This story by Howard was first published on the old Aldbourne website
The Last Battle
The Battle of Mons Badonicus circa 517 AD
a tale of Britain in the Dark Ages
by Howard Gibbs
edited by John Scott
|In the early morning, through wind and driving rain the old man rode north-east along the great chalk escarpment, high above the forest that stretched away to the north as far as the eye could see. He had long planned this journey from the south where his people still held sway. It would be perhaps his last before he vanished into eternity.Now his ragged cloak was cold and wet. Exhausted, numb, he was past caring. The Iknield path along the lower slopes would have given him more shelter, but his purpose was met by this track – the age-old ridgeway that passed close below the huge fortress, long abandoned, standing proud on the ridge.
As if it knew its master’s mind, his horse kept moving onward and upward. Then on the rain-sodden chalk it slipped and the old man was tipped from the saddle, down over the lip of a steep ditch. As he fell, his head met a jutting boulder. At the bottom of the ditch his body came to rest, lying very still.
The storm passed and the morning sun broke through, weak and pale. From the ruined shell of the great hall standing at the centre of the ancient fort, a young man emerged, clad in a monk’s habit. He walked to the western entrance, stepping carefully over the rotting remains of the fallen gateway. As he reached the causeway over the deep ditch surrounding the fort, his eyes lit on the pathetic bundle lying below and he scrambled down.
The old man still had a flicker of life. It was not difficult to lift his emaciated frame, but how to pull him up the slippery slope? The young monk ran back to the ruined hall to tear a rotting board from its wall. Hunting around, he found a length of rope and returned. He tied the old man to the board, scrambled up and attempted to pull him out of the ditch. But the wet clay gave no secure foothold.
Then he saw the horse grazing beside the track – a dark horse with harness and saddle. The old man’s horse came to his call. He tied the rope end to the saddle and hauled the old man out. Into the hall he carried him, to the dry corner in which he had been lodging beneath a remnant of the roof. Striking flint on tinder, he lit a fire, feeding it with timber pulled from the wall.
As the sun rose higher and gained in strength, the wood slowly dried and the fire began to burn bright and warm. The old man ceased shivering. By mid-afternoon he was beginning to show signs of recovery. His young rescuer heated a pot of broth over the fire and fed him a little, spoonful by slow spoonful. For the rest of the day and through the night, the old man dozed fitfully.
The young monk watched and pondered until sleep claimed him …