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The Loom of Battle (the Second Book of The Saxon Tapestry)

The Loom of Battle (the Second Book of The Saxon Tapestry)

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The Loom of Battle (the Second Book of The Saxon Tapestry)

Lunghezza:
309 pagine
4 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Jun 26, 2011
ISBN:
9781465777683
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

The web of Wyrd is almost complete. Harold is King and beloved by his people, as the runes cast by Hogni Tricksleeves once foretold. But the betrayal of Tostig and the hunger of William, Duke of Normandy, bring England to its knees.

When Hereward in his Irish exile learns of the ravage of his home, he reluctantly returns. Taking up his father's enchanted armour and aided by Muirgheal's witchcraft, he begins to stalk the Norman foe...

Full of battle-poetry and magic, Sile Rice's The Loom of Battle forms the tragic conclusion to The Saxon Tapestry.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Jun 26, 2011
ISBN:
9781465777683
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Sile (pronounced 'Sheila') Rice was born in Leicester on St Gregory's day, the greatest feast-day of the Anglo-Saxon calendar. She always enjoyed telling tales, but when, at the age of twelve, she saw the BBC's dramatisation of Charles Kingsley's Hereward the Wake, with Alfred Lynch in the title role, her world was never quite the same again. She was set on the course to writing historical fiction, starting with her own version of Hereward's story, The Saxon Tapestry. Sile immersed herself for many years in Saxon history and lore. Leaving school at fifteen to work in a toy factory in Kent, she continued to collect material and write alongside her various jobs. The Saxon Tapestry was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1991, to glowing reviews, and went into an American edition the following year. A new edition of The Saxon Tapestry, in two parts, is being published on Smashwords this summer: Book 1: The Changeling, and Book 2: The Loom of Battle. Sile lives in Ramsgate, Kent, with her cats Vanilla and Romney and many other feline waifs and strays whom she looks after on behalf of the cat rescue charity Cats in Crisis Thanet, of which she is a founding member. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her next novel, Danse in Indigo.

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The Loom of Battle (the Second Book of The Saxon Tapestry) - Sile Rice

The Loom of Battle

By Sile Rice

The second and final book

of

The Saxon Tapestry:

The Re-Weaving

Copyright © 2011 Sile Rice

Smashwords Edition

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Cover image original photograph: Copyright © 2011 Natalie Fredrickson

A Norman spoon in English dish

A Norman saw on English oak

On English neck a Norman yoke

And England will never be free

Until England's rid of all the three

(Old saying)

Table of Contents

Harold's Eve

The Songster's Tale

From the Epiphany to the Feast of St Bede and the Passion Tide

A Gathering of Jackals

The Harvest of the Quiet Eye

From the Waning of the Paschal Moon to the Egg-Tide

From the Dry Month to the Feast of St Joseph of Arimathea

From the Feast of St Oswald to the Malting Ales

Beow's Children

The Corn Bride

A Full Moon Rising Red

The Loom of Battle

The Choosers of the Slain

Never Was the Bright Mead Better Earned

Gaudy Sunrise

The Breaking of the Spears

Hoar Wolf's Howl, Hard-Wood Talk

It Is the Soft Clashing of Claymores You Hear…

The Trampled Field of Sorcerers

Corpse-Strand

How Fare the Gods? How Fare the Elves?

