Before there was the novel, there were the stories...

by Nan Hawthorne, who also writes under Christopher Hawthorne Moss, Books and Stories b ChristopherHawthorne Moss at

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Stories: Assault on a Bridge (Happened)

Site of the Anglo Saxon bridge
near Cromwell as it looks today.

30 June 769 AD at the bridge near Cromwell

The enemy camp woke to the sound of chain mail links jingling, whetstones against iron and steel blades, and the excited voices of armed men across the Trenta. Nor did they wake in early dawn's light but while the moon still shone weakly on the flowing water of the river. They hastened to obey the urgent orders of their commanders to don their armor and weapons and to grab their shields and gather in the flat field that was bisected by the old Roman road. The sentries on the bridge were doubled and all stood alert as they waited for the army of Críslicland to assault the one and only bridge on the river.

On the east side of the bridge silhouetted against the fires of the army's camp were more figures of men at arms than could be counted. The sound of horses whinnying and nickering drifted across the water. The tattoo of marching feet could be heard through the dark. Then there was silence. As the revel army waited, they could hear, amplified by the still morning air, the voice of King Lawrence as he addressed his soldiers. His voice was strong and clear, reaching every man's ears on both sides of the bridge, commanding courage or fear as the heart of each man greeted it.

"Men of Crísllicland and those who come in friendship to aid our cause, hearken to me now on the brink of war! We did not seek this fight. It was thrust upon us by knaves who seek to take what is not theirs, the sovereignty of our beloved Queen's homeland.

"We have not sought this fight, but fight we must, for villainous men have brought sword and fire to the innocent in the impious claim that they seek to wrest the land of Affynshire from its conquerors. Believe they that the people of this beautiful land have forgotten that their royal lords have given its pastor ship to that noble Queen and to me, her husband?

"We stand here now on the river's edge not because we seek to conquer, but because we seek to liberate our beloved lady's land from those who would strip it of its gold, of its crops, of its honor invoking the name of the very people they will steal from.

"We did not seek this fight but we must bring sword and axe to this peaceful land because our lady, our beloved Queen herself is stolen from us by these perfidious and greedy men, raiders, pirates, criminals, outlaws.

"Nay, my good friends, we did not ask for this fight but we are equal to it. We rejoice in it. We shall come victorious from it, for we are in the right! We have God's own avenging sword at our backs.

"Fight with me this day, my friends, for the honor of my lady's land, and for her, for her children who wait for her in their nursery, wondering who it is who has robbed them of her. Fight for your Queen, my friends, and let us bring her home safely. Then let us kill these brigands who dare to touch her blessed home.

"Men of Críslicland, friends, allies, men of good faith, will you fight with me today? Will you fight for the Queen of Críslicland? Will you fight for our honor?"

Shouts came back to him of "Aye!", "For the Queen!", "For honor!" and "Kill them!"

The enemy could only hear the voices, but men in the lines before the bridge saw the King, mounted and facing them, in his mail, his helm, with his longsword and shield. Tall, broad shouldered and strong, they also saw his smile. It was grim, fierce, but it was for them. And they cheered him as he held his sword aloft, saluting them.

As the first rays of dawn came from the east over the hills and wolds of Críslicland the enemy at last could see the avenging army. They saw men at arms in great number standing with shields overlapping at angles to the bridge on the left and the right. They saw more men at arms behind them, stretching as widely as could be seen along the river. And they saw the King and his commanders astride their warhorses, just out of bow shot. The commander of the men on the bridge called, "Stand fast, men. They cannot cross unless we let them."

In the next moments the sentries and men at arms on the bridge saw the King of Críslicland raise his sword above his head, then sweep it down in an arc. They braced for the rush of men at arms, but none came forward. Instead behind the men at arms came the song of bowstrings as the archers hidden behind them loosed their lethal missiles. Before the men on the bridge could react, many were pierced through with arrows, crying out with pain and surprise, dying,. Those who had not been hit looked shocked at the men lying around them on the ground and then fell themselves, killed by the loosing of the second round of arrows.

Before the commanders of the rebel forces could send more men at arms rushing onto the bridge to prevent them, the soldiers of Críslicland themselves moved forward. They deftly advanced from their angled lines where their own bodies and shields had hidden two lines of bowmen into lines of eight men across who came across the bridge, filling the roadway from side to side. While the enemy was yet waiting in their own shield wall, the lines of men reformed on the other side in lines to match them.

