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Excerpt: 1356, Bernard Cornwell

1356Bernard Cornwell’s latest novel, 1356, releases this week from Harper Collins in the UK. In honor of the release, the publisher has given me permission to share this excerpt with you – a perfect demonstration of just how excellent Cornwell is at writing battle scenes. Enjoy, and I hope you’ll return to read my review of the whole book tomorrow!

“The dauphin’s battle aimed itself at the centre of the English line. The widest gap in the hedge was there and, as the French came closer, they saw the largest banners flying above the waiting men-at-arms beyond the gap, and those banners included the impudent flag that quartered the French royal arms with England’s lions. That banner proclaimed that the Prince of Wales was there and, through the slits in their visors, the French could see the prince mounted on a horse, sitting close behind the line, and the battle anger was on them now. Not just anger, but terror, and for some men joy. Those men worked their way to the front rank. They were hungry for fighting, they were confident, and they were savagely good at their trade. Many other men were drunk, but the wine had given them bravado, and the arrows were slicing in from left and right, striking shields, crumpling on armour, sometimes finding a weak spot, but the attack flowed around the fallen men and, so very close now, the French broke into a run, screaming, and fell on the English.

That first rush was the most important. That was when the shortened lances could knock the enemy over, when the axes and hammers and maces would be given extra impetus by the charge, and so the dauphin’s men screamed at the tops of their voices as they charged, as they swung, thrust, and chopped their weapons.

And the English line went back.

They were forced back by the fierceness of the charge and by the weight of men who crammed through the gap, but though they went back, they did not break. Blades crashed on shields. Axes and maces slashed down. Lead-weighted steel crumpled helmets, shattered skulls, forced blood and brains to spurt through split metal, and men fell and in falling made obstacles, and other men tripped on them. The impact of the charge was slowed, men tried to stand and were stunned by blows, but the French had forced their way through the gap and now were widening the fight, attacking left and right as more men came through the hedge.

The English and Gascons were still being driven back, but slowly now. The initial impact had left men dead, wounded, bleeding, and moaning, but the line was not broken. The commanders, their horses close behind the dismounted men-at-arms, were shouting at them to stay closed up. To keep the line. And the French were trying to break the line, to cut and hammer their way through the shields so they could shatter the English into small groups that could be surrounded and slaughtered. Men hacked with axes, screamed obscenities, thrust with lances, swung maces, and the shields splintered, but the line held. It went backwards under the pressure, and more Frenchmen came through the gap, but the Englishmen and Gascons were fighting with the desperation of trapped men and the confidence of troops who had spent months together, men who knew and trusted each other, and who understood what waited for them if the line broke.

‘Welcome to the devil’s slaughteryard, sire,’ Sir Reginald Cobham said to the Prince of Wales.”

I received this book for free for review.

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