Joanne Hall — Corpse Flight

The Danes bombarded the walls of Athelney day and night, although night and day meant nothing now. No sun broke through the constant winter fog, enveloping the marsh like a burial shroud. The Danes emerged from it, incorporeal spirits, but the arrows and rocks they hurled against the fortifications were solid enough to kill. They faded away the moment the men of Wessex unleashed answering fire.

“They’re toying with us.” Fluke looked down from his vantage point, trying to pick out the forms below. The mist swirled around him. He felt like an eagle, perched on a high eyrie.

Cerdic shrugged. “Let them toy. We can survive here as long as the king needs us.”

Cerdic was seventeen. His unshakable faith in the king was endearing, but Fluke, twenty years older, had seen enough of sieges, and the Danes, to know better. Alfred was a good man, but he was no great leader. After Cippanhamm fell to the Viking horde, their feverish flight through the treacherous marshes to the sanctuary of Athelney had led them into the jaws of a trap.

The fortress was built on the only high ground for miles around, an island in the marsh. Only the dark, towering spire of the fabled Tor at Glastonbury, fifteen miles to the north-east, interrupted the vast flatness of the Somerset Levels. Fluke had not seen the Tor for a month. In the mist, directions were confused. Sometimes the Danes attacked from the East, sometimes South.

Alfred’s men, surrounded, were running out of food. For the ninety-six men pinned down in Athelney by a Danish horde ten times their size, time was running out.

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