Here we have an excerpt from Christopher Moss’s novel An Involuntary King: A Take of Anglo-Saxon England. The two main characters are “both mercenaries, who make life miserable for each other,” so we thought this was a good pick to kick off our Advent of unlikeable characters!
A force of O’Donnell’s men formed a turtle defense. The outermost men in the formation held shields before, behind or on their sides, and those within this shell held shields above their own and the outermost men’s heads. Confronting Ruallauh and his brothers was a solid mass of shields, thick wood with iron bosses and a plenitude of clan symbols.
Ruallauh went to meet his two brothers in front of their forces. “They are pretty well safe from my archers for the nonce,” the eldest brother observed.
Ioruert strained to see the opposing forces. “Before they got behind their shields I made out foot soldiers with about half axes and shields and half bows and swords and shields. I may be mistaken but I thought there were more than I can see now. Those men a-horse may be a communications line. Or they may be planning a separate wave of attack. They’re Irish so they will dismount to fight. But why spread out like that?” He wrinkled his brow.
“Well, at least we have equal benefit with him with this open terrain. Ioruert, take the fields with your mounted troops. That way you can match any influx of the same. He must have more horsemen than that. Cingen, take the side by the river, but stay this side of bowshot from the fortress. I will put my archers behind a shield-wall right here in the middle. Make sure your runners stay safe so we can communicate.”
“We will need to hold this position, Ruallauh. We can’t risk being backed into bowshot,” Cingen cautioned.
His older brother nodded grimly. “We have to do this. The king needs his forces to take the fortress. Once that is done, I warrant these mercenaries will give up the fight.” He sighed. “How I wish Rory was here. He would know the Irishman’s tactics.” He made the sign of the cross.
Ioruert saluted his two brothers. “God be with us.”
MacDhui returned to his commander, seeing he was making small gestures with his hands as he considered his attack options. The Scot looked back at the enemy, seeing the formations that came together on the center, left and right. He waited.
O’Donnell began to think aloud, making the meaning of the gestures clear. “I could send the turtle straight and fast for the fortress, beat off the king and join with Malcolm’s forces in the stronghold. Or I could entice them into the village or the woods by the river. Whatever I do, we will keep these farmers busy while the king’s men attack the fort and fail.”
“My lord?” MacDhui inserted. O’Donnell turned to look at him. “What if Malcolm is losing?”
O’Donnell barked a derisive laugh. “If he is losing, what are we doing here? Nay, I know Malcolm. He would not let victory come to the king so easily. But you are right to pose the possibility. Scratch the first plan. No sense getting ourselves locked up in the fortress if it is about to fall.”
“We seem to be equal in force, my lord, but we are all trained mercenaries,” MacDhui began.
“And they are all farmers barely able to wield a pitchfork, no less a sword. If we can draw them into attacking us, we will have few losses and many kills.” O’Donnell looked at his companion and grinned. He struck him hard on the shoulder and said, “That is what we shall do. Give the orders.”
AN INVOLUNTARY KING A TALE OF ANGLO SAXON ENGLAND
Written as Nan Hawthorne,
2008 by Shield-wall Books
Available as a book or ebook from Amazon.com and Smashwords
Kit Moss is particularly devoted to fostering a sense of heritage and history among GLBTQ people both through his own and other’s writing. He likes to say, “We were here, we were queer!” His eras are the Middle Ages and the 19th century in America, but nothing can limit him. He is transgender and also committed to encouraging understanding of all gender variant people. He lives with his husband in the Pacific Northwest along with their two doted upon cats.