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Authors: Bernard Cornwell

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Warlord 2 Enemy of God

BOOK: Warlord 2 Enemy of God
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Book 2

of the

Warlord Chronicles

by Bernard Cornwell

Published by MacMillan Publishers 1997

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved

Copyright © 1997 by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Libraries

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law


The Dark Road

Today I have been thinking about the dead. This is the last day of the old year. The bracken on the hill has turned brown, the elms at the valley’s end have lost their leaves and the winter slaughter of our cattle has begun. Tonight is Samain Eve.

Tonight the curtain that separates the dead from the living will quiver, fray, and finally vanish. Tonight the dead will cross the bridge of swords. Tonight the dead will come from the Otherworld to this world, but we shall not see them. They will be shadows in darkness, mere whispers of wind in a windless night, but they will be here.

Bishop Sansum, the saint who rules our small community of monks, scoffs at this belief. The dead, he says, do not have shadow-bodies, nor can they cross the sword bridge, but instead they lie in their cold graves and wait for the final coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is proper, he says, for us to remember the dead and to pray for their immortal souls, but their bodies are gone. They are corrupt. Their eyes have melted to leave dark holes in their skulls, worms liquefy their bellies, and mould furs their bones. The saint insists that the dead do not trouble the living on Samain Eve, yet even he will take care to leave a loaf of bread beside the monastery hearth this night. He will pretend it is carelessness, but all the same there will be a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water beside the kitchen ashes tonight. I shall leave more. A cup of mead and a piece of salmon. They are small gifts, but all I can afford, and tonight I shall place them in the shadows by the hearth then go to my monk’s cell and welcome the dead who will come to this cold house on its bare hill.

I shall name the dead. Ceinwyn, Guinevere, Nimue, Merlin, Lancelot, Galahad, Dian, Sagramor; the list could fill two parchments. So many dead. Their footsteps will not stir a rush on the floor nor frighten the mice that live in the monastery’s thatched roof, but even Bishop Sansum knows that our cats will arch their backs and hiss from the kitchen corners as the shadows that are not shadows come to our hearth to find the gifts that deter them from working mischief.

So today I have been thinking about the dead.

I am old now, maybe as old as Merlin was, though not nearly so wise. I think that Bishop Sansum and I are the only men living from the great days and I alone remember them fondly. Maybe some others still live. In Ireland, perhaps, or in the wastes north of Lothian, but I do not know of them, though this much I do know: that if any others do live, then they, like me, cower from the encroaching darkness like cats shrinking from this night’s shadows. All that we loved is broken, all that we made is pulled down and all that we sowed is reaped by the Saxons. We British cling to the high western lands and talk of revenge, but there is no sword that will fight a great darkness. There are times, too frequent now, when all I want is to be with the dead. Bishop Sansum applauds that wish and tells me it is only right that I should yearn to be in heaven at God’s right hand, but I do not think I shall reach the saints’ heaven. I have sinned too much and thus fear hell, but still hope, against my faith, that I will pass to the Otherworld instead. For there, under the apple trees of four-towered Annwn, waits a table heaped with food and crowded with the shadowbodies of all my old friends. Merlin will be cajoling, lecturing, grumbling and mocking. Galahad will be bursting to interrupt and Culhwch, bored with so much talk, will steal a larger portion of beef and think no one notices. And Ceinwyn will be there, dear lovely Ceinwyn, bringing peace to the turmoil roused by Nimue.

But I am still cursed by breath. I live while my friends feast, and as long as I live I shall write this tale of Arthur. I write at the behest of Queen Igraine, the young wife of King Brochvael of Powys who is the protector of our small monastery. Igraine wanted to know all I can remember of Arthur and so I began to write these tales down, but Bishop Sansum disapproves of the task. He says Arthur was the Enemy of God, a spawn of the devil, and so I am writing the tales in my native Saxon tongue that the saint does not speak. Igraine and I have told the saint that I am writing the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the enemy’s language and maybe he believes us, or maybe he is biding his time until he can prove our falsehood and then punish me.

I write each day. Igraine comes frequently to the monastery to pray that God will grant her womb the blessing of a child, and when her prayers are done she takes the finished skins away and has them translated into British by the clerk of Brochvael’s justice. I think she changes the story then, making it match the Arthur she wants rather than the Arthur who was, but perhaps that does not matter for who will ever read this tale? I am like a man building a wall of mud and wattle to resist an imminent flood. The darkness comes when no man will read. There will just be Saxons.

