The Brothers were discouraged. They looked around at the busy, bustling fortified village. Warriors were talking, drinking and gambling. Where are we asked Wulfhere and where is Grim's Dyke? The man grinned and motioned them to look to the northwest. See that dyke stretching into the distance? That’s Grim's Dyke. Built by giants long ago. There was a great earthwork that stretched to the northwest into the dusk. This is Grim’s Dyke Burgh. The Brothers were beginning to find Angle humour hard to take and if they had not been so tired, they might have started an argument. Uthric asked if Ealdorman Wiglaf was here and if so would he see three travellers? I think he might, replied the man, but not at present. This turned out to be another bit of Angle humour and when they complained that they came from a place where people talked plainly and not with riddles or sarcasm the man grew grumpy and told them that if they insisted on asking stupid questions, they would get stupid answers. Southerners have no sense of humour.
The Thane in Grim's Dyke Burgh was Wictred and he was more approachable than the guard at the gate. He was interested that the Brothers had seen five Wealsc, as the Angles called the Britons. Wealsc means foreigners, which is a bit ingenious thought Wulfhere as the Britons lived here before either Angles or Saxons came to this land. Still it serves a purpose and gets us fired up against the Britons.
Wictred praised Uthric and suggested he might be known as Eagle-eye. Often Wealsc scouts move through the countryside unseen. The first thing that a person knows that there are Wealsc around is when a spear suddenly sprouts from your chest. Wictred laughed at his own joke and added that it is also usually the last thing you notice too.
When he had calmed down somewhat, Wictred gave the brothers more ale and asked them for their news. Wulfhere, as eldest, explained they had travelled from Portus Caester to talk with Wiglaf. Wictred commented that he wasn't sure where Portus Caester was, but he considered that the Brothers must have important business with Wiglaf to come into Mierce. But that discussion would have to wait a while longer, for unfortunately, Wiglaf had left and gone to Mershford before last Midsummer. He was using Mershford as a base to attack the Wealsc. Mershford was only two days travel on the Old Road, however he did not expect the brothers would meet Wiglaf there as it was summer and he would have taken his Warband north in search of plunder.
The next day the brothers travelled to Danasted. They met a Warband on the way in a temporary encampment. The Warband had come off worst in a fight with the Wealsc and were recovering before moving on. Towards evening they arrived at Danasted which was a fortified camp and were given lodging and food after they had chopped wood and carried water to the communal kitchens.
They left early in the morning eager to get to Mershford. On the way, Eagle-eyed Uthric again saw some men watching them. This time they were Angles, who waved at them from a distance, after reaching the conclusion the Brothers were not enemy troops.
At Mershford, they learnt from Thane Offa that Wiglaf had returned to Mershford a moon ago but had returned to a city in the north called Ratae. Wiglaf had stormed the city last harvest time and was fortifying it. Offa counselled against going. The Wealsc are thick around here and if it is not urgent business with Wiglaf they should stay. The Brothers disagreed saying that the business could not wait for Wiglaf to return. Offa gave them hospitality but remarked that the Wealsc were likely to kill them and their business would be unfulfilled. Dunstan thanked him and said that he, for one, had other plans than to die at the hands of the Wealsc. The Brothers thought Offa a gloomy man and wondered how a gloomy man could brew such good ale.
Ratae was five days travel north and they got directions when they bid farewell to Offa. The days travel took them to Tondbertsburgh, a fortified village that straddled the road and even had market stalls. Some of the buildings had been built by the old people. Particularly impressive was a temple and a place where you could have a bath. The Thane, Tondbert, would not see them and eventually they left his hall to find food and shelter. Tondbertsburgh was a meeting point where the Old people’s road met with another road that seemed to be made from white stone. It shone faintly in the moonlight. A man who had watched them look at it told them had been made by Thunor driving his goat driven cart to get to the Western sea. Uthric did not think it was impressive as the old people's stone roads even if it glowed in the moon and suggested Thunor might be better employed killing giants. The man laughed and asked if all Saxons held similar views about the gods? Wulfhere said that the Brothers thought for themselves and did not listen to wet nurses’ stories.
During the next day’s travel, they saw a large Warband moving across their path in the distance going westwards. The Warband had mounted scouts or perhaps even some of the feared British Horse warriors. The horsemen rode closer but did not interfere. Uthric said they were Britons and what was odd is that woman and children were in the warband. They discussed the fact that the Angles might have killed so many British warriors that they now had to use children to fight. If this was indeed the case said Dunstan, Briton would soon belong to the Saxons and Angles. Even the Jutes could have some more land if children were involved in warfare said Wulfhere. The Brothers watched as the Warband moved on. They arrived at Pendaburgh shortly after dark and were only admitted when they had been closely questioned. Pendaburgh was an impressive fortification which had both ramparts and ditches. There were ruins of old people's homes outside the fortification and one of their burial grounds on a hill opposite. It looked as if someone had dug up the graves, no doubt looking for gold. They thought the old people had been clever builders but they obviously did not understand military defence as they had built so many of their homes outside the walls of the Burgh. No wonder that their houses were now burnt and they were no longer here. They gave news to the Thane Penda and asked for directions to Ratae which they were told was two days at a fast pace.
