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The Kingmaker

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Feb 23, 2008
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"Then was over all England such a token seen as no man ever saw before. Some men said that it was the comet, which others call the long-haired star...” – The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, entry for 1066


The passage of time is not some linear conduit of faceless, nameless dates and facts, as it is so often portrayed. No, it is an endless and immeasurable concourse of human existence, in which we are born, we live, we love, and eventually we die. The sun and moon pass continually overhead, while the stars keep their eternal vigil until at last they too fall from their place in the heavens. Though to our mortal minds this vastness of eternity seems indeed to be utterly immutable, yet every tiny person born into its cosmic recesses will forever leave their mark upon it. And so it is that the smallest, most insignificant of actions can change the entire course of human history in the blink of an eye, and we are brought now to another world, another future, another chance at life.

It has been far too long since I have had an active AAR going --I feel as though I shall burst if I don’t get some of these ideas out. Therefore I have decided to finally return to some old stomping grounds. This tale is a renewal of an old story that is very close to my heart, Æthelan: a Tale of Kings. A few of you may remember it, although it has been several years since I first worked on it. I am now retooling and revisiting some of my old ideas so that this story can get the ending that it deserves. As I currently lack the time to give this tale the full narrative treatment it merits, much of this story will be in history-book format, although there will certainly be narrative interludes.

The Anglo-Saxon word Æðelan (which I use in all my Saxon AARs) is an adjective that means "having noble qualities." It is a variant of more familiar terms like the noun æðel ("noble") and the verb æðelian ("to ennoble"). If you are unfamiliar with Old English and are wondering how the title is pronounced, here is a quick guide: "short A" as in "apple" + the word "the" + the word "lawn."



Harold II (1066-)
Prologue: Edith's Lament
Chapter 1: Day of Blood
Interlude: Year's End, 1066
Chapter 2: The Gentle Swan
Chapter 3: From War to Witan
Chapter 4: The Norseman's Heirs
Chapter 5: Sons of the Bastard (Coming Soon)


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14 October 1066, Late Evening
Near Hastings, England

Sunset illuminated every facet of the lush green landscape with a crimson glow, augmenting the already sanguinary hue of the blood-stained fields at Hastings.

Only a scant few hours before, this previously verdant locale had been filled with teeming hosts of animated and defiant humanity. Now all were laid to rot and ruin, cruelly cut down in the vigour of their God-given lives.

Thus there was no friendly face to welcome the lone figure of Edith Swanneck, no familiar voice to comfort her in her bereavement. There was only death, emptiness, and the bitterness of her loss. For twenty years she had been Harold Godwinson’s wife, according to the Common Law of the Northmen, and now as of today she was most assuredly his widow.

“Come on, you harlot!” came the voice of her tormentor, “Hurry up and find your lord’s carcass! The Duke’s got us digging a new latrine!”

Edith looked silently up into the merciless eyes of the tall Norman. He was completely unmoved by her tears. She had searched through the slaughter for hours already, and had found no trace of her true love’s remains. At the beginning she had held her skirts high to avoid soiling them with the carnage, but she had long since given up the attempt from exhaustion, and allowed the good Saxon blood to seep into the hem of her garments.

They were nearing the crest of the hill, where her husband had placed his banner that very morning, though that now seemed endless worlds away. The Normans were already beginning to call the place Sanguelac, meaning “lake of blood.” She knew she must be getting closer, for she thought she recognized some of the faces of the dead, notwithstanding their pallor and the contortion from their final agonies. These were the corpses of Harold’s loyal housecarls, who had nobly given their lives defending their lord. The bodies of her fallen countrymen had long been stripped of anything of value -- coin-purses, weapons and armour, even their gore-covered raiment.


Then at last she saw him, his head half hewn from his shoulders in spiteful post-mortem desecration. One eye was pierced by the long, pitiless shaft of a Norman arrow, the other lay closed in unmolested serenity, as if despite his awful, mutilated state he was yet reposed in some distant, peaceful slumber, as so often she had seen him in the deepest hours of the night.

His identity was confirmed by the two small marks on his chest, still recognizable after all his torment: his little dragon-shaped birthmark and the tiny childhood scar that she had discovered on him after their first night of love-making.

Finally the awful reality came crashing down upon Edith like an unrelenting wave of the sea, and she scarcely felt her legs buckle under her as she fell to her knees. She gently cradled her lost love’s broken body in her arms, and bathed his gaping wounds with her many tears.

The truth was absolute, immutable, crushing.


