancellor in a few months. He’s a Norman monk, but not a bad fellow for all that! I invited him over to meet you and have the chance to have an informal chat with you as a member of the king’s Curia and a man with some interesting ideas and ideals, We can go into that shortly. I hear that you have had some problems with your town-house?”

“Yes, but hopefully those will be resolved today,” replied Alan.

Herfast nodded and said, “Yes, Master Gareth is a very capable man and I’m sure that you won’t have any further problems- at least from that gang. Do you think it was motivated by your political foes?”

Alan stroked his small neat beard thoughtfully. “No, I don’t think so. My relations with Bishop William, Earl Ralph and Engelric have improved and we seem to have reached a mutual ‘live and let live’ position without harassing each other. If it was politically motivated it would have been directed against me personally. I think it was just one of those things that happen, although I’m in a position to make sure it doesn’t happen twice!”

With a nod of understanding Herfast continued, “You’re probably right. I just wanted to express my sympathy and have a bit of a chat.”

“I hear that it’s been a busy summer for the king and fitzOsbern, but living out in the wilds we haven’t necessarily heard all that has been happening,” observed Alan.

“That’s true,” replied Herfast. “You know that Harold’s bastard sons raided Bristol and Somerset and were driven off back to Ireland, being opposed mainly by the local English fyrd. The Scots have been raiding Mercia and Northumbria in force. The Western Marches have seen raids by the Welsh and Eadric cild- not as bad as last year but still both destructive and distracting. The Northumbrians and Mercians continue to be a problem. Groups of armed men, who they are calling the ‘Wildmen’ or ‘Greenmen’, raid a few manors or villages and kill a few loyal men before disappearing back into the hills or forests when Earl William approaches. Hit and run tactics.

“So all in all, things are a mess at the moment and King William is running about like a blue-arsed fly. That’ll be very frustrating for him as he’s a man who likes to be in control of events, not to be reacting to them. The deteriorating situation in Maine is potentially very damaging, particularly when combined with the activities of Fulk in Anjou. The king is rushing around putting out brush-fires everywhere.

In a change of topic Alan asked Herfast, “You know, one thing that has had me puzzled for years is why Harold fought the way he did at Hastings. Do you know? Was it because of the pope’s anathema and threat of excommunication of any who opposed William? He could have waited another week and raised an extra 10,000 men from the shires that were further away and had Morcar and Edwin provide men from the north. Then, when he did set up at Hastings, it was like his men had taken root. No movement and no maneuver at all.”

Regenbald gave a laugh of genuine amusement. “To answer the first part of the question, you obviously didn’t know Harold and clearly still don’t understand the English- both those of the south and of the north. Neither he nor his men would have cared much about Pope Alexander deciding to favour William without his even hearing Harold’s side of the argument. That was an interesting piece of political skullduggery in itself that may yet come back to haunt William, which I’ll go into in a minute. Harold beat the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge because he moved quickly and took them by surprise, even though they outnumbered him. Again, he didn’t wait to muster his full strength nor did he wait for Morcar and Edwin to bring those of their men who had survived the battle at Fulford Gate. He gathered what men he could on the ride to the north, plus his own huscarles of course. He just went at them like a bull at a gate, killed Harald Hardrada and his own brother Tostig and the forces they had with them that morning, and then beat the Norwegians who came up from the ships- effectively he had two battles that day. Then Harold and his men were celebrating their victory when news of William’s landing arrived.

“He and his remaining thegns and huscarles took horse south to London and left the infantry to straggle down as best they could. I was in London and helped to send out the calls to the thegns and fyrd of the south to rally. It was then, in London, that we heard about the anathema from that French monk that William used as a messenger. It was quite interesting and humorous, the messages and taunts that Harold and William sent back and forth over those few days. They were like two young boys arguing over a toy, with insults and threats. Gyrth was more concerned about the pope than Harold was, and offered to lead the army to avoid the risk that his brother would be excommunicated. Harold wasn’t too bothered as he knew that whoever won the battle would have the last say with the pope. Remember that Archbishop Stigand has been under anathema and excommunicated since 1052, by five successive popes, and that didn’t stop even the pious King Edward keeping him in the position as the most senior prelate in the country- or King William for that matter. It just meant that, to be safe, Harold had Ealdred of York place the crown on his head at his coronation, rather than Stigand- as did William.

“I’m sure that when the banner of St Peter was unfurled on the Norman’s side at Hastings the English rank-and-file wouldn’t have been happy, but neither they nor Harold would have let that stop them, any more than would consideration of what promises may have been made by who in the past. They were fighting for their anointed king and their country against foreign invaders, and Pope Alexander would have been seen as just another foreigner.

“Also remember that when Harold was a ‘guest’ of Duke William he attended at the campaign in Brittany in 1064. Although a lot of that was castle sieges, he saw what heavy cavalry can do in battle and how well William uses that cavalry. At Hastings he had an army composed almost entirely of infantry and knew that if he gave William any room to maneuver his forces that his army would be cut to pieces. He was also getting upset that William and you Normans were burning and ravaging lands that belonged to him personally, but that wasn’t a large factor in his thinking.

“He knew that to beat a force largely composed of heavy cavalry he would either have to take them by surprise or fight on a battlefield that gave his army every advantage. So he took his men quickly and stealthily through the Andreswald, trying to repeat the surprise he achieved at Stamford Bridge. Unfortunately for him William was a better general than Hardrada and had his scouts out, knew Harold was coming and when Harold emerged from the forest the Normans were there.

“As to the battlefield and numbers of men, do you think an extra 10,000 men, mainly untrained, would have made much difference? I’m not surprised that Morcar and Edwin didn’t bring their men south. They didn’t have time to do so and they’d taken huge losses from the Norwegians at Fulford Gate, where they had been beaten like a drum. Even if they hadn’t, being Anglo-Danes they probably wouldn’t have come to the call of the House of Wessex anyway.”

Alan nodded. “You’re right. Another 10,000 men couldn’t have fitted onto the battlefield at Caldbec Hill, but if he had them threatening our flank…”

“How could he have got troops onto the flank in time? You know the lack of roads in the area. Anyway, that may have allowed William the opportunity to defeat the army piecemeal. Remember, Harold didn’t need to win. He just needed to make sure that William didn’t win. It was October. While campaigning in winter is possible, it isn’t easy. The land around Hastings had been stripped bare of food by you Normans. That part of the south would have had lean pickings for provender over the winter and both storms and English longships would have restricted resupply by sea. All Harold had to do was maintain an army in the field and keep the Normans bottled up. And stay alive. Unfortunately for him he didn’t manage to do any of the three requirements.”

Allan nodded his understanding about what he had just been told and then prompted, “And Pope Alexander?”

“As I said, that was an interesting piece of political skullduggery. William sent Bishop Lanfranc to Rome. Have you met Lanfranc? No? A most impressive, learned and intelligent man- and extremely eloquent. He spent some time with the pope and his advisers, firstly going through the usual details of William’s own claim to the throne by way of blood, which we all know existed but wasn’t strong, and the promises made by both King Edward and by Harold including the famous oath-swearing. He derogated Harold’s personality and personal life. All the usual things.

“But what was really important was, and still is, the position of the church here in England. The English church, while it recognises the authority of Rome, does not always follow the direction that Rome wishes. We have bibles and psalters written in the vernacular tongue. Services and prayers are also said in the vernacular and not Latin. We do not follow Rome in all matters of either the liturgy or theology. In the moderately recent past we had the situation of Cnut marrying Aethelred’s widow Emma, who was daughter to Richard Duke of Normandy. This was polygamy by Cnut, who was already married, but an act which the English church consented to- although I understand under the threat of death to the archbishop if he didn’t perform the ceremony. And, of course, we had and still have an archbishop who is excommunicate. All in all that’s not a set of facts that would encourage further tolerance on the part of the pope.

“Rome was more interested in bringing the English church ‘back into the fold’, by force if necessary, than it was with whether the king is English or Norman. Lanfranc played on those concerns wonderfully well. Firm promises of church reform were made and I’m sure will be put in place when King William gets a chance to attend to them. Most particularly, William promised to become the vassal of Rome, at least in respect to England but not his duchy. Of course, William hasn’t gone to Rome to make formal homage for England- and has no intention of doing so. That will be yet another promise regarding the kingship that slowly slips by, but this time by William.

“William’s various claims to the throne, not just by conquest but particularly by papal approval, have apparently been accepted throughout Christendom and have helped to keep Fulk of Anjou from attacking Normandy when William has been busy elsewhere. Apart from the Angevins and dissent in Maine, which William seized by force in ’63, William has been fortunate in the current political situation on the continent. William’s father-in-law is both Count of Flanders and guardian of King Philip of France, although the young king is apparently ‘champing at the bit’ somewhat. The important Norman barons are firmly under control- because William has been so generous in return for their support for the invasion, the fact that most of them are here in England and that William has forged them all into one big family by cross-marriages. There’s the usual situation of the minor barons or fief-holders in Normandy attacking each other when they get bored or feel they’ve been insulted, but the greater lords are keeping a lid on that, more so than is usual.”

“So, all in all everything is bright and sunny!” said Alan with some degree of sarcasm. Both Regenbald and Herfast gave a laugh in reply. “All of Christendom accepts William as king- except the English,” he continued.

Herfast replied, “I was speaking to a monk the other day. He made the comment that ‘the English submitted out of necessity’. Not because they wanted to, but because they saw no other choice. They aren’t happy about the choice that they had to make after Hastings. Some would like to change that choice if they could. That’s not only an English trait- in politics you can’t trust anybody. Anybody who trusts Edwin and Morcar in particular, or any of the Northmen, and Waltheof to a lesser extent, deserves to get the dagger that will be thrust in his back. The Mercians and Northumbrians do not recognise, that they are under the authority of the King of Wessex and never have. Not even when that king was Alfred the Great himself. They threw Tostig out in ’65 after King Edward had appointed him earl and themselves chose and appointed Morcar as earl as his successor. It was a pity for the English that Tostig and Harold fell out, as Tostig was equally as capable as his brother- and, as he showed in his behaviour at Stamford Bridge, more reliable when he had given oath.”

“I don’t agree about that!” objected Alan. “Tostig had Gamal, son of Orm, and Ulf, son of Dolfin, assassinated when they visited him under safe conduct. Hardly in keeping with a man of honour! And capable rulers usually don’t suffer rebellion by people claiming they are being oppressed and misruled!”

Herfast shrugged and changed the topic again. “Leaving that aside, the Grandmesnils are in London at the moment and are putting on a festivity at the Westminster Palace Hall tomorrow night. Adelize has particularly asked me to make sure you and Anne attend as she enjoyed Anne’s poetry evening so much.”

Alan nodded his acquiescence, although he would rather go rolling naked in a field of stinging nettles than attend a social soiree.

That evening when back at the house at Holebourn, Gareth sat opposite Alan and Anne, toying with a cup of wine. “So, I located the individuals and questioned them all most closely. It was a simple robbery with no political involvement. Given how closely they were questioned, I’m quite sure of that. The bodies will be found in a vacant allotment in Friday Street tomorrow and the word will be passed around that any further problems involving you or your servants will meet a similar vigorous response. The salutary lesson should be worth a dozen guards.” Alan and Anne both expressed their thanks and Gareth departed after declining to partake of the evening meal, wanting to be back at his haunts in the City before the Newgate closed at dusk.

The Church of St Edmund the King and Martyr Without Newgate was, despite its very long name, a modest wooden church of Saxon construction and was Anne’s chosen church for attending services when they were London. Apart from the abbey and the cathedral, London had a number of large churches, many of which were built of stone, as well as a myriad of small churches dedicated to virtually every saint in Christendom scattered every few hundred paces throughout the city, with most of the citizens of the city preferring to pray in small congregations with their neighbours. St. Edmunds was such a small church, situated just outside the city walls at Newgate and was barely 200 paces from the town-house at Holebourn.

The priest was a fat and usually jolly man of middling years called Edward, who took his pastoral duties to his small congregation seriously. The building was of post construction, with a nave about thirty paces long by ten wide made of massive oak posts and beams running down each wall and down the central aisle, with strong trusses supporting the gabled roof of timber slats and the walls clad with timber. It had no bell-tower, with its bell being supported by a small external wooden frame outside the main door. The altar was simple and restrained, with a beautifully embroidered altar cloth and brass candlesticks. The golden chalice, pyx and other sacred items were removed by Father Edward to the rectory after each service, as the church was left unlocked.

Anne had in the past stated that the reason for her preference for the church, apart from its convenience, was that she liked both the priest and the members of the congregation, that it remained reasonably warm in winter and most particularly because it was equipped with rows of benches on which the congregation could sit. Both she and Alan found attending services in the church considerably more restful than those at Thorrington or Wivenhoe as they usually could simply be members of the congregation instead of having to play the part of ‘the lord and lady of the manor’.

However, it was no usual occasion when the following morning the whole household attended at the church, along with much of the remainder of the congregation summoned by the slow tolling of the bell. Aitkin, who had been lying wrapped in his shroud near the altar his death, had been placed in a fine wooden coffin, with candles burning at both foot and head. Alan and Anne were sparing little expense to give an appropriate send-off for a valued servant. After a simple but moving service conducted in English by a subdued Father Edward the cortege moved out to the graveyard, where in the autumn sunlight Aitkin was laid to rest. Aidith and Tiw stood with their arms about each others shoulders and sobbed in anguish.

That evening Alan and Anne dressed carefully for the reception at Westminster and rather than walk the short distance in their finery they had arranged to hire a fine carriage for the night. They and two men-at-arms, the latter in their best clothes and each carrying a sword and seax, stepped down from the carriage outside the entrance to the Great Hall. Oil-soaked rush torches lit the entrance, and inside were more torches and many candles attached to sconces. The guards were shown to a separate Hall for servants, while Alan and Anne entered the Grand Hall.

Festivities had already commenced and a stately processional dance was taking place, involving about thirty couples and with a similar number looking on. A band of a dozen musicians was placed along one wall in the middle of the Hall and they were playing with skill and verve. Many of the dancers were less skilled, courtly dances not being high on the list of things usually studied by noble-born Norman warriors. However, clearly some had received some education in that skill, perhaps recently at the insistence of their wives. A number of foppish courtiers showed elegant moves on the dance-floor.

Alan and Anne were conducted to Hugh and Adelize de Grandmesnil. Ladies’ hands were kissed and men’s forearms grasped. Anne wandered off with Beatrice de Builly, the wife of Robert Count of Eu.

Alan, dressed in his usual garb of black linen and silk embroidered with silver, watched his wife, who was dressed in a low-cut dress of russet taffeta, circulate amongst her friends. “A fine turn-out,” he commented to his host Hugh de Grandmesnil.

Hugh snorted and gave a scowl, watching a dance where the men hopped and leaped like hares. “The Hall is full of homosexual pricks, pederasts and sycophants. They can dance and provide attention to the ladies, but are useless ornaments. It’s events like this that make me appreciate the benefits of my otherwise dullard retainers! Let’s go get a cup of wine and drown our sorrows!”

In the intensely political atmosphere of the court favourites there was no such thing as a simple social occasion, and Alan found himself repeatedly included in discussions. One of the main topics of conversation was the political situation in the duchy of Maine, taken by William by force of arms several years before and now with his young son Robert installed as duke. The Manceaux were making their disaffection clear and revolt was expected. What surprised the barons was that William was apparently content to allow matters in Maine to take their course while he was bringing the English to heel.

Unusually for a meal involving the Norman nobility, this was not a sit-down affair involving large amounts of roast meat. Instead side-tables had been placed with a variety of finger-foods. Lorenze pies; sausages baked in bread rolls; small meat pies; spinach tarts; pork doucetty; veal crustade; pork flampoyntes; stuffed mushroom pastries; more meat pastries and cold roasted marinated chicken wings and drumsticks, all with a variety of dipping sauces and chutneys. There were excellent wines from Burgundy and the Loire.

Anne several times prevailed on Alan to take to the floor for several sets of the more restrained dances, principally line and circle dances. They stepped together as the dance and music dictated, now holding hands high and now arming, bowing and circling before sliding, progressing and stepping. After a set of bransels Alan begged off from dancing a set with more complicated steps, standing with several of the younger nobles, including William of Eu, King William’s nephew, and Ivo Taillebois, near the drinks table for some much-needed fortification.

CHAPTER TEN

Thorrington and York February 1069

Alan sat at a table on the slightly raised dais at the head of the Old Hall at Thorrington, the residence of the former thegn now used as a meeting-place since Alan had built his new residence nearby. With him sat Algar of Alresford and Leofstan of Great Holland, both wealthy and respected local thegns. At tables placed close by sat most of the local thegns, village headmen and the influential cheorls, numbering in all close on fifty men. Noticeable by their absence were the Normans appointed as lords of some of the local villages. They had not been invited, although a few of their cheorls had been.

It was Wednesday February 11th 1069, nine days after Candalmas had been celebrated. The weather outside was chilly and overcast with a steady drizzle. Despite the roaring fire in the Hall the men were cold and wore their cloaks wrapped tightly about them. Quart mugs of mulled ale had been handed out as the guests had arrived and two serving-wenches were circulating, holding two mugs in each hand and offering replacements to those whose mugs had been emptied.

Hlaford!” said Alan in Anglo-Saxon English in a clear and carrying voice, cutting through the low buzz of conversation and calling the meeting to order. “Gentlemen! Welcome and thank you for attending today. Now that the Festive Season is out of the way, hopefully we’ll all have more time for our duties!” Alan was using his ‘public speaking’ voice- well projected, without shouting, slow and clear with brief pauses every dozen words or so to allow the listeners’ ears and brains to catch up with his words. “I’m sure that we all know what happened some two weeks ago at Durham. King William, before he left to Winter in Normandy, appointed Robert de Commines to the earldom of Bamburgh, which was abandoned by Cospatric when he fled after the revolt at Exeter.

“De Commines arrived north of the Tyne last month with a substantial force of men, some 600 strong. Two weeks ago the Northumbrians broke into the city of Durham, killed all the Normans they could find, laid siege to the bishop’s house where de Commines was lodging. Unable to take it by storm they set it on fire. De Commines fled to the church and, like Copsi before him, was killed as he tried to escape the fire when the rebels burnt down the church. The Northumbrians seem to have this penchant for burning down houses and killing earls, but burning churches where men have sought sanctuary is something every Christian would deplore!” Alan paused and took a sip of ale. “While that is politically important enough, of greater importance is that the Northumbrians have not attempted to negotiate their concerns with King William, as others have in the last year or so- without much success I may say. They have elected Edgar the Aetheling as king. I hear that they are marching south to York.”

All present had heard the news, which had arrived and struck like a thunderbolt several days before. Silence continued during a further pause by Alan. “Although I’m a Norman, I’m a man of this Hundred and I believe I understand the wishes of the English geburs, and particularly the thegns and cheorls. The Aetheling is the last of the line of Alfred the Great. The English wish to have an English king. They wish the influence of foreigners to cease and for the foreigners to leave.” Alan paused again and looked closely at the faces before him. “I can understand that, although obviously most would say that I’m biased and have my own interests to protect, being one of those foreigners. I hope that my actions over the two years that I’ve been amongst you show that I have genuine concern for the people in this Hundred, and indeed all the English. I’ve done what I can to assist those affected by the excesses of those recently empowered, and protected the people of this Hundred from invasion.

“Have no doubt that King William will return from Normandy within days, if he has not landed already. He will go north like an Act of God. He is the best general in Christendom. He’s been leading armies, and winning, for twenty years. He defeated the best general England has probably ever had, even when Harold chose the most advantageous battlefield possible. At the moment the revolt is composed of the Northumbrians. Cospatric, Arnkell, the four sons of Karli and Maerle-Sveinn from Somerset, who fled north after Exeter. Even if earls Edwin and Morcar join them, which they have not done so far, the rebels will not have a leader or an army to match that of King William. Edwin and Morcar and the combined armies of the north were unable to even defeat the Norwegians- Harold had to do that.

“I’ve heard of a call to arms for Englishmen to march north to join the revolt. I’d suggest to you that you consider carefully what you have to gain and what you have to lose if you were to do so. You are not my men and I have no claim to give you instructions. My own men will be moving north- in support of the properly anointed king, King William. But I would urge you all to think long and hard before you act. This revolt will not succeed. Those who participate, if they survive, will lose all. King William is a man who rewards loyalty and punishes disloyalty. My recommendation is, if you do not feel able to support King William, that your interests would be best served by ‘sitting on the fence’ and taking no action. That way you lose nothing. Now I will leave you with Algar and Leofstan. A mid-day meal will be provided and I hope that you all make your own decisions that are best for each of you. May God assist you with your deliberations.”

That evening Alan and Anne sat at table with Leofstan. “What was the outcome of the discussions?” asked Alan.

Leofstan shrugged. “As you would expect. A lot of talk and hot air. A lot of patriotic waffle. Your point about the probable outcome of the revolt was well made and has caused many to pause for thought. I expect that in most cases the result of that thought will be to do nothing, as you suggested. Some few will march north and take their chances, but others will look at what they have and seek to retain that. The hand of the Norman invader has not fallen heavily on this Hundred, unlike others- you have seen to that. But men do want an English king and the Northumbrians have now elected Edgar the Aetheling, for good or bad. That will appeal to many whose hearts rule their heads- particularly those who don’t hold land that they may forfeit and so have little to lose but their lives. Englishmen, whether from the north or south, don’t like having a foreign king. They object to the favouritism shown to Normans and French, and to their arrogance. What the final outcome will be, we shall see. I’ll be staying at home and keep my sword in its scabbard.”

Two weeks later, on Thursday 26th February, Alan sat in the second row of chairs in the packed Great Hall at Westminster Palace. Around him sat the great nobles of the land, and standing in the back half of the Hall were the petty lords and their men. Some Englishmen sat amongst the nobles, including Earl Waltheof. Notable by their absence, although apparently invited, were Earl Morcar and Earl Edwin.

As King William rose from his seat, stern-faced and serious, the hubbub in the Hall quickly hushed. “My lords! Mesires!” he began. “Thank you for your attendance at this meeting of the Curia. The meeting is being held open due to the importance of our discussions. You are aware of the events of last month. The murder of the newly-appointed earl of Northumbria beyond the Tyne and the massacre of his men. In two years I’ve lost three earls of those lands! Two by murder by the family of Bamburgh, and Earl Cospatric of that family who fled in craven revolt after being named as earl of Bernicia.

“My patience with the people of Northumbria, and in particular the family of Bamburgh, is at an end. Robert fitzRichard held the castle at York and reported a large force of Northumbrians moving south and disaffection amongst the local Anglo-Danes. Yesterday I received dispatch from William Mallet, the sheriff of Yorkshire, that fitzRichard and most of his men were caught in ambush outside the castle and have been foully slaughtered. Mallet has requested assistance. He is confined in the castle and Edgar the Aetheling and the Northumbrian lords have been welcomed into the city by the people and nobles of York. My patience with the people of Yorkshire is also at an end. In four day’s time my army musters at Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. I expect you to have every man you can raise there ready to march north on that day.”

“What of Morcar and Edwin?” called a voice from the middle of the Hall.

“They are not here and have not answered my summons,” replied the king. “My planning is predicated on the predication that they oppose me. Now, I’m sure you all have much to do to prepare for war. I’ll see you all in four day’s time at Peterborough!”

With that William closed the session and stalked from the room.

Late in the evening three days later, on the first day of spring 1069, just after the monastery bell had rung for the late evening service of Vespers, Alan was sitting near the fire at an inn at Peterborough, tired, hungry, thirsty and with a sore back and legs. Darkness had just fallen outside and despite it being the first day of spring a cold and gusty wind was rattling the shutters on the windows. As he rubbed a hand tiredly over his eyes he reflected that he seemed to have been in perpetual motion for those three days. First a hard ride from London to Thorrington. A day of frantic activity at Thorrington as he finalised the muster of his men, then the marathon journey of 92 miles from Thorrington to Peterborough that day.

Anne had been left safely at the house at London with six guards, Osmund the scribe, her maids Udelle and Esme and of course baby Juliana. Alan was sure that Anne would take the opportunity to ready her trading empire for the resumption of activity with the presumably pending improvement in weather and would be meeting with her business manager Jacob the Jew. Anne loved the bustle, the shopping and social opportunities offered in London and always enjoyed her time in the city.

The day at Thorrington had been frenetic. Alan was glad he had anticipated events and that before he had departed from the manor to attend the meeting in London he had ordered equipment, supplies, horses and men to be ready at short notice. Weapons and stores had been ready packed and the horses re-shod, tack checked and oiled, leather tents aired, checked for mould and re-oiled.

Alan had ridden with 30 horsemen, a dozen archers and 6 grooms including Leof, all mounted, and 10 pack-horses carrying equipment and supplies. Alan had ridden his destrier warhorse Odin, who had displayed his usual bad temper and misbehavior. The horsemen were led by Hugh, Ainulf and Edric, the archers by the Welshman Owain and the Englishman Aethelbald. He had not followed King William’s instruction to bring every man he had. His feudal obligations were 6 men and he’d brought 42. The others, led by huscarle Brand and the Norman archer Roger, more than equal to that in number but mainly infantry and archers, had been left behind to protect the lands of Tendring Hundred against potential attack. Ship-borne attack by the Danes was an ever-present risk, and Alan also had little trust in some of his neighbours.

The longbowmen were Alan’s ‘secret weapon’ and they had been instructed to keep their bows out of sight in leather bags and not to practice at the butts. The horsemen were riding as light cavalry without lances, although these could be easily be cut if required.

His men were currently struggling with the wind and darkness to erect their ten-man leather tents on the common outside the city, where approximately 2,000 men were encamped. Alan had bought food for the men and horses, rather than having the aggravation of trying to obtain supplies from the army victualler late in the day and had arranged with a taverner for an 18 gallon kilderkin of ale to be collected by the men.

After downing two quarts of ale, and just as a bowl of mutton stew was placed in front of him giving off a delicious rich aroma, a messenger arrived to advise that Alan was required immediately at the abbey, where the king had taken quarters. Alan sighed, looked at his food and reaching a decision waved the flunkey to a chair while calling for the pot-boy to bring the man a quart of ale. “You had some trouble finding me,” instructed Alan as he wolfed his food down as quickly as he could.

Some ten minutes later they were striding through the town. It was fully dark but the messenger carried a flaming torch raised high so that they could see their path as they walked through the muddy streets, carefully avoiding the piles of rotting refuse. Most of the town was built on low-lying and marshy land next to the River Nene to the east of the stone-built abbey and they walked up a rise to the dryer limestone ground on which the abbey had been constructed. Despite the lateness of the hour the streets of the town were quite active, mainly with soldiers from the king’s army. Several patrols of foot-soldiers, a dozen strong, were making the rounds to ensure that nothing untoward took place.

Once inside the abbey Alan was directed to the abbot’s office, where the king and his cousin William fitzOsbern were sitting on a bench at a table near a roaring fire, papers spread in front of them. Noticing Alan’s travel-stained appearance the king waved Alan to sit at a bench opposite and to help himself to a cup of wine from the jug on the table. Alan did as he was bid and flexed his shoulders and back to relieve some of the stiffness.

“A long day in the saddle?” enquired fitzOsbern.

“No more than most. The distance from Colchester to here is much of a muchness at that from London to here. I’m just getting old,” said the man who would shortly be twenty-one, with a small smile.

“How many men?” asked the king briskly.

“Thirty- light horsemen. Pack-horses for the equipment,” replied Alan, deliberately failing to mention his archers. Anticipating the next question he added, “Mainly English, with Norman officers.”

The king pulled a wry face. “The English make poor cavalry in my experience.”

Alan bridled slightly at the implied criticism. “They’re properly trained and properly led. They’ll give a good account of themselves, as they did in Wales with Earl William here last year. They fought, and died, well enough then.”

FitzOsbern nodded his agreement. “True enough. Thorrington has good men, and well-led.” After a brief pause he continued, “Thirty men is a good number. You must have virtually emptied out your estates of every able-bodied man. I command the vanguard, and because of your success last year I want you and your men as scouts. We march at first light and will progress fifty miles to Lincoln. The next day from Lincoln to just short of York, seventy miles. The following day we retake the city.”

“For a large army, that’s traveling fast,” said Alan with a thoughtful frown. “In Wales we moved short distances very fast, but only after very careful scouting. We can’t move seventy miles in a day and have my men beat every bush and tree to see if it contains a man with a bow. What’s the lay of the land?”

“It’s poor for scouting,” replied fitzOsbern briefly. “It’s also poor for ambushes. Flat land with very few hills. Lots of marshes. The Ermine Street, the Old Roman North Road, skirts just to the west of the Fens. There’s a fair amount of light woodland and some thicker forests. The eastern part of Sherwood Forest comes up to the road. There’s just the one river crossing between here and Lincoln. No towns and only a handful of villages. Your task is twofold. To prevent a large ambush or unexpected attack on our forces when they are strung out along the road, but more particularly to prevent their scouts and spies reporting back where we are and what we’re doing. We want to hit York by surprise early on Wednesday.”

“Keeping the approach of 2,000 men hidden will not be easy,” commented Alan.

“At least 3,000 men,” interjected the king. “Probably closer to 4,000. The men from the south-west and midlands will be marching up the Fosse Way and meeting us at Lincoln. I’m leaving a strong force on the Welsh border so they don’t try to take advantage of me being distracted. Other than that, I’m determined to make a show of force.”

“Lincolnshire and the fens are the haunts of Hereward ‘the Wake’,” reminded Alan.

The king shrugged. “He has a few hundred men and could make some trouble, mainly by delaying us. He’s unlikely to be your worry. You’ll be scouting ahead. The flanks will be covered by others. Even 2,000 men take up a lot of road and I’m well aware that an army that strung out and with no room for maneuver is at risk. That’s why I want to move fast.”

Alan tilted his head and pulled a wry face, his body-language showing he didn’t agree but it wasn’t his problem. “I’d best go and pass the good news to my men that they have to rise two hours before everybody else, and get a good night of sleep,” he said, draining his cup and rising to his feet.

Between Peterborough and Lincoln were a handful of villages. Glinton, Market Deeping, Langtoft and Baston; the crossing of the Glen River; Bourne; Falkingham and, just south of Lincoln, Bracebridge Heath. Alan’s men soon developed a rhythm. Ten men would ride on the road itself some two miles ahead of the vanguard of the army. Wherever possible two squads each of ten men would push through the countryside half a mile from the road. Usually this was not possible on the eastern flank as the fens and marshes came close to the road, forcing the scouts closer to the road. On the western flank it was difficult to move cross-country even on horseback as quickly as the army marching on the well-made road. At each village the flanking squads would swing around to the north of the village, two squads entering the village from the north as the squad riding the road entered from the south. The remaining men would observe from cover to the north to ensure that no riders or messengers hurried north. The squads in the village would hand over to the army’s vanguard and then hurry north to take their position again.

At the bridge over the Glen River near Bourne two squads pushed past to cover the village from the north, while the others held the bridge until the vanguard arrived, before again leap-frogging ahead. No difficulties or incidents were experienced that day, and Alan had not expected any as they were moving through ostensibly friendly country. The next day he expected to be somewhat different.

Approaching Lincoln from the south Alan led a single squad to the wooden bridge over the River Witham to ensure that the large party of guards which could be seen about the bridge and the gate were in fact loyal to the sheriff. Lincoln is unusual in that it is built in a gap in the Lincoln Cliff. A limestone escarpment up 200 feet high, although less than that in the city, split the city into the Uphill and Downhill. The wooden motte and bailey castle built the previous year (unusual in having two mottes) and the foundations being laid for the stone cathedral dominated the landscape on the Uphill, rather than being centrally located or near the river. Alan and his men rode up the appropriately-named Steep Hill Road, the horses finding some difficulty in obtaining footing on the muddy surface. Despite its location in an inhospitable countryside comprised mainly of swamps and salt water marshes, the city was obviously large, bustling and prosperous, with a population of about 5,000- principally because of the navigability of the river allowing easy access to the sea and the proximity of the Trent Valley.

It was early afternoon when Alan and his men arrived at the castle, confirmed with the castellan that the army was expected and ate a hurried hot meal of pottage, mutton stew and bread. They then secured food supplies for several days from the victualler before the arrival of the army stripped the city bare of food and drink. They passed out through North Gate just as the vanguard of the army was approaching the city from the south.

They chose a location to camp about two miles north of the city and a quarter of a mile west of the road, hidden by a copse of trees. Despite the cold blustery wind the men soon had the tents erected, Alan instructing that only three be used. North of Lincoln the lie of the land showed some variation for the first time since leaving Peterborough. Between the valley of the Trent to the west and the low chalk hills of the Lincoln Wolds to the east, the land undulated and had patches of small trees and bushes instead of the almost flat and bare appearance of the land further south.

Alan instructed two of his four twelve-man squads to get what rest they could, posted four men as guards on the camp and divided the other two squads to produce four patrols each of two archers, four horsemen and one groom- the latter to act as a horse-holder. Alan placed the men so as to form a net, which included the camp and its guards, half a mile wide. Each group of men were carefully hidden and with their horses close at hand. Two groups covered the road itself, on opposite sides and with the second group being about 500 paces north of the first. Their instructions were to observe any person traveling south to the city, but to intercept and if necessary kill any person leaving the city and heading north towards York. Their task was made easier by the fact that the Roman Road ran due north as straight as an arrow, and the paucity of villages and farmhouses made it unlikely that any local farmers would be straggling home after a day in the city.

Shortly after four in the afternoon, about the time that Alan anticipated the main body of the king’s army would be marching into sight of the city, his men began to earn their pay for the day. In a period of about three-quarters of an hour four separate riders could be seen urging their horses north along the road. Three chose to ignore the call to halt and were shot out of their saddles by the archers, two having successfully avoided the first patrol and being shot down without further warning by the second. The remaining man was taken back to Lincoln with a two-man escort, for his guilt or innocence as a spy to be determined.

One man traveling south towards Lincoln was followed and later detained at North Gate because of his suspicious behaviour, not least his traveling alone.