The Cough of Birds

Our Shield, Fist, and Sword

The Folk-King

The Land-Father of the English

The Lone Hoar-Apple Tree

Dance of Limewood, Smile of Ash

Greedy War-Song

The Bloody Noon Past

Told All in Tongues of Iron

Wodendream

Yellow Sunset

Under the Killing Stars

Go Hang the Shield on a Withered Tree

Dogs of the Evil Norns

The Lay of Sod-Apples and the Lamps without Oil

From the Advent to the After Yule

A Drunkenness of Gold

A Sigh upon the Harp

The Moon Sings over the Bones

The Warrior of the Elves

Dog Star Rising

The Satyr Shall Cry to Its Fellow

Locusts and Their Kind

The Lay of the Cunning of the Elves

The Rout of Wolves

The Scourge of the Runes

And when the Shoes Began to Dance

The Subjection of the Dove

A Joy of Wild Asses

For a Gin and for a Snare

A Court for Owls

How Many Miles to Babylon

The Woman with Caul-Spirit

The Lay of the Bees that Swarm on Dead Wood

The Eunuchs that Keep the Sabbath

The Spell Stumps of Leofric

The Stones of Emptiness

The Perishing of the Kindred Tree

Glossary of Names

The Months and Feasts of the Year

Harold's Eve

Before they'd even closed the old King's eyes men were asking Harold what they should do. For see, there isn't any other! said Dagobert the Marshal to Eadgyth. He had ridden full pelt under the stars to Nazeing.

Eadgyth, a robe over her night-rail, hair the colour of crop-yolk flowers, loose over her shoulders, said, He has been waiting a long time.

He's a patient man.

Dagobert!

I must get back, my lady! O, do not ask me how I feel or my heart'll burst else!

*

The great Hall of Westminster was lit by rush torches and the body of King Edward, washed and anointed with the oils and spices of the Bible, brought to lie in state on a candle-ringed bier draped with the royal grave-cloth of the Angelcynn, woven in the rich old sad dyes of indigo and field madder and woad. The King's face was uncovered, his hands pressed together as though in eternal prayer, an ivory and silver crucifix between the palms of them and his right hand was the wondrous sapphire ring of the Pilgrim.

The monks of St Stephen's Chapel chanted Psalms for the Dead while many a churchman and thane took it in turns to kneel in vigil that night, among them Robert Fitz Wymarc the Constable and Abbot Aelfwig of Winchester. Queen Aldwyth was at the King's head and Bishop Willelm and Ralf the Staller at his feet.

The massive iron-bound doors of Plaistow oak were wedged open wide into the bitter cold starry darkness and hour by hour the crowds from London Town and beyond grew bigger, swelling, overflowing the Great Hall and the yard without, while the melancholy tolling of the bell of St Stephen's Chapel was echoed by the bells of both St Peter's and St Paul's Minster, and those of King Ethelbert's at Lambeth, across the ice-blocked Thames and the frozen Fleet – and picked up by the tiny churches in the Clapham and Brixton Hundreds, at Wandsworth and Peckham and Hackney on the Marsh where men drew up boats, and Wapping Old Stairs and thence to the little village of Stepney, the first within the East Gate with its handful of shrines dedicated to St Botolph and St Edburgh and thence from St Erkonwald's Abbey at Barking to St Giles at Camberwell.

Wrapped in his black bearskin cloak, Harold was in the doorway the night long, moving amongst the London crowds. Be-shawled, hooded, their plain home-spun snow covered, the townsfolk filed by to gaze down on the stark white face of the dead King, crossing themselves, curious, wondering, shedding tears.

Men went to prepare the burial place before the altar and light streamed forth from the gaunt windows of the Abbey-Church, each pane of glass seeming to scatter crushed jewels on the deep snow.

They say that the omens are lucky for Earl Harold! whispered Eadwy the monk. They say…

And Archbishop Stigand, blowing on frost nipped fingertips, answered, Never you mind about who says what! You keep your mind on your prayers, my lad. You have just missed a paternoster!

*

During the long night lyke-wake candles had burned in houses and churches along the river in the tiny chapels and grottoes spanning London Bridge and Tyburn Bridge and in the villages and the walled Town. Masses were said. Prayers offered. And it was scarcely half light, the Hour of Matins and Lauds on the Feast of the Epiphany, when the funeral procession left the Palace.

The King's body, packed with aromatics and resins, was wrapped in woollen bindings and shrouded with a rich pall, his face still uncovered, but his head bound with a coif. Following behind came the Earls Harold and Gyrth and Leofwine, then Eadwine and Morkere, flanked by the Marshals and King's Thanes and Bishops and the priests vested for Requiem and the black robed monks.

