It's the moment we've been waiting for, taunting the British in their shieldwall from the bottom of the slope, and we charge up the hill, roaring our battle cries. It's a fair slope, longer but a touch less steep, than the one we've been running up all summer.
We pause. Hope in the Britons eyes, as they think we've been beaten by the slope, but no - we slow just long enough to hurl spears, then barrel into them full tilt. Aelfric makes a beeline for their leader, and as his champion, this Bedwyr I fought last time is mine. It's a dirty, close quarters fight - the kind I'm good at. Aelfric gets pushed away by a rally from their shieldwall for a moment, and Bedwyr and I lock swords, his up high to parry a downward cut. "You won't prevail, Saex."
"Look around you." To my left, Britons are turning to run, broken by the charge of Theobald and some of the hearthguard. He can't resist a look, and I can't resist a vicious knee, which makes him stagger back, and gives me an opening for the British leader Andrusius. We cross blades, as Britons around us fall or flee. One staggers, struggling to hold bits of himself in from a deep spear wound, and topples headlong to the ground behind Andrusius just as he backs off a pace, and the British leader stumbles.
Bedwyr puts himself between him and me, as the British leader struggles back to his feet. But I have the momentum, and we trade three or four quick blows before I sweep aside his blade and impale him on my own, the one Aelfric gave me last time. He clutches at my arm as he subsides to his knees. "You..."
I ease him down, as his Tribune watches for a second then turns away, yelling for the Britons to fall back. "You did your job." I owe the Britons' champion that much, at least. Some day, it'll be me. Whatever he was going to say is lost as he coughs up blood, a death rattle as his eyes dim. I kneel to clean my blade on a patch of grass that isn't slick with mud and blood, then close the Briton's eyes, lay his sword beside him.
We spend the evening getting gloriously drunk in an ale-house in Linnius: Linnius that's now ours. I find a spot to watch, looking round at the warriors who've come with us this far. Some are old, grizzled veterans like Theobald with his grey beard, horn of mead in hand. Some not so, like the teenaged Sithric, talking with some of the younger warriors - from his hands and gestures, he's describing some impossible shot he may or may not have pulled off during the battle. Some have been with us since we landed, some, like Beornwulf, joined us to fill the places of the fallen.
It still doesn't feel quite right to be celebrating a victory without him leading us in raucous songs and ribald stories. I still sometimes fancy I see him out of the corner of my eye at times like this. But we go on.
Some have grown: I glance across at Ecgwine, who has his arm round a certain young British lass, and grin at them, remembering our first raid, and the punch I landed afterwards. It earns me a couple of smiles back, which amuses me afresh, since they don't know why.
And then there's the Young Wolf. He's taken up his customary position, leaning against a roof-post with a mug of ale in hand, watching us. He catches my eye, nods, a quick smile, and pushes off, to bang the mug on the table a couple of times. The room goes quiet.
"Linnius is ours!" Good lad, start with the obvious. It gets him a raucous cheer. "But we're not done yet. There are richer lands for the taking to the south." More cheers. "But for now..." He reaches into a pouch, tosses coins to Theobald. "For now we winter here." A grin at Beornwulf. "No more tithes to Wulfhere." More coins to the hearthguard. "We build our own steading, draw more warriors to us..."
They cheer. Start chanting his name. And something else. Even Ecgwine, a king's son, and Beornwulf, a king's bastard.