“Far and near, high and clear,
Hark to the call of War!
Over the gorse and the golden dells,
Ringing and swinging of clamorous bells,
Praying and saying of wild farewells:
War! War! War!
High and low, all must go:
Hark to the shout of War!
Leave to the women the harvest yield;
Gird ye, men, for the sinister field;
A sabre instead of a scythe to wield:
War! Red War!
Rich and poor, lord and boor,
Hark to the blast of War!
Tinker and tailor and millionaire,
Actor in triumph and priest in prayer,
Comrades now in the hell out there,
Sweep to the fire of War!
Prince and page, sot and sage,
Hark to the roar of War!
Poet, professor and circus clown,
Chimney-sweeper and fop o’ the town,
Into the pot and be melted down:
Into the pot of War!
Women all, hear the call,
The pitiless call of War!
Look your last on your dearest ones,
Brothers and husbands, fathers, sons:
Swift they go to the ravenous guns,
The gluttonous guns of War.
Everywhere thrill the air
The maniac bells of War.
There will be little of sleeping to-night;
There will be wailing and weeping to-night;
Death’s red sickle is reaping to-night:
War! War! War! “
Robert William Service
War is a theme that runs throughout Denny Bradbury’s follow-up novel, ‘Borvo II’, with a number of the younger characters such as Hild’s son Aescwine in particular wanting to leave his community and fight for his King and country as soon as he possibly can, regardless of the danger he may be putting himself in.
Yet as he experiences the reality of war rather than the perceived perception of what it would be like to fight against a common enemy his view can be seen to change:
“ …Of the 400 Danes that marched that day less than half made their way home. Of the 200 Saxons only 40 lay dead on the sodden field….Aescwine was in shock at the events of the day. Fighting was honourable and glorious wasn’t it? War with right on your side was good, wasn’t it? … What manner of men kill with such ferocity? He had seen men hacked to pieces where they lay just for the spoils on their bodies. This wasn’t what he expected. Kill your enemy yes of course otherwise the enemy will kill you, but this wanton carnage, this mayhem, this oblivion was unbearable. Why hadn’t anyone warned him?…. “ (Chapter Twenty Two, Fidelity)
Denny writes of how the philosophy behind the fighting stemmed from the belief that the more dead enemies, the fewer there would be to fight against at the next battle yet war meant that men lost all sense of belonging other than to those they fought alongside.
In this particular era, weapons of choice were swords that would be responsible for the fatal slashes to heads that were poorly protected by leather helmets with only the very elite wearing iron headgear that gave added protection, and being battered by axes.
In Chapter Twenty Four, Aescwine is dismissed by Aethelwold, the nephew to the King, as he recognises that Aescwine’s heart is not in being a fighter “Go from my camp, I want only those who seek to fight, your heart is not in killing…..you kill only to survive, you have no taste for it….I need rogues who live to kill. Men who obey without question.”
Yet the fact that Aescwine has killed another is seen as yet another passage into adulthood. As his mother, Hild, says to him in Chapter Twenty Seven, when he returns to his village “ Your anger is gone. But I sense you have grown in more ways than I know. You have killed Aescwine, you are a man now. Don’t let it take you like it did your father.”
As Beadmund, Borvo’s brother in law and Aescwine’s uncle also says “ You have grown in manhood. Killing does that. It is necessary in these days”.
War is something that continues throughout the ages and Denny contrasts the brutality that is witnessed by some with the gentle healing that Borvo, the leading protagonist, does to those around him in need of his help, be it a sickness of the soul, the injuries of war or an unprovoked attack or a malicious attempt to poison, such is the case with Beadmund, or helping the king himself.
Peace and healing in an often violent world.