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The Kingmaker

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ÆÐELLAN
A TALE OF KINGS

TABLE OF CONTENTS:



Harold II Godwinson (1066- )
I: Hastings
II: A King's Funeral
III: Of Gallows and Gentle Swans
Interim: Ængland at Year's End, 1066
IV: Witenagemot (Coming Soon!)

GLOSSARY · GAZETTEER · INDEX OF CHARACTERS

WATCH THE TRAILER

PREMISE:
This was originally intended to be my “writer’s block AAR,” or in other words, a fun diversion from my original AAR, The Chronicles of the Golden Cross, for whenever I had writer’s block (which is quite frequently). However, after some serious real life issues (including a major computer crash), Chronicles had to be put on hiatus. As such, I will be focusing much more on writing Æthellan, an alternate history of England about which I am equally passionate.

PRONUNCIATION GUIDE:
Æðellan is a variant of the root form of the Anglo-Saxon verb that means “to ennoble.”
In order to answer some questions, here is how it is pronounced:

Æ - "a" as in "hat"
ðe - "the" as in "the"
llan - "lawn"

Put together, it sounds something like "Aah-the-lawn."



“Two monks came to my deathbed and told me that because of the sins of its people, God had given England to evil spirits. I said to them, ‘Will God not have mercy?’ And they replied, ‘Not until a growing tree, cleft in two by a lightning storm, should come together of its own accord and grow green again. Then will there be pardon.’”
– King Edward the Confessor, A.D. 1065

***​
 
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The Kingmaker

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Chapter I: HASTINGS

(SOUNDTRACK)


14 October 1066, Late Evening
Near Hæstingas, Ængland


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

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 very 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 at last she had 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 scar she had unintentionally left 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.
And now this miserable, blood-soaked existence shall be changed forever.

***


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.

***​

14 October 1066, Early Morning
Near Hæstingas, Ængland


The King of Ængland 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 Ængland’s pleasant shores; he would not be allowed to invade the perfect sunrise also. Harold Godwinson vowed that for at least this fleeting moment, he would recognize the sun’s new dawning as a wonder of God’s creation, and not as the harbinger of imminent doom.


“Sire?” called a low voice, rousing Harold from his contemplation, “Are you finished with your morning ride?”

Harold looked down from his horse and beheld the stout figure of Eadred the Bannerman, the royal standard clutched tightly in his burly hands. The large standard-bearer may have been a lowborn ceorl, but he and the King had built a close bond of friendship after their many battles together.

The normally gregarious Harold did not respond.

“What’s troublin’ you, eh?” asked Eadred.

“In good conscience, can I ask our brave men to do this thing?” replied Harold, bowing his head in consternation, “After what’s happened during the past few weeks? After Stængfordesbrycg? Is it not unjust to ask them to risk their lives again so soon?”

The standard-bearer cleared his throat loudly before answering. “A life without freedom is no life at all. ‘Tis a coward and a knave who’d rather live under a foreign yoke than give his life in defence of his proper king. The people of Ængland have made their choice; we are with you to the death.”

“Then it is time,” said Harold quietly.

Eadred responded with a solemn nod, and strengthened his grip on the standard.

“Let’s be about it!” roared the King. With one fluid motion, he donned his steel helmet and spurred his mount up the hill where his army had encamped the night before.

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 any man then living. Harold cantered his horse over to the gnarled roots of the tree as Eadred caught up at last, panting.

“Here, my lord?” asked Eadred.

“Here! Let it all end here,” Harold answered resolutely, before drawing his sword and waving it over his head.


Eadred mimicked the king’s gesture, waving the Wyvern standard in the air as a beacon to the soldiers. As the fresh sunlight gleamed on the Wyvern’s golden head, Harold sounded three loud blasts on his horn.

His clarion call was answered by the myriad shouts and cheers of fyrdsmen, housecarls and thegns alike as the hosts of all Ængland arose from their camps and rallied to their king’s banner. Harold dismounted and slapped his horse on the rear, sending it galloping behind the Saxon lines.

“You must hold here, at the old grey apple tree,” said Harold to Eadred, as the men began to assemble behind him in their customary shieldwall formation, “Keep the banner at the centre of the line, and no matter what happens, you must not let it fall!”

