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Breya let the armful of empty tankards she had been carrying clatter down onto the scuffed oak work surface at the back of the mead hall. With thick, calloused hands she straightened out the creases on her bright woolen skirts.
This is bad business if ever I saw it. Whoever he is, I’ll serve him quick and see him out the door before blood is spilled.
The housecarl stood in the doorway, letting the brittle wooden boards slam closed behind him. His eyes roamed through the crowd of patrons. Grizzled men old and young bundled beneath hooded cloaks and thick tunics let the clamor of a few moments before lull into silence.
Their harsh, pockmarked faces stared up at the newcomer. They wore expressions which were sufficiently hostile to convey a sense that he was not welcome, without inviting open violence.
No fighting. God, let there be no fighting today. It’s me who’ll have to wash their blood from the walls and fetch in fresh rushes.
This was the crucial moment. If the bearded housecarl with the shield across his back and sword on his hip saw the emblem of a rival house or the face of a man with whom he had a blood feud, all shades of hell would break loose.
‘Come inside, stranger. I’ll settle you by the fire,‘ Breya called.
Her voice was as mellow and inviting as a flagon of warm ale. It had been known to melt the frowns from the faces of harder men than he who stood in the doorway. The housecarl was satisfied anyway, seeing no enemies among the throng.
He gave a reassuring nod to the hall’s occupants and moved carefully between them. A clumsy foot stepping on the wrong toe would be another reason for blood to fly. One old hand, a farmer with a brood of grandchildren to thank the Lord for and who had seen his share of wars, stepped into the warrior’s path.
No blood. Not today.
‘What news is there from the king, housecarl?‘ he asked.
Breya gasped. It was a treasonous, ungodly thing to say. The fact that it was one of King Harold’s own household knights who had said it made the words all the more appalling. She quite forgot her task of guiding him to his stool and stood in dumb, open-mouthed astonishment. Harold Godwinson, King of England by the grace of God.
‘What’s that, lord?‘ the farmer asked. ‘Isn’t there a king in England no more?‘
‘Aye, there is,‘ the housecarl replied, giving a feral sneer as he pushed past the old man and dropped onto a stool at the fireside. ‘But he’s no English king, and no king of mine.‘
The old hand shook his weathered head and shuffled back to his table. His friends immediately set their brows together and began to raise a hum of concerned muttering. Breya leaned over the housecarl’s shoulder and placed a warm flagon in his hand.
Leave it be. She told herself. You don’t know him. This isn’t your concern. Hold your tongue and keep your head.
‘Has their been a battle, sir?‘ she asked. Curiosity, the bane of all honest folk.
He looked up at her. Except he did not. His eyes stared past her to something a hundred leagues away which haunted the core of his soul.
‘There’s been a battle, aye. Harold’s killed and we’re all to serve a Norman king now. So fetch me a platter of pie and I’ll be on my way.‘
A lie. Let it be a lie. I won’t believe it.
But there was no deceit in the housecarl’s cold eyes. Only sorrow and grim resignation.
‘Where will you go?‘ Breya asked.
‘Wherever there’s work for a sword and coin to pay for it. I’m a man without a master now, and that’s hardly a man at all.‘
It was the sound which all feared to hear. The tolling of the bells could mean many things, none of them good. They signaled death in the parish. Plague. War. Countless other catastrophes.
When men heard them without prior warning, it always meant the same thing. They should leave whatever work occupied them, gather their wives and children, and barricade themselves inside their homes.
‘There it is,‘ the housecarl bellowed from his seat by the fire. ‘Scurry away, church mice. Your master has come and your maker isn’t far behind.’
His words were accompanied by brassy clangs which echoed through the rafters of the mead hall. Patrons upturned stools and benches in their haste to rise.
What’s happening? Where should I go? To the church? No, it won’t be safe there.
There was a great exodus moving towards the narrow doorway, which soon became a bottleneck as men tried to force their way through it two at a time. Fists flew and curses crackled in the muggy air of the tavern.
