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Shipton Shorts 2017 Shipton Bellinger Short Story Competition

2015 3rd place ‘Elgar the Saxon Boy’

By Josie Smith

When we Saxons first came to take Britain, we came in peace. It wasn't at all easy, as we had to face the brutality of the barbarians known as Celts, and they had no mercy on anyone; they had metal weapons and were skilled on how to use them. They came here years and years ago, Before Christ (or BC). Not only did we have the Celts to conquer, but also the Romans, who invaded these lands at a much later date. We landed here around 450 AD (Anno Domini, or After Christ), and were gradually beginning to settle.

 These were treacherous times, with enemies having different battle strategies and far more superior weapons to ours. It was challenging for a young Saxon lad, but all of us had to have our wits about us at all times. We grew to love the landscape and its wildlife, and the Romans brought wonderful things to the land - creatures known as hare and many plants as well. Snowdrops were brought here - the Roman people put the bulbs into soil to mark and respect the graves of their dead - and ground elder was brought over too: a plant grown for salads. News was becoming more frequent with tales of the invasion of Vikings, landing on the British shores, and later on, the Normans came as well. Britain was becoming a melting pot of various peoples and cultures, and the Normans were building temples known as churches.

We resided in woodland of what is known in these modern days as Hampshire, where a small Saxon village sprang up. This village has had many names, but today in the year 2015, it's called Shipton Bellinger and is huge compared to what it was in my day. This area has always been military dominated.

My name is Elgar and I shall now tell my story.

* * *

I was but ten when the Romans marched down through the Thorn Gate. The Romans had invaded Britain many years before we came, and they had begun cutting out flint roads to make it easier for them to travel from one point to another. They made one of these flint roads close to our village, and as the Romans knew we were living in the village, there was fear of an attack. Our elders sat around fires making plans, wanting to surprise the enemy first.

One day, our lookout came hurrying into our lodge, bearing bad news, and we all had to go into hiding while our warriors intercepted the enemy.

Unfortunately, Roman weaponry was far superior to ours, and some of our soldiers were mortally wounded in the fight. After the battle, squabbles broke out - disagreements about future battle plans. The problem was, each man had his own ideas, and there were those flexing their muscles to take leadership. All hell broke loose when Cedric got too big for his sheepskin boots and challenged our leader, Edward. Cedric was frighteningly angry, and I buried my head as the fight became fierce, but I was glad when Edward won.

Next day, there was much talk of Celts attacking Romans in a nearby village, and it was agreed that our warriors would have to be vigilant. These barbarians had settled in Britain before the Romans, and were said to be brutal, murderous fighters with an entirely different battle strategy.

We'd arrived in this, our new land, many years after the Romans, and as we Saxons had fought hard for our bit of ground, we meant to keep it; although peace-loving, we were good and ready to kill and die for the ground we classed as ours.

That night, I felt so tired that I went to my sleep space early; I'd spent the day making a bow and some arrows and I'd also spent a great deal of time choosing the feathers for flights.

Even with my exhaustion, sleep was impossible that night - I could hear many angry voices, and the smoke from the fire stung my eyes. They were red sore the next morning.

I woke early to the smell of baking bread, hungry. Wearily, I yawned and then crawled out of my bed, taking some bread, tearing it, and dipping it into the gruel Mother had made.

The women were tending to the wounded, but some had died in the night. I had no wish to stay in the lodge where dead bodies lay.

Pulling back the skin at the window, I poked my head out to see it was raining hard. Water was streaming off the straw roof, and great puddles had formed under dripping trees.

 The bow I'd made was strong, and I was pleased with the stone head arrows I'd chipped from flint just two days before - I was a proud owner of a flint knife; it was given to me by my father as a birthday present. I'd lost my father two years before, in a terrifying battle with the barbarians. Any fine weather was spent by us youngsters performing mock battles - it was both exciting and sad.

