Book two of the Bellême series
The Norman Warrior
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Region of Ouche, Normandy - 1056
Dawn had brought thirty mounted troops charging into the valley, spreading terror among the helpless peasants tending their fields.
From her thick backed warhorse, Mabile de Bellême stood in her iron stirrups and surveyed the scene. This petite, wiry woman was a virago, her beauty belying her strength. Dressed in a short sleeved metalled byrnie over a leather tunic, Mabile watched. She shook her head, her tightly plaited brown hair flailing out from beneath her conical helmet
“Fire the village,” she commanded.
The soldiers obeyed, throwing fire sticks onto the tinder dry thatched roofs.
From her vantage point she continued to watch, without revealing the bulk of her hidden forces, and wait.
Turning her head, she checked that her infant son was secure in the harness slung across her back. Robert, despite the action and noise, was fast asleep.
Crackling flames accompanied plumes of black smoke. Burnt strands of carbon floated into the air to muddy the sky. The village soon became an inferno.
Kicking her horse back into action, Mabile rode defiantly to within a bowshot of the enemy fortress. “Look at them, frightened to come out and defend their people.”
She had wanted to lure the Giroies and their troops out and into her trap; they had barred the gate like cowards and looked on from the safety of their stockade.
Her aim was to provoke but she still couldn't draw them out. In her rage she grabbed the reins with such force her knuckles protruded white and her nails dug into the palms of her hands drawing blood. “Withdraw! Withdraw!”
The lightening raid completed she led her warriors away east, towards Bellême. The terrified inhabitants, running screaming in their wake, thankful to be alive, rushed to rescue their few possessions. Defenceless against their attackers, their only crime was to be under the yoke of the Giroies, the old baronial enemy of the Bellêmes.
Mabile lay on her bed reflecting on the day's work. She ground her teeth in frustration, turned, and swore into the pillow.
After years of struggle, the Talvas lands were now under her control. Her father had been dispossessed and almost ruined by her elder brother Arnold who had sided with the Giroies.
“If it hadn't been for the Duke's favour, I would still be landless.”
There were times when she was tired of living her life constantly on the alert, fighting for her very existence.
“Even the church is against me.”
She remembered, shortly after Robert's birth, stopping at the monastery of Saint Évroul, seeking shelter from a raging storm and food for herself and her knights. Abbot Thierry had ordered her to leave, despite the torrential rain.
“Why do you come here with so many armed men? We are only poor monks struggling to survive.”
In the past she had sought his advice and had had a guarded respect for him but now she was angry. The monastery, she knew, was wealthy and well endowed with land, certainly capable of feeding them many times over.
“Next time old man,” she had said, discarding her rain soaked cape, “I'll bring even more knights with me and you will feed us, without your pathetic quibbling.”
Mabile grimaced at the memory of the monastery and of the terrible food she had been served. She had thrown the platter aside after only one mouthful, telling the old abbot how bad it was.
“Madam,” he had lectured, “if you don't curb your tongue and depart from your wicked ways, you will suffer for it more than you realise.”
She should have taken the warning seriously.
Mabile remembered feeling unwell soon afterwards and stopping at the first village they encountered, had sought help from a local family. Not only had she felt ill, her breasts had become swollen and painful. She had asked for their baby to suckle them for relief. The baby had died in her arms.
She shook the terrible memory away and looked at her own baby, sleeping peacefully by her side.
“That nasty old abbot would have poisoned you, my pet,” she murmured holding his tiny hand. “But you're a Talvas and we have to be on our guard. One day you'll be a proud knight in the service of the Duke, strong enough to protect us all.” She kissed Robert's milky cheeks then pulling the covers over herself, fell into a deep sleep.
A light morning breeze rattled through the window shutters. She opened her eyes, then closed them. Like a cat basking in the sun, planning its next meal, Mabile stretched her arms and legs and dreamily pondered on how to draw the Giroies out of their timbered fortress and finally put an end to them. A noise outside disturbed her thoughts.