Alan changed over the guards at eight in the evening, two hours after dark. Those coming on duty had taken the opportunity to have about four hours of sleep. This had not been difficult given their exhaustion after two days of solid riding- the difficulty had been in waking them up. As Alan had refused permission to light a campfire, they ate a cold meal of smoked ham, bread and cheese before they took the places of the other men, who quickly ate their own meal and then wrapped themselves in their blankets and immediately fell asleep. Six hours later they were roused and instructed to resume their posts. Alan accompanied them as they relieved the other guards, who reported that well after dark another two men had ridden north and been shot down without any warning. Alan had no argument with that as no local farmer would be riding a horse, let alone three or four hours after dark. After installing each patrol at their guard station Alan returned to the camp to snatch a further few hours of sleep.

Knowing that the city gates were closed until dawn, and certain that in the circumstances no bribe would be taken by the gate-guards to open early, Alan recalled his guards at about half-past four in the morning, an hour before first light. This time Alan allowed a cooking fire to be lit and after a hot breakfast the soldiers rode north. The grooms were left to dismantle the camp and to load the pack-horses after cooking the remainder of the supplies received the previous day. The dressed pig they had received was cut into joints which were boiled, as were the beans, peas and parsnips. Alan anticipated that they again wouldn’t be able to use a cooking fire that evening.

Alan slipped briefly into the city to confirm his orders and plans with fitzOsbern, noted the arrival of the expected reinforcements from Exeter and the south-west after their march along the Fosse Way, and returned to his men.

The Ermine Street Roman road ran due north, almost as straight as an arrow, passing just the village of Fillingham before taking a sharp turn to the west near Brigg to cross the River Trent and then proceeding north to the crossing of the River Aire. Then they rode further north to Selby, where the Benedictine monks were just breaking the ground for the foundations of a new abbey south of the River Ouse.

With the land as flat as a ruler and no cover for close on a mile Alan and his men approached the wooden bridge over the River Ouse with their horses at a canter. For the first time on their journey the bridge was guarded against them, with about fifteen men on duty. Stopping short of the bridge, Alan turned half of his force to face the village just to the south to repel the off-duty guards who were hurrying to join their compatriots. He then let his archers loose on the guards on the bridge. Barely a hundred paces away, those guards on the south bank were dead within thirty seconds, riddled with yard-long arrows from the longbowmen. Alan pushed horsemen across the bridge to chase and kill the half dozen guards who had been on the north side of the bridge and who had fled north for their lives. Within another two minutes the fleeing guards had lost both the race and their lives.

After that Alan placed thirty of his men north of the bridge, securing the crossing of the river while he waited for the vanguard of the army to arrive.

With this action the king’s army had secured the last natural obstacle before approaching York, now less than twelve miles distant, and apparently remained undetected.

When the vanguard arrived at about three in the afternoon, Alan handed off the village and bridge to them and moved a little north of the bridge. After his men advanced tiredly half a mile beyond the bridge a camp was set up and Alan allowed a fire to cook a meal. The landscape was still as flat as a pancake looking north towards the village of Ash Ridge. Again Alan set up a rotating system of rest as he set up a defensive umbrella, this time facing north. With the river and the bridge securely held behind them there was no need to watch for spies taking word north, only for scouts moving south.

The main body of the army arrived near dusk, nearly 4,000 strong, including the reinforcements from the south-west of England who had arrived at Lincoln the evening before.

As darkness was falling Alan arrived at the village inn that King William had requisitioned for his own use, and was surprised to see Queen Matilda and several maids heading upstairs as he arrived. Alan had not previously been aware that the tiny-statured queen was with the expedition and was surprised by her presence, despite her forceful personality and obvious attachment to her husband. For any expedition leader to take his wife on campaign was most unusual- particularly in this case, given the imminent expected birth of her next child, confirmed by her extremely gravid state and slow progress up the stairs as Alan looked on. Alan was sure that the king could do without this distraction on an important campaign, but Matilda was an unusually strong-willed woman.

Tired, hungry and annoyed, well aware that he stank like a polecat after three days on horseback and had not taken his boots off in that time, Alan dropped into a chair opposite the king and his half-brother Robert Count of Mortain and cousin William fitzOsbern, helping himself to a cup of wine without invitation. He flexed his shoulders and back to alleviate the aching as he leaned against the wooden wall and closed his eyes. He just wished he could do something about his thighs aching from three days in the saddle, but doubted he would find a hot bath and sympathetic massage here. Leof, Edric and Owain had accompanied him and stood just inside the door to the Hall, looking horrified at his presumptuous behaviour.

William gave a half-smile at this display of lese-majesty, noting the black marks of sleeplessness under the eyes and filthy disheveled appearance of the man before him, as he concluded his previous conversation.

“Sir Alan!” he said sharply, to rouse Alan from the doze he had quickly dropped into. As Alan’s eyes opened the king said, “Sorry to awaken you, but fitzOsbern says you have done particularly well since we left Peterborough, as indeed he had expected after your work together in Wales. We’re twelve miles south of York. Tomorrow I want your men to push ahead to cover our advance. FitzOsbern and his vanguard will take the bridge at York. Then I want you to push through beyond the city to provide scouting cover again to the north.”

Alan looked at his cup and thought, ‘I must have been tired to go to sleep without drinking that’, before he corrected his omission. Putting the cup down, he shook his head tiredly. “I am sorry, my liege, but my men are played out. We rode over ninety miles in a day to reach Peterborough. Fifty miles to Lincoln and sixty something miles here. Nothing unusual in that, but when your men sleep at night we scout and protect them. No warm beds. No hot food. No servants to care for our needs. There is a limit that men can serve for twenty-four hours in a day and we have reached that. If you want constant scouting cover, you have to provide sufficient men for the night shift. The problem is we have to ride all day to keep up with your men’s advance and then have to work all night. My men will provide advance cover tonight and then at daybreak I’m withdrawing them for a day of rest.”

With a thoughtful expression the king nodded and replied, “Very well, I look forward to seeing you in the field the day after tomorrow. Your men can rest here in Selby tomorrow and form part of the guard I’m leaving for the queen. As I understand it, her time has come, waters have broached and the next prince or princess of England will be born in this village. They will follow later.”

In confusion Alan said, “I’m most surprised that the queen accompanied you at this time.”

William gave a snort of amusement. “So am I,” he replied. “However, Matilda is not a woman to whom it is easy to say ‘no’, irrespective of the circumstances. And, of course, I already have three sons, safe in Normandy. At least, from my own experiences, I hope they are safe!” After a pause he added, “Robert of Eu is looking after them, as he looked after me. I trust that none will need to lay down their lives to protect them, as was needed to protect me.”

Seeing that Alan was nodding off to sleep again, he clicked his fingers to attract the attention of a servant. “Food and drink for Sir Alan and,” with a glance at those standing by the door, “his men. Instantly! Now, Robert, about…”

The king had obviously sent his cooks ahead of the main body of the army, as roast pheasant and venison were provided along with roast vegetables, gravy and several sauces, followed by a sweet pie made with preserved berries. Alan and the Englishmen drank ale instead of the fine wine offered as they still had a night of duty to perform, before they returned replete to their camp. There the others had completed their meal of reheated boiled pork and vegetables, stale bread and cheese, washed down with river water- which was probably better fare than most in the army received that day. ‘Nobody said life was fair,’ mused Alan, his belly full of delicious food, as he detailed the first men to the guard positions.

Despite his tiredness and his poor ability to perform at his best when fatigued, Alan rose and checked the guards three times during the night. There are few things more certain to keep a guard’s attention that the expectation that any moment either his captain or his lord would appear without warning and hopefully not be welcomed with an arrow in the belly.

As dawn broke a little before six in the morning, the men that Alan had undertake the second shift of the night watch returned to the camp. Four men were posted as guards and the grooms sent to the village to collect breakfast, as the army marched past heading towards York some twelve miles away. The grooms returned with news that the queen had overnight borne a son, her fourth, to be named Henry. Prince Henry’s birth was toasted and food was eaten before the exhausted troops wrapped themselves in their blankets for a well deserved rest.

The following day Alan and his men rode the short distance north to York. The previous day the city had capitulated before the king’s army as cravenly as it had surrendered to the Northumbrians shortly before. As the army had approached the bridge over the River Ouse a delegation had ridden forth from the city offering its abject submission. The siege of the castle had been lifted and the city of 8,000 souls, the second largest in England, was at least nominally peaceful and in friendly hands. How peaceful a city can be with an occupying and mainly foreign army of 4,000 is somewhat questionable, and the patrols in the city streets were kept busy detaining both rebels and marauding Normans.

York having surrendered and submitted to the king, the following day Alan was requested to attend a meeting of the Curia at St Peter’s Cathedral at mid-day, the recently-built castle being judged too small and rough for such a prestigious event. After passing through Micklegate Bar, with the castle built just a few months before looming over the town on his right, he passed along the Shambles, Low Petergate and into Minster Yard before entering the cathedral precinct. The town was crowded with soldiers. Small groups of troops thronged the main streets, mainly taking in the sights and spending the few pennies they had on ale or food or buying trinkets from the costermongers and other stall-holders.

The king had arranged for Mass to be said for the assembled members of the Curia. After a short and simplified service performed by one of the Canons, with no homily by the priest and a minimum of hymns sung by the choir, the members of the Curia were ushered into the Refectory. A simple meal of pottage and a tasteless boiled mutton stew were served with stale bread. Then the king stood at his place at the high-table and the previous buzz of conversation ceased. Ealdred, Archbishop of York, sat at the king’s right hand. He was one of the few citizens of the city to emerge in William’s favour, having steadfastly refused to participate in the coronation of Edgar the Aetheling and having spent the last few weeks roundly condemning the revolt both privately and from the pulpit.

“My lords! Your efforts of the last week or so have been quite notable. Gathering so large a force and moving it so far and so quickly is creditable. We moved as many men in less time than the English did in their much-vaunted march to Stamford Bridge, which lies just seven miles from here.

“York has submitted to peace, although when we entered the city yesterday we found some hundreds of enemy soldiers who had not had the chance to flee, and whom we put to the sword. I thank Archbishop Ealdred for his intervention in the name of peace. However, I must say that personally I would have preferred a decent battle to take the city, so that I could burn it to the ground to make the point that rebellion against my rule is totally unacceptable. The Archbishop has successfully pleaded for mercy for the city, likening it to a woman of easy virtue who just can’t say no to any nobleman who presents himself. While the city may not have been burned, its burgesses will pay a very heavy financial price and will provide hostages to ensure future good behaviour.

“A second castle will be raised immediately, close to the site of the existing castle but on the other side of the River Ouse. Gilbert de Ghent will be the castellan. York is the second-largest city in the kingdom and is positioned to prevent the descent of the Scottish and Northumbrian barbarians into the rich Midlands of England. We have recovered York, which was our main objective. What do we do next? Unfortunately, we fight a beast which is somewhat formless.

“Other than the Aetheling, who has yet again fled back to Scotland and is in any event a cat’s-paw for other ambitious men, there is nobody other than the family of Bamburgh and the people of Northumbria that we target. Cospatric and the others have fled in their ships from the River Humber and where they have gone we know not. Whatever army they had has dispersed. One could say that we have achieved what we needed to do- but I refuse to accept that we will need to do this every year. North of here the only significant settlements are Durham and Monkchester. There is nothing to suggest that the Cumbrians have been involved in this revolt, and anyway that land is largely under the sway of the Scots and the Manx Norwegians. Durham is 65 miles away. Monkchester is 90 miles away on the mouth of the river Tyne. Both are so small they are hardly worth the effort of burning, but some such gesture is needed. Gilbert de Ghent, I direct you to take a force of the Flemish mercenaries to Durham. Every manor belonging to Cospatric, Cnut Karlison, Sumarlithr Karlison, Gamall Karlison, Thorbrand Karlison and Arnkell is to be burnt and every animal slaughtered, whether in Yorkshire or Northumbria. Send men specifically to seek out and destroy those manors. Every village in Northumbria along the road to Durham is to be burnt and again the livestock carried away or slaughtered. Obviously, you’ll do that on your way back.

“In a week’s time I return to Winchester. Gilbert, I expect to hear from you that Durham is destroyed before I leave.

“Any comments or suggestions? No? Then I will ask Archbishop Ealdred to give us all his blessing and we can get to work.”

After a rest of two days Gilbert de Ghent led 1,000 men, mainly Flemish mercenaries, north towards Durham. They intended to take two days to cover the 65 miles, traveling more cautiously than King William’s much larger army on its march north several days before. Alan and his men were allocated scouting duty in the countryside around York, being given rest on alternate days. As was his wont, Alan spent most of his free days in the library at York Minster, finding several new books which he arranged for the monks to copy in return for works from Colchester Priory.

Every peasant nearby and all the townsfolk, including the well-to-do and the women, were recruited as forced labour to raise the artificial hill that would comprise the motte of the new castle, dig its defensive ditch and to cut and drag in the timber required for construction of the palisade and buildings. By Tuesday 10th March the castle was nearly completed and that day King William, the queen, the new-born prince departed south to Winchester together with 1,000 men, leaving William fitzOsbern to conduct the ‘mopping up’ operations and supervise the completion of the second castle.

Two days after the king and his entourage had departed, Gilbert de Ghent returned. The expedition against Durham had not proceeded well. After a relatively slow and difficult march of two days the Flemings had approached the town, only to find the area wreathed in fog so dense that a man could barely see his hand before of his face. The fog, and the Flemings, had both persisted for three days before, short of supplies, Gilbert had withdrawn his men. Apparently the English were attributing the fog to the intervention of St. Cuthbert, the patron saint of Durham.

FitzOsbern retained 1,000 men at York, mainly mercenaries, dismissed the feudal levies and paid off the remaining mercenaries, before departing for Winchester on 4th April, the day before Palm Sunday.

Alan and his men formed part of the host returning south.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Thorrington London and Wales April 1069

Alan rode tiredly into the bailey at Thorrington in the middle of the afternoon of Tuesday 7th April at the head of his armed contingent. Whilst there had been no pressing urgency, they had ridden from York to Lincoln and then to Huntingdon in two days- primarily as there were no towns at which to stay between York and Peterborough other than the city of Lincoln itself. At Huntingdon they had left Ermine Street, the old Roman road between London and the north, and headed south-east at a more leisurely pace along the more closely populated lands, taking nearly two days to cover what they had ridden in one day when they had ridden north.

In the countryside through which they passed the geburs- cheorls, sokemen and cottars- and on the larger estates slaves, were hard at work on their rustic pursuits. No matter what the nobles may do, or what armies march, the people had to sow and reap the year’s harvest- or all would starve. The last of the ploughing was being completed, teams of four, six or eight oxen dragging the metal-tipped wooden mould-board ploughs through the ground to turn the sod. In other fields the first of the sowing was taking place. In the meadows and pastures newly-born calves, lambs and foals suckled or gamboled under the watchful eyes of their herders.

Alan dismounted near the manor stables and a groom led Odin away to be rubbed down, watered and fed. Faran the steward greeted his lord with the news that Anne was still in London. Alan presumed she was still attending to business. Anne, originally from the commercial city of Ipswich, was still at heart a city girl and found the activity and insularity or a rural holding somewhat boring- although she could fulfill those duties admirably after her time as lady of two such households. However, she much preferred the stimulation of the ‘cut and thrust’ of merchant activity and the social life that a city could offer.

After performing several knee bends and back stretches to loosen his muscles after four days of riding Alan entered the luxuriously-appointed stone-built Hall, ordered the water in the large wooden tun barrel in the bathing house to be heated and wolfed down a meal of pork stew. An hour later he was soaking in the warm water, bathing properly for the first time in a month and allowing the warm water to loosen his tired muscles.

That evening Alan spent time with Faran receiving reports on progress in his several estates in the Hundred and issuing instructions. On the morrow he would ride to Great Bentley in the morning to view the progress of the horse-stud and in the afternoon see Toland the Thorrington headman and his assistant Erian.

Alan was up before the dawn, broke his fast and arrived at Great Bentley not long after dawn after a short ride. As with all horse-training establishments, activity was by that hour already in full swing. Alan discussed progress of the stud with stud-master Brunloc and the Norman horse-trainer William of Amiens, and was delighted to hear that the spring foaling was now complete with the addition of 74 new foals, both here and at the original establishment at Ramsey. The latter remained under the stern hand of the aged expert stud-master Roweson, who continued to keep a close eye on his former apprentice in the operation of the new stud at Great Bentley. These foals would in three years time be available and trained to either replace losses amongst the horses currently used by Alan’s men or to be sold at the horse markets of London, Winchester and Colchester. Specially bred and war-trained horses were almost unknown in England and each horse would bring a price that itself would more than cover the very high wages that Alan paid William the horse-trainer for his specialist services.

The mid-day meal was eaten leisurely in the company of Toland and Erian, who reported social and economic news of the village. Being spring there were a number of marriages to be celebrated, in some cases as a matter of urgency to ensure the nuptials were finalised before the birth of a child. There had been several deaths, and more births. The astarting of the woodlands to increase arable land had progressed well. There had been damage to the salt-pans in the winter storms and Alan was advised the repair work had already been completed to correct this.

The following day Alan, Leof and a ten-strong party of mounted huscarles led by Ranulf, who had all been left behind when the others marched on the northern campaign, rode south for London, covering the nearly seventy mile ride in a little over nine hours including meal stops. Alan had spent so much time on horseback over the last few weeks he was beginning to think he had forgotten how to use his legs and that his backside had died and gone to hell. The last couple of miles passing through the crowded city streets of London had been frustratingly slow with pedestrians, carts and wagons moving at a snail’s pace and road traffic being forced to trickle through narrow gaps between vendor’s stalls and the crowds of customers they attracted.

Arriving at Holebourn Bridge Alan dismounted from the rouncey he had ridden, handed the animal over to the stableboy Tiw, and then strode into the Hall. Anne was sitting in the Hall with Bjorn, the captain of the merchant cog Zeelandt which was owned by Alan and Anne. The huge old man with shaggy hair, beard, following moustache and twinkling bright blue eyes, watched as Anne, with an exclamation of delight, rose to kiss and hug her husband. After a long lingering kiss Alan turned towards the old Viking sea-captain, his arm around Anne’s shoulders tucking him in to her side. “God Hael, Bjorn! You are still alive I see, you old sea-pirate. How went the voyage?”

Bjorn snorted in feigned disgust at the defamatory, but formerly true, appellation of ‘pirate’. After a sip of ale while Alan and Anne were seating themselves together on a padded bench he replied, “Well enough, you young whippersnapper. I had to use those big cross-bows of yours on a pirate out of Guernsey. He must have been a new man and not heard about us. He never will now! I must get the men to practice more, it took over a dozen shots at less than a hundred paces to set him on fire using those fire-arrows of yours.” He was referring to Alan having placed a small ballista aboard the ship, mounted aft, and the special bolts he had fashioned that each carried a pint of incendiary material akin to Greek Fire, and which he now kept a close secret. Bjorn continued, “And then, damn me, on the return off Finistere we get becalmed and the tide nearly takes us onto the Penmark Rocks, just out from Quimper. You could see the crabs on the rocks waving to us by the time the lads used the oars to sweep us clear. I nearly shat my pants! How have you spent your spring?”

Despite Alan’s homecoming a simple though filling meal was served, there still being two days remaining in Lent and Anne being religiously observant. This comprised a Barnacle Goose pie, not considered to be meat as it was believed to reproduce from barnacles. Alan spent an hour or so describing the northern expedition and his part in it. “So apart from killing a few guards and a few men who were probably spies, my men did very little. The only fighting that happened was slaughtering a few rebels in York, men who had been too drunk or too stupid to run away, and we were asleep miles away at the time,” he concluded.

“So nothing was resolved?” asked Anne.

“Not so you would notice,” replied Alan. “York was retaken, which was necessary as whoever controls York controls the gateway south to the Midlands. The king wasn’t able to bring the rebels to battle. The leaders fled back to Scotland or overseas. There are virtually no towns in the north to take or hold and the push towards Durham was defeated by the weather- or some are saying by divine intervention.”

“I’ve heard that after Eastertide the queen and most of the ladies of the court will be returning to their family and friends in Normandy and the queen will visit her family in Flanders,” said Anne.

“Hmm,” replied Alan thoughtfully. “While the king has a strong grip on the duchy, we Normans are always a fractious lot and given to internal brawling. That’s why the king returns to Normandy each summer to sort out those arguments. Flanders is no longer quite as friendly as it was before. Philip of France is just old enough to think he needs to do something to show off his prowess, and the Angevins have resolved their civil war with Geoffrey le Barbu fighting his brother Fulk, and Geoffrey being the loser and being imprisoned last year. Fulk le Rechin would be more than happy to try to assume William’s overlordship of Brittany and Maine and try to recover some of the land and influence his duchy lost during Geoffrey’s reign.”

“It’s like a barrel of tar being put on a smoldering fire,” commented Bjorn. “The smoldering fire can be contained and the barrel of tar is in itself harmless. But when the tar boils the barrel will explode and the conflagration will burn down the house. At the moment the tar is heating and starting to bubble.” He took a gulp of ale and continued. “Talking about tar, I met a Norwegian merchant when I was in Bordeaux. He told me that last month he tried to buy Stockholm tar in Denmark. None was available for love or money. The Danes had bought every barrel available.” Bjorn noticed the frown and look of incomprehension on Alan’s face. With a sigh he continued, “It’s easy to see you aren’t a sailor, boy. The Danes have suddenly decided to refit their fleet. All of the ships at the same time. The captains of their longboats are all very independent-minded men. Why would they all decide to do that at the same time?”

Bjorn indicated to the servant to bring him another quart of ale and wiped the froth from his moustache. “That made my arse itch, so I called in at several French ports on the way back, instead of seeking a quick trip. That’s why I ran into problems off Penmark Rocks, being outward bound from Nantes. I met a ship captain from Haarlem, in North Holland, in a tavern. After I’d poured a few drinks into him, he told me that word was out in the Baltic for the ships to avoid the east coast of England this summer. The word is being passed by the Danes to those who are their friends.” By now the light of understanding had dawned in Alan’s eyes. Bjorn nodded. “The Danes are coming this summer, and in force. Perhaps as many as a hundred or more ships. I’d suggest you look to your defenses in Essex, boy. And stop having Birgitta and Stormsvale sailing into Colchester and Ipswich if you don’t want them sunk.”

It was typical of their differing areas of responsibility that Alan and Anne had different immediate concerns at this news. Alan’s thoughts turned to what would need to be done to protect his estates from attack. Anne considered how best to re-arrange the mercantile business to minimise any loss and to perhaps reap some profit. After discussion with Bjorn it was agreed that Birgitta, which plied the route from Ipswich to Narvik in Norway, taking copper, tin and cloth north to trade for whale oil, Stockholm tar and herrings (the fish being dried, salted, smoked or pickled) cease that route immediately. A disruption of the trade across the North Sea would mean higher prices for these goods in both directions, but only if they could be safely transported.

Bjorn suggested that one ship travel between Narvik and Flanders. Anne suggested Rotterdam or Haarlem, but Bjorn had advised that they were too far north and too close to the route that the Danes would take to raid England. He suggested instead Oostend, a small port town in northern Flanders. His reasoning was that the Danes were always raiding the East Baltic and if they were also to start large-scale raiding on England that they wouldn’t seek conflict with other countries. After all, they had to have somebody to trade with. He was sure that trade between Norway and Flanders would be left alone. The goods could then be carried across the channel from Oostend to London, a distance of about eighty miles by a second ship. Stormsvale was currently undertaking the Haarlem-Colchester-London route and could easily enough ply between Oostend and London, probably undertaking three voyages for each one that the other ships in the fleet undertook. With a crew composed of Norwegians and Flemings, whatever ship undertook the northern route could masquerade as belonging to either country, with probably Norway being the favoured choice. But that ship could not be Birgitta as she was well-known in the North Sea as being English. After discussion it was agreed that Zeelandt would sail under Bjorn between Narvik and Oostend, Stormsvale between Oostend and London and Birgitta between London and Bordeaux. The ballista would be removed from Zeelandt and placed on Birgitta. Bjorn would rely on bluff and pretence, rather than force.

“Is London safe?” asked Alan.

“From the Danes?” asked Bjorn, his forehead creased with thought. “No. England has no navy and nothing to stop the Danes from raiding where they wish. You’re right, they will probably raid London once, maybe twice, during the summer and take or burn every ship in the harbour. The city itself would be safe behind its walls, but your house here… Well, maybe it’s far enough away from the river. Considering that, it may be worth having Birgitta home-port at Southampton. That should be far enough away to be safe and it’s the closest port to the capital at Winchester, so the wine should sell easily enough. That spreads the risk to the ships as far as we can.”

After Bjorn had left Alan and Anne slipped quietly into the nursery to see baby Juliana. Alan smiled in satisfaction to see the chubby girl, now with auburn hair like her mother, fast asleep and sucking her thumb.

The next day, Holy Saturday, was supposedly a day of prayer, rest and reflection. However, Bjorn had told Alan and Anne that both Zeelandt and Stormsvale were in the port and intending to unload into the warehouse on Fish Street that day, so that the crews could enjoy the celebrations of Easter Week starting on Sunday. As Bjorn had put it, “Sailors aren’t much good at praying unless there’s a storm or pirates are coming up astern.”

Alan rose early and penned a letter to the Chancellor Herfast advising of what they had heard and their conclusions, well aware that management of intelligence information comprised putting together disparate pieces of information to form a picture. Leof was dispatched to deliver the letter to Herfast’s office at Westminster.

Later Alan and Anne strolled arm-in-arm through the relatively uncrowded city streets towards the docks near the bridge. The air near the docks was considerably less fetid that usual, with most of the noisome trades such as tanning and fulling being closed for the religious holiday period, and to walk past those workshops without breathing the stench of urine and faeces made a pleasant change. At the docks the usual smells of mud, rotting vegetation and piles of discarded refuse overpowered the clean scent of salt air.

Both Zeelandt and Stormsvale were alongside the dock, and with the tide being out the decks were much lower than the wharf. Both ships had windlasses standing on the wharf, being used to lift the barrels from the ships and onto heavy wagons standing nearby on the wharf, which were then trundled off to the nearby warehouse. The large tun casks, each of over 250 gallons, were winched up by the windlass, whose arm was then swung across to allow the cask to be placed onto a wagon. The wagon was then hauled away and at the warehouse it drew up alongside a ramp onto which the barrel was rolled and pushed down the ramp and into place in the storage areas. With only fifty casks per ship the unloading process would not take long, except for the few smaller casks of precious spices and olive oil carried by Zeelandt. Before sailing the ships would be loaded with other goods from the warehouse, mainly bales of cloth and iron-bound wooden crates containing ingots of copper and tin.

The captain of Stormsvale was provided with instructions to undertake a single voyage to Narvik. There he was to fill up with as much whale oil as possible, tar if it was again available, and return as quickly as he could. No space was to be wasted on herrings. Preserved fish of one type or another were always available from somewhere, but whale oil for lamps and tar for caulking ships could only come from the north. Anne was sure that within a few months the price for those commodities would be sky-high due to scarcity. Zeelandt would also head north for its next voyage. Anne’s Jewish business manager Jacob was present, Easter of course not having any significance to him. Anne sat with him in the small and dingy office at the warehouse and provided instructions as to the change of trade arrangements, and the change of crewing so that most of the Norwegian, Flemish and Dutch sailors were on Zeelandt, and for Jacob to take ship to Oostend to make arrangements there for the use of the facilities of that port instead of Haarlem.

When back at the house at Holebourn Bridge Alan and Anne ate a mid-day meal that was again simple and plain, and unusually sat alone instead of with several members of the household with them. The reason for that soon became obvious when Anne smiled quietly at her husband and said, “I haven’t had the opportunity to tell you of my own news. You are to be a father again in November.”

Alan had been taking a gulp of ale and nearly choked, spraying ale- but managing to turn his head to avoid hitting Anne. “Praise be to God!” he said, taking her hand across the table and kissing it.

“Hopefully a son this time,” added Anne.

Alan waved his free hand in a dismissive motion. “It matters little,” he said, although both knew that was not true. “As long as both you and the child are healthy. You know how delighted I am with Juliana.”

Anne smiled again in appreciation of the comment but knew that her main function in life was to produce at least two, preferably more, healthy boys as heirs. Girl children were only useful to built political relationships through marriage, and cost a significant amount in dowries.

After the Easter Vigil, the whole household attended the Easter Mass at St Edmund’s Church just outside Newgate. When able to do so Anne attended Mass at the church on most days. With several donations of vestments and the funding of a stained-glass window she was seen by Father Edward as one of his most important parishioners, causing him to call to visit weekly when he knew that Anne was in London. The simple and moving service lifted all their hearts. Unfortunately, heavy rain had begun to fall while they were in the Church, and so it was with damp, if not wet, spirits, they returned home.

Alan spent a pleasant hour or so in the nursery with Anne and Juliana, who was now sitting up, paying attention to what was happening about her and generally smiling and gurgling happily. She held a bead rattle in one hand and a piece of sea-coral in the other, fashioned into a teething ring for her to chew to assist the emergence of her milk-teeth. The coral had been a gift from Bjorn.

At mid-day a sumptuous meal was served with the whole household seated in the Hall, except for the kitchen and serving staff. Bjorn and several other of the sailors who didn’t have local family had also been invited, some 26 seated at three tables. Wilda the cook had again shown her ability to produce delicacies when required. Having attended at Mass herself together with the other servants, knowing the simple tastes of the soldiers, sailors and servants who formed most of the diners and knowing that after Lent any rich food would be most welcome, she had limited herself to two soups, roast pig, a mutton and herb stew, pork pies, braised spiced pork in almond milk with mushrooms, four different dishes of accompanying vegetables, followed by apple pie, strawberry tart and mixed cheeses, all accompanied by fresh white wheat bread and freshly-churned butter. Osmund recited, from memory, two long poems in English. Bjorn regaled the diners with his reminisces of his visit as a young man to the Holy Land, describing strange places, strange people and unusual customs.

In the late afternoon a slightly tipsy Alan accompanied his wife upstairs to the family’s private rooms. With her pregnancy Anne had again resumed minimal consumption of alcohol, as she had when carrying Juliana. While she didn’t insist on Alan doing the same as he rarely drank to excess she had little sympathy with his complaints when he did so.

Early on Easter Thursday Anne, Juliana, Osmund, two maids and five guards headed east through the crowded Cornhill, along Leadenhall Street to Aldgate. The ladies were riding in a cart and they were destined for Thorrington, intending to take a leisurely two days for the journey. After a brief kiss and a wave to his wife, Alan rose west towards Gloucester and the Welsh border.

He arrived at Staunton-on-Wye late on the second day, Saturday 18th April. He looked approvingly at the state of the fortified bailey as he rode in and was greeted by Leofwin the second in command. “Robert is over at Bobury with his steward David, talking to the miller. He should be back soon!” said Leofwin, ushering Alan and his men into the Hall and ordering ale be brought to wash away the dust of the road from the travelers’ throats.

Leofwin was correct. Robert and David arrived after about an hour, Robert hurrying in as the guards outside had advised him of Alan’s arrival. “My lord”, he said, with a courtly bow. Alan snorted with amusement, rose and grasped his friend by the forearm, before clapping him on the shoulder and resuming his seat. A servant brought more quarts of ale.

“How fares the ‘overlord’ of my western realm?” asked Alan.

“Well enough,” replied Robert with a smile at the description. “As you can see, we’ve completed the fortifications here and the Hall is complete. It has quite basic facilities, but more than usual for a frontier manor. The repairs to the villages are complete. You’d hardly know the Welsh came through with sword and fire a little more than a year ago. Last year there was a reasonable harvest, although sown late. While the granaries aren’t full, there’s more than adequate food in the four villages- which is more than can be said for most of the shire after the Welsh invasion. This year’s crop is in the ground and appears to be growing well. With God’s Grace and a year of peace all should be well.”

“Ah! A year of peace. That may be a problem,” said Alan in response. “What men and arms do you have?”

“Well, of course I have the 10 mounted men-at-arms and ten huscarles you provided. Another 10 local infantry, properly trained and equipped, 10 longbowmen full-time. Another 20 fully trained longbowmen part-time, and 67 fyrdmen armed with spears, partially trained. The full-time men are all mounted, including the foot-soldiers. I have enough ponies that you took on your raid to mount all the full-time men and most of the part-timers. Those numbers exclude Baldwin, Warren and Leofric” said Robert, the last a reference to the Norman man-at-arms, Norman archer and English huscarle respectively, who acted as Robert’s officers. “As to horses, we have 14 rounceys and 70 Welsh mountain-ponies. The cavalry are equipped as you provided. A few with hauberks and the rest with byrnies, sword, shield, helmet and lance. The huscarles have their own armour, of course, mainly byrnies, but a few hauberk-style. The full-time infantry have byrnies, helmets, shields and swords. The archers have the longbows you acquired from Wales- no mail armour, although all have padded armour. They all also have their seax fighting-knife, of course. The fyrdmen have spears and shields that they made themselves and their seax. Most have swords that you have provided. A few have axes, mainly the type for wood-chopping.”

Alan nodded his understanding of the array of force and its equipment, and that he was not displeased. “How many arrows for the longbows?”

Robert paused before replying, “I’m not really sure. I think about 500.”

Alan replied, “Thirty bowmen, three sheaves each, is over 1,000. Get the fletchers busy and make a war-stock of 1,500, plus any needed for day to day use.” Alan thought for a moment and continued, “Arrange short-swords for the bowmen and swords and helmets for the spearmen. I’ll provide the funds and you can buy whatever you need at Colchester- with its iron and steel industry that would be the best place to buy. Step up training. How often do you run patrols and how often do you train?”