Travelling the next day was hard. They met a Thane called Aelfryth and ten of his Carls coming from Ratae. The Thane told them to be careful as there were lots of Wealsc in the area. The Brothers said they had made it this far and as their luck was excellent they expected to reach Ratae without much problem but to be on the safe side they asked Aelfryth for his advice. Aelfryth told them the directions and when they got to the crossroads they should leave this road and travel east. They should reach Ratae by tomorrow night if all went well.
That evening they reached the place where two of the old people's roads crossed. It was marked by a building that had a roof but no walls. On the roof was an orb and a cross. Dunstan wondered if the old people didn't feel the cold or perhaps their water heaters kept them warm. The other two had no opinion on the matter and were more concerned about having somewhere safe to sleep.
The next day they took the new road that went to the northeast and at sunset reached the city of Rate. They were directed to Wiglaf's fort known as Caer Leonis. The old people's city, though still grand, was mostly deserted. but Wiglaf's halls were bustling with warriors. The fortifications were still being repaired and there were pieces of wood seemingly abandoned by the woodworkers everywhere.
Wiglaf invited them into his hall to hear the news and their business. He welcomed them warmly when they told him they were Hrothgar's sons and cleared some of his Carls from the top benches to give them a place of honour. Wiglaf was saddened by their mother's dream. He had been fond of Hrothgar and had invited him to stay and make his home here. But Hrothgar had wanted to go back to Hildegard. Your mother must be very special for Hrothgar to leave me for her he laughed. Dunstan was told by a man sitting beside him that it was the first time the Ealdorman had laughed in days and that the Brothers should come more often. There had been a slave revolt a few days ago and all had escaped with a Wealsc princess called Ydwina. The warriors were glad she had gone as she caused strife among them and Wiglaf had lost interest in doing anything except being with her. The opinion of the warriors was that Ydwina was a sceadugenga and it was well she had gone.
Wulfhere and Uthric, on hearing the story, told Wiglaf of the Wealsc warband they had seen and they had commented on the woman and children in the group. Wiglaf became excited and pressed the Brothers for information, particularly if there was a blonde-haired woman amongst the Warband. Wulfhere said he could not say for certain if there had been as his attention had been more focused on the Horse warriors that had ridden close. Uthric told Wiglaf he was known as Eagle-eye and was certain he had seen a woman of outstanding beauty with golden hair leading the woman and children. Wiglaf got more excited and knocked over his horn of ale calling for one of his Thanes and spent time in private conversation with him. The warriors seated near to Uthric gave him hard stares but he ignored them and told an amusing story of hunting rabbits
When Wiglaf returned he apologised for being a poor host. He asked the Brothers their intentions and how he could be of help. Wulfhere asked about the message that Hrothgar delivered and could that have been the cause of treachery. Wiglaf said he would not think that was important. Aelle had wanted to know if Wiglaf would join him in an expedition. Wiglaf had replied by asking the King for his terms in the deal which he said meant no as he did not want to form an alliance with a Saxon king.
Uthric then asked what had been his opinion of Beorthric and Wilfrith but Wiglaf said he had no opinion on either as he recalled neither of them. He did ask his Carls if anyone had anything to add and one said that Wilfrith had a gambling debt still outstanding to him. To much laughter, he asked if when the brothers met Wilfrith could they remind him of his debt before they killed him. Wulfhere promised this would be the case.
Wiglaf took the brothers aside and heard the details of the vision. He was as
perplexed as the Brothers and could not read what they meant. He did offer to let them talk to Isen, a laece, who was in Ratae at present. He also offered gifts for the brothers in recompense for their father’s death. He upbraided them for travelling north without any helmets. He thought that being so young they had not thought of the danger and they were perhaps of the opinion if they get hit on the head that it would cause no ill effects as they had perhaps not developed brains yet? However, whatever their opinion on helmets, he would remedy that they had none and, in his opinion, needed them. He also gave them fine silver arm rings. He asked them if they wanted to stay and fight but they declined saying that although he was a generous Lord, they must find out what happened to their father before they thought about their own futures.
In the morning they met Isen. They were much the worse for wear having tried
stupidly to match Wiglaf cup for cup of ale. Isen was blind. It was said that he had plucked out his eye to gain knowledge like Woden and then had lost the other eye to disease. He also had a servant who constantly whispered in his ear and made the Brothers uneasy. However, Isen’s blindness did not seem to trouble him, he moved with the surety of a sighted man. Isen laughed when the brothers told him of the vision and declined to help. He disparaged Wiglaf for telling them he would help and for being a fool in general.
The Brothers were disappointed with the outcome as they were no further on in finding out what happened to Hrothgar. One bit of information that they did find was that Wiglaf had met Hrothgar at Mershford. He had never come so far north as Ratae. He had left Mershford and travelled South.
Wiglaf was sending one of his Thanes and 20 men to Offa at Mershford to go after the escaping slaves and the Brothers gratefully accepted the offer to travel with the men.