And now we are coming to it. When I wrote this piece I felt a kind of despair looming. Within the world of their own book the author is, I suppose, omnipotent. I wanted to suggest something of the desperation that an experienced warrior would feel knowing that, against all good advice, their lord had committed them to face the spears of their enemy. There was an inescapable doom approaching and I could do nothing about it other than try to express it in exactly those terms to the reader. For this reason, Coenred is solemn. He knows that he cannot change the minds of Edwin and Morcar. They are determined to win some glory for themselves.
Perhaps one of the most tragic aspects of the Battle of Fulford Gate, other than the fact that it seldom gets more than a footnote in most accounts of 1066, is that, even though taking to the field rather than holding the walls of York, Eorl Edwin actually made a clever choice of battleground. With the river on one flank and the marsh on the other Edwin negated any chance of the Vikings being able to outflank his lines. This meant that King Hardrada would have to attack head on, which meant crossing the Germany Beck. Although they had the advantage of greater numbers in the warfare practiced by both the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings that did not always confer an advantage. When a shieldwall of seasoned warriors planted itself firmly in the way of its enemies then only the bloodiest of attacks could possibly move it.
Eorl Edwin had the advantage, Coenred could see that, but King Hardrada had the experience. That was something that the huscarl also knew. The lesson he gives to the two young noblemen at Fulford Gate on the evening on the battle is actually a warning. Coenred knows that many a leader has come to grief in the pursuit of glory and that such actions usually lead to the slaughter of their own men. He wishes to avoid this at all costs. His ability to influence events beyond the graphic demonstration that he gives Edwin and Morcar is severely limited, however.
Despite the brooding atmosphere I thought that this was a good place to reunite the reader with young Edwin, Coenred’s new shield-bearer. The lad might be ruing his timing. He has gone from being a homeless stray to becoming the servant of a rich lord, but all that might end in a few hours. Edwin has no experience of war and Coenred has no intention of forcing him into a fight that the lad is unprepared for. The huscarl knows that it is a waste to throw untrained and ill-equipped men into combat. He is also aware that Edwin has his pride as well as a degree of natural courage, but neither of those will stand him in good stead against their old enemy. Fortunately for the young Edwin, Coenred is also noble by nature.
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