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WHEN THE WIND blows from the Channel, it carries to us the smell of rotting flesh on Senlac Ridge. For days the Bastard’s men have been burying the Norman dead, cursing as they work in the October sun and covering their faces with cloths against the stench.
Many of Harold’s men still lie where they fell. Swollen and grotesque, they guard in death that awful piece of ground they could not hold in life. At night, when the Normans have gone back to their camp, the Saxon women creep onto the field of battle to find their men. It is difficult. The battle was daylong and savage; it took much butchery to kill the brave English. Angle and Saxon together, in death they have become the English. Mutilated beyond recognition, they sleep open-eyed on bloodstiff grass, and the keening of their womenfolk is piteous to hear.
We don’t speak of that sound. We lie close together on the earth floor of the hut and pull our blankets over our heads, but still that cry comes through. Sometimes I think it will never stop, that I must walk all my days to the music of mourning.
Perhaps tomorrow the invaders will be done with their burying and march on to murder elsewhere. Then it will be safe for us to escape this place. As long as the Bastard and his men are in the area I dare not move or show myself. I can only huddle here with my children like a vixen gone to earth, waiting for the hounds to leave.
I am certain William of Normandy would give much to find me, doubly so with Harold’s child in my belly. Surely he must know of it already; his spies are everywhere. There is no safety anywhere anymore. But was there? Ever?
At any rate, if my unborn child is a boy he is Harold’s legitimate heir, the Atheling, for his father and I were truly wed in York Minster. The Norman Bastard would not want Harold’s heir to live, to avenge his father someday and lay claim to the stolen throne of all England!
But for all William knows I am in safekeeping with my brother’s household in Mercia; even all his spies cannot tell him I lie hidden within sight of his camp.
That was not my strategy, but Griffith’s. Griffith, my lord and my love, dead these three years, yet I still see with your eyes and think with your thoughts. In Wales you once told me, “The safest place to hide is at your enemy’s back.” That is where I am, in a woodcutter’s filthy hut with a tiny remnant of the King’s household. Here I have much time to think, and to remember.
Remember the long and anxious journey to this place, fleeing through the haunted Andredsweald, knowing that doom lay ahead and yet driven by a compulsion to see it for myself.
Remember the day I knew I carried within my body the child of my loved one’s killer.
Remember the awe and splendor of the wedding at York Minster, when I was married to King Harold of England, while his son by the woman he loved watched us in silence.
Remember the day of my Lord Griffith’s murder, when I saw his head lifted dripping from his shoulders and brandished before my unbelieving eyes … No! I will not think of that!
Better to remember the quiet green and silver fens of East Anglia, the dawn light gilding my parent’s home, the childhood of Edyth the Saxon. The little girl I once was, who lived in ignorance and dreamed of marrying a prince.
Copyright © 1978 by Morgan Llywelyn