The following scene, which I've cut from the first draft, gives a bit of background to the hero of the story, Maric.
Maric rode up the incline towards the gates of Bebbanburg. His gaze shifted east, where he could make out the low, rocky outline of Farne Island, out to sea – and immediately regretted doing so. The wide seascape, wide swathe of pale sand and dunes brought him swiftly back to that day, two years earlier, when he had arrived here with Penda.
That day, he had ridden up to Bebbanburg with joy in his heart and hope for the future. Osulf and Elfhere had ribbed him mercilessly about his buoyant mood; the rest of them had complained about sore arses and empty bellies, but he had only noticed the fantastic scenery.
He had been a different man then. Now, he was aware of his tired limbs, chilled feet and hands, and hunger. Today, the view merely appeared cold, bleak and lonely. There was no joy in his heart; no hope for the future.
Maric rode towards the end of the Northumbrian fyrd, well behind the king and his ealdormen and thegns. He rode with a small group of Mercian warriors, all of whom were still recovering from their battle wounds. After a splitting headache for two full days, Maric’s only injury was the laceration to his upper arm, which had been tended and bound. Now, seven days later, the scab itched mercilessly as it healed.
Osulf and Elfhere had not travelled north with him, as Maric would have liked, for they were both too badly injured. Elfhere had been fighting a raging fever when Maric rode away from the River Winwaed, and Osulf had lost his injured eye. If they survived their injuries, Maric would be reunited with them both at Tamworth.
Maric rode into the fort, one of the last to do so, and followed the tide of men and horses up towards the inner perimeter. Already, he could hear the shouts of victory, the blasting of horns welcoming Oswiu and his men home. Folk had gathered on the side of the wide dirt road leading up to the Great Tower, their cheers deafening. Maric saw the happiness and pride on their faces and wondered at the scene in Tamworth, when Paeda arrived home, puppet to a new lord. It would be a much more somber welcome, if any at all.
Inside the wide stable yard, Maric dismounted, stretching his legs and back, stiff from a long day in the saddle. Then, he led his horse – a stocky bay mare who had once belonged to a Mercian ealdorman – into the large byre that flanked one side of the yard.
Inside, chaos reigned as men and horses jostled for space. Maric joined the other Mercians at the far end. They were a sober lot, the look on their faces – a blend of misery and humiliation – reflecting what he too felt. He unsaddled his horse and rubbed it down, tuning out to the raucous voices around him. The Northumbrians deserved their victory but he was in no mood to join them.
The mare began helping herself to mouthfuls of hay, while Maric took an armful of stale hay from the bottom of the manger and made a bed for himself at the far end of the stall.
He settled down on to it, sighing in relief, and trying to ignore his protesting belly. He had not eaten since dawn, and the smell of roasting mutton that wafted into the byre from the spits opposite, caused his mouth to fill with saliva.
I will eat later, he promised himself, once the celebrating has died down and my gloom does not appear so out of place here.
With that, Maric lay down on his side, the sweet smell of hay and horses filling his nostrils. Then, he closed his eyes, blocking out the world, and welcomed the heavy curtain of sleep.
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