Alnwick stood before them, a towering mass of stone, the symbol of England, and Norman occupation. Edward had grown up hearing stories of Norman depravity, of their conquests and the burning of the lands that rightfully belonged to his uncle. Father had come south with two objectives, teach William Rufus a lesson and gain Northumbria. Rufus was a callous man who showed respect to no man, and if rumour were to be believed, slept with more boys and men than any honest man should. That Northumbria was Scottish, Edward had never doubted, he just hoped they could achieve their aim of taking Alnwick and move onto more favourable climbs. Alnwick had stood before them an unmovable object for some four or five days now, and things were getting a bit too close for comfort, if what Dolfin had to say was to be believed.
Edward ran a hand over his cheek, and sighed. He looked at his father, Malcolm Canmore, King of Scots was not a man to take lightly, a long fiery beard and long auburn hair was a trait amongst the Scots, but the man before him who he called father, was a man unto himself. Strong willed and a fierce fighter, King Malcolm had won his throne through sheer strength of arms and had defended it for nearly forty years through that same sheer force of will. As Edward looked at his father, the man spoke. "For five days now we have rested in front of this damned castle. The Normans refuse to surrender, no doubt thinking that they have achieved some measure of security behind their big walls. But they will soon have to move out and fight. Is that not so, Gospatric?"
Gospatric, Earl of Lothian, was the son of a English noble, who had at one time served as Earl of Northumbria for both Edward the Confessor and for William the Norman. He was a towering man, blonde of hair, thick of muscle. "Aye, Sire, that is correct. Alnwick had little in the means of resources, due to the winter. They are no doubt trying to prevent themselves from feasting themselves into depravity before us. I say if we continue to raid and burn the lands around the castle, they soon shall have to come out and fight."
"Sire, if I may?" That was Donald Bane, Mormaer of Strathearn and the King's brother, Edward's uncle. The King nodded and the Mormaer continued. "I think that burning the lands is all well and good, but what does capturing Alnwick actually achieve? The goal is further south. Toward the grain of where the English get their actual supplies from. If we move southwards, we have more chance of achieving our actual aim, surely?"
A well-reasoned argument from his uncle. Edward did have to admit that despite his rather dim view of his uncle, the man did speak sense on occasion, and has he had grown older and had been less in simple awe of his father, he had come to see just how much his father did actually depend on the advice of his mother and their advisors, who were not of Scottish origin. Father of course snorted. "I see you, Donald, and I acknowledge that what you say might well be true. But to leave Alnwick untaken would be sheer madness. Alnwick symbolises much for the Northumbrians, for it was here that William the Norman first took root when he wished to destroy their pride. We take Alnwick we have in effect ensured that Northumbria has fallen into our grasp, and achieve that which our father and great-grandfather desired."
Edward saw something flicker in his uncle's eyes then, whether it was acknowledgement, or resentment, he did not know, but as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. His uncle nodded and did not say anything. Instead, the King turned to Gospatric once more, and the man spoke. "From my estimates, it seems that there are some five hundred men within Alnwick, enough to hold the castle, but not enough to defend it in actual battle. Consequently, they shall be reluctant to come out and fight in the open. However, should the land be burned sufficiently, they will be forced under honour's code to come and fight, for they cannot rightly stand and call themselves Normans if they do not fight for their land. Robert de Mowbray, that man who would claim that which is not his, remains in Bamburgh, his relations with Rufus are not so plentiful that he could willingly ride forth to defend something that might not be his within the next turn."
"A good sign then, the longer de Mowbray remains within the confines of his own land, the more time we shall have to ensure that we can solidify our hold here. And what of De Vesci?" The King asked.
"De Vesci remains at Carlisle, my King, he remains there waiting and watching, he does not hold much sway within the realm here. He is seen rightly as a foreigner installed by Rufus and his aggrandisement, he will not move unless De Mowbray moves." Gospatric replied.
The King nodded, seemingly pleased and then turned to Edward himself and asked. "And what of you, what word do you have for me?" Father would never refer to him as son, never had done and never would. It was as if the great Canmore was a man who could not allow any sense of expression to come to him, unless it was with his wife. Edward had long ago learned to keep resentment or any such unkingly emotion away from his person.
He took a moment, to think through what reports he had received, as well as the notes he himself had made. His father could not read, had never bothered to learn, and so Edward was often at a loss as to how to explain the intricacies of what it was he was planning. "We have roughly ten thousand men, my King. Enough to fight a sufficient battle against an enemy that might come from the north or the west. I would advise that we make some movement sooner, rather than later, for the men cannot hold off the land for much longer."
