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Excerpt from Arthur
Upon my cry, the ala charged once more. This time we let the foemen hurl themselves at us. We held back at the last, and they plunged headlong onto our spears. It was a simple trick, but it worked laudably well. The barbarians learned quickly enough and reeled back -- leaving hundreds dead and wounded upon the ground.
Still, though we pushed after them, our horses foundered on the higher slope. We fell back once again and the enemy pursued us, striking wildly at our backs. Upon reaching the bank of the upper ditch, we were met by the footmen charging up from below.
I gave command of the division to Owain, and rode quickly to Arthur. "It is no good," I told him. "We cannot carry an attack up here -- it is too steep and there are too many of them."
Arthur saw that I spoke the plain truth. "It is as I feared. Very well, save the horses. We may need them later. We will carry the attack on foot." His blue eyes searched the wall line looming above us, and his finger pointed. "That place there -- do you see it?"
"That low place? I see it." "We will center the attack there. Follow me!" I hurried back to my division and passed along Arthur's order. Rhys signalled the dismount, and a moment later we were racing back up the hillside, scrambling over the rocks, falling, picking ourselves up, running on.
The enemy saw that we had abandoned our horses and took this as a good omen for them. They raised their evil screams with renewed vigor, and danced their frenzied war dances along the top of the wall. They were frothing mad with blood-lust.
As soon as we came within range, the enemy loosed their throwing axes at us. We threw our shields before us and stumbled on. Some among us picked up the hateful axes and hurled them back. More than one barbarian was killed with his own weapon.
The sun had risen higher, and I could feel its warmth on my back. My blood pounded hot in my veins, and I drew the cool morning air deep into my lungs. It was a good day for battle, I thought, and then remembered that in numbers and position, Cerdic boasted the advantage.
The place Arthur had found proved the only weak place that side of the wall. He had chosen the eastern side for assault because the incline was easiest, but the enemy realized this, too, and had built up the wall on that side. The low place Arthur saw was a section that had been hastily repaired, and some of the stone had fallen in when the first foemen swarmed over.
We drove toward this place, all of us, our force becoming a spearhead to thrust up under the enemy's defenses and into his heart.
It nearly worked.
But there were simply too many barbarians, and the incline too steep. Though we stood to our work like woodmen felling trees, we could make no headway. Picti, Cruithne, Angli, and Scotti, Saecsens and Frisians and Jutes . . . there were too, too many. We could not come near the wall.
For every pace we advanced, the enemy pushed us back two. For every foeman we killed, three more sprang up before us. Our warriors were being dragged down by the enormous crush of the enemy hosts. They rushed down upon us, hacking with their cruel axes: eyes wild, mouths twisted, arms swinging like flails.
But our warriors had fought barbarians before and were not unnerved. We lowered our heads and stood to our grim toil. And the battle settled into its awkward, lurching rhythm.