And so the bells continued to toll and the snow to drift, and afterwards crowds were to flock to the first of the royal shrines in the Abbey-Church. Miracles were to be rumoured. The crutches of the lame cured of their affliction were seen to hang from the door post there. Also the waxen images of hands and feet their ailments healed, nailed to the walls. Lepers were made clean. Money was given to the poor for their prayers and Masses offered for King Edward's soul for three hundred days. Meanwhile the kitchens were busy boiling mutton flanks with worts and baking bread. Later there would be ox joints to be roasted on spits and the cutting of the big salt and honeyed hams and the making of rich, savoury puddings and the apple tarts for after the pig. Thus the meats and their tracklements prepared for the funeral would also do to furnish the coronation feast.

*

Gytha, Countess of the West Saxons, looked up and beholding her second-born son on the threshold of her bower, stooping beneath the lintel, said: The Witanagemot are meeting.

Harold was back from the Abbey, cold and bone-weary and chary of words. His eyes were gritty from lack of sleep. His belly craved food yet he was without any appetite. Lumps of snow clung to the cross-garters of his trousers. He said, What chance the Aetheling?

None, answered the Countess. Fear not. His youth is against him.

Harold sat down on the settle then, weary beyond speech, and could think only of how they'd buried the King with his feet facing the rising sun. Of how every fastening of his shroud and been loosened and all the pins removed as well as the string binding his feet.

But even as Harold tried to doze, the shadow of Wulfnoth, still captive in Normandy, fell betwixt him and sleep. What of his freedom now? What of his safety? Harold wondered if his mother blamed him, held him responsible for all that had come to pass. He had seen little of her or indeed any of his kinfolk since Tostig's outlawing. He knew that they grieved, especially the Countess. That her third-born son should not have come to say farewell .

*

Tostig. King Edward. Who could have foreseen the losing of them both within months? Not Aldwyth. Her position, her counsel-power – what would become of them? Not for the first time did she feel hatred for women with wombs that had borne child-fruit. The swords bequeathed for her offspring still lay rusting in a chest in her bower. Thus clad in holy veils she said to Njal Uggarsson, When Harold is King you'll swear fealty to him?

And Njal had answered simply, Aye, my lady.

Aldwyth's heart forbade her. It would be thus with Heardwyn. Everywhere all men of the same mind.

Bleakly the Queen went in unto Edward the Exile's family and said, I hold much land in Wessex. The City of Winchester was my dower. I shall be returning there ere long. Would it please you to come?

Muffled up in rich fur-lined mantles, Princess Agatha said, But what of my son?

The Witanagemot is Harold's. Even now he kneels washed and stripped and shriven before Walburgh the Myrrh-Giver as she anoints him as King-Elect and binds on the Chrisom cloth.

And thus to Princess Agatha, looking about her as the preparations for the coronation went ahead it seemed that there was no more to say.

The loss of a Kingdom mattered little then to Eadgar the Aetheling set against the rich earthy pleasures he had shared with Harold. Ah, but yes, had not the Earl of Wessex taught him to ride, to hunt and to fly that new Welsh hawk? Had he not promised to bequeath to him his books on falconry? And had it not been that giant of a man with the gentle, calloused hands who had bandaged his bloody knee and held his head when he'd been sick from eating too many green Kentish plums? I have no wish to leave Westminster, your Majesty, said Edgar to Queen Aldwyth.

Nor I, said Margaret.

Queen Aldwyth looked at her slantwise. It will avail you naught to stay. Harold has other plans.

But he gave the old King his word that he would care for the foreign folk and dependents in his keeping. Earl Harold would not break it.

What is it that you seek, pretty maid? A place in Harold's bed? And Aldwyth was rewarded with seeing the hot blood rise in Margaret's cheeks. You cannot befool me. I know. Why, I have seen you look at him with a woman's eyes. O, but surely have you not heard that he will soon be taking Eahlswith, sister of Eadwine and Morkere Aelfgarsson for his bride?

