The Battle of Stamford Bridge
The Battle of Stamford Bridge stands as one of the most decisive battles at the end of the Early Medieval Period. Waltheof of Northampton went into the battle as the commander of the Saxon forces by merit of his posting as Marshal of England. He was sixteen, and untried in battle. Though he had every reason to fail he ended the threat of continued Norse presence in England in one battle.
-Dr. Steve Haroldson, A Brief History of England Chapter 8: The Invasions
The morning air was crisp but not yet cold, perfect to calm Waltheof. At the moment the only sound he was hearing was the rasp of the whetstone along his blade. The sword's edge was sharper than it ever had been and probably couldn't get any sharper but he continued pulling the stone along the blade over and over again. Soon the predawn mist would enter his tent and make an surreal sight, though no one would be in it to see. In the mist's absence firelight filtered through the room glinting off the metal of his armor. 'This is it, I will be leading men to battle soon. Men will fight and die for England, for Harold, for me.'
"It is time to get ready." Æthelric said as he walked into the tent. Waltheof looked up and smiled "Yes I suppose it is. isn't it? Thank you, my friend. I suppose Bishop Estmond is trying his best to avoid doing so isn't he?"
"Yes I suppose he is." Æthelric replied chuckling. "Just remember he has twenty two years on you, he should know how to hide better than you know how to find him."
"And to think he is one third of what passes for nobility from Northampton. I shall have to go and win this battle in order to save our dignity."
He looked at the vast array of men and banners before him. Slightly over ten thousand men stood ready to follow him into battle and die to save their homes. "During times like these men need few words to push them forward. Some of you are from York and if we fail today your families will be the first to have to remember what Norse rule feels like. Others, like myself, don't have to worry about that, our families are far away. But one and the same we all fight for our homes, for our King, and for England. May we send them to hell where they belong and long may our banners fly over these lands." His eyes swept over the faces looking at him and he hoped he was showing the same grim determination he saw. With his last words he walked to his council to make the final plans as his men started forming up. He was pleased to have Æthelric there with him, as the Marshal for the County of Northampton he was Waltheof's second in command. The other faces were much more foreign to Waltheof, the King, his brother, powerful Earls and Counts. "The plan is rather simple if I do say so myself. I will lead the center over the main ford and Harold, my liege, will lead the left over the ford about a mile up the river. Eadwin will take the right over the bridge down river. If the enemy's center collapses, our center will swing to help the left and then will help the right. If any of our force starts to break retreat over the ford or bridge as that will constrict what they can do."
Waltheof marched in the half light of the dawn watching the tendrils of mist forming and slowly grow above the grass. The lions flanking a tower would be the first banner to engage the enemy. This would be the proudest moment of his life, the men of Northampton leading the entire army of England to fight Harold Sigurdson. Waltheof's tabbard was slightly different from his banner, it was quartered in blue and red for both his house and his title. His shield had the coat of arms of his house. The fact that these thoughts were entering his head as he marched was slightly amusing. The archers and light infantry broke rank and started moving ahead to screen the advance. Then they hit the murder zone. Arrows started falling around them as shouts of "Shields up!" started raising through the ranks. The water was icy cold as the army marched through it, in some places it was knee deep and was slowing them down quite a bit. As the far side got close Waltheof realized something, Harold Sigurdson did not place his shield wall on the far edge of the ford, he had it placed back quite aways. Waltheof called for his men to form up after the bridge and then came the surge, heavy infantry charging the wall with mounted huscarls fanning out behind and starting to move to encircle the Norse forces. His shield hit another as his body was pushed into the Nord. The man never stood a chance as Waltheof's sword came down on his head, the spear the Nord had been holding did not have room to move in these close quarters. Then there was another one and another and another. Waltheof's awareness closed in until the only thing he was aware of was the current opponent and there was no shortage of those.
The tip of his sword hit the ground and he struggled to try to raise it for the next attack, if he couldn't raise it he would be dead but the sword would not budge. Then it dawned on him, there wasn't a next attack yet. Shaking his head he looked around, Harold's center was breaking and routing. Mass carnage was all he saw, dead and dying all around. Then he saw a small group of lightly armored horsemen. "To me. To me." He shouted at them. "Send messengers to Harold and Eadwin to see how they are doing."
"Yes, m'lord. Right away."
"How did we do?" Waltheof asked wearily.
"Their dead and wounded are estimated at almost 5,500 while ours are roughly 4,200. In percent that is almost 8 men dead for every 10 that went into battle while we have closer to half that. It is believed that they are heading roughly in the direction of Durby probably hoping that Tostig can rally some support for them there."
Harold nodded at this report. "Well Waltheof, it seems I made a good judgement when picking you for the Marshal of my forces. Though I received a disturbing report. William has landed and is besieging Westminster as we speak."