Godwin’s family moved from manor to manor, eating the stores of wood put away for all his retainers. But Bosham was their home most of the year, with boats drawn up on the foreshore, bringing in a constant supply of grain and hay to keep the many horses through the winter.
It was an ancient place, the fields and pockmarked with lumps and bumps and smooth-worked fragments of foreign stone. In the afternoon, when trails of blue smoke curled slowly up from the hearth, and the oxen lay down in the pastures, then old men would pull their cloaks about their shoulders and pass on the tales that old men had told them when they were young.
An Irish monk had founded once a monastery in Bosham. The ploughmen left the site fallow every year. But kings of Sussex had lived here as well, in the days when the English settlements were just a fingernail along the coast. Those brave warriors had feasted and bragged and in time their sons had conquered the uplands and driven the British into the Western hills.
The king’s palace was on the other side of the bay. It was now a pile of stones overgrown with nettle. The kings of Sussex long since died out or killed in battle.
But there were dwellers here long before monk or kings. Swein showed him the round column in the wall of the church.
‘Giants,’ he said.
It seemed, in those early years, that Harold was an hier to all this. Kings, giants, monks and you are here
Bosham was Harald’s now. Not Dicul’s or the Romans, not even really, his fahter’s or mothers: they had too much else to do, running their estates and keeping peace among the local magnates and with their neighbours.
Long weeks both parents would be away and when their father came back from visiting an enemy of his: named Edgar Paunch.
‘Why do you go there?’ Harald asked once and his father laughed.
‘Keeping peace with good men is easy. It’s the bad ones you have to watch. You can’t let pride get in the way. Keep the bastards close, the bigger the bastard the closer you need to sit.’
Harald had no time for this. Not yet. His father gave him a shield and made him hold it out from his body for what seemed like hours on end. Beorn and Swein and Harald all stood with their arms out from their body, grasping the shield, and at first it seemed easy. But after a few mintues Harald’s forearm and elbow burned, and he could feel the heat stabbing up into his upper arm.
He held it till he thought he could hold it no more, and a bit longer too, and at last he let it drop.
‘Holding a sword is easy,’ Godwin told him. ‘But the true art of a warrior is to hold his shield up without tiring. And so it is with a lord: victories against your foe make a man well-loved, for victory brings gold and honour, but the first job is to be the shield of the people. And stay alive!’
The boys practiced wielding shield and spear and sword. They rode horses. Learnt to hold their tongues when the ale was flowing, and not make boasts they could not rise up to, and Harald chaffed to make his name in the world.
‘You had fought battles when you were ten,’ Harald said and Godwin laughed.
‘Not quite,’ he said. ‘And they were battles we lost. Don’t worry, each man is given his moment to make his name. Be ready for it when it comes.’
Harald waited but those moments never seemed to come.
He and Beorn told each other tales of their families, or of famous warriors who won fame in battle or as great kings. The tides came and went twice a day, the starlings and swallows came in spring, and the wading birds in autumn and in the chill of spring, the single toothed ploughs cut the earth into long strips: one half green, the other mud.
One year stone masons came to Bosham and they put down arched foundations for a new hall there. Boats carried blocks of squared Portland, surfing high up the beech with the high tide, and Harald and Beorn and Swein sat to watch men roll them ashore; cut them into arches; and cursed the weight of them as they hauled the stones up the timber scaffold into place. That church grew with Harald: by the time he was nine the walls were built.
By his tenth name day, the roof of the chapel had been built by the local shipwrights. Harald stood inside and looked up: it was like looking at an upturned boat. There was scaffolding up the interior walls and a team of ten Wincester craftsmen prepared paints by mixing powders with oil and eggwhite, while a few of the more learned stood painting angels and saints across the walls. Above the rood screen a great Judgement had been sketched out, with Christ weighing the sinners, and devils dragging the unworthy into the flames and chill of Hell.
‘Knut will go to hell,’ Beorn said. ‘I dreamt it.’
Harald looked into those pale blue eyes, and felt distant from his friend, and it made him sad. He wished for a moment that Knut had murdered his father too, and that would bring him closer to Beorn. It was a silly thought. He didn’t know why Beorn liked him so much, and he wasn’t even sure why he liked Beorn. All he knew was that they were closer than brothers, and that when battle came, they would stand back to back, if needs be, and defend the other.
Beorn was staring at the Judgement when the feast-horn blew. He caught Harald’s gaze, and an understanding passed between them.
‘Come,’ Beorn said. ‘We are summoned to hall. The king is here, and I’ve heard he’s brought a new poet from Iceland. We should go or we’ll miss his tales.’