Only two figures did not stir. The first was the housecarl, who continued to sip at his ale and watch the commotion with cruel amusement curling at the corner of his mouth. The other was Breya. She remained rooted by fear and uncertainty at the warrior’s shoulder.
‘Aren’t you going to run, little church mouse?‘ the housecarl asked.
‘I’ve nowhere to go.‘ she replied.
He looked up at her, his wide jaw set in something which could have been pity or concern. Then he twisted his neck and spat into the glowing red embers of the hearth. Any worries he had harbored for her safety flew away in that glob of spittle, now hissing on the bright coals.
‘Nobody to care for the lowly serving girl, eh? Aye, that’s a shame. Come closer and we’ll pass our last moments in lovers’ bliss.‘
The housecarl wrapped a strong arm cased in iron links around Breya’s waist and drew her with efficient force onto his lap. She shrieked in shock, provoking a loud guffaw to erupt from behind his dark beard.
Keep his tongue moving. She warned herself. Keep him talking and his lips parted.
‘Why are these our last moments?‘ she cried.
‘Those bells signal the coming of our new masters, and they’re no friends of Saxons,‘ the housecarl looked at Breya’s long braid of straw-colored hair as he spoke. ‘They don’t care for a Norseman’s orphan brood either.‘
‘If we’re going to die then you shouldn’t handle me like this. You’ll go to Hell for it. It’s against the Lord’s commandments.‘
To her surprise, the threat seemed to work. The housecarl clapped his hands on her hips and lifted her onto her feet like she was little heavier than a bale of hay. He tossed his bark-brown hair and chuckled.
‘Will I go to Hell then? Is that what your Lord plans for me?‘
His words chilled Breya more than the thought of the strange invaders arriving in her village. He had called the Father your Lord. She could not believe that he was a man without faith, such a person could not exist.
‘Please,‘ she said. ‘Don’t say such things.‘
Her pleading was interrupted by a great commotion outside the mead hall. An animal was shrieking and snorting in anger. The wall of the tavern thundered as something thrashed against it and a man cried out in alarm.
‘What is it?‘ Breya asked.
‘No mind, they’ll just be stealing my horse.‘
She looked at the housecarl and felt bitterness kindle inside her. She wondered how he could so easily accept death. He was one of the king’s chosen men, she should have been safe with him.
God’s vengeance be upon your head, godless fiend.
‘If you have a horse then take me away. Save me from the Normans if they’re so wicked.‘
The housecarl rose and bent low to catch Breya’s ashen blue gaze with his. His eyes were blacker than smoke and carried the intense but faraway stare of a man who had seen twice his share of death.
‘Aye, they’re wicked enough to fill every circle of hell. If you could only have seen the glee with which they butchered noble King Harold and his bonny knights.‘
His gaze was severe and unflinching, but a twitch in the corner of his mouth told Breya that he mocked her. Before she was able to catch herself, the fire in her chest roared up and she slapped him across the cheek with the heel of her palm.
He did not flinch. The housecarl simply sucked in a deep breath, bent his knees and in a swift, fluid movement swung Breya up onto his shoulder like a sack of barley. She had no choice but to hang limp while he lumbered through the empty hall.
A rasp of metal and the sound of running feet announced that they had reached the doorway. In a moment, harsh sunlight was in her eyes and Breya found that she was perched on the back of a tangle-maned pony with a broad back and thick haunches.
‘There you are, my fierce church mouse,‘ the housecarl declared. ‘Now which direction will we be escaping in?‘
The housecarl reined in his steaming pony on the summit of a low hillock surrounded by muddy fields of tilled earth. As he and Breya dismounted, they heard the peaceful gurgle of an ambling brook on the far side of the mound. The man removed his helmet and set it on the saddle-horn.
‘Look there, lass,‘ the housecarl said. ‘That’ll be your new lord come to take possession of his lands.‘
They had already traveled some leagues from the hamlet where Breya had been born. An unwanted burden left on a herdsman’s daughter by a marauding Norseman. Outside the mead hall where she had worked her elbows raw atoning for the sins of her father, a man in shining armor gestured here and there from atop a proud black mare.
