The story continues...
Deorwine stands looking to the east at the longboat sailing slowly toward the island of Lindisfarne. Inside, I’m screaming, Run, run! But imprisoned inside his body, looking out through his eyes, I can only observe the events unfolding before me.
Absently, part of me thinks that this isn’t how I'd imagined it would be. Not the invasion itself—that is panning out exactly as I’d envisaged it. But experiencing it is a whole other matter. I’d thought it would be like watching it on TV—I am a fan of bloodthirsty historical movies and have sat and chomped my way through bags of popcorn while watching armies massacre each other on the screen. But of course these aren’t actors, and I’m not just watching, I’m in the thick of the action, and I can feel the way Deorwine’s heart has begun to pound, how his breathing has quickened.
One of the Viking warriors raises a hand, and the sun glints off the weapon he’s holding—a long-handled axe with a curved blade. He yells something, the guttural sound carrying across the water.
I turn and begin walking back to the monastery. After a few paces, I start to run. My breath comes fast, my feet stumbling on the uneven ground.
I pause outside the high walls and lean against the doorway to catch my breath. Inside, the scene is an idyllic vision of monastic life. I am filled with a peculiar sense of wonder and horror that I am teetering on the edge of a monumental event that will shape English history for the next few hundred years. Is Deorwine feeling the same?
Pushing himself off the door, I run into the grounds. Ahead of me is an older monk talking quietly to the boys who had helped me clean the dishes. He has a long, plain cross hanging around his neck and he looks calm and wise. I think maybe he is the prior. I slow as he approaches.
One of the boys murmurs something to the prior and he turns. His eyes widen as he sees my face.
“They are here,” I say, my chest heaving.
They must have discussed this before. I had read of earlier Viking raids further north on the coast, so maybe news had filtered to Lindisfarne. Perhaps Deorwine, clearly having been a soldier in the past, had seen the warriors before, and had told the prior what to expect should a raid occur.
“You should leave,” I say. “Quickly. They will be here any moment.”
“If you do not leave, you will die,” I say urgently.
“If it is God’s will, then so be it.” The prior gathers the boys together and starts telling the other monks to gather. One of them begins ringing a large bell, calling the rest to the priory.
Making an exasperated sound low in my throat, I turn and scan the courtyard, spot a broom leaning up against the wall, and cross over to it. I take it in both hands and bring it down hard on the edge of the wall, and the broom head cracks with a splintering sound and falls to the ground, leaving me with the long wooden handle.
I heft it, then spin it once around my body. It is a good weight. Clearly, Deorwine has handled a quarterstaff before.
“No,” the prior says firmly, putting out a hand as if to stop me. But I push him aside and march through the doorway and up the hill.
The boat has landed, and several of the warriors have leapt out and are pulling it up the beach. The rest are assembling—sunlight is glinting off the blades of swords, and many warriors are lifting round shields. As I watch, they begin to leap over the side into the shallows, and start heading up toward the priory.
No, I think, no, no, no. But the outcome is inevitable. Even Deorwine seems to realize this.
Monks are running to the priory buildings from all over, and I help shepherd them in, trying to calm them as they bunch together in the courtyard in front of the church. Their faces are white with fear, and several are crying.
The prior moves in front of me and stands in the doorway.
“Come in, prior,” I beg, but he ignores me. Through the doorway, I see the first warriors crest the hell and run toward the buildings. The prior raises his arms, and I think he has closed his eyes.
“Welcome, strangers,” he calls out loud, and he begins to chant the Paternoster in Latin as he stretches his arms out to them.
The first warrior cuts him down with a single blow, the sweep of his sword slicing into the prior’s neck. He drops to his knees and claws at his throat before falling forward, unmoving. The warrior kicks his body to one side, out of the doorway, and storms into the courtyard.
The monks yell and scream—out of the corner of my eye, I see some running, heading for the Pilgrim’s Way, even though it is high tide and they will not be able to swim all the way to the mainland. Perhaps they might find somewhere to hide. I wish them luck.
Moving forward, keeping the younger monks behind me, I heft the wooden stick in my hand, spin it once around me, and beckon to the nearest warrior. He has a long untidy beard and moustache, his yellowing teeth showing through it as he gives me a nasty smile. To my right, I hear more screams, and I know the warriors are cutting a path through to the church where they will strip it of its gold and jewels. To my left, one warrior drags a monk off through the doorway—no doubt he will be taken back to their homeland as a slave.
Behind me, I hear one of the boys vomit.
I have no time to tend to him though, because more men are pouring through the doorway, fanning out across the courtyard. Two attack me at once while one circles behind me, and the boys are dragged off, screaming, down toward the boat.
“No!” I yell the word, but it’s futile—I know I am doomed. There are too many of them, and the monks’ prayers are no challenge to the warriors’ shining blades. Love isn’t all you need against a Viking invasion! I think madly. Limbs fall, heads roll, and the dust and straw of the courtyard mixes with blood.
Clearly, Deorwine was once a fine knight. He fells one Viking in a single blow, then buries his axe in the leg of another. But more take their place, and it is only moments before a blade sneaks through his guard and lodges in his shoulder.
Pain such as I have never experienced before, even in childbirth, shoots through me, and I drop the axe and fall to my knees. In front of me stands the warrior I had seen at the prow of the ship, tall and splendid in his mail shirt. His helm has a mail aventail covering his throat, neck and shoulders. Distractedly, I think that the eye guard indicates a close affinity with the earlier Vendel period helmets. That thought almost makes me laugh. Don’t think about archaeological artefacts now, I scold mentally. You are about to die!
Deorwine’s head drops. The Viking leader raises his sword, and his eyes gleam with triumph through the guard.
Matthew! I scream the programmer’s name in my head.
And everything goes black.
…I float, weightless, surrounded by darkness that wraps around me like a thick blanket. Something twinkles, and I reach out a hand to touch it. For a moment I think it is the panel of buttons in the lab; then I realize they are stars.
My head spins. I should be back in the laboratory, strapped into the white chair, back from my adventures.
“Beatrix?” The voice crackles in the shell in my head, fading in and out.
“Matthew! Where am I?”
“…can’t get you back…virus has corrupted the data link and I need to…hang in there and we’ll…” His voice fades out.
My heart pounds and I fill with panic. He’s going to leave me floating in darkness?
But even as the thought enters my head, the ground hardens beneath my feet, and I open my eyes to the light.