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Excerpt from Artorius Rex

Cerdic's army came in sight of our camp early on a hot summer's day; morning mists still floated over the little streams that threaded the valley, partly concealing the tents and huts, so the Saxons blundered into our outer defence lines. A storm of arrows drove them back, but only for a short time. They were not marching in orderly ranks or in any military formation, but in bunches and groups, and some rode on wild hill ponies and farm horses; but Wencla harrying them on the march, made their horses his chief target. Very few survived.

Two-thirds of the Band had been on morning exercises, when the trumpeters sounded the alarm; no time was lost as we were mounted and ready for instant action, so Cerdic and his Saxons quickly had their first experience of a charge of heavy cavalry. We herded those big, bewildered men like cattle; for what we had to deal with was not just a disorderly retreat, but a stampede. They were led by a stocky, elderly man, whose dirty yellow hair was mixed with grey; and that was Cerdic, not an heroic or inspiring figure, though he was obeyed and followed. In their anxiety to get away from the Band, they climbed the hill I have spoken of; tall, rugged and steep, with sides of slippery turf and those old, crumbling fortifications crowning the summit. Our big horses could not follow them, but our arrows did until they were out of range.

They stayed in the ancient fort for two days, without food or water before they attempted to challenge us. They must have known that unless they made a sortie, thirst and starvation would reduce their strength to such an extent that they would have been unable to fight an army of children, let alone mailed horsemen. But nothing deterred them once they decided to move. Cerdic was obviously a leader with courage and cunning -- they tried breaking out at night, but we had dug trenches and pits that circled Badon hill and the nights were moonless so the big heavy lumbering Saxons fell into these traps and could easily be slaughtered with arrows shot at random in the dark.

The Saxons made little use of the bow. Like the Easterlings they preferred hand-to-hand fighting and that is where their height, weight and enormous muscular strength always tells. Finally they broke out of the hill fort early in the morning just after dawn, raced down to our camp and were among the tents and huts before the Band could get mounted, and while the men of the allied kings were still heavy with sleep.

These big yellow-haired men were starving and they went for the camp kitchens, emptying the cooking pots, killing the cooks, scattering the cooking fires around the tents, causing as much confusion as possible and howling like wolves the whole time. There is something chilling about the Saxon war cries. They are animal noises, inhuman and terrifying. When at last our Band was mounted they found that Cerdic's men had attacked the horse lines, hamstrung many of the horses and reduced our strength considerably.

We expected them to retreat to their hill fort again but they were too wily for that and marched away in a body. We could ride round them shooting arrows but they had a few weapons that often prevented us from closing with them. When we tried to ride them down they lashed at our horses and our legs with long-handled, double-headed axes, heavy and sharp. Wielded by a big man such an axe could do immense damage to a limb, even when protected by chain mail. We had to let them go, bringing down as many as we could with arrows shot from the saddle, but they were soon among trees where our horses could not follow and after an exhausting day battling through oak scrub and gorse and tangled undergrowth we gave up the pursuit. But that was not the end of Cerdic and his Saxons. He regained his lands and stayed there.

One thing that Saxons and other German tribes have in common with the British; they are never hopelessly downcast by defeat. Instead they tend to glorify their military failures, remembering them as magnificent and heroic occasions. So we heard later that Cerdic got far more credit and fame, and indeed congratulation, after his defeat at Badon than he had ever received before, for although he had been a consistently successful soldier, perhaps his followers could not quite forgive him for being very cautious in war, especially the young warriors who admire recklessness and dash, and are suspicious of cunning and usually get killed through sheer stupidity. Give me old soldiers every time; the young don't know that the best soldier is a live one, and they learn that lesson too late.

The Saxons never allowed Cerdic to forget that defeat. They praised it, sang about it, and their wretched camp and court poets, who are even more of a nuisance than British bards, are likely to go on using Badon as an example of glory and a subject for songs for generations to come.

For Artorius it was a great and final victory.
Additional Information:
See The Battle of Mount Badon page.