and the advantage was lost, at least for the time being. The two groups clashed and the elite of Haroldâ€™s army took on the best of Williams â€“ and â€“ on the whole proved brave and worthy of their reputation.
This merry band of warriors were some six or seven ranks deep took great presence of mind and personal discipline to resist pushing forward, which might have jeopardised the strength of the shield wall under sheer weight and pressure from its rear. Little could be achieved from this position, other than to wait patiently for those in front to be slain and then reinforced by others at their direct rear. This ploy seemed hardly conducive to victory, in hoping that casualties suffered would allow those at the rear to engage. Of course this would be the way it would be although upon the success in repelling the first onslaughts, that concept seemed distant and quite improbable. For the time being the greater majority of Saxons looked on in awe as the Huscarls scythed their way through the attackers and it seemed completely incredible that such long and fierce some axes could be wielded in extended attack and not hit any close allies to either side or rear.
Casualties were mounting but then it slowly dawned that the gap that distanced the front line was gradually diminishing and harsh reality indicated the course of action was no longer one sided. However this attack had a major element in common with the failed one to the right, insomuch as access to the attacking forces were increasingly hampered by casualties to their front, whilst engagements highly individual at that time, required the protagonists needing reasonable room to operate. One other aspect to the Saxon detriment was the pressure from behind as the depth of Norman knights, slowly but surely forced the whole host forward, causing further disadvantage to those in contact, and costing life after life. Ferocity weakened as the effort of surmounting the hill with immediate engagement beginning to take its toll and William recognised the parity of the losses were unfavourable and ordered their withdrawal.
Again the horses acted as aggressive decoy to cover the withdrawal, and in good order, still under attack from the few missiles that were left. The pride of Williams army backed steadily down the hill, with baying chant of the Saxon word â€˜Out; Out; Out!â€™ the sheer volume giving the auditory impression of a great pack of baying dogs. The only other sound being the muffled moans of the wounded that littered the ground to the immediate front of the shield wall, the silence of their voice only quelled by slaughterhouse murder without mercy. The whole area both to front and amidst the Saxon shield wall, was littered with severed arms, legs, and heads, with bloody torsoâ€™s seemingly lost being devoid of limbs or brain. The grass was now so bloody, it became sticky underfoot, and many warriors opted to stand shoeless to gain what purchase was possible in place of the shining smooth soles offering little grip or stability. A very valid attribute when swinging weapon and body with the confidence of simple immovability or deny the prospect of gravity having its will.
Many at the rear had still been denied direct contact with the foe and served only to offer assistance to those injured and passage to the rear lines to get gaping wounds tended. The sad thing was, the severity of their injuries were such that survival was highly improbable and with the absence of basic disinfectants, injuries would soon turn gangrenous and death follow painfully slowly, without comfort or hope of survival. Pestilence would follow and many would groan in agonised protest that their demise would take so long, as the stench of death and decay increased to intolerable levels, even though these poor wretches had only one means of release from it.
Haroldâ€™s choice of location at the top of the hill was at very least fortuitous and added enormous pressure to hard pressed invaders. The sheer weight of their personal armour was essential to self preservation but it became all too appealing to take ones chances and discard at very least the heavy steel mail and depend upon the protective benefits of hauberks or aketons. Meanwhile the mounted knights had increased difficulty in persuading their mounts to ascend the hill and numerous runs to deliver hand thrown spears, was clearly taking its toll of equestrian energy and willpower. After four or five fairly ineffective attacks, the steeds were put to rest and others brought forward to the fray. The trouble was, the rotation of time and energy was insufficient to allow full respite and enthusiasm and resolve were soon stark sacrifice to fatigue.
