The Last Warlord

The Spring of 485

An Urgent Summons In the spring of the year of our lord Jesus Christ Four Hundred and Eighty-Five the Duke of Linnius received a message from Uther the King of Dumnonia and brother of the late High King Ambrosius, beseeching aid and support for a campaign against the Saxons in the south.

The Duke’s frontiers were quiet, his borders secured and he felt the Saxon threat in the north could wait for a season. So he sent word of a muster and the lords and spearmen of Linnius gathered at the great city of Lindum. Here the Duke gave words of encouragement and and let it be known that his army would march south to aid his ally Uther.

On the very eve before the army was to march south, news came of a great Saxon fleet landing on the Duke’s northern border on the Humber. The Duke had sworn to send soldiers to Uther, but now he would have to also defend his lands against a more immediate threat.

The Duke called a council of his lords and long they argued into the night. Finally it was agreed that half of the army, lead by the Duke himself, would march north to fight the Saxons and half would march south to aid Uther and fulfill the Duke’s oath of friendship.

There were then some young men of worth who had come attending their lords to the muster. The Duke, needing every able soldier decided to bring these young men into his household as warriors. Their first test of loyalty and courage would be to march with the army going south, to represent the Duke in the campaign against the Saxons there.

Rufus and Leonius And now we come to the first of those of who’s story this is. Among those worthy young men who were to march south were two cousins. Leonius son of Lord Franciscus and Rufus son of Lord Victorius. Both were eldest of their father’s houses and both had been brought up to serve as warriors. Both were stern of eye and strong of heart and it was rumoured of them both that there was Faerie blood in them, for Leonius’ hair was red as the setting sun and Rufus likewise. Rufus also was tall, as tall as any Saxon and often others joked of this, although always out of respect and never out of spite.

So Rufus was brought into the Duke’s household as a warrior, but Leonius’ father had perished the year before in battle against the Saxons and now he was given his father’s lands and made a landed lord, himself only twenty-one.

After this, the army marched south. They marched through the lands of Lerion and there some Lords who were sworn in allegiance to the duke of Linnius joined them. On they marched until they arrived in that territory around Londinium. It so happens that at this time Rufus and Leonius were outriders for the army, owning as they each did a horse fit for battle, and they met Prince Owain ap Gwyrangon whose father had been King of Ceint before it was taken by the Saxons. Prince Owain was riding with his household warriors and, pleased by the outriders warlike splendor, invited them to ride with him against the Saxons in Ceint.

Rufus and Leonius, having found a good campsite for the army, sent their companions back to inform their commanders of it, but they themselves, excited by the prospect of battle, did indeed accept Prince Owain’s offer and rode with his men over a nearby ford and and thus into the neighboring land of Ceint. They had been riding but a few hours when they were set upon by a band of Saxons eager for plunder. The Saxons had laid a cunning trap to ambush the Prince and his men, but the Prince was not taken unawares and so the table was turned on the Saxons. Many were struck down and in the excitement the Prince rode off alone to chase down some that had fled. Leonius, filled with the lust of battle followed the prince and the two of them struck down many fleeing Saxons. Rufus and the rest of the Prince’s retinue slew others who had no chance to flee and there was glory for all.

After this adventure, the Prince took his new companions back to their army which was now encamped, praising them much before going on his way.

No further adventure awaited our two companions until they arrived at Uther’s muster in Dumnonia. Here they saw that not only the Duke of Linnius had sent men, but warriors and lords from all over Britain had arrived. Some were friends of Uther, others fulfilled oaths taken to his brother Ambrosius but all had come to help drive the Saxons back into the sea.

As a landed lord, Leonius was invited to the King’s council of war. There Uther revealed his plan to march on the Saxons, bring them to battle, and totally destroy them. Some felt this plan over ambitious, others were persuaded by Uther’s confidence and still others made no comment, neither sure of victory nor fearing defeat.

The next day the whole army marched south-east into the Saxon lands. There at a stream the Saxons met them and both armies drew themselves up for battle. Rufus and Leonius were on the left flank with many other men of Linnius. This was not a place of honour, but Uther had put them there as a rock to anchor his lines, for the reputation and skill of the men of Linnius was such that he had no fear of them taking to flight in the battle.

The Battle of Merecred Creek Uther’s army stood on one side of the creek and the Saxons on the other. It deed seem the Saxons outnumbered their foes for their shieldwalls were deeper and their line wider but they hesitated to advance down the ditch and over the stream into Uther’s lines. Seeing this hesitation many Britons called it cowardice and shouted their jeers and insults at the Saxons. For some time neither army moved, until finally the Saxons began to advance down the ditch and over the stream.