Even as men-at-arms and lowborn knights battered in the doors of Saxon hovels, Norman serfs with bows across their backs set about marking a great square on the village common with lengths of white-dyed rope.
‘What are those men doing?‘ Breya asked.
Her eyes were wide and appalled, having just born witness to the stable world she was brought up in spun around on its head. Everything in her life had fallen apart in what seemed like mere moments since the housecarl had brought news of King Harold’s defeat.
But the emerald hills and ancient trees of the landscape were unchanged by conquest. She clung to them like a drowning sailor to length of timber.
‘They’re preparing to build your new lord’s keep,‘ the Saxon warrior replied. ‘Why don’t you run down and ask whether he wants your whorehouse built beside his kennel or the soldiers’ barracks?‘
Boiling rage rumbled in the pit of Breya’s stomach. The housecarl had every right to call her bastard-born and a frightened church mouse. He had done so already. But she was no man’s dog or whore.
‘Aren’t we going to ride on before someone sees us?‘ she asked.
Breya had to concentrate all of her willpower on keeping her tongue civil. However vulgar the brute was, his sword was all that kept her from the suffering now being inflicted on her neighbors. She clenched her fists and dug sharp fingernails into her palms.
‘Is that how it is?‘ the housecarl asked. ‘Aye, you’ll be my wench and I’ll take you away on my horse, for a night or two. After that it’ll be you alone and me on my way. I’m married to this steel,‘ He patted the scabbard at his hip as he spoke. ‘And none other.‘
She could not help it, try as she might to resist the fury of the Norse heart which thundered in her chest. Breya snatched up the housecarl’s heavy iron helm and cracked its smooth, rounded top against the side of his skull.
‘I’ll not be your wench,‘ she spat.
The bearded warrior looked surprised, perhaps even amused for a moment. Then his legs went soft as lard and his eyes rolled up in his head. The links of his mail coat rattled as his tall body met the hard earth with a crash like a felled oak.
His mind’s been shaken loose, but he should awaken soon. If he doesn’t, I’ll be damned to eternal torment for his murder.
Breya hauled her tired body up into the saddle and kicked her heels into the pony’s flanks. They were soon throwing up great clods of earth as they cantered through the wild meadows bordering the stream. The beast’s thick neck and powerful body heaved beneath her, saliva forming a thick lather where the bridle bit the corners of its mouth.
If she had been thinking calmer thoughts, she might have wondered where she was going. The path she followed led only away, and that was no true bearing at all.
The housecarl sat up sharply with the thick odor of blood and screams of dying men still whirling about him. He had dreamed he was on the field at Hastings, but in sleep his legs had not been swift enough to carry him away from the butchers’ work.
With a hand hard-calloused from a life of the sword, the warrior felt along the pounding side of his head. His fingers came away damp with crimson blood. The serving girl had battered him to sleep and now he would see neither her nor his horse again.
Curse you, wench. If I catch sight of you again I’ll –
A soft neighing from the other side of the hill’s summit sent his hand reaching towards the scabbard at his belt. As though an apparition in some bard’s tall tale, Breya entered the clearing on the back of the pony. Her straw-colored braid swinging across her back and his sword gleaming in her hand.
‘That’s no kitchen knife you’re holding, church mouse,‘ the housecarl warned.
‘I’m no church mouse, villain,‘ she retorted. ‘I came back to see if you were alive. Now that I know I’m not damned by your murder, I’ll carry on my journey.‘
‘Get away, wench,‘ the man hissed.
But his sharp eyes were not fixed on her. His face was turned towards a great figure emerging from the gloom beneath the trees. It was the shape of a man atop a horse, but both were so entirely covered in burnished armor that he could not tell where mount ended and rider began.
The knight dipped his lance towards the figure hunched on the ground and looked about him. Breya saw the housecarl’s eyes were welling with unspoken horror and fear. She wondered what he had seen on the field at Hastings to put him in such terror of the foreign lord.