William recognised the dilemma and resolved to make better and more measured use of the force he was convinced would turn the tide of battle, if only that bloody wall would crumble. In the meantime he galloped along the reassembled line of three separate phalanxes and hurled a confusion of rage and encouragement at his army in frustration. Respective Dukes were summoned to a council of war, which happened in full view of the Saxons, but far enough away to pose no threat or danger. The bearer of the Papal banner took great pains to ensure he remained by the side of his master, William, but now, somewhat irritated and impatient, he reined his horse sidewards to literally shuffle the standard bearer out of the way and make space for a more important observer to his plans. Cursory glances were cast both up the hill and along the diminishing line of the Norman army. Quick conclusion was reached that they had sustained the larger portion of casualties and still faced the obstacle of that painstaking climb up the slope that drained all energy before contest could be engaged and that geographic obstacle could tip the balance between life and death.
Frustration at the failure to make any marked headway against this rag tag and bob tail army that fought on foot, enraged William and he resolved to send in his whole foot army to engage, at the same time offering respite to the horses and closing of the ranks of archers even further. Respective Dukes returned to their phalanx and gazed eagerly up and down the line to ensure attention was maintained and a unified attack could embark as soon as the whole line was ready. Leaders arms were raised in confirmation of readiness and much encouraged by reassurances of their leadership the whole army launched themselves forward with a great roar of aggression, in cohesive as the multi lingual chanting that followed was unique only to the men in close proximity, yet remained encouraging less to those that could not understand it. The only thing the whole host had in common was the timing of the chant that was complimentary to the beating of each heart, as measured paces were taken to surmount the first obstacle, the natural incline of hill that drained them of energy and impetus.
Irritated at the lack of action the knights had dismounted to remove un necessary weight and strain on the backs of their steeds and looked on at the mass of manpower with a mixture of pride, resentment, and foreboding. At the same time, the archers whose ranks had parted to allow passage through the lines, now eagerly serviced bows and arrows in anticipation of more effective use than previously employed. Meanwhile the enthusiasm of the chanting began to decline as the hill took steady toll of energy, with resolve being more reflective influenced by the chanting from the Saxon line and the rain of missiles, rocks, and arrows that fell upon their heads, causing more irritation than injury. The distance between the two forces diminished and as it neared to about fifty yards, it seemed to pause or hesitate momentarily, with the Normans taking the opportunity to gather breath and enthusiasm whilst making final adjustments to armour, displaced by constant movement and a natural inhibition to resist gravity on both man and armour up the steep slope in transit.
Progress lapsed with a mighty roar enveloping the whole host raising weapons high in exultation of the great masses lunging forward in eager attack. The intensity of the me-lee and the mayhem that accompanied this attack was tumultuous. The muscular power of so many individuals was enhanced by the sheer depth of number behind the connecting force, who by sheer enthusiasm, were pushed too close into the Saxon wall to permit successful attack or defence and to a large extent were slaughtered where they stood. They in turn fell earthward joining the heap of fallen comrades causing further obstacle under foot.
All but involuntarily, the next ranks were greeted by heavy, razor sharp axes cutting down from above and swords slashing at any breach or opening that revealed itself. The Saxon line stood firm, but there was a distinct shaking effect as inch by inch it edged backward under the sheer weight of attack and the front line too was to suffer from the inflexible weight of humanity at their backs. Swords slashed and spears were hurled over heads in absolute turmoil and chaos. The turmoil that engulfed the whole line became desperate in the urgency of retaining solid defensive wall with those at the back, eagerly forward gaining an opportunity to engage. Sheer frustration was clear on their faces, as effort to break through their own contemporaries was tempered with the reality that in pushing them forward or out of the way, simply impaired the ability of those to fight in the front rank.
Gushers of blood spurted skyward along with the odd limb or disarmed weapon. Gashes of deep wounds sent individuals reeling back and out of the way, their place filled immediately by the man to their direct rear, but there passage to the rear became impaired by the eagerness of those in their path to go forward. Whilst one man suffered an injury to his upper thigh where the flesh and muscle opened up like clasped hands to take water in relief of a gasping throat. Red muscle and white corpuscles were literally filled by the manâ€™s own hand that got lost in its depth, unable to quell the flow of blood, serving only to prevent the upper leg collapsing on itself in supreme effort to withdraw from the line.
