Read Sworn Sword Online

Authors: James Aitcheson

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Historical

Sworn Sword

Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Dedication

List of Place-Names

Map

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Epilogue

Historical Note

Acknowledgements

Copyright

About the Book

January, 1069. Less than three years have passed since Hastings and the death of the usurper, Harold Godwineson. In the depths of winter, two thousand Normans march to subdue the troublesome province of Northumbria. Tancred a Dinant, an ambitious and oath-sworn knight and a proud leader of men, is among them, hungry for battle, for silver and for land.

But at Durham the Normans are ambushed in the streets by English rebels. In the battle that ensues, their army is slaughtered almost to a man. Badly wounded, Tancred barely escapes with his life. His lord is among those slain.

Soon the enemy are on the march, led by the dispossessed prince Eadgar, the last of the ancient Saxon line, who is determined to seize the realm he believes is his. Yet even as Tancred seeks vengeance for his lord’s murder, he finds himself caught up in secret dealings between a powerful Norman magnate and a shadow from the past.

As the Norman and English armies prepare to clash, Tancred begins to uncover a plot which harks back to the day of Hastings itself. A plot which, if allowed to succeed, threatens to undermine the entire Conquest.

The fate of the kingdom hangs in the balance …

About the Author

James Aitcheson was born in Wiltshire in 1985 and studied History at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where began his fascination with the medieval period and the Norman Conquest in particular.
Sworn Sword
is his first novel.

Sworn Sword

JAMES AITCHESON

To my parents

List of Place-Names

TO ADD TO
the historical authenticity of the setting, I have chosen throughout the novel to use contemporary names for the locations involved, as recorded in charters, chronicles and Domesday Book (1086). For British locations my main sources have been
A Dictionary of British Place-Names
(OUP: Oxford, 2003) and
A Dictionary of London Place-Names
(OUP: Oxford, 2004), both compiled by A. D. Mills.

 

Alchebarge
Alkborough, Lincolnshire
Alclit
Bishop Auckland, County Durham
Aldwic
Aldwych, Greater London
Aleth
Saint-Malo, France
Bebbanburh
Bamburgh, Northumberland
Bisceopesgeat
Bishopsgate, Greater London
Cadum
Caen, France
Ceap
Cheapside, Greater London
Commines
Comines, France/Belgium
Cosnonis
River Couesnon, France
Dinant
Dinan, France
Drachs
Drax, North Yorkshire
Dunholm
Durham
Earninga stræt
Ermine Street
Eoferwic
York
Execestre
Exeter, Devon
Gand
Ghent, Belgium
Haltland
Shetland
Hæstinges
Hastings, East Sussex
Humbre
Humber Estuary
Kopparigat
Coppergate, York
Lincolia
Lincoln
Lincoliascir
Lincolnshire
Lundene
London
Orkaneya
Orkney
Ovretune
Overton, Hampshire
Oxeneford
Oxford
Reddinges
Reading, Berkshire
Rudum
Rouen, France
Searobyrg
Old Sarum, Wiltshire
Silcestre
Silchester, Hampshire
Stanes
Staines, Surrey
Stanford
Stamford, Lincolnshire
Stybbanhythe
Stepney, Greater London
Sudwerca
Southwark, Greater London
Suthferebi
South Ferriby, Lincolnshire
Temes
River Thames
Trente
River Trent
Use
River Ouse
Walebroc
Walbrook, Greater London
Waltham
Waltham Abbey, Essex
Wæclinga stræt
Watling Street, Greater London
Wærwic
Warwick
Westmynstre
Westminster, Greater London
Wiire
River Wear
Wiltune
Wilton, Wiltshire
Wincestre
Winchester, Hampshire

One

THE FIRST DROPS
of rain began to fall, as hard as hammers and as cold as steel against my cheek. My mail hung heavily upon my shoulders, and my back and arse were aching. We had risen at first light and had spent much of the day in the saddle, and now night lay once more like a blanket across the wooded hills.