The Songster's Tale

To hear Hwita Clatter-Clogs tell of the crowning of Harold Godwinesson was to be there. For Hwita the day had been full of music. And he had tried to capture the sounds before they fled, to pluck the notes that hung in the air before him, storing them in the sound-box of his harp and to sing of them, weaving them like jewels into his story.

From the massive organ blaring forth in all its gilded glory from the Abbey-Church to the sacred chanting of plain-song and chorale by the priests and monks; and from the psaltery and tabors to the rotes and pipes in the streets.

And at Little-Bethlehem-of-the-Rushes they listened spellbound. They thought him a wizard with words. They praised his songs. The mead flowed. He had the hall in his pocket that night.

Rushes were laid at his feet so that he might walk dry-shod over the snow. And the women kissed him! Eh, dear hearts! What a sight it was! And all the people – past counting! Hwita paused then to drain his mug and it was gladly filled again.

What was the like of his robes? whispered Darryl.

Purple, lad – Tyrian they called it – all woven through with beaten gold and of the most wondrous seen! The length and span of them foursquare and double their breadth and fastened with ouches and rings of gold!

What was the crown like? whispered Wynter, his arm about his wife and his young son on his lap.

You couldn't see it for the gems!

Who put it on his head? This from Young Leofsi.

Ealdred of York who asked that the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost be bestowed upon him.

And what did he swear? said Einar Rain-Foe, stirred by it all, though loath to admit it.

Hwita Clatter-Clogs took a deep breath. He bound himself by great oaths to preserve peace. Peace for the church and for the people he ruled. To forbid harm and greed and hurt to folk of every rank. To be the Keeper of the Angelcynn. Then the Earls knelt to him, one by one, and put their hands betwixt his and swore the oath to serve him and to bear his ash.

And it was Lilla the Chaplain who spoke up then from the other side of the hearth. Do they love him, d'you think?

Aye, said Hwita Clatter-Clogs stopping to think back on the Abbey-Church with its doors flung open wide and of the hundreds who'd thronged it, whether in velvet or goat skin, silken hose or tattered coats, while without the bells had pealed to the bright blue winter sky. Carried away by his own eloquence the tears had been spilling down Hwita's cheek. He wiped them away and said, Aye, they love him, right enough!

From the Epiphany to the Feast of St Bede and the Passion Tide

The news from England had been quick to reach Normandy and William the Duke had felt a loss of face keenly before his court.

His half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, stroked his favourite peregrine's hooded and plumed head. So they have their King, what of it? He was chosen and crowned by the English in all sanctity. The Bishop had thick coal black brows that met above a large, fleshy nose. His eyes were coal black also. His ripe red mouth curved upward into a secret smile. He was enjoying his kinsman's discomfort.

It was promised to me!

Odo snorted, By the Ethelredsson? Ha! You know as well as I do that the old Wiseacre liked to have men for his chess pieces. He was guying you. It amused him to do so.

But William paid the Bishop no heed. For fourteen years he had let it be known to friend and foe alike that he expected England as his inheritance. His right. His neighbours knew of his expectations also, and the people of his own Duchy. How could he now endure the taunts of Anjou, Ponthieu, Aquitaine – the new King of France? The contempt of his Barons? The gossip of the field workers by the Seine? The wagging tongues of Rouen?

*

Harold wore the crown on the Feast of St Distaff's Day and gave rings. His grip on England was stronger than ever. As was custom he had been loudly acclaimed by the crowds on Ludgate Hill on the day after his coronation. Sussex and Wessex and Middlesex and Essex were already his and always had been, solid at his back, as was the Isle of Wight and the whole of Kent, the ancient Kingdom of the Cantware. And Countess Godgyfu, by giving him her voice at the Witanagemot and counselling Eadwine to do the same had since brought him all of Mercia and the lands of the East Angles as well. Aye, but what of Northumbria? Thus once more did the Earls Eadwine and Morkere speak in the moot chamber of the need for a peace-weaving between the Houses of Godwine and Leofric.