Anotherâ€™s arms hung limp and motionless as the only thing preventing one from complete separation from its host, was remnants of unbroken ring mail still intact but ineffective as blood once again pumped freely as the ashened face of the bearer gaped sickly at his mortal injury. A second man tried to pinch an artery to quell the flow of lifeâ€™s fluid, in full knowledge that bleeding to death was, to say the least no fun.
Pain of severed limb and amputation is strangely mute as testosterone compensated for shock and surprise sought to deter the steady, bloody outflow of energy and sustenance to feed recovery and senses begin to wane and falter as eyes cloud and images fade. If clear thought could be achieved once more, it was the deep yearning for the whole matter to conclude, for it to stop and release the human spirit whose life simply ebbed away.
Some unfortunate souls were unable to remain standing and literally crawled between the legs and feet of comrades still unengaged. Some leant down to assist passage, trying to lift and help wounded men, but the weight of press and armour, combined with writhing in pain made their effort impossible. Frustrated and desperate, hopelessness engulfed the spirit of the injured and those few that did achieve the baggage train sought the only relief they could expect in the comfort of family or friends. Administering aid was conducted with quiet resolve, but the severity was all too often beyond repair and the natural remedies to apply aid, including ancient knowledge of plant life to cause blood clots were simply swamped and drowned by the free flow of blood.
Volume of sound that echoed across the valley was horrendous as steel crashed on steel and wood split in great cracks, whilst humans gasped in horror as the plight of the injured and first line combatants deteriorated. The whole Saxon wall seemed to vibrate and shake in resonance to the sound, but it held fast and to the right flank, the attack stood with depleted resolve as the men in its ranks began to falter, but it was only momentary and the ferocity of both defence and attack reached a new urgency as limbs began to tire and some front line soldiers had no choice but to retire and allow replacement as fatigue overcame energy and adrenalin levels diminished. None-the-less those that replaced their comrades were surprisingly drained as frustration was no less debilitating, but they fared better and with eager resolve, stepped into the breach and engaged the enemy full on.
Measurement of time was only achieved by movement of the sun, and only its height in the sky gave clear indication that the day was half over and as it sunk once again the little heat that reduced impaired the weight of armour offering modest cooling as the afternoon would slip into evening. The fight continued, the carnage ensued as the administration and delivery of death became almost mechanical in the face of sheer desperation.
Increasingly the demand of combat upon the human body could not undergo continuous effort, but it had to, or it would simply cease! Hope gone, despair present, survival impulsive and guided human response to attack after enhanced training or experience persisted in lashing out in bitter defiance of any implement that came near to offering threat. Parrying blows became less relevant than delivering attacks; after all putting down an opponent stopped him dead in his tracks thus preventing further delivery or attack. The urgency of defence was blinded even to the possibility that half blinded, desperate defence might result in the loss of life of an ally in close proximity, but there was no time to differentiate, attack followed through impending threat, thus feared danger was simply removed.
Casualties were high yet still favouring the static position of the Saxon shield wall and unless their fortunes were to change drastically, a rout was highly imminent and William recognised he had no choice but to retire and regroup so that he could recompose his forces and consider his options. The command to disengage was simultaneous and the shock of absolute silence that accompanied the disengagement was eerie. The Saxons stood aghast as the Normans turned on their heels and assisted the walking wounded they retired down the slope. Saxons on the other hand crouched forward in relief and rested shields onto ground and chins on top of shields. Many lifted off both helm and mail coif and placed them on pommels of swords with blades vertically sunk into sticky, mushy soil, discoloured and bloody and some were simply unable to resist the absolute need to retire and allow less tested warriors to take their place whilst they regained both energy and resolve.
Glad of the opportunity, their spaces were eagerly filled, but it was not so much as bravado, but more simplicity being little more than spectators without effect or impact upon their own lives and future. Now, they could make direct contact and physical influence on the continuity of their lives and families, that was, providing they survived. Even that acknowledged doubt was more favourable than leaving personal destiny in the hands of others. With no less efficiency than their counterparts, the shield wall was reinforced and made solid by incoming warriors, their resolve no less solid and for all the deaths that had been endured the situation remained basically unchanged and the line held fast as opposing invaders diminished in numbers.
Williams men did not have luxury of having reinforcements, whereas William deduced Haroldâ€™s retinue excluded whole tracts of country such as the fenland or the north and of course that could change by the arrival of vast, fresh, and enthusiastic reinforcements at any time. He needed time to think but recognised he could not afford to reduce the pressure and momentum of attack, thus with due consideration he ordered his left flank to engage. The Bretons who out of the whole engagement looked the weaker were a somewhat strange choice or ploy that made little sense to his Dukes who knew fell well to protest his decision might well prove terminal.
The mounted knights in front of the Breton forces automatically engaged in fast delivered conveyance of spears and missiles to distract and disseminate the strength of resolve in the forces soon to be engaged. Whilst Norman archers somewhat despairingly cast their glance into the eyes of the slow tramping foot soldiers moving resolutely through their ranks expressionless. Some received encouragement of archers patting their backs and shoulder blades in gesture of human contact, sympathy and in a distant sort of fashion, support. But without response or emotion, they moved on through to embark upon the gradual climb to attack the still resolute wall of shields.
Meantime archers in the central position of Normans commenced loosing arrows in their support, whilst those that had just offered support and encouragement began the perilous task of loosing arrows over their heads as they closed the gap and neared the target. This required them to loose high into the sky and drop rain like onto the defenders, who quite naturally raised their shields in self defence. William was not slow in recognising the disengaging impact this had on the strength of the shield wall and in stretching his hand to his brow, a wry grin crossed his jaw as the first weakness was both recognised and logged in memory, with revitalised confidence he observed the assault in eager anticipation. The cavalry withdrew, the archers ceased their deluge, and the front lines of both forces engaged with a mighty crash.
Williamâ€™s exuberance at recognising the significance of this possible weakness launched his right flank to engage its opponents in support. The attack being somewhat slower than that of the Bretons gave a false sense of timing and he surveyed the progress up the hill, accompanied by the crash of steel to his far left, but failed to recognise that the first group had been engaged for far longer and their energy and resilience was beginning to decline and contract on itself. The resolve of both forces was no less ferocious but the modest weakness in the will to attack soon spread amidst the Bretons like a contagion. Disheartened, a few broke ranks without instruction and began the urgent descent back down the hill. Their contemporaries became acutely aware of this and whilst the distraction of concentration cost some of them their lives, others believed their weakness would cause a complete massacre or rout. The line broke in a dis-shevelled, panicking mass, to race back down the hill with gravity in this instance offering assistance, albeit at times causing some to trip and be trampled by the rabble now in full, panicking, flight.
From out of the sky.
At first the Saxons, jubilant encouragement seemed at first sufficient, but some broke ranks to pursue the slower, perhaps injured foe to slaughter without mercy, others followed suit believing they could rout and destroy the disorganised rabble. More importantly, the whole Saxon line on the left flank disintegrated into a whooping charge to engage in what they must have seen as the first sign of victory. The plight of the retreating Bretons was met with shock and dismay but William he also observed with practised eye, that the pursuing Saxons had left a yawning gap between themselves and the rest of their forces. That gap had to be exploited and he launched the full might of his mounted knights to outflank them and cut off the line of retreat or reinforcement.
What followed was a pitiful slaughter as the Bretons turned face and the mounted knights hacked mercilessly at the disorganised individuals no longer able to sustain joint protection but fight desperately, vainly to save their own lives. The scene was of wretched butchery and their comrades could only look on in dismal horror. The prospect of taking prisoners was not even considered as the Normans systematically set about their grisly task and massacred most gruesomely, the whole right flank of the Saxon shield wall. Friend and foe were entwined in hand to hand fighting whilst those elevated at horse height could determine the foe more readily and added to the butchery with relish; any that sought to escape were pursued by Bretons and cut down by numerous swords hacking off lumps of human flesh and maimed bodies lay quivering in pathetic response as a last nervous reaction of life as it drained away. Fathers sons, brothers and comrades lay mangled in heaps beyond human recognition, discrimination of age or injury was irrelevant if not impossible. The slaughter had barely subsided when ravens swooped and began to hover to peck at dead menâ€™s eyes undisturbed, making the whole scene that much more macabre as not all those that they feasted upon were necessarily dead.
The struggle on Williams right or Haroldâ€™s left went into immediate decline, but in this case the withdrawal was organised and the Saxon wall held fast, leaving all participants bearing witness to the spectacle of the massacre. Many Saxons expressed a will to break rank and race down and help their comrades but were heavily chastised by their lords to hold position and hold fast. Most called words of encouragement or warning, whilst others surveyed the whole scene in dreadful silence and utter despair.
Harold himself was identified from afar as he strode forward to observe the bloodbath and stood aghast in utter helplessness. Then with calm resolve he turned to face the great yawning gap left in the wake of the recent dÃ©bÃ¢cle and called the remaining war captains to conference and after a very short, agitated exchange they returned to their host and began to implement his revised instructions.
The Saxon shield wall had been up to ten yards deep, filled by increasing but small numbers of late comers, as well as reinforcements of treated casualties that dutifully returned to take up position. Now, the front line began to stretch itself more thinly to make up the breach, but that left small but definable gaps in the wall, no longer allowing shields to interlock and mutually support each other by their union. This was further diminished by those that had held the second and third line behind the front, which interspersed combatants away from familiar faces and acknowledged leaders, but resolved to their task they accepted their new disposition stoically.
Meanwhile William had not failed to observe the altered situation and exploited it further by ordering renewed and sustained volleys of arrows to be rained down upon the Saxons, but this time from the heavens as the elevation was much increased and the skies were blackened by swathes of arrows that whistled in flight like a swarm of bees diving to a hive and swarming in great number as they landed onto the heads of their tiring targets. Many raised shields over there heads to receive the volley, but many simply didnâ€™t have shields and fell foul to the falling arrows. Helmets may have diverted passage and mail prevented penetration, but casualties began to mount as comrades protected comrades by sharing shield cover for what it was worth.
In spite of the the uphill assault impairing visible progress the defensive wall was steadfastly reformed suffering considerable thinning to its depth and to make things worse, William launched another scathing mounted onslaught of his whole force, who harried and hampered reformation, at the same time, heavily reinforcing the urgency of its need. Whilst the range established by the archers was exploited further and with increasing effect as the constant rain of arrows continued during several more foot attacks but were doggedly repulsed with yet another passing of mounted knights which enjoyed only modest successâ€™s the shield wall displayed signs of weakening and the die was cast.
The Saxon line had been broken, but reformed, a little weaker, but no less reformed. A campaign of attrition would in the course of time wear down the defenders but by William employing a scorched earth policy, he had denied himself any access to provisions which by now were getting critically low and as such permitting an extension into a second day was considered fatal and his quest for victory was vigorously renewed.
Whereas Harold not only received voluntary support from behind and around the place of a battle, but the absent regional warlords had still not put in an appearance and should they decide to support King Harold, they could double the defending force with relative ease and most surely turn the tide of battle. With urgency in mind and the sun beginning to sink hazily into the horizon, he knew he could not permit the contest to go undecided into the night, something had to break, or all would be lost.
Both lines were reformed albeit a little smaller and after resuscitation of fluids and fruit both sides refreshed, looked upon each other with a mixture of awe and respect. The day had been long and bloody, but nature would soon cast its shadow over the proceedings and in so much as the gentle g fragrance of dampened autumn leaves was now strongly subdued by the stench of death and the distinct smell of blood was further compounded by broken and fragmented bone.
Desperation succumbed to resolve as William decided to opt for a full and committed attack that would decide everything, one way or another. Ordering a further, concentrated loosing of arrows, he personally led the charge up the hill accompanied by the Papal standard that clearly identified his passage most graphically. Such vanity was aimed as encouragement, and so it did as one of the few remaining Saxon archers loosed a well placed arrow that brought down his favourite, black mare. Severely wounded the beast thrashed around in pain until William himself crushed its skull with a well placed mace to relieve its suffering.