Her husband's return to Bellême was unexpected. Roger de Montgomery entered the archway to the main hall and climbed the stairs to their private apartments, calling her name as he went. He was tall and imposing, with cropped russet hair, high forehead and bushy eyebrows that arched over two penetrating blue eyes.
“Mabile, are you out of your mind?” he shouted, throwing open the door.
“Calm down,” she replied.
“How can I be calm? I've just heard of your latest attack on the Giroies. It's got to stop. Why can't you leave them alone? They're no threat to us now.”
“Oh yes they are,” she replied, “they will always be a threat.”
Roger took a deep breath and threw up his hands.
“Those bastards owe their very existence to my father and they sold him out to Geoffrey de Mayenne. They call themselves Normans? Horse shit.”
“This feud of yours has to stop now, otherwise it will breed nothing but more hatred and bloodshed. There are enough problems on our borders without adding to them.”
“Roger, my father was cheated and you know old Rotrous was behind it.”
“I thought that was your brother, Arnold.”
“And who put that brainless idiot up to it?”
“Enough! I know what it's like having to constantly look over one's shoulder. I had it with the Duke years ago when he was still fighting for his life. And, talking about life, I hear you had our child strapped to your back. He could have been killed!”
“And what about me? Don't I count? Anyway, I kept him safe.”
“Safe! I'm getting tired of this. I need tranquillity.”
“Tranquillity! That's a laugh. How can you be friends with that murdering bastard, Thierry? He tried to poison me.”
“He said he didn't. It was a piece of bad meat. He has promised to make amends and says that you are always welcome.”
“No!” she said abruptly. “I know enough about poisons and their symptoms.”
“Yes, I think you do,” Roger said sarcastically. “You know, you're expecting a lot from the Duke if you want him to continue protecting us.”
“Come here,” she said with a smile.
She knew she could manipulate him whenever she liked.
“I need you. Now!” she whispered.
“I stink of horse sweat and I have my boots on?”
“Get your boots off and come here.”
Taking her in his arms, he murmured, “Mabile, I love you. But stop making trouble….”
Saint Valéry-sur-Somme – Normandy – 27 September 1066
Leaning well forward in the saddle, ten year-old Robert de Bellême spurred his powerful black warhorse through the driving rain ahead of his friend Prince Robert, Duke William of Normandy's oldest son. Half blinded by the rain, Robert screwed up his eyes and buried his face in the horse's mane, urging the animal on, driving it to its limit.
The smell, heat, and power of the animal excited him. He imagined himself charging into battle with shield and spear, chasing and harrying his father's enemies from beyond the Bellême lands.
He was shaping up well in his military training. Well proportioned, strong and intelligent, he was a good rider and, it was hoped, in a few years, would become a skilful knight and follow his father into Norman politics. Thoughts of politics however were not yet in his young mind. It was enough for him to prove himself in the eyes of his parents. This he did with a relish bordering on headstrong arrogance.
Hooves crashed through the undergrowth, stone and flint flying in all directions, swerving here and there, reining left, bringing the great animal speeding round past a white walled cottage, along a track and out into the open country. The village of Saint Valéry disappeared far behind the two young riders as they raced in the pouring rain. Turning right, the track gave way to a sandy beach. Galloping on through the lapping waves, whirling up clouds of spray as they went, they thundered over the sands and up onto firmer ground, racing towards the headland.
The rain had eased. Squinting to the right, Robert could just make out, through the fine drizzle, the salt marshes, west of the inlet which formed a natural harbour. There, Duke William's invasion fleet was at anchor. He caught sight of his friend's flapping cloak as Prince Robert bore down on him.
They had raced to the headland every morning for the past few days, Robert beating the Prince every time.
The two boys, having recently met in the company of their parents, had struck up an immediate rapport and were becoming firm friends. Their fathers, together with the nobility of northern France, were planning the Great Campaign.
Reining to a slithering stop, Robert leapt off and tied his steaming horse to an old marker stone, throwing himself onto the wet beach grass. His friend did likewise, finding it difficult to catch his breath.