With a start, Edith opened her eyes, choking back another sob. Her long golden tresses hung limp around her face, and her forehead was covered with a cold sweat. She sat bolt upright, squinting at the shades of familiar surroundings in the darkness.

She was lying on her own goose feather bolster.

And lo, it was a dream.



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Belgiumruler: Thanks, welcome aboard!

ngppgn: Thanks very much. Re: the music, I had noticed that as well and have removed it. I'll see if I can't replace it with a working link sometime down the line.

Olligarchy: Thank you for you support.

Enewald: Heh, hopefully I will be able to finish it this time around. Always good to see a familiar face.
Through your signature I arrived to that wonderfull little thing that was the somewhat gothic Morgana AAR... Might I dare to ask why it fell into silence, and wheter have you ever considered retaking it (since it was little into the game and didn't rely on ingame screenshot it should be no technical problem...)

Excuse me for the off-topicness
ngppgn: First off, it's very gratifying to note that somebody is still reading my work! That one was definitely a lot of fun. :) In answer to your question, I simply lacked the time to give the narrative the effort it needed. However, I never take my ideas off the table, so it's certainly possible that I might revisit that one at a later date. Who knows? I may incorporate some of the ideas I had for that story into this one.

Enlil: Thank you and welcome aboard!
I'm in! Great writing style!

Question though: what language would the Norman have spoken to Edith in? Presumably not French?
Asantahene: Thanks! Welcome aboard. In answer to your question, there's a lot of possibilities. When you recall that the Norman army included groups of mercenaries from other regions, such as Bretons and Flemings, the path of least resistance would simply be to say that it was a Flemish person addressing her -- their languages would still be mutually intelligible at this point in the timeline. Alternately, there could be a few polyglots in William's army who might have spoken Old English and could translate. Or maybe Edith as an aristocratic woman has learned multiple languages? Harold seemed to manage alright when he went to Normandy in 1064.
Asantahene: Thanks! Welcome aboard. In answer to your question, there's a lot of possibilities. When you recall that the Norman army included groups of mercenaries from other regions, such as Bretons and Flemings, the path of least resistance would simply be to say that it was a Flemish person addressing her -- their languages would still be mutually intelligible at this point in the timeline. Alternately, there could be a few polyglots in William's army who might have spoken Old English and could translate. Or maybe Edith as an aristocratic woman has learned multiple languages? Harold seemed to manage alright when he went to Normandy in 1064.

Indeed! Latin would probably be the common tongue of the nobility as it would remain for the next 400 odd years

great start-look forward to the next instalment :)
The chronicles of the golden cross AAR was the first and the best I have read so far / tie with the Komnenos on. I have to sub this nao.
Awesome storytelling! Will game screenshots and occasional views of world events tie-in?
Asantahene: Latin would certainly be one means of communication for the more well-educated folks. Also, I neglected to mention that Edward the Confessor had introduced Norman French to the English court some years prior, after spending his youth in exile in Normandy, so that's another possibility. But I guess it doesn't really matter in the end, as it was all just a dream anyway.

Aetherius: Welcome back! I hope you enjoy this one just as much.

BasileusIX: You're too kind. :) Personally I don't think my poor efforts can hold a candle to the enormous magnum opus that is BT's Rome AARisen, but you flatter me nonetheless.

Jokolytic: Thank you! I think I'm going to forego the screenshots this time around, as I haven't been taking taken consistently. However, I will most certainly be providing maps and interludes about the rest of the world.
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14 October 1066, Early Morning
Near Hastings, England

The King of England basked in the light of the dawn, and for one moment put all thoughts of the foreign invader out of his mind. This was the birth of a beautiful new day, entirely ill-suited to herald the beginning of the dreadful work that would soon commence. William the Bastard had already invaded England’s pleasant shores; the King would not suffer him to invade the perfect sunrise also.

“They’re here.” King Harold found himself roused from his contemplation by his taciturn brother Gyrth, his expression as ever a pensive mask.

The normally gregarious Harold did not respond. In the distance, he could hear the pleasant calls of songbirds mingling with the chattering of male voices and the sharpening of weapons. He had called for one last council of war before the great battle, and it seemed his faithful thegns had answered his summons. Harold inhaled deeply, taking in the familiar autumnal aroma of damp leaves and grass. He took one final, wistful gaze at the sunrise before turning to face his brother. “Then it’s time,” he answered with a curt nod.

