This is something I’ve shared before but here it is again. I’ve been listening to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Songs From a Room’ and if you know it maybe you’ll know the song from the title:
We’ll come from the shadows…
There were at least two of them, maybe only two of them, friend or foe… safe or in peril… if there were two then he could take them… The cow beside him moved slightly and lowed… they would see the movement, hear the noise, see the puffs of steamy breath in the winter air, and not know that he, their enemy lay beneath the frosted tangle of old brambles…
He strained to hear their voices; they moved closer and he could hear their mushy tongue, shshsh, sossysossy, honhonhon… yes they were the enemy… but where there only two… supposing they had a silent friend?
They had been sent out, no doubt to find me and the others who’d escaped when they came riding into our village, setting fire to our homes, bending low in their saddles to slash at the fleeing women and children. Stay and fight, or run and return to murder the murderers? I left my wife and children and I ran… am I a coward, a fool, or a soldier to my people…
He had two arrows in his hand, his bow in the other and his seax by his side. He peered between the frozen stalks of kek… there’d been no snow so although there was a silvering of ice on the dead plants, the land beneath him, the fallow land, was brown and stony, and his cloak and hood were ochre brown, and filthy now from his flight across the marshes.
Is my Aethelhildae dead, or worse? And my lads and little maids… my body is frozen and my heart is cold, as cold as my dead bearn, my bearn are with their heavenly father, innocents slain…
He flexed his fingers and unlooped the leather scabbard of his seax and drew it out and laid it on the ground, ready. His limbs were cold and stiff, but he had to do this thing, he had to fight, not just for his eorl but for his family and his pride. He rolled on his back and fitted one arrow, the other upright, stuck in the solid mud.
The cow moved and the men laughed honhonhon and he stood up and fired and the arrow went into the side a man’s neck and he stood holding it, in shock, as his friend was knocked backwards by the second arrow in his throat.
He had his seax in his hand and leapt the ditch and almost took the standing man’s head off with one might swing of his weapon. The other man was lying flat on his back, his eyes open, alive or dead he couldn’t tell but he swung the blade down across his throat and the blood spurted red across the frosty ground…
So the dogs have red blood the same as us, do they!
“Chien! Espèce de connard!”
He ducked as a third man, helmeted and in armour, thrust his sword at him, a long blade, longer than his own seax and he jumped away. The man was shouting his stupid Norman rubbish, but maybe he was calling others! He snatched up a clod of earth and hurled it straight into his face, but the nasal protected him and the bastard advanced, the sword extended.
How he saw it he did not know but he did see the discarded sword of the dead man and he grabbed it , a long, heavy weapon, and in a fury he ran forward, sweeping aside his enemy’s blade with it and stabbing left-handed at the man’s throat. The seax glided harmlessly over the chain mail neck piece and they were suddenly breast to breast and he could feel the iron plate of the armour hard against his own chest.
With a great shove he pushed the man backwards and he tripped and fell with a clang of metal on stone and the end was swift and bloody…
He stood panting the rage draining away… it would not be long before these fellows were missed and more came…
He gathered the swords, he would hide them somewhere, and he picked up the crossbow still in the hand of his vanquished foe, and slung it over his shoulder; he took his own good Anglish bow and began to walk towards the trees…
© Lois Elsden 2018
When they poured across the water
We were cautioned to surrender,
This I could not do;
I took my seax and vanished.
I’ve lost my wyf and children
But I must go on;
Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
Through the græfs the wind is blowing,
Freedom soon will come;
Then we’ll come from the shadows.