Sunday, July 25, 2010

Picture 4 Of 7

Armenian Church - North-Western Iran

The church had always been a central battleground. The Saxons and Danes regularly fought each other for it, and each clash left the ground richer with blood than the last. The river which stealthily crept about the land had a permanent tint of red since the wars begin, since the church was constructed. Athelstan was nearly as pious as his grandfather, something pressed into him since birth, and his ambitions were as great as his grandfather's. He saw a unified Britain, a country called England, of which he would be the sole ruler. This holy church was one expression of that ambition, built upon the charred remains of the manor of Gofraid, who was killed in the same battle which saw the estate ruined.

The place was considered holy ground by Danes and Saxons alike. Gofraid, while he lived, was one of Thor's mightiest warriors. This was one of his manors, a lesser one which had never been well-attended to due to its location. And now it was a church of the most pious country in all Europe. It was little more than that. True, the river Tyne provided an excellent defense against invaders, but there was little else in this region. To hold this place would be to hold barren land, for the soil was dry and unfit for any sort of farming. Both farmers and raiders knew that this ground held no prosperity, and the place was quite barren of civilization save for a well-used dirt road leading away from the church. Even while Gofraid lived here, he had never stayed for long; the scenery was pleasant, and he believed it to be a place where he could commune with Thor, but that was it. There was no high ground for miles around, only gently sloped hills which meandered up and down, not minding the soldiers which trampled across their backs. 

And now the Danes held the church. The church had been raided a dozen times or more. But each time, the Danes had been repelled. And now they looted the fineries from within - the clerics had nearly fainted when they heard that the Jarl Olaf Threysson was picking his teeth with the Saint Tarsus' fingerbones - and made a ruckus of themselves. Aethen could hear them from the mountains, miles north of the church, where they had landed days before. Rapping his fingers discontentedly upon the table, he rested his chin upon the other hand. It was just after the evening meal, and the priests were chanting prayers. Why priests? Religion was fine, but everything has its place. Even God. And omnipotent God might be, his priests, who certainly were not, had no place in what was soon to be a battlefield yet again. Yet Athelstan persisted in his requests, and being the servant to the King of Wessex, Aethen had to comply. If he didn't comply, he would be executed, like Firith, the last one to guard the land. He had become dissatisfied with his lot - as did his soldiers - guarding a barren hellhole, and said as much to the king. His head graced the ground with its presence the next day, and his blood enriched the soil of Wessex.

That same king was the reason Aethen was here fighting for the place, this beautiful land which still held no value, except to the pious priests who had first drawn Alfred the Great into their sleeves, then Edward the Elder, then Athelstan. Edward had been a good king. He saw reason, and he was less inclined to religious fervor than Athelstan. Athelstan...more pious than a convent. Not that the nuns of Wessex were pious at all...half of them were probably Athelstan's bastards. Athelstan, for all his piety, still liked the company of women, and after all, he was the ruler of all Wessex...

But Aethen could ruminate on that later. For now, there was a church to take. And though it was by no means fortified, it would still be a hellish fight. The river had no bridges about the church; the nearest one was miles away. This would be so much easier if Aethen had been able to approach from the south, where he would have both the high ground, and no river to cross. But always, always, the damn priests got in the way. First they said that they did not believe in pagan magics, then they thought that a raving woman's warnings about Odin bringing death to those who trespassed on Odin's sacred high ground held true power. (And where else had Aethen intended to attack from, but high ground?) So now, since a trio of priests pissed their pants at a lunatic's ravings, Aethen was faced with an impossible task.

How would he cross the river? If his troops swam, the Danes would be able to easily kill the soldiers as they came upon the shore, with axes and swords until the river became blood, and only blood. They would also not be able to wear their heavy armor, for they would drown otherwise. Hell, most of his men would drown even without the armor. Constructing a bridge was out of the question; it would take far too long. Aethen wanted to finish this, and be done with it. Saving some barren church in a barren land would garner no glory.

And though a siege could work, Aethen could not use any standard siege tactics. Not only was he without catapult, Athelstan would not hear of any church being so much as chipped by a sword's blade, let alone be blasted apart by catapult. The most he could do would be to camp outside the church, and even then, his men would starve too. They had expected to have a quick battle, nothing else. So a quick battle it would have to be. But how? How was Aethen to ford the river, beat the Danes, and recover the church in so short a time with so few resources? How?

Afterward: Okay, I fudged more than a little here, historywise, and geographywise. But fiction is fiction is fiction. *shrug*

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