Wulfhere stands on the crest of the hill and stares in horror at the terrible carnage surrounding him. He surveys the scene with blurred vision. Body parts are scattered indiscriminately. As his eyes clear, he sees that they are set about the bloody slope in congealed masses. His byrnie feels unbearably heavy. Sweat trickles down his skin in rivulets. Instinctively, he clasps his sword, Hildbana, as the perspiration runs from under his sleeve and into his palm. But his hand is soaked and he cannot hold on to it, and the weapon slips down the slope.
The sky is dense with dark clouds. The mist-ridden air is dank with the stench of death and blood. He feels dizzy and wants to gag. Instead he forces himself to breathe, breathe hard, to avoid expelling the bile that rises in his throat.
“Pick up your sword, Lord Wulfhere!” urges a familiar voice.
A terrible throbbing pounds at his temple and he fights his desire to lose consciousness. “I cannot find it…”
“You must!” the voice shouts at him in earnest.
Wulfhere staggers down the hill, recognising the faces of his fallen comrades on the severed heads that he passes by. They speak to him through lips that do not move; words he cannot discern. His feet are slipping in the oozing blood and he feels his heart racing. The voice continues to order him to find his sword. Below him, at the foot of the hill, he sees a morass of jumbled men and spears. His head throbs as he moves toward them, fearing that his sword is lost somewhere amongst the chaos.
Suddenly, he is in the midst of the growling shield wall. The sound of battle deafens him as he is heaved, pushed and stabbed at with spears or axes. The enemy are in front. Snarling wolf-like faces. The points of their spears jab at him. Wooden shields slam into the phalanx, trying to break their way in. Wulfhere is jostled this way and that, as if he is a coracle tossed in a stormy sea. He wants his sword. How can he fight without his sword?
“Where is my sword? Where is Hildbana?”he hears himself shout and, though he knows it is his voice, it feels as if it has come from another.
His head spins. He stares down in an attempt to avoid passing out and sees that his feet are bare and the air is freezing against his naked body. Where is his armour?
Terror grasps at his insides and fear tears through his veins. He is naked. No spear, no sword, no armour to protect him…
“My lord, your sword!” he hears the voice shout again. “Where is your sword?”
He looks up from the ground and stares into faces that are no longer fleshy. Faces of bone. Skeletons wearing dark hoods. He screams...a long, agonising cry that is eventually broken by the familiar voice calling him again.
“My lord! Open your eyes! Can you hear me?”
"I know that voice. Esegar!"
"I know that voice. Esegar!"
He is pulled by his ankles out of the scrum of the shield wall.
“My lord! ’Tis I, Esegar! Can you hear me?”
Wulfhere lies on the grass, dazed, tries to sit up. His helmet is gone and his head pounds. Around him he hears the screams and roars of the men in the shield wall; the agonising sound of men dying.
“Here, take your sword!”
“You have it?” Wulfhere asks. Relief overwhelms him. He is alive and Esegar has found his sword. He must have passed out.
Esegar’s face flashes above him and Wulfhere feels reassured. Then, almost as quickly as it has appeared, the flesh begins to deteriorate, leaving a mass of hideously rotting flesh, until it is no longer Esegar hovering above him, but the hooded figure of death surrounded by darkness.
Death smiles; a repugnant grim contortion of the jawbone drops open to spill forth evil laughter and, with it, disgusting creatures, bugs, worms and all kinds of ghastly things from hell.
“Your sword is broken, my lord,” the face of death says, rasping and mocking like the voice of an old harridan. A pair of bony hands hold forth his beloved Hildbana, Battle Slayer, the sword that has been handed down to him from his father…it is broken in two.
Wulfhere is lifted to his feet, as if by unseen hands. A scream is rising within him as the world around him spins. The scream pierces through his brain as if his head will break open and scatter its contents in an explosion of agony. Unable to breathe or move, his whole body is paralysed. The noise inside his head grows louder until it reaches a crescendo and, suddenly, he forces his eyes open and breathes in a heavy gasp.