Together, the two of them ascended to the top of Senlac Hill, the place where the fate of their nation would be decided. At its summit, the old hill was capped by an ancient apple tree, which had watched over the land for countless years before the birth of anyone now living. Harold cantered his horse over to the gnarled roots of the tree, where their brother Leofwine caught up with them, panting.

“At the rate you were going, you boys must have an awful craving for apples,” Leofwine grinned. “Me, I don’t fancy them this early. Turns my stomach sour, and I don't much fancy dying on a sour stomach.”

Gyrth grimaced. Their younger brother had ever sought to lighten the mood with humour, but it seemed no one was in the mood this morning.

“Heh, the lads are coming up now,” said Leofwine, answering Gyrth’s dour expression with a smirk.

“Thank you, brother,” said Harold, ignoring their unspoken exchange, “Is all in readiness?”

“Just as you said,” answered Leofwine, "The men are ready for a fight. This one's been a long time coming."


“It is well,” Harold said simply, smoothing his long warrior’s moustache with his fingers. He could not suppress the feeling of anxiety that was rising like bile in the back of his throat. He had only just vanquished a terrible foe in the north through an awful effusion of blood, and it disgusted him that he was going to have to do it all again on account of that mule-headed Norman duke.

“We must hold here, at the old grey apple tree,” Harold remarked to his brothers, as their army began to assemble behind them in the customary shield-wall formation. “Keep your banners at the centre of your lines. They must not fall, no matter the cost!”

As he strode down the ranks, Harold was able to pick out many familiar faces: his loyal thegns from his lands in Wessex; his housecarls, and those who were sworn to his brothers; his eldest son Godwine, smiling, eager to fight, uncomprehending of the impending carnage. “Loyal Englishmen!” he called out to the assembled masses, “We are not here to conquer! We have not come to drive our enemies from their lands, nor to burn their homes, nor to steal their women nor make slaves of their children. Yet that is the very cause for which they have come against us to battle! What do you say, brothers? Are we going to let them?”

“No!” came the deep rumble of the Saxon host in response.

“Look there to the King’s Banner,” continued Harold, pointing in the direction of the fluttering royal standard, “For there you will find me fighting to my last breath to defend my family, my people, and my kingdom! Fear neither the arm of flesh nor the foreign sword, for as long as the Golden Wyvern remains aloft, we shall prevail! They shall not breach our shield-wall, nor take one more foot of English soil. Take heart, stand firm, and together we shall send that Norman bastard screaming down to hell!”

Another mighty cheer arose from the English ranks.

“Now what shall we say to these foreign dogs who think they can march in and take our country from us, seize our lands and ravish our women-folk?”

“Ut! Ut! Ut!” roared the men, rhythmically chanting the simple, ancient battle-cry that had been passed down through the ages by generations of Saxon defenders.

Satisfied, King Harold returned to stand under his banner, as the chanting of the men and the clanging of weapons on shields reverberated in his ears. “Come on, you arrogant Norman bastard,” he muttered under his breath, shouldering his axe and crossing his arms in defiance, “Let it all end here.”



The battle had begun in earnest. The advancing Norman archers attempted to weaken the English lines by peppering them with arrows, but they made little impact against the sturdy shield-wall. The Saxons responded with projectiles of their own: stones, javelins, maces, hand-axes, and anything else they could get their hands on. The archers’ attack was followed closely by the Norman infantry, who crashed into the Saxons en masse. These in turn were supported by William’s heavy mounted knights.

The air soon filled with the cries of the wounded and dying as men were hacked to pieces, impaled or crushed to death in the roaring press. Yet the stalwart Saxon warriors looked to the fluttering banner of their king and took heart, resolving to drive the Normans from their lands forever.

Realizing that his own soldiers were faltering, William personally led a column of his knights in a grand charge to reinforce them. The Norman cavalry charged into the heart of the Saxon right flank, which consisted mostly of East Anglians led by King Harold’s brother Gyrth.

The heavily-mailed Norman cavalry were finally able to break through the Saxon shield-wall, as the poorly-armed fyrdsmen lacked both the armour and morale necessary to face such an onslaught, and those who did not fall back were easily cut down. However, this success soon turned against the overconfident Norman knights, for in penetrating the shield-wall they had overextended themselves and cut themselves off from their infantry support. Moreover, they were no longer dealing with inexperienced fyrdsmen, but skilled Saxon housecarls, who set about crippling the Normans’ horses with their two-handed axes.


Seeing their perilous situation, Duke William ordered his knights to retreat. Unfortunately for William, they were not able to move fast enough. Having led the charge from the front, the Duke now found himself in the unenviable position of being at the tail-end of his fleeing knights, in the midst of enemy troops.

