Knut looked like a king of old: wise and stern and fair as he turned to face the rising water. There was something fine about him, looking out to sea, with the wind in his face and the rattle of rigging blowing in from across the bay. He held up his hand in a gesture of rejection and denial. ‘I am Knut the Great!’ he called. ‘The land upon which I sit is mine! I command you to stop and not to soak the clothes of your lord!’
Harold looked down at his feet. Water was water was already puddling round his toes.
‘Hold back from my land!’ Knut ordered the waters in the same battlefield voice that had commanded Thorkel to put Harold down. But his voice had no power over the sea and the waters kept rising. Soon they were up to Harold’s knee. He looked around. The whole company of monks, bishops, earls, reeves and thegns had a bedraggled look to them.
Harold looked at Swein and Swein looked at him and Swein rolled his eyes.
‘Cuckoo!’ he mouthed.
Knut sat like a hen that will not leave its eggs. What had seen admirable not looked like the height of stupidity. The water rose up so high he was sitting in wet, and only then did the king stand up, as King Solomon had stood before his people, and addressed the whole company.
The sun came out from behind a cloud and it seemed to shine on him alone and he spoke in a voice that seemed both wise and kindly. ‘From henceforth, let it be known that the power of earthly kings is superficial. Only one worthy of the name of Great King is He who all Heaven, Earth, and Sea and the Winds obey, in accordance with eternal laws!’
Beorn refused to come to the feast, and his absnese was noticed by Gytha.
‘Where is Beorn?’ she said. ‘It is not fit that we all sit here and feast in your father’s hall, when the kning himself is here.’
‘I will go find him,’ Harold volunteered.
He found Beorn in the chapel. Not praying, but standing before the rood screen, staring at the painted image of Christ.
‘I swore I would kill him,’ Beorn said. ‘for killing my father. For robbing me and my brothers of one who would care for us, and bring us up to be great warriors like him. ’
Harold had no doubts who Beorn was talking about.
‘But I watched him today, acting like Solomon, and I saw how all the holy men looked at him with wonder and admiration. They’ve been talking of nothing else. And I realized today that I cannot hate him any more. He has made me who I am. The murder of my father has fathered me. Does that make sense?’
‘Look at Chirst,’ Beorn said. His pale blue eyes were as clear as church-window glass. They were shallow and fathomless at the same time. Harold looked up. Christ hanging, nailed to a cross. ‘He is defeated,’ Beorn said. ‘Broken. About to die, and yet, do you think he knows that even in death he has won?’
‘I do not know,’ Harold said. ‘But you should come to the feast. Mother told me. We’re all to go to court with the king. He is going to foster us all.’
Beorn looked at Harold and half-laughed.
‘And listen to me talking. Now my father’s murderer is to be my foister-father.’
‘Forgive him,’ Harold said.
‘I have,’ Beorn said, and the two boys turned their back on the church shadows, and stepped out into the evening, and looked across the meadow to Godwin’s hall. A blackbird was singing, and Easter light spilled out from the windows and hall mouth: it was warm and bright and the sound of the assembled men and women had an eager and excited note to it.
Winter was past, as were spring’s frosts. The fields were ploughed, the seeds sown, and to Beorn and Harold, on the cusp of adulthood, it seemed that a great long summer was before them.
The End…. For now.
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Harold Godwinson’s story will be the third of my books chronicling the events of 1066. The story starts in the first two books of the series, Shieldwall and Viking Fire: The Times and The Sunday Times Books of the Year.