‘What devilry is this?‘ the knight asked in halting Saxon, the words thickened by his Norman tongue. ‘A warrior on his knees and a maiden on a horse?‘
Breya saw her chance. This was a sight no man ever thought to see, and the confusion it provoked might be her only shield.
‘We’re mummers, my lord. Would you care to see our play?‘
She dipped the housecarl’s sword in a half-mocking salute. Both men turned towards her with narrowed-eyed suspicion.
‘For a woman to take up a sword she must be possessed of the devil,‘ the knight said in a severe tone.
Throwing all caution to the wind, Breya kicked her pony towards the housecarl. She made a limp cut with the sword and its edge rang against the iron links across his breast.
‘Come, lord,‘ she called in her best aristocratic sneer, affecting the knight’s French accent as best she could. ‘Will you surrender or shall I come again?‘
‘Charge me once more, wench, and I’ll take your skin for a cloak,‘ the housecarl snarled, only half his fury for show.
Breya led her mount forwards again. This time she left the sword raised and, as she passed the Saxon warrior, slipped from the saddle and delivered a kick to his rump. He turned on her with murder in his eyes.
The Norman lord began howling with laughter, clapping one iron gauntlet against his mailed thigh. His leg swung forward in imitation of her kick and Breya swept into a low curtsy. Behind her, the housecarl’s face twitched and he looked between them in angry confusion.
‘Well-played, mummers,‘ the knight said. ‘But I shan’t have wenches with swords around my men. They’ve seen enough devilry these last days –‘
‘And caused enough,‘ the housecarl muttered under his breath.
‘Be on your way and take the Lord’s blessings with you,‘ the Norman finished
He spurred his horse down the slope and Breya sighed. She was safe again. She heard a heavy boot squelch in the mud behind her. The housecarl’s mailed fist slammed into the back of Breya’s head and her vision turned black.
Breya’s world had been reduced to a cave barely large enough to crouch in. It was a crack in the rock, a cramped crevice into which the housecarl had thrust her to keep the rain away. It might have been a kind gesture if she were not bound at the wrists with coarse rope.
So until he decided to release her, she occupied a narrow place between the smoke seeping into the cave from the warrior’s campfire and the damp rising up through the porous rock. If Breya lifted her head, she would cough. If she laid it down to sleep, a pool of brackish water would be her pillow.
‘Are you ready to let me go now?‘ she called.
Dark ferns stretched their slender fingers down across the mouth of the cave blocking any light from entering and preventing her from seeing without, but she knew he was there. She heard his heavy breaths and the ominous grind of a whetstone caressing the edge of his blade.
His only reply was to match a throaty grunt with a scratch of hard stone against sharp iron.
‘Don’t you have a wife you should be going to?‘ Breya asked.
The grinding stopped, leaving her in silence. When the housecarl broke the quiet, he spoke with a tremble of amusement in his voice.
‘Aye, I have a wife. The king ordered me to take one. She had…‘ He paused as though unsure of what to say. ‘She had red hair, or was it brown? She had some hair, I’m certain of that.‘
He doesn’t know? What sort of villain forgets his own wife?
‘Is she dead?‘
‘Aye, most likely.‘ He sighed and made a clucking sound. ‘There are worse fates than death, little church mouse. I can only hope she experienced at least one of them before the end.’
The rough scrape of whetstone on blade began again. Breya thought that there must be nothing left of the sword but a hairpin after the amount of time the warrior had spent sharpening it.
‘You don’t know if she’s dead?‘ she asked.
‘Aye. Well, I left the battle and rode north so fast I forgot to check on her. I’ll hardly set my own neck in a noose for some wench I never wanted to wed. Likely she found her way into the tent of some Norman lord, or onto the end of his sword.‘
A bark of laughter shot between the ferns and into Breya’s den. She bared her teeth in silence.
‘Come out of your hole, church mouse, and I’ll show you a taste of the times we’re living in.‘
What games has he planned for me now?