“You speak as if you expect an imminent invasion,” commented Robert. “We haven’t seen a Welshman on our lands in over a year. You made your point very clearly last year to their local cantref lord. While some raiders have come over the border as usual, they avoid our lands like we have the plague! Yes, we run patrols. Mounted patrols, both day and night, on an irregular basis but at least one patrol a day as far as the border. Foot patrols within our lands, again at irregular times and again at least daily. Subject to weather, all the full-time men practice their individual skills daily and we have unit training at least once a week, usually twice. The part-time bowmen practice for an hour at day at the butts. The spearmen practice twice a week for half a day.”

The evening meal, a simple pottage and a meat stew with rye bread, was served as Alan explained the current political events. “We have a situation where I expect within the next three months things will explode. Last year we had the rebellion at Exeter, the raids by Harold’s bastard sons with the support of the Irish and the invasion by the Welsh. This year it looks like a full-blown revolt in the north and the involvement of the Danes on the east coast at least with raids and possibly the landing of men to support any rebellion in the north. If the Aetheling and his advisors have any sense they’ll also arrange Eadric Cild and the Welsh to invade Herefordshire, Hereward to cause problems in Lincolnshire and the Irish to raid either the south-west or the west or both. Maybe also the Scots to raid from Cumbria. And if they have sense, this time they’ll do them all at the same time instead of one after the other like they did last year. Morcar and Edgar are almost certain to join the rebellion this summer, which will make the whole of the north in rebellion. If the Aetheling is really smart he’d arrange for Fulk to attack Maine at the same time, so William can’t bring reinforcements from Normandy. One thing I’m reasonably sure of is that before winter the Welsh will be across the border in force. Whether in the north near Chester, here in the south near Hereford, or both, I don’t know.”

The next day Alan spent touring the four villages and meeting with their headmen Siric, Aella, Bearn and Defan. He noted that a number of his soldiers now had women and learned that several of the wives from Essex had made the journey with their children to be with their husbands. Most of the wives were those women who had lost their men in the Welsh invasion the year before and who had been looking for men to support them and their children. Nearly half of the garrison slept in cottages in the village.

The following day Alan observed the warriors at their training. He sent a message to Bernard de Neufmarche, who held nearby lands, that he would like to arrange a mock-attack on one or more of his villages to test the readiness of both of their forces.

That night he rode out with a mounted patrol on a loop along the river valley nearly to the border and then back via Witney, Winferton and Ailey.

The next night he rode with most of the men to stage a mock-attack on Yarsop, easily overwhelming the defenders, before being back at Staunton before dawn. Later that day he watched Bernard’s men stage a pre-arranged attack on Staunton- Alan had not advised Robert or his men of the pending attack. The attacking force was sighted by the watchmen in good time, the alarm given and the men mustered. The villagers drove the livestock into the nearby forest and hid themselves. Alan provided food and drink for the mid-day meal for Bernard’s men, who left well satisfied.

Also was also well-satisfied that matters on his lands on the Welsh border were well in hand, and departed with his men the next day, riding east and arriving at Thorrington on Saturday 25th April, the Feast of St Mark the Evangelist.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Thorrington June 1069

It was late afternoon on Monday 29th June. Alan was sitting in the Hundred Court with Leofstan of Great and Little Holland and Edwold of Alresford at the Old Hall at Thorrington, dealing with a number of cases that had not been able to be heard at the usual Assize day two weeks before. The case currently before the court dealt with the disputed ownership of a cow. As it involved a villager from Thorrington, Leofstan was acting as Chief Judge.

West-Saxon law operated in a quite cumbersome manner, although usually effective. The free male population was divided into frithboghs each of ten men. The law acted by way of monetary compensation in which each man of the frithbogh was required to contribute his share of any compensation or fine if a member of the frithbogh was found guilty of a crime. They were also responsible for the accuracy of any sworn evidence given to the court by one of the frithbogh’s members. The guilty paid their bot, either as a fine or as compensation, depending on the offence. If they did not, for more serious offences they suffered mutilation or hanging and for less serious offences may be banished from the community. A man could literally get away with murder if he could pay his wergild, or that of his victim (whichever was the higher), in bot. For a gebur freeman or freewoman that was 200 shillings. For a thegn it was 1,200. No wergild was payable for slaves, but their owners received compensation equal to their value if they were killed or injured. These were massive amounts of money for men who usually measured their weekly income in pennies. All men were required to be in a tithing, usually of the same members as the frithbogh, which actively policed its members due to their collective responsibility for any breach of the law.

In small tight-knit communities, where few traveled further than the next village and a visit to the nearest town was a major undertaking, the system generally worked well. Everybody knew the litigants and the penalty for perjury was such that in a deeply religious society few would contemplate giving false oath. The prospect of being forever denied being shriven of their sins by a priest and on their death being buried in unconsecrated ground, resulting in eternal damnation to the lower reaches of hell, meant that evidence sworn before the court was usually very reliable regarding facts- although personal bias still needed to be considered.

Unfortunately, in civil cases such as current case the system was largely useless- not least because it failed to make provision for the status of women. A free woman had the same rights as a free man, but was not a member of a frithbogh as that was deemed unnecessary as women were rarely the instigators of the violence that West-Saxon law was designed to curb.

The differing status of Englishmen and the French or Normans also caused problems as each was subject to the different laws and penalties of their respective countries. Although he lived in England, owned land in England and had made that country his home, Alan himself was subject to Norman law. Generally the laws were similar, except for the compensation and frithbogh systems. Indeed, in the absence of a compensation system, the penalties under the Norman law were generally more severe in the rare instances that they were actually applied. A dispute involving men of both countries became full of very complex issues, not least being whether the Hundred Court would have jurisdiction or whether the matter required referral to the Shire Court, where the judges were a representative of the bishop and the sheriff.

The current case involved a man from Brightlingsea, who as a resident of a village belonging to the king would not normally be subject to the Hundred Court. His name was Bearn and he had brought an action against a woman of Thorrington called Ora, a middle-aged widow. Bearn claimed that a cow, one of three kept by her for milking as her sole source of income, belonged to him. One thing that has not changed over the millennia is that ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law’ and the onus was on Bearn to prove his case. Frankly, his case was not going well. Neither side had a lawyer, something for which that Alan was intensely grateful as he found their obfuscation and verbiage both tiresome and unhelpful. Bearn, as complainant, had opened the giving of evidence as was usual, with members of his frithbogh giving oath as to his honesty and integrity. He and several witnesses gave oath that he possessed half a dozen cows, that one had recently disappeared, that it was black with white markings and that after being told by another man about this cow at Thorrington he had traveled to the village and recognised it.

He gave the formal oath in the required terms. “By the Lord, I accuse not Ora either for hatred or for envy, or for unlawful lust of gain; nor know I anything soother; but as my informant to me said, and I myself in sooth believe, that she was the thief of my property.”

His case, seemingly initially quite strong, had started to fall apart as soon as Ora presented her case. She started with the formal oath denying the allegation “By the Lord, I am guiltless, both in deed and counsel, and of the charge of which Bearn accuses me.” Not being a member of a frithbogh she called the village headman Toland and his deputy Erian to give oath as to her trustworthiness and honesty. Half a dozen witnesses were called to say that since the time of her husband’s death two years previously that Ora had always had three cows, one of which was the cow in dispute. They recognised the cow, having often stood and spoken to Ora while she was milking the animal. Two swore that they had milked the beast themselves when Ora had fallen ill. Most telling, a man from Great Bentley gave evidence that he had sold such an animal to Ora’s husband not long before his death, although he could not swear that he recognised the beast. There was, of course, no documentary proof of the sale as neither vendor nor purchaser were able to write.

Ora concluded, reciting the required oath, “By the Lord, I was not at rede nor at deed, neither counsellor nor doer, where were unlawfully led away Bearn's cattle. But as I cattle have, so did I lawfully obtain it. And as I cattle have, so did it come to my own property and so it by folk-right my own possession is.”

Osmund, Alan’s clerk, had been carefully recording the proceedings verbatim. The three judges retired to the back room with Osmund, to consider the evidence and check several facts and the exact words used by some of the witnesses from Osmund’s rough draft of the transcript. As usual they partook of refreshments, including two quarts of ale apiece, as they considered their verdict.

“There’s no doubt but that Bearn believes his accusation true,” commented Edwold, “But I doubt not the evidence of Ora and her witnesses, even though most are women. She is a widow and a woman of good repute. She would neither steal a cow nor knowingly act as receiver of a stolen animal. More, she has shown that she has had the beast for two years. The cow is hers.”

Leofstan agreed and recommended that, while judgement should be given in favour of Ora, that no bot should be payable by Bearn for making false accusation. Alan, who had carefully avoided making any comment himself so far, as the woman was from his own village, agreed and they returned to the Hall where Leofstan announced the judgement, to the delight of one of the litigants and the chagrin of the other.

It was by then late afternoon, that case having been the third heard that day. Alan’s offer of hospitality to Leofstan and Edwold was accepted, with the three of them strolling to the Alan’s New Hall, Osmund trailing behind clutching a pile of books and rolled parchments, with a bag hanging from his shoulder carrying his pot of ink, quill and unused parchment.

On entering the Hall Alan ushered his guests to the head-table, located close to the unlit fire with its metal canopy and flue. The rushes on the floor had been recently changed and the summer sunlight streamed in through the glass-framed windows which were open to let in the cooling sea breeze. Huscarle Brand was already seated at the table, with a face like thunder and after a few moments Anne hurried in from the private rooms upstairs to welcome the guests. After a brief word of instruction a serving-wench hurried in with five quarts of ale and a pint of fruit-juice, the latter for Anne.

Brand had accompanied to Colchester the wagon loads of money and goods that paid the Hundred taxes due on Mid-Summer Day- 24th June, the Feast of the Nativity of St John. He and the other guards had then taken several days leave in the city, mainly spent drinking in taverns and whoring with ladies of negotiable virtue in houses of excellent repute. He waited until Osmund had taken his place before announcing, “I have ill news, my lord. Earl Waltheof has ridden north with 500 men. Many thegns from the midlands are also riding north. Harold’s bastard sons have raided from Ireland again, this time in Devon. They attacked Stanborough Hundred at the mouth of the River Tavy and were driven off by Count Brian and William Gualdi with the help of the local levies- as with the last raid they received no support from the locals.

“The Danes have raided Dover, taken or burnt most of the ships in the harbour, including the longships you gave to King William, and raided the countryside all about. The town walls kept them out. Then they went on to Sandwich and Canterbury. Merchant ships keep on disappearing off the south-east coast- five from Colchester and six from Ipswich in the last month. The crews of the cogs refuse to sail and goods brought from inland into the ports are piling up on the wharves. The merchants are whining and wringing their hands and claiming they are ruined. Longships were seen off Maldon two days ago.”

Alan exclaimed, “Holy Mary, Mother of God! Things move apace. The four children grow bold.” This was a reference to the fact that Earls Waltheof, Edgar and Morcar were all teenagers, as was Edgar the Aetheling- now crowned king by the Northumbrians in competition with William. “Leofstan and Edwold, we need to meet with the local thegns to discuss matters with them and prevent them from joining the rebels. Waltheof’s agents will soon be swarming to subvert the local men.”

Leofstan gave a small cough before saying, “You presume that myself and Edwold do not favour the English earls. Also, the agents were here last week, have had their say and gone.”

Alan frowned and replied, “Come on Leofstan! There’s no way on God’s Earth that four teenagers can arrange a successful rebellion, put an army in the field and lead it to victory against King William and his barons. The king, fitzOsbern, de Montfort, de Mandeville and the others have been leading armies and fighting and winning battles longer than the Aetheling and the other Earls have been alive. The earls lack the political savvy and the military knowledge to win. William will eat them for breakfast before spitting out their bones and taking an even tighter grasp of the reins!”

“Perhaps so,” said Edwold quietly. “But they have the sympathy of very many men. Not many are powerful men and not many have large retinues or experience of war- but the comprise many, many men. You’re right about lack of leadership. It is, for the English, a pity that all its capable earls except the Godwinsons were contemporaries, that Godwin, Siward, Leofric and Swein all died before Edward, and that Harold and his brothers perished in ’66. You are correct that there is no Englishman able to lead the battle. But some feel that a man must do what his conscience and loyalties dictate, irrespective of the probable outcome. And even if an Englishman can’t lead the battle, perhaps a Dane can. Swein Estrithson, the Danish king, has committed not only his ships but also his men to fight.”

Alan pulled a wry face and said, “Swein’s military record and that of the Danes is hardly in his favour. Harald of Norway and his men beat them like a drum every time they met, on the water or on the land. Yes, 4,000 Danes on the battlefield may make a difference, but if you think that if the rebels prevail that would mean an Englishman sits on the throne, I suggest that you are deluding yourself. Swein may not expect to sit on the throne himself, but I’m sure that one of his many sons is already polishing a crown in expectation.”

Leofstan gave a non-committal shrug and replied, “Perhaps you are correct. But what lies in the future is beyond the ability of any mortal to see, and most men just see that they are discontented with the present situation. I’m sure that the timing of Earl Waltheof’s ride north was influenced by the fact that this Quarter’s taxes were due on Mid-Summer Day. The taxes are again set high. Many cannot pay them and those who can are discontented to do so. High taxes at times of social discontent is not a good idea!”

“True enough,” said Alan with a nod of agreement. “I myself dislike paying the tax impost on my own lands, which are set in the same way as that payable by Englishmen, except I also have to provide troops to the king’s army.” After a slight pause he asked, “And where sit your swords, gentlemen?”

“My sword still sits firmly in its scabbard,” replied Leofstan. “You are perfectly correct in all you have said and in your assessment of the likely outcome of any rebellion. My head says to stand clear and follow your suggestion to remain aloof from the situation, supporting neither side. There is no gain to me but also no risk of loss. My heart says otherwise, but my head rules my heart.”

Edwold gave a nod of agreement and added, “However, this is a decision that each Englishman must make for himself and I will not involve myself in trying to entice the thegns and cheorls to any particular cause. I expect not a few men from East Anglia, including from Tendring Hundred, will march north to join the ‘rebels’, for good or ill.”

Alan paused and thought for a few moments. “I accept your comments and their truth. I have perhaps been expecting too much from a logical and dispassionate assessment by every man, but I’m glad to hear that for both of you logic and reason means we will not stand opposite each other on the field of battle. I also, now I have heard your thoughts, understand I should not place my men in a conflict of loyalties in which I may be the loser, and will ask for volunteers to join Hugh and Roger when the king musters his army to move north.”

“Not yourself?” asked Leofstan in surprise.

Alan shook his head and said, “No, with the Danes on the loose and a probable invasion of the Welsh Marches, my place is here. If the Danes land in Essex it will not be an action of brotherly love to raise further men to aid the cause of the Aetheling. They always land with sword in hand and murder in their eye, similar to the Welsh in the west. Am I right in presuming that if ten longships row up Alresford Creek and 500 Danes land, that the fyrdmen will come to my call?”

Both Leofstan and Edwold nodded immediately and both started to talk together before Edwold gave precedence to his more senior colleague. “Certainly,” said Leofstan. “The people of East Anglia have no love of the Danes and also no trust of them. They’ve raided hereabouts for hundreds of years with their longships. If Danes, Welsh or Normans threaten our Hundred, you can be sure that every fyrdman will answer your call. If it is an English army threatening, some will answer and some will not.” Leofstan paused and thought for a moment, gave a sigh and added, “Even if it was an English army, out of respect to you personally- not the king- you can expect my sword in your support. You are not my landrica, my lord, and have no claim on me or my lands and my men, but I will support you- not either king, as both have now been crowned.”

Alan nodded, reached across the table and grasped the forearm of Leofstan, saying nothing as a tear of emotion rose in his eye. After a pause in conversation of perhaps a minute the ever-practical Alan said, “The huscarles, soldiers and fyrdmen need to increase their training, for we all know that the Danes will come. I’ll hold my main strength to protect my own demesne and the other villages of the Hundred. My own two longships stand ready to do what they can and are properly manned.”

“And what of our esteemed colleagues, the Normans Gerard de Cholet of Elmstead, Roger de Montivilliers, Geoffrey of Rouen, both of Clacton, and Albyn of St Osyth? What will they do?” asked Edwold.

“De Cholet is actually a Frenchman and Albyn a Fleming. Probably both would object to being called Normans. It’s like calling an Englishman as being Welsh,” replied Alan. “Certainly, we Normans don’t appreciate French or Flemings being called Norman, particularly the wimpy French! I could also add to your list Engelric’s man Leax, an Englishman, for the lands he holds of St Paul’s Cathedral of London at Birch Hall. Who knows what instructions they will receive from their masters? I expect that Gerard, Roger, Geoffrey and Albyn and their men, nearly all Normans, French or Flemings, will be with the king’s army and not able to provide us with support. At least I hope so, as that will avoid considerable problems at the time!”

“You do appreciate that we English don’t like having foreigners, whether they be Norman, French or Flemings, as a neighbours?” asked Edwold.

“Indeed- but I would hope that you would also include Danes, Norwegians, Welsh and Scots in that category,” replied Alan. “To cry ‘England for the English’ is all well and good. But in the last thousand years or so, how many years has there been an English king? I would suggest less than half the time. And which English? Those of Saxon descent or those of Norse? You seem to be more interested in north and south fighting each other than fighting against a common foe. Others have viewed martial prowess highly. The Romans, the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Vikings. More recently also the men under the control of what are now the kingdoms of Norway or Denmark. And now the Normans.

“I initially believed that there is little difference between what is happening now and what happened fifty years ago when Cnut conquered England and placed his own men in charge of the land. Englishmen, particularly Godwin, supported the foreign king whose main claim to the throne came from conquest. King William would make greater claim than that, but his claim can perhaps be denied on several grounds. But, like Cnut, his primary claim comes from victory and taking the throne by force. The people may not like William, just as I’m sure they didn’t like Cnut’s sovereignty, but his coronation and possession of the throne are facts. Edgar may have been elected by some recently to be king. But he was not crowned by either of the two archbishops. The English clergy follow the pope in supporting King William and the pope has issued the anathema of excommunication against William’s English foes. How many will stand against him in the face of eternal damnation? I know that such a penalty would give me considerable pause for thought!

“However, I have come to realise that the theory of the English maintaining their position is different to the reality of the situation. Yes, Earls Edwin, Morcar and Waltheof were confirmed in their lands, as was Edgar the Aetheling. Yes, many Englishmen retain their positions as stallers, shire reeves and town reeves. King William has created the position of sheriff, which isn’t quite the same as shire reeve as a sheriff has more authority. Yes, more than half the men appointed as sheriffs are English. The bishops, abbots and priors remain almost exactly as appointed by Edward the Confessor, although some of those are French or Norman. The Dooms, or laws, of Edward remain almost unchanged- apart from the damned murdrum fine! However, it has become clear to me that things are not what I would like to have believed. King William may not have deliberately acted to dispossess men, save for those who opposed him in battle, but he has implemented policies which make that result inevitable. The men he has raised up are, largely, capable and reasonably honest, but no have no plans. Government over the last two years has been by reaction, not by action, and every reaction angers the English more while their actions make the Normans more certain that they can’t trust the English. It has become a vicious cycle to which I can see no end!”

“As to your question about who would fight William in the face of the risk of excommunication, I say enough would do so,” replied Edwold. “These include some amongst the clergy. Harold and his army fought under anathema at Caldbec Hill and it was not carried out. I doubt that the pope would excommunicate the king of Denmark- and even if he did the Danes wouldn’t care. They’re mainly pagans. We will see what we will see, but like Leofric I don’t intend to raise my voice to call for support for either side. But I will ride and with all my men to defend our lands against any who threaten us. Norman, Dane or English. Others will make other choices.”

Alan inclined his head in acknowledgement and asked, “How can so many be so free with breaking their oaths?”

“Very few are, as very few have made oaths to break,” replied Edwold. Seeing Alan’s look of puzzlement he explained, “When you received your land from King William, you gave homage for it, did you not? You bound yourself to be William’s man, right or wrong. In England there were several hundred King’s Thegns who held land directly from the king and made oath to support him. Others, such as myself, hold land in landboc. We own it. We pay taxes on it. When we die our family pays a Heriot to continue to hold it, but we hold it as of right. We may commend ourselves to a greater thegn and obtain the benefit of his interest, but are free to choose which and to change as we wish. That thegn, the ealdorfrea, has no claim on us for military or financial support. Our only obligations are to the country, effectively to the Crown. Those who are not thegns- cheorls, sokemen and the like- may similarly own their land in landboc, or may hold it on laen for a period of time- usually three lifetimes. In return they either pay rent in money or goods or perform services on the owner’s land. They are free to leave the land and take up other land from another owner. Cottars simply hold a cottage and a small garden plot in return for labour services.

“Neither myself nor my ealdorfrea made any oath to William. We do not, to use the Norman terms, owe either homage or fealty to him. We also do not owe homage or fealty to our ealdorfrea, so even if he does have such liability to either the king or some other noble, I do not. That is why many men see themselves as free to join those who oppose King William. In doing so, they act on what they see is their best interests or where their honour lies and are not foresworn by doing so.”

Alan frowned, trying to absorb what was to him a difficult concept. “That may well be the case, although the English earls did swear formal fealty to William in return for keeping their own lands, in the Norman manner. Whether they understood the basis and effect of the oaths that they swore at that time I know not, but if they oppose him they will find that what a lord gives he can also take away, at whim. As for the rest, those who oppose William will feel the might of his displeasure irrespective of what they see as being their legal situation. William isn’t going to make the distinctions you just explained. Those who support William will be rewarded. For those like yourself, well, we’ll see whether or not treading a path of neutrality is possible. For the sake of all of us, I hope that it is.”

****

Alan called a muster of all his own men at arms in Tendring Hundred, held at the New Hall. The political situation was explained to them and that if they marched north they would likely be required to take to the field against the Aetheling and the young earls, or at the very least against their allies the Danes.

The response was less than enthusiastic, although the several of the leaders of the men made it clear that where Alan led they would follow “and kick in the gates of hell itself and kill Lucifer himself if needed” as one man extravagantly explained. After the raid two years previously, nobody had any concerns against killing Danes- a number of the soldiers had been recruited from the displaced refugees from villages destroyed and looted by the Danes. The atrocities visited on the villages on the south side of the Coln River, particularly in Lexden Hundred and Winstree Hundred, made certain that every man, woman and child would resist the Danes with every fibre in their body and support the man who had given them victory on that last occasion.

Brand made it clear to his men that he expected the huscarles, as professional soldiers, to follow their orders. Apart from himself, five other huscarles agreed to join an expedition force to be led by Hugh, as did three of the men in Hugh’s garrison at Great Oakley. Together with Roger, Baldwin and Warren from the garrison at Staunton-on-Wye that would allow Alan to meet his feudal quota, although he was sure that the king would be less than happy that he wasn’t sending his full strength. However, Alan’s main concern was in protecting his estates and the villages of Tendring Hundred, and since the king had refused to build a navy to challenge the Norsemen that meant that the locals could expect no assistance in the event that the Danes descended in force. By the time that any relieving force arrived the Danes would have slipped back to their ships, leaving behind them villages of smoldering ruins populated by corpses.

Alan had, several months previously, on receiving warning of danger from Bjorn, taken his own steps to protect what he had. As well as increasing the tempo of training and practice of his troops, he had also ensured that each man in the fyrd from his villages was properly armed, equipped and had at least the basic training that would give them a chance of survival against a professional warrior. He had increased the membership of the fyrd to include every fit free man, and many of the more willing lads, in each of his villages. In addition to a linden-wood shield that each man had himself made to a common pattern and the seax fighting knife each carried as of right as a free man, they had been provided with helmets of metal made in the English style and spears. Some wore byrnies of chain-mail for protection and carried swords- these taken from the Danes in their failed raid two years before. Most of the others wore byrnies made of scale-armour of boiled leather, with overlapping plates. These provided reasonable protection and, compared to chain-mail where each ring is riveted and joined to four others, the leather scale-armour was cheap and quick to make.

Alan’s armourer Gimm and his apprentice, with the assistance of the village smiths and their apprentices, had worked long and hard for several months. So had the fletchers- over 3,000 cloth-yard arrows, each 39 inches long, metal tipped and with flights of goose feathers, were sitting in barrels for use if required.

Not least amongst Alan’s preparations had been the work performed on the two longships which he still retained after their capture two years before. After sitting neglected on a mudbank on Alresford Creek near Thorrington for a year, they had been careened, suspect timbers replaced and recaulked with a mixture of moss soaked in tar hammered into the joints between the overlapping two inch thick planks that formed the strakes of the clinker-built hull. Both were typical snekke, with a length of about sixty feet and beam of about 9 feet. Being Danish ships they had a very shallow draught of less than 2 feet when unladen. If a man could stand with his knees covered in water, the ship would float. Norwegian ships were built with a slightly deeper draught, coming from a land of deep fiords rather than shallow sand flats.

The oars, ten a side with two rowers per oar, had been checked and several replaced. The oiled leather rowlocks for the oars had all been replaced. The masts, some thirty feet high and carrying a sail nearly forty feet wide, had been checked and new woolen sails made. The shields had been removed from the ship sides as these were only used on land. Alan had also installed a ballista in the bows of each ship.

Bjorn, the captain of the Zeelandt, now on the northern run from Narvik to Oostend, had arranged for two experienced Norwegian longship captains to join Alan’s service, Sven Knutson and Lars Erikson. Both were nephews of Bjorn, who had attested to their ability and claimed, “They can use their ‘sun stones’ and sail anywhere, and each have led nearly as many raids as I have.” Each ship had its Norwegian captain, five English sailors to handle the steering oar and the sails, forty rowers, who doubled as swordsmen, and ten trained longbowmen. There were also five men to crew the ballistae. The ships were the Havorn, the ‘Sea Eagle’, and the Alekrage, the ‘Cormorant’. The crews had been training together for close on a month and were starting to have the instinctive understanding and action needed in any situation.

When not in use the ships were hidden under a long row of weeping-willow trees on the bank of Alresford Creek, which acted as a living camouflage net.

Alan was again very angry with Edsel, the King’s Reeve at Brightlingsea, who had once again refused to participate in the communal defence activity despite the very important strategic location of the village on the north shore of the approaches to Colchester. The men of Brightlingsea had been noticeable by their absence at the victory two years before at Wivenhoe. Alan had made it clear that this time, if they did not support his efforts, they would stand alone if the Danes attacked their village. Indeed, he was so angry as to almost be prepared to burn the village himself.

Two days later Alan stood near the steering oar of Havorn as the ship was rowed quickly down Alresford Creek, followed closely by Alekrage. The captain was Sven Knutson, who was acting as helmsman. The Norwegian, short and stocky for a Viking but possessing the usual long blond hair and beard and piercing blue eyes, was standing balanced on widely-spread feet. Alan allowed his gaze to rest on Alekrage, admiring the simple beauty of her lines and the precision with which the ten oars a side dipped and rose as one. Lars Erikson, Alekrage’s captain and a huge bear of a man, was clearly visible at the stern of his ship as he barked out instructions. Sven was a taciturn man, not given to idle chatter and his shouted instructions were as brief as possible. Lars took a different approach to managing his crew- volubly chastising any infraction.

Looking forward along the length of Havorn Alan was surprised at how crowded the ship was. Forty men were pulling steadily on the oars. They faced towards the rear of the ship, the two rows of oarsmen occupying two-thirds of the width of the ship and leaving a narrow aisle down the centre. The small ballista, unique to Alan’s ships and specially built by him, occupied most of the small space in the bow. Ten archers found what space they could, mainly sitting in the aisle with wet bottoms from the inch or so of water that had either seeped in through the caulking or was left over from the last shower of rain.

The men all wore leather scale-armour at the insistence of Sven, who set an example. Danes and Norwegians usually wore chain-mail byrnies, although not always when at sea. Given Sven’s brief comment that not many men could swim in rough open seas wearing forty pounds or so of steel, most of the men had opted for armour made of boiled leather, which weighed about one-third of that. Along the saxboards, the sides of the ships, were tied the oarsmen’s personal weapons. These were cross-bows for use at distance, boarding pikes and both long and short swords. The archers kept their longbows with them, unstrung, along with sheaves of arrows. Two barrels of spare arrows sat before and abaft the mast. The yard and the woollen sail were currently lowered.

Alan marvelled at the military force packed into such a small hull, barely twenty paces long by three wide, and the way that the light, swift and manoeuvrable ships could project power at long distances and at great speed. King William was a man who had fought all his battles on land against foes who travelled on foot or horseback. His lack of understanding of the importance of a strong naval force to protect coastal trade and repel raiders was something that irked Alan. He wished that he could have more than two ships. He could afford to buy them, but the manning requirements of fifty or more men per ship made such a plan impossible. The men he did have were fyrdmen, fishermen and farmers from the sea-side villages, who usually spent one day a week in training. Alan had doubled that at the moment to two days and the current day’s training was to take advantage of the strong southerly winds that had the sea forming a short chop with waves up to six feet high and a short swell.

As soon as they left the shelter of Alresford Creek the boat began to pitch up and down as the men rowed into the wind. The motion disturbed the rhythm of the rowing, with oarsmen ‘catching crabs’ and having their oars skim across the surface in the troughs and bite too deeply on the crests. Sven became animated for the first time that Alan had seen him, shouting curses and directions at the oarsmen, telling them to watch each wave and adjust the depth of their stroke while maintaining rhythm. Alan went amidships and stood next to the mast, wrapping one arm around it to maintain his balance.

Once the ship was a mile offshore Sven turned west, putting the longship side-on to the wind and waves. The motion increased dramatically as the ship rolled and plunged like a berserk horse. Sven’s shouted imprecations grew even hotter and more personal, with many references to mothers and their marital status. The sailing crew were instructed to raise and lower the sail several times, oarsmen assisting with pulling on the ropes that controlled the mast and yard. The mast itself was raised and lowered repeatedly, the kerling and the mast-fish being man-handled into and out of place with the activity disturbing the adjacent rowers. The ship’s motion had made a number of men ill. Some had been able to find a place at the side, while others were forced to vomit where they sat. Alan had difficulty in controlling his own stomach as the ship rose and fell and rolled side to side.

With the mast lowered and the oarsmen at work Sven then ordered an empty barrel thrown over the side. The archers stood and tried to maintain their footing as the ship plunged and rolled and the bowmen tried to shoot at a moving target from a moving shooting position. Next the oarsmen were given the opportunity to use their cross-bows before Sven ordered the ballista crew into action. They were ordered only to use plain iron bolts without Alan’s secret incendiary mixture called ‘Wildfire’, similar to Greek Fire, as the motion of the ship made it likely that the mixture would be dropped and their own ship burned instead of the target. The ballista crew were surprisingly accurate out to three hundred yards. While the target barrel was hit only once, at least a third of the shots would have hit a ship sixty feet long. The flat trajectory and the velocity of the bolt meant that when the target was in the sights a quick release of the bolt would see it usually strike home before the target had moved or disappeared into a wave trough, and that unlike arrows the wind hardly affected the aim. The archers were then given another opportunity for nearly an hour, before Sven ordered the oars on one side of the ship stilled for a few moments and pointed the ship towards home. He could have sailed most of the way back, but insisted on the men rowing as part of the objective of the training cruise was to have the oarsmen fit and able to row all day.

When they returned to the head of Alresford Creek, some half mile from Thorrington, the tide was half out, exposing a large mudflat that the men had to struggle through, up to their knees in thick black mud, to reach the shore. Sven had left four men on board with instructions to properly moor the ship when the tide returned. As he and Alan squelched their way home he commented, “Not bad. They’re improving and will give the Danes a run for their money. They’re farmers most of the year as well, not like us Norwegians. We had difficult conditions today and they didn’t do too badly. In good conditions the longbowmen and the ballista will be a real surprise for the Danes. Your men may not be as good as Vikings, but they are as good as the Danes!”

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Thorrington July 1069

It was with a very strong sense of deja vu that Alan sat at the high-table in the Hall. Just after midnight on Friday 24th July, the eve of the Feast of St James the Apostle, he had been roused by a messenger from the lookout at the mouth of Barfleet Creek and informed that a number of longships had approached the village of Brightlingsea in the moonlight several hours before. ‘At least ten ships’ probably meant that the lookout hadn’t bothered to take off his boots to be able to more accurately count the raiders. As well as nearly sixteen hours of sunlight each day, there was a full moon and calm weather- excellent raiding conditions.

Riders had been dispatched along the roads to the west, north-west, north, north-east and east. The glow of fires against the night sky from Brightlingsea showed there was no need to send a rider in that direction. Alan hoped that Edsel, the King’s Reeve of Brightlingsea, was still alive and had learnt the lesson of his refusal to participate in the collective defense efforts undertaken by the others in the Hundred. Alan tried his best to snatch moments of sleep as messengers hurried to and fro, Huscarle Brand dealing with most of the minor matters. He heard reports of fires to the south-east, almost certainly the village of St Osyth. Anne. The servants of the Hall were kept busy providing food, drink and straw palliasses to the arriving messengers.

First light was due at about four in the morning. By three in the morning over 400 men were gathered at Thorrington, having come as far as fifteen miles from Dovercourt and Cliff to the north and Frinton in the east. Not only the men of Alan’s own manors had mustered, but also those of the other thegns including Engelric’s man Leax, the thegn of Birch Hall to the north-east. Leofstan mentioned that he had ridden through Great Clacton on the way and that the inhabitants were hurriedly organising defences, not unreasonable since they were the next village to the east after St Osyth.

Mounted scouts had been dispatched and reported back that there were seventeen longships in Barfleet Creek near Brightlingsea, less than two miles from Thorrington. Alresford and Wivenhoe to the west reported no ships in sight. This was a favourable report, but given that the longships could move so quickly and loom unheralded out of the sea-haze, not necessarily to be relied on. Seventeen ships meant probably nigh on 800 hundred men. Alan was certain that once again their main target would be Colchester, which meant that the Danes had to pass Wivenhoe. The village was now much more strongly held than two years previously, as it belonged to Anne and both time and money had been lavished on fortifications and equipment since the last raid. The men of Wivenhoe and Alresford had been instructed to remain with their villages but to adopt defensive positions, armed and ready as required.