“You can count on me,” said Eadred, smiling broadly and showing several gaps in his teeth. “Don’t forget this,” he added, handing the King a huge battleaxe, “You’ll need it.”

Harold hefted the weapon, examining its haft. It was a bearded axe, after the Danish fashion. “I’m sure I can find a good use for it,” he said with a grin. “Now I’m going to go have a word with the men.”


As he strode down the ranks, Harold was able to pick out many familiar faces: his loyal thegns from his lands in Wessex, his brothers Leofwine and Gyrth with their own housecarls. “Loyal Ænglishmen!” he called out, “We are not here to conquer! We are not here to drive our enemies from their lands, or to burn their homes, or to steal their women or 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!” shouted the Saxons in unison.

“Look there to the King’s Banner,” continued Harold, pointing in the direction of Eadred and the royal standard, “For there you will find me fighting to my last breath to defend my family, my people, and my kingdom! As long as the Wyvern remains aloft, we shall prevail! Take heart, stand firm, and together we shall send that Norman bastard screaming down to hell!”

Another mighty cheer arose from the Ænglish ranks.

“Now what message are we going to send to these foreign dogs who think they can just march in and take our country from us?”

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

Satisfied, King Harold returned to stand under his banner, as the rhythmic chanting of the men reverberated in his ears. “Come on William, you arrogant Norman bastard!” he shouted, shouldering his axe and crossing his arms in defiance, “Let’s get this over with!”

***


14 October 1066, Midday
Santlache Hill, Ængland


The battle had begun in earnest. The advancing Norman archers attempted to weaken the Ænglish lines by peppering them with arrows, but they made little impact against the sturdy shieldwall. The Saxons responded with projectiles of their own: stones, javelins, maces, 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 heavily-armoured 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 heavy Norman cavalry were finally able to break through the Saxon shieldwall, as the poorly-armed East Anglian 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, 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 Duke William’s exposed position, Gyrth Godwinson moved quickly and sliced through the forelegs of the Duke’s warhorse with a ferocious swing of his battleaxe. The Duke came crashing to the ground as his horse crumpled beneath him. Gyrth 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 too late. Almost half his army was already engaged in 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.

***​

14 October 1066, Afternoon
Santlache Hill, Ængland


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 help him.

William rose to his feet just in time to see the raging host of Saxon humanity that was bearing down upon him with Harold Godwinson 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. He would then finish 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 the gigantic axe in the other. Harold was a whirlwind of cold mail and sharp steel as he darted quickly 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 only way to put an end to the conflict was to kill 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. The two fearless warriors locked in mortal combat 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.



***​

The battle has ended, but who is king and who is dead? What effect, if any, will this one ‘butterfly’ have on history as we know it? Find out next time on Æðellan!
 
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Jul 23, 2008
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I am incredibly impressed. This is one of the most superb pieces of writing I have ever read. I was pulled in by your intense imagery and fantastic storytelling. This should be the first chapter of a best-seller that I wouldn't be able to put down. For being a writer's block AAR, you sure don't seem to have any problems getting your thoughts down on paper! :)

Please write more!
 
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robou

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So, the History of 1066 is quite changed, but how so is a major question to ask. If William wins, then the battle will simply have changed its action and if Harold wins, then History is changed forever. Whatever happens, this 'butterfly' is going to have an effect on the history of a great nation, and that is sure to change the world in some way, shape or form. Brilliant writing Alex, do continue!
 

Lord Durham

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The woman searching the field of battle for her fallen husband sounds eerily familiar--but I won't hold that against you. :)

Very good writing. The battle scenes were well handled. Quite vivid.
 

Herbert West

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Splendid! Truly, yours is the Kingdom.

What happened to the norsemen? Where they butchered as they were in IRL?
 

canonized

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Wow a truly epic starter ! And a very interesting setup you've got here XD . I'm loving it !
 

General_BT

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Boom.

This is beautiful. Its forceful where the battle warrants it, is quiet as Edith searches the bodies, its descriptions ebb and flow like a masterpiece. And all to end on that cliffhanger! THIS IS SUPERB.
 

