The Brothers made their way home from Portus Caester. They were both excited but yet despondent. They could not interpret their visions put persisted in trying to fit it into what little facts they knew. They were beginning to think treachery was involved, a fact reinforced by the discovery that both Beorthric and Wilfrith had left Caedering during the night.
Osberht had no knowledge on the subject. Carls, in general, were free to stay or leave as they please but generally they would have stated their reasons for going. Caedering was awash with rumours. No-one other than Osberht was aware of the Brother's business, so the rumours tended to be wild and the Brothers discounted them focused as they were on treachery.
They discussed their visit to Stithwulf with Osberht in private. l am glad I do not have to deal with the spirit world remarked Osberht, the world we can see is hard enough. He grumbled about increasing British raids and his annoyance that Ealdorman Coelfrith, who had again refused him any support. He was unsure now he could keep his people safe and the loss of two more Housecarls may be critical. He suggested that the Housecarls disappearance was maybe not as sinister as the Brothers thought, but was more about wanting silver with another, more warlike, Thane. However, he did admit the timing was suspicious but none other than him knew of the reason for the Brothers trip to Pontus Caester. The Brothers discounted Osberht's views as they were more than convinced the two Housecarls had been involved in their father’s death. Indeed, between themselves, they were now using the word murder, or possibly secret murder, a more heinous and unacceptable crime.
Osberht asked the brothers what they thought they should do and how he could help. Wulfhere believed treachery was involved and that the Housecarls were either actively complicit, or passively involved, and thus guilty of some misdemeanour. Wulfhere wondered if the betrayal was to do with the message that Hrothgar had taken to Wiglaf and asked Osberht if he knew its contents. Osberht said that although he was considered wise amongst the Thanes, it was not the custom of Aelle, or his sons, to seek advice from him and he would therefore be unable to help them with this. However, he did know was that Aelle's son, Wlencig, was friendly with Wiglaf. Wiglaf is an Angle Ealdorman who is in Mierce.
Hrothgar had fought with Aelle's other son, Cissa, and had been prominent in the battle when Cissa took Cissa Caester from the British about five midsummers ago. Osberht was also aware that Hrothgar had wanted to take the message to Wiglaf saying he had wanted to see the wider world.
Wulfhere proposed that the Brothers should travel to Aelle's Court and ask him for news and the content of the message. Osbert counselled against the idea. Aelle is a king he replied. He is not like a Thane where you can approach him in his Hall and it would be likely that the Brothers would be frustrated in this venture. Uthric thought it might be useful to talk to Wiglaf but wondered if he was not also part of the treachery because he was an Angle. Osbert was unsure. He felt that the answer lay in the North but could say nothing beyond that.
The brothers agreed that they needed to travel north and discuss the situation more fully with Wiglaf however no-one knew how to get there. I have not travelled so far since I was a young boy said Osberht and even then, I did not travel to Mierce. I think there is an old people’s road that goes north from Cissa Caester. My advice therefore would be to travel to Cissa Caester and ask merchants how to travel to Lundenwic. At Lundenwic there are likely to be people who know Wiglaf, Ealdorman.
Osbert was embarrassed by his poverty but he gave the Brothers all the advice he could and small gifts, new travelling cloaks, a spear each, an arm ring and some hack silver and finally some way bread and hard cheese. The brothers thanked him for his generosity and went to bid farewell to their mother. Dunstan thought it might be useful to ask Eadgyd about her views of the vision. Eadgyd was appalled by his words and offered two bits of advice. The brothers could take her sovereign remedy against nightmares and that they should leave spirits to laeces who were generally competent in these matters. She did not have a high impression of Stithwulf for exposing the Brothers to such danger. Dunstan found this advice both disappointing and unhelpful and told Eadgyd as much. The unintended consequence of Dunstan's talk with Eadgyd was that soon all of Caedering knew the Brothers were travelling north to seek their father. As a result, a large crowd had gathered to watch the Brothers leave.
As a final parting gift, Osberht gave Wulfhere his amulet of Thunor's hammer. He explained it had always brought him luck and kept him safe from harm. He had a feeling the Brothers might need luck on their travels north.
The Brothers set off for Cissa Caester arriving safely before nightfall. The town was bigger than Portus Caester, having been built by the old people. Many of the old buildings were still being used. Others bore scars of the war and were patched by inferior work. Dunstan was able to negotiate a room in a Merchants way station for the night. Unfortunately, at least 20 other people and their animals also slept in the room. Wulfhere thought that they may have been over-charged for the room, being taken as simple peasants but he let it go and did not blame Dunstan for his lack of aptitude in bargaining.
In the morning, they asked the merchants if they anyone knew Wiglaf, an Angle Ealdorman. No-one did. Some knew Wiglaf who was a ship’s captain and others said they knew a farmer called Wiglaf but none knew any Angles in the vicinity, this being south Saxon lands. The Brothers bought some more food for the journey being unsure how long they needed to travel. A merchant took pity on them and told them not to mind those others. The best thing they could do is to travel to Lundenwic and ask there for Wiglaf. It is likely if he was an Ealdorman, then his own people would know where to find him. The Brothers thought this was good advice. The best way to get to Lundenwic continued the Merchant was to follow Stanstret, a road built by the old people that goes all the way to Lundenwic. If they kept up a good pace every day there was somewhere they could sleep each night. The Brothers thanked him for his opinion and remarked that they had been lucky to meet such a wise and far travelled merchant. It was likely, they thought, that the luck was from Osberht’s gift.