At first light Alan rode out on a rouncey together with half a dozen scouts towards Barfleet Creek. The creek was a shallow tidal inlet that wandered north and west from the sea and whose headwaters were a mile south-east of Thorrington. The land was flat, low-lying and, until close to the village, soft and marshy despite the recent lack of rain. The Danish longships were drawn up on the west bank of the creek just north of the village of Brightlingsea. A quick count confirmed they were in fact seventeen in number. A haze of smoke hung over the village and a number of charred ruins could be seen, including several outlying farmhouses. Alan’s manor of Great Bentley was on the east side of the creek and appeared deserted, in accordance with his instructions. The stables of the horse stud lay empty, the horses being led to safety inland. Also empty were the byres and pig-pens, with the cattle and swine also having been driven away. The people were either with their livestock in woods several miles north or at the apparent safety of Thorrington. Alan hoped that the Danes would be satisfied to loot what they could from the empty village and not put it to the torch.

Several Danish scouts could be seen moving through the area on horseback, presumably on steeds seized at Brightlingsea that night. A large number of men were clustered around cooking fires on the shore near the ships or moving through the village. Alan presumed that he could only see a small part of the Danish force and that many others would be resting in the village or on the ships after their exertions in the night attack.

Alan had expected and hoped that the Danes would board their ships and move on to Colchester, just a few miles up the estuary. However, from the relaxed atmosphere of the camp in front of him, it appeared that a move to attack the city was not an immediate concern for the invaders- which meant that Thorrington could expect a visit later that day.

The villages were some two miles apart, the road running virtually north-south along a narrow patch of relatively firm ground between the salt-marshes at the head of the Alresford Creek to the west and Barfleet Creek to the east. There was another route along the west bank of Barfleet Creek, but given the swampy nature of the ground no commander would use that when a suitable alternative was available.

Alan discounted the possibility of the Danes boarding their ships to travel the mile or so to the head of Barfleet Creek. The effort involved, the need to wait for the flood tide which would not be until evening and the requirement to disembark across a mudflat while under attack by archers would not appeal to any leader. At a point a little less than a mile south of the village of Thorrington the road that the Danes would take skirted a marsh to the east of Alresford Creek. At that point was a large stand of trees and tangled undergrowth that continued east through to the salt-marsh that ran on the west side of Barfleet Creek, and which left a clear area near the road only 150 paces or so wide. It was at this natural choke-point that Alan intended his men to make a stand.

Without further delay he dispatched 100 men to hold the chosen battlefield and archers and horsemen to drive away the Danish scouts so that preparations could be made without observation by prying eyes. He also ordered to sea his own two longships, currently in Alresford Creek just to the west of Thorrington, so as not to be detected and with instructions to maintain contact and await further orders. The ships had been stripped of their archers and half of their oarsmen as the extra sixty trained men may make all the difference in the battle that would be decided on land. Alan was by no means sanguine as to the outcome, knowing he was on the wrong side of two to one numbers, and he was troubled by the fact that his wife and child would be in his house no more than a mile from his back.

Thorrington was in uproar. The village green was filled with groups of armed men sitting quietly, some in armour and some without. The villagers hurried about dispensing a substantial breakfast from supplies provided by Alan with little regard for the fact that it was Friday. True, part of the meal was salted or smoked fish, but that was coincidental and reflected what was kept in barrels in the storeroom against such need. But there was also cheese, fresh bread and butter for the men and ham and eggs for the officers. Erian, the plump and stocky taverner, was dispensing at Alan’s instructions one quart of ale- and only one- per man. Gimm the armourer and Aethelhard the blacksmith were busy performing last minute repairs in their adjoining workshops, the whoosh of bellows and the ring of hammer on steel being clearly heard.

By mid-morning Alan was surprised at the turnout. Other than the manors in the far north-west and those to the east in the path of the Danes, virtually every able-bodied man in the Hundred had mustered. The thegns had led the men of their manors and villages, most arriving on foot after a march of several hours. All of the men of Alan’s own manors were there, some 200 men all properly armed and equipped and all properly trained, led by their thegns and head-cheorls. The men of Queen Edith’s lands at Wix were led by her thegn Adamnan. Also present were Godwin of Weeley, Alstan of Dickley, Harold of Frinton, Frewin, Ednoth and Alfward from Tendring, Leax of Birch Hall, Leofstan of Great and Little Holland, Withgar from Little Bentley, Alwin of Little Bromley, Brictmer of Great Bromley, Ketel of Frating, Ednoth of Little Oakley, Alric of Michaelstow, Leofson of Moze- even Alfhelm of Jacques Hall on the far north coast of the Hundred and Robert fitzWymarc’s man Gerard of Cholet from Elmstead.

Absent were Edward and Albyn of Bruges from St Osyth, Normans Roger de Montivilliers and Geoffrey of Rouen from Clacton and any representatives of the substantial lands held by the Church at The Naze and Wrabness. Also absent was Brctsi of Foulton who had ridden north to join the rebels. Engelric’s men from Frowick Hall were also not present, but their absence and that of the men from St Osyth was explained by the columns of smoke rising to the south-east. It was unlikely that most of those men would ever muster again.

Just after dawn Alan had sent for the men from Alresford, to be led by Algar, Edwin and Edwold. Excluding Alan’s own men, in all 21 thegns and knights would be present for the battle, with over 400 men. Alan found the response pleasing, given that he had no authority to call any muster- only the sheriff could formally issue a call to the fyrd. That virtually every thegn in the Hundred had responded positively was satisfying and made possible an attempt to resist the invaders.

From his own seven manors, excluding Wivenhoe whose men had been told to remain to protect their own village as they were on the direct path that any raiding force to Colchester must take, Alan himself mustered 207 fyrdmen. Of these 50, including some removed from the ships, were longbowmen, the rest split fairly evenly between swordsmen and spearmen. All Alan’s fyrdmen were reasonably well-trained despite their part-time status and he was sure they would give a good account of themselves. Many of the men from the other manors, in particular the sons of the ruling thegns, were also well-trained as Alan had been more than happy to provide training to the sergeants and section-leaders of the thegns in the Hundred, in anticipation of just this eventuality.

Alan also had 50 full-time infantry, 20 being professional huscarles, and 30 cavalrymen. A number of the sons of the local thegns had been through Alan’s cavalry training school and knew that horses were more than just a means of transport to the battlefield. Including the small detachment brought by Gerard de Cholet from Elmstead Alan expected to have 50 reasonably competent horsemen. He thought that these, together with the longbowmen and the proper use of the battlefield itself, should tip the balance in his favour.

Unusually, the muster of the fyrdmen of the Hundred provided men who almost without exception were properly equipped for battle, instead of the more usual peasantry carrying hay-forks and sickles. This was because Alan’s distribution of the booty from the attack by the Danes on Wivenhoe two years previously had provided a wealth of swords, armour and helmets- as well as the trading contents of the ships seized by Alan which formed the basis of the current wealth enjoyed by himself and Anne.

Alan set the villagers to work digging pits in front of the defensive position which would be occupied by his men, each pit eight feet deep and with short sharpened stakes driven into the mud which quickly accumulated at the bottom of each pit. The land was flat and the enemy had clear sight of the preparations. With no surprise to be achieved Alan didn’t order the pits camouflaged. The fact that the enemy could see and know about the pits did not mean that they would not be effective. Their main function was to channel the movement of the Danes when they attacked.

It took the Danish leader some time to retrieve the men he had dispatched to St Osyth and get the remainder of his men ready to meet the challenge to their north. He appeared to be in no hurry and the Danes ate a leisurely lunch before starting to form up.

Without a hill or rise to use to mask his intentions, Alan placed his men fifty paces behind the last of the defensive pits. As Danes traditionally fought only as heavy infantry, with no archers or cavalry, this made planning relatively easy- although it necessarily didn’t make any battle easy as the Danes were excellent fighters in their traditional Northern-European manner. The English had over 200 men placed in six groups, with a small gap between each group. Each group was three ranks deep, swordsmen at the front and spearmen in the second rank, with two groups for each of the three exits from the pattern of defensive ditches. Ten archers were placed on the right, or western, flank. The flat nature of the battlefield would make vision and shooting difficult for the archers, but they were stationed just to the west of the defensive line, standing knee-deep in the mud of the marsh, giving them a clear shot almost until the lines engaged. Another 10 archers were positioned in view on the left flank, next to the tree line. Twenty more were hidden in the trees on the eastern flank, along with 30 of Alan’s swordsmen to provide them with close protection, positioned out of sight 75 paces ahead of the English line.

An area had been cleared of trees inside the tree line, 50 paces ahead of the main line of resistance and just behind the archers, 20 paces inside the trees and 40 wide by 10 paces deep, with the undergrowth between the clearing and the battlefield being cleared. Here stood the 50 strong cavalry, out of sight and divided into two groups, each man carrying a short lance.

A reserve of 100 men, half carrying Alan’s green shields, stood to the rear of the main body of troops, together with ten archers.

Alan had never recovered from his distress at the effects of his use of Wildfire at Wivenhoe two years before when he had taken information contained in ancient texts and the chemistry experiments of a student friend from his youth to produce a self-igniting incendiary mixture. Containers of incendiary material, each holding about one gallon had proven totally devastating at that battle. The mixture burned fiercely, adhering to any surface and could not be put out with water. He has seen a dozen or more men immolated with every shot, screaming as they beat at the flames, rolled on the ground or threw themselves in pits of water to try unsuccessfully to douse the flames. This vision, and dealing with the wounded to whom a small splash of Wildfire had meant the loss of a limb and a single drop meant a hole the size of a silver penny burnt clear through the body, had resulted in a resolution not to use the fearsome weapon again if it could be avoided. However, he had four onagers set up in the fortified bailey at Thorrington and charcoal braziers on hand if the Danes broke through and threatened his family and his village. He now viewed this as a weapon of last resort- but one which would be used if required.

As the Danes took their time readying themselves, Alan’s men lounged about in their positions, eating a cold meal of dried beef jerky, bread and cheese washed down with water from the small skin that each man carried as part of his equipment.

Eventually, at about two in the afternoon, the Danes approached. Alan estimated their numbers at about 800, with probably about another 50 holding the ships and village. Alan turned and spoke to his servant Leof, who leaped onto a horse and with two guards galloped away with instructions to be given to Alan’s ships standing off the coast to the west.

The small Danish army slowly moved en masse and on foot, with no apparent formation, towards the large band of Englishmen. The Englishmen rose and took their places in line, chatting to each other and making encouraging comments to bolster themselves and their compatriots. Shoulders were slapped and arms grasped. Wagers were made between men as to who would kill the most Danes, while the men tried to ignore the empty feeling of fear in their stomachs.

The Danes paused close to the first line of defensive pits, about 150 paces from the English line. The pits were arrayed over a depth of about 100 paces and, although carefully planned, seemed haphazard and inconsequential. The Danes would soon learn otherwise.

A tall bearded man in a gilded helmet which shone brilliantly in the sun stepped clear in front of the Danes, turned and began to shout exhortations to his men, waving his arms.

“Kill him!” Alan quietly instructed Owain the Welsh master-bowman who stood at his side. Owain already had an arrow in hand and with a single fluid movement notched the arrow, raised the bow and loosed. A moment later the bodkin-tipped arrow smashed into the back of the Dane between the shoulders, pierced the chain-mail byrnie and threw the man forward onto his face with more than two feet of arrow showing between his shoulder-blades.

After a moment of blank stupefaction the Danes gave a wild hoarse battle-cry and leaped forward. Alan turned first to the archers on the west flank, and then those on the east flank, in each case raising a clenched fist above his head in a pumping motion. No instructions were yet given to the men hiding in the forest to the east. Twenty longbowmen began to rain a hail of arrows into the Danes, each delivering an aimed arrow every four or five seconds. At such short range the trajectory was flat and more than half of the arrows struck shields. When they did not, the sheer power of the longbow drove the bodkin-tipped armour-piercing arrow through whatever it hit, be it chain-mail, helmet or flesh.

Danes were falling, disrupting those who followed behind. Then the Danes reached the main part of the seemingly useless defensive pits. Seeing them, the men skirted around them, but they were slowed- and more particularly were forced into three narrow channels. This made the job of the archers easier. They simply had to select a target from the mass of armoured men. From their advanced positions, with the natural protection offered by the mudflat, the archers on the right flank were now able to mainly avoid the shields, smashing arrows into the sides of the foe, while those on the left flank still had to carefully chose their target.

Alan faced the men hidden in the woods to the east and again raised a fist, punching the sky. Twenty more archers began to rain death on the Danes from the trees behind them, arrows slamming into their undefended backs. Before they reached the row of defensive pits closest to the English already more than 100 Danes lay dead, riddled with the longbow cloth-yard arrows.

The Danes had been channeled by the seemingly-innocuous pits into three areas each 25 paces wide, jostling each other and slowing their progress. As the first of the Danes burst out of the bottle-necks and surged forward, the 10 archers behind the shield-wall joined the fray, shooting point-blank into the faces and throats of the Danes running towards them. Each loosed 4 or 5 arrows at close range into the Danes, the arrows smashing through armour and flesh. Men dropped, some quietly and others screaming with pain from chest or belly wounds.

The English were deployed in chevron-shaped formations in front of each of the three openings in the line of pits. The Danes burst out of the confined areas, spreading slightly as they charged. Danes fell left and right from the efforts of the archers and were trampled underfoot by those who followed. Alan could see behind his own line youths of ten or so years of age trundling hand-carts containing sheaves of arrows to replenish the supplies of the bowmen to the rear of the English line, as they loosed arrow after arrow, each sheaf of twelve taking less than a minute to use.

The men in the English shield-wall were chanting the ancient Saxon battle-cry. “Out! Out! Out!” They hammered their spears or sword-hilts against their shields. The Danes roared their own battle cries as they closed the English line. Then the front ranks of the Danes struck the English shield-wall like three hammer-blows.

Usually the Danes used their own projectiles when close to the enemy, normally small throwing axes, but this time they were so keen to close with the enemy that they passed up the opportunity to pause and throw. The English swordsmen in the front rank, many experiencing their first taste of battle, quailed as the screaming Danes closed with their long hair flying, mouths open screaming battle-cries or death-cries, faces bright red from the exertion of running on soft ground in full armour.

The battle-chant, the press of men at each shoulder and the feel of the man close behind, the provision of mutual protection and support kept the English line together. When the Danes crashed into the shield-wall they were pushed back as the English warriors bent slightly and shoved hard just as the Danes hit. In the close confines of the battle, where there was hardly space to swing an axe or long-sword, the English swordsmen began to use their shorter one-handed swords to effect, stabbing towards the bellies of the invaders, facing them as they pushed forward and with the shield on their left arm protecting them from the blows of the Danes.

The use of the defensive pits and the positioning of the English shield-wall meant that, while the Danes outnumbered the English two to one overall, at the shield-wall there were two Englishmen for each Dane, with a large pack of other invaders pushing forward trying to get a place. While it was hot work for the English swordsmen in the front rank, they held a two to one advantage on the shield-wall and a spear stabbing over each shoulder trying to impale the Danes if they dropped their guard for a moment, the English held and the Danish losses mounted quickly. In the press the dead, English and Dane alike, found it difficult to fall, being supported upright by the bodies of the living. Men pushed and shoved, shouted, screamed, thrust and slashed with weapons. Blood flew from strokes that hit their target, blood and guts from those who had been eviscerated made the ground slippery and the wounded who did fall to the ground were trampled as the shield-wall surged back and forth.

Crammed together the Danish axe-men had no room to wield their weapons, and the swordsmen were restricted to bashing with their shields and trying to stab their opponent in the guts as any attempt at an overhand stroke would most likely lop off the head of the compatriot standing next to him. The fighting style of the Norsemen, trained for individual and not collective combat, counted against them. Alan had specifically trained the Englishmen, including the fyrdmen, to fight in a shield-wall.

At Hastings the English had learned from the Normans that combat required men to work together in mutually supporting groups and that the importance of individual ability epitomised by the Berserker was largely a thing of the past. While being faced by a huge man wielding a massive battleaxe in both hands, hewing through his opponents like so much wood, slicing men and horses asunder, was enough to make even a brave man empty his bowels, properly executed coordinated close-combat made the two-handed axe almost redundant. If the axe-men were not killed by archers when they stepped forward from their own shield-wall, and the opposing swordsmen kept out of their reach but engaged their attention, the supporting spearmen and bowmen would account for them. The local English fyrdmen had been taught well over the last two years.

Alan’s archers walked back and forth behind the ranked men of the shield-wall, shooting arrows into the faces of men they could almost reach out and touch. Again, many of them were in their first battle and the sight of the huge arrows slamming into the face, throat or chest of men at very short range, the spray of blood from the arrow-strike and the eruption of blood from the mouth of the target as he fell screaming was very different from shooting at straw targets at 200 paces. Many were white-faced and looking as if they would vomit at any moment as they mechanically reached into their quivers for the next arrow and looked for their next target.

When the Danes were fully engaged, separated into three untidy gaggles partly in front of the defensive pits and partly still awaiting the opportunity to move forward, Alan let loose his cavalry. They charged from their hiding place in the woods, through a corridor in the ditches left for their use and smashed into the right flank of the Danes from behind. With the din of battle the Danes did not hear the drumming of the horses’ hooves as they closed.

The first target of each horseman was speared with a lance in his side or back. Some lances broke at the first contact, others lasted to account for two or three of the enemy before the shattered wood had to be discarded and the horseman drew his long sword and began to deal death with each swing of his arm, as the arrow-head formation of the cavalry smashed through. As the momentum of the charge was lost and the Danes realised what was happening and turned to defend the flank, the cavalry drew back to collect new lances and reorganize for another charge. More than 100 Danes lay dead along the path of the charge, along with six horses and four cavalrymen.

In a few moments the Danes on their right flank, the English left flank, had been virtually annihilated. With nearly half their number dead or wounded and with their leaders having been specially targeted by the archers, in particular Owain, it took some time before the men on the Danish left flank and in the centre realised their predicament, and the rear ranks to start trying to extricate themselves.

Many Danes in the centre were looking across at where the cavalry were lining up for their next charge, knowing they would be the target. As the Danes tried to pull back, the English shield-wall swarmed forward, maintaining the pressure. The Danes slowly retreated, trying to keep a coherent force and maintain discipline. The English cavalry charged down another path through in the trenches and hit the Danish centre like an Act of God, again cutting a swathe through the struggling foot-soldiers like a scythe through grass.

The Danes routed and fled to the south towards the ships.

It was then the second part of Alan’s plan became evident. Havorn and Alekrage had rowed into Barfleet Creek just as the Danish infantry had started to march north. Being snekke build by the Danes and with Norwegian captains, they had encountered no difficulty in mingling with the ships of the invaders, with Sven shouting replies in Danish and Norwegian to the few shouted questions he heard. The English crewmen kept their mouths shut and heads down. When the battle on shore was joined and the attention of the Danish anchor-guard was distracted, Sven and Lars had quietly taken action against the Danish ships, which by now had floated off the mud bank with the incoming tide and were secured fore and aft by an anchor. Both of the English longships had towed a sunnmorsf?ring, a Norwegian four-oared rowing-boat, and positioned themselves about 70 yards distant from each other along part of the line of Danish ships, which stretched in total for about 200 yards. There were six Danish ships between the two English longships and three Danes to the south of Havorn, with the rest of the Danish ships being north of Alekrage.

While this occurred, on land the Danish troops had just reached the English shield-wall. Distance and the dust thrown up by hundreds of feet made it impossible for those who had remained with the ships to see what was happening, but to a man their attention was drawn north-west, interest piqued by the shouts, screams and din of battle that could now be heard.

The English rowed out with ten men crammed into each sunnmorsf?ring, each targeting the ship next to their own in the group that was flanked by the two English ships. The first ship the men from Havorn approached never even saw them, the four men on anchor-watch standing together near the bow and were dispatched by a silent rush of knife-wielding Saxons. The next ship was slightly more watchful, and Sven waved a large earthenware jar of aqua vitae in each hand before inviting himself and his men aboard, clambering over the stern of the ship and having his men take down the three unsuspecting watchmen.

The third ship saw them coming and some instinct or surliness made the senior watchman wave away the rowing boat. Now with only six men aboard Sven decided to quit while he was ahead and turned to row back to the Havorn, just as shouts were heard from the ship one further along, which was being attacked by the men from Alekrage.

“That’s put the cat amongst the pigeons!” commented Sven casually as he stood and nonchalantly lobbed a small flask containing Wildfire onto the ship that had just refused to allow him to board, starting an instant conflagration. In the meantime ten men had moved from Havorn and Alekrage to crew each of the five captured ships. Anchor ropes were cut at the bows of each ship and the ships hauled backwards into the main stream of the creek using the kedge anchors. Even with skeleton crews the seven ships had little to fear from the Danes, as only an anchor-watch had been left on the Danish ships with barely enough men to raise an anchor and certainly not enough to row the ships.

Remembering one of the maxims written by the Roman Vegetius in the 4th century allow your enemy to retreat, Alan had instructed Sven that he wanted to leave six or seven ships in Danish hands, enough for them to use to flee if the battle went in favour of the English, but with their strength significantly diminished.

Alan knew that, like the wolves they were, the Danish raiders would move on and look for easier prey if they could. He also knew that, also like wolves, if trapped they would fight to the death. Even now there were still more Danes than Englishmen and to totally defeat them would cost many English lives for what Alan saw as no benefit. There seemed an inexhaustible supply of Danes and longships and he wanted as few Englishwomen as possible being made widows today, and as many men as possible ready to respond when the Danes next raided. So Sven and Lars had their crews row close to the Danish longships, carefully tossing flasks of Wildfire into four snekke. The pint or so of incendiary material splashed across the decks setting fire first to the tar-drenched caulking, then the wood hulls and the tarred ropes. One burning ship drifted into another, setting it ablaze in moments, as the Danish crewmen threw themselves in the water and swam away.

The undermanned ships crewed by the English, Havorn and Alekrage together with the new prizes, rowed away slowly towards the Colne estuary and then headed north, using their flax-coloured woollen sails to take advantage of a favourable breeze and give the tired rowers a rest.

Despite the pyres burning behind them the Danes on the shore still seemed unaware of the dual nature of their predicament. They had fallen back approximately half a mile to a point halfway between the initial point of contact and the village of Brightlingsea. Here the land was much more open and footing more firm and they were seeking to rally. With still with over 500 men they stood, and as the second cavalry charge had exhausted itself and fallen back the Danes had formed a shield-wall of two, sometimes three, ranks and with a group of men on each flank to both act as reserves and provide protection for the vulnerable flanks.

The English followed slowly, the infantry leading, moving carefully through the pattern of defensive pits. The cavalry followed, positioning themselves to the east, on the English left flank. There, away from the lower-lying ground, the footing was firmer. Finally, the archers came trotting through, delayed by their obtaining fresh supplies of arrows from the village lads pulling hand-carts laden with sheaves of arrows. Alan was not happy with the new position. The infantry had the defensive pits to their rear. The cavalry, while on open ground and with firm footing, had the stand of trees to their rear. Both the pits and the trees would make any retreat, should it prove necessary, difficult- just as it had for the Danes a few minutes before.

In the pause as the English set up their shield-wall two things happened. Alan had water-carts with barrels of fresh water move through his lines, allowing the men to drink and wash the enemy’s blood from their faces, arms and weapons, and the cavalry to water their horses using the leather collapsible buckets that each horseman carried. The other was that the Danish leader had finally realised that something was amiss to his rear. The more seriously Danish wounded were assisted to the ships, mainly by those with lesser injuries but also with some fit men to secure the remaining ships.

For perhaps half an hour, the Dane and English stood looking at each other, the shield-walls separated by about 150 paces. Light rain began to fall, making the men uncomfortable as it soaked through the leather on which the chain-mail or scale-armour was sewn and into the padded garments below. Alan was on the English left flank sitting on his destrier Odin next to the cavalry and gladly accepted a towel his servant Leof handed to him, wiping the moisture, part rain and part sweat, from his face. Odin was fidgeting, moving his weight from foot to foot, keen to get to work as all he had done so far that day was stand and watch.

The leaders who Alan had appointed for his forces were Brand, in overall charge of the infantry, with Leofstan, Leofson of Moze and Alwin of Little Bromley as his deputies. The cavalry was led by Alan’s men Hugh, Ainulf, Edric (still with his axe in hand) and Alfward, together with Gerard de Cholet from Elmstead. The archers, all Alan’s men, were led by Owain, Roger, Barclay, Abracan and Aethelbald. Ranulf the Huscarle, Brand’s deputy, commanded back at the village.

The preponderance of his own men in charge of the cavalry and archers showed Alan’s basic battle philosophy- kill as many as possible at long range and smash what was left with repeated charges of heavy cavalry from the flanks. This was a philosophy intended to maximise results and minimise casualties.

The English were now positioned with a main shield-wall of about 200 men facing the Danes, in three ranks. Two groups of each of fifty men stood slightly behind in reserve. The archers were deployed in five squads each of ten men, two squads on each wing and one in the centre. Alan instructed Hugh to take a ten-man squad of cavalry to the right wing to provide protection for the archers on that flank, leaving forty mounted men on the left wing. The archers on the other flank were standing ankle-deep in water on the tidal-flat and were in effect protected from attack by the soft nature of the ground. The Danish leader in response sent more men to his right wing to counter the strength of the English on that side.

Preparations complete, Alan ordered his men forward fifty paces and for the archers to again begin to loose at the Danes. Further supplies of arrows were already being brought forward even before the barrage began. In response, the Danes crouched, the large round shields of the front rank facing the English providing cover to the front and those of the second rank, standing close behind, providing cover overhead.

At times of stress Alan’s language tended to become colourful, even if his mind remained ice-clear. This was one of those times. A string of the vilest oaths and imprecations he could think of both in English and French burst forth. There was a polite cough from Gerard de Cholet next to him, and Alan turned and saw that Anne was sitting on her white palfrey Misty just behind him. “Holy Mary, Mother of God! Just what I need right now!” Alan complained loudly. He didn’t ask her how matters were progressing in the village. He knew that if things weren’t in hand she wouldn’t be here. Ignoring her he went on, “I knew I should have brought up those damn onagers. Just throwing fucking big rocks at them would break up that shield-wall! Bad planning!”

While Alan debated with himself whether to call for the onagers, which would take two hours to break-down, move and re-assemble. The longbowmen were killing and injuring Danes at a slow but steady pace. In the end Alan decided to send the archers further forward, to be level or behind the Danish shield wall, and deployed his cavalry to equally cover both flanks.

This forced the Danes to pull back both their flanks and commit their reserves, resulting in a near round-shaped formation- the Danes had learned their lesson earlier in the day. In the face of the accuracy and sheer power of the longbow, together with the threat of further smashing cavalry charges, they were not prepared to commit suicide by attacking. Similarly, Alan did not want to throw either cavalry or infantry against the Danish shield-wall. The Danes were no longer encumbered by being crammed together and without doubt many would wield the two-handed battle-axe in a way to cause many English casualties. Alan was bearing in mind that his objective was not to kill the Danes, but remove them as a threat at the least possible cost to the local fyrdmen and troops, and he tempered his impatience accordingly.

He moved a force of thirty horsemen past the right flank of the Danes to threaten the remaining Danish ships, and then had them hold. The Danes responded to the threat to their only avenue of escape in the manner which Alan had expected, by withdrawing towards the remaining ships in an orderly fashion, one or two ship-loads of 50 men at a time, forming a new line 100 paces back, and then resuming their withdrawal. Alan was content to let them go. The alternative was to force a battle by sallying his men- but he did not want to end up owning a battlefield strewn with Danish and English corpses. The former he was not concerned about, but the latter were important. He knew he could only achieve one at the cost of the other.

Gerard de Cholet rode up to Alan, pulling up his charger only about arm’s length away, shouting and gesticulating that the enemy were escaping, spittle flying from his mouth in his agitation as he demanded action. De Cholet had neither been knighted nor made the owner of the lands he held from fitzWymarc, and as such his social position was so far below that of Alan that his opinion was worthless.

With some difficulty Alan stayed his hand from his sword to take retribution for the aspersions cast on his manliness and courage. After a brief pause while Alan considered he could not refer to de Cholet as ‘Sir Gerard’ or ‘Mesire’, he simply and bluntly replied, “I know that damn well, de Cholet! I intend for them to escape, rather than fight like trapped wolves. I don’t know if you feel a need to prove something, but I do not! To annihilate them will cost the lives of 200 of our men, to no useful benefit. I want our men alive to bring in the harvest in the next few weeks. If you and your five men want to mount an attack and prove you have balls, by all means feel free! We’ll give you a big cheer as a Danish axe-man chops you in twain! Learn to fight with your head, not your balls!”

De Cholet threw his lance away in disgust and wrenched his mount to one side so abruptly as to cause almost certain damage from the bit to its sensitive mouth, and used his spurs on the abused beast to canter several dozen paces away.

As the Danes boarded their ships Alan sent fifty men to secure the village of Brightlingsea and instructed Swein and his men from Great Bentley that they could return home to see what damage had been wreaked by the enemy. Riders were sent to St Osyth and Frowick Hall to determine the damage suffered by those villages.

Shortly afterwards Thegn Edward, who held about one third of the land at St Osyth, the balance belonging to the Bishop of London and placed in the care of the Fleming Albyn of Bruges, rode in. Edward reported that Albyn and most of his foreign troops had been killed, as was the case with Roger de Montivilliers at Great Clacton. Geoffrey of Rouen and his men at Little Clacton had survived. The corrupt priest Engelric’s manor at Frowick Hall had been burnt to the ground but almost all the geburs had fled to safety. Given past differences Alan found no difficulty in controlling his grief about Albyn of Bruges or his men, Arnaud and Josselin, Roger de Montivilliers or Engelric’s manor.

Indeed, with his past disputes with Edsel the King’s Reeve of Brightlingsea and Edsel’s refusal to work with the thegns with a claim of special privileges resulting from the village belonging directly to the king, Alan also shed no tears about the partial devastation of the village before him. People not prepared to work together have to stand alone, and the cheorls of the village should have understood that as well as any. Alan mused that those who were still alive would certainly remember that in the future.

The Danes boarded their remaining ships with some difficulty, the press of men aboard making it difficult for the rowers to use the oars properly as they backed into Barfleet Creek, then departed south to navigate through the sandbars at the mouth of the estuary. Several mounted scouts followed along the shoreline to ensure that the Danish fleet then headed east for home to lick their wounds.

The English were busy tidying the battlefield, stripping and throwing the Danish corpses into several of the defensive ditches that had been dug and transporting the more seriously injured of the English and the few lightly wounded Danes back to Thorrington. The three dozen or so seriously injured Danes were finished with a knife across the throat or between the ribs. The villagers from Brightlingsea were drifting back from the swamps and trees to the north where many had fled the night before when the Danes had attacked, saving nothing but their lives and the clothes in which they stood.

Alan rode the short distance into Brightlingsea, noting that eleven buildings, houses and barns, had been burnt, with wisps of grey smoke still drifting in the air. Most of the livestock was gone, eaten by the Danes, but a few escaped chickens and pigs rooted amongst the vegetable gardens. The villagers gathered up their dead and placed them outside the small wooden church, over a dozen pathetic bundles, mainly men but with two women and several children and youths. Three men hanging from a make-shift gallows had not yet been cut down and Alan saw that one of these was Edsel the Reeve, the other two presumably being elders of the village. His mouth gave a twitch of a smile.

A few injured were being cared for out of the still falling rain inside the Moot-Hall and a number of women were sitting, some alone and some with others, with the frightened vacant expressions of the abused. Brother Wacian, the priest from Thorrington, was organising the survivors into groups to attend to necessary tasks. The village had been plundered of what few valuables the people had and most of its food, but the Danes had not wreaked total devastation- perhaps because they had intended to use it for shelter for another night. As Alan rode past the villagers stared at him apathetically. Even as an ox wagon arrived from Thorrington with cooked food and ale there were no smiles and no thanks.

Leaving Brother Wacian and the villagers of Brightlingsea to their own devices Alan rode back through the rain to Thorrington in the late afternoon. There the village women and the youths were busily preparing food either over their own hearths or in open cooking pits, that latter experiencing some difficulty due to the constant rain. The baker and his apprentice had been busy all day and loaves of fresh bread were being handed out and ripped into several pieces to serve every man. Meat was being roasted over the cooking pits, mainly pigs, and cauldrons of beef and vegetable stew were bubbling over cooking fires and being served in wooden bowls.

The tavern had run out of ale, but was still packed with men getting out of the rain, as was every barn and stable. The Old Hall was being used to care for the wounded and the New Hall was packed full with about 100 of the leaders and the more important men. Several tables had been set up at one end of the Hall but it was impossible to seat all of the guests and most were standing with ale mugs in hand, engaging in shouted conversation with their neighbours, fighting the battle again blow by blow. The noise was incredible. Most of the men were wearing the stained tunics they had worn under their gambesons and armour, and the woollen breeches they habitually wore. Their clothing was wet with sweat and rain. Despite the windows and doors being open to allow in the evening sea-breeze the rank smell of the solid throng was overpowering.

Servants wended their way through the mob carrying platters of food which they placed on several of the tables near the door, and at another table two men were serving ale as fast as they could pour from the barrel spigot. Another barrel was being trundled in as an empty was rolled out. Alan was sure that his store-room was taking a real beating that day, but mused that this was what it was there for. Better to be used for a victory feast by the English than by the Danes. The guests held their ale mugs in one hand and in the other an open sandwich that they had made by taking a slice of bread and topping it with the meat and sauces available on the tables. Some instead held joints of meat, fresh apples or slabs of cheese. Clearly Anne had required the kitchen staff to work hard that day producing the copious quantities of food required and Otha the cook had responded well. The food was simple but tasty and able to be eaten by hand. Hungry warriors did not require the tasty titbits expected by courtiers. In deference to it being Friday fish was available on the tables, mainly pickled herring, but most of the warriors had granted themselves dispensation to eat as they saw fit from the varied provender supplied.