So I write about the dead and the writing passes the time until I can join them; the time when Brother Derfel, a humble monk of Dinnewrac, will again be Lord Derfel Cadarn, Derfel the Mighty, Champion of Dumnonia and beloved friend of Arthur. But now I am just a cold old monk scribbling memories with my one remaining hand. And tonight is Samain Eve and tomorrow is a new year. The winter is coming. The dead leaves lie in shining drifts against the hedgerows, there are redwings in the stubble, gulls have flown inland from the sea and woodcock gather under the full moon. It is a good season, Igraine tells me, to write of old things and so she has brought me a fresh pile of skins, a flask of newly mixed ink and a sheaf of quills. Tell me of Arthur, she says, of golden Arthur, our last and best hope, our king who never was a king, the Enemy of God and the scourge of Saxons. Tell me of Arthur. A field after battle is a dreadful thing.

We had won, but there was no elation in our souls, just weariness and relief. We shivered about our fires and tried not to think of the ghouls and spirits that stalked the dark where the dead of Lugg Vale lay. Some of us slept, but none slept well for the nightmares of battle’s end harried us. I woke in the black hours, startled out of sleep by the memory of a spear thrust that had so nearly skewered my belly. Issa had saved me, pushing the enemy’s spear away with the edge of his shield, but I was haunted by what had so nearly happened. I tried to sleep again, but the memory of that spear thrust kept me awake, and so at last, shivering and weary, I stood and drew my cloak about me. The vale was lit by guttering fires, and in the dark between the flames there drifted a miasma of smoke and river mist. Some things moved in the smoke, but whether they were ghosts or the living I could not tell.

‘You can’t sleep, Derfel?’ A voice spoke softly from the doorway of the Roman building where the body of King Gorfyddyd lay.

I turned to see it was Arthur who watched me. ‘I can’t sleep. Lord,’ I admitted. He picked his way through the sleeping warriors. He wore one of the long white cloaks that he liked so much and, in the fiery night, the garment seemed to shine. There was no mud on it, or any blood, and I realized he must have kept the cloak bundled safe for something clean to wear after battle. The rest of us would not have cared if we had ended the fight stark naked so long as we lived, but Arthur was ever a fastidious man. He was bare-headed and his hair still showed the indentations where the helmet had clasped his skull. ‘I never sleep well after battle,’ he said, ‘not for a week at least. Then comes a blessed night of rest.’ He smiled at me. ‘I am in your debt.’

‘No, Lord,’ I said, though in truth he was in my debt. Sagramor and I had held Lugg Vale all that long day, fighting in the shield-wall against a vast horde of enemies, and Arthur had failed to rescue us. A rescue had come at last, and victory with it, but of all Arthur’s battles Lugg Vale was the nearest to a defeat. Until the last battle.

‘I, at least, will remember the debt,’ he said fondly, ‘even if you do not. It is time to make you wealthy, Derfel, you and your men.’ He smiled and took my elbow to lead me to a bare patch of earth where our voices would not disturb the restless sleep of the warriors who lay closer to the smoking fires. The ground was damp and rain had puddled in the deep scars left by the hoofs of Arthur’s big horses. I wondered if horses dreamed of battle, then wondered if the dead, newly arrived in the Otherworld, still shuddered at the memory of the sword stroke or spear blow that had sent their souls across the bridge of swords. ‘I suppose Gundleus is dead?’ Arthur interrupted my thoughts.

‘Dead, Lord,’ I confirmed. The King of Siluria had died earlier in the evening, but I had not seen Arthur since the moment when Nimue had pinched out her enemy’s life.

‘I heard him screaming,’ Arthur said in a matter-of-fact voice.

‘All Britain must have heard him screaming,’ I answered just as drily. Nimue had taken the King’s dark soul piece by piece, all the while crooning her revenge on the man who had raped her and taken one of her eyes.

‘So Siluria needs a King,’ Arthur said, then stared down the long vale to where the black shapes drifted in the mist and smoke. His clean-shaven face was shadowed by the flames, giving him a gaunt look. He was not a handsome man, but nor was he ugly. Rather he had a singular face; long, bony and strong. In repose it was a rueful face, suggesting sympathy and thoughtfulness, but in conversation it was animated by enthusiasm and a quick smile. He was still young then, just thirty years old, and his short-cropped hair was untouched by grey. ‘Come,’ he touched my arm and gestured down the vale.

‘You’d walk among the dead?’ I pulled back aghast. I would have waited till dawn had chased the ghouls away before venturing away from the protective firelight.

