Working on a title.

svalbard

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This is a tentative start to a story about the last days of Saxon England. It will be told through the eyes of an ancient warrior through his memories as he prepares for one final battle.





My name is old. It harks back to an age of heroes, when gods walked amongst us mere mortals. I have lived through days of blood, stood side by side with men of renown, laughed at the face of Death and lived. Love I have known and wept at the passing of it. In my youth I sailed with the great Knut to the land of the Danes. Once my name was feared, maybe it still is? For I am old now with limbs withered from the onslaught of time. Old I say, ancient is how some call me. I heard a priest call me ‘Father Time’ the other day. I cursed him.

I was born on the day of the battle of Maldon. That terrible day when the Norsemen slaughtered the brave men of the ealdorman Brythnoth. He was old too. I think he looked for his death. It was not courage, but a fear of dying in his bed, stinking of **** that made him stand against that fearsome host. That year was 991 as the priests call it. It is now the year 1066 as they would reckon time. Seventy-five years have I lived. This might very well be my last one.

Tomorrow I go off to war again. My sons and their sons will march at my side. Once more I will fight. Hrothgar, housecarle to six different kings will once more wield his axe and again I will laugh at Death. I think Death will laugh back at me. There is much noise about me. Men are shouting, they all look tired, undecided. I can see King Harold surrounded by his great lords. He looks angry. All day he has fended off arguments from his men about fighting this William of Normandy. ‘Wait!’ They tell him. ‘Why not gather in more strength.’ Harold is having none of it. He is still flush with his victory over the Norsemen at Stamford Bridge. I can understand this. Harold has slain one great ruler in Harald Hardrada and now wants to finish off this upstart William.

My limbs are stiff from sitting and hall is stifling. I can feel my eyes becoming heavy and men around the king are beginning to fade. I can just make out the figure of Harold’s brother, Gyrth standing in front of him. He is shouting too, his hand gesticulating in frustration. An intelligent man Gyrth and not one to be ignored. I am drifting and another scene is appearing before my eyes…
 

chopper

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ey up sir, good to see you around again.
this is a decent piece, excellently written, though i have to admit i've never been a great fan of first-person narratives. i think you've got under the character's skin and portrayed him well enough for the reader to easily visualise him.
i'd only point to one part of it:
Once my name was feared, maybe it still is?
in later sentences the narrator readily admits his best years are long gone; would it be in character for him to muse that now people fear his sons, or that they sing songs of his deeds as though he were already dead?

as always, top class

s
 

TheEndIsNigh

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I'm not too sure 75 years would justify the 'father time' title.

If it did is it likely that one so described would be slipping into his arnour and galavanting of to war as a fighter. Basically I agree with Chopper here.

I was expecting someon a lot older than 75 from the first paragraph what with the mention of gods withering and ancient.
 

svalbard

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Thanks chopper. I have being busy at work. Got bloody well promoted and found that I have had little time to do the things I enjoy. Real life sucks!

TheEndIsNigh,

Yes 75 does not sound old to us now. Yet back in the day I think it would be considered ancient. I take your point though and might make him older. I will have to research another starting point than 991AD that will fit in with the story.

Now I need to do some reading on this site. I noticed a lot of new material last night. Hope it is good!
 

ysabara

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Hello svalbard:). Just took a quick look at this but it is up to your usual excellent standard. So, are you starting something new? What's happened with the other pieces you've been working on?
 

chopper

Steven Poore - Epic Fantasist & SFSF Socialist
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Got bloody well promoted and found that I have had little time to do the things I enjoy. Real life sucks!
what the lord giveth, the lord taketh away......

been there, got the straw-hatted donkey!
(except the promoted bit).

s
 

MKG

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Good start. But I have to echo what's been said already about age. Life expectancy in the tenth and eleventh centuries was 35 years. At 40, a warrior would have been considered lucky to be alive. At 50, he would have been considered well past it (and he would probably have agreed). A 75-year old man would have been of miraculous age and would not have even considered (or been considered for) inclusion as a fighting man in an army. And, as Harold shot off immediately after Stamford Bridge to get to Hastings (done in a remarkably quick time), your old man was in for one hell of a long ride (and Anglo-Saxon horses were neither big nor fast), or even walk, to get there on time.