Alan hurried upstairs to his bedroom and was starting the difficult task of stripping off his wet armour and gambeson when the door opened and Anne slipped in, gave him a lingering kiss and then a hug- her nose wrinkling in disgust at the rank smell of the armour and the uncomfortable feeling of being crushed against metal rings.

A moment later Leof also arrived and together he and Anne worked to undo the wet thong ties that fastened the armour and then lift the hauberk off over Alan’s head. “Make sure you dry it well and oil it,” Alan instructed Leof. “Otherwise you’ll be spending weeks burnishing off the rust!” He pulled off the padded gambeson and his under-tunic, both soaked with sweat and rain, poured cold water from a ewer into a basin and quickly washed his face and hair before wetting a towel and sponging off the worst of the sweat from his body. He then slipped on a clean plain black tunic and hose and sat on the bed to don his boots.

Still sitting, he leaned forward, put his head in his hands, sighed tiredly and cleared his mind for a moment before standing and then proceeding arm-in-arm with Anne down the stairs and to a small raised dais in the Hall.

At a signal from Alan Brand blew a single loud note on a signal-horn and the hubbub in the Hall lessened over several seconds as the warriors turned and looked at Alan. “Hlaford!” he said. “Thank you for responding to the call to arms so quickly and in such strength. Thanks to you and the efforts of your men together, and with God’s good grace, we won a battle that does honour both to you and your men and shows the benefit of the hard work and money spent in equipping and training your men.

“Today we faced an enemy of fierce, well-equipped and well-trained warriors, who outnumbered us two to one. But, thanks be to God, we prevailed as our men showed their mettle, their skills and their bravery. The example and leadership of each and every one of you was instrumental in the outcome, as was the speed with which you responded to the threat. Events such as today are the reason why we are who we are, and why we do what we do. It is our privilege and responsibility, before God and before the people, to protect this land and everybody in it, down to the last humble slave. That is why we have the privilege of holding the land as we do and why we must all work as hard as we can to be ready at a moment’s notice to defend what we have and hold. Yes, God fought with us this day, but we all know God helps those who help themselves. Our victory, hard won as it was, comes from the hard work we have all done over many years and in particular in the last two years since the Danes last visited.

“Brother Wacian will say a morning Mass of thanksgiving at Terce tomorrow. You and all your men are welcome to attend and are also welcome to what hospitality the village can offer. Hopefully we will be able to find a dry place for each man to sleep this night! As to booty, it appears that there is little enough to share as the Danes had just arrived on these shores. Apart from fertiliser (here Alan had to pause for several moments to allow the laughter to die away), we have about 400 sets of weapons taken from their dead and wounded, which will be shared amongst those who ask and should be available after Mass tomorrow. The thegns can send wagons, but any freeman can claim a set of arms and armour- we should have enough to give to any who ask! There are five longships, which I intend to offer to the sheriff together with my share of the weapons, if he agrees to man them and keep them available at Colchester to support the shire against future attacks. I trust that this meets with your approval. Now, I’ll have a quick bite and sup and away to the Old Hall to visit the wounded. Once again, my thanks and God bless you all!”

There were several cheers of acclamation as Alan stood down and a dozen or more men came forward to clasp his arm and thump him on the shoulders, expressing their appreciation of his leadership and in particular the skill and tactics shown that day to defeat a more numerous and skilled enemy. Amidst the interruptions Alan ate a hurried meal of mutton stew with vegetables, roast pork with pickled vegetables, fresh bread and cheese. He then went upstairs to change into an old brown tunic and walked over towards the Old Hall, still munching on an apple.

Darkness had fallen and in the torch-lit Old Hall the dim and flickering light showed lines of injured men laid out on the rush-covered earthen floor. Some were moaning in pain and two or three were screaming. Brother Wacian and the wise-women of several villages were doing what they could to assist. Father Ator the priest from Wivenhoe moved amongst the men, praying with them, shriving them and occasionally administering Last Rites. Aedre, the elderly wise-woman from Thorrington, had taken charge. The woman, her young assistant, the other wise-women and some of the village women were doing what they could to ease the pain and tend the injured. Wise-women had some basic knowledge of herbs and treatment of injuries, some could even set broken bones, but most of the injured in the Old Hall were beyond their abilities.

Alan quickly took charge and divided the wounded into four categories. Those who would die irrespective of any treatment they received, usually severe head injuries or stomach wounds. Of these there were well over a dozen, both English and Danes. The second group comprised those with major trauma needing immediate treatment to survive. Again, slightly more than a dozen. The third was those with serious injuries needing treatment as soon as practical, usually sword or spear cuts to the limbs or torso- some twenty men. The final group was those with deep cuts that required cleansing and stitching, or broken bones that required setting. This group numbered about thirty. Alan instructed a messenger to ride at first light to Colchester Priory to seek the assistance of the infirmarer and several of his assistants.

Much later, on returning to the New Hall, Alan was met by Anne, who had been dozing in a chair until he arrived. He was conducted by her to the bath-house outside where water had been warmed and the huge hot-tub was ready for use. They both stripped and slipped into the water, luxuriating in its warmth, and Alan scrubbed off both the sweat and dirt of the day and the blood on his arms that he had missed when washing in cold water and poor light at the Old Hall. Near dropping with fatigue he accepted Anne’s arm to assist him from the tub and stumbled upstairs to the bedroom, falling face-first onto the bed into instant insensibility.

Next morning he was roused by the noise from the Hall below at about eight, an hour before the special Mass was due to be said by Brother Wacian. He and Anne broke their fast on ham, eggs and fresh bread upstairs, leaving the servants to deal with the guests in the Hall below, before dressing in clean but relatively plain clothing to attend Mass. Many of the guests would effectively be attending in their underwear after they had removed the armour they had worn on their arrival, few having had the time or inclination to think about bringing spare clothing to a battle.

The service was conducted in Anglo-Saxon English by Brother Wacian, both as a celebration of victory and a eulogy to the dead and wounded. It was held on the village green, the church being too small to house those gathered and the Old Hall being occupied by the wounded. Alan could sympathise with Brother Wacian’s exhausted appearance, as after Alan had departed to rest the priest had clearly spent much of the remainder of the night still assisting the injured and writing his homily for the morning Mass. Fortunately the weather had cleared and the congregation stood under a clear sky in the warmth of a summer’s morning.

After the parting Benediction, Alan quickly circulated amongst the thegns, again expressing his thanks.

A week later Alan was sitting in the office of Robert fitzWymarc, the sheriff of Essex, at the castle at Colchester. FitzWymarc’s deputy Roger and also his clerk were sitting in the room, as was Alan’s clerk Osmund.

“So you saw fit to call out the fyrd again,” commented fitzWymarc sourly. “You know you don’t have that authority.”

“I didn’t formally call out the fyrd, and you know that Sir Robert,” replied Alan. “The Danes had landed. The sheriff was nowhere to be seen, as is the case with such raids. Nobody can know in advance where they will land. They land and we have just a few minutes, never more than a few hours, to respond. We aren’t talking about an invasion by 5,000 men and the need to raise a large army. Small raids must be dealt with whatever is available at short-notice. The Danes were on the doorstep. I asked my fellow thegns for assistance which they kindly sent- even your own man. Villages burning in the distance give men some motivation to act!”

FitzWymarc scowled and said, “I don’t know that a landing of nearly 1,000 men is ‘a small raid’, and I received no request for assistance.”

“No message was sent. No assistance was needed- and we couldn’t afford to wait for assistance even if it had been dispatched,” said Alan baldly. “There was no time for you to respond. Unless Swein’s whole army arrives we are unlikely to need any assistance. Tendring Hundred has a good group of thegns and geburs who take their defence seriously and fight like lions when they have to. As to the size of the raid, we collected over 350 swords from the dead.”

“De Cholet accuses you of cowardly allowing the enemy to escape instead of engaging them,” said fitzWymarc sharply.

Alan gave a snort of amusement. “De Cholet is a good man with a sword, but not himself the sharpest sword in the armoury. The Danes still outnumbered us even at the end. They were better equipped and better trained. We’d had a good run up to that point and there was no benefit in pushing our luck. A good gambler knows when to fold and walk away and a good leader of a war-band knows the same.” Here he gave a shrug. “We buried 63 of our men the next day. That was enough. Two of them were thegns and three were the sons of thegns. I’ve fought at Hastings, in Wales, at York and twice fought the Danes in my own lands- all winning battles.”

FitzWymarc scowled again. He couldn’t understand how a pack of farmers, thrown together at short notice and Englishmen could rout a larger army of professional Danish raiders while inflicting five times as many losses as they suffered.

Before he could comment further Alan continued, “Anyway, what I came here for was not to debate my actions, but to offer you five longships and forty sets of arms and armour if you undertake to man them, based at Colchester and use them to discourage the raiding on our ships which I understand is causing considerable concern and loss amongst the local merchants.”

“I don’t give a damn for those money-grubbing bastards!” exclaimed the sheriff. “All I hear is their whining about lost profits!”

Alan smiled, but it was a smile of contempt. He replied, “Those ‘money-grubbing bastards’ and their profits support the kingdom and help pay your wages. Mercantile activity means jobs and income for many, and puts money into the coffers of both the king and yourself. I’m offering you a way, at minimal cost, to provide some protection to ships off our shores and to deter small raids. Perhaps you can consult with Chancellor Herfast and King William before you reach a decision. In the meantime I’ll beach the boats in a safe place. Now, if you will excuse me I have some shopping to do- stores to replace and medicines to replenish. Good day, Sir Robert.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Thorrington August 1069

Anne was having an interesting afternoon and thoroughly enjoying herself. She was sitting an a chairs in the light of a window, a small table with board and markers in front of her, playing Tabula with Lora, who sat opposite with a frown of concentration creasing her brow as she examined the board and rolled the dice. At eighteen the pretty blonde girl was the same age as Anne- although the latter was more experienced with her three years of marriage, first to Aelfric of Wivenhoe, who had been killed at Stamford Bridge, and then to Alan, and she felt ancient in comparison. From time to time Lora’s eyes would flick across to where Osmund was working, carefully using ink and a rather battered quill to write out the fair copy of the record of the last sitting of the Hundred Court, to be sent to the Judiciar’s office on the next Quarter Day, Michaelmas on the 29th of September.

Lora was hunting and stalking her prey, with poor Osmund totally oblivious to his pending fate. Lora was the third daughter of Alfward, the thegn of the nearby village of Tendring. After she had met Osmund when he and Alan had called to visit her father, Lora had arranged for her father to bring her to Thorrington several times, usually with the excuse of attending the Hundred Court. She had then cultivated a friendship with Anne, which gave her excuse to visit several times a week. Anne was none loath as she found the other girl’s quick mind and sharp tongue refreshing.

Another part of the interest was the presence of another lass, slightly older at twenty-two, named Swanhild, who was the daughter of Leofgyth of Saffron Walden in Utlesford Hundred in the north-west of Essex. Leofgyth was a minor thegn with a small holding of just over half a hide of land, two older sons and another younger daughter. Like a number of residents of that town he had an unusual and valuable cash-crop- saffron picked from fields of crocus flowers. His family was known to Brand’s family and Brand had called to visit Swanhild several times. At about thirty years of age Brand had been considering that it was time to put down roots and the gift by Alan of sixty acres of land to each of Brand and Osmund to reward past loyal service and ensure future service had made him quite affluent.

Swanhild had traveled with an aunt as chaperone and four men as escort and had been pleased to see that the stories of Brand’s wealth and local importance had not been exaggerated. While Anne privately though Brand could do somewhat better than this plain and slightly unintelligent woman, the lass did have an excellent placid personality which meant he could also do worse. Anne was sure wedding bells would soon be ringing and that Brand’s two-roomed cottage at the edge of the village would soon have another resident.

From outside came occasional dull thumping noises and muffled shouting. Alan was playing with his toys. Ballistae with short but very stiff arms which were drawn using a ratchet mechanism and used a torsion spring made of animal sinew could accurately throw a bolt out to 500 paces like a giant cross-bow. Onagers, a catapult the size of a wagon and constructed from heavy beams of timber, again used a torsion spring- this time to throw rocks and similar projectiles weighing as much as 50 pounds over similar distances. Alan had built the engines from the detailed instructions contained in his manuscript of the works of the Roman general Vegetius and was making the crews practice to achieve both accuracy and speed. A ballista should be able to be accurately fired two or three times a minute, but as with any military skill this had to be practiced regularly.

Unfortunately on a warm and sunny summer’s afternoon the crews had just been ‘going through the motions’ and spending most of the time swapping stories and jokes. From the tone of Alan’s indistinct shouts he was less than happy with the progress of his afternoon.

Juliana was sitting semi-upright in a cot, supported by pillows and looking about herself with interest, making gurgling noises and shaking a bead rattle in one hand. Anne was glad that the baby had been weaned as this had allowed her to dispense with the services of the wet-nurse Bisgu, a rather plain, coarse and stupid woman from the village of Beaumont who Anne had heartily disliked. Juliana’s pink and chubby face took on a look of intense concentration and moments later a distinctive smell wafted in the air. One of Anne’s maids, Esme, had taken over the duties of nursemaid and Anne called her over in a quiet voice and waved her hand at Juliana. Being mistress of a large household did have its advantages.

While Tabula contained an element of chance, with the dice, it did also require concentration and tactical knowledge, which Lora was lacking that day. After an easy win, and a sniff at the enticing odors wafting in from the nearby kitchen building which told Anne that the mid-day meal would be ready in about half an hour, Anne rose a little unsteadily and with a smile and a gesture said, “Come, child,” and led Lora upstairs to the privacy of the family Solar. “These damned stairs are a problem when you are pregnant,” she grumbled as she waved Lora to a padded stool opposite. When Lora had seated herself Anne bent forward, with some difficulty due to her swollen belly, and took Lora’s hand. “Now, my girl, you are going to have to make a decision about what you do. You’ve been calling here regularly for about three months now and you’re always welcome. But it’s no use sitting there making calf-eyes at Osmund. The young man is the son of a priest and spent most of the last ten years in a monastery. While he may not be completely unused to the… intimate… company of women he is by no means a ‘man of the world’. You’ve been like a fly-fisherman, casting a delicate and understated lure in front of a fish and expecting its greed to overcome all. Quite simply, my dear, Osmund does not understand the signals you’ve been throwing out, or at least is confused by them. You need to be more direct and militant if you don’t expect to be an old maid of thirty.”

Lora dropped her eyes demurely, before deciding to abandon pretense and still holding Anne’s hand looked her in the eye and said with a small smile, “You’re right. What do you suggest?”

Uncomfortable at leaning forward, Anne let go of Lora’s hand and sat back into her padded chair. “I’m by no means an expert, but to get a man’s full attention you need to grab him by the short-handle. Depending on how forward you might want to be, you could be naked in his bed waiting for him tonight. He’ll get the message then. You might like to be a little more subtle and invite him to share the hot-tub in the bath-house. Or you can be more subtle still and ask him to take you for a walk, hold his hand and give him a few kisses. Men tend to be slow of intellect, but even that would probably work- but without immediate results and would be less fun.”

“Which did you use?” asked Lora.

Anne paused and gave a sigh. “The affairs of the ‘high and mighty’ are more difficult. I married Aelfric the thegn of Wivenhoe when I was fifteen. He was fairly old, thirty-five or so. His previous wife had died and he had no children. My father was, and is, a wealthy merchant in Ipswich, and had just become thegn-worthy. He thought it would be beneficial to me if I improved my station, so he was happy to receive the offer from Aelfric. My father thought that Aelfric may want to dip his hands in his purse occasionally but was prepared to live with that. I only met Aelfric twice before the marriage, with him coming to Ipswich. He seemed nice enough. A little rough in manner, but what do you expect from a country thegn?”

Anne was now staring into the distance, hands clenching and unclenching in her lap. She wasn’t talking to Lora anymore, but to herself and experiencing past demons. “Unfortunately, I very soon found out he was a whore-mongering, cheating, drunken gambler- and a poor gambler at that. A man who cowardly beat those in his power who couldn’t protect themselves; me, the servants and the villagers. Less than a week after our marriage day I had the shame to have to appear in the Hall at Wivenhoe with my face bruised and a black eye while my lord was rutting like a pig in the next room with a wench from the village. Within a month he had gambled his way through the cash part of my dowry. I’d hidden my jewellery and he beat me repeatedly to try to get my to hand it over. Fortunately he was killed at Stamford Bridge before he gave me physical scars to match my mental scars. I suspect, knowing him, he would have died from a sword in the back as he ran away.” Anne sighed again.

With a frown, because a young maid wanting to attract a husband found such stories disturbing, Lora asked, “And Sir Alan?”

Anne’s face lightened and she gave a smile. “He’s as different as can be. He was nineteen and I woke up to find myself naked in his bed,” she said with reminiscence. She laughed at the startled look on Lora’s face. “I always say that to tease people, although it’s true. I’d been riding through the forest near Alresford, well-escorted I’d thought. We were set upon by a band of robbers in ambush, and all but my maid Bathilda were killed, and she was ravaged. I had been thrown from my horse and was unconscious. Alan killed the men about to ravish me and brought me back here, to the Old Hall where he was then living as he’d only just started to build this palace. He tended to my wounds. That is another story in itself. I had a badly broken leg, broken ribs and a deep cut to my thigh from when I was thrown by the horse. Alan does now admit that I could have traveled some time before he finally gave approval for me to go home, and that perhaps he didn’t need to inspect my ribs and leg as oft as he did.” She smiled again at the memory. “I hated to be confined and made his life hell, even though he treated and dosed me and read to me, and let me read his books. A very educated man is my lord. He probably has more books in his personal library than the king.”

“And you fell in love with him?” asked Lora.

Anne sighed and then gave the other girl a quick smile. “Nothing is ever that simple. He’d taken care, with the greatest of respect, to make his interest in me known. I was rude and unresponsive both before and after I returned home, giving little thanks for my deliverance. I’d just escaped a very unpleasant marriage and for the first time in my life was in charge of myself and what was going on around me. I enjoyed being the lady of the manor at Wivenhoe, running the estate and dealing with all the problems and decisions. Aelfric had refused to even let me chose dinner and kept the purse-strings tight in his own hand. No, Alan saved me twice more. The first was when the Danes landed at Wivenhoe in the year ’67. Alan led a small force that defeated the much larger contingent of Danes, who’d laid waste to much of Lexden Hundred- looting, murdering men women and children, raping and torturing and taking away men and women for slaves. He had just a handful of trained men and a bunch of farmers wielding pitchforks and sharpened sticks. What happened a few weeks ago was child’s-play in comparison.

“By then I was resisting mainly out of contrariness. What finally made up my mind was when the sheriff tried to take Wivenhoe from me. I never did locate the landboc. I was to be forced to marry a man of the sheriff’s choice, or lose my land. Marrying would of course mean that my land would be owned by my new husband anyway. Having to marry, I made my own choice, with no regrets at all. My only difficulty was that his bed was already occupied, so I had to take some… forthright… action to put myself in there in place of Edith,” completed Anne.

“You have a husband of many parts,” commented Lora.

“And some of them more useful than others,” said Anne with a saucy smile. “Seriously, the Benedictine’s loss of the services of Sir Alan is our gain. Another failed monk, like Osmund.” She paused before continuing, “No, not ‘failed’- both found that the path for their life didn’t lie in a monastery.”

“Why did they leave?” queried Lora.

“In Alan’s case he tells me it was for whoring. He was found in the bed of a noviate nun, although he says that he was always in trouble before that. From what I hear of Osmund that in his case it was because he asked too many questions and didn’t respect authority if he felt that the man didn’t deserve respect.” Anne reached forward and patted Lora’s hand. “You’ll do alright with Osmund. He’s gentle, thoughtful and loyal. All the qualities you want in a husband- or a dog! He also has a good position and a moderate estate, is young and not at all ill-favoured in appearance. You’ll be able to train him well enough. The only problem you may have with him is that he’ll be so intent on his work and his books that he’ll overlook you. But that can soon be remedied by use of a firm grasp on his short-handle! Now, judging by the hubbub downstairs, the mid-day meal is about to be served and we had best join the others.”

Indeed, downstairs the tables had been set up and most of the household were either seated or gravitating to the tables. Alan was there, hot and sweaty and with his old brown woolen tunic and trews streaked with the semi-liquid animal fat used to lubricate the catapults. Anne endured with equanimity a ten-minute diatribe from Alan as to the problems he had experienced and in particular the problems with the crews’ attitude to training. It wasn’t her problem and her input was not expected, but it made Alan feel better to let off steam.

Lora was sitting next to Osmund and had asked him how his work was progressing, nodding and pretending interest. After a tasty but relatively simple meal of pork pies and braised chicken with herbs, with two dishes of braised vegetables followed by cheese and fruit, Anne suggested to Alan that they share the hot-tub for a relaxing bath, which offer he accepted with alacrity. Anne gave Lora a slight wink. Lora then asked Osmund whether he could show her the spring and pool just inside the forest, to which Osmund with a slightly surprised expression agreed readily enough.

“Is it safe to go into the forest? Are there bears and wolves?” Lora asked with apparent anxiety. While she was receiving reassurance from Osmund, Anne moved a finger to attract Lora’s attention and then rolled her eyes to indicate that she was overdoing it. After all, Lora was not a city-girl but a country lass who’d lived all her life just five miles away. ‘Osmund might be gullible but he isn’t stupid’ Anne mused.

After a pleasant hour or so soaking in the hot-tub, followed by a leisurely afternoon in the bedchamber, Anne caught up with Lora after the evening meal. “How did things go?” she demanded.

Lora gave a demure smile and replied, “We had a pleasant walk, hand in hand. The pool is quiet and peaceful under the large overhanging trees. We saw some deer come to drink. We had a delightful talk, a kiss and a cuddle. And you are right, a firm grasp certainly does get a man’s attention.” She reflectively licked her lips and touched her left breast. “Messy, though,” she concluded.

Anne gave a light peal of laughter and instructed, “Come back on Saturday and see Osmund again. I can recommend the bath-tub!”

Alan was sitting with a rather wild-eyed and worried-looking Osmund and after hearing the story replied, “Well, at least now you have another interest in life! Don’t worry about having offended her by taking advantage of her! You’ve been set up! Just sit back and enjoy the ride!” he advised with a cheery laugh.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

London August 1069

Alan sat in the office at Westminster Palace of Herfast, the newly-appointed Chancellor. The prelate had risen and given Alan an effusive greeting, brushing from his tunic and hose some crumbs from a hastily snatched meal as he did so. Although an ordained priest it was some years since he had served God, choosing instead to serve as King William’s secretary. Alan counted the wise old man a friend and would have been much more comfortable to receive a grunt of acknowledgement and a wave towards the wine jug. Clearly Herfast wanted something, presumably on behalf of their master King William.

“My dear boy, I’m delighted to see you again. I hear that you’ve been busy with the Danes again! Eventually they’ll learn to give you a wide berth! And how progresses Anne’s current pregnancy? Excellent? Thanks be to God!”

As Alan sipped his cup of mead Herfast said, “You’ve no doubt heard that the Manceaux, not content with revolting and expelling the Normans from Maine, have now proclaimed Hugh as Count of Maine? The king is absolutely furious and wants to collect every man he can and burn Le Mans to the ground!”

“He’s having a difficult year,” said Alan with a thoughtful nod. “Maine secured William’s southern border after he seized control five or six years ago. Hugh is unlikely to attack Normandy, but now the Angevins’ civil war is over Fulk of Anjou is likely to try and see if he can annex Maine, which would really be a threat to the southern border of the duchy. Dealing with the Northumbrians and Danes in the north, the Welsh in the west and scattered revolts in the south here in England have had William running in circles like a headless chicken. What’s he going to do about Maine? Return to Normandy?”

“I understand he’s intending to send William fitzOsbern back to Rouen to hold things together until he finishes with the Mercians and has them back under control,” replied Herfast.

After another five minutes or so of chat the Chancellor put his cards on the table. “To business,” he said brusquely. “The king thanks you for your information about the Danes, which you obtained through your trading connections- and may I say how happy I am that those connections flourish under Anne’s hand even though others stand as the front-men. As I have previously mentioned, the king has his own sources of information, which I am privileged to co-ordinate. King William learned early in life the value of good and timely information. The death of several of your guardians defending you and your own near-murder does tend to do that!” After a brief pause he continued, “You indicated that the Danes will move this year. My information is more specific. They’ll move to York later this month. I have spies well placed on the Danish camp and others in the camp of the Aetheling. I currently have the means to receive that information. When the Danes move, I will not have that information. I will retain the spies, but my lines of communication will be sundered.”

Alan sat quietly and his only response was to raise one eyebrow interrogatively, offering nothing.

Herfast continued, “I have sitting before me somebody who can provide the answer to that problem. A man who has genuine Danish snekke longships that can slip back and forth amongst the enemy without being noticed and provide me with communication with my spies.”

Alan frowned in concentration and raised a finger to still further comment before taking a large sip of the excellent wine and returning to his ruminations. He though deeply for over five minutes, eyes closed, before he replied, “I’ll think about it tonight. Are you free for breakfast? At your house? Good. Until tomorrow!”

Alan sat at table in Herfast’s large and lavishly appointed house near St Paul’s Cathedral, having need to take only a short stroll from Holebourn Bridge through Newgate. The city was already bustling and the streets were crowded despite the early hour. Alan was a little disappointed at the fare provided, as it appeared that Herfast was one of those whose religious observations required two days a week fasting and Alan was breaking his fast on porridge sweetened with honey accompanied by day-old bread with a sop of mead.

“As I understand your request, you want to use a Danish-built snekke longship to transport your spies backwards and forwards,” he said. Herfast nodded his agreement and Alan continued. “Not a bad idea, but I think we can improve on it. King William is going to have no way of keeping track of the Danish force. I understand the coastal land in North Lincolnshire and Yorkshire’s East Riding is very flat and marshy. It would be almost impossible to scout properly. The Danes will move about by ship, probably moving often. King William has no ships to move his men to follow the Danes and bring them to battle. If the Danes stay on the coast, trying to get an army across the marshes to engage them would need a miracle, and even if it could be achieved they’d just get in their ships and slip away to the next town much faster than an army can march. The other problem would be that, while they may lack some of William’s skills, neither the earls nor Swein Estrithson are stupid. They’ll have their own spies in our camp and I’m sure that they will notice repeated visits by a longship rowing up the river and delivering mysterious Danes, who then disappear again. I’d expect that your spies will come to a quick and brutal end in very short shrift.

“I currently have seven longships. Five were taken recently and may well be recognised by their former crew members. I can remove the modifications I made to my first two ships, so they look just like they did two years ago. I haven’t sorted the details out yet, but I’d need two crews each of at least twenty-five men. Every man must be able to speak fluent Danish or Norwegian, preferably actually being Norwegian. Each must be entirely trustworthy and disciplined. That requirement actually shouldn’t be too difficult. Probably one in ten men in East Anglia has a Danish parent or grandparent. I have two Norwegian captains. I’ll need probably thirty good men to be supplied. My idea is that instead of taking your spies to the king, we would go to your spies and then deliver any information discretely. I’d also suggest that the king may wish to buy into service the five ships I took this year and crew them to scout the east coast. How many ships are the Danes bringing?” asked Alan.

“I’ve been told about 300 ships and probably 3,000 men- although I doubt they’ll bring that many ships,” replied Herfast. Alan frowned. “Yes, I know that the numbers don’t match,” continued Herfast. “To have 300 ships should mean at least 8,000 men, hence my thoughts on the number of ships. 100 ships is a more likely number- still a very significant force. That would still cause us considerable trouble. I’m sure that Swein won’t want to make a very large contribution to what he would see as a speculative venture. My information is that he’ll be sending two of his sons and not coming himself. Even if his loses two sons he probably wouldn’t notice. He’s a man of commendable vigor and he has enough sons to crew a longship! As to your offer, I’ll put it to the king. No chance of gifting them, I suppose?”

“I don’t need any dispensations for recent transgressions and I thought that if he pays at least a nominal amount for them he may take more care of them than the last lot I gifted him, which he allowed the Danes to burn! Longships may be made of wood, but they don’t grow on trees!”

King William was apparently prepared to allow events to unfold without taking pre-emptive action, which Alan found somewhat surprising given the king’s usually impatient nature. What didn’t surprise Alan was the skinflint king had declined to buy the ships even at a discounted rate of?50 each, which was less than half their value. Instead the king had offered to waive the military and financial obligations for both Alan’s land and that of Anne, and eventually a ten year period had been agreed. Alan knew that he was being cheated, as William was fully aware that Alan intended to maintain a strong military presence in both Hereford and Essex which, in case of real need, would be available to the king.

As Herfast had indicated likely, the Danes arrived towards the end of summer, landing on the Humber at Grimsby within easy striking range of York on the 20th August, just after the Feast of the Assumption of St Mary. They’d first harried the east coast and attacked the ports of Sandwich, Ipswich and Norwich, destroying many English ships.

Destruction and looting of the English ships appeared to have been the principal reason for the earliest attacks. Swein Estrithson had indeed stayed at home and sent his brother Osbjorn, his two sons Harold and Cnut, and Christian, the bishop of Aarhus. They’d been met by the Aetheling, Earls Cospatric of Bernicia and Waltheof of Huntingdonshire, thegns Maerle-Sveinn, Siward Barn, Arnkell, the four sons of Karli and a host of Northumbrians. Included in their numbers were many English from the south. These included Brctsi of Foulton from Tendring Hundred, and from further afield Aefwold the abbot of St Peter’s Holm and his men Eadric and Rungulf, Aethelsige the abbot of St Augustine’s at Canterbury, Skalpi who was a thegn with lands in several shires but mainly Essex, and many men.

King William, who had been hunting in the forest of Dean when he had received the news, had sent out warning messages to his lords but didn’t move immediately. The two castellans of York had replied that they could hold out for a year if needed. Again, Alan found the lack of prompt response unusual, but thought that the reason may well be that the Earls Edwin and Morcar had still not committed themselves either way and had not joined their forces with those of Cospatric or with the Danes. Alan mused that perhaps the situation on the continent with the revolt in Maine was perhaps influencing King William’s actions in the north of England, as the loss of his southern buffer against Angevin aggression would make it imprudent for William to seek reinforcements from Normandy.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The North September 1069

In Essex the geburs of the village were busy in the late autumn heat with their post-harvest tasks. Grain was being threshed on the stone-flagged village threshing-floors, men wielding flails high overhead and striking hard. Periodically the women and older children would collect the resulting mixture of grain and chaff to winnow by tossing into the air to allow the wind to blow the dross away.

The autumn ploughing had been delayed to allow the villagers to harvest the salt that had now accumulated in the saltpans located on Alresford Creek, Barfleet Creek and on the estuary itself, this being one of the more urgent tasks as it was the principal cash-crop for the region and one long soaking rain would again turn the dried salt back into brine, with the loss of the entire year’s harvest. The gathered salt was then cleaned, bagged and taken to the salt-house owned by Alan for storage and later processing. The women of the village were also busy in the evenings drying and preserving fruit and making jams and pickled vegetables for use during the winter, while most of their menfolk spent their time after sundown at the village tavern.

Within a few weeks the Autumn Killing would commence, when the livestock which the village had not sold but would not be able to feed over the harsh winter would be slaughtered and the meat smoked, dried or pickled. All knew that Michaelmas, the 29th of September and the next Quarter Day when taxes and rents would be paid, was fast approaching, causing some concern as those with financial obligations rather than the simple provision of labour days sought to accumulate the goods and funds required to pay their obligations

Those in the New Hall at Thorrington were also busy, but on matters of war and not agriculture.

Herfast had sent the men requested by Alan. As required, they were stout, reliable men and all fluent in Danish or Norwegian. Alan had eighteen suitable men of his own who were prepared to leave home indefinitely and pursue the fight against the Danes. Many of these men had been refugees from the slaughter of the Danish raid in Lexden and Winstree Hundreds two years before and were anxious to do what they could to achieve some retribution.

It was Wednesday 23rd September, two days after their departure on the Feast of St Matthew the Evangelist, when Sven Knutson carefully guided the snekke Havorn towards the docks of York, with Alekrage with captain Lars Erikson at the helm following close behind. The oarsmen were singing a Danish rowing chant as they hauled at the oars. Speaking in English had been banned on the ships, with the crews being required to converse in Norse. Any breach was met by the penalty of a fine of a week’s pay.

A pall of dirty gray smoke hung over the city. As they got closer they could see that most of the city had been razed to the ground. St Peter’s Minister was a charred ruin, as were both castles. “What in God’s name has happened?” said Alan to Sven in English, earning a sharp look from the helmsman as they rowed past the still smoking remains of the two castles, one on each side of the river. “Surely the Danes didn’t burn the city?”

The taciturn Viking gave a shrug in reply and steered the ship towards the wooden wharf on the north bank of the Ouse River, just south of the still intact Ouse River Bridge. The wharf itself hadn’t burnt, although the warehouses located nearby hadn’t been as fortunate. There were no ships tied up at the wharf, nor sitting at anchor further out in the dock. With no ships or warehouses the usually bustling docklands were virtually deserted. Havorn carefully approached the wharf, the oarsmen backing water to allow a crewman to jump from the bow onto the wharf and then receive and secure the heavy mooring ropes thrown to him. Alekrage dropped anchor further out. With a brief word of instruction in Danish to Alan and the others to stay with the boat and keep their mouths shut, Sven and one other man jumped onto the wharf and disappeared off down Coppergate.

He returned a little over two hours later and hailed Lars to come over from Alekrage so that he wouldn’t need to repeat what he had to say. About half of the crew of Havorn were on the wharf, ostensibly stretching their legs and relaxing but in fact on guard with weapons handy and making sure that nobody approached the ship. Alan noticed a suspiciously strong smell of ale in the air when Sven leaned close.

