Accordingly, Edwy called Elfric to sit by his side at the substantial meal which commenced the day, and saw, with much pleasure, that the cloud had partly passed from his friend’s brow for the hope of immediate action, of the excitement of battle, had done much to drive lowness and depression from the young warrior. So he strove to chat and laugh with the loudest, and when the moment came to marshal the host, and to put them in array, his spirits were as high as in old times.
The cavalry, which was their strongest arm, was under the command of Edwy himself, although a sturdy warrior, who had fought in many a battle, rode on his right hand to supply his lack of experience.
The main body of the infantry was under the command of Earl Cynewulf, while the reserve was under the command of Redwald’s immediate subordinate, and consisted almost exclusively of the household guard.
The plan of attack, for it was quite decided that they should take the initiative, was simple, and in accordance with the ordinary tactics of the times. The heavy-armed foot were bidden first to advance upon the entrenchments which crowned the opposite hill, and to break the infantry of the enemy, which was drawn up before them in formidable array; this done, the horse were immediately to avail themselves of the opening thus made, and the entrenchments to be assaulted by both cavalry and infantry.
Armed with huge axes, clad in mail, and bearing large shields, the foot advanced to the attack. They were a gallant company; and as the sun shone upon their glittering armour, or was reflected back from the bright steel of their axes, they might well inspire faint hearts with terror; but faint hearts were not amongst those opposed to them. The chosen men of the northwest, some of half-British blood, crowned the opposite hill, drawn up in front of their entrenchments, as if they scorned any other defence than that supplied by their living valour. They had borrowed their tactics from the Danes: deep and strong on all sides, they seemed to oppose an impenetrable wall to the foe; they had their shields to oppose to darts or arrows, their axes for the footmen, their spears to form a hedge of steel no horse could surmount.
Even should they yield to the pressure, still all would not be lost; their retreat was secured into the entrenchments, and there they might well hope to detain the enemy until the whole population should rise against the men of Wessex and their leader, and his cause become hopeless.
Steadily up the hill came the brave troops of Edwy, and from within their ranks, as they ascended the slope, a shower of arrows was discharged by the archers who accompanied them, under their protection; but no return was yet made by the foe, until they were close at hand, when a loud war cry burst from the hostile ranks, and a perfect shower of darts and arrows rained upon the invaders.