David Slavitt reads
from The Battle of Maldon
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The bold one, Byrhtnoth, raised up his weapon and set his shield to stride toward a soldier, the earl to the churl and each meaning evil. That seaman marauder hurled his southern spear and wounded was the warriors’ lord. Byrhtnoth banged the shaft, shaking it free and stabbed with the spear-point its Viking owner, giving him back the bite of its wound. Skillful was Byrhtnoth and he struck with his lance, hitting the Viking and piercing his-neck and in that quick thrust reaching his life. He turned to another and hurled at this Viking that lance that landed and pierced through his chain mail the hard point hitting his heart. Elated, the earl, the valiant victor, laughed aloud and gave thanks to his God. for the work of the day, the deitys grant. But one Viking then loosed from his hand a javelin striking Aethelred’s noble thane, Byrhtnoth, and biting into his body. Hard by his side a fledgling fighter, Wulfstane’s son the young Wulfmaer drew from his lord the bloodied spear and flung it forward back at that Viking to get him for getting the lad’s -lord. This strike was successful and the Viking lay down dying. Came then another Viking marauder up to the earl to harvest rich pickings, rings and armor and patterned sword. But Byrhtnoth could draw his blade from its scabbard to strike at that sailor and would have, but one of the cutthroat’s comrades hit the earl’s arm and rendered it useless. His biting blade then fell to the earth, for Byrhtnoth could no more hold the weapon’s weight. Still, he could speak, that white-haired war man, to encourage his people and urge them onward. His legs were unsteady and footing uncertain, as the hero to heaven spoke his last words: “I give you my thanks, O King of Kings, for all my achievements in this life I have lived. Now, my king Maker, I ask a last favor, that you may admit me into your high domain. Lord of the Angels, grant peaceful passage and hear my petition that the demons of hell not snare my spirit.” Then heathen men hacked him and his two companions, Ælfnoth and Wulfmaer who had stood beside him and, along with their lord, they too gave their lives. Listen to more readings from The Word Exchange »