“Goddam stupid Normans,” he said in English, after a glance about to make sure they wouldn’t be overheard. “On the 19th the Normans heard that the Danes were coming, so to prevent them from using the houses close to the two castles for material to fill in the ditches, they set fire to the houses to make a clear space. The fire near the old castle got away and burnt down most of the town on that side of the river.” Alan though it a little strange that the locals referred to the castle built to the north of the river as the ‘old castle’ and that built on the opposite southern bank the ‘new castle’, given they had been raised only a few months apart and even the northern castle was barely a year old. “Even St Peter’s Minister was burnt down. Two days ago the English and Danish armies arrived, stormed the castles and slaughtered nigh on everybody.”

“So much for William Malet’s boast they could hold out for a year,” said Alan in a derisive tone. “I suppose he’s dead?”

“No. He and his family and Gilbert de Ghent were taken captive. Nearly all the rest were killed either in the fighting or afterwards. One of the informants I was pouring beer into kept carrying on about Waltheof and how he slew so many foreigners. It seems the damn man has hired a skald, Thorkell Skallason, to write an epic poem!”

“Did the people of York join in the fight? And if so, on which side?”

“Well, they’d just had their city burnt down by the Normans so I assume they weren’t very friendly to the king. But from what I hear those who hadn’t already left to live with relatives after their houses were burnt down just stood back and watched. When you have 5,000 men pour over the walls and swarm down two castles in a matter of hours, keeping quiet and out of the way is the best thing you can do!”

“I suppose so. What of Ealdred, the Archbishop? How did he feel about the cathedral being burnt down? He’s been a staunch supporter of King William these last few years.”

Sven gave a snort of amusement and replied, “You’d have to ask St Peter himself the answer to that one. Or Lucifer, depending in which direction he went! He died a week before the city was attacked, just a few days after the Danes landed on the coast.”

“What’s the situation in York? Are there many rebels about?”

“No. They took what little booty the fire had left and marched away. After all, who’d want to stay and defend a burnt-out ruin? I’m sure they thought that King William is welcome to what little is left!”

“Were you able to find where they marched?”

“Of course! They went where you’d think. The earls and their men went north-east, probably to Durham again. As to the Danes, well I’ve had conflicting stories about where their ships are, and you never find Danes or any other Norseman far from his ship. I’ve heard they’re south-east at Skegness or north-east at Hartlepool or Scarborough. North-east would make more sense as that keeps them close to the Aetheling’s men and we didn’t see any sign of them as we sailed north past Skegness. We were keeping a low profile and not looking for trouble on the way up here, but I’m sure we’d have seen some sign of the Danish fleet as we passed if they were at Skegness.”

“How many are there?” asked Alan.

“How many fleas are there on a street-dog?” Sven replied with a shrug. “Enough to take York anyway. The word in the city is there were about 3,000 Danes and slightly more Englishmen. A lot of men have come to join the rebels from the Midlands, East Anglia and the south, as well as the Northumbrians. At least that means so as long as we’re away from the ship we won’t need to pretend we’re all Norsemen!”

“There’s a big difference in accent and dialect between Northumbria and Essex,” interjected Brand.

“True,” replied Sven. “But there’re so many Saxons from the south in the rebel army, mixing with Midlanders, Northumbrians, Scots, Danes- even a few Welsh and a few Irish- that you’d really have to draw attention to yourself to be noticed. But we need to remember that not many men from Essex could explain why they’re on a Danish longship, and keep our mouths firmly shut when we’re close to the ships.”

Alan nodded his agreement and said, “So, there appears to be no intention to either hold York against King William or attack him as he moves towards York, and that means we don’t need to try to make a report. So what do we do for the next week?”

Lars scratched at the thick blond beard on his chin and replied with a question, “What are we supposed to be doing up here?”

“A very reasonable question,” replied Alan. “One thing is to keep an eye on the Danes and let the king know whether they are. As Sven said they’re never far from their ships. If we know where the ships are, we know where the Danes are. As they’re half of the Aetheling’s army, the other half will be nearby. The other thing we do is to provide communication with the spies that the king has in the Danish and English camps. We’ll be quaffing ale in Durham, Hartlepool and Scarborough more often than in York, waiting for strange men in dark cloaks to approach us! One thing we need to look at is where do we base ourselves?”

After a long pause Sven replied, “I suggest Flamborough Head, at the far end of Bridlington Bay. It’s half way between the Spurn at the mouth of the Humber River and Hartlepool. It’s a very distinctive formation with chalk cliffs 300 or so feet high. Bridlington is a very small village some distance from the Head itself. I know a cave… several caves… just north of the point of the Head. The whole of Flamborough Head is riddled with caves. Several are at sea level between outcrops of rocks that jut out and provide protection from the weather. The gaps are only 50 or so paces wide but a good captain will have no difficulty,” he said with some smugness. “You can row your ships right into the caves, at least on the top half of the tide.”

“Where do we camp?” asked Brand.

“In the caves,” replied Sven with a shrug. “They’re dry- chalk cliffs. The local pirates have built living quarters, although with our numbers we may need to expand them a little. There’ll be dry wood gathered ready for us, as is the usual practice of ‘the Brethren’, and we’ll leave it as we found it. I doubt very much that with the Danes about that the local pirates will be in occupation. We’ll be neat and snug, and very well hidden.”

Alan was tempted to ask Sven about how he’d gained his detailed knowledge of the hiding places on the east coast. Instead he just asked, “How long to get there?”

Sven looked at the early-afternoon sun. “Down the Ouse to the Humber and out past the Spurn. We’ll have the outgoing tide to help us. Then north to Flamborough Head. I’ll get us there just before dark. At worst we can heave-to off-shore and spend the night at sea, but I’d suggest we get moving now if we want to have a fire and a cooked meal tonight.”

The sun was low in the western sky as Sven conned Havorn towards a gap in the chalk cliffs and gestured to Lars to take Alekrage into the darkness of the cave that loomed at the end of the narrow passage. The mast was lowered and Sven took Havorn a further thousand paces or so north and turned into another narrow passage. The tide was on the ebb and Sven shouted, “Pull you lousy bastards! Do just what I tell you or we’re all dead men! Larboard side, hold one oar-beat and resume! Hold! Row!” The ship passed into the darkness of the cave. “Now! Pull! Good! Good! Slow! Slow! Heave oars!” The ship grounded on sand inside the deep cave. “You and you, jump overboard and tie those ropes to the bollards over there. When the tide comes in later tonight, we’ll shift her further up. You lot, start carrying the bed-rolls and supplies over there. Light some damn torches so we can all see what we are doing! You! Run down the cliff-line to the cave Lars rowed into and tell him to come up here. No, you arsehole! It’s mid-tide so you can get there easily without having to climb the cliff! Just watch your step on the way back if it’s dark.”

Alan sat back and watched as the ship was tied up, aware that he had witnessed a virtuoso performance over the last few hours and that Lars was worth every shilling he received in pay, and more. The Norseman had driven the two ships fast downstream on the Ouse, using what late-autumn river flow existed, supplemented by the men at the oars. When the Ouse had joined the Humber, he’d used the outgoing tide and a westerly breeze to speed them along, resting the oarsmen as he knew they’d be needed later. The flat muddy banks of the river had sped by, then after passing the low sandy spit of the Spurn at the mouth of the river they had rowed north up Bridlington Bay with the ships rocking in an easterly swell that made it hard for the oarsmen to keep their beat and the landsmen to keep their stomachs in order. Alan had spent nearly two hours hanging over the lee side feeding the fish. He’d learned from past experience to avoid the weather side, so that the vomit wasn’t blown back in his face.

He took his pants and boots off before jumping over the low saxboard and onto the sandy ground to walk the few paces to dry land. Again, he’d leant in the past that a few moments of wind around the privates was better than hours spent wearing wet clothes. Boots took days to dry properly. You learn from past mistakes.

There was a small sandy beach inside the cave, now being lit by torches made of pitch-soaked moss held by the men. Beyond was a small area cut into the chalk walls of the cave. From what could be seen in the torchlight the cave appeared to be about sixty paces deep, twenty paces wide and thirty feet high. Just where sand met chalk, flame was being put to a pile of dried wood that had been left in place. Obviously the previous occupants had observed the usual local courtesies.

Supplies were being broached, meat being placed in pots with vegetables and put above the fire to cook. Smoke rose to the ceiling of the cave above their heads before trickling out of the cave mouth. A barrel of apples was broached along with a cask of ale. A table was set up and loaves of slightly stale bread from two days before, together with cheese and slices of smoked ham and jars of pickled vegetables, were placed on it for men to help themselves. Men were quickly claiming the sleeping places that had been cut into the chalk walls one above the other, three places high. Alan noted that Leof had appropriated two places and put their sleeping rolls in place, standing guard to ensure that none usurped them.

“Well done, Leof!” said Alan, giving the boy a gentle buffet on the shoulder.

The food was nearly cooked when Lars arrived and he and Sven spent considerable time talking quietly mouth to ear in Norwegian, with Alan only able to catch the occasional word- just enough to annoy him that he was being excluded from the conversation.

After they had finished eating Alan walked up to Sven and Lars and sat on a rock next to them, saying, “Right! The plan for tomorrow is we find where the Danes are. One ship goes north and one ship south. Rendezvous back here at night. When we know where they are we send a ship to sit and wait to hear from the spies. The idea is to have two ships, so that our ships aren’t hanging about like a bad smell and the spies aren’t seen talking to the same people all the time.”

“And who are these spies?” asked Lars.

Alan sighed. “Lars, you don’t need to know and you won’t know. If you knew we’d have to kill you! You’re ‘Transport’. I’m ‘Intelligence’- I hope. We’ll each do our own jobs, right? You and Sven put the ships in the right place at the right time. I’ll do the rest.”

Alan spent an uncomfortable night lying on a shelf cut into the cliff wall, which had several lumps in uncomfortable places. As he rose stiff and sore in the morning he promised to get himself a well-stuffed mattress and blanket that day. He chose to accompany Sven north to Hartlepool as he also thought that the Danes were unlikely to be at Skegness.

It was mid-tide and the ship had to be man-handled into the water using round logs of timber as rollers that were also apparently part of the fittings of the cave. With the ship safely afloat the twenty crewmen doubled up on the oars, using five oars a side, and followed Sven’s shouted instructions. Once out of the cave, even when still sheltered by the fingers of chalk that jutted out from the land and created a small natural harbour, the ship began to rise and fall in a heavy swell. As the southerly wind was trying to push the ship sideways some careful manoeuvring was needed to extract the ship from the narrow passage.

Despite the stiff breeze the air was heavy with the smell of bird-droppings and the sound of thousands of birdcalls. Looking at the cliff and the nearby rocks it was hard to tell what was chalk and what was guano. Whole sections of the cliff were absolutely smothered in birds, raucously pushing and shoving each other. Puffins, with their distinctive large red and orange beaks, could be seen hopping comically about on the rocks and flapping their short wings at a furious rate as they flew low over the water. Gannets, kittiwakes and guillemots were present in their thousands. The dark-plumaged adolescent gannets showed clearly against the white of the cliffs, while the adult birds dove from the air from surprising heights to plunge deep into the water to seize small fish. The puffins and guillemots were more circumspect, flying low over the water or floating before disappearing below the surface to use their short wings to ‘fly’ underwater as they chased their prey. High above the cliffs, riding the up-draughts, were several larger raptors waiting to swoop down and take the smaller birds. These were too far away for Alan to be able to make out their species. Skuas in their dark-brown plumage could be seen harassing other birds, trying to make them drop their catch, so that the skua or its mate could snatch an easy meal. Alan found the highly eroded cliffs quite remarkable with their stratified horizontal layers and pitted weathered appearance quite dissimilar to the chalk cliffs he had seen near Dover.

Just north of Flamborough Head, Filey Bay had a low coastline with a wide beach, open to the strong seas that swept in from the north-east, causing the coastline to erode westward year by year. Alan saw a small group of local people ‘bird fishing’ on the north side of the Flambourgh cliffs, standing on ledges below the cliff top and using hand nets a yard across and attached to stout poles to try to catch the low-flying birds.

Alan pointed them out to Sven who commented, “They’re catching puffins. Quite tasty and cook up well. They can be smoked, dried or salted for the winter. The gannets taste like shit- they’re too fishy.”

“Any risk of them locating our camp?”

“No. There’s a walkway along the top of the cliff, but we’re several miles from both Bridlington and Filey. There’s no reason for the villagers to go there. The only way anybody could get down the cliff would be on the end of a rope. The climb would be too dangerous. They know that there’s nothing there for them and that they may meet some men using the caves who prefer to have their presence unknown. No, we’re safe enough.”

The short voyage of about twenty miles north from Flamborough to Scarborough was quickly completed with a favourable wind filling the sail. As they sailed north they saw several snekke longships and the wider knarrer transports, mainly further out to sea. As they came up to the village they saw perhaps thirty snekke and knarrer drawn up bow-in onto the wide sandy beach.

“It looks like we’ve found the Danes,” commented Alan.

Sven snorted derisively and replied, “Lad, if there are 3,000 Danes, that means probably 100 ships, maybe more. We’ve found some of them, but I expect most are at up at Hartlepool at the mouth of the Tees River, where there’s a good natural harbour. It’s close to the English earl’s base at Durham and the river gives them access by ship deep into Yorkshire. I think we’ve another sixty miles or so to sail yet, laddie.”

And so it proved. As they sailed further north they saw more and more of the Danish warships and transport ships, so many and on such constant courses that Alan was sure that they were wearing a track in the sea between Hartlepool and Jutland. At Hartlepool the large natural harbour, one of the best on the north-east coast, was crowded with probably close on 100 ships.

At Sven’s shouted command the men lowered the sail, unshipped the oars and rowed for the last few minutes of careful manoeuvring amongst the ships crowded into the harbour. Alan ordered the ship to anchor offshore and was rowed to the wharf in a small sunnmorsf?ring four-oared rowing boat by Sven and three other Norwegians.

Once ashore he approached a fisherman who was sitting next to a small fishing boat. The old man, face weathered by years at sea and hands scarred by hauling on ropes, was mending his nets, dextrously weaving thick cord to repair the gaps torn in the net. He was happy to pass onto Alan the information as to where he may find ‘The Bull and Bear’ tavern, along with several recommendations as to which may the best tavern depending on whether you wished female company at a greater or lesser price, good food or a quiet place to drink good ale. None of these was ‘The Bull and Bear’, whose sole claim to fame appeared to be that it was the most expensive establishment in the town. Before entering under the sign of ‘The Bull and Bear’ Alan placed a red woollen cap on his head and a blue scarf about his neck before selecting a quiet small table in the corner, where he sat by himself.

He’d drained his first quart of ale and was part way through the second, needed to ‘rent’ the table, when he was approached by a very comely and buxom young lass with her long blond tresses flowing freely. “May I join you?” she asked in an arch manner and husky voice. Alan would have politely declined, but she had pulled from her sleeve a red handkerchief, the recognition signal he’d been alerted to by Herfast.

“By all means,” replied Alan, signalling to the barmaid for a pint jug of wine and two cups. When it arrived he poured, took a sip and shuddered, closing his eyes for a moment before saying, “I can’t recommend the wine, but the ale is reasonable. Would you like to eat? The serving-wench told me that they have roast pork and beef pies. Fine, we’ll have both. I’ll stay with the ale. You may wish to see what quality is the mead? No?” Turning to the aged serving-wench, who was wiping dirty hands on her apron as she stood waiting for an order, he instructed, “A quart of ale and a pint. Serves of pork and beef pie. Fresh bread and butter and cheese. Fruit.” He tossed her two silver pennies.

“I’m Gundred. Skald Thorkell Skalleson’s woman,” she said placing her hand on Alan’s and stroking it with an apparent fondness that was totally absent from the business-like expression in her eyes.

“My name is Alan. I’ve heard of the skills of your man as a bard, with his story of the exploits of Earl Waltheof.”

Gundred gave a laugh of genuine amusement. “Thorkell is good. He could make a shepherd look like a hero, if you paid him enough. I know not why Waltheof paid so much to have himself immortalised in poetry for his blood-thirsty deeds. He’s young, good-looking and is in fact an excellent warrior and leader.”

“Vanity, I suppose. It gets the best of many people. Now what can you tell me?”

Gundred looked about and paused as the drinks were delivered together with the pork pies and braised vegetables on wooden platters. Satisfied that the table chosen was sufficiently private and that the buzz of conversation around them would hide anything said from unwanted ears, she replied with candour. “Nothing that you couldn’t find out for the price of a few quarts of ale in any tavern. Edgar the Aetheling is with Cospatric, Waltheof, Maerle-Sveinn and Arknell at Durham, together with the Danish King Swein’s brother Osbjorn and his sons Harald and Christian, the bishop of Aarhus. His son Cnut is here with most of the men at Hartlepool.”

“How many men?”

“Danes, about 3,500- it varies as the men come and go as they wish. English, about 3,000 at Durham- mainly local huscarles and thegns and men from the south, about 1,000 of those. About another 4,000 from local levies that are at home at the moment. There are 2,000 Scots camped on the Tyne River.”

“And where’s Thorkell?”

“Where you’d want him to be. Sitting at Edgar’s table in Durham, eating his fancy food and drinking his fine French wine- and listening to everything the earls and the Danes say to each other. There’s no charge for what I’ve told you so far. You could’ve got that information in a few days yourself. But when he sends word that the Aetheling’s men are moving and where, he expects to be paid 200 gold marks. You are to have somebody here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening at dusk. Same recognition signals. When there’s something to report I’ll make myself known. Just make sure somebody is here for me to report to and that you can get the message to the Norman king in time for him to act.”

Alan shook his head in disagreement. “I’m sorry, but it’s not like we’re running a carting business from the next village. Firstly, this isn’t a game. I’ve brought twenty armed men into a town controlled by the enemy. You and Thorkell are planning on selling whatever information he obtains so that King William can defeat the Aetheling’s forces- which means thousands will die. If any of us are caught, we die- probably begging for the release of a cut throat after they’ve finished torturing us, and raping and then torturing you. Your end would not be pretty,” he said gently patting her on the cheek. He paused while the beef pies and another round of drinks were brought to the table by the serving-wench.

“This is no game,” he repeated. “I can’t just bring a snekke longship into the harbour whenever I feel like it. Yes, it’s a Danish ship and some of our crew are Norwegians, but if we hang around like a fart in a church somebody is going to notice and start asking questions. We can’t let our men go ashore and spend the night drinking and whoring like any proper sailor does, because some idiot will get drunk and say something that puts us all into deep shit. If they stay on board that’ll also be noticed, and the men will mutiny. Have you ever spent days, and more particularly nights, crammed together with twenty others in a ship so small and so encumbered that you can’t all lie down at once, and if you did lie down you’d be lying in two or three inches of stinking bilge-water that slops around in the bottom of the ship, eating cold stale rations, cold and probably soaked in rain, when within a stone’s throw are warm taverns and welcoming bordellos? And that assumes we can get here on time. We aren’t trundling a cart two miles. We’re sailing a hundred miles through unprotected and often violent seas- in autumn when the gales start. There’s every chance that we won’t be able to get here for a week or more at a time.

“Next, no we won’t meet in this same cosy tavern each time. If we come back again we’ll be recognised and after the third time the local gossips will be watching both of us. And they’d see me, who they’d think of as an Englishman, go back to a ‘Danish’ longship and you ride back to Durham to the arms of a man who spends his time at the Aetheling’s table. It wouldn’t take them long to start asking difficult questions.”

He paused and took a long pull at his quart of ale before continuing. “What we’ll do is try to have a ship here each Monday and Thursday. We have two ships and we’ll paint the stem post- that’s the post at the front of the ship- red, and the bottom three feet of the mast blue and leave an oar leaning against the yard. If one of them is in the harbour on the due day, or a day late, then go to the arranged meeting place. Also look for a rowing boat beached near the harbour steps. That’ll have a red strake painted second strake from the top. If that’s there, then it means that we’ve left the longship out of sight a little way up the river.

“As to the time of the meetings, it’s getting dark just before evening Vespers, but at this time of the year dusk comes earlier very quickly. We’ll make the meeting time at afternoon Nones, so we can get out of the harbour before dark, even in a month’s time. We’ll meet in a different place each time and set up that location at the previous meeting. Today is Monday 28th September, so Thursday will be the 1st of October. We’ll meet at St Hilda’s Church in the vestibule after the service. I’m sure that a little praying will be good for both of us. After that, and on each second visit, you’ll meet with Brand, who’s a blonde giant of a man- not that there’s any shortage of people who meet that description in a town filled with Danes. He’ll be wearing a blue kerchief on his head, sailor-fashion. You wear the same recognition signs as today. If a meeting is missed, and if the ship or rowing boat is in the harbour, go back same time next day. Otherwise for the following meeting go back to the previous meeting place whether the ships or rowing boat are there or not as something may have happened to require a change of plans.

“Remember, if you value your life, keep your mouth firmly shut and only talk to Thorkell where there is no possibility of you being overheard. Assume that every room you’re in has somebody with their ear pressed to the door- even your bedchamber. Develop a habit of going together for walks in the open, but don’t be silly enough to do that when it’s pissing down with rain. One mistake and you’re dead- and so am I. Now, I’ll ostentatiously hand you a small purse. We’ll leave with you hanging on my arm and groping my privates and me with a silly smirk of anticipation on my face! That should let us use this place again for a meeting in a few weeks time, if needed.”

Back on board Havorn the conditions were every bit as uncomfortable as Alan had indicated to Gundred. Sven had been absent from the rowing boat, so Alan had pulled on an oar on the passage back to the longship. Alan had thought about staying on-shore at an inn, but had decided that ‘leadership functions’ required him to share the hardships of the men. ‘At least I’ve had a decent hot meal and three quarts of ale’ he mused to himself as he stood on a storage chest and relieved himself overboard of part of the intake of fluids before adjusting his trews and having a brief talk to his men. As expected, they grumbled that they were sitting out in the cold, the blankets drawn about their shoulders becoming damp from the night sea air, and only having had cold smoked sausage and stale bread to eat.

“Life’s a bitch- and then you die,” said Alan with obviously mock sincerity in reply to the grumbled complaints. “Just be thankful you’re sitting here in the cold, because you are such useless bastards that when you die you’ll be sitting nice and warm in the fires of hell! Now get some sleep. Unless the wind changes tomorrow, you’re going to be rowing a hundred miles into the teeth of the wind- and that exercise should warm you up nicely!”

The following day was 29th September. Michalemas, the Feast of St Michael. Alan had the ship rowed into the beach an hour after dawn and gave the men three hours of shore-leave with just four men remaining on the ship as guards. “Now listen, you bunch of degenerates! It’s seven in the morning. You have three hours to have something hot to eat, something to drink and get a fuck. Some of you may even want to attend the church services. I’m sure the whores will be working even this early in the morning and even on Michaelmas. If you want to do the first three, you’ll have to be damn quick. I don’t think that you can manage all four. You get back here an hour after Terce, at mid-morning. You go in groups of four or five. You stay quiet and cause no trouble. You have no discussions with anybody as to who you are or where you are from or what you are doing. I don’t care if the Archangel Gabriel appears and asks you your name. If he does, tell him to fuck off! If anybody is late I’ll personally cut his balls off with a blunt knife! If anybody sees Sven, make sure he’s back here by Terce, even if you have to pour him into the ship. Now get going. You’re wasting your shore-time!”

Alan himself jumped over the side onto the dry sand at the ship’s bow and strolled the few paces into the town. Despite the early hour the festivities were already underway, with beasts being roasted over fires in the town square and food and drink stalls being set up. He walked into what appeared to be a disreputable tavern near the dock. The weather-beaten sign hanging over the door could hardly be made out to read ‘The Anchor’ and the peeling paint required a real effort of will and some imagination to discern the shape of an anchor in the space above the name.

Walking through the door Alan was hit by a smell of sour beer, stale urine and rotten rushes. He stepped carefully to try to avoid pools of vomit and dog-turds that littered the floor. Dim light filtered through the shuttered windows and fought bravely against the thick clinging smoke caused by a central hearth burning wet wood with no aperture in the roof to allow the smoke to escape. Alan could just see a number of recumbent forms snoring. Most appeared to be Danes or local fishermen.

Seeing a man seated by himself at a table, wearing a leather jerkin and breeches and with a red woollen cap, Alan walked over and sat next to him. A young serving-wench appeared. About twelve or thirteen years of age, she was dirty with her filthy and ragged shift sufficiently open at the breasts to allow them to be clearly discernable. Presumably she was part of the fare on offer. “Another pint of ale,” instructed the man. As the girl left the man said, “I’m Eadmer. For Christ’s sake don’t order anything to eat or you’ll shit for a week. And don’t drink the ale. They keep it in an open barrel and I saw a dead rat floating in it. Just pour it on the floor inconspicuously.” The ale arrived and was ignored.

“I’m Alan.”

Eadmer grunted in acknowledgement. After coughing several times from the smoke catching his throat Alan looked closely at the man who was King William’s Chief Spy in the north. The man was typically non-descript. Middle height, medium weight, light brown hair, no beard but with several day’s stubble on his chin. And with the coldest and most calculating brown eyes that Alan had ever seen. This man would cut your throat without a second thought- but only if needed, as corpses tended to draw unwanted attention. Aware he was in the presence of a professional of considerable ability, Alan ran through the intended contact procedures but eschewed the comments made to Gundred about security as they would be an insult to this man. The contact arrangements were made for the same day as with Gundred but earlier in the day and at more seedy establishments. In accordance with his instructions from Herfast Alan said nothing about Gundred, as the sources of information were to be treated separately and the information from each used to determine the accuracy of the other.

“Good,” said Eadmer briefly. “That all is simple, effective and allows for problems. I’ll still also use my usual communication methods. They’ll take longer, but at least if your ship sinks in a storm the information will still get there.”

A man walked in through the tavern door and sidled up to the bar. After a glance at him Eadmer continued, “You’re clear. Nobody followed you.”

“Thank you. But please only have your men follow me in the short distance until we meet. I’m seeing other people who you’re not to know about.”

Eadmer paused and inclined his head in agreement. “Separate sources of information are a good idea. And that way if I’m compromised it won’t affect your other source. Professional? No? Well, bear that in mind in both your dealings here in Hartlepool and the accuracy of the information.” Eadmer then began to give a detailed run-down of English rebel forces and a slightly less detailed account of those of the Danes and the Scots. Alan occasionally asked him to pause so that he could fix details in his mind. There would be no written notes that could potentially identify an important source. Alan had come to accept that in this very important but clandestine part of the war, that he and his men, together with Eadmer, Thorkell and Gundred, were all dispensable tools. But he was determined not to be dispensed with.

After quietly pouring away the last inch or so of ale in his leather pint jack onto the floor through a suitable gap in the poorly-constructed table, Alan gave Eadmer a nod and rose to leave.

He then spent the next two hours engaged in commerce. Despite the Quarter-Day holiday, a number of merchant’s shops were open, mainly Jews. Also open were the bakers, who worked every day of the year. Alan visited four bakers and bought virtually their whole stock of fresh bread and the pies that they had cooked as the ovens cooled. He also bought fifty pre-sewn but un-stuffed palliasses for the men to use as mattresses back in the cave, twenty bales of hay to stuff the mattresses, ten casks of ale, casks of smoked meat and fish, barrels of apples, sacks of dried vegetables and what little fresh fruit was available. Unfortunately the butchers were all closed for the holiday and he couldn’t obtain supplies of fresh meat.

He was back at the ship a little after the time he had nominated, but nobody complained as he was closely followed by carts bearing the purchases. All the crew were present, correct and reasonably sober- including Sven who had the drinking capacity of a camel. He’d spent the night at a tavern gleaning further scraps of information and was ‘bright eyed and bushy tailed’ when he appeared at the ship before the appointed time.

Heading south into a strong adverse wind, Havorn had to pull into the protection of a headland near Scarborough for the night, before continuing to row south next morning. Alan took several turns at the oars to show his ‘solidarity’ with the men. Sven didn’t bother as he had a different approach to leadership, and being receptive to every breath of wind or tug of current he minimised the work that the men had to undertake.

They arrived back at their cave at Flamborough Head a little after midday. Given the efforts that the men had made for the last day and a half Alan was prepared to give them a rest before they proceeded south to do the second part of their mission, to deliver the information they had received.

That evening, after the men had stuffed their palliases with straw, they enjoyed a meal of day-old bread with smoked ham, sausage, cheese, fresh fruit and boiled vegetables.

Three weeks later Alan was getting fractious and regretting more than ever that he’d allowed himself into being coerced into providing military service above his legal requirement for the year- and which had anyway been waived. The information collection procedures were working well, with regular contact with Gundred and regular and detailed reports from Eadmer. The problem was that York remained in rebel Anglo-Danish hands and there was nobody to whom they could pass on the information received. The king and his army had simply not appeared and from the little information available from the English and Danes in the taverns at York, it appeared as if there were no loyalist forces closer than Lincoln. Alan disliked having to find out information about the king’s forces from the enemy, although the weekly visits to York appeared to be raising no suspicions as they were used as shopping expeditions to purchase extra supplies and they had apparently been accepted by the locals as being pirates, which was an acceptable occupation on the north-east coast.

“Damn it all, where are William and his men?” Alan demanded in frustration as he sat on a flat rock eating a breakfast of porridge sweetened with honey.

“Something important must have come up,” commented Sven easily, as he dipped a piece of stale bread into a cup of mead and then popped it into his mouth. “I don’t know why you’re complaining. This is a pretty easy way to spend a campaign. Permanent dry quarters. Good and plentiful food. Two days of work a week for each ship, sailing up and down the coast to stop us getting bored.

Alan scowled at the accuracy of the complacent remark. Apart from the time actually spent ashore in the enemy-held towns there was little risk and life was easy- certainly much easier and less dangerous than being in an army on the march. However, he hated not knowing what was happening and was anxious to get back home to Thorrington where Anne would be nearing her time. After the problems with the last birth, where her life and that of the baby had only been saved by his intervention, he was determined to be home when her time came.

Two weeks later Alan sat at a table in the corner of the tap-room at the ‘Bull and Bear’ tavern at Hartlepool, sipping at a quart pot of ale. This was the second of the pre-arranged meeting times and places for the week for Gundred, skald Thorkell Skalleson’s woman. She hadn’t attended at the previous scheduled meeting, and Brand had told him when he’d returned to the hide-out cave from his journey north the previous week that the woman had also missed those two meetings. Until then the rendezvous system and exchange of information had proceeded well for six weeks, with Gundred making the short journey from Durham to Hartlepool at least weekly to meet with either Alan or Brand. Alan felt that her absence for over two weeks didn’t bode well for her, as with what she and her man were being paid to spy on the English earls and the Danes only serious illness or worse would keep her away.

Skald Thorkell Skalleson sat at table with the English earls and the Danish princes. The information that he had provided over the last few weeks, regarding the numbers and disposition of the rebels and the Danish invaders and the intentions of their leaders, had been sufficiently important that Alan was reluctant to simply drop the whole scheme. In wartime information was priceless and frequently meant the difference between winning and losing. Alan glanced out of an open window and saw that full darkness had now arrived. Gundred was over two hours late and obviously not going to arrive now that the town gates were being closed. He’d been carefully paying attention to the others frequenting the tavern that evening and had noted with relief that, other than several whores, nobody was paying him any attention. Given the difficulties he’d had in obtaining refills for his ale pot, that lack of attention had included the slatternly serving-wench.

With a muttered oath he rose slightly unsteadily and made his way down to the harbour where the rowing boat was waiting to take him back to the longship Havorn, which was moored against the river bank a mile upstream to keep the crew from getting into trouble. There he explained his concerns to Sven, the Norwegian captain.

Sven grunted an acknowledgement of the information imparted and after a long pause the taciturn Viking finally commented, “Why don’t you ask the other spy? You’re due to see him tomorrow. I’m sure that word would get out if the skald has been taken up for spying. Gundred may just be ill or have had an accident.” Alan nodded his agreement at this advice. Sven then continued, “By the way, I’ve arranged with Osbjorn’s steward for us to patrol to the south and receive regular supplies from the commissary, for both ships.”

Alan’s brain froze with amazement for several seconds before he could exclaim, “What in God’s name possessed you to do that? Why would you approach the local authorities when we’re spies?”

Sven snorted in derision. “Because they’re not stupid. A longship can slip in and out a few times without getting noticed, but one or the other of the ships are here nearly half the time. I told Henning that we camp up here because otherwise the crews get paralytic and start brawls, and it’s the only way to keep them under control. He can understand that. They knew we were here, but he just hadn’t gotten around to finding out who we were. Now he knows, or thinks he does, he won’t cause any problems. We get five barrels of ale, two barrels of ship-biscuit and two bushels of dried beans a day, and two pounds of meat per man per day, for both ships. We have to buy our own fresh bread and fresh vegetables. We also get paid a shilling a week for each man. He didn’t want to be responsible to pay us, but I insisted. Now that he thinks he knows who we are, he’s happy as a pig in shit and will leave us alone. This week’s supplies are stored over there under that tarpaulin.”

Alan shook his head in disbelief and walked off towards the ten-man leather tent that he shared with other members of the crew, and sat down next to the fire to eat a meal of beef stew made from the rations that the Danes had provided, and washed down by English ale paid for by Prince Osbjorn. Finally he gave a laugh at the irony that the Danes were paying wages to the men who were spying on them and he was still chuckling when he wrapped himself in his blanket to sleep.

The following afternoon Alan met with the spy Eadmer at ‘The Anchor’ tavern. As he walked into the tap-room he suffered the usual twinge in the stomach from the stench of unwashed bodies, vomit, urine, stale beer, rotting floor-rushes and animal excrement. His eyes watered from the drifting smoke from the small central fire, which in the absence of a chimney eventually seeped out under the eaves of the poorly-made thatched roof. Alan couldn’t understand how such an establishment could continue to exist, given the insalubrious conditions, poor fare and poor service- after all it wasn’t as if the drink was cheap. After a close look around in an unsuccessful attempt to locate Eadmer’s minders, Alan approached the nondescript spy, who was wearing a leather jerkin and breeches and with a red woollen cap. Eadmer waved away the slatternly woman who had been sharing his table, slipping her a silver penny as Alan sat down after carefully examining the cleanliness of the small wooden bench.