The_Archduke

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Now you just need to find a person on the Bayeaux tapestry that has an axe embedded in his nervous system :)
 

crusaderknight

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Great start, AP! Looking forward to yet another epic and exciting AAR! Just make sure to update Chronicles every now and then, too. But I totally understand what it's like to have writer's block. Doing two AARs is a good way to keep yourself fresh. Keep it up, mate!
 
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I am very glad that you started another AAR, AlexanderPrimus. I've long been wanting to read your "Chronicles", but I do always shy back from tackling an already long-standing AAR-thread to catch up with the action. Your new AAR gives me a chance to go along with the story as it unfolds. And your writing looks every bit as good as I'd heard.

And the story has Normans, too! Super. Considering the AAR's title I am just afraid that this one won't be a happy one for the Normans. :(

Oh, well, said it before and gonna say it again: Saxons stink! :D
 

The Kingmaker

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@ Cartimandua: I'm very flattered! Thanks very much for all your kind words. You know how much your support means to me. :D And hopefully the story will be everything you want to read.

@ robou: Thanks for reading! It's good to have you aboard. You do make a good point though -- regardless of who survived, history will be changed drastically.

@ Lord Durham: Familiar? I'm afraid I don't know what you're referring to. Care to fill me in? Thanks for your compliments by the way.

@ Rabid Bogling: Thank you!

@ phargle: I'm having flashbacks of the 1980s now, thanks to you. ;)

@ Herbert West: Wow. Anglo-Saxon metal. That's definitely unique. And yes, Hardrada got massacred at Stamford Bridge -- the only butterfly is Harold Godwinson's mid-battle decision to charge at Hastings.

@ canonized: Thank you old chap! I'm very pleased to have your continued patronage. Thanks for reading, and I hope not to disappoint! :)

@ General_BT: High praise indeed, coming from the author of Rome AARisen. Thanks for all your support -- you're an excellent mentAAR. Now I just hope I can live up to such compliments.

@ The_Archduke: I'll do my level best! :) Does this mean the graphics are showing up for you now? I thought your computer had a hard time with that. :confused:

@ crusaderknight: Thank you! And don't worry, Chronicles is still alive and kicking -- it's just slow-going sometimes.

@ The_Guiscard: Thanks for your patronage! Hope you enjoy the AAR. But I'm not sure what you mean by "Saxons stink." This is the early middle ages, after all. People take baths what, once a year? Everybody stinks. :p
 

Lord Durham

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@ Lord Durham: Familiar? I'm afraid I don't know what you're referring to. Care to fill me in? Thanks for your compliments by the way.
Didn't expect you would :) I just had a short story published that was practically a mirror image of that particular part of your post, so I found it quite... familiar. It's called The Countess d'Argenton and appeared in the premiere issue of Abandoned Towers (shameless plug) ;).
 

Rabid Bogling

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I should imagine there's only so many ways one can describe a lass walking through piles of corpses in search of her love.
 

Alfred Packer

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hurrah for Harold II...at least, I assume that's who is going to win.

I guess I could be wrong though.
 

Enewald

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The King is dead, long live the new King!
Who was the heir of Harold, I forgot.
But I am very sure that Harolds wife was called Swanneck. :p
Unless William stole her. :p

Ut, ut, ut?
Why are they speaking swedish? :D

Brilliant beginning for an aar!

GODWINESON HO!
 

The Kingmaker

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@ Lord Durham: Good to know. :)

@ Rabid Bogling: Indeed. I was simply fleshing out the original tale of Edith searching for Harold's broken body. :D

@ Alfred Packer: Well, that's a reasonable assumption, given the emphasis I put on Harold in the post. However, anything can happen. :p Maybe they both died! Isn't that great?!

@ Enewald: Thanks for your compliments! In answer to your questions, Harold potentially had many heirs. The English king was chosen by the Witan anyway, after all. But yes, Harold's wife's name was Edith Swanneck, just like in the AAR. As for "Ut," it was the old Anglo-Saxon battle-cry, meaning "Out!"

You guys sure are all assuming that Harold wins. Gosh! ;)
 

Enewald

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So Harold lost? :eek:

Another good reason to yell Godwineson Ho! :D
God I wish MechTheDane were back. :(

Yeh, I know that it mean out. The same thing in swedish. :p

aut, ut, out, aus.