The Hammer and The Cross by Harry Harrison. Jar1. Chapter 8, 9

The Hammer and The Cross. Jar1. Chapter 8, 9

Chapter Eight

Two figures dressed in the rags of incongruous finery cantered slowly down the green lanes of central England: Alfgar, thane’s son, once favorite of a king; Daniel, a bishop without a retinue, still a king’s deadly enemy. Both had escaped with difficulty from Ivar’s riders by the Ouse, but had managed to end the day with a dozen guards between them, and money and rations enough to take them back in safety in Winchester. Then their troubles had begun. First they woke one morning to find their guards had simply deserted in the night, perhaps blaming their masters for defeat, perhaps seeing no reason any longer to put up with Alfgar’s caustic tongue, Daniel’s outbursts of fury. They had taken the food, money and horses with them. Striding across the fields towards the nearest church-spire, Daniel had insisted that as soon as he reached a priest, his episcopal authority would provide them with mounts and supplies. They had never reached the spire. In the troubled countryside, the churls had abandoned their homes for the summer and had built themselves shelters in the greenwood. The village priest had indeed recognized Daniel’s status, enough to persuade his parishioners not to kill the pair of wanderers, and even to leave Daniel his episcopal ring and cross, and the gold head of his crozier. They had taken everything else, including Alfgar’s weapons and silver arm-rings. After that, for three nights in a row the fugitives had lain belly-pinched in the dew, cold and afraid.

Yet Alfgar, like his half brother and enemy Shef, was a child of the fen. He could make an eel-trap out of withies, could catch fish with a cloak-pin on twisted thread. Slowly the pair had ceased to hope for rescue, had learned to rely on themselves. The fifth day of their journey Alfgar had stolen two horses from an poorly guarded stud, and the herd-boy’s knife and his flea-infested blanket as well. After that they had made better time. It had not improved their humor.

At the ford of the Lea they had heard the news of the Frankish landing from a merchant disposed to be respectful to Daniel’s cross and ring. It had altered their plan.

“The Church does not fail her servants,” Daniel had declared, eyes red with rage and weariness. “I knew the stroke would fall. I did not know where or when. Now, to the glory of God, the pious King Charles has come to restore the faith. We will go to him and make our report—our report of those he must punish: the pagans, the heretics, the slack in faith. Then the evil Way-folk and the graceless adherents of Alfred will find that the quernstones of God grind slow, but they grind to the last grain.”

“Where do we have to go?” asked Alfgar sullenly, reluctant to follow Daniel’s lead but anxious to contact once again the side that might win, that might bring him vengeance on the ravisher, the bride-stealer, the one who had stolen first his woman, then his shire, and then his woman again. Every day he remembered a dozen times, with a shiver of shame, waking with the birch-twigs in his hand and the curious faces staring down: Didn’t you hear? He took your woman? Trussed up your father, with no arms or legs, but just left you to lie there? And you never woke?

“The Frankish fleet crossed the Narrow Sea and landed in Kent,” Daniel replied. “Not far from the see of St. Augustine in Canterbury. They are camped at a place called Hastings.”

Surveying the walls of Canterbury, his base at Hastings left for a careful, six-day foray, Charles the Bald, king of the Franks, sat on his horse and waited for the procession trailing from the open gates to reach him. He was sure enough what it was. In the lead he could see holy banners, choir-monks singing, censers waving. Behind them, carried in a chair of state, came a gray-bearded figure in purple and white, tall miter nodding: surely the archbishop of Canterbury, the primate of England. Though back at camp in Hastings, Charles reflected, he had Wulfhere, archbishop of York, who would probably dispute this archbishop’s claim. Perhaps he should have brought him and let the two old fools fight it out.

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Categories: Harrison, Harry