Before they left Cissa Caster, Wulfhere visited an armourer. He had been concerned for some time that they may face danger on their journey and thought they should at least have a helmet each. Dunstan tried to negotiate with one of the sellers but realised that it would use up most of the money they had, without much in return. Wulfhere spent the first five hours of the journey cursing armorers and how they preyed upon poor villagers with their city ways and high costs.
That night they camped in one of the wayhouses the merchant had told them about. It was already occupied by another group of merchants who at first eyed them warily but eventually admitted them to their company, sharing the fire and some ale. The merchants told them the name of the place was Hardhama, but no-one now lived here. Dunstan explored the building and discovered two pools of water in the back rooms of building. He crawled along a small opening into another room that had a rusty iron barrel. He had an idea that the barrel heated water and wanted to try it out. Uthric and Wulfhere asked him not to light any fires and rest instead.
After bidding goodbye to the Merchants, they continued along the road reaching a fortification in the evening that they were told was Alfodan. They got a meal and were allowed to sleep in the outhouses providing they chopped some wood, which they gladly did.
The next day was again uneventful with few travellers on the road. The next wayhouse was abandoned and had only one serviceable room with a roof, but was damp and cold, despite the fire. Their meal of unleavened bread and cheese did little to cheer them. Unsure where they actually were, they set watches but no-one disturbed their sleep.
The next day it rained and, in the evening, they came to another wrecked and burnt wayhouse. Uthric pointed out to Dunstan that this is what happened when someone tried to heat water in the Old people's houses. Fire is dangerous, Dunstan, said Uthric solemnly. Dunstan said nothing in reply. Such was the problem of being the youngest brother.
In late afternoon of the next day they saw smoke rising on the horizon and thought perhaps there was a War Band abroad and travelled more warily. But soon they began to meet other travellers with packs of goods on their backs, or pushing handcarts or even with carts pulled by oxen. Asking for information, they were told that this was almost Lundenwic, a fact confirmed when they could smell the cooking fires and stink of a large place where a great many people lived together.
Soon they could see the large river and a massive bridge that allowed people to cross. There did not seem to be a ford and they stood in a queue while armed warriors checked what people had in their packs. This was the first time the Brothers had met Angles. They spoke the same language but both their dialect and accent were strange and they had to concentrate to understand what was being said. The Angles also wore their hair braided to one side, a fact the Brothers found hilarious but tried not to smirk in case a warrior should take offence. Wulfhere was unsure if they would come off best in such a quarrel.
The Warriors were charging a toll to cross the bridge in the name of king Guercha, the Angle king, who obviously ruled in these parts now. However, when the guards found they had no goods they were allowed to cross unhindered. Dunstan only smirked once.
Crossing the bridge they could see that the old city of Lundenwic had been sacked and partially burnt in the recent past. The walls still stood but there were no gates in the openings that they could see. Some of the buildings were still smoking but some seemed to be undamaged. The docks area appeared to be still in use and there was a crowd of ships, coming and going, loading and unloading goods. The main dwelling place was a collection of familiarly built houses to the right of the new city. Most of the inhabitants appeared to be warriors and there were few women or children.
Crossing the river bought the Brothers into Mierce and it really looked like a foreign and alien country. Dunstan again negotiated a common room to sleep and some food for travelling. The others asked if anyone knew Ealdorman Wiglaf and where he could be found. Eventually, one of the merchants told them Wiglaf had a burgh at Grim's Dyke only one day’s travel north west and showed them how to get to the stone road that led there.
They passed an uneasy night in Lundenwic. No-one seemed to sleep and they could hear the sounds of drinking and gambling. They arose early in the morning and checked again with local merchants about helmets only to find they cost more hack silver than they had left. Dispirited they set out. Dunstan cut off some cheese and a bit of hack silver to give to a beggar by the gate. The beggar, delighted by his new riches, confirmed that the road was indeed the one that went to Grim’s Dyke.
After several hours travel, Wulfhere noted a silhouette of a man on a hill watching them. When the others turned to look, the man threw himself flat and they were unable to see where he went. Warily, they increased their pace to avoid any trouble. After another few hours they noticed two men travelling parallel to their course and a short time later the two became five. The five increased their pace and looked like they wanted to meet the Brothers. None of them looked like they wanted to pass the time of day and share some news. Mierce was still a disputed territory despite the Angle Burghs along the road, so the Brothers began to run, particularly when they noted the five had oblong shields. A footrace developed. Uthric and Wulfhere easily outpaced the pursuit, but Dunstan lagged behind having hurt his knee. Dunstan's inability to run any faster forced the other two to slow down and allow him to catch up. He was after all their baby brother and they knew Hildegard would be annoyed if he had been killed in a fight. To slow the enemy down, Uthric who could speak some British shouted at the pursuing men that he only wanted to marry their sister. The five were somewhat confused by his argument and dropped off the pace allowing the Brothers to reach the safety of a fortified settlement.
They enquired if they had reached Grim’s Dyke but the man said no.