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Dawn of a Leader

PostPosted: Fri Dec 05, 2014 6:25 am
by Sir Erathor
Hey all, this is a piece of work I wrote for my English Literature/Language AS Level, where we had to write a 1,000 word fictional piece. I decided to base mine on the Battle of Ashdown and Prince Alfred's role there. I got an A grade for it, which I am very pleased with, so I hope you guys like it too! There are actually a few things I would still change, but I'll leave it as it was. Enjoy!

It’s a cold January morning, the Year of our Lord 871, and a damp fog is rolling over the Wessex hills. There is a sprawl of skin-covered tents near the summit of Ashdown – the army of King Aethelred is readying itself for battle against the marauders of the north, the Vikings of Denmark. Word of their advance reached the king only yesterday, and now he and his younger brother, Prince Alfred, are prepared to meet the invaders face to face. A horn is sounded from in amongst the sleeping soldiers, and suddenly the place is alive. Smoke from smouldering fires rises up, swirling into the mist, mingling with the breath of the men and horses. Steel rings as blades are readied for the inevitable.
The keen-eyed lookouts spot the advancing enemy on a nearby hilltop, pouring out of a wood with terrifying speed. It would take them at least an hour to reach Ashdown itself, but they are too close now. The Wessex troops must assemble themselves, and do so quickly, for at this rate they will be overrun by a disadvantaged force. The earls of Wessex look nervously at each other, knowing one thing that could win them or lose them this battle – they must use their uphill position to their advantage.
Men grope blindly for their weapons as they step out onto the frost-ridden ground, solid beneath their leather-clad feet. They mumble amongst themselves, some groaning with exhaustion and others breathing heavily, anticipating almost eagerly what was to come. Some stand in groups, embracing their friends for perhaps the last time, and still others stand alone, crucifixes in hand, praying for deliverance against the enemy they must fight. This is their judgement day, their day of reckoning. Many believe that the Vikings are punishment from God, retribution for the sins of a nation. In one sense, these men will do battle with their own god.
In the valley below the summit of Ashdown, Aethelred and his court attend mass in the small chapel, but they have little time. The army of Wessex is now assembled on the ridge, split into two groups, and they look down upon a mass of bearded devils brandishing axes and weighted shields. This standoff can’t last forever. No man wants to be intimidated by the force below, but it is hard to look into war-painted eyes and not feel at least discomfort, or even outright fear.
Alfred looks to his brother as they pray – he shows no sign of moving. The young prince is impatient and practical, and he understands the situation better than his brother. If they don’t act now, the battle will surely be lost. With a parting look of frustration at his prostrate brother he leaves the chapel, riding up to his waiting army. They stand there in the swirling wind and biting chill, stamping their feet but holding their ground, a wall of spears glinting in the partial sunlight. They are spread across the whole hilltop.
The prince rides in front of his men on a white stallion and draws his sword. There is a ripple of pleasure but also a murmur of discomfort – where is the king? Why is he not with his army? Who is Alfred to lead a charge? All know of his exploits as a studious yet military-minded young man, but this is more – much more – than anything he might have previously experienced. He is not yet a leader, and certainly not the man to try and hold off a century-old threat.
Raising his hand, Alfred gestures for silence, and only the cacophony of pagan cries can be heard. He rides up and down the ranks of men, calling for courage here and strength there. “God is with us!” he cries repeatedly, and with each shout there is a cheer from the men, his men. They begin to feel his words seeping into them, their trust and respect for him is growing with every passing second as he encourages downcast warriors, rekindling the fires in their hearts into a burning flame of anger against the army below them. His crimson cape billows behind him like a sail, and the metallic band of his princeship around his head seems not to weigh him down so much now. He is in his element here amongst his loyal soldiers, sword in hand, organising them into battle formations. This is what he was born to do, at any rate that is what the men are beginning to believe, and they are given hope by his presence.
Alfred dismounts and his horse is led away – it is easier to fight on foot. He barks a command and round shields are raised so they interlock, weapons held in any gaps there may be. It is a deadly method, tried and tested many a time.
Bagsecg, Viking warlord and hero, stares up at a bristling wall of spears, and realises that he has not moved quick enough. At a shout from the boy leader above the men of Wessex advance, keeping their shield wall intact. Bagsecg himself issues a command to his own men and they themselves link their shields and charge forward, uphill. He knows there is little hope of holding off the downwards attack, but he trusts in the strength of his army, who are more than intimidating with their flowing braids and hellish war cries. He has a chance, and he is determined to take it.
The two armies collide with horrendous force, each man stabbing blindly at his enemy’s formation, hoping to spare themselves for a minute more. It is carnage. Soldiers fall by the second and continue to do so as they fight forward, trying to hold the shield wall, trying not to give ground.
Only when the fight is over is the real damage visible to all – hundreds of warriors, young and old, Viking and Saxon, lie slain on the trodden mud, eyes open but staring at nothing. In the midst of it all stands Alfred, head bowed, bloodied sword still unsheathed, but now a hero. Bagsecg is dead at his feet, and for now the Danish wave has been held back.

Re: Dawn of a Leader

PostPosted: Fri Dec 05, 2014 3:19 pm
by Zurem
I like how there wasn't too much focus on the fighting itself. While I do enjoy movies about knights and soldiers battling, I prefer when the fight scenes are short-lived, and not too gory. Lots of nice narrative, but not overly long :)
Glad to hear you got a good grade on it!

Re: Dawn of a Leader

PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 5:05 am
by LettuceBrick
Very nice description of the prelude to battle.

Re: Dawn of a Leader

PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 9:28 pm
by Sir Erathor
Zurem wrote:I like how there wasn't too much focus on the fighting itself. While I do enjoy movies about knights and soldiers battling, I prefer when the fight scenes are short-lived, and not too gory. Lots of nice narrative, but not overly long :)
Glad to hear you got a good grade on it!

Thanks a lot, glad you liked it! I didn't want to focus on the battle as I felt there was more that could go wrong there - I think it paid off. ;)

LettuceBrick wrote:Very nice description of the prelude to battle.

Thank you!