“Lord Clifford sat his horse on the north bank of the River Aire and watched the glittering mass of the Yorkist vanguard march into view from the south.
It was a bitterly cold afternoon, with a hint of ice on the wind. Clifford took no notice. He was the lord of Skipton and Craven in Yorkshire, and the atrocious weather and desolate landscape of the north appealed to his stark nature. This was his country.
“The Butcher”, the Yorkists had started to call him, for his cold-blooded killing of Edmund of Rutland after the Battle of Wakefield. Clifford gloried in the name. The more his enemies feared him, the better. He was a hard man, consumed by a lust for revenge since the death of his father at the First Battle of Saint Albans, six years previously.
Clifford had slaked his thirst for Yorkist blood somewhat on Rutland, and still felt a tight little shiver of pleasure at the memory of his knife plunging into the boy’s soft white gullet. One death, however, wasn’t enough. Only the bloody annihilation of all the Yorkists in England would suffice.
“Fauconberg’s men are in the van, as we suspected,” said Lord Neville, his second-in-command, pointing at one of the enormous standards carried at the head of the Yorkist troops, displaying blue and white halves painted with Fauconberg’s distinctive sigil of a sable fish-hook in the top right corner.
Clifford said nothing. He had already repelled an attempt by the Earl of Warwick and Lord Fitzwalter to cross the stone bridge over the Aire, falling on the Yorkist camp at dawn and slaughtering many soldiers in their beds. More had died as they tried to escape across the river, drowned or swept away in the icy waters. Lord Fitzwalter had been mortally wounded, and Warwick himself barely escaped with an arrow in his thigh.
The bridge was the only reliable crossing over the flood-swollen Aire for miles in either direction. The Yorkists had to cross the river to engage the enormous Lancastrian army slowly deploying a mile to the north, between the villages of Towton and Saxton. Sooner or later, Clifford appreciated, they would realise how small the force was that opposed their crossing…”
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