"What, then would you suggest?" The King asked, his eyes sharp.
Edward considered the question, he knew that if he looked down at the notes he had made his father would instantly dismiss what he was saying as nothing more than cautious talk. He took a breath. "I would suggest that we do as Earl Gospatric suggests, burn the land to an amount where there is enough to salvage for a later date, but enough to ensure that the Normans within Alnwick have to bring themselves to fight, unless they wish their fellow Normans to brand them cowards. I think there is sufficient strength for us to defeat them out on the open plane and then take the castle."
The King seemed pleased with that, if the way he smiled was any indication. "Very well. Gospatric, take your riders and burn the land. We shall see how effective that move shall be." Gospatric nodded, and at a signal from the King stood, bowed and then straightened, before moving out of the command tent. The King then turned to the others. "As for the rest of you, keep your men alert and ready, knowing these damned Normans who knows what might happen in the days to come." There was movement of agreement, then the King said. "All apart from Edward, Strathearn and Fife may leave. Prepare your men." The men rose, bowed and walked out. As the last man left, the King spoke once more. "You three are here because you are the senior most men in this force of mine. One is my heir, the next a brother and the next apparent, and the third the chief law maker of the realm. I intend to state what should happen in event of my death."
"Do not speak so, my King, you are not dead, nor are the English the wolves of the forests." Donald stated, whether the look on his face was genuine or acted, Edward did not know.
His father it seemed did not particularly care. "The Wolves of the Forest have been dead for many years, but as our father knew and our grandsire before him, when one enters battle, one can never be sure what might happen. Consequently, you all know that Edward is my heir, he shall succeed me per my will, should I die during this war. Donald, you are his tanist, and shall succeed to the throne after Edward, or should Edward die the throne is yours." That surprised Edward he had fought that Father would support the English custom as Mother wanted. Edmund was his immediate heir by rights, though technically Duncan, that brother who Edward had never seen was the heir.
"I am honoured, brother. But what of Duncan, the boy who you had with Ingeborg, or one of the grandchildren present within the lines from Malcolm and Donald?" Donald Bane asked.
Here Edward grimaced. Malcolm and Donald the two brothers that Edward had met from his father's first marriage, to a Norsewoman. Malcolm had been fierce, a fighter like Father, Donald had been more of a scholar, a priest as it were. Both had been killed fighting men from Moray, but not before siring sons themselves. It was an issue that might come back to haunt them all. Father had granted them thanages, but nothing more. It seemed even now, he did not much care for discussion on them. "What of them? They are bairns and bairns cannot take the throne, it is not within our custom. You shall be my son's heir and that is that." The King looked to the Mormaer of Fife who nodded.
"It is accepted that this can be the case, during the reign of Kenneth III, it was acknowledged that his son Giric could serve as his heir and thus was crowned co-King to ensure a smooth succession. Much as Edward has been crowned Prince of Strathclyde recognising this." Fife said simply.
The King clapped his hands together, evidently pleased with this outcome. "Good, now enough of this, there is one more matter I meant to discuss." Edward leaned forward then. "Should we succeed here at this venture, there would be nothing stopping us from marching southward. Tell them Edward."
Edward nodded realising what his father was getting at and not quite sure he approved. "Letters have come from the south, from the Earls of Chester and Huntingdon, expressing support for any movement that could replace Rufus from the throne of England. The man has become quite unpopular and his brother Henry has gained some support, but Huntingdon and Lancaster have also noted that they would not be against supporting Edgar Atheling for the throne either."
There was a moment of nothing, then Donald Bane laughed. "We are to act as Kingmakers should we win here? Tell me does, the Atheling know of this?"
The King waved a dismissive hand. "It matters not whether he knows of it or not, he shall do as he is told, if he wants to make something for himself." Privately Edward thought that his uncle might make a good King, he was pious and learned, but the England of the Normans was not the England that it had been during the reign of the Confessor. Much had changed, and Edward did not know whether his uncle was ready to admit that. Naturally, he did not mention that now, but he kept it in his mind. It might one day come to be a useful tool.
The King went to dismiss them, when a messenger came hurrying in, covered in dirt and bloodied. "My King." The man said, bowing.
"What? Where to is Gospatric?" The King asked, and Edward realised the man kneeling before his father bore the colours of the Earl of Lothian.
"He is coming, he has sent me to tell you, to tell you that the English are coming. Under De Mowbray." The man said.