The lines crashed together with a terrible noise of thunder and on the left where the men of Linnius fought there was a great contest as both sides pushed and fought. But the Saxons had not put their finest warriors against the men of Linnius but instead a levy of Saxon ceorls and after some time the Saxon levy grew tired and fearful of their foes and began to withdraw. Lord Flavius Cassius, who was in command of the left flank, lead his men in an advance then, and they struck down the Saxons as they tried to flee. Some thegns, being lead by Byrhtnoth Cenredson, seeing a break in their lines rushed forward and formed a shieldwall to keep the men of Linnius from overwhelming their flank. They fought well and bravely and many men of Linnius were struck down, but the new shieldwall was shorter and the men of Linnius surged around it and the Saxons bent their formation back to protect their flank and thus many men lead by Lord Cassius, Rufus and Leonius among them, fought past the Saxon’s front lines. In this fighting Leonius was struck badly in the shoulder. Then he gave a cry of anger, remembering how his father and grandfather had been struck down by Saxons, and hewed the Thegn who had struck him, puncturing his maille and slaying him.

Having fought past the Saxon front line, the men of Linnius found another levy of ceorls, but, having seen the fate of those before them, the ceorls turned and fled back down the ditch and across the stream. The men of Linnius gave chase, although in the confusion Lord Cassius’ banner bearer was struck down and none could tell on the left flank whether the men of Linnius triumphed or faltered. By this time Leonius had suffered several more wounds and was bleeding badly, and so retired from the fighting, leading a small band of wounded men back towards the baggage.

Down in the ditch, the slaughter was terrible and the men of Linnius had advanced across the stream and up the other side killing all the way and there they reformed a shieldwall. Across from them was another levy of spearmen, but this was lead by a great saxon Thegn called Caewlin Ceolmundson. Caewlin strode forth from his shieldwall and cried insults at the men of Linnius. He banged his spear on his shield and challenged any man to face him in single combat. Then he raised his armour and urinated towards the men of Linnius, calling them cowards.

Before any other man could respond, Rufus Victorius stepped out of his shieldwall. He was as tall as the Saxon but it was not an even match. The Saxon was a killer of men and the sum of Rufus’ fighting experience had been gathered in this battle alone. Still, Rufus stepped forwards and they both advanced towards each other between the lines. Then, Rufus threw his spear and it was a good throw, but Caewlin danced back from it, then Caewlin threw his spear and it was also a good throw but Rufus caught it on his shield. Then, Caewlin charged forwards and he and Rufus fought with swords. At first it seemed Caewlin would overbear Rufus and knock him to the ground, but it was a feint and Rufus knocked Caewlin’s sword from his hands. Then Caewlin drew his long knife and made as if to grapple with Rufus, but his courage left him and Caewlin turned to flee back to his lines. As he did so, Rufus stabbed him in the back and the sword came out his front. Then the men of Linnius cheered for their champion had defeated the Saxons’ and Rufus dragged the thegn’s body back to his own lines and took from him his helmet and knife and then the Saxon ceorls fled for they had no heart to fight the men of Linnius but behind them, coming up the road, were Saxon reinforcements and Lord Cassius knew they could not defeat them.

So the men of Linnius crossed back over the stream, and then they saw that the battle had not gone well behind them. The Saxons had fought well and although Uther’s army had not been driven back, neither had they advanced and the slaughter was great on both sides. It was now that Rufus found the banner of lord Cassius clutched in the hands of its bearer, covered as it was by Saxons its bearer had slain. He brought the banner to lord Cassius and lord Cassius waved it and shouted and his men beat their weapons on their shields. They hoped that Uther would see their victory on the left flank and charge down with his horsemen to sweep up the enemy from behind and drive them from the field. But Uther did not.

Finally, the Saxons facing Uther’s men began to withdraw and the men of Linnius, exhausted and without support, could not pursue them. The Saxons crossed back over the stream and although the men of Linnius had fought well and bravely, there was no victory that day.

Uther met with the leader of the Saxons, named Aelle, and between them they negotiated a truce, for neither side had advantage of the other, and for all of Uther’s plans and promises, the Saxons were not driven back into the sea but instead more Saxons would come and settle the lands they still held and there would be more fighting in the months and years to come.

For all this, Uther still gave feasts for his army, and did his men and his allies much honour. Lord Cassius also gave a feast for the men that had fought with him, and there Rufus met his daughter, and he was much taken by her for she was beautiful but also clever. Then the army dispersed, each returning to their own kingdoms and the men of Linnius returned home, wondering what fate had met the Duke and his army in the north.

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