Not all the riders had seen what had happened but those that did, interpreted the fall he took as fatal and a rumour soon went out that William was dead, dead, and slain and the impetus of the mounted charge diminished to a halt and the whole force seemed lost without will or reason. The arrows ceased to fall and the only real movement was one of Williams personal retainers racing to his side with his spare horses and helped him to the saddle where, in tipping back his helmet, he revealed that he lived and with a resolute cry of
â€˜Look at me, see me, I live! Pax Deauâ€™ the charge resumed with full fury till contact was made. But this time due to the loss of momentum, the horses actually crashed into the shield wall at great cost to those that reached it first, but even still it the tiring manpower reeled back under the sheer shock of weight.
Inability to lock shields caused a weakness that could not prevent single breaches as individual knights broke through to be butchered without regard, but they had shown the way and as arrows still rained from above, the foot soldiers reached the line and began a desperate engagement that was chipping away steadfastly and the tenacity of the defenders began to wain. In the meantime several ranks to the rear were unable to any engagement to their immense frustration and resigned themselves to helping the wounded with a cursory lob of an offensive missile doing little more than momentarily pleasing the defender. To one side the two brothers fought tenaciously, the taller of the two finding no difficulty in engaging mounted knights or man on foot. His arm crashed down with speedy force splitting the cranium of some, or breaking collar bones of others. Whereas his older brother found himself thrashing from side to side with his sword, engaging several men at one time and with the blood rage pursuing them down the hill to absent himself from wall and defence.
A stocky framed Saxon had seen his plight and attacked any that attempted to come at him from the rear and between them they took account of some ten men, but the urgency of their assault was to succumb to the mutual need of self defence. Faithkeeper broke through the line and grabbed him by the shoulder to be received by an aggressive spin and upraised weapon poised to strike. His comrade thankfully witnessed the deed and catching a glimpse of Pats natural response he screamed at him to stop, which thankfully he did and in the momentary lull, Faithkeeper cajoled and dragged both warriors back to the line protesting and cursing vigorously, they rejoined their comrades and arched their midriff in quest for breath as the rage left their bodies and modest sanity made its demands on tiring organs stretched to capacity.
Norman foot soldiers appeared to melt into the grass where they stood as the Saxon shield wall was forced to repel another full frontal attack by the mounted knights. Incursions occurred in several places, sometimes two, even three horses broke through, but they were taken in rein and hacked down ingloriously. Their sacrifice did not go un â€“noticed or unrewarded as a toll of Saxons was measured. Meanwhile it was said that William had had another horse cut away from under him, but now he was in the thick of the conflict. Meeting orders and death he was determined to press home the advantage his hard pressed knights had earned him. The Saxon wall began to crumble and It transpired by breathless whisper that King Harold had been injured, but neither Regent had come into close contact. None the less the Saxon Kings location was easily spotted by the circle of fearsome Huscarls and the Long man banner above their heads. And try as he might, William could not penetrate the fierce throng of defenders that hacked and hewed at anything in a conical helmet.
Hard pressed in one segment of the line became frenzied and desperate as each Norman presented himself as executioner he was cut down mercilessly, or retracted in dismay at the ferocity of the Saxon defence. Ironically increased number of combatants suited a lone axeman as he could thrash and cut with ever widening slashes of his two handed axe, resolve tempered with simple desperation and the simplistic transit of the weapon was in wide circular motion that was only too welcoming for something to get in its path, or acted as a stay to deter its path, or make it worthwhile. Adrenalin soared with equal variations to levels of serotonin and endorphins assisted a fury and blood rage that left the axeman almost blind and impervious to the destruction he meted out and this strange personal trauma was accompanied by absolute silence, a white silence, whatever that was and an eerie absence of reality as visual images were distorted into snap shots flashing before eyes that strained to comprehend the sheer speed in which they presented themselves. A wide horizontal swing to the other side resulted in the diamond shaped blade digging horizontally deep into the face of another, splitting the nose and both cheek bones with little hindrance. Releasing a stifled, gurgled unearthly scream, the man fell to my feet writhing helplessly with pain and clutching his destroyed face. Thrashing the blade at the nearest human in a wide arc vertically from left to right and downward, the blade crashed down on another conical helm, then twisted in the shape of a figure eight to spin under a kite shield point, locking onto it and forcing it upward and around, contorting the bearer into a half prone figure revealing his back, to received a hefty descending cut severing his spine right through and his weight lunged forward in uncontrolled agony. Drawing the axe in low wide circle from right to left and upward it strike the protruding chin of the man assailed only moments earlier disgorging his jaw from his face and sending it spiralling skyward with teeth on its tail. Then, with a forced thrust straight into the face of another with automated response to suddenly realise, it was a Saxon, who thankfully only suffered a split and smashed cheek bone, but did continue fighting until his fate reached its predetermined conclusion.