Taking advantage of the Duke’s exposed position, Gyrth Godwinson moved quickly and sliced through the forelegs of William’s warhorse with a ferocious swing of his battle-axe. The Duke came crashing to the ground as his horse crumpled beneath him. The scowling Saxon earl finished off the fallen destrier with another swipe from his axe before he was forced to fall back as more Norman knights rushed to their lord’s aid.

William was able to stagger away from the immediate mêlée, but he was in desperate need of another horse. His presence at the front of the battle was the only thing holding his army together, and dismounted as he was and covered in blood, there was nothing to distinguish him from the common soldiers. On his left flank, the Norman foot-soldiers saw only that those few horsemen who had managed to escape the Saxon line were now fleeing for their lives. Panic spread through the Norman lines as word spread that the Duke had fallen, and the men quickly broke into a hysterical rout.

The fyrdsmen on Harold’s right flank were jubilant at this perceived victory, and immediately began to pursue the fleeing Normans, despite the fact that the battle was still raging farther along the shield-wall. The gap between the armies turned into a frenzy of confused individual combat as both lines broke their ranks.

“Blast it!” cursed Harold, desperate to maintain his defensive position, “Hold the line!” But it was already too late. Almost half his army had broken off into a disordered, uncontrollable charge. In the moment that followed, King Harold was forced to make a critical, split-second decision: should he hold fast and try to preserve what little control he had over the remainder of his army, or should he lead his remaining men in joining the reckless charge?

Against his better judgment, Harold chose the latter. Pressing his trusted hunting horn to his lips, he blew three shrill notes as a clarion call to his remaining warriors, a simple act that would nonetheless change the history of Britain forever.


Chaos reigned.

“I live!” shouted Duke William desperately, throwing back his helmet so the Normans could see his face, “And with God’s help I shall yet conquer!” His attempts to rally his fleeing soldiers were sorely hindered, for without his horse William could not make his presence known to his whole army. His efforts did not go unnoticed, however, for just as many Saxons as Normans were witnesses to the ducal commotion. Thus William’s valiant endeavour was cut short when he was hit in the head by a flying rock and knocked again to the ground. The Duke’s helmet saved his life, but he was left momentarily dazed. Those Normans who had already rallied to William now rushed to aid him.

William rose to his feet just in time to see the raging host of Saxon humanity that was bearing down upon him with the three Godwinson brothers in the lead. All thoughts of tactics were thrown to the wind as the horribly disorganized Saxons and Normans collided anew.


Leading his men from the front, Duke William used his broad Norman kite shield as a weapon, bashing some unwitting Saxons in the face while protecting himself from the blows of others, then finishing off his stunned foes with thrusts of his longsword. With his own shield slung on his back, King Harold was free to fight with both hands, wielding his sword in one, and a gigantic axe in the other. Harold was a whirlwind of cold mail and sharp steel as he darted from one foe to the next.

It was in the midst of this overwhelming tumult that Harold and William at last faced each other.

No words were exchanged, no taunts, no war-cries. Each knew that the swiftest way to put an end to the conflict was to slay the other. They circled each other like predators preparing for the kill, and then suddenly exploded into combat with a ferocity more befitting rabid wolves than good Christian noblemen. The duel lasted only moments, but to those who bore witness it was an eternity in which the fate of nations hung in the balance. After several blows had been traded and deflected off stout shields, the two mortal adversaries found themselves broken apart by the chaotic surge of warriors around them. It seemed destiny had something else in store this day.

Duke William would not have to wait long before another challenger faced him. The nameless Saxon housecarl was tall and broad-shouldered, his mail stained red with the blood of fallen enemies. William struck the first blow with a mighty shout, his Saxon enemy grunting as his shield took the brunt of the blow. The two fearless warriors locked in mortal combat quickly became a veritable hurricane of death to the onlookers, a blur of hauberks, helms, shields, swords and an axe. Ultimately one of the two prevailed over his opponent, and all fell silent as the killing blow that would forever change the world was struck at last.



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Superb battle description.

As an ex military man I'm endlessly fascinated by the battle of Hastings not least because Duke Williams all arms tactics incorporating cavalry, infantry and archers was far more advanced than the rather 1 dimensional Saxon shield wall. And yet..and yet the Saxons defence was so stalwart the battle raged throughout the day and was almost won on many occasions for Harold.

One of history's greatest what ifs: if Harold hadn't died when he did...