Our mounts’ hooves made hardly a sound against the damp earth as we pressed on up the slope. The path we followed was narrow, little more than a deer track, and so we rode in single file with the trees close on either side. Leafless branches brushed against my arm; some I had to fend away from my face. Above, the slender crescent of the moon struggled to make itself shown, casting its cold light down upon us. The clouds were rolling in and the rain began to come down more heavily, pattering upon the ground. I pulled the hood of my cloak up over my head.

There were five of us that night: all of us men who had served our lord for several years, oath-sworn and loyal knights of his own household. These were men I knew well, alongside whom I had fought more times than I cared to remember. These were men who had been there in the great battle at Hæstinges, and who had survived.

And I was the one who led them. I, Tancred a Dinant.

It was the twenty-eighth day of the month of January, in the one thousand and sixty-ninth year since our Lord’s Incarnation. And this was the third winter to have passed since the invasion: since we had first mustered on the other side of the Narrow Sea, boarded ships and made the crossing on the autumn tide. The third winter since Duke Guillaume had led our army to victory over the oath-breaker
and usurper, Harold son of Godwine, at Hæstinges, and was received into Westmynstre church and crowned as rightful king of the English.

And now we were at Dunholm, and further north than any of us had been before: in Northumbria, of all the provinces of the kingdom of England the only one which after two years and more still refused to submit.

I glanced back over my shoulder, making sure that none were lagging behind, casting my gaze over each one of them in turn. In my tracks rode Fulcher fitz Jean, heavy-set and broad of shoulder. Following him was Ivo de Sartilly, a man as quick with his tongue as he was with his sword, then Gérard de Tillières, reticent yet always reliable. And bringing up the very end of the line, almost lost in the shadow of the night, the tall and rangy figure of Eudo de Ryes, whom I had known longer and trusted more than any other in Lord Robert’s household.

Beneath their cloaks their shoulders hung low. They all held lances, but rather than pointing to the sky as they should have been, ready to couch under the arm for the charge, they were turned down towards the ground. None of them, I knew, wanted to be out on such a night. Each would rather have been indoors by the blazing hearth-fire with his pitcher of ale or wine, or down in the town with the rest of the army, joining in the plunder. As too would I.

‘Tancred?’ Eudo called.

I turned my mount slowly around to face him, bringing the rest of the knights to a halt. ‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘We’ve been searching since nightfall and seen no one. How long are we to stay out?’

‘Until our balls freeze,’ Fulcher muttered behind me.

I ignored him. ‘Until daybreak if we have to,’ I replied.

‘They won’t come,’ Eudo said. ‘The Northumbrians are cowards. They haven’t fought us yet and they won’t fight us now.’

They had not; that much at least was true. Word of our advance had clearly gone before us, for everywhere we had marched north of Eoferwic we had seen villages and farms deserted, people fleeing
with their livestock, driving them up into the hills and the woods. When finally we reached Dunholm and passed through its gates just before sunset earlier that night, we had found the town all but empty. Only the bishop of the town and his staff had been left, guarding the relics of their saint, Cuthbert, who resided in the church. The townsmen, they said, had fled into the woods.

And yet there was something about the ease of our victory that had made Lord Robert uncertain, and that was why he had sent the five of us, as he had sent others, to search for any sign of the enemy nearby.

‘We keep looking,’ I said firmly. ‘Whether or not our balls freeze.’

In truth I didn’t think we would find anyone tonight, for these were people who would never before have seen a Norman army. Naturally they would have heard of how we had crushed the usurper at Hæstinges, but they could not have witnessed it themselves. They had not felt the might of the mounted charge which had won us that battle and so many others since. But now at last we had come in force: a host of two thousand men come to claim what was the king’s by right. They would have seen our banners, our horses, our mail glinting in the low winter sun, and they would have known that there was no hope of standing against us. And so they had fled, leaving us the town.

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