With a heavy weight of dread settling on Breya’s heart, she wriggled her way out of the cave. When she emerged she was surprised to find the housecarl standing on the very edge of the cliff on top of which they had camped.
She would have considered pushing him off if she had not been distracted by the sight in front of her. A ribbon of dusky red lay across the horizon beneath a thick blanket of pouring rain.
It was the glow of many thousands of fires smoldering across the landscape. Every town, village and hamlet in the north had been set alight. Here and there were dotted individual beacons of light where a barn or farmhouse was being consumed by hungry flames.
And great clouds of sparks and glowing cinders danced with the wind. Yellow, orange and ruby red. It was such an awesome, beautiful sight that Breya felt delight creeping into her heart. Her whole world was being fed into the inferno, and her only thoughts were of what would come next.
‘Welcome,‘ the housecarl bellowed into the night. ‘To the Kingdom of England.‘
It was the darkest hour of the night, when the stars seemed to be drawing ever further away into the black void of the nocturnal sky. Breya was tired to the very marrow of her bones, but she could not sleep.
Her eyes were open wide, taking in the orange hue which still stained the horizon. Fires burned on across the landscape, but the swirling dance of their embers no longer held any magic for her.
Instead, her mind turned to the future which now lay like the blank pages of an unwritten manuscript before her. She was free to make any choice she wished, lead any life she fancied and have whatever she desired.
Rumbling snores rose from beneath the thick bristles of the housecarl’s beard. It would have been an easy thing to slip a knife between his ribs while he slept. But Breya did not know if she wanted him dead.
The whole world had been purged by fire and she was being born into a new kingdom. Was the fierce warrior lying beside her what she wanted, she wondered. Did the firelight tint his brow red as a warning? Or was it meant to beckon her closer?
She leaned towards him, staring at the closed lids of his eyes as though trying to see past them. If she could look into his eyes, and really look, she might be able to see something of his soul. Was the man behind the sword, the armor and the vulgar tongue a good man?
Something pulled Breya back from the wandering path her mind had taken. A midnight-black eye stared back at her.
She cannot know, she has no way of knowing. Unless I was talking in my sleep.
But the way she keeps staring, not even breaking her gaze for a second. She must know. If I try not to think of it she might not guess. But how can I? Every waking moment is filled with memories from the battlefield.
Arrows spinning down from the sky like leaves in autumn, the blinding glare of sunlight reflected on armour, the screams of dying men and horses.
There, I can see it. She has a glimmer in her eye, a crystal of suspicion beginning to form.
She can see me, standing by my fair King Harold’s side. How can she know? She does. She sees the Normans overrun us, we have to retreat, but the king will not give an inch. Very well, I’ll kill him to save our lives. My sword will find his heart and then we can escape this butchery.
Why are they not running? Why do they stand around his corpse and wait to die? A dead man can show them no gratitude. I will not wait for a foreign lance to open my breast. If they wish to die then let them.
But the smell of the blood is too powerful for me to bear. I would turn back if it would save those proud warriors and their fair king from this slaughter. But it is too late and the smell of blood is already thick around me.
‘Do you know?‘
‘Do I know what?‘ she asks.
Relief, warm and soothing like a flagon of mulled wine on a crisp winter morning.
‘Do you know it’s rude to watch a man sleep? Aye, unless you care to join me?‘
She is disgusted by my words. But she does not know. All the revulsion in the world couldn’t be sweeter as long as she never knows.
‘Well, what do we do now?‘ Breya asked.
‘Now?‘ the housecarl said through a mouthful of stale black bread. ‘Now we eat.‘
‘Yes, but after that? We’ve run, we’ve escaped the worst of it, what do we do now?‘
A spark came into the man’s eye. It was not a pleasant glimmer, but a hint of wicked mirth.
Don’t even dare say it, you mongrel.
‘We could lie here on this hill until our bones turn to dust, holding each other in a sweet embrace,‘ he said, with a wink.
Do you even believe it any more? You look tired. Like a man going through an old routine because it’s familiar. I would put you out of your misery, if I had the strength.
