Now, at the head of his unit, Wulfhere was staring at the large volume of men as they spewed over the crest of the hill, gradually making their way down into the valley below. They were a formidable sight, Gruffydd’s army, as they formed their lines, some two thousand and more warriors ten or so men deep. Hwitegaast snorted and slammed his right hoof into the ground, scuffing the dirt to show his discontent. Wulfhere gave him a reassuring pat on his withers and sighed deeply.
“Scitte!” cried Esegar, mounted next to him. “There are so many of them.”
Wulfhere puffed out his cheeks and wondered how six hundred mounted men supported by one hundred or so bowmen and no more than three hundred and fifty infantry men were going to triumph over Gruffydd’s vastly larger host.
“Aye, there are indeed,” he agreed with a shudder, hoping that their cavalry would compensate for their lack of numbers.
“Lord, look to the left flank.” Esegar’s voice was shaking.
Wulfhere looked to where Esegar had indicated. “Hell has arrived,” he muttered under his breath.
There were at least eighteen hundred more men, Wykinga, coming round the side of the mound in the valley pass to join the main army as they marched toward them. Their steel helmets flashed as the mist cleared. Sharpened speartips bristled as they augmented the lines of Gruffydd’s men, shouting “Odin! Odin!” The noise was thunderous as they invoked their deity to make them triumphant, whilst the Welsh called out “Llaith at y Saeson!” “Death to the Englisc!”
Wulfhere felt his stomach bubbling. He heard Esegar’s sharp intake of breath.
“Lord, we were greatly outnumbered. Now we are severely outnumbered,” his fyrdsman said with a sardonic grimace.
As Wulfhere’s eyes squinted out over the daunting scene of so many armoured men stamping their way across the green fields toward them, he felt his face prickle with fear and, despite the cold, started to sweat. He breathed deeply, trying not to remember the horrors of Dunsinane.
Gruffydd himself had a smaller mounted force, his teulu, but the amount of heavily armoured Norse foot soldiers alone far outnumbered the entirety of Ralph’s force. He gulped his nausea down into his gullet. They needed to charge soon, for if they didn’t the whole purpose of them as a mounted force would be pointless. Horses are rendered useless in a defensive stance.
Oh my God, he thought to himself, there is going to be slaughter unless we charge now!