I soon became bored with sitting inside; the talk of war had put fire into my veins, and I wanted to practise archery and sparring outside.

 It was then that I saw a vessel of mead standing in the corner, and I had an urge to try it. However, I'd no sooner picked it up and got it to my mouth when an enormous pair of hands grabbed it. I felt the back of Edward's hand across my head, and I immediately felt disappointed - I knew it would have been good, as the elders drank so much of it.

One of my main chores was to clean Edward's weaponry. His sword fascinated me; it was one he'd taken from a Roman soldier after he'd won a battle with him. It was very heavy, and I wondered how on earth he could wield it. My blood was up and so I pretended I was the one in battle, but as I tried to lift it, a great sound of laughter filled the lodge; Edward was watching me and had become amused at my feeble attempts to raise it from the floor. I sat still, awestruck as he picked it up and began wielding it over his head, making out he was sparring with an alien warrior.

 He said, "First of all, young one, you'd better grow some muscles. I'll get a sword made for you - though it won't be as heavy as this one - and you can practise all you want. I'll teach you how to attack, and when it's wise to back off and wait until there's another chance to strike your opponent. Are there any questions you want to ask?"

Sheepishly I answered, "I want to try the mead, sir."

A great grin came over his face and he laughed out loud again. It was almost as if he'd baited the question.

"Right, sit yourself down there and I'll pour you some mead. You tell me when to stop."

The drinking vessel was full to brimming when I cheekily shouted, "Stop!"

"Now, you drink every drop of that good mead; I'll not have you waste my stock."

 The first few sips were like silk. I loved the taste, and I greedily drank more and more from the vessel. When I tried to stand up, the room span, and the last thing I heard were great peals of laughter.

 I woke up with a splitting headache. Edward asked, "Do you want some more mead, Son?" His voice seemed to split my head open and his laughter made me plug my eardrums.

"No thank you, sir, I don't think I'll drink mead ever again." I had just crawled back to my sleep space and had covered my head when he began laughing again.

The next day was fine and sunny, and I went for a stroll over the hill, studying some wildlife and insects. After a while, I started to hear Roman accents nearby, and I lay down quickly in the long, lush grass as they passed me by. Honey bees and vivid-coloured butterflies sipped nectar from pretty wild flora as I watched the soldiers, and I began to study their uniforms and exquisite weaponry in great detail. I kept quiet and out of sight, and I became even more fascinated as I followed them to the River Bourne, where they threw valuable things into its water and said some kind of chant or prayer before crossing over it.

Following them for two days, I found out where they were camped, watching them closely the whole time. I saw a man making shiny discs - he hit them with a tool that made a pattern. I watched as well as he gave a leather purse, filled with golden discs, to a man who hid them in a remote area. Once he'd vanished, I dug them up and was thrilled and excited to see wonderful moons and stars on some, and ears of corn on others, with a disjointed horse or image of their leader on the front.

Edward was very pleased with me - he was delighted with the gold discs. He told me to take him and our warriors to the Romans' encampment, and I quickly became Edward's favourite youth. He made me chief scout, and my duty was to search for enemy encampments. It was a task I enjoyed.

We survived the battles with our enemies over the following years, until one day, the Roman legions suddenly - and without warning - left the area. By that time, I'd become a person of importance. Edward became Lord and Master of several Saxon villages, purchasing them and the people in them with Roman gold coins. By now we were minting our own coins.

Thousands of years have now passed by, and my ancestors have settled here, as did some of the Normans and Romans - along with Celts and Vikings - and in this year of 2015, we all live together in harmony, the assaults and unhappiness gone. We populated this land known throughout the world as Great Britain and we grew to love it as our own.

My people are proud to be a part of this culture that is known as British. Together we sleep soundly under trees and chalk soil. In the swirling mists, we are still here in spirit form.

History is all around: it's glorious. I hope you are as happy and proud of it as we, your ancestors, are.