A heart-stopping crack tore through the quiet woodland air. Breya toppled down from her seat, as if the earth had dropped away beneath her. As she tumbled towards the decaying leaves and roots of the forest track, Breya saw the housecarl dive clear. Hard ground slammed into her side and she felt the air being hammered out of her chest.
“Hell and damn it!” The housecarl shouted as his heavy frame landed with nimble ease on his steady feet. “How’s that for bad luck?”
Breya staggered upright and looked at what he was showing her, one hand massaging her bruised ribs. The wheel of their wain had snapped, broken clean through. A number of its rough-hewn spokes lay in splinters at her feet.
“You were running the nag too hard.” She said, unsurprised and keen not to show her pain. “This wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t so careless.”
The old mare tossed its head as if in agreement, glad that blame had not been laid at its hooves. But the housecarl rounded on Breya, white-hot fury in his eyes. His tight lips drew up in a snarl and his arms shook.
“Woman, don’t you put this on me.”
They were interrupted suddenly, their attention drawn in opposite directions. Breya started as something clattered against the side of the wain. A silver cross tipped out from beneath the canvas covering and stuck in the dark Saxon mulch. Words had been etched on its face in gaudy, scrolling script. William, Duke of Normandy. It read in the Frankish tongue. King of England.
A second clamour through the trees, the thunder of heavy hooves against root and earth. The housecarl squinted into the forest gloom, backing away towards the trees. Breya stepped forwards, cursing herself as she did. What in God’s name am I doing? She grabbed his hand in her thick, strong fingers and shook his arm.
“Where are you going, warrior?” She demanded. “Those are English treasures, for English churches. The Normans robbed them from goodly people and we’ll give them back. Will you run again? Will you turn coward again, king-killer?”
Something more terrible than the man’s anger, more horrifying than the sound of Norman knights hunting them down. She saw a tear prick the corner of the bearded warrior’s eye. He shook his head, as if to drive out fear, and turned his face skywards. A scarred hand rose and drew the hood of his cloak up over his matted hair, throwing his features into shadow.
“I’ll not have Harald’s spirit see what’s to be done now.” He whispered, and then turned back to face Breya. “I’ll not suffer Norman hands to grasp English coin, nor Frankish boots on Saxon soil.” He drew his sword and stepped out into the middle of the track. “Take the treasure away, as much of it as you can carry. See it goes to those that need it. Aye, and leave me here. But take one more thing with you. Take my name to tell our people.”
“Your name, housecarl?”
“You know me by that name, but I’m Robin before my Lord and my king.”
“Aye, Robin who wears the hood. Robin that fears to show his face. Go. Now!”
Find Part 1 here.