It is extremely unlikely that anyone except the king and his immediate entourage who fought at Stamford Bridge also fought at Hastings - a new army was mustered on the King's journey southward (which is partly the reason why he went via Lincoln - the long way round).

"I can see King Harold surrounded by his great lords."

If your hero was to be at both battles, he must have been one of those great lords and he would have been there in an advisory capacity only.

Sorry to be seemingly pedantic - but you did say that your scenario was late Anglo-Saxon England.
 

ctg

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Svalbard, I hope you give him a good name that really portrays his thoughts. I have a question for you. The last piece was written in third person, so why the change and do you find first person easier to write?
 

TheEndIsNigh

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what the lord giveth, the lord taketh away......

been there, got the straw-hatted donkey!
(except the promoted bit).

s
Would that be the reality, the life or the sucking you're talking about.

Any of the three sounds like bad news. though given the short time we all have left life won't really make a big impact.

Unless my work with the monkeys bears fruit.
 

Peter Graham

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Hi Svalbard,

Congratulations on the promotion!

Excellent stuff, as usual. I think that the scene-building and central tension is even tighter here than in some of your previous work - better still, the reader is not lost in a slew of difficult-to-pronounce names.

A few observations, if I may...


My name is old. It harks back to an age of heroes, when gods
Would he not say something like "the old gods?"

walked amongst us mere mortals. I have lived through days of blood, stood side by side with men of renown, laughed at the face of Death and lived. Love I have known and wept at the passing of it. In my youth I sailed with the great Knut to the land of the Danes. Once my name was feared, maybe it still is?
I'm not sure you need a question mark here. I think he's really making a statement rather than asking a question.

For I am old now with limbs withered from the onslaught of time. Old I say, ancient is how some call me.
"Old, I say, although others call me ancient." Just seems to run a bit better. the comma in the original doesn't look quite right.


I was born on the day of the battle of Maldon. That terrible day when the Norsemen slaughtered the brave men of the ealdorman Brythnoth. He was old too. I think he looked for his death. It was not courage, but a fear of dying in his bed, stinking of **** that made him stand against that fearsome host. That year was 991 as the priests call it
Reckon it?


Tomorrow I go off to war again. My sons and their sons will march at my side. Once more I will fight. Hrothgar
Hrothgar is a distinctly Norse name. If our hero is a Saxon, he's much more likely to have an English name.

, housecarle to six different kings will once more wield his axe and again I will laugh at Death. I think Death will laugh back at me. There is much noise about me. Men are shouting,
Semi colon or dash?


they all look tired, undecided. I can see King Harold surrounded by his great lords.
You've already used "housecarl" and "ealdorman", so I'd drop "lords" and go with "thegns".

He looks angry. All day he has fended off arguments from his men about fighting this William of Normandy. ‘
This sounds like the hero doesn't really know much about William of Normandy. There had, as I recall, been a big hoo-ha about the succession, so William of Normandy (or "William the Bastard" as he was known by Harold's side as a means of underlining his poor claim to the throne) would be well known to those of Harold's circle.


Wait!’ They tell him. ‘Why not gather in more strength.’
Question mark.



I rather agree with MKG that 75 is extremely old for a fighting man, although average life expectancy is something of a red herring, as infant mortality drives down the average. My understanding was that if you got past 12 or so, you had a reasonable prospect of seeing 60. So 75 is not inconceivable, although it would be rare. I suppose that if he is a housecarl, he will be bound to Harold by oaths of fealty which might mean that he still turns out to fight.


If your hero was to be at both battles, he must have been one of those great lords and he would have been there in an advisory capacity only.
Less sure I agree with this. The housecarls would have been with Harold as part of his entourage at both battles and were not necessarily great men in their own right. Nearly all of them died at Hastings as I believe that they refused to desert Harold's body.

My suspicion is that most of the great lords would have been leading from the front in any event.

A strong piece of writing - look forwards to reading more.