‘We made them into the dead, Derfel, you and I,’ Arthur said, ‘so they should fear us, should they not?’ He was never a superstitious man, not like the rest of us who craved blessings, treasured amulets and watched every moment for omens that might warn against dangers. Arthur moved through that spirit world like a blind man. ‘Come,’ he said, touching my arm again.

So we walked into the dark. They were not all dead, those things that lay in the mist, for some called piteously for help, but Arthur, normally the kindest of men, was deaf to the feeble cries. He was thinking about Britain. ‘I’m going south tomorrow,’ he said, ‘to see Tewdric’ King Tewdric of Gwent was our ally, but he had refused to send his men to Lugg Vale, believing that victory was impossible. The King was in our debt now, for we had won his war for him, but Arthur was not a man to hold a grudge. ‘I’ll ask Tewdric to send men east to face the Saxons,’ Arthur went on, ‘but I’ll send Sagramor as well. That should hold the frontier through the winter. Your men,’ he gave me a swift smile, ‘deserve a rest.’

The smile told me that there would be no rest. ‘They will do whatever you ask,’ I answered dutifully. I was walking stiffly, wary of the circling shadows and making the sign against evil with my right hand. Some souls, newly ripped from their bodies, do not find the entrance to the Otherworld, but instead wander the earth’s surface looking for their old bodies and seeking revenge on their killers. Many of those souls were in Lugg Vale that night and I feared them, but Arthur, oblivious of their threat, strolled carelessly through the field of death with one hand holding up the skirts of his cloak to keep it free of the wet grass and thick mud.

‘I want your men in Siluria,’ he said decisively. ‘Oengus Mac Airem will want to plunder it, but he must be restrained.’ Oengus was the Irish King of Demetia who had changed sides in the battle to give Arthur victory and the Irishman’s price was a share of slaves and wealth from the dead Gundleus’s kingdom. ‘He can take a hundred slaves,’ Arthur decreed, ‘and one third of Gundleus’s treasury. He’s agreed to that, but he’ll still try to cheat us.’

‘I’ll make sure he doesn’t, Lord.’

‘No, not you. Will you let Galahad lead your men?’

I nodded, hiding my surprise. ‘So what do you want of me?’ I asked.

‘Siluria is a problem,’ Arthur went on, ignoring my question. He stopped, frowning as he thought about Gundleus’s kingdom. ‘It’s been ill-ruled, Derfel, ill-ruled.’ He spoke with a deep distaste. To the rest of us corrupt government was as natural as snow in winter or flowers in the springtime, but Arthur was genuinely horrified by it. These days we remember Arthur as a warlord, as the shining man in polished armour who carried a sword into legend, but he would have wanted to be remembered as nothing but a good, honest and just ruler. The sword gave him power, but he gave that power to the law. ‘It isn’t an important kingdom,’ he continued, ‘but it will make endless trouble if we don’t put it right.’ He was thinking aloud, trying to anticipate every obstacle that lay between this night after battle and his dream of a peaceful united Britain. ‘The ideal answer,’ he said, ‘would be to divide it between Gwent and Powys.’

‘Then why not do that?’ I asked.

‘Because I have promised Siluria to Lancelot,’ he said in a voice that brooked no contradiction. I said nothing, but just touched Hywelbane’s hilt so that the iron would protect my soul from the evil things of this night. I was gazing southwards to where the dead lay like a tide-rill by the tree fence where my men had fought the enemy all that long day.

There had been so many brave men in that fight, but no Lancelot. In all the years that I had fought for Arthur, and in all the years that I had been acquainted with Lancelot, I had yet to see Lancelot in the shield-wall. I had seen him pursuing beaten fugitives, and seen him lead captives off to parade them before an excited crowd, but I had never seen him in the hard, sweaty, clanging press of struggling shield-walls. He was the exiled King of Benoic, unthroned by the horde of Franks that had erupted out of Gaul to sweep his father’s kingdom into oblivion, and not once, so far as I knew, had he ever carried a spear against a Frankish war-band, yet bards throughout the length and breadth of Britain sang of his bravery. He was Lancelot, the King without land, the hero of a hundred fights, the sword of the Britons, the handsome lord of sorrows, the paragon, and all of that high reputation was made by song and none of it, so far as I knew, with a sword. I was his enemy, and he mine, but both of us were friends of Arthur and that friendship kept our enmity in an awkward truce.

BOOK: Warlord 2 Enemy of God
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