Timeless without measure mental control was completely lost until shocked back into reality by some image or receipt of pain or injury and sure enough, a sharp, uncompromising pain was inevitable. One last time the shaft of axe swung high and wide to crash down on a brain pan that split open like a melon with ooze gushing out, a chunk of brain erupting from the space and the bearer dropping to earth lifeless, making it that much easier to withdraw the blade with relative ease and helped by gravity. But the injury was severe and the axeman slumped to the soggy soil as blood drained rapidly from a deep gash to the left knee. Delivered by a slashing sword that deflected by the hauberk, dug deep into the left leg and downward gouging a deep injury some fifteen inches long and smashing the knee cap out of its place. Collapsing to the ground without choice or control would normally resulted in a final death blow but the wry young, ginger Saxon, much shorter than most found his way below the gaze of oncoming Normans and ran his sword in upward thrust under the attackerâ€™s mail shirt to catch and gut the belly of the man that had struck the axeman down. His mail concealed the wound momentarily but the intestines slopped ground ward followed by the wide eyed, blank, disbelieving expression of the man that was once host to them as he slipped groaning to earth and add yet another writhing human, in the agony of death throes.
Gimleys frail frame made sincere effort to support the lame axeman away from the area, but the bedlam and chaos was just too much and he fell back in agony to see him disappearing into a sea of fighting humanity. Disabled and totally vulnerable the axeman punched his right hand down heavily on the inside of his left knee and literally forced the disjointed knee bone back into place, with pain causing a shrill yet muffled groan of pain that was lost in the swell of battle and went unnoticed. The force of delivery had pushed the knee joint into the slimy grime of blood and guts underfoot revealed the main torso of body was covered in dripping blood with only a modest amount being that of the injured Saxon. Having lain on the blood soaked earth gave hum the appearance of having been butchered and maimed, but above all the most horrendous sensation was the stench, the stench of blood and disrupted bone, as if crushed to powder and cast into the wind.
At best grounded, there was a fleeting glimpse of Haroldâ€™s retinue fighting desperately to deny access to any of the great number of assailants that sought the glory of his demise and for a brief moment there was a glance of the King himself, his face contorted with the shaft of an arrow protruding upward, from his left cheek over his eye, that was swollen and bleeding profusely. Doggedly he fought on with his brave Huscarls slain so close to each other, the corpses could not drop in the fast diminishing redoubt. Immobile as the axeman was, bodies stumbled against him who crawled painfully, slowly, in the direction that yielded the most light, dragging his axe once used instinctively to despatch an injured Norman who rose to full height on knees before being cut deep and clean through his left shoulder and destroyed both collar bone and wind pipe. Whatever other injury he endured this last cut was the unkindest of all and his body slumped face down, gurgling and motionless, his rump still raised, but not moving.