Eadmer launched straight into his report without any preliminary pleasantries, talking slowly and carefully to allow Alan to mentally record the information he was receiving. A serving-wench approaching with two quart jugs of rancid beer was waved away by Eadmer, who had rented the table by a previous purchase of a pint jack which sat untouched on the table. Eadmer picked up his beer mug and surreptitiously began to pour it onto the floor, so as not to draw attention by leaving an untouched drink when they eventually vacated the table.

When Eadmer had finished his report, which was intended to then be carried by the longship to King William’s agents further south, Alan explained the problem with Gundred and skald Thorkell Skalleson. “So that’s who you’re using. A fairly good source- if you can trust him, since he’s a Dane. Still, the Danes probably are no more fond of gold than anybody else, and any amateur spy is likely to be a weak tool. Missing two weeks of scheduled meetings isn’t a good sign, but I haven’t heard any rumours of spies being caught at Earl’s Hall at Durham, which is where the earls are staying. You’ll need to go up to Durham and see whether they’ve got cold feet, or what else is going on.”

Alan grunted his acknowledgement of the advice. “I’ll get the ship to take me up to Monkwearmouth tomorrow.”

“Nah! Nah!” replied Eadmer, waving a hand negatively. “You’ll be too noticeable that way. You’ve got the locals around here used to you, but questions will be asked if you head north instead of south. Buy a couple of nags and ride up to Durham with your servant. That way you won’t receive any undue attention- there are hundreds of armed men on horses and you won’t even be noticed. A longship would be noticed.”

Alan did as he had been bidden and early the following morning purchased two rough hackamores and their tack from one of the less-disreputable horse-traders, carefully examining their legs and gait at a trot. While they weren’t animals that he’d be prepared to take on a campaign he was satisfied they could cover the eighteen miles to Durham and then back.

Alan and his page Leof arrived at Durham a little after mid-day, payed their pontage toll to cross the wooden bridge over the River Wear and entered the town from the south. After weeks of living rough in either the hide-out cave or a tent at the camp on the bank of the River Tees Alan saw no need to patronise cheap and uncomfortable lodgings and chose a non-descript but comfortable inn called ‘The Duck amp; Drake’, taking a small and sparsely furnished but clean room on the first floor. The horses were ensconced at a small stable a few yards down the street, the young groom being given twopence to rub down and feed and water the animals.

After a midday meal of bacon and vegetable pottage, day-old bread and hard cheese washed down by ale, Alan decided to have a brief look at the town before he sought Gundred and the skald. By southern standards Durham was a large town rather than a city and was nestled on high ground on the north bank of the River Wear in a tight loop of the river, so as to be afforded protection by the water on three sides. The site had been chosen for defensibility, given the history of repeated raids by Vikings and Scots. The town lacked the grandiose buildings that usually adorned cities, but possessed in full measure all the banes of urban life including noise and filth in the crowded streets. Apart from being one of few substantial towns in the north, Durham’s claim to fame were the holy relics housed the ‘The White Church’, the large church built of white stone by the Saxons to house the relics of Saint Cuthbert. There was already talk of replacing the church with a cathedral, to reflect the importance of the diocese being the fourth-most influential in the land.

As they approached the church across the market square Alan indicated to Leof the burnt-out ruins nearby. “Bishop Aethelwine’s house. The bishop is no friend of the Normans, but nor is he popular with Cospatric and the House of Bamburgh. Robert of Commines was staying there when he came to the town after being appointed earl. The bishop warned him of the impending attack, but Commines thought he knew better- he always was an arrogant self-opinionated bastard. A typical Fleming. That was his last mistake. Cospatric couldn’t force his way into the house so he burnt it down and killed Commines and his men as they tried to flee the fire.”

There were a number of people proceeding in and out of the west-facing main door of the church, many in the sack-cloth and broad-brimmed hats of pilgrims visiting this the most important religious site in northern England. Here, in a shrine located in one of the transepts near the altar, were gilded caskets containing the remains of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, the most popular saint in northern England, together with caskets containing the head of Saint Oswald and the remains of the author Bede, who had praised both of the saints in his written histories.

The inside of the stone church was dark and cold, the air thick with floating clouds of incense. Just inside the church door stood two burly-looking priests in monk’s habits and a large box on a table. Noticing that the pilgrims placed coins in the box, Alan did the same, adding two silver pennies to the money that the diocese garnered from this religious tourism as the faithful came to pray, and in some cases to beseech the miracles for which the shrine was famous. He dipped his fingers in the holy-water of the stoup and anointed his forehead and lips.

Some two dozen pilgrims gathered at the wooden railing which separated the shrine from the remainder of the church, several bearing crutches or other signs of infirmity. Past pilgrims had included many of the powerful in the land, not least King Cnut who had gifted the diocese substantial lands within Northumbria. Alan first approached the main altar to kneel and pray at the altar-rail. The altar itself was covered with a beautifully-embroidered cloth of fine white linen, and on this stood two large golden five-branched candelabra with tall and thick bees-wax candles alight, and a large open vellum-bound book. Above was the magnificent Great Cross, which had been presented to the church a few years before by Tostig when he was earl, and subsequently deliberately damaged by Cospatric. Tostig had not sought to glorify God with gold and jewels, but with fine imported cedar-wood and the excellence of the craftsmanship of the carving. Alan felt that he could almost himself feel the pain clearly shown on the face of Christ crucified. How Cospatric, supposedly a Christian, could deliberately defile such a magnificent piece of work by mutilating the left side of the body, out of petty spite, was something beyond Alan’s comprehension. He drew from his pocket his five-decade of rosary beads and began reciting the Apostle’s Creed while kneeling below the crucifix. He then proceeded to Our Fathers and Hail Marys, allowing his mind to clear as he meditated on the familiar ritual.

After completing his devotions at the altar Alan moved to kneel on the stone floor near the shrine, being able to find room at one end of the line of kneeling pilgrims. Again he allowed his mind to clear and accept the Word and to drink in the holiness of the sacred surroundings.

By the time he had finished his devotions the afternoon was drawing to a close. When they left the White Church he turned his steps towards the fortified burg within the walls at the northern part of the town. While Durham had been fortified for protection against raids by the Vikings and Scots, both of which had occurred for time out of memory, it had no castle as it had never been governed by the Normans- apart from the few weeks of Robert of Commines ill-fated rule. What it did have was the burg. This was a fortification with wooden walls within which in times of trouble the local populace and their animals could take refuge for a short period, with some reserves of food and forage being maintained. A burg had a different function to a castle. The latter was intended to protect its garrison for a substantial period of time. In contrast, a burg was intended to protect all the people for a short time- it was not intended to undergo prolonged sieges as neither the Scots nor the Viking raiders undertook these. Within the burg was Earl’s Hall, and it was here that Alan and Leof went that evening.

Gaining access to Earl’s Hall was not difficult. The streets of the city were thronged with warriors from three armies- the English, the Danes and the Scots. There were so many soldiers in the town that anybody with the bearing of a warrior and carrying a sword was less likely to be questioned by the guards than was a local townsman. Dozens of warriors were entering the burg, timing their arrival for the evening meal. There were so many entering that the few guards were overwhelmed by numbers and, not wanting to cause friction by challenging reluctant allies, the guards concentrated on looking fierce and alert while doing little.

Alan strode in with the confidence of a man who knew where he was and what he was doing and who had nothing to hide- all of which were inapplicable, but he’d learned much from his time at the royal court and knew that an arrogant attitude could take a man almost anywhere. He had little concern about being discovered as an impostor. Whilst he wasn’t dressed in fine clothes, neither was he or Leof poorly dressed. He’d left his distinctive green-dyed wolf-cloak behind at the cave hide-out and was dressed Saxon-style in tunic and breeches made of russet-dyed wool, with cross-bound leggings and leather boots. His hair was long and in disarray, as he’d chosen not to tie it back. During his time in the caves he’d grown his beard longer- both the long hair and the beard being of flaming red. Given the regular Viking raids into Northumbria over the years, and the current Danish contingent, neither his tall and strong physique nor his colouring were in any way unusual in the Hall. He had met earls Edwin and Morcar in polite social gatherings in the south before the rebellion, but he had not met Waltheof, Cospatric or the other rebels, and more particularly had not met the minions that may be in a position to apprehend him. He knew that even those who he had met previously would be hard-pressed to recognise him now.

All he had to do was avoid making any stupid mistakes and he would be safe.

He took a place at one of the lower tables, well below the Salt, and talked to those warrior seated about him. Most warriors when they’ve had a few drinks will open their mouths and boast about themselves without any thought and Alan was able to obtain information simply by asking a few questions- indeed the main problem was trying to maintain the conversation on a basis that interested him, with the warriors wanting to boast about past exploits or complain about current accommodation and supplies.

The general consensus was, with an army of nearly 10,000 men available, they should be marching south to attack Lincoln instead of sitting in Durham. Alan could well understand their comments- if he was ‘sitting on the other side of the table’ he’d also be demanding to march south. Every day’s delay improved the chances of King William winning. The earls had gathered their army. The enemy army was nowhere to be seen. Not to march south now was inviting disaster later.

Half an hour after the hoi polloi started to eat, the members of the high-table walked in from another room. Alan recognised Edgar the Aetheling- and Gundred. He asked the man sitting at his right hand to identify Waltheof, Cospatric, Maerle-Sveinn, Arnkell and the four sons of Kali- Cnut, Sumarlithr, Gamall, and Thorbrand. He deliberately made no reference to skald Thorkell Skalleson, presuming that this was the man whose arm Gundred was holding and to whom she was giving adoring looks.

After a further half hour of swapping lies and boasts with the men sharing his table, Alan rose and caught Gundred’s eye. After a start of recognition she looked at Alan, looked carefully at the nearby door that led outside to the privies and made a small motion with her head, without returning her gaze to Alan. He allowed a pause of several minutes before proceeding through the indicated door into the darkness outside, which was relieved only by a single torch burning on a post outside the wood-built privies. He stood near the edge of the torch-light until Gundred emerged from the Hall and, after he was sure he’d been seen by her, he stepped back into the protection of the darkness.

“Thank Frigg you’ve come!” said Gundred. “I was beginning to think I’d have to send a letter, but I didn’t know who to use to carry it or where to send it. Quickly, I’m being followed!”

“We weren’t sure if you’d changed your mind,” said Alan quietly, noting a roughly-dressed man sidling through the doorway. He put an arm about Gundred’s waist and pulled her close. “Never send a letter- never put anything in writing. I’ll see you tomorrow at St. Lawrence’s Church when the bell of the White Church rings at mid-day for Sext. There’s no service at St. Lawrence’s at that time. Now slap me and walk away.”

Gundred leaned back and gave Alan a hard open-handed slap to the face, pulling clear of his encircling arm and stalking back to the Hall with an arrogant swing of the hips. Just another pretty woman who’d received and rejected an unwanted advance. Alan theatrically put a hand to his cheek and gave a chuckle as Gundred’s shadow followed her back into the Hall.

Alan sauntered nonchalantly back into the Hall, collected Leof and returned to the room he had rented at the inn. Most of the room was taken up with a straw-filled palliasse, which Alan was to share with Leof. After lighting a single tallow-candle Alan pulled off his boots and sat with his back to the wall, deep in thought. Leof, exhausted by the exertions of the day, the late hour and the ale he had consumed, lay down fully-clothed and was asleep in moments. After over an hour of deep thought Alan gave a chuckle filled with satisfaction, snuffed out the candle and settled to sleep.

After breaking their fast on a sop of stale bread dipped in ale, Alan directed Leof to follow him out into the bustling streets. They’d brought two changes of clothes for the boy, both made of wool. One was a rough but serviceable tunic and breeches; the other was the clothing that he’d worn to Earl’s Hall the previous night, of better quality but still in the local Anglo-Danish style. The first stop was at a rag-seller’s stall, where Alan purchased a tattered and patched set of rags suitable to be worn by a street-urchin or beggar, but directed the stall-holder these were to washed, aired and ready for collection in three hours, paying extra for this. While Alan wanted Leof to be able to look like a street-urchin, he didn’t need to smell like one, nor share his clothing with other occupants- both of which were of concern to Alan as he was sharing a bed with the boy.

While Leof’s clothing was being washed and dried, Alan firstly purchased a pair of rough sandals and then entered a barbershop. He’d decided that he was going to masquerade as a priest, but was damned of he was going to wear his hair in a tonsure. As in that guise his flaming red hair and beard were likely to draw attention, he had his pate and chin shaved clean. Next stop, at mid-morning, was the rear of the abbey. As Alan had hoped, the washer-woman had undertaken the laundry and a dozen or so monk’s habits were hanging on the washing-line to dry. After a quick look at sizes and another quick look to make sure nobody was watching, Alan removed two habits; one that appeared as if it would fit his tall frame, and another slightly smaller. Both were somewhat worn and threadbare, but were serviceable and Alan doubted they would even be missed. After then collecting Leof’s clothing from the rag-seller they headed towards St. Lawrence’s church, arriving about an hour before Sext.

The church was an old Saxon-built building of wood, simply but strongly made with thick oak beams supporting a roof of wooden shakes. The light inside was dim, coming through curved windows made not of stained glass but oiled canvas. Despite the lack of finery the church had a comfortable ambiance. A quick inspection proved the building to be unoccupied and Alan changed his clothing into the purloined and still damp garment stolen from the monks and removed his boots, exchanging these for the rough sandals he’d purchased, and made a bundle of his own clothing and footwear. On emerging from the vestry, a borrowed stole and wooden pectoral cross about his neck, he gave Leof firm instructions before spending some time at prayer before the altar. About a quarter of an hour before Gundred was due to arrive he rose and entered one of the pair of wooden confessional boxes, pulling the heavy black curtain closed behind him.

Gundred arrived promptly, entering the church as the echoes of the bell of the nearby White Church were fading, and stood just inside the door looking around. Leof quickly approached her and whispered urgently, “Go to the confessional box with the open curtain, enter and close the curtain, but wait until your follower enters the church before you close the curtain, so he knows where you are. I’ll stand close by to ensure he can’t get close enough to listen.”

Gundred did as she was bid, approaching the confessional box but not entering until she saw a flicker of movement by the church door. After sitting and closing the curtain she heard the small screen between the boxes slide open and a disembodied voice say, “Do you have anything you wish to confess since we lasted attended church, my child?”

She managed to avoid a hysterical laugh and whispered in reply, “A very clever idea. We can meet openly in conditions that are expected to be secret and not overheard. The only problem is that I’m a pagan, not a Christian!”

“You have just had a sudden conversion of faith!” replied Alan. “What’s the problem? Why are you being followed?”

“That idiot Thorkell can’t keep his damn mouth shut! He had to get drunk and boast to one of his cronies that he’s going to be a rich man soon! That was reported back to Osbjorn. We all know a skald can’t earn any real money honestly, so Osbjorn thinks he may do something dishonest. It wasn’t enough to put us to questioning, but is enough for us both to be watched carefully.”

“Didn’t you pass on my warnings about the risk?”

“Of course I did- most carefully as I knew that he has a big mouth. I certainly have no wish to be put to the knife!”

“To business then. You come here each Thursday at this time. Somebody, maybe me or maybe somebody I trust, will be here. He’ll introduce himself as ‘Brother Benedict’. I suggest that you also start going to church on Sundays, so that your sudden rush of piety isn’t seen as unusual. Now, what are the rebels up to?”

“No a lot. They’re strangely inactive, given that William has other problems that are keeping him busy. As you know, the rebels still hold York. William’s nearest men, except yours, are at Lincoln, and the spies report there are less than a thousand men there. Waltheof wants to march south with every spear the rebels have and take Lincoln and Peterborough. Edgar and Cospatric can’t make their minds up what to do, and so don’t do anything. William’s reputation alone has them so frightened that they’re like mice hiding under a sack in a granary, snatching a few loose grains when the cat’s not looking.

“The Danes are happy enough to move and fight. They’re here for what they can plunder and they received most of the loot from York. But they won’t go far from their ships. There are about 3,000 of them, and another 3,000 Anglo-Danes and Anglo-Saxons. If they raise all the levies in the north, that’d be another 4,000 or so men, but mainly untrained men armed with pitch-forks and hoes. There’s currently about 1,000 Scots from Cumbria, but they’re drifting off back home out of boredom at the lack of action- there were twice that many a couple of weeks ago. There’s a rumour that the Danish king Svend Estridsen may come back again with 100 more ships, which would be another 4,000 men, but I doubt it. He’s old and I’ve been told that he’s been sick recently.”

“What do you mean that William has other problems? I’d been told that he’d intended to retake York by now.”

“You don’t know? Well, I suppose you don’t get much news sitting in a cave. There’s been a series of revolts across the south and he’s having to deal with them one by one. Also in the west the Welsh are across the border in force again, and Eadric The Wild has been raising hell in Shropshire again. We’ve been told that Shrewsbury was been sacked- again. I expect that William will want things quiet at his back when he marches north. Not that he’s likely to need to march north if the Danes leave. Without them this rag-tag army will fall apart.”

“And would the Danes leave, if William made it worth their while?”

“Do bears shit in the forest? If course they will! It’s traditional for them to accept silver and then go and bother somebody else. Accepting bribes is more of a national occupation than is fighting. Our men enjoy fighting, and they’re good at it, but accepting a hefty bribe to sail away is a more certain source of income. That’s business. Fighting is for pleasure.”

Alan decided that they’d been closeted in the confessional boxes long enough and that any further delay would indicate to the watcher that Gundred must lead a particularly active life of sinning, and so he briefly confirmed the arrangements for the meeting the following week. Gundred slipped out and several minutes later Leof whispered that all was clear, allowing Alan to emerge, shift his clothing and return to the inn.

The following morning Alan had Leof collect the horses from the stable, to avoid Alan’s changed appearance being noted. They rode the eighteen miles to Hartlepool via Cassop and Wingate, arriving back at the encampment on the riverbank a little after midday. There was much ribald comment made by the warriors about Alan’s clean-shaved head, which he accepted with good humour. Alan took delight in telling Oswy, a Saxon warrior with a particularly fine moustache which was the labour of many years and of which he was very proud, but who was also an intelligent young man who could read and write in the vernacular, that it would be his turn to shave clean and act as ‘Brother Benedict’ on their next journey. Oswy’s howls of protest could hardly be heard over the gales of laughter of his companions.

The next day the ship was pushed into the river, the anchor-stone pulled up and the oars began to rise and fall as they headed down the River Tees, past the gambolling and barking inhabitants of Seal Sands and out to sea on their way to the caves at Flamborough Head.

A week later, after another useless visit to nearby York which was still in rebel hands, Alan lost patience. Clearly events had progressed in such a way that his previous instructions were not applicable. He had information that needed to be passed on and which he should have delivered to York- had it been in loyalist hands. Reaching a decision Alan said to Sven, “You take Havorn to Hartlepool tomorrow and have Oswy ride to Durham with another trusted man. You know the contact procedures. I’ll get Lars to take me south in Alekrage.

The following evening Alekrage rowed up the River Witham and into Lincoln, to the considerable dismay of local shipping which scattered and fled at her approach. It was cold and windy, with a misty rain falling. A force of about fifty men-at-arms was present on the dock at The Pool, commanded by a pimply-faced youth. Clambering up over the low saxboard and onto the dock Alan called down to Lars in Anglo-Saxon English, “Keep your men on the ship for the time being, until I send word. Then you can dismiss them for a night on the town. Make sure they understand that they say nothing about who we are or where we’re from, if they value their lives. Even here loose lips can see us dead. I’ll arrange accommodation for us all at the castle. The men can have tomorrow off, that’s Sunday, and then we’ll head north early the next day.”

Turning to the guard commander he instructed in Norman French, “You, set a guard to keep the gawpers away, at least ten men and make sure nobody but my men approaches that ship, then take me up to the castle. Who’s in charge at the moment? Robert of Mortain, you say? Where the hell is the king? No don’t bother, Count Robert will tell me what I need to know. Leof and Brand, you come with me. Lead on, you young fool!”

The nonplussed and confused young commander did as instructed and with a group of ten men escorted Alan up Steep Hill to the castle. The castle was abuzz with the news of a Danish ship in the Pool and they were ushered almost immediately into the Hall where Robert of Mortain, one of the king’s half-brothers and his life-long supporter, was sitting at a table near a roaring fire dictating letters to two clerks.

“Ah! I should have guessed it would be you! Good evening Sir Alan! Take a seat.” The Count snapped his fingers and a flagon of wine, jug of water and two silver goblets appeared on the table. “How fare things to the north? Do you have information?” asked the large and heavily-built man, who was grey-haired and in his late forties. “Any news of Gilbert de Ghent and William Malet since the fall of their castles at York?”

“Information, yes. But little understanding,” commented Alan. “De Ghent and Malet are captives of the Danes and I understand are being reasonably treated, as are Malet’s wife and two children who were captured with him. The rest of the two castle garrisons were slaughtered, almost to a man. May I enquire why York is still in the hands of the Aetheling’s men and there is no royal army here?”

“Because things have turned to shit everywhere,” replied Robert pithily. “Most of my land is in Sussex, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. I must have done a damn poor job of keeping an eye on things, because the men from Cornwall and Devon have attacked Exeter and my castle at Montacute is under siege from the men of Somerset and Dorset. I understand that Geoffrey de Mowbray, the bishop of Coutances, is leading a relieving force from London, Winchester and Salisbury. The townsfolk of Exeter helped the garrison drive off their attackers and those rebels were then caught by fitzOsbern and Brian of Brittany. That was a couple of weeks ago. Now fitzOsbern and the king have had to march to the Welsh border as Eadric The Wild and the Welsh, led by Bleddyn of Gwynedd, burnt Shrewsbury to the ground. They couldn’t take the castle and have moved on towards Stafford.

“The king and his men were here a couple of weeks ago and helped beat back an advance by the Aetheling’s men, although I think that was really just a large foraging party. I’ve got enough men to hold Lincoln and control the surrounding area. By holding Lincoln in some force we prevent the Northumbrians and the Danes from marching down the Roman road into the Midlands, as we threaten their flank. When the fires have been put out behind us and the king and fitzOsbern have pushed the Welsh back over the border and taken the Mercians out of the picture, then we can take care of the north. At the moment York has to wait. I heard it was burnt by the Danes, so there’d be no shelter for an army anyway. We can take it back and get rid of the Danes later. Maybe before Christmas, maybe in the spring,” concluded Robert tiredly.

“I see your point. It’s all a matter of priorities and the first priority would be keeping the bird in the hand before the bush burns down,” replied Alan. Robert gave a brief nod and Alan continued, “How fares your wife Matilda, your children and her family? Are they at Montecute?”

Count Robert looked grim. “Yes, Matilda and my three daughters Agnes, Denise and Emma are at Montecute. This all arose so quickly there was no chance to pack them off to Normandy. My son William is a squire in Normandy, so he’s safe enough- or at least as safe as any youth training for war can be! Matilda’s father Roger de Montgomerie and her mother Mabel were safe in the castle at Shrewsbury along with Roger, Phillip and Arnulf. The two older boys are in France. How are Anne and your daughter?”

“Fine last I saw them, although Anne is due to drop our next child shortly and given the medical problems last time I’d like to be there.” He paused for a sip of wine, which he was drinking unwatered out of respect for its quality. “So are the efforts my men are making worthwhile?”

Robert shrugged and replied, “Information is always of value. What information you have at the moment will be of questionable value in two months time, but we need to keep contact open with the agents. Who knows, they may come up with some information that requires immediate action, such as a sea-borne assault by the Danes on London. That would be the last thing we need when most of the city garrison is marching on Montacute! At the moment we have men running all over the place trying to keep a lid on what’s going on. I’d say at the moment you’d best be served by going home and leaving your men and ships doing what they are doing. We’re unlikely to need to your own services until Christmas, maybe longer depending on how severe the winter is and whether William can campaign in the winter.”

Taking the Count at his word Alan met with Lars and Brand the following morning, provided them with instructions to continue with the contact with the spies and provided Brand with a purse of money obtained from the Count’s Steward to be used to purchase supplies- he’d conveniently overlooked telling Count Robert that his men were being paid wages by the Danes. Following all of this activity he carefully chose two horses to purchase and rode south in the rain with Leof for company.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Thorrington October 1069

Late in the evening two days later, on Thursday the 29th October, Alan and Leof rode through the village of Thorrington. The heavy rain and cold wind was keeping most folk indoors, but the few men and women they saw shouted a warm welcome. The blacksmith paused in his labour at the anvil near the open door of the smithy to gave an abrupt wave of welcome and sent one of his young sons, a lad of about seven, scurrying down the muddy track to the New Hall to announce their home-coming. The rounceys walked with a plodding gait, heads down and exhaustedly lifting each foot from the sticky soil. They’d ridden 81 miles from Lincoln to Huntingdon the day before, spending the night in a flea-ridden tavern before riding a similar distance from Huntingdon that day.

The exhausted pace of the horses meant that the lad had plenty of time to reach the New Hall ahead of them. Although absent a motte, the fortified structure of the New Hall dominated the east side of the village, with a ten-foot high curtain-wall embankment topped by a further ten foot high wooden palisade. Six wooden towers rose a further ten feet, each with a large piece of oiled canvas covering the shape of a ballista. There were four men on guard, one in each of the corner towers of the square fortifications. The nearest two each raised a hand in greeting, while the other two ostentatiously kept their backs to Alan, ensuring he could see that they were scanning their area of responsibility. The high-pitched roofs of the three double-storey buildings in the complex, the Hall and two barracks blocks, could just be seen peeping over the curtain-wall. Alan was happy to see wood smoke rising both from the chimney of the Hall and from the location of the not yet visible kitchen building, ensuring a genuinely warm welcome.

They rode across the drawbridge over the ten-foot deep ditch and through the gateway and the rest of the complex came into view; large stables, the armoury building with its attached covered weapons-practice area, the granary, the barn where the hay was stored and the storehouses and workshops, including the shed where Alan whiled away hours in constructing ever more efficient siege weapons.

The servants hurried out of the Hall to welcome their lord home, although Alan was glad to see that Anne had not come outside. Alan waved a hand gloved in soggy leather and shouted, “Thank you all! Please get inside out of the rain, except for a couple of grooms to take the horses. The poor bastards are just about all in.” After stiffly dismounting and handing the reins to a stable boy, Alan turned in time to catch Leof as he collapsed with leg-cramps. “You’ve got to get used to riding a horse, boy! It’s a damn sight better than walking. Go and sit by the fire and I’ll get Otha to get you some dry clothes. When I’ve finished with the hot-tub, have a long soak and get one of the younger girls to massage your legs. I’ve noticed Inga has been making eyes at you, so I’m sure she’ll help out if you offer to share the tub. Which reminds me, we need to get you a room of your own in the barracks. You’re old enough that you can’t keep on sleeping in the Hall, with no damned privacy. I’ll mention it to Steward Faran.”

After giving Leof a hand to the door and then letting somebody else take him over- Alan gave a chuckle when he saw it was Inga- he shed his water-logged cloak and gloves and approached the fire gratefully. “Some mulled wine, for the love of God!” shouted Alan to Otha. “And dry clothes for Leof. And get the hot-tub ready. And I want some damned food!” Just then he saw the diminutive shape of his wife sitting in a high-backed armchair near the fire and could see why she hadn’t hurried outside. As she struggled to her feet, using the arms on the chair for leverage, Alan notice that not only had she a grossly swollen belly, but that the baby had dropped. “Sweet Jesu! It’s good to see you again!” he said after he helped her to rise and caught her in a hug, her head barely coming up to his chest. “It appears you’re carrying a giant and that he’s due any moment! How do you get up the stairs to the bedchamber?”

“With difficulty, my lord- slowly and with assistance. Using a chamber pot is an inconvenience, but better than a journey downstairs to the privy when I’m being kicked in the bladder! And I pray to God that it is a boy. Dear God, Alan! It’s good to see you again! Have you finished your work up north? Why ride in and not bring the ships home?”

Alan put a finger on her lips. “We’ll talk about that later,” he said. “For now, let me get warm, some dry clothes, have some hot food and drink and we can take a soak in the hot-tub. Me for my sore legs and you no doubt for a sore back.”

After a meal of herbed mutton stew and fresh bread which the hungry travelers wolfed down ravenously, Alan and Anne retired to the hot-tub to soak. The tub was an unusual creation and was comprised part of a tun barrel about three feet high and five feet across, sawn horizontally, with two small wooden benches of differing heights bolted to the inside to accommodate people of different sizes. The barrel was set slightly above the ground to allow periodic drainage and cleaning. There was a set of steps on the outside and a short ladder of four steps on the inside to assist people entering or leaving. The water, slightly less than the hundred gallon capacity of the part-barrel as it wasn’t filled to the brim, flowed through the water supply system Alan had created which drew water from a spring on a nearby low hill along pipes and into the New Hall complex. This also supplied the kitchen, stables, filled a cistern that would be able to be used in times of siege and also flushed out the latrines that Alan had built in the Roman style from plans he’d seen on an ancient scroll. The bath water was heated by passing through lead pipes above and behind the fire in the adjoining kitchen and furnace rooms and then flowed into one side of the tub in a steady but small stream. Excess water was extracted by a pipe on the other side of the barrel and flowed out as waste water, at about one gallon a minute.

Anne arrived shortly afterwards, wearing a thick robe and leather-soled slippers against the ten-pace journey along the paved path of the covered walkway between the Hall and the building that combined the kitchen, the bathing room and the furnace used to heat the air that passed through the hypocaust heating system used to warm the Hall. Anne had her gown and slippers removed by two of her maids, Synne and Esme, and stepped naked onto the large unbleached rug made of sheepskins that covered the floor near the bath steps. She was assisted up the outside steps by her maids and Alan rose to assist her down the steps on the inside, his nakedness emphasised by a giant erection that drew admiring glances from the two maids and a small smile from Anne, who reached to give the rampant member a squeeze as she turned and sat down on a ledge in the tub about six inches from the bottom.

Synne and Esme retired to the adjoining kitchen to await a call for their assistance and Alan settled back into the hot-tub, sitting on the carefully sanded floor next to Anne, so that his face was nearly level with Anne’s breasts, the nipples of which were bobbing on the surface as the breasts were supported by the water. Anne gave a sigh and rubbed her back, before returning one hand to stroke the underside of Alan’s member. “It appears you’ve been a long time without feminine company, which is just as well!” she commented.

“The mermaids are all well and good,” he replied, “but being fish from the waist down…” After several minutes of ministrations he gave a sigh of relief.

“And how was the north?” asked Anne, now that one job was out of the way.

“It was a strange existence, really. We found a cave that’s nice and dry and cosy and set up quarters there. The cave keeps the weather off and hides us. We’ve set it up with pots and pans for the cooking fire, straw mattresses and the like. The previous occupants had carved sleeping places and chairs out of the soft chalk. It’s a pirate’s cave. There’s fresh water from where a nearby spring runs down the cliff face. The food’s good. We catch some fish and have lobster pots in the sea outside the cave, and bring in fresh and preserved meat, vegetables, fruit and bread every time we voyage to Hartlepool or York. And ale by the barrel- everybody knows that drinking water is bad for you.

“Each ship takes it in turn to venture out, which usually means one day of sailing or two days of rowing either going or coming. There’s two days a week fairly intensive work manning the ship, and an anxious day ashore meeting the spies. The remainder of the week are pretty boring sitting in the cave in semi-darkness. I get the men to work on the boats, mainly to have something to do. We do some weapons training for the swordsmen- the bowmen can’t practice. The men sit around playing dice, knucklebones, eating and sleeping. Sometimes they go fishing in the sea or the sky- they use nets to catch birds in flight. It’s probably not that much different to acting as garrison of some remote village, but all the work is compressed into two or three days a week. The main problem is boredom, but it’s a lot less dangerous and a lot more comfortable than being on campaign.”

Anne gave a sigh as she sank a little lower in the warm water. “I’ve nearly lived in here in the hot-tub for the past month. The hot water is good for my back and floating in the water makes me feel less heavy and fat. How progresses the campaign? You haven’t mentioned anything about seeing the king or what he’s doing about the situation in Northumbria.”

With a start Alan realised that word of the current political and military situation hadn’t reached this remote part of East Anglia. “That’s because the king and his army aren’t there. York remains in the hands of the Aetheling’s men. There’s been a series of revolts in the south. Exeter was attacked and the last I heard Montacute was under siege with Count Robert of Mortain’s family trapped inside. More importantly the Mercians and Welsh have joined forces again and sacked Shrewsbury, although Roger de Montgomerie and his family were safe in the castle. The king and William fitzOsbern are busy in the west trying to catch the Welsh and drive them back over the border, which will be no easy task. Once that’s all attended to he can shift his attention north. At the moment Count Robert of Mortain and Count Robert of Eu are at Lincoln and holding the Danes and Northumbrians in place. When the king has overcome those problems he’ll march north. Other than the Welsh and the Danes, what’s been happening is mainly local squabbles that have been going on for years, shire against shire, and the fact that the English hate castles and want to tear them down. It’s not by chance that what I’ve built here is a fort, not a castle. It’s very similar to the traditional Saxon fortified burg. There is no motte to draw attention and nearly all the garrison is English.”

After an hour’s soak Alan called for Synne and Esme to assist their mistress out of the tub and then stepped out himself, drying himself with a rough towel before dressing in clean clothing. On entering the Hall he beckoned Leof over and said, “The hot-tub is all yours. Soak the pain out of your legs. I’ll arrange with Faran for your things to be put in a private room upstairs in the barracks, along with a mattress and some blankets.” Seeing Inga standing close by and listening closely Alan continued, “You! I have a pot of goose-grease with oil of wintergreen, which will need to be rubbed into the lad’s sore muscles after he’s soaked. You attend to it,” he instructed, with a wink to Leof.