“Hey! Robert, my little shield, in truth, you beat me yet again,” he said, throwing his arm across Robert's shoulders.
Robert rolled away. The word 'little' irked him. He wasn't little, even though he was two years younger, but he decided to forget the insult for the time being.
“The rain is soaking me to the skin and I don't like it,” said Robert, a little off hand. He pulled at a blade of grass, bit along its plump white stem and sucked on the sweet sap.
He was feeling proud, having grown tall enough to get his feet into the heavy metal stirrups that were his father's; to be able to take charge of the great warhorse. Roger de Montgomery had given his son his old mount, Fearless, as a birthday present. The stallion was part Arab and part Percheron. Which was the greater part Robert didn't know, but he raced like the wind with ferocious courage, imbuing his young rider with a sense of total confidence.
Springing to his feet he let the heavy, rain soaked cloak drop to the ground, ran down onto the sands within a few feet of the crashing waves. Taking a deep breath, he put his left hand on the hilt of his sword and stood foursquare facing the raging sea. The salt spray glistened on his smooth young skin as the north wind roared against his face.
Prince Robert, lying on his side not knowing whether his voice would carry, cried out, “What do you think? Will my father ever get his great fleet to England?” Receiving no response, he stood up and ambled down the beach to join his young friend. “Will my father ever get his fleet to England?” he shouted cupping his hands close to Robert's ear.
“By St. Mark, I think so. You need only three good days weather and a southerly wind to calm this sea and just think, it only takes six to seven hours sailing to cross the Channel, although you wouldn't believe it on a day like this.”ull ”
“That's what I like about you, you're always positive. If only my father had more leaders around him who thought like you. Most of them are scared witless to sail,” the Prince said, slapping Robert on the back.
Robert understood very well why the Duke's son was worried for his father. The army, together with the fleet, had been languishing in Saint Valéry for nearly two weeks, held up by rough seas and strong northerly winds.
The longer the delay in crossing to England the more likelihood of the weather worsening as winter approached. This, compounded with the difficulties of controlling and feeding an army of eight thousand men plus horses, was a nightmare and Robert knew the military logistics of this very well from his father's teachings.
The boys had set out early that day, shortly before cock crow, when the rain was falling hard, and before the people of Saint Valéry had had time to rub the sleep from their eyes.
Now, one hour later, the rain had stopped and the wind was beginning to lose its fearsome bite. They bent their heads forward, playfully shaking and ruffling each other's wet hair to dry, like flailing floor mops.
“Now I've got my breath back, I'll take a short walk along this beach. What do you say, my little shield, care to join me?”
“Why do you keep calling me, your little shield?”
“Well,” said the Prince combing his hair with his fingers, “isn't 'Talvas' a shield in old Norman and isn't it your family name?”
“Yes, it is,” replied Robert.
“There you are then. You coming?”
Robert, eyeing a small piece of driftwood lying half hidden in the sand, replied, “I thank you, no my lord. I'll stay here and rest awhile with the horses.”
“You don't have to address me as, my lord. We're friends,” replied the Prince. Then turning he walked away, kicking up the sand as he went.
Sitting down Robert picked up a piece of driftwood, wiped it clean, pulled out a knife from his belt and began to shape one end to a point. Peeling off some of the bark to make a smooth grip, he began drawing in the sand. In his mind's eye he imagined hundreds of soldiers shouting, marching into battle, the sounds of trumpets, commands for a huge stone-throwing machine to be built. He quickly drew the wheels, framework, flexible beam and cords for the sling.
A seagull broke his reverie, landing by his side and screeching at him as though he were an intruder, before flying off into the wind. He gazed after the bird as it flew over the sea towards the horizon. The fearsome, curling waves arched upwards exploding into a ridge of foam, vainly attempting to reach the flapping speck of life, falling back and swelling up once more, advancing, mutating into white soaring horses, dashing into oblivion only to rise up yet again, collapsing and turning into an angry foaming mass; could those white tipped raging waves be the white cliffs of England?