Breya spat, not at him because she knew it would only amuse the man, but onto the fresh green grass at his feet. The truth was that she did not have the energy for irritation or hate. She was exhausted from sleepless nights. Worn by days spent in the saddle. Her patience had been tested by the warrior’s endless jesting.
‘Lets go home then, back to the valleys so we can see what’s happening there. Things might have returned to normal,‘ she offered.
‘Normal?‘ the housecarl asked. ‘There is no normal. This land has just been conquered. If you’re expecting to walk back into your old life then you’re mistaken, lass.‘
She sat and thought about what he had said. Even if he was wrong, she had no desire to go back to serving mead in a stinking alehouse, feeling the calloused hands of farmers groping at her as she toiled.
‘Well, what about a new life then?‘
The glimmering cruelty came back into the housecarl’s eyes.
‘Will we be married then, lass? Aye, you could make an honest man of me. We’ll live in a hovel, till muddy fields, rut like pigs and have a brood of twenty strong sons. We’ll drown the girls of course, no need for them.‘
I’ll throttle him. Who cares if he’s stronger? One of these days I’ll put my hands round his neck and crush the worthless life out of him.
‘Hold your tongue still for once, ‘ she hissed. ‘Do you think these Normans brought gold with them, to keep inside their castles?‘
‘Oh aye, gold and trinkets of all sorts. Fine silver crosses and candlesticks so the Lord knows they love him as well I’ll wager. And they’ll have half the wealth of England strapped to their saddlebags as plunder.‘
‘Then why don’t we take it?‘ Breya asked.
At last, she saw the old spark of life come back into his edges. He was the sharp sword. The honed edge. Peace blunted him. What he needed, what he desired, was danger. Adventure. She would give it to him.
The lord’s pavilion was alive with the sound of pipe and drum. The smells of roasting boar and stag. The orange glow of fire and candle spreading warmth and good cheer throughout. Men-at-arms in elaborate surcoats jostled on long benches beside stout bowmen in boiled leather jerkins. All stood to applaud their commander and host as he took his high seat.
‘We have defeated the Saxon king!’ he cried out over the merry hubbub, firelight shining golden on his steel mail. ‘We have conquered this land and now, after much suffering and privation, we may enjoy the fruits of our victory!’
It seemed as though he would say more. His aristocratic chin lifted slightly and the perfectly manicured beard bobbed in a prelude to speech. But before another rousing cry could wash over the revellers, the heavy tent flap behind him was lifted, showing a brief glimpse of gathering darkness beyond.
‘Fruits, did ye say?’ a grating voice asked.
The scowling housecarl’s arrival was met with a rasp of steel as a hundred blades were drawn. Armoured figures dashed to their lord’s side, shining armour and flashes of orange candlelight on polished swords.
Before cold, sharpened steel could meet Anglo-Saxon flesh, a harsh sound ripped through the air. It was a sputtering, trumpet-like sigh of wind escaping the housecarl’s backside. He folded scarred hands across his mouth, gasped and began to caper about as though trying to waft the smell away.
‘It seems I’ve had too much fruit already,’ he said in a tone of mock embarrassment. ‘It’s making cider in me belly.’
In a moment, as the joke sank in, the pavilion erupted into a clamouring din of laughter. Fists hammered table tops and the lord waved his hand over his wrinkled nose, smiling wryly at his closest companions.
At the back of the feasting tent, Breya wriggled on her belly beneath the low awning. She looked up to see the housecarl scampering about the floor like a mongrel, begging scraps from the lord’s table. The Normans cheered at his antics and stamped their feet.
She dashed forwards to a pile of baggage, keeping her body hunched, and began rifling through the saddlebags in search of treasure.
You’re an ugly bastard and a brute, housecarl, but thank God you have no shame.
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.
‘Wench, don’t you put this on me.‘
They were interrupted, 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.
Where was the blustering housecarl? The brute, the braggart? He had disappeared just as soon as he arrived at her tavern. A new man stood before her. Tall and proud.A Saxon warrior.
‘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!‘