Something landed on the axemanâ€™s right shoulder blade heavily and then dropped with a loud thump to his side. It was a head, decapitated, with eyes gaping, as if thought still registered through the brain wondering where it was, what it was doing, and where the rest of it was, but no, no sound of protest, no cry of pain, it just splashed in the blood as it dropped heavily onto its left cheek and gazed fish eyed into eternity. Through the maze of legs there was a slight clearing and as he gradually neared it, he recognised a lone axe man fending of all attacks with a long handled, single bladed Dane axe that was greasy with blood, causing him to wipe both shaft and hands clean to prevent slipping and loss of control of the weapon.. It was Fullen raised to full height with eyes glazed over, deeply reddened and bloodshot. His height exceeded six feet and the length of arm, extended by the length of axe shaft held any would be assailants at bay by about twelve feet in a radius around his person, heaped with corpses, and injured, their zeal to unleash attack being rewarded by death and injury.
Eagle eyed, Fullen caught a glimpse of the injured axeman and extending a hand, he swung menacingly with the other to deter those already nervous of closing the gap between them. Then half lifting, half dragging the two stumbled across the corpse strewn hilltop to a copse on one side where both dropped unceremoniously for just one moment before he staggered off to engage Norman knights that had engaged one of the Kings brothers and the axeman joined his brothers in rich feasting in Valhalla. Two other Saxons obstructed the passage of five horsemen filling the gap and seemed intent on a lone target that was standing weak and battered, as if lost and mentally drained. It was the King with blood congealed on his face and his arms hung limp down both sides. In a thrice his person was concealed by reeling, stamping horses, that trod bone and flesh underfoot in a frenzied and vicious exercise in butchering the human torso ingloriously. It seemed impossible that a human frame could endure such savagery, but as the five knights hacked wildly to bring him down, it was the slow collapse at the knees that caused him to gradually fall, as if the very sky supported him, and rules of gravity no longer applied. Finally succumbing to the assault the knights continued their grisly business and hacked the torso limb from limb until nothing was recognisable but blood that mingled with his favoured Huscarls that had sacrificed their own lives at his feet. The King endured such savage, frenzied destruction of body parts that it seemed to cause bits and pieces of meat and body parts to scatter in the immediate vicinity and come to rest in a gruesome layer over the bodies of his former retinue.
The Long Man Standard closely associated with the Godwinson family was nowhere to be seen and rumour had it that one of Haroldâ€™s brothers might well have survived and taken it off into the wields and downlands to rise up against the invader with a vengeful and outraged populace. Better still, maybe a brother had taken his place to allow the King a chance to rally and the legend was born of this great man to continue and grow in these times of his nationâ€™s peril.
The sun by this time was low in the sky and the light was beginning to fade. In the distance isolated engagements still ensued, but it seemed more like acts of savagery were being inflicted on the dead and the die-ing. And the crones of battle had already gathered and started their grisly task of stripping the dead and salvaging anything of any value for later appraisal. Carrion began their human feast whilst weeping wives, mothers, and sisters endured the grotesque task of locating, if possible, their loved ones in the midst of such horrendously disfigured humanity. The sight was absolutely pitiful. Heaps of corpses lay mostly naked, with deep gouged injuries covered in swarms of insects, disturbed only by crow and ravens that pecked out most eyes and feasted bloodily off open wounds that gave access to innards and guts. Some women still searched for loved ones and monks were shoved roughly away, denying final Christian rights to the perceived heathen army.
To one side stood out a person of majesty haranguing what looked like the five knights that had slaughtered the King. With angry gesture he seemed to dismiss them and looking extremely dejected, they mounted their steeds and cantered slowly out of sight. Next he beckoned to a clearly ecclesiastical figure of some note, and with gestures both horizontal and vertical, he appeared to be painting a picture in the air of a structure or something of substance. His gestures ended with sign of the cross, and then casting a wistful eye over the sorry scene, he strode purposefully away and out of sight.
There remained a small area of final muster where remnants gathered called Mal fosse spared any real extent of carnage and mayhem, where survivors gathered weapons and armour of any serviceable use, and stack them in a four wheeled wagon, whilst others tethered two ponies to the front and without further ado, joined by all the surviving populace and with silent resolve began the long trek north to disappear and assemble resisting forces. Determined the conquest of England would not so easily be achieved over one single battle in the very south of its shores, it was resolved to take to the wild regions of the fenland and start a partisan war until the nation could rise and put out this alien army once and for all.