He remembered his father telling him about the Englishman, Earl Harold Godwineson of Wessex, who had arrived two years previously on a diplomatic mission from King Edward of England. How he had fought fearlessly alongside Duke William in Brittany. Harold had made a sacred oath of fealty to William but had broken it and taken the crown of England for himself. Now William was at war with Harold and was going to collect what was his by right.
A black cormorant swooped low over the boiling waves. “I wonder if it's the bringer of evil tidings,” Robert thought.
Looking around he could see his friend. A short, stocky, bow legged figure, walking back along the deserted beach towards him. He was picking up flat stones and skimming them across the frothing waves. For a moment, Robert could see why Duke William called his son Curthose but still, in his opinion, it was a grave insult. “Nobody likes to be called 'short pants,' least of all a prince.”
“I see you were in deep thought,” the Prince said, smiling down at him.
“Yes, I was.”
“Even from a distance I could tell. What's this you're scratching in the sand? It looks to me like a tower.”
“Just an idea I had,” Robert said, and laughed. “It's for throwing large rocks over ramparts. It could be used against the famous Saxon shield-wall.”ull ”
“I don't know about that,” his friend said sceptically, shrugging his shoulders. “Where did you learn about such machines?”
“From my great uncle Yves and my mother. We've had engineers in the family going back generations. That's why mother has this mathematics tutor, Engelbert, drumming figures into my brain every day. She says knowledge is a powerful weapon.”
“Yes, I suppose it is but it's bloody boring! I've had it up to here with tutors,” the Prince said, raising the flat of his hand to the top of his head, “I prefer hunting. Now I think it's time to head back.”
Robert stood and dragged his boot over the drawing, churning up the sand. Then, scooping up his sodden cloak he followed his friend to their horses.
“Shall we meet again tomorrow?” said Robert.
“I fear not. Father has ordered it otherwise.”
After a short while, Robert reined his horse to a stop and watched the Prince disappear from sight. He looked across the estuary then turned his gaze towards the sea.
“If they do manage to sail,” he thought, “I could get aboard one of the ships.” Noticing a change in the direction of the wind, a thought occurred to him and spurring his horse to a gallop, he charged towards the town.
Saint Valéry, normally a quiet sleepy village and fishing port, blessed by its ideally situated position, sits snugly on the western shore of the bay, a naturally created inlet that forms the estuary to the River Somme. Across the other side of the bay lies the village of Crate and in between, safely at anchor, lay Duke William's invasion fleet. One thousand single masted long-ships, their square rigged sails furled, ready to sail at a moment's notice, together with hundreds of smaller craft. Their masts, swaying to and fro, bobbed and wove like a forest of heaving columns.
Duke William had ordered a special service at the church of Saint Valéry the previous day. Everyone had been ordered to attend. Noblemen, dignitaries, soldiers and townspeople: the massive congregation flooding the area around the already packed church. Bishops and noblemen paraded the miraculous remains of Saint Valéry in solemn procession from the church, through the rain soaked streets to where Bishop Odo, Duke William's half brother, prayed with much pomp and ceremony for the weather to break and for the Almighty to deliver a favourable wind for the invasion force. It had been an act of pure genius.
Earlier that morning, the Duke had made his customary check of the church's weather vane. It seemed as though a miracle had occurred. His uncanny instinct told him the wind would probably change. It had, to a light south-easterly. His plan to win the hearts and minds of any doubters among his followers had worked. Having had the Pope's blessing for this venture, he was indeed walking on water, at the right hand of God. Who could refuse him now?
Duke William faced the assembled noblemen. “We sail tonight.”
Through the dispersing clouds the late September sun was moving towards the horizon, illuminating the darkening sky with merging hues of orange and gold, mirroring its image in the calm sea. On a bluff to the west side of the bay away from the village, Robert de Bellême sat silently on his horse, alone with his thoughts as he watched with a mixture of excitement and wonder. He had never seen so many ships. Never again in his lifetime would he see such a fleet assembled. Casting his mind back to the race with his friend that morning, when the weather had been as foul as hell, he marvelled at the change that had overcome the sea in so few hours.
