Robert Lyndon

Hawk Quest


In the eleventh century Danes, Norwegians, Swedes and Icelanders still spoke mutually intelligible languages related to English. With some effort, an Anglo-Saxon would have been able to understand a Scandinavian speaker.



The Great Schism between the Latin and Greek Churches



King Harold of England defeats a Norwegian army at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire


William of Normandy defeats Harold’s army at Hastings in Sussex


William is crowned King of England


After a revolt in northern England, William leads a punitive expedition into Northumbria and devastates the country between York and Durham



A Seljuk army under Alp Arslan — ‘Valiant Lion’ — routs the forces of the Byzantine Emperor at Manzikert, in what is now eastern Turkey. The victory opens up Anatolia to the Seljuks and leads ultimately to the First Crusade



King William invades Scotland


Alp Arslan is killed by a prisoner while on campaign in Persia

Hunger will devour one, storm wreck another.

The spear will slay one, and another will perish in battle …

One will fall wingless from the high tree in the forest …

One must walk alone in foreign places, tread unknown roads among strangers …

One will swing from the crooked gallows, hang in death …

One at the mead-bench will be shorn of his life by the sword’s edge …

To one, good fortune; to one a dole of suffering.

To one, joyful youth; to one, glory in combat, mastery in war-play.

To one, skill at throwing or shooting; to one, luck at dice …

One will amuse a gathering in the hall, gladden the drinkers at the mead-bench …

One will tame the wild bird, the proud hawk on his fist, until the falcon grows gentle.

(From ‘The Fortunes of Men’ in the Exeter Book, England, tenth century)

England, 1072


That morning a Norman cavalry patrol had captured a young Englishman foraging in the woods south of the River Tyne. After interrogating him, they decided he was an insurgent and hanged him on a high hill as a warning to the people in the valley below. The soldiers waited, hunched against the cold, until their victim’s spasms stopped, and then they rode away. They were still in sight when the circling carrion birds flocked down and clustered on the corpse like vicious bats.

Towards evening a group of starving peasants crept up the hill and frightened off the birds. They cut down the corpse and laid it on the frozen ground. Eyes, tongue, nose and genitals were gone; its lipless mouth gaped in a silent scream. The men stood around it, billhooks in hand, exchanging neither looks nor words. At last one of them stepped forward, lifted up one of the dead man’s arms, raised his blade and brought it down. The others joined in, hacking and sawing, while the crows and ravens skipped around them, squabbling for scraps.

The carrion birds erupted in raucous panic. The human scavengers looked up, frozen in acts of butchery, then rose with a gasp as a man came over the crest. He seemed to emerge from the earth, black against the raw February sky, a sword grasped in his hand. One of the scavengers shouted and the pack turned and ran. A woman dropped her booty, cried out and turned to retrieve it, but a companion grabbed her by the arm. She was still wailing, her face craned back, when he bundled her away.

The Frank watched them disappear, his breath smoking in the bitter air, then ran his sword back into its scabbard and dragged his skinny mule towards the gibbet. Even filthy and travel-worn, he was an intimidating figure — tall, with deep-set eyes and a jutting nose, unkempt hair coiling around a gaunt face, his cheekbones weathered to the colour of smoked eelskin.

His mule snorted as a crow trapped inside the corpse’s ribcage thrashed free. He glanced at the mutilated body without much change of expression, then frowned. Ahead of him, pale in the twilight, lay the object that the woman had dropped. It seemed to be wrapped in cloth. He tethered the mule to the gibbet and walked over, stretched out one foot and turned the bundle over. He looked into the wizened face of a baby, only a few days old, its eyes tight-shut. His mouth pursed. The baby was alive.

He looked around. The carrion birds were beginning to settle again. There was nowhere to hide the baby. The birds would be swarming over it as soon as he left the summit. The merciful thing to do would be to end its suffering now, with one sword thrust. Even if its mother returned, the baby wouldn’t survive the famine.

His eye fell on the gibbet. After a moment’s indecision, he lifted the baby in his arms. At least it was well swaddled against the cold. He trudged back to his mule, opened a saddlepack and took out an empty sack. The baby gave a grizzling sound and its mouth moved in reflexive sucking gestures. He placed it in the sack, mounted his mule and tied the sack to the end of the hangman’s rope, above the reach of wolves. It wouldn’t keep the birds off for long, but he guessed that the mother would return once he’d left the hill.

He smiled a wintry smile. ‘Hanged before you’re a week old. If you live, you might make a reputation for yourself.’

The birds flared up again as another man shuffled onto the ridge. He stopped in his tracks when he saw the

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