Cuckoo in the Nest

Posted on: January 21, 2010
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Cuckoo in the Nest

By Terry Voyle

 

 

The black painted longships with the Dragons prow, sliced menacingly through the
choppy waters of Cardigan Bay, their sails full with the onshore wind. The six longships entered the mouth of the river Towy, the sails were dropped and oars slid noiselessly out. The Norsemen began their backbreaking work of pulling against the flow of the river, their bloody destination just five miles upstream

 

The hamlet of Llyny, just 1 mile west of Llyn-y Lloed Monastry, slumbered, not believing for one moment that raiders would ever reach this far south. The Monks at the monastery had just finished midnight prayers and were getting ready for some well earned rest. Their days were long and hard overseeing the one thousand acres owned by the Order.

 

The Norsemen reached their goal, a flat riverbank, just a half mile from the hamlet and a mile from the Monastery. The warriors converged on the banks of the Towy eighty men in all, their faces surly, shields held high, swords, axes, spears, honed and ready, itching for combat, thirsty for blood, hungry for booty. A sight to chill any peasant or monks heart. Their leader, a large man who spoke in Norse tongue, but not with a Norse dialect ordered.

 

“You know the plan of attack, raid the village and plunder, but no burning. That will warn the countryside around of our presence. We, who will attack the Monastery, need surprise to ensure we stop the monks hiding their loot. The Abbot must be taken alive, anyone killing him will answer to me”.

 

The band split into two, the larger group going to the monastery, the smaller group to the hamlet. These men were well drilled in raiding few words were spoken, few words were needed.

 

The group hit the village straight away, nothing sophisticated, just brute force and bloodshed. They crashed into the mud and wattle huts, putting as many people to the sword as they could find in the complete darkness. They pilfered by the light of torches any gold or silver, pewter or anything of value. Most villagers were helpless taken by surprise, easy to overcome by these animals of men, blood lust running in their veins.

 

One who was not ready to give in though was Silas, the village Blacksmith. Woken by his dog barking, Silas sensed trouble, he seized his old sword, used in times past to defeat Picts and Angles, when he served the King. Silas dashed outside his hut, just in time to see a bearded Norseman, decapitating a poor serf. With a slicing blow, Silas cleaved the Norseman’s iron helmet in two, the raider was dead before he touched the floor.

 

Alas, that was Silas’s last act on this earth, he was cut down by a double edged war axe, swung by a second Norseman. The slaughter continued with no other villagers being able to defend themselves. Some managed to run into the woods adjoining the hamlet, but most were put to the sword, the Norsemen started to round up the sheep and pigs, chickens and ducks. The livestock would provide food and goods for barter back at their base.

 

All of a sudden one of the huts roared into flame, a spark had set the straw roof on fire. Cursing the Norsemen knew the strict order from their leader had been disobeyed. Surprise will have been lost as the monks always had a lookout in their tower at the Monastery, as part of their nightly vigil and penance.

 

Indeed the alarm was raised the monks quickly rousted themselves, gathered what precious possessions they could and moved out into the surrounding forest, leaving what they could not carry, but thankful of still having their lives. Holy relics and scriptures were saved, gold and silver were left, precious metals could be replaced, ancient treasures could not. The monks had heard stories of other such raids at Monasteries further north, and knew what to expect, they left with due haste.

 

Athose the raider’s leader and the second group of Norsemen saw the blaze too, they broke into a run as they knew that the element of surprise had been lost. It took them less than five minutes to reach the monastery, but the large wooden gates normally welcomingly open, were firmly closed. By the time entrance was gained the monastery was empty, the raiders were robbed of their bloodletting, but what the monks had left behind made them smile.

 

Gold, silver, jewel encrusted icons, boxes of coins, taxes off tenants, which all Serfs were. Cellars of wine and ale, meat, poultry, bread, a wondrous hoard indeed and carts to haul the booty back to the coast. But one raider was not smiling, Athose knew the richest prize was the information only the Abbot had. He had failed, his on-going plans were reliant on this information, his plans of conquest.

 

Athose was not a Norseman, he was a Saxon, he was brother to the King of South Angleland, a brother he hated and had sworn to depose. His knowledge of the Norse language and customs gave him an ally in these raiders. Now based at Dunure on the East coast of Eire, the coast of Wales and Angleand were within easy reach of his Norse hordes. Whereas other Viking and Norse raiders could only attack communities in East Angleland, his men could reach the lands of his brother Credwen, King Credwen the Quick.

 

Although Athose’s army was purely mercenary, he believed that by pillaging and plundering Credwens realm, he could foster unrest in Credwens kingship. Then by manipulating the Norsemen’s greed and want for territory and by stirring up dissatisfaction against Credwen amongst the people, he could gain the Kingdom. A plan that needed the Abbot, as he had the knowledge of where the King’s headquarters were situated. As the Abbot paid taxes to the King’s exchequer, he would know much about all things royal.

 

Athose needed that information to launch a pre-emptive strike, and kill his brother and his brothers’ heirs, leading him to the crown. As Athose took off his battle helmet, his face steeped in anger and frustration, little did he know two eyes were watching him.

 

Brother Sobrius, an aged monk, too old to run and thin enough to hide in one of the multitude of dark cavities that ran all throughout the monastery, watched in fear. Arthose turned, Brother Sobrius, caught his breath, Sobrius recognised Arthose. In those days when Arthose and Credwen were Princes at their Father’s court, Sobrius was the Royal Scribe. He watched the Princes growing up, indeed even gave them lessons in Latin, French and Norse.

 

He watched and listened silently as Arthos called his second in command and said in Norse.

 

“Get the men back to the boats, I’ll have to try elsewhere for knowledge of Credwens whereabouts. Those idiots at the hamlet ruined my plan. Back to the boats, back to Eire, Angleland can wait”.

 

The raiders loaded all spoils onto the carts and started off to the coast.

 

“Shall we torch this place’, his lieutenant asked?

 

“No, some day this monastery will be paying taxes into my coffers”, Arthos said with a wry smile.

 

Sobrius gasped, inadvertently, in a few seconds he had learnt what was in Arthos’s black heart.

 

King Credwen listened to the tale Sobrius had to tell, he also had a map taken off the dead raider, killed by Silas at the hamlet. This map showed the route from Eire to the mouth of the Towy, then to Llyny hamlet and Llyn-y-Moed Monastery. The dead man must have been the navigator on one of the invading craft. What Credwen realised was his brother’s knowledge was limited, Credwens new headquarters and strongholds were missing from the map, only old fortifications were drawn, Credwen realised he must use this lack of information.

 

Credwen called council of twelve of his bravest warriors, he explained the danger and of his brothers involvement. What he needed was a brave man to act as a cuckoo in the nest of the Norsemen. This brave person would have to integrate himself into Arthos’s band and give false knowledge to the raiders, indeed a lure into a trap. Arnold of Tay, a brother to one of Credwens leading warriors and not known to Arthose, volunteered.

 

Arnold left for Eire the next day, posing as a Bard, with poetry and music, being his only weapons, plus an aid to pass on messages, who with a spirited mount was ready to carry any communication back across the Irish sea to Credwen. Athose’s base was at Dunure on the wild Eire coast. Arnold arrived at Dunure and was warmly welcomed by the residents, as Bards were popular with song and story they were like messengers telling tales in rhyme and verse.

 

He indicated to any who would listen to his songs and rhyme a full knowledge of the whereabouts of King Credwen’s court, as he sang praises to the King.

 

When Athose heard of this Bard, who through song and sonnet, told a story of his homeland and his brother he was greatly interested. An audience was arranged and Arnold feted with strong drink was gently quizzed about his travels in Southern Angleland. Arnold knowing exactly how to react to these searching questions, answered he had indeed played at the new court of King Credwen and had intimate knowledge of the Kings strongholds, plying his trade at all of them.

 

Athose was convinced, this traveling Bard could be the key to a kingdom. Whether Arnold liked it or not his next performance would be as Arthose’s guide.

 

Next morning when Arnold awoke, he was hauled roughly in front of Athrose, it was made clear to him he was to lead an army to Credwens stronghold. Arnold of course protested, saying he was a man of peace and could not get involved in wars, but he had no choice. If he complied he lived, if not he died, as simple as that, Arnold agreed.

 

Now the game was afoot Arthose arranged the invasion a week hence, the next moonless night, preparations for war were made, boats provisioned, warriors briefed, the time of retribution was nigh. As for Arnold, his plan working wonderfully, he passed the information to his secret aid, when the attack was planned. The instructions the council and King Credwen had given Arnold had been fulfilled, he would lead the raiders to their last battle.

 

One week later just as the sun was going down, the Norse invasion left Dunure. Twenty boats had been mustered for this strike at Credwen, all the resources Arthose could muster. The night lay black and heavy, the sea calm and ominously tranquil, the breeze enough to give the raiders craft a swift voyage across the Irish Sea. Arnold was in the first ship at the side of Athrose, he was ready when land was sighted to give the helmsman directions to the Kings stronghold.

 

Arnold had told Arthose the stronghold lay three miles from the Cornish coast, at a place called Pendeen. The stronghold was a castle with thick stone walls and eight stone towers, inside resided four hundred men-at-arms. Credwen the Quick and all his family were in residence in apartments in the centre of the fortress, the Keep, where Arnold said he had entertained the royal family many times. Arthose listened and nodded, he was trusting a man who was a stranger, but, the time was right to strike he was sure.

 

The coast appeared they made their way to their destination, a beach at Morvah Sands. The ships stood off the shore, all was as silent as the grave. Artose made the decision, the tide was right they would land. The signal given, a fire arrow high in the sky, all the warships landed, side by side crunching their way on the coarse sandy beach. All was still, Athrose gathered his troops, a small contingent were to stay with the fleet, readying supplies to be forwarded to the battlefront. Arnold assured Athrose, that he knew of a secret way into the stronghold where the raiders could fall on the garrison and dispatch them before they could regain their wits.

 

This was the key to the plan, surprise Arthose realised multiplied his force many times, a war winner. Arthose was a careful warrior, he kept Arnold by his side at the head of the column as his army marched off noiselessly through the coastal grasses, dim grey light was just streaking the sky, dawn was one hour away.

 

They force-marched the three miles, six hundred Norsemen on foot plus equipment, weapons and supplies, they were as prepared as an attacking force could be. But, the secret route into the castle was vital, every man knew a siege was out of the question. The leading warriors broke through the thick undergrowth, the magnificent walls and towers of the Credwen’s stronghold stood like sentinels before them, even the bravest Norseman baulked, it was a formidable fortress.

 

Arnold was called to Arthose, he whispered. “Now Bard, you have got us to our objective, now how do we enter?”

 

“Noble Lord Arthose, I’ll show you a small picket gate, a gate only the tradesmen use to deliver goods and faggots of fuel. It is never guarded and with a little bit of skill I can remove the gate off its hinges”.

 

“How do you know all this Bard? You may have entertained Credwen at his castle, but knowledge of picket gates and unfastening hinges is something I do not understand’.

 

“Ah, Lord Arthose, you know love will always find a way. A damsel of the court took my fancy, but her knight would have had my head. The lady, of course who’s name shall remain for ever in my heart, showed me all her secrets, including the picket gate which she seemed to know quite well, alas, perhaps I was not the first to troth my love secretly. Inside is a cobbled courtyard, have your men bind cloth on their hobnailed sandals, else the noise will rouse the guards”.

 

Arthose looked at the Bard, then bid his first assault party of one hundred men to bind their sandals. Once this party had overcome the castle sentries, they would unbar the front gates and the mass of warriors would rush in and the bloodletting would begin, the stronghold would be theirs before the sun was full in the sky.

 

The hundred approached the picket gate, silently as possible Arnold tapped the centre pins from the three iron hinges, the door just fell forward as the bolts slipped sideways out of their locks. The leading warriors led by Arnold, with daggers in hand entered the courtyard. In their state of excitement and tension they did not notice they were walking through straw and that the straw was soaked in Tallow. The hundred were in the quadrangle, the first inkling of danger was when a small door opened and Arnold dashed through, the door slammed shut.

 

The walls above the quadrangle now came alive, flaming torches were thrown onto the Tallow soaked straw underfoot, the straw caught fire instantly, the cloth wrappings on the warriors feet had soaked in the tallow, their whole bodies erupted like human volcanoes. The screams and cries of a hundred burning Norsemen rent the morning air. More Tallow was tipped into the courtyard by the castles defenders, the thick black smoke rose as a funeral pyre for one hundred men.

 

Arthose reeled back. “Treachery “he cried.

 

As he cursed, the woodland all around the five hundred Norsemen, who stood waiting at the castle gates, seemed to come alive. Camouflaged in the woods was Credwens archers, thousands of arrows arced down into the tight packed throng of Norsemen. Stones, spears and boiling oil rained down on them from the battlements as the ramparts came alive with the kings soldiers. Horsemen appeared out of the castle gates, lances leveled intent on slaughtering their foe, foot-soldiers followed screaming their battle cries.

 

The slaughter was nearly complete, a few of Arthose’s men ran back toward their ships moored at Moryah sands. Throwing away their armour and weapons in blind panic, they raced headlong to perceived safety. They saw first smoke, then as they neared their ships flames rose a hundred feet into the air, their majestic fleet was burning. Twenty boats blazed, their guardians sprawled like driftwood lying on the sands.

 

A hundred mounted men waited for these survivors, no weapons, no armour; they were cut down to the last man. Six hundred Norsemen, paid with their lives, the threat from Arthose was well and truly over. Arnold was a hero, he was presented with his spurs by Credwen a full member of Credwen the Quicks court.

 

Only one thing bothered the King as he sat with his followers at their victory party, Arthose’s body had not been found. Indeed Arthose had in the melee managed to slip away. Even now he sat and planned, six hundred lives was as nothing, cunning had defeated him this time. But, Arthose was as determined as ever, the games not over while a man’s left standing and Arthose was undoubtedly still standing.

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2 Responses to “Cuckoo in the Nest”

  1. Cleow Says:

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  2. marketiva Says:

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