Robert had toyed with the possibility of going to England, maybe as a page to Duke William to build ballistic machines for him, but the idea was now beginning to seem silly.
“I'll have a word with Father,” he thought to himself. “No, that would be stupid. Who would listen to a boy of ten and besides, he's far too busy.”
He could see hundreds of lighted torches, their flames mirrored in the water, their flickering luminescence casting a myriad haunting shadows about the harbour and buildings.
The final boarding preparations and loading were being carried out and Robert wanted to be in the centre of the action. Turning his horse, he set off at a pace in the direction of the harbour.
He made his way through the jostling crowds. The roadways were fast becoming seas of mud but his horse moved easily. From the countryside, people were swarming into the little town, slipping and falling into the mire, but it didn't matter. They wanted to see their Duke and to cheer their boys on. Sellers shouted their wares, soldiers swaggered in chain mail and helmets with bows slung over their backs. Horse carts, splashing and bumping, trundled along the uneven streets, filled with every description of weaponry. Spears, bundles of arrows, helmets, chain mail, spades, prefabricated wooden forts and cooking pots; choking up the village to the very edge of the quayside. Pulleys and cranes groaned, swinging their burdens onto the waiting ships. Hundreds of horses, penned by the waterside, waited their turn, some starting to struggle and kick as they were being hoisted or led aboard.
Robert negotiated his way through the protective cordon of soldiers that surrounded the harbour and away from the crowds. Dismounting, he mingled with the soldiers and officials and found the whole atmosphere intoxicating. Once again he wished he too were going. On hearing his name he turned.
“Robert, your father is looking for you. Over here, quick!” It was Gilbert, his father's Master of Arms. Hair clipped, head shaven at the back, erect, he was a hero in Robert's eyes from the stories his father had told him. Robert followed him, passing many groups of noblemen from all over Normandy, France and outlying lands.
Reaching his father, he was struck with awe. There was the Duke himself with the Duchess Matilda. At a mere four foot two inches tall, she looked more like an angel than a Duchess. With them was his friend, Prince Robert.
Meeting the Duke was always a great occasion but today was something more. This warrior, about to board his ship and fight the English, was looking down at him and smiling.
“You teach the boy well, Roger,” Duke William said.
“I teach him everything I know, my Liege, including the fear of God.”
“Then, by the Resurrection, he will make a fine knight one day!” said the Duke. “Our son tells me he already has a champion's spirit. I can see you, young Bellême, as one of my future squires when I return from England. What do you say to that?”
Standing next to his father, Robert glowed. He was almost lost for words.
“I thank you, my lord.” The pride in his father's face made him feel he had come of age. William, sensing the boy's awkwardness, ruffled his hair with his large leathery hand and laughed out aloud. The idea of being a future squire to the Duke of Normandy thrilled young Robert de Bellême to his very core. He remembered his mother's often spoken words!
“The future of the Bellêmes lies with you my son.”
Boarding of the troops and equipment had now been completed. The Duke faced the crowds, sacred relics hanging about his neck and chest. They watched him hold the papal banner aloft, symbolising the Pope's sanction of the mission. To Robert it was a glorious sight. Then, with prayers given and trumpets playing, Duke William turned and boarded his ship 'Mora', a gift from his wife Matilda.
Fastened to the bows of all the vessels were large figureheads, a reminder of the Normans' Viking past, to frighten away evil spirits at sea. Affixed to the sides were shields decorated with the devices of the lords taking part. At the top of 'Mora's' mast hung a large lighted oil lamp, a beacon for the fleet to follow. The crew manoeuvred the Duke's ship away from the quay.
The crowds were hushed as the rest of the ships solemnly followed in turn. The only sounds to be heard were the splashing of oars and the flutter of sails being raised.
