This time the boy’s face was not the picture of inexperience he had seen earlier that day. Sprayed with both muck and blood alike, his breath came in quick and fast. Cuthred noted the shards missing from his shield and the churl now lacked his spear, probably lost in the fight.
“Sir…I…” He fought to give words but, being out-of-breath, none came.
Placing a hand on the herald’s shoulder, his spear butt imbedded in the soft soil, Cuthred locked his gaze, “Calm yourself. Take a deep breath and give me the message.”
The stern and senior manner of the King seemed to set the boy at ease, “Aescwulf requests your assistance.”
Cuthred had been waiting for the message; Aescwulf was a skilled warrior who had held many veteran thanes under his control. The arrogance of Ethelbard and his lust for battle had made battle run the way Cuthred had planned and the Mercian King’s strongest men had met Aescwulf head on, fighting their way uphill. Despite the seemingly impossible task, Ethelbard’s experience had allowed him to continually gain ground and Cuthred’s best man had been slowly pushed back.
Looking across at his men, he could see they were eager for more battle having defeated Ethelbard’s left flank. It had been a viscous combat, the two impregnable shield walls pushing and stabbing, each trying to force the other to break. At one point he thought their wall would falter but in the end they had proved the stronger. In the corner of his eye, he watched the foe approaching.
“Aescwulf must stand.” He growled, “Tell him to hold his ground.”
The order obviously distressed the boy but he daren’t answer back. Instead, he rushed back towards the Wessex Saxon’s position in the distance; an unflinching wall of men with corpses strewn high around them.
Cuthred turned to a second messenger at his side, this time a more experienced warrior, “Take my horse and when this line starts to break,” he pointed with his spear at the Mercian Saxons who were slowly approaching, “you know what to do.” The courier nodded and climbed up on the black beast as theWessexKing headed back towards the front line.