Regards,

Eggfroth of the Westmeringas
 

MKG

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"The housecarls would have been with Harold as part of his entourage at both battles and were not necessarily great men in their own right"

Agreed - that's what I meant when I said "immediate entourage". But this man as described is obviously not a part of that - "All day he has fended off arguments from his men about fighting this William of Normandy. ‘Wait!’ They tell him. ‘Why not gather in more strength.’ "

Therefore he is either a lowly fighting man or he is a leader of such men, liable to be called upon for the muster, but not necessarily called upon to take any physical part in the battle himself. The shield wall was a hard place to be, and no-one would have wanted to put a weak link into it merely for the sake of honour or seniority. Our old man was much more likely to have been at Stamford Bridge because of his long tactical experience rather than the strength of his arm.

It is known that Harold (himself of Danish extraction, by the way - Godwinson) did call a second muster on his way south - at Lincoln, at London, and, no doubt, from the southern counties. Not all of those called turned up at Hastings because Harold did not enjoy universal support - he was, rightly or wrongly, regarded by some as a usurper. But he didn't know that they wouldn't be there, so there is every reason to suppose that he expected a fresh and complete army to turn up in the south and so would have dismissed those who had fought at Stamford Bridge.

So, given that the hero WAS at Stamford Bridge, there would have to be a compelling reason for him to turn up at Hastings. His tactical experience may provide that reason, but it also makes him one of Harold's trusted advisors and therefore a member of said immediate entourage - and hence a great lord. He may have had humble beginnings, certainly. He may not have begun life as a lord at all. But if he has survived a fighting life to reach the age of 75 and STILL attend battles, I think it probably safe to say that the king has raised him to the aristocracy (perfectly allowable under Anglo-Saxon law).

I suppose that all of that is a long-winded way of saying that if he'd been an ordinary soldier, he would simply have gone home after Stamford Bridge and let other, nearer, fighters take the load at Hastings.

Back to the story, then. What I was saying that either the hero should be placed closer to the king, or there needs to be another reason entirely (a non-military one?) for him to travel to the south coast.

Having just re-read that lot, I'm not at all sure if I've made it clearer or further muddied the waters.
 

Peter Graham

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Hi MKG,

You clearly know your onions and I don't doubt that what you say is right. But (unless I'm misreading it) the hero expressly tells us that he is a housecarl and therefore he could easily have been at both battles:-

Once more I will fight. Hrothgar, housecarle to six different kings will once more wield his axe and again I will laugh at Death.
I see him as being one of the Ludds - there to protect Harold as part of his bodyguard, but not a great lord whom Harold would consult over matters of strategy.

Anyhow, it's a good piece and I agree that if our hero is a bit old and creaky to be bashing Normans with his scramasax, he needs a motivation to be at Hastings. Although it wouldn't take much of an edit to have him not being at Stamford Bridge and to be saying his piece at one of the southward musters which you talk about.

Regards,

Grendel's Great Uncle Peter
 

MKG

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You're absolutely right - I hadn't read the Hrothgar passage correctly - he is a housecarl. In which case he should be riding south with Harold. So now my only valid point is his advanced age - too old, I feel, to hold that function.
 

Peter Graham

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Hi MKG,

I've been reading back through the thread, and I wondered if I might pick your historical brain? In an earlier post, you said that going via Lincoln would have been something of a detour for Harold. Was there a quicker route south from York than going via the old Ermine Street? I only ask because Dark Ages history is a great interest of mine and I've always wondered how much roadbuilding there was in the late Saxon period that went beyond the very local.

You seem like the chap who might well have the answer!

Regards,

Peter
 

svalbard

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Sorry about the late reply on this.

Some good stuff above and it leaves me with plenty to ponder upon. The character does not fight at Stamford Bridge, just to clear that up and has just come out of 'retirement' to join Harold. His pressence is explained by a previous deed he has done for Harold and Harold is not one of the six kings he has served as a housecarle. Hrothgars' sons are also highly placed in Harold's bodyguard.

Although he is not a great lord his past actions have won Hrothgar some fame and riches. Age is a problem, especially in this period of history, but I wanted a character who has lived through this very exciting period of history in the British Isles. One more thing about him and Peter picked it up. The character is not a Saxon. Thanks for the responses and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.
 

MKG

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Peter - I'll PM you about that route - it's really irrelevant to this thread. You'll probably enjoy the answer.
 

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