The first lines on either side were made up of the fiercest professional soldiers, experienced warriors who knew how to maintain a shield wall and to nevertheless cut down the enemy soldiers on the other army's lines. With each round thick iron-bossed shield overlapping its neighbors, right side over left, each soldier was backed by another who held his own shield above him to prevent the enemy from striking down on helms with their mighty battleaxes.

"Advance, advance, make room between your lines and the river bank," shouted the lord of Lincoln over the crash of sword on shield as men on both sides struck their own weapons on their shields to intimidate the other line. The rebel shield wall strove forward to prevent the advancing enemy from establishing that buffer between the water and their lines.

The rebels crashed their shields into the Críslicland shield wall with a fierce intensity. People in the camps on both sides heard the percussion of the blow of dozens of heavy ashwood shields on each other. The revel shields pushed the Críslicland shield wall back, but just a pace, as the superior numbers of the invading army provided weight to the force of advancing.

In the lines a soldier reached suddenly under his own shield to thrust his longsword up into the groin of an enemy. That man, screaming with pain, fell and was instantly replaced by the man behind him. That man then was protected overhead by the shield of the man in the third line. The fallen man remained on the ground, causing an obstacle for any soldier stepping forward. When a soldier made a hit, whether over his own shield or under, he had time then to strike out at the man who fought with the man on his own left or right. That man then defended him when he was sore pressed.

On both sides men hacked down on helms with axes, and were fended off with the iron ring that protected the rim of a shield from the blade. Or the axe might bite into a helm, cutting through into the skull and brains of the enemy soldier so struck.

Lawrence watched the battle with Edred from the peak of the arched bridge, scanning right and left to watch the flanks and center and send more men at arms where there were potential gaps. He pointed first to one spot and then to the other. He screamed commands to move forward, to keep the river well to the lines' backs, and conferred quickly with his commanders as they rode back and forth from where they shouted at the lines of men under their direction.

The King was confident of this battle, for while the enemy had more professional soldiers, mercenaries, mostly, his numbers including the fyrd were considerably larger. For every professional soldier in his liens that fell, he had four more men to move forward and take his place. He could see that this advantage would win the day as he saw the shield wall lines decrease in number on the enemy side while his own soldiers continued to stream across the bridge on either side of his horse.

The superior numbers of the King's army made it possible to push forward harder and harder. Though the occasional man would fall, either tripping over a body or receiving a successful cut from an enemy, they shoved forward. Farther and farther from the riverbank they moved, and Lawrence and Edred and their own house carls moved off the bridge and onto the soil of Affynshire.

The King's smile was grim as he watched some of the less experienced of the rebel soldiers, no doubt drawn from those who believed the conspirators' claims that the cause was to restore Celtic rule in the land, succumbed to the taunts and threats of his own soldiers and break the wall to rush forward to do single combat. When they did, they opened the wall and made the remaining men in the line vulnerable from the side and even the back. They could not mend the holes fast enough to stop the onrush of Críslicland's men. As more and more of the enemy fell some of the untried men began to break away and run. To run in battle in this time was to ensure death as they were chased down and hacked mercilessly.

Just as the enemy formed its last defense, there came a shout from beyond its right flank. The commanders of the rebel force turned in their saddles to see more forces coming from that direction. In the moments it took those newcomers to advance the commanders saw to their horror that they were not reinforcements coming to stem the flow of Críslicland soldiers into Affynshire but the soldiers commanded by Grantham's lord, Jehan, which had crossed the Trenta on a makeshift bridge many miles to the south and had crossed the land mostly unopposed by the heavily Saxon occupied farm and towns of the southeast. When they saw the soldiers coming to finish off their right flank from behind, the commanders either fled or surrendered.

Many men on both sides were killed, many more wounded, most of the rest of the enemy captured and sent back across the bridge into Críslicland as prisoners. Those among them with rich families would be ransomed. The rest were to be robbed of their meager treasures and weapons and sent far away to be held.

Lawrence still sat astride his horse, frowning at the casualties, but flushed with the almost easy success of the offensive. Since the day before when his anger was stimulated into focused hate, he had longed for the noise and stench of battle. It was all around him now, and he was glad. The day was his. The enemy was routed.

For now.

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About the author

Nan Hawthorne now writes under the name Christopher Hawthorne Moss. You can contact Christopher at .