I must go among them. Harold said to Eadgyth ere he knelt on the rushes at her feet. Hangings of combed wool dyed in old rich colours shut out the wintry dark. So that they should come to know me for who I am. That I mean to do right by them. I'll be taking Modred Cild and the hearth-troop. Also Abbot Wulfstan rides with us.

And the Mercian maid is to weave the peace?

Harold nodded. He did not look at Eadgyth as he said, The Witanagemot have given their blessing.

Where will you wed her?

In York.

Though it had all been agreed upon never the less he could not easily forget the righteous anger kindling in the eyes of his two eldest sons Godwine and Edmund when they'd found out he had agreed to marry Earl Aelfgar's daughter. Godwine, who had lately inherited thane-lands in Somerset, had taken it upon himself to do the talking and with the three of them crowded into Eadgyth's small bower at Nazeing there'd been scarce enough room to turn round and her reeds used for winding thread had been trampled under foot. Though not yet finished growing the boys were already chin high to Harold and he felt his heart swell fit to burst with pride at the sight of them. He let them say what they would. He let them hurl untruths and to rail against him, offering no defence of himself. Until at last Eadgyth, retrieving her amber-whorled spindle from among the floor rushes, had rebuked her sons with – Do not speak thus to your father! And thereafter bade them to hold their peace.

But much later when the fires were banked and the house-hold slumbered Eadgyth had suffered Harold to thrust deep and long in her womb, giving of his seed, and she'd clung to his massive, heaving shoulders and shed bitter tears.

*

When Tostig had received the news of Harold's crowning his first thoughts were of his lost Earldom. He said to his Countess, Perhaps he'll help me to get my lands back!

Though Count Baldwin's knights had been instructed to obey Tostig in all things as they would the Count himself still the court of Flanders held nothing for him. Harold always had something up his sleeve! I know him of old!

O, do not fret for those lands, Tostig. They have cost us dear enough already! Judith's heart forbade her as watched him begin to pace the chamber, his brain a fast weaving snare. She said, Hasn't my father provided well enough for you? You are Castellan of St Omer.

Marshal of a stinking fish port? That's a bloody lot of good to me! What care I for the tolls on silks and parrot birds?

Hurt, Judith forbore to remind him of the fine house and estate Count Baldwin had given them for their use. Also the generous allowance he had settled upon them. She said, Will death and trouble always follow like beggars snapping at our heels? O, why cannot we live here in peace? And as tears were ever near in those days Judith began to weep.

Turning to look at her Tostig's heart smote him. He dropped on his knees at her side. I'm sorry! he said, Truly! Ah, Judith, forgive me! He mopped at her tears. You think I am day-dreaming, do you not, when I plan to reclaim my Earldom? O, I know full well that Harold won't help me, I was mazed a moment to believe that he would. He wanted to be rid of me. I understand that now.

Then back it came, the low, dark anger in his voice. Judith felt him stiffen. He was looking up at her with that queer glassing of his blue eyes that she'd often noticed of late and come to dread. He could see the tiny gold cross winking at her breast on its thin chain.

Why do ye always wear that? A paltry thing and never the necklets I gave you? Because it was a gift from Harold? And he broke the chain, tossing it among the floor rushes. Women! he spat out the word. They're all alike!

*

And so it was that a joyous Eahlswith, Aelfgar's daughter, did conceive by Harold on the night of the Bride-Ale and his Morning-Gift to her were lands and jewels of much worth that pleased her greatly. But thinking to have her lord to herself she took it ill that he should leave her so soon in order to hold moot in far flung settlements and oversee defences.

Whereupon Earl Eadwine answered, You have the King's baby in your belly. You can ask for no more.

Save maybe to be crowned Queen, said Morkere. As the Earls of Mercia and Northumbria sat drinking ale in the great Hall of Splendid Hangings they took counsel of each

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