Excerpt: The Battle of Salisbury

The setup: We are in the generation before Arthur is born. Pendragon is king, and his brother Uther (who will become Arthur’s father) is his right-hand man. Merlin has told them that a huge invasion of Saxons is coming. He advises Uther to ride ahead and get between the Saxons and their ships, so they have no way to retreat, and to keep them away from the river, so they have no way to get water. After weakening the Saxons for two days, Merlin tells them on the third morning they will see a dragon of fire appear in the sky—and that is when they should attack. This scene is from the point of view of a Saxon knight…


 

Herwyg had woken before light and stepped out of his tent within the Saxon encampment to piss, but he had almost nothing within him. It was dark and almost reddish. God, it was hard to wake up. He stood now near the front of the Saxon lines, the clouds growing light but still a stony blue gray, broken by a few breaks through to open sky, and his mail weighed on him heavily. He was exhausted… and then the lack of water. It had only been yesterday afternoon that they had run out completely, and that after severe rationing since evening before, the last drop from the last waterskin gone, and the meat they could catch (thankfully rabbits were plentiful on that plain) was dry and sinewy. Still, much as they would have liked to have something to wash it down with, they were forced instead to pull what moisture they could from the meat.

Since the intention of the Saxons was to conquer there, and settle there, when Herwyg came on shore, and walked with his brother knights through the fields and over the hills, he thought was looking at his new home. He had no choice, it was the campaign of his master, but it seemed fertile and generous land, and certainly better than the harsh and endless winter he had just come through. He did not have the perspective to consider that he judged it this way on a tenderly warm June morning. Hopes were high then; they had not yet realized that the Britons had come between them and their ships.

Then later, they learned that they could not get access to water. And all of this added to the grim disappointment that had set in after they spied the first of the enemy knights, for their landing was supposed to take the Britons by surprise.

Then that beautiful land began to turn into a particular kind of nightmarish trap. The vast fields of unbroken, undulating grass, with its bright, vivid green—and nothing else, for they were huge empty spaces—seemed a peaceful rest at first, but soon turned into a kind of existential test. There was nothing there, nothing. Just empty blankets of vibrant green blades, so much so that it became uncanny, and looked like it could not be real. Then the day before, when the first sigh that indicates the weariness of dehydration came, the sky had been such a vivid blue, endlessly rich and deep, with clouds of such unsurpassing whiteness, unbelievably fluffy, to the point that it seemed it was a wondrous sight to behold. But then, with time and thirst, it became just a bit too wondrous, it begin to seem unreal, at which point a terror began to curdle in his heart. The sight was so heartrendingly beautiful, it could kill him. The vivid blues and whites, the greens, they could conceal poison.

What’s coming in Book 2

The dehydration began to take hold, and came in waves. The moment thirsty turns into parched, when weariness takes on a heaviness the muscles don’t normally have, and the vision momentarily becomes cloudy. That was last night. This morning, Herwyg’s brother soldiers seemed to stand by sheer balancing of flesh, not by any energy with which they were holding their bodies ready for battle. A man a few rows behind was actually moaning. The sound came invisibly though the perfectly lovely June morning, where the scent of the tiny flowers and luscious grass blades were beginning to fill the air, where the lines of men stood like motionless tree trunks. Herwyg looked, and focused on the man next to him, whose face was sallow and cheeks seemed to sag, his head bowed down, as though scarcely awake, eyes barely-open slits.

But then his eyes gradually opened, and his head came back, mouth expanding open, because a bright fiery light had begin spreading within the sky. Herwyg turned his gaze upward, to see what was enthralling the man so. The sun was being freed from its shadow, and its brilliant morning rays came racing toward them in a brightening wave that spread its glow behind the clouds.

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Then, when the light hit the breaks in the layer of cloud color, these blazed brilliantly, the intensity rising as the tint evolved through a golden orange and toward scarlet. A stillness spread through all the men, lined up in rows extending ten in front of Herwyg, and countless behind, as they all beheld the incredible sight. It seemed like the bounteous gift of nature, replete with surprises, and precious, unfolding moments that only happen once—are only happening now—and then will be gone, and caught all the Saxon’s hearts with the aching knowledge that they were witnessing something incredible.

But the blaze along the ridges where there were holes in the blanket of clouds began to array into a shape, which was at first unbelievable, but then became unmistakable. It was the shape of a dragon. There was no denying that one saw it—and no denying that there was nothing, in any way, natural about it. Things like that did not happen. The realization seemed to come over the mass of men at once, and from some direction, for there were close men all around, was heard a low wailing of dread. Then the color grew more intense, and more vivid, so much that it passed out of the realm of the natural and into the realm of the supernatural, when it began taking on a red of the deepest hue. This was not a ‘they saw a beautiful sunrise and thought it looked like a crimson dragon,’ kind of thing, this was dark, unmistakable red—the red of blood. The sky opened up like a bloody wound above them, and when a ray of sun illuminated the clouds in such a way it appeared to be a torrent of fire spewing from the dragon’s mouth, then some men began to scream.

The sound became intense all at once, along with a low rumbling, and Herwyg could not be sure what the sound was. He saw the line of British troops that had been waiting with them all these last days on the plain, just outside their camp, and the mass of men now seemed to vibrate with a strange movement. It occurred to him that they were charging just as the sound of approaching hail turned out to be a wave of arrows that washed over and beyond him, and Herwyg would have been amazed and dumbfounded at the incredible chain of astounding events that had just taken place within such a short space of time, but he was dead.

 

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