Excerpt: Here Must We Hold

Here’s an excerpt from my story Here Must We Hold in Trouble in the Wind: I hope you all enjoy it.

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Wulfstan, son of Ceola, waited for the tide to ebb so blood could flow.

Across Panta Channel, on Northey Island, Danes lined the shore waving axes, swords, and spears, yelling curses mostly carried away by the freshening breeze from the shore. At low tide, a causeway connected Northey Island with the mainland just southeast of the town of Maldon. Northern raiders preferred such islands because they needed only a small guard to protect their ships.

“They say there are nearly a hundred ships,” hissed Godric, Odda’s son.

“So?”

“That’s at least three thousand warriors!”

“And there’s three thousand fyrd with us, not including our brother thegns and all the house-carls of Essex.”

Godric looked in amazement. “They’re but farmers. Hardly a byrnie amongst them and all they bear are cheap spearheads on ash-wood poles.”

“Then those of us who have taken rings from Byrhtnoth must fight all the better.” Wulfstan strode forward to the edge of the causeway, leaving Godric behind.

Byrhtnoth, son of Byhrthelm, Ealdorman of Essex, already waited at the edge. Two hands and more greater than six feet, with hair white as a swan, he looked down at his newest thegn. “Do you think you can hold against them all at the water’s edge, boy?”

Wulfstan considered the causeway, then shook his head. “No, lord. I’ll need two others.”

The ealdorman laughed. “Very well. Aelfhere and Maccus, you stand with the boy.”

“As long as he does all the work,” said Aelfhere. “I’m too old for this.”

“As am I,” said Maccus with a matching grin.

One of the Danes, shorter, broader, but with lithe, quick steps moved forward and sent a blast from a horn across the channel. With all eyes upon him, he yelled, “You! The tall one with the white hair. Are you the Byrhtnoth we’ve heard of?”

The ealdorman stepped to the channel’s edge. “I am. And who are you?”

“Olaf, son of Tryggvi, jarl of these men.” He gestured at the host behind him. “As you can see, they thirst for the fight.” He smiled. “However, if you send us rings of gold and hauberks of steel then we’ll see no need for the spear-rush. Indeed, a day as beautiful as this is one for sailing. If you give us these gifts, we’ll grant a truce and then enjoy the wind and spray of the sea.”

“Of you I’ve heard, and I’ve no doubt of your word. Here is my answer.” Byrhtnoth grasped his shield and lifted his spear. “Spears of ash we shall give you, and swords of steel as well, yet only their edges and their points. Tell your folk that here stands a good earl with loyal thegns and the fyrd about him. To our king, Aethelred, we have sworn oaths, and this land we shall defend no matter that we may fall.”

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