Into the Night

That night they camped at the edges of a small grove, no campfire burning so it’s beacon would not give away their position. They were in good moods, knowing battle was drawing close, and the last two victories were keeping spirits high. One man sat leaning back against a silver birch tree, its pale white flesh broken by streaks of dark brown. He was tracing his fingers over the edge of his sword, nimble hands playing over the sharpened edge. His eager eyes and cheerful grin showed the youth that nearly all these mean possessed and Woden wondered if Cuthred had given him his most inexperienced thanes; probably. Nevertheless it felt odd. Most assumed he was entitled to the position of thane, yet only his friend knew of his lower class birth. Only his friend knew he had wandered from battlefield to battlefield, earning his life by slaying foe; a life lacking compassion or pity. In truth, he was ranked lower than the men he commanded.

Still, it did not matter, he reflected, looking across at Bowdewyn. He knew his friend would cover his back in battle and always felt at ease when he saw him laughing and joking at a time when most were filled with anxiety. Despite the pre-battle tension in the air, it was unlikely that Odell would try to stop them with so few thane nobles. He might try to overpower them with churls that were loyal to him but Wodel reckoned these were few and far between.

The farmhouse was about half a mile behind them. The old man hadn’t been too eager to offer them shelter but had done so all the same, as a mark of respect. Whether the small place could hold his eleven men Woden did not know, but he had refused the offer. He wanted his men ready to fight first thing in the morning and be close to the enemy.

Catching Bowdewyn’s eye he beckoned for his friend to come over. With one last witty remark to the audience, that made them burst out in laughter, the stocky man walked over to Woden with his usual confident air.

“I’m going to scout out the village. I should be back before dawn.” The surprise was clearly visible in the shorter man’s eyes and he started to protest but Woden interrupted by raising a hand, “You must stay here to look after the men. This is a task I want to do alone.”

Their dark eyes met for a second, Woden's friend judging whether it was any use to argue. Seeing that his comrade was adamant, a stubborn trait that he had come to recognise, Bowdewyn shrugged, “Then I shall see you at dawn.”

They grasped hands for a second, pulling each other close in a masculine hug, before Woden pulled away and vanished into the night.

The End

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