Retreat

Algar slumped against a tree, exhausted and in pain. The handful of Saxons who’d survived the battle limped north along the dirt road. They had fled North through the night, evading the Norman knights and scouts as they rode down stragglers. Dawn was breaking over the horizon and a chilly morning dew had covered the grassy fields.

Algar pulled his helmet off and set it next to him, his fingers brushing against the fresh sword cuts and battle marks. He could feel bruises forming over his body along with opened wounds. Under his mail, his tunic was still damp with sweat and blood. The morning air was still and cool. The birds chirping were like a lullaby, calling him to sleep. He wanted to sleep more than anything.

The men walking down the road were a pathetic sight.  Many had abandoned their weapons and shields. Others were wounded and bleeding but nobody stopped marching. After a whole day of battle, after watching their king die and after being hunted like dogs, they marched on. They were good men, loyal and forlorn.

“Water?” Kenrick offered, holding a half-full deerskin. Algar took it and wetted his bone-dry mouth. Kenrick had a deep cut across his cheek and the blood on his mail told of a wound in his side. Despite his injury, he had kept his Dane axe through the night.

“You look like shit.” Kenrick said. Algar gave a weak smile.

“Just a little sleep and I’ll be right.” Algar said.

“Aye. Won’t we all? But now is not the time to sleep. We must go.” Algar’s muscles ached and his stomach groaned. The prospect of even standing up seemed beyond doing, much less marching or fighting.

“Where will we go?”

“North. The lords and nobles will rally our army and we’ll fight again.” Kenrick said, adjusting his Axe.

“Why?”

Kenrick looked at him, genuinely surprised. “What’s this now?”

“Why go North?” Algar asked.

“We have a war to fight, Algar.” Kenrick said, his tone turning firm.

“We fought a war. We fought all sodding day. And we lost. We lost our army and our king and his brothers.” Algar felt like he was dropping a weight off his back. He felt a defeated relief in saying it all out loud.

“We lost a battle. And we lost a king. But we’re still alive. We still have men. And so we’ll fight.”

Algar was so tired of fighting. He was tired of everything. God, all he wanted was to put his head down and sleep.

“Aren’t you tired of fighting?” He asked.

Kenrick sighed. There was pain in his eyes that wasn’t coming from his wounds. It seemed as if his hair had turned grey in the space of a day. But still he stood, weathered but unbowed.

“Living is fighting.”

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