Excerpt from Firelord


Excerpt from Firelord

by: Parke Godwin (Author)
from: Firelord (Pp. 309 - 311)  1980

[Battle] is neither precise as the [military historian's description], nor lyrical as the [bard's song], but give it a try. You are King of Britain and leading trained cavalry. Forty-five years old; still hard and strong, but the life-or-death dance of war takes your muscles an eye blink longer than before and you pay more for it afterward. Couched under your right arm is an ashwood lance ten feet long with a needle point. On your left arm is a heavy shield of bull-hide stretched over wood, bronze-bossed and rimmed with iron.

You charge in line, hoping that line will stay intact, praying you won't go down with the next rank too close behind, because you'll be crushed or caught by the nimble Saxons who dodge between the horses to drag men out of the saddle.

You have a moment before the lance strikes a shield, one moment when everything seems frozen still and you can see with heightened clarity every detail of the death in front of you: shields locked under cold eyes, cone helmets with the broad nose guard that makes the wearer look remote and inhuman. You see the spears and the stakes suddenly thrust out from behind the shields like a wolf baring fangs.

At the last moment you brace yourself forward against the collision, head ducked in behind your shield, and then you hit with the composite shock of war-tortured wood and iron, jarred sinew and the scream of metal on metal, the explosive grunt of men slammed together like brutal lovers.

The line of shields buckles and gives. For a murderous instant, you feel like plunging on through, but that's folly. Your knees transmit their message to the trained horse and you swing aside, already feeling the rumble of the second line behind you coming to hit them again, and you'd damned well better be out of the way or become part of the landscape. But that's for green boys, beginners. You've been too long at this and you dance clear of the carnage as the second line goes in.

But there's four of them dashing out at you from one side -- Jesu, where did they come from -- at you, precious mortal flesh, you. Too close for you to get up any momentum in the hoof-sucking mud, and as you tighten rein for quicker control, you almost feel their unstoppable determination. They're going to kill you. Bleeding, cold, starved or crippled, they're going to kill you.

You stop thinking and let your muscles react. You back the horse craftily, apparently unsure, as if you're boxed, drawing them further and further out of their ranks. The vicious pleasure gleams in their eyes when they realize they've got you.

"Artur! Ha, Artur!"

And now they're unprotected, too far out and know it too late as the rider hurtles down on them, sword raised like an archangel's vengeance before it whirs through flesh and bone.

"Back to the line, Artos. I'll cover you!"

Out of the chaos the line forms again. You lift in the stirrups for all to see: you still live and while you do, so does Britain.

Your arm comes down. The great scythe whistles forward again. And again. The rain falls, men fall. Again. And all through this, all through the screaming welter of fear and rage and agony petrified inside seconds like flies in amber that will be remembered in troubled dreams, you ride an animal mortal as you but, for all its endurance, remarkably stupid. As you execute the movements refined by a lifetime of training and intelligence, the brute under you may lose its footing at any moment or be hamstrung by a darting sword, may blunder into one of the myriad holes dug for the stakes that took so many of your men. Stakes, where are they?

Then you know: the next time you hit, the stakes are thrust out suddenly, followed by an avalanche of spears. The horses go down; you don't look, don't want to recognize the men already good as dead on the ground. You swing the brute under you, kick clear, slash with the sword, dance away. Back to the reforming line. Your arm goes up -- "Forward!" -- and you dash in again. This time you're ready and wary for stakes or spears behind that shield-wall. But not for what happens. The wall opens suddenly and lets you through, and coming at you is another wall of long stakes, each driven by two leg-churning, long-haired men while two running files of them snake out along your flanks.
Additional Information:
See The Battle of Mount Badon page.