"He is sure of this?" The King asked.
"Yes, Sire. Very sure." The messenger said.
The King nodded, and looked at them all. "Prepare for the battle, the English are coming."
They all rose and hurried out of the tent, thankfully they were all armoured already, the cry for men to prepare went out and soon all was chaos, ordered chaos, but chaos nonetheless. Men were preparing their weapons, and their horses were readied. Edward mounted his own horse, and took his axe from a servant. He had command of the vanguard, though his father fought in it as well, and so was commander himself. Edward rode up next to his father as they watched the oncoming mass of metalled men. "What do you think? How many?"
"Three thousand at a stretch, but they are forcing Gospatric back." His father replied.
Edward sighed. "They might well be all horse; we do not have the means to take on so many horses."
His father laughed. "Have some faith boy, we might not have enough resources to take on the horse, but we have enough to deal a heavy blow, and if we kill De Mowbray then things will be all but golden."
The metalled men came closer, and Edward decided to move, he looked to his father once, and when that man nodded, he called out. "Men of Scotland, we fight. There is the foe, and now we move." There was a roar, he spurred his horse on, his axe ready in his hand. The ground shook underneath him, the result of so many horses and men marching. As they got closer, they saw many hundreds of men cut down, most of them Gospatric's, the man himself was still fighting. Edward drew his axe and swung. One man fell, then another, they were foot soldiers, farmers and peasants. Another man came, this one wielding a scythe, Edward moved and cut at the man's exposed neck, and took him down also.
His father was nearby, swinging his giant sword, men were screaming around him. Edward had fought in battles before, but never anything like this. There were more Normans than he had thought possible. They came grappling and snarling, their bodies armoured, compared to the peasants who were also charging at them. Edward's axe got much done, but he also needed on an occasion to move slowly, to draw the enemy toward a point then to cut and swing and block. The army seemed spread out, everywhere, he turned there were Normans fighting, bringing down Scots, he wondered at that. They outnumbered the Normans they should be winning, and yet they were being brought down low. Their foot was being destroyed.
He took a hit to the chest and groaned. That had dented his armour, another blow and another dent, he could feel the coldness of blood trickling out. Edward shuddered then swung. There was no time to feel the pain of the wounds, he had to keep going. His axe painted the way for him, red and brown, blood and dirt, they kept moving. His men moved with him, his father was somewhere far away now. He hoped that they could reunite, if they did, then perhaps they could marshal the men and push one last great heave forward. Arrows came then, one took out a man near him, another took out another man. He turned. "Shit." He cursed. They were firing from the castle now. They had no archers. "Cover yourselves!" He yelled, though how many men actually heard him he did not know.
As he moved, some moved with him, so it seemed his message had at least gotten through to a few. They moved and the arrows fell short of them, though he heard a cry, and a moment of silence. He saw what he thought he would never see. His father was on foot, fighting eight men, five were sent to their deaths, but the other three cut and hacked at him. Edward tried to get to him, but couldn't, there were too many in his way, too many who were forcing him to kill. When he next looked for his father, he saw nothing. "Where is my father?!" He demanded. "Where is the King?"
"Dead." One of his men said, Duncan his name was. "Killed by the Normans."
"You are King now." Another man said, his name Gillé Christi.
Edward did not know what to say his father could not be dead, Canmore did not die. He blinked then roared a command. "Kill the Normans. Kill them all." Was this grief that made him charge recklessly into the fray, was it grief and anger that made him kill anyone who came into his way regardless of colour they wore, he did not know, he did not care. He just fought and fought, his axe singing as it took more and more life.
He kept moving, his rage guiding him, De Mowbray must be somewhere close at hand, somewhere near to the front, he would know surely? He would know what to do if he met the man. He came across a giant of a man, swinging two swords in two hands, he roared and they clashed. The man cut him, in the already dented armour, he growled, and removed the man's hands, or one of them. He was having a hard time remaining upright, the man disappeared, and before he knew it his horse was being removed from under him, he was on the ground and Normans surrounded him. They placed chains around him, and laughed. A prisoner of Normans, what sort of life was this to be now? His father was dead and Alnwick remained. They took him from the battle field, covered his face, and made it so he knew nothing. But the guards talked and he learned things, his father was dead, slain by three knights, De Brus, De Balliol and one other, whose name he could not pronounce. He understood some French, as his Mother had taught it to him when he was a child, but for the main he spoke Gaelic, German and the English his mother spoke. Mother, she would be grieving when she heard.