The following is all true except for incidentals:
The sun was shining, which was a welcome relief from the recent storms. Things were looking good as Vortigern rode through the rolling grasses of the Salisbury Plain in southern England1. Behind him followed dozens of the most important Britonic leaders.
Things were looking good for Britain. For the first time in the more than a generation since the Roman army marched out, the country was united under one leader – Vortigern. And now it looked like for the first time, there’d be peace.
When the Roman governor of Britain, Constantine, declared himself Emperor of all of Rome and took every available soldier in Britain with him to the continent (where he was defeated and killed before he reached Rome), a huge power vacuum was left in Britain. First the peasants rose up and burned manors and villas and there was chaos.2 Then the Picts from the north began pushing in on the territory of the Romano-Britons, and the Scotti from Ireland began making incursions. But Vortigern would be damned if the Scots would ever get a foothold in Great Britain, so he hired mercenaries from Germania to come fight for him.
And so the Saxons under Hengest came, first in three boats and then in more. They settled in the south-eastern peninsula of Kent and helped Vortigern defeat his enemies and restore order. Things went well, and Vortigern married Hengst’s beautiful daughter Rowena.
But things weren’t as good then as they were at the moment. There had still been fighting across the land. Not just in Britain but on the continent, Attila the Hun was burning the known world to the ground.
And then the Saxons turned on the Britons and there was bitter fighting between them. Vortigern’s sons Vortimer and Catigern both died in the ensuing battles and so did Hengest’s brother Horsa.
But now, now the Saxons had been driven back to the shore and were suing for peace. Vortigern had discussed the matter with his advisors and concluded that they would grant the Saxons the land they currently occupy in order to appease them and gain their cooperation against the Britons' enemies. With the conclusion of this peace treaty they would, for the first time in anyone’s memory, have achieved peace in their time.
The Briton delegation and the Saxon delegation met at a great hall just a few miles north of the peculiar standing stones3 that had already stood in the Salisbury Plains longer than anyone could remember (and yet later legends would have them being placed there later or even memorial to the event that was about to occur). Both sides left their swords and shields and armed retainers outside, entered the hall, and closed the great door.
Hengest was a huge man, his exploits on the continent in the Battle of Finnsburgh were already famous before he even came to England. He stood proudly like a stallion despite his army’s recent defeats. The mood in the room was tense with distrust but both sides were also very weary of the war.
The Saxons seemed a disorderly lot to the Britons. While the leaders of the Britons wore robes and capes of the Roman style, the Saxons wore the furs and trousers more typical of Germania. And they were not a homogenous lot, but in fact consisted of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians. Separate ethnic groups, but an Angle and a Saxon were the same as far as a Briton was concerned and who’s ever heard of a Jute or a Frisian? Vortigern was sure on any account the Angles and such would assimilate into England without leaving a mark in the end.
Suddenly Hengest shouted something in the Saxon language and before Vortigern knew what was happening, all the Saxons had pulled Long Knives from their leggings and all around him there was crashing of tables and screaming and fighting! Two Saxons grabbed Vortigern and held a knife to his throat.
The Saxons mercilessly slew all the unarmed Britons in the hall. There was commotion outside but the armed retainers wouldn’t be able to get in – the door was barred, and halls such as this were designed to repel attack. Vortigern could only watch helplessly as his most important supporters were massacred. Eldol, Consul of Glevum, alone successfully defended himself with a large piece of wood and escaped through a high window.
Vortigern, however, they spared, but not before making him swear at knife-point that in addition to Kent, Essex and Sussex would belong to the Saxons.
Vortigern would return to his people with a calamity on his hands and all his supporters dead. Not only was war on again with the Saxons, but internal fighting soon enveloped the Britons. Legend has it that the abovementioned Eldol himself eventually beheaded Hengest in a later battle. A Britonic leader named Ambrosius Aurelianus would lay siege to Vortigern’s tower and kill him. Regional warlords such as Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall and Uther Pendragon of Dumnonia would wage war on one another for the rest of their lives. It would be hundreds of years before England was once again unified under one leader.
This night, would be known for most of the next 1,500 years as The Night of the Long Knives.
Commentaries & Footnotes
This is a first in several ways. I have heretofore never posted a story to this livejournal (though I do write stories), and though I have always wanted to do so I have never actually written a piece of "historical-fiction."
This of course turned out more historical than fiction. The fictional elements are exceedingly minor (um... we don't know they met in a hall? and of course we don't know what Vortigern was thinking). But as the "moment of bliss" wasn't so much any moment in the story as the period of time of the story, I let the story be dominated by description of the circumstances.
I like to fill my stories with hidden meanings and references.. see what you can identify!
I purposefully didn't mention a year in the story because I didn't want the reader to have more context than the people in the story would have had. The people in the story would have had barely a larger picture of history than that the Roman armies had marched out nearly sixty years prior. If you must know though, the story takes place in 460 AD.
What I think is particularly neat about this period, and in particular the person of Vortigern, is that it's in-between most people's conceptions of British history. I don't think most people can really visualize that England was Roman for nearly 400 years. The legendary exploits of King Arthur are still to take place in the FUTURE at this point (and so is Beowulf, which makes a passing reference to Hengest and the Battle of Finnsburgh). In fact Vortigern is the last solidly historical character in a line that becomes increasingly mythical leading to King Arthur (Aurelianus is mostly historical but kind of mysterious and mythical, Uther is mostly mythical, and then comes Arthur).
It also amazes me that, despite information filtered down to us through scattered accounts kept mainly by monks, there is so much information that can actually be put together about events and people at the time! Anyway I hope my tale didn't bore you to tears. (=
1 Except there was no concept of "England" (as opposed to Great Britain, the actual landmass) at the time. But I chose to use the word England because its a description of the geographic location people are more familiar with.
2 Archaeological evidence such as many villas and manors destroyed without evidence of new institutions being built in their place or a new centre of power being established are representative of a peasant uprising.
3 Some legends of it place the Night of the Long Knives at Stongehenge itself. This seems like a silly place for it to occur. Obviously to massacre that many people you need to be in an enclosed space! The general vicinity is a good bet though because its right on the border between Saxon Kent and the rest of England. In my mind my story took place at this nearby location.
Le Blog De Arthur - Everything you need to know about the Arthurian scholarship, as told through analogies to livejournal!
Light in the Dark Ages
The following is all true except for incidentals: