Aethelfrith

At Degsasten, under a cloud-murk sky

Aethelfrith’s force-at–arms lay quartered on the fens.

Each brave man slept deep.

It was widely understood that on the morrow,

they faced a full company of men-at-arms.

Outnumbered ten-fold on the field they would,

undaunted, face the minions of Aedan, protector of Dal Riata.

Morning came to the land,

Aethelfrith’s warrior-band made ready.

Bending low before their hastily built pagan shrines,

they offered slain beasts, and swore to uphold ancient laws,

would that the Gods were to protect them, and that which they

would fight for.

Addressing the men, Aethelfrith, son of Aethelric, spoke:

“Truth is, even the mightiest man may lay mangled on the battlefield.

Many warriors, valiant and venturesome, went on their way at

Catraeth.

I believe you are a loyal troop. I hold out my kingship, that this

danger we will defeat.

So go ahead with your war-graith and gear,

and you shall be remembered throughout the land as our nation’s

killing-sword.”

Inspired with thoughts of glory the warriors went forward,

young men marching in war-shirts and woven chain-mail.

Some to be tested, their first time as fighters –

having pledged loyalty to their lord of the nation –

beside battle-weary thanes,

together under a blaze of burnished helmets wielding scroll-worked

weapons.

Hard-edged blades designed for death and destruction,

a rose red sea of bladed arms, mirroring the rising dawn.

Aethelfrith, riding forth in magnificence,

the shepherd of his people,

recklessly led his band of retainers into the clash of battle.

They stood four-square, facing their foes,

a blood-lust welling, unleashing the killer instinct

to carry them into combat.

Pushing his mount past his warriors at a punishing speed,

Aethelfrith, brandishing his banner of gold and red called out:

“This day shall Aedan learn we are not to be trampled upon;

he shall not humiliate us in the heat of battle.”

Aedan’s campaign indeed was fated to be overpowered.

Such was the regard that the kinsmen and men-at-arms held

Aethelfrith,

his band of retainers rode in excitement toward Aedan’s force.

The king himself, their treasure-giver,

rode to the fore, fighting fearlessly, dealing death with his hard

edged blade.

The men-at-arms resolve to prove their courage in contest was as

great as their lord’s,

they drew themselves high behind the cover of their shields,

and followed the burnished helmet and war-shirt of their fabled

shepherd into mortal combat.

No coward’s path would be taken this day.

Pouring forth in coats of mail, woven by the smith,

their bloodied weapons sang of victory.

Dealing death at each stroke, unyielding, and roused to a fury,

they struck terror in the enemy.

Blades flashed and slashed, and the fields ran wet with blood.

Each man’s fighting hand came to his kinsmen’s aid, lunging,

every man acted throwing his whole strength into each sword-stroke.

So it must be that men shall act so,

to be at hand for those needful of their strength,

to be inspired by thoughts of eminence,

stay resolute in their defence,

and to bear arms in defence of their gold-giver.

Though the going was heavy,

good men lying dead in the mayhem and horror of the harrowed

field of blood,

the Almighty exacted a great price from Aedan for his wages of war

against Aethelfrith.

Sorrow was to follow Aedan and his retainers,

as they slithered away from the battle-field,

beaten, battered, a broken guard of men.

Favoured by the fortunes of battle,

Aethelfrith cried out to his warriors to return to the

seat of their nation, bringing with them their dead and wounded.

From astride his horse he said:

“Good men, now that the killing sword has done its worst,

and we are not over harmed through

the clash of battle, let us be guided home.”

So they marched,

stern-faced, and battle-weary,

Aethelfrith guiding them the shortest way

They kept to marching order,

their war-graith grimly covered in blood,

ringing out its metallic song as they moved.

Seeing their glittering bawn settled in the dale,

glowing amidst the green glade and timber dwellings,

each man’s heart welled to be granted this sight.

Aethelfrith dismounted;

walking within the walls of his hall-building,

he saw the rich wall-hangings covering the stoutest hardwood

that reached high into wide gables.

Stewards ran between tables and benches

bearing large jugs of ale,

placing cups so that the thanes could quench their thirsts.

Above the great carved throne hung a golden hilted sword,

a relic willed to Aethelfrith from his father, Aethelric.

Beside the great throne’s wooden feet lay Aethelfrith’s two great

beasts, bred only for those of noble birth,

they barked their joy at their master’s return.

Aethelfrith, sad at heart, saw none of this.

He ordered that the news of the battle be carried to those left

behind.

The troops gathered in the great hall. Aethelfrith addressed them,

“We have been victorious and beset Aedan with our small band of

warriors.

Now it comes to us to honour those who did not return.

My loss is as great as some of you.

My own brother, Theobald lay bloodied, his war-gear bought low.

He fell among the great forces he commanded this day.

My pride, my kin, is laid dead,

though I hefted my sword it was for nothing.

I was not to save the blood of my blood.

Let us build funeral pyres for the dead,

Theobald among them.”

Aethelfrith watched as they built the pyres,

Theobald’s stood out among them.

The warriors laid him atop, his torque resting on his shining armour.

Aethelfrith carried the flame,

fumes and smoke swelled;

blazing fires bore company with weeping.

***

This poem was showcased at One Shot Wednesday Week #53

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8 thoughts on “Aethelfrith”

  1. Jo, this is positively epic! I could see the battles, feel the emotions going through the warriors, so many images and feelings all wrapped up in one incredible journey. This was perfect to share over at The Bardo! Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us – I can’t believe I missed this one when you posted it…it is very memorable. I’m curious though, do the names have any significance outside of your awesome poem? 🙂

    Like

  2. Dang, he killed monks, too? 😦 That is sad to me. I just realized I used the word “epic” in my description of my thoughts about it and DUH, the tags are for Epic Poetry. I was thinking how this reminded me of Beowulf and the tale of Gilgamesh, being such a long poem, and about battles and the Scandinavian ‘feel’ to it. Now my earlier comment seems lame lol but I promise you it was honestly meant!

    Like

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