Robert watched as they slowly glided through the water and out of the harbour, the sweating oarsmen bending to their task, heaving in rhythm.
Moved by the occasion he turned away with tears in his eyes and taking charge of his horse once more, made his way to the headland to watch the fleet sail out of the estuary.
The darkening sky had surrendered to the ghostly white rays of the moon, which stabbed its fingers over the sea as if to beckon all to follow.
Robert sat transfixed. Looking up at the night sky he watched as a star sped silently across the heavens then was gone. He remembered his parents telling him about a great star with a silvery tail shooting across the sky like an arrow earlier in the year, foretelling a terrible calamity.
“If they're right,” thought Robert, “I wonder with whom the fates will side. Duke William or the English King? The Duke has the Pope's blessing, but he's only a Duke. Kings are like Gods, aren't they? With golden crowns and mantles covered in rare jewels. Rulers of all the land.”
Robert continued brooding. “Does that mean Kings are more powerful, with bigger armies? Our fleet is enormous, nobody has more fighting ships than the Duke.”
He remained watching, until the flickering beacon of the Mora had disappeared into the distance. Robert shivered, suddenly feeling the cold September night air.
The navigator had just taken his bearings when the heavens were obliterated by dense cloud. With no moon or stars to steer by, they maintained their course.
Holding onto the mast, Duke William steadied himself and looked past the Captain and navigator into the night.
“What are our chances of sighting land before dawn?” he asked, turning his head to the two men.
The navigator showed no nervousness in the Duke's company. He was a man of thirty years experience, high born, well educated and knew the south coast of England like the back of his hand. He had volunteered, hoping for an adventure of a lifetime. Throwing back the hood of his cape, he exposed his face to the wind and spray.
“My judgement is the wind will stay like this for a few more hours, by which time the English coast will be before us, my lord.”
“Do you agree?” asked William, turning to the Captain.
“I agree, sir. As long as we don't meet the English fleet, but with the bad weather over the last few days, it's unlikely.”
The Duke thought the time right to reveal further plans.
“Some weeks ago,” he told them, “I sent two ships, with an officer on each to England, with orders to light a beacon for us at the Roman ruins of Anderida, close to the village of Pevensey, where there is a cove. That's where we're heading.”
“I know the place. But suppose the English fleet see our light?” asked the Captain.
“I am reliably informed there is no English fleet in the channel,” replied the Duke. He dug his fingers playfully into the captain's ribs. “See that the lookout doesn't fall asleep and he knows about the beacon. I think it's time for me to get some rest.” He took his position at the base of the mast and, like the rest of the men, wrapped himself in his cloak.
The lookout, sighting faint lights ahead, climbed to the foremost part of the prow to get a better view.
“What's happening?” called the navigator.
“Definitely ships' lights of some sort,” he replied, continuing to scan ahead. “Must warn the Duke.”
The Duke's squire awoke with a start. The navigator put his hand over the young man's mouth.
“Not a sound,” he whispered. “Tell the Duke there are lights ahead, possibly English ships at about two miles.”
Duke William came forward to the watchman, yawning and rubbing his eyes. “What is it man?”
“Ships, sir. No telling whether they are cargo or fighting vessels; moving east. I'm a bit concerned about our light.”
The Duke raised his head, sniffed the pre-dawn air and turned to the navigator.
“If we're on course, we should see land in two to three hours, am I right?” The navigator agreed. “Well then extinguish it.”
The watchman pointed towards the distant lights.
“Ah yes, I can see them,” said William, watching the faint flickering. “Let me know immediately there's a change.”
Once the lights had disappeared from sight, the watchman cried in a muffled voice, “All clear, sir.”
“Good! Good man. Keep looking.”
The canopy of cloud continued to smother the sky, allowing them to go undetected. Without the light to guide them, they were sailing blind.
“I can't see a bloody thing, hardly see my hand in front of my face. Where are the other ships?” a voice whispered to the steersman. Murmurs of disquiet began amongst the crew.
“They can't be far,” the steersman replied.
