King’s Warrior: Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tour.
In 11th Century England, King William has achieved almost total domination of the Englisc and turns his attention to Scotland. Owerd, possibly the last of the Britons to be deemed ‘lord’, faces powerful enemies from all quarters. He seems to hold the king’s favour by a thread, which only serves to encourage others to try and bring him down.
Treachery abounds as he tries to juggle multiple roles and prove himself and his men worthy warriors for the Norman king. But will his lust for a woman finally prove his undoing?
Archbishop Thomas’ mount was a magnificent grey almost as tall as Demon, but fortunately a mare or fighting would have been inevitable. A pair of assistants accompanying him, both young monks, rode smaller horses that had the look of sumpters. Regardless, they were all ready to depart at the agreed time and Owerd was pleased to see that Runa, tucked in next to Cadoc as they formed up, looked largely indistinguishable from the other housecarls. The formation broke into a canter as soon as they were clear of the camp and followed a track to the north-east which skirted a range of barren-looking hills.
Once they had overcome the awkwardness of “Your Excellency” and “Lord Owerd” between them, the two leaders settled into an easy relationship. The archbishop was an accomplished rider and made a good conversation as they rode, extolling the wonders of Rome and of his other travels on the continent. He was still smarting over being forced to give up any authority south of the Humber River and having to accept the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Owerd could not help but detect some animosity Thomas held toward Archbishop Lanfranc, with whom he had once studied in Normandy.
‘I could use a man like you in York, Owerd’, he mentioned at one stage. ‘These northern Englisc are an independent and irascible breed and need a firm hand such as yours on occasion. Let us hope the Scots, though not dissimilar, see the wisdom of the peaceful outcome our own king wishes from this confrontation we ride towards. Even so, I trust them not’.
Owerd could only agree, but held his tongue and determined to keep himself and his men alert. A break for men and horses as the sun reached its zenith saw Cuthbert approach him.
‘I suspect that you will be aware, my lord, that we are being watched’.
‘I am’, Owerd responded honestly. ‘I saw them a little while back; perhaps a dozen riders keeping pace just to the west of us. It is to be expected; we are entering the heartland of the Scots and we might have more concern had we seen no-one monitoring our progress. Keep the men calm but alert please Cuthbert’.
That did serve to remind him of the peaceful intent of their mission and he took out his seax to slice off a small branch of the nearest greenery.
‘I have no inclination to go searching the wilds for a lost olive tree’, he jested to Thomas, ‘this will need suffice’.
Within an hour of being back in the saddle, one of the scouts returned to seek directions. They had come across a river with no obvious crossing and wished to know which way to search.
‘This is not yet the River Tay, I think, Owerd’, advised the archbishop. ‘I suggest we travel a little way east for a while. There must be a crossing nearby for travelers journeying north’.
His judgement was accurate. Less than a quarter hour later as they followed the river east, they came upon an obvious crossing. What made it more obvious than usual was the presence of a large body of soldiers on the opposite side arrayed in a shield wall. There were probably a hundred or more, Owerd saw, mostly on foot and in as broad a range of outfits as the variety of weapons they held. There were broadswords, pikes, axes and other implements but all held firmly and with shields close together. The conroi halted just as Osmont, their rear scout rode up to advise that the group of riders that had been tracking them had formed up to block the track leading south.
‘Have the men stay mounted, Cuthbert. If we are forced to fight then we go south with the lances to the fore’. Owerd turned to the archbishop. ‘Your excellency’, he began formally, ‘I beg you allow me to make the first approach’. A nod was all the response necessary.
Owerd raised his branch high in his left hand to signify a peaceful approach whilst also pushing his helmet more firmly down on his head, easing his sword in its scabbard and riding into the water of what he hoped was a shallow ford. The Scots had left sufficient room for him to urge Demon up a slight bank on to dry ground and he halted a couple of paces in front of a dour heavily bearded man atop a mountain pony that looked too small for him.
‘I am Lord Owerd of the Englisc king’s army. I come in peace escorting his excellency the Archbishop of York who seeks audience with your King Malcolm’.
Owerd held his breath and the Scot seemed to be doing the same for it was some moments before he spoke.
‘Ri Mael Coluim mac Donnchada is expecting you, Owerd of the Englisc’, the man said, or at least that is what Owerd thought he said as he failed to understand the Gaelic. ‘I am Domnall, Mormaer of Fife. You may bring the archbishop and one other a quarter-hour ride north with me. Your men may camp hereabouts but remain on the other side of the river. We may be back soon or away the night’.
Owerd gave a slight bow in acknowledgement and turned Demon to recross the river.
‘Your excellency, we are to be escorted north to King Malcolm who is apparently expecting us. We may take one other’.
‘Good! I need my scribe. Neel’ he called loudly. That caused much confusion in the ranks who thought they were being ordered to kneel. Fortunately, none dismounted and all became clear when one of the archbishop’s monks trotted to the front. Owerd briefed Cuthbert on what was to occur and added a caution both to accept neither food nor drink from the Scots and to ensure that Runa was kept safe and preferably out of sight.
‘Neel, you will accompany Lord Owerd and myself to meet King Malcolm and record all that is pertinent’.
Neel nodded and the threesome crossed the river.
Note from the author:
11th Century men and women were just as complex beings as we are today. Owerd, the main character in these chronicles is no different. In “King’s Warrior”, the third book of the series, he goes from violence (“…the air was filled with the clash of swords, angry shouts, and screams of the injured”) to compassion (“… Owerd had rarely, if ever, made love as tenderly as he did with Runa that night”) in the space of a day.
Happiness, fear, disgust, anger, pride and jealousy all play their part in Owerd’s character but what comes to the fore is courage, with perhaps a helping hand from fate – “wyrd” if you will.
This title is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/4A27gp
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James is a semi-retired Naval Captain with an abiding interest in storytelling and history. He has written a few contemporary fiction stories and a history text but lately has concentrated on historical fiction. He lives in a small coastal town in SE Australia – which provides quite a challenge when addressing medieval England with the aid of an old school atlas.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/jgault