Two days later Alan was surprised to receive a visit from Bishop William’s men Geoffrey of Rouen and the Frenchman Bernard of Nantes, the latter having replaced the Fleming Albyn of Bruges after his death fighting the Danish raiders. They were seeking news of the outside world and Alan repeated the information he’d given to Anne, although omitting any reference to spying or his own travels and actions. The two men had arrived together in the late morning, soaked and cold from the wet ride from their own halls. Alan had their cloaks drying in the kitchen as they sat at table near the roaring fire in the Hall.

“It always seems so warm and pleasant here, not like my own cold Hall,” commented Bernard, eying the fresh rushes on the floor strewn with sprays of rosemary. The rare glass windows were closed against the bitter wind, but still allowed sufficient light not to require torches or lamps to be lit, unless one wished to read. Cene, the wolfhound who had been a gift from Anne to Alan, lifted his large head from its position on Alan’s boot and scratched himself behind the ear.

“I had the advantage of building from new and with the substantial funds that the king’s favour had given me,” replied Alan, with apparent modesty but less than complete honesty, deliberately failing to mention that most of the large cost had been funded by the financial empire that Anne had built, as mercantile activity was not popular with the ‘noble classes’ and their financial success was hidden behind a series of ‘front-men’.

“So the kingdom is in jeopardy?” asked Geoffrey.

“Not really. There’ve been a series of small revolts in the south and south-west. The main problems are the Welsh and the Danes. If Edgar had planned it properly, if indeed it’s been planned at all, there would have been a general uprising in the south-west with a large army being raised, properly led and marching on London. The Welsh would have attacked Gloucester while the Mercians attacked Shrewsbury and Stafford, which they have done, and the Danes and Northumbrian marched south on Lincoln and then London. If they’d done their work properly they could have cut the kingdom and King William’s forces into pieces, gathered a huge army and crushed us Normans.

“Instead, their disorganised approach and the inactivity in the north is letting King William put out the fires one by one. I’m sure that he’ll have things under control and have retaken York before Christmas, depending on what the Danes do. If they leave their ships and march south in force, along with 7,000 Englishmen, then the king has a real fight on his hands. So far the situation has been controllable- barely. Indeed the activities by the rebels haven’t met with favour by most people south of York. The people of Exeter joined with the Norman garrison to fight off the rebels attacking the town.”

“We haven’t seen much dissent locally,” commented Geoffrey.

“There are probably several reasons,” replied Anne, to the surprise of the guests, who weren’t used to erudite political comments by women. “Locally, the controlling hand has been of iron, but covered by a velvet glove. In Tendring Hundred at least, relatively few thegns were able to travel to Hastings in time to die, so there hasn’t been a large change in local politics. Yes, there are Normans, French and Flemings present, but the changes haven’t been great. The local landholding system remains unchanged and the Hundred Court still dispenses justice based on traditional West Saxon law. The Heriot charged by the king for the local thegns to retain their land was largely able to be paid.” Anne didn’t mention that this had in some part been due to the loans made by her and Alan to help pay this significant financial impost. “Most of all, based on their recent experiences, the locals see the Danes as being their enemies, not the Normans- or at least more of a direct threat as the Normans don’t kill, torture and rape indiscriminately.”

“No, we are discriminate in our killing, torture and rape,” commented Alan, as food and wine was placed on the table.

Bernard took a sip of the wine and said, “Wonderful.”

“Life’s too short to drink bad wine if you don’t have to,” replied Alan as he cut up a roasted chicken on the bread trencher he shared with Anne.

“You’ve done well for yourself, my lord,” commented Geoffrey.

“God helps those who help themselves,” said Alan, with a pause before he continued. “I was fortunate enough to assist the king on the battlefield at Hastings, which drew me to his attention and provided significant reward. I’ve since provided him with further assistance, which the king has also seen fit to reward. Not all of the assistance has been entirely conventional, but it has worked.”

“Tell us how you saved the king’s life,” urged Geoffrey.

Alan waved a hand, holding a chicken drumstick, in negation. “No. Somebody else can do that. I don’t blow my own horn. I just happened to be standing in the right place at the right time and hit a few people with a sword. I’d have done the same for anybody, as would you. In fact it wasn’t until he extracted himself from under the horse, with some assistance from others standing near, that I even knew it was the duke.”

After the visitors had departed Alan commented to Anne, “That was surprisingly… genial, considering past problems.”

“They’re coming to realise who is important and that pursuing Bishop William’s political campaign against you may not be in their own best long-term interests,” replied Anne.

In the early hours of Tuesday 2nd of November, All Souls’ Day, Anne nudged a snoring Alan in the ribs. “It’s time,” she announced calmly.

Alan grunted and came awake with a start. “Why is it always in the middle of the night? Is it because the baby’s bored because you’re lying there doing nothing? Synne! Rouse the household! My lady’s time is come! Send somebody to fetch that incompetent old bat of a midwife from the village!”

Because of the problems associated with Anne’s first labour, on this occasion there was no question of his being excluded from the birthing-room. What was apparently a well-practiced procedure was followed by the midwife, encouraging Anne to stand and walk about slowly for several hours until she was fully dilated, when she was instructed to lie down with legs apart and to push and breathe deeply with each contraction. The baby’s head crowned and over the next hour was satisfactorily delivered with no complications and no unusual blood loss. The midwife tied off the umbilical cord, turned the child upside down and gave it a slap on the bottom to make it cry, sucking air into the lungs. As she gave the child a quick wipe with a clean wet cloth she commented, “Congratulations on the birth of your son, my lord and my lady. A fine strapping lad of about seven pounds,” before handing the now swaddled bundle to his mother.

The placenta was delivered without tearing and without problems about fifteen minutes later. The midwife was dismissed and left carrying a small but heavy purse of silver for her efforts. It was nearly dawn and Alan went into the next room to collect their daughter Juliana from her nursery and to introduce her to her brother.

After the bed linen had been changed and all except Synne dismissed, Alan lay on the bed next to Anne, with little Juliana lying between them and gurgling happily while her brother took suck. The bells of the village church began to toll, not in celebration of the event, but for the morning service of All Souls. Alan hoped that the birthday would not prove inauspicious, being the day of the Feast of the Dead when the village folk would attend at the graveyard to pray at the graves of departed relatives and leave food at their tables for them.

“I didn’t want to tempt providence and discuss names before,” commented Anne. “But do you have any thoughts on a name for our son and heir?”

“I thought a name that is common in both English and French,” replied Alan. “Certainly not William, Roger or Robert. The Lord knows that there are enough men of those names about! I thought either Gilbert or Simon”

“Hmm…” mused Anne. “What do they mean?”

“Gilbert means ‘Trusted’ in English, and ‘Bright lad’ in French. Simon means ‘Listens’.”

“Well, I’d hope that our son would have all those qualities. Let’s think about it for a day or so. I’d thought perhaps Gerald, which means ‘Ruling Spear’, but all three are good names. Who do we ask to be god-parents? I’d though Roger and Alice Bigod again, and possibly my brother Garrett.”

“I agree with Roger and Alice. They would care for him, and as sheriff of Sussex Roger is a very influential man. Garrett would certainly care and love him, but… perhaps somebody with greater influence would assist him later in life. Perhaps thegn Thorkel of Arden, who owns enough land as tenant-in-chief directly from the king to qualify as an earl and is sheriff of Warwickshire.”

“Thorkel is a nice, trustworthy and God-fearing man, and not too old,” agreed Anne. “Again, let’s think on it. In the meantime let’s all get some sleep. Oh! Make sure we get a better wet-nurse this time, even if we have to get somebody all the way from Ipswich. I’m not going to put up with such a dirty, surly and bad-mannered bitch as last time. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. I’ll give suck in the meantime!”

Over the next few days a suitable young girl from Dovercourt, who had lost her own child, was chosen by Anne as the child’s wet-nurse and by mutual agreement the name ‘Simon’ was chosen. Messages were dispatched asking Roger and Thorkell to be godfathers. With the military campaigns underway it was likely to be some time before all the required people could gather for the baptism.

Being November the activity associated with harvest was over and the autumn ploughing complete. The harvested grain was stored safely in the granaries and the sacks of salt from the salt-pans was in the salt-houses awaiting later processing and sale. Fruit and vegetables had been gathered and either stored in barrels or preserved by drying, pickling or made into jams. The small barrels of honey from those villages with bee-hives had been dispatched to the towns for sale. The annual sale or killing of animals that would not be able to be cared for by the villagers over the winter had commenced. Cattle and swine were driven off to the market at Colchester. The small sheep, little more than knee high, were less susceptible to the rigours of winter due to their wool fleeces and would require only the provision of hay over the winter. Beef and pork was smoked, salt-cured or pickled for use over the winter, either as joints stored in barrels or as sausages hung from the roofs of store-rooms to keep the rats at bay.

Anne ensured that the poultry pens belonging to the Hall, containing chickens, geese, ducks, quail and pheasant, were ready to protect their inhabitants both from the winter weather and from hungry foxes. Firewood was cut and stacked under cover to provide winter warmth. Acorns were gathered from the forests to ensure that the swine in their pens in all the villages for the winter could use the bounty of the forest before it disappeared under snow. The fisherman plied their nets in the shallow waters of the Colne estuary with any surplus catch being dried, smoked or salted for the winter.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

The North November 1069

A week later a summons was received from Robert Count of Eu for the knights and men-at-arms of Essex to march north to Lincoln. There he was amassing a force to retake York, while not taking men who were desperately needed in the south-west and west of the kingdom.

Alan was annoyed to receive the summons. He already had eighteen of his own men and two ships in the king’s service, and had negotiated freedom from the requirement to provide feudal levies. He was determined to leave a strong force to protect Tendring Hundred and took with him just one squadron of ten of the Wolves led by Edric, who as usual had his one-handed battle-axe hanging from his saddle pommel. Pack-horses carried weapons, armour, tents, pots and pans and a week of supplies for man and beast. Robert fitzWymarc’s man Gerard de Cholet from Elmstead with several men rode separately from Alan’s party. Engelric’s man Leax of Birch Hall and his half-dozen English retainers chose to ride with Alan’s men.

They rode west through the flat and almost featureless countryside to Cambridge, braving the cold and blustery weather, before turning north and joining the Roman Ermine Road. Swamps and fenlands were on their right to the east as they rode through long passages of wasteland interspersed with occasional villages and cultivated land. Other parties of armed men, both on horse and on foot, were moving north, along with slow-moving ox-drawn wagons carrying supplies and weapons.

With winter drawing in and with short hours of daylight it was the evening of the third day before they rode across the bridge at Lincoln and up Steep Hill to the castle. The city was crowded with armed men, much more so than when Alan had been here just a few weeks previously. The castle was packed with men and Alan was instructed to have his men set up their tents on the eastern side of the city, where a veritable canvas city had been created. The other Normans, being only men-at-arms and not knights, were directed to the camp without even the courtesy of riding into the castle.

Due to his position and influence, Alan was given a small room in the castle barracks which he was to share with three other Normans. After using a bucket of ice-cold water to wash off the sweat and grime from three days of travel, Alan dressed in a clean tunic and hose before venturing down to the Hall where the two Counts, Robert of Mortain and Robert of Eu, were sitting together with a dozen or so men. A map of the northern route to Durham was unrolled on the table before them, each corner being weighed down by a cup of wine.

“Ah, Sir Alan! Join us please!” exclaimed Robert of Mortain. “We’ve received some information from your men and are looking at how best to use it. I understand that you scouted the way north from here last year for the king, so you know the lay of the land?”

“In general terms,” replied Alan. “I know each bridge and defensible position, but not every tree or god-forsaken swamp.” He was handed a cup of wine and took a sip. “This is not a good map,” he commented after a close examination of the parchment. “What information do we have?”

“The Danes are to be here in two days time.” Robert of Mortain indicated a place on the map.

“Ashby,” said Alan. “South of the Humber and on the edge of the fens. They’re now camped on the Isle of Axholme. Why should they move?”

“Some sort of local celebration. I’m told it’s because the locals haven’t had to pay the royal taxes for two years. The Danes have been invited and it’s not very far from their base.”

Alan scowled, “That seems a weak excuse for them to be there, but knowing your sources the information is likely to be correct. I don’t know that area. It’s well to the east of the direct route to York. You’ll need to get some good local guides. How many men have you got?”

“I’m taking 2,000, and leaving 500 here,” replied the Count.

“And the Danes?”

“Probably about the same.”

“Then let’s pray for surprise, because the Danes are damn good fighters if you give them an even chance, and men on horse don’t perform very well in swamps,” said Alan with more than a hint of sarcasm.

“Amen,” muttered several around the table.

The men marched north well before dawn the next day. Lincoln to Ashby is thirty miles and that evening the army stopped five miles short of Ashby on one of the few patches of higher and relatively dry ground in a flat green landscape of marshes and fens. Numerous scouts were sent to both screen the army from prying eyes and to seek the enemy. Word was received that there was indeed a substantial gathering at Ashby. Late in the day came reports that the Danish ships were as expected at Axholme, not far to the north-west.

The Anglo-Norman army marched north in the fading moonlight, striking camp at three in the morning. An army of 2,000 men does not move quickly at any time, even if many are on horseback, and the darkness did nothing to speed their progress. However, when first light came at half-past seven they were where their generals wished, about a mile south of the village of Ashby- but they were strung out along the narrow and muddy track that led to the village.

The vanguard pushed forward to seize part of the hummock on which the village was built. The remains of numerous fires littered the Green, surrounded by large numbers of men who were just stirring from their blankets after what appeared to have been a night of heavy drinking. Shouts of alarm rose in the air as the approaching army was seen and suddenly the small and evidently poor village burst into activity as men seized weapons and gathered to face the Anglo-Normans who were now running up the road to get into formation.

The Danes, although numerous, were at a decided disadvantage. Taken by surprise they struggled to form a line, their leaders shouting for their own men to form up on them. They had come for a party and not a battle, so while all had their personal weapons at hand, none wore armour. This was a repeat of the mistake made by the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge. Just as the marshland surrounding the town and the narrow tracks to and from the village impeded the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, so the Danes were prevented from making an orderly withdrawal. However, their bellicose response to the approach of the Anglo-Normans indicated that whether they would have chosen to retreat was doubtful, with only a few men at the rear taking the opportunity to slip away along the tracks leading north.

Robert of Mortain was at the centre of the mainly Norman force as it formed line, mounted on his huge destrier and towering above the armoured men-at-arms that crammed on foot into the tiny battlefield that was barely 200 paces wide by 300 paces deep. The Danes stood in a haphazard manner in a line near one end of the battlefield, the line stretching from the swamp to the east to the swamp on the west.

The Norman and English men-at-arms, all with some form of armour and a shield, either round or of elongated kite-shape, formed up and began to hammer their shields with their swords or spears. Groups of Norman archers approached within 100 paces of the Danes and began to draw and loose their deadly barrage. The Danes fell where they stood, unable to reply as they fought only as infantry and with most today lacking shields they were unable to protect themselves from the arrows. After several minutes the Danes, seeing that they would be cut down if they stood, surged forward with a mighty roar, scattering the archers who slipped back through the Norman line and then took position behind. As the mass of Danes was about to hit their line, the Anglo-Norman men-at-arms braced themselves and stepped forward to close with the Danes to prevent them standing back to use their two-handed war-axes, pushing hard with their shields as they stabbed and cut with their swords.

Realising that mounted cavalry would be useless in such a confined battlefield, with no room to charge or manoeuvre, Alan ordered the Wolves to dismount and for Leof and a groom to lead the horses to the rear. Odin made clear his displeasure at missing the fight by tossing his head and sidling as he was led away. No order was given by Robert of Mortain, but about half of the 200 horsemen followed Alan’s lead, discarding lances and drawing swords, forming a reserve force behind the main shield-wall.

“Just like old times, killing Danes!” Edric shouted to Alan above the din of battle. From the shield-wall was heard the clash of weapons on shields, battle-cries and the screams of the wounded as they fell and were trampled underfoot. Edric was standing with his green-painted kite-shaped shield hanging by a leather strap from his left shoulder and resting his single-handed battle-axe on the other shoulder.

English and Norman foot-soldiers continued to stream up the muddy track and join the rear of the army, while a steady stream of the more prudent Danes continued to slip away along the narrow track on the other side of the village.

On foot it was difficult to see how the battle was progressing, which was no doubt the reason that the bulky shape of Count Robert continued to sit ahorse to be able to see over the heads of his own shield-wall. Weighed down by his chain-mail and leather knee-length hauberk and the padded gambeson worn underneath, Alan was sweating despite the cool overcast weather and gentle breeze. Not satisfied with the way that his helmet with its typical Norman nasal guard was sitting on the mail coif that covered his head, he raised his right hand to adjust it so that it sat more firmly in place, although the weight and pressure on his head were giving him a headache.

Alan and his ten men were standing in a group about twenty paces behind the Norman shield-wall, which was five ranks deep and was being forced slightly backwards by the press of men ahead of it and the desire of the swordsmen to have firm footing and not be tripping over the bodies of the fallen.

Suddenly a group of about thirty Danes, led by two huge figures each powerfully wielding double-handed war-axes, broke through the shield-wall. The axe-men were striking massive blows with their weapons, smashing shields and sundering men in twain. The axe-men ripped the shield-wall asunder and allowed a small flood of swordsmen and spearmen to follow and attack the rear of the shield-wall on each side of the breach.

“Forward! Move!” shouted Alan, drawing his sword. The beautifully balanced and superbly forged and polished one-and-a-half-hand weapon, thirty-one inches in blade length, was a memento of that day three years previously at Caldbec Hill. “Advance in line! Keep your dressing and give mutual support! We fight as a team, not like this rabble!”

One of the Danish axe-men fell, pierced by three arrows from the Norman archers behind the line. Alan strode towards the other axe-man, his mind clear and focused. Suddenly the sword felt feather-light and he rose onto the balls of his feet like a dancer, ready for quick foot movement. Alan was tall at over six feet in height. The Dane was huge, over seven feet tall with a strongly-built body from his bull-like neck to his muscular thighs. He was unarmoured, wearing a hastily fastened tunic which indicated that minutes before he had been asleep, and his long matted and filthy brown hair hung lankly. There was an unholy gleam in his eyes as he saw Alan approach, noting the thigh-length sleeved hauberk and the nasal guard on the helmet that marked him as a Norman knight. Alan had chosen his opponent, knowing that he himself was the best swordsman in his band and this was the most dangerous foe.

Alan paused, two paces from the giant, who roared something unintelligible, spittle flying from his mouth as he stepped forward. Unable to get inside the blow, Alan stepped lightly back, looking for an opportunity to attack. As he did so, his back foot slipped in the mud and he dropped to one knee. With another roar the Dane unleashed a smashing back-hand blow, which Alan parried by thrusting out his left arm and the shield that was strapped to the forearm.

Alan’s judgment had been good and the axe crashed into the metal boss in the upper centre of the shield, preventing the huge blow from sundering both the shield and his chest. He felt a wave of pain as his left arm was broken like a stick, and instantly knowing that he would be unable to wield his shield further, he opened his left hand to let go the handgrip and turned the arm to allow the shield to drop free from the two leather straps on his left forearm, suffering another wave of pain as he did so. He then bunched his legs under himself, ready to thrust upwards towards the belly of the Dane, but as he did so Edric’s axe appeared from the left and thumped into the Dane’s chest with the dull sound like wood being chopped. Blood flew from the mouth of the Dane and he collapsed sideways. Unfortunately, Edric’s axe had stuck fast in the Dane’s chest, pulling Edric to one side as his opponent collapsed and left Edric open to a thrust of a spear to the throat by another Dane. Edric fell with a gurgling cry.

Alan rose and in two quick steps closed with the spearman and with a back-handed swing from just below shoulder height avenged his friend, the sword striking the Dane in his left armpit and biting deeply into his unarmoured body. Alan felt a blow on his left side, now unprotected by shield, the sword failing the penetrate his chain-mail armour and the force of the blow dissipated by the padded gambeson, but a sharp pain in his chest as he drew breath indicated he probably had several broken ribs. Other Norman men-at-arms were hurrying to the breach, and as they arrived Alan staggered backwards as he felt a sharp burning pain in his right thigh as a spear-thrust came up under the tail of the chain-mail hauberk and slashed upwards, tearing flesh as it went. Alan collapsed and a wave of darkness washed over him.

He awoke to see the face of Guy of Lyons, Robert of Mortain’s French churgeon, bending over him. “Still in the land of the living, with God’s good Grace and with the luck of the Devil, I see,” commented Guy. “Well, I’m afraid that your luck has run out and I’m going to have to take off that leg.”

“Be damned to that!” retorted Alan. “Lift me up so I can see and get a mirror.” He nearly passed out as he was levered into a sitting position, the person on the left grasping his arm. “Sweet Jesus! My left arm is broken, so leave it alone! So are my left ribs. Get me my satchel. Right, mix one spoonful of this powder into a cup of wine and give it to me to drink to dull the pain. It’s dried juice of poppy. Guy, nobody’s going to cut my leg off until it’s green and mouldy. Follow my instructions.”

Following Alan’s instructions Guy treated the thigh injury, tied off cut veins, cleaned the wound and dressed it with Alan’s antiseptic and anti-bacterial medicines before suturing the bone-deep eight-inch long gash closed with cat-gut. “Interesting,” commented Guy. “We’ll see if that works or if you are the architect of your own death. I still believe the leg can’t be saved. Now as for the arm and ribs, those are easy…”

When he recovered consciousness several hours later Alan instructed Leof and one of his men to ride to the caves at Flamborough and instruct one of the ships to proceed up the river. They were 30 miles from Lincoln and 180miles from Thorrington. It would be a journey of ten days by jolting ox-cart which the three wounded men from his party were unlikely to survive- but they were only a mile from the river.

Sven arrived near noon the following day, the ship having rowed past the main force of the Danes and their ships at Axholme without being challenged due to their disguise as Danes. Alan, the two other wounded men Cuthbert and Leofwine, and the corpses of Edric and Wulfnoth, were carried carefully on stretchers to the ship, the wounded placed on straw-filled palliasses on a grate that had been positioned to keep them dry from the several inches of bilge-water which slopped about in the bottom of the ship. Alan explained to Leof how to change the dressings on the wounds, apply the antiseptic and healing salves and to make an infusion of chamomile, comfrey, ivy, marigold and yarrow mixed with sea salt and boiled water- the latter to act as a mild pain killer and aid in repair of fractures and wounds.

The ship was rowed downstream and with a favourable northerly wind arrived a day and a half later at Alresford Creek, just a few hundred paces from home. Despite the relatively gentle motion of the ship on the short voyage compared to the long jolting journey they would have had by wagon along the rutted and unpaved roads, Alan was in a deep fever and unconscious when he was carried on his palliasse from the ship to his bed in the bedchamber at the New Hall.

Anne and most of the household met the ship and she held the hand of Alan’s uninjured arm as he was carried home, the other arm being strapped to his chest. In the bedchamber she had him stripped and herself sponged the dirt, sweat and blood from his body. Cuthbert and Leofwine were placed on beds in the barracks and assigned a nurse, neither man being married. The corpses of Edric and Wulfnoth, wrapped in sheets, were placed in coffins in the Nave of the church ready for burial. Cuthbert died that night, finally succumbing to the massive injuries wrought by a heavy blow to the chest that had stove in most of the ribs on one side of his chest, the broken ribs piercing the lung and eventually caused him to drown in his own blood. He was placed with the others in the church.

Three days later, a week before Christmas, Alan emerged from his delirium, opening his eyes to see in the candlelight that Anne was slumped in a chair next to the bed. “My lady!” said Synne, who been sponging the sweat from Alan’s forehead. Anne woke and bent over Alan, giving him a kiss.

“Praise be to the Lord! Blessed Lord Jesu and Mary have answered my prayers! Don’t ever do that to me again!” she instructed.

“What?”

“Get carried home on a stretcher. How do you feel?”

“Better to be carried on the sheet than be wrapped in it- and with God’s good Grace I hope to avoid that and keep the leg. Mortain’s churgeon, Guy of Lyons, wanted to cut it off. By the Rood, I’m weak, tired and thirsty!” He shifted slightly on the bed and gasped in pain before adding, “And I hurt all over.” He noticed he was lying naked on the bed, a thick and absorbent cloth under him soaked with sweat and a brazier with burning charcoal stood in the corner of the room, supplementing the heat radiating from the inner brick wall that was part of the hypocaust system that took the chill off the air in the Hall during winter.

“Leof has been tending you and seems to have a real skill for it. He’s been following Brother Alwyn’s instructions regarding the dressings and the medicines and we’ve been spooning that and chicken broth into you. Here’s a cup of the herbal infusion, now turn your head and drink this while I send Synne to heat a pint of chicken broth.”

When several hours later Alan again awoke it was daylight. Brother Aldwyn, the infirmarer of St Botulph’s Abbey at Colchester, had been called to attend and he was demonstrating to Leof how to make a poultice of comfrey, ivy and yarrow, and how to very carefully make a pain-killing tincture of the boiled bark of white willow. Alan at first declined a dose of poppy-juice, aware of the dangers of addiction, but relented and swallowed a dose after Leof had unwrapped the bandage on his leg, the sharp stabbing pain each time the leg was moved proving too much for him. He called for a mirror and inspected the wound himself. “Not too bad. I may yet prove Churgeon Guy wrong and keep the leg! It has only a little inflammation, thanks be to God! Thank you, Brother Aldwyn. You’ve done a good job, Leof! Now apply this unguent and then the poultice and loosely bind the bandage. It doesn’t need to be tight because I’m not going anywhere. Erghh!”

“What caused the wound?” asked Synne.

Alan paused to allow the pain to die down and to catch his breath, wiping from his forehead the sweat caused by the pain. “A spear-thrust. I didn’t see it coming. I was too busy killing the man to my left, who’d just killed Edric, and since it was a spearman who stabbed me the man on my right couldn’t reach him. The spear came up under the tail of the right leg of the hauberk. I don’t wear mail leggings as they encumber your movements too much. It’s hard enough to move carrying forty pounds of steel on your back. As you saw, it’s eight inches long and went bone deep, the spearhead sliding up the bone. There was no major bleeding, but the muscles were sliced.” After a pause he continued, “Has Edric been buried yet? He saved my life.”

“Yes, yesterday,” replied Anne. “We had a Mass said for him, and for Cuthbert and Wulfnoth. They’re buried in the churchyard. May Jesus and Mary protect their souls.”

“Take care of Edric’s woman and child. Make sure they’re well provided for,” instructed Alan. “When I’m a little better I’ll arrange for a headstone from the master-mason at Colchester.”

On Christmas Day, despite his busy schedule, Brother Wacian the priest attended to shrive Alan as he lay abed. Alan, sins forgiven, felt renewed and determined to recover and overcome his injury.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Thorrington January 1070

Alan winced as the Jewish doctor used his fingers to probe the wound in Alan’s leg, using firm pressure. The old man pursed his lips and nodded to himself. Alan was lying in a semi-raised position on his bed in the bed chamber.

“A bad wound, but healing as well as could be expected. When were the stitches removed?” he asked.

“Brother Aldwyn removed them a week ago,” replied Alan.

The Jew nodded again. “You seem to have avoided serious infection. The wound was deep and will take more time to heal. Keep applying the poultices. What medicines are you taking?”

“Willow-bark, comfrey, ivy, horseradish and yarrow in the poultice. Thyme, camomile, aloe and garlic juice in the unguent. An infusion of herbs to drink- willow-bark, camomile, lemon balm, comfrey. Raw garlic cloves to eat.”

The doctor, whose name was David and who had at Anne’s request accompanied her business manager Jacob from London on his current journey to report progress of her businesses, inclined his head in acknowledgment of the anti-septic, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and analgesic nature of the various herbs. “Personally, I also like fresh ground liquorice root and I can provide you with some of that. It’s imported for Eastern Europe. Brother Aldwyn certainly knows his herbs. Do you like the taste of raw garlic?” He smiled when Alan shuddered and shook his head. “No, not many do! I have some capsules of the essence, which you may take instead. One capsule in the morning and one in the evening. Now let’s have a look at the ribs.”

Here David gently prodded Alan’s chest. “They seem well enough. Now it’s what, six weeks since the injury? Let us unbind your left forearm and see how the break has resolved. I do hope that it has set straight, as I hate having to re-break and reset limbs. Good. That’s quite good- it’s not quite straight and with a slight bump, but well enough. We can leave the binding off.” The doctor felt the wasted muscles of the left arm. “I’ll give you some exercises to strengthen the muscles. Don’t do anything excessive or place too much strain on it for the next month at least or you’ll cause the join to break again.” The doctor paused for a few moments of reflection before continuing, “I’d say that you can now get out of bed and with assistance go downstairs to the Hall and to the privy. Don’t do too much too soon. You were very lucky to keep that leg. You’ll probably be able to put some weight on it in about another two weeks and then walk with a crutch for at least a month.”

“And the final outcome?” asked Alan.

David’s left hand unconsciously smoothed his short grey goatee beard before he replied. “I would expect that in probably six months you’ll be able to ride a horse again, with some discomfort. You’ll always walk with a limp. Even after the muscles are built up again you won’t be able to walk very far or very fast. I’d say that your campaigning and hunting days are over. Even riding to London will be difficult and you should take two days for the journey.”

Alan commented with a smile. “At least I won’t have to dance again! It’s worth it just for that!”

Anne gave him a gentle clip to the side of the head and commented, “Idiot!”

Having received permission from the doctor, Alan rose and with the assistance of two men made his way gingerly down to the Hall. There he sat for several minutes to allow the pain to subside before proceeding outside to the privy. On his return to the Hall the servants began to set a table for the mid-day meal, Alan being provided with a chair at the corner of the table where he was able to sit with his injured leg stretched out and supported by a padded stool. With deference to the dietary requirements of their guests, the meal consisted of mutton and vegetable soup, roasted beef with boiled vegetables in a spicy sauce, cheese and fresh wheaten bread. Over the meal Alan quizzed David about his medical training, as the old man had in his youth studied medicine with the Moors in Iberia and had some interesting stories to relate.

After the meal Alan and Anne had Jacob impart the news from the outside world. “You may know that instead of the usual Crown-wearing ceremony held in the south, King William ordered the royal regalia to be sent from the capital at Winchester and wore it with all pomp and ceremony at York on Christmas Day, to show the Northerners who really is king. The two castles at York have been repaired and re-garrisoned. His army has ravaged far and wide spreading a swathe of destruction to prevent the land being able to support another army of rebellion. Almost every village and cottage in the north has been put to the torch in the middle of winter. What livestock couldn’t be taken away or used as food for the army has been slaughtered in their pens, particularly the oxen required for ploughing and transport. Carts and ploughs have been burnt and seed-stock for the spring planting despoiled. Thousands will die of starvation. The main part of the Danish army slipped away into the marshlands of the Fens and couldn’t be brought to battle, using their ships to move whenever the king’s army approached. William has no navy to prevent this, so he’s bribed the Danes to remain inactive during the winter and to depart in the spring.”

Alan remembered the conversation that he’d had with Gundred in Durham, and gave a small smile of satisfaction that King William had followed the advice given to him by his counsellors and paid Danegeld to at least temporarily remove the threat from the north. While William would have been loath to resolve the problem other than with the sword, sometimes one cannot do what one wishes. The Norman army and its mercenaries had been in the field for nearly a year, and even with King William’s extortionate taxes the exchequer must have been bled nearly dry.

“So we’ll be able to resume normal trading with our ships in the spring?” asked Anne.

“Probably,” replied Jacob. “Assuming the Danes do what they’ve been paid to do. I don’t expect any problems with that, as they’re honest in that when they’ve been bought they usually stay bought and don’t cheat.” After a moment’s pause he continued with his news. “Interestingly, King William has maintained his standing army at York. I expect that in the spring he’ll march on Chester to chastise the Mercians and push the Welsh back over the border, if they’re still on the wrong side of the River Dee at that time. Then he’ll probably go to Normandy again to ‘stare down’ the Angevins or do something about the revolt in Maine. Fulk ‘The Ill-Tempered’ is being a nuisance again now he’s won his battle with his brother Geoffrey, and King William will need to look to protect his southern borders in Normandy. One interesting titbit of information, at least for my people, is that we’ve been told that William will be inviting more Jews to England, feeling a need for greater commercial prospects and more capital. The word is that we’ll even be offered the protection of having legal status, which would be good for us.”

Now up to date with the latest gossip, Alan lapsed into thought of what the future might bring.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bradbury, Jim: The Battle of Hastings. Sutton Publishing 2006.

Cates, William: History of England from the Death of Edward the Confessor…. Longmans Green amp; Co 1874.

Crouch, David: The Normans. Hambledon 2002.

Domesday Book: ed A Rumble. Phillimore 1983

Gravett, Christopher: Hastings 1066. Osprey 2000.

FitzStephen, William: Norman London. Italica Press 1990.

Freeman, Edward : William the Conqueror. Batoche Books 2004. http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/freeman/William.pdf

Howard, David: 1066 The Year of Conquest. Penguin 1977.

Montgomery, Hugh: The God-Kings of England. Temple Publications 2007.

Partington JR: A History of Greek Fire amp; Gunpowder. W Heffer amp; Sons 1960

Rex, Peter: The English Resistance. History Press 2004.

Sinclair, Charles: Wee Guide to St Margaret amp; Malcolm Canmore. Goblinshead 2004.

Williams, Ann: The English and the Norman Conquest. Boydell Press 1995.

LINKS

Calendar (Julian amp; Gregorian)

http://almanac.oremus.org/easter/

Misc Information

http://www.medart.pitt.edu/image/england/london/maps-of-london/london-maps.html

http://www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk/sitemap.shtml

Wikipedia.org

www.battle1066.com

British History Online: www.englandandenglishhistory.com

Normans in Wales: http://vlib.iue.it/carrie/texts/carrie_books/nelson/index.html

Discussion of Battle of Hastings www.angelfire.com/mb2/battle_hastings_1066/hastingsmaps/html.

Domesday Book:

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/domesday/

http://domesdaymap.co.uk/

Anglo-Saxon Dictionary

http://home.comcast.net/~modean52/oeme_dictionaries.htm