“I'm sure I saw some astern a short while ago,” said another.
William, who had been thinking about the landing, immediately got to his feet.
“What's amiss steersman?”
“We seem to have lost the rest of our fleet.”
“Relight the lamp and change the rigging to half sail.” Then, going amidships he uncovered a barrel of wine. Pouring himself a goblet he held it up and invited all to sup with him and sing.
Having spotted 'Mora's' light, one by one the rest of the ships slowly rejoined the formation, except for two that had strayed too far east and now were out of sight.
“The beacon, my lord. A flashing light to port.”
The Duke counted off the flashes.
“Yes, that's it. Make course.”
With the early grey sky growing lighter, the English coast was now visible, drawing ever nearer, swaying with the roll of the ship. The navigator had done his work well. Each captain detached the dragon figurehead of his ship and stowed it for fear of frightening away friendly land spirits. The pulses of the men were pumping hard as they donned their weapons and armour. The coastline was now near, and clear in detail, with not an enemy in sight. The navigator could make out Pevensey Bay, dominated by the dark, brooding Roman ruins of Anderida. His ship ground to a halt on the pebbled beach, close to the Roman fort, unopposed.
“Surely someone will challenge us,” the Duke said, half to himself.The atmosphere was eerie as William clambered over the side, leaping into the cold, waist deep water. The rest of his army followed, wading through the waves, the sea dragging at their feet. Once on the beach, he scanned the area for the English. There were none. The coast as far as the eye could see was empty save for two figures with a lantern, waiting to greet them.
Turning, he could see the rest of his fleet beaching to the left and right of him. Brandishing his sword, he motioned his troops to follow.
“Quickly! Quickly to the fort.” He strode ahead of his men across the stones, suddenly, losing his foothold he tottered and pitched forward. Refusing helping hands, his nose streaming with blood, he heaved himself back onto his feet, aided by his long sword.
“If this is all the injury we're going to suffer on this enterprise,” William shouted, “we shall indeed be lucky.”
The ships continued disgorging their cargoes until late in the afternoon, by which time the troops had set up the prefabricated timbered sections to make a strong defensive enclosure about the old Roman stone fortifications. William's alert, analytical single-mindedness was evident for all to see. His plans were drawn to the last detail with every officer allocated his tasks, no ambiguities, each order simply explained and no argument. His word, final. His command, total.
A strange, tense calm had taken hold of Duke William's army. Scouts were despatched from Pevensey in search of Harold's forces. By nightfall, William had his answer.
The English army were nowhere to be seen. Wessex was undefended.
“Hardraada has lured him away. He has kept to his side of the bargain,” William told his officers, as they sat at dinner that evening. “That leaves us clear to march on Hastings and make our main camp there where there's a better harbour.”
“But we don't know yet if it's a Norwegian victory,” said his half brother Odo.
“It doesn't matter,” he replied, thumping the table. “Either way they will be weakened. The Norwegians are no match for the English. I know it, and I know Harold Godwineson. I know how he thinks. He's hot-headed and too sensitive for his own good. He'll move heaven and earth to save his precious Wessex when he hears it's been put to the torch, and I want him here, before he has time to rebuild and strengthened his army.” Taking a plum from a dish, he continued, “This time, I want mounted troops sent far and wide into the countryside. I want them to create murder and bloody mayhem. I want to see the sky black with smoke and fire. I want Godwineson here, on his knees before me.” William crashed his fist down splattering the flesh of the ripe plum over the table.
In the south west of Normandy,
the Lords of Bellême had always struggled to defend their estates against attacks by envious enemies.
These estates stretched from Domfront in the west,
to Le Mele-sur-Sarth in the east and into the Sonnois region of Maine in the south.
Within these lands violence and brutality were rife.
Duke William having restored peace to the Duchy
and to secure the southern borders, gained the allegiance
of William Talvas, Lord of Bellême, who
gave his daughter Mabile de Bellême in
marriage to the Duke's close adviser Roger de Montgomery.
From their union was born Robert de Bellême.