Выбрать главу

Stephen Baxter


Place names:

Ad-Gefrin, Yeavering

Aescesdun, Ashdown

Aethelingaig, Athelney

Armorica, Brittany

Banna, Birdoswald

Bebbanburh, Bamburgh

Brycgstow, Bristol

Caldbec Hill, Hastings

Cippanhamm, Chippenham

Eoforwic, Eburacum, Jorvik, York

Escanceaster, Exeter

Ethandune, Edington

Foul Ford, Fulford

Haestingaceaster, Hastings

Hagustaldasea, Hexham

Hamptonscir, Hampshire

Lindisfarena, Lindisfarne

Lunden, Lundenwic, Lundenburh, Londinium, London

Maeldubesburg, Malmesbury

Pefensae, Anderida, Pevensey

Reptacaestir, Rutupiae, Richborough

Sandlacu, Senlac Ridge

Snotingaham, Nottingham

Stamfordbrycg, Stamford Bridge

Sumorsaete, Somerset

Wealingaford, Wallingford

Westmynster, Westminster

Wiltunscir, Wiltshire

R Sabrina, Severn

R Tamesis, Thames



The Menologium of the Blessed Isolde

AD 418

(Free translation from Old English, with acrostic preserved.)


AD 1066

After a year of total war, Lunden was an angry city. Under an iron-grey December sky, no man walked alone in the alleys. The King even had to have Westmynster ringed by troops.

The mood within the cold, cavernous abbey church was febrile too. Men walked in huddles with their retainers, their weapons visible, their glances furtive and suspicious.

It was Christmas Day, 1066. The day the King of England was to show his crown to those who had fought for him, and to those who still called him a bloodstained usurper.

It was in this atmosphere that Orm met Sihtric.

The priest, small, cunning, looked Orm in the eye. 'Orm the Viking.'

There was enough of his sister in Sihtric's blank blue eyes to remind Orm of Godgifu – and of how he had cut her down on Sandlacu Ridge, at the climax of the battle men called Haestingaceaster. Orm's heart twisted. 'I was not expecting to see you here,' he said evasively.

'But I thought I would meet you,' Sihtric said. 'You did well in the battle, Orm, and in the campaign of revenge since. Your paymasters must be pleased with you.'

Orm stood straight. 'I won't justify myself to you, priest. In a year like this a man must survive as best he can.'

'Oh, I'm not judging you,' Sihtric murmured. 'I am compromising with the victors too. If I work with the bishops perhaps I can mitigate the harm done to the people, who are after all my flock. But I am not proud of it,' he said. 'We meet in shame, you and I.'

Orm smiled thinly. 'Despite your endless nagging over your prophecy.'

'The Menologium of Isolde. A four-hundred-year programme of historical design that came to a climax on Sandlacu Ridge – all for the birth of an Aryan domain.'

'I never understood who your "Aryans" were.'

'Well, you always were a fool. Us, Orm! English and Northmen together. An empire for ten thousand years – or so the Weaver of time's tapestry intended…'

There was a commotion, a rumble of anticipation. Men separated, making way.

The King marched down the aisle of the abbey church. Archbishop Ealdred walked ahead of him, magnificent in his embroidered silk and purple-dyed godweb, bearing the new crown of England, a circlet of gold embedded with jewels. From the heaviness of his gait Orm suspected that the King was wearing a coat of chain mail under his golden cloak. He feared assassins, even here.

Leaden-footed, stiff, the King looked exhausted after his year of war. But as he walked he glared left and right. None of the nobles dared meet his eye.

'I think I wish your future had come about,' Orm said impulsively. 'I wish I were readying a longship to sail to Vinland in the spring, with Godgifu at my side, and my child in her belly.'

'Yes,' Sihtric muttered. 'Better that than this. This is wrong. We are in the wrong future, my friend. And we are stuck with it.'

'But could it have been different?'

Sihtric snorted. 'You were there, Viking. You know how close it came…'




Wuffa liked to smash windows in the dead city.

He walked north through the empty streets, sling and stone in hand, knives at his belt. He whistled a sad fireside song of the brevity of life. It was late afternoon, and the low southern sun cast long shadows from the heaps of rubble. It was a long time until night, but already the hairy star was visible, its streaming tail a banner sprawled across the pale spring sky. He disturbed rabbits and rats and mice, and a few birds pecking for food in the gaunt shells of ruined buildings. The city was so old that it didn't even smell any more, save of the green things, the weeds and grass that pushed their way through the cobbles.

The comet, the hairy star, alarmed many men. The Saxons had always shunned the old stone cities. Here they had built a new trading settlement, by the bank of the river to the west of the walls. Certainly Wuffa's brothers wouldn't risk catching Woden's eye at such a time by walking alone in the ghost-plagued ruins of an ancient city. But Wuffa was of a practical turn of mind. It was a big world, and Woden would have more important things to worry about than a lone youth looking for a bit of sport.

In this, as it turned out, he was wrong. Wuffa's life would turn today. He would always wonder if he had after all angered the gods of the city, or the sky – or perhaps he had fallen under the cold gaze of the Weaver, who worked men's lives like threads on his iron loom.

There. A wall stood tall, facing south towards the river. It was all that was left of a collapsed building, an unlikely relic somehow resisting the weather. And the low sunlight picked out a square of gold, a window still paned with unbroken glass, high but not beyond his reach. Perfect.

He selected a loose cobble from the road and took his leather sling. He stood before the ragged wall, squinted up and hurled. The cobble pinged against the wall perhaps half an arm's length below the window, and birds clattered up from a gaping frame. Wuffa picked up another cobble and launched again. This time the glass burst with a soft chime that echoed from the jutting walls.

Satisfied, he looked for another target.

Of course he should have been at work. Today had been a busy day, for a whole fleet of Norse ships had come sailing up the great river to be berthed and unloaded. Wuffa's father Coenred was employed by Aethelberht, the Kentish overking who owned the city, to oversee the trade that trickled through the huge old concrete wharves along the river. Wuffa, twenty years old, the second son of Coenred's third wife, was expected to do his share. But trade bored him. He especially hated the desolating stink of the slave pens. Recently there had been hundreds of slaves to be shipped out, British-Roman captives from the German kings' campaigns in the west and north.

And he itched to fight. Wrestling matches with his brothers were no longer enough. There was no peace in Britain, and it wouldn't be hard to find an army to fight for, a war to win, a fortune to make, although he would have to leave home to do it.

In the meantime all he wanted was another window to smash. He bent to pick up another cobble.

He saw something move. Across the street, beyond a low walclass="underline" large, heavy, a flash of golden hair. Without thinking Wuffa pivoted and fired off the cobble. He heard a satisfying thud of rock on flesh.

'Ow!' His target straightened up. It was a man, dressed in a leather tunic and trousers, with a ragged shock of blond hair. He was carrying some kind of spade. And he was clutching his balls. He glared at Wuffa and began striding across the road. He was big, with muscles that bulged through his sleeves. He spat abuse in a Norse tongue of which Wuffa could make out only one word: 'Arsewipe'.