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Eardstapan (the Land-travellers or Wanderers)


***** WARNING SPOILERS - some of this part of the Chronicle contains elements of Mythras' Logres. If you intend to play it as a Player it's probably best not to read it because your enjoyment will be seriously diminished ****

 

The Brothers left Dunasted a moon after the Feast of Sol-monath. Uthric and Meire’s child was now two moons old and both felt he would be able to travel safely. Uthric had named the child Hrothgar after his father which all the Brother’s felt was a good omen. Not only had they found their father Hrothgar but they were bringing home his grandson, also named Hrothgar. They travelled through Grim’s Dyke Burgh and on to Lundenwic. Uthric was worried that people might be afraid of Meire and he asked Offa for a hooded cloak so that people could not see the green tinge in her hair or skin.

At Lundenwic they rested for a while and asked at the local market if anyone had heard of Beorthric or Wilfred but no one could tell them any news about either man. That night in the Waystation, Uthric told the story of Offa and the and people who listened to the tale said that he spoke well. The Brothers were not short of ale that night but things then turned for the worse. One of their new friends insisted on trying to show that he also could throw an anvil. He felt that in reality it was not such a great feat of strength but he could not gainsay it as an excellent stratagem and he would prove it at that particular moment. Perhaps the man had drunk too much and perhaps he had an over-inflated view of his own strength but he dropped the anvil on another man's arm. As a fight broke out the Brothers thought it prudent to leave. Uthric had to be dragged out by Wulfhere as he was insisting on trying to get the man to understand that Offa had required his help both to lift and steady himself for the throw. So, in future,  if the man was of the opinion to throw an anvil it was necessary to have an equally strong person to assist him in the task. Uthric grew grumpy with his brothers as he felt that he was only offering the man some advice that might be useful in the future. Dunstan wondered if he hadn't been spending too much time with Offa and grumpiness might be as contagious as the plague. The man, on the other hand, was not paying attention to Uthric and missed his sage advice due to being beaten unconscious by the crushed-arm-man’s friends.

In the morning they bought food for the journey and left Lundenwic arriving at Cissa Cæster without incident five days later. They stayed at the Waystation by the Eastgate as they had on their outward journey. Uthric again told the story of Offa's Anvil to acclaim and disbelief by his listeners. As before in Lundenwic, the Brothers asked for news of Beorthric or Wilfrith but no-one knew who they were. People did remember their father, Hrothgar, and they were treated with respect because of him. In the morning they decided to replace their worn shoes  with new boots to create a good impression when they returned home. Dunstan bargained with the merchants and got a good deal.

It took another day to travel to Caedering and when they arrived after the first stars had come out. They presented themselves to the two Housecarls who were guarding the Thane's Hall but were told Osberht had gone to Portus Caester and would be back either tomorrow or the day after. They were confused by the Housecarls’ demeanour and thought something important had occurred but neither Housecarl would give them the news, saying that Osberht would no doubt tell them in good time.

They thought the situation was strange but decided against further discussion until they were aware of the facts. As Osberht was not there they agreed that they should give their greetings to Hildegard, their mother. It was obvious something of importance had happened as Hildegard was heavily pregnant. Dunstan said that in his experience there was always a man involved in making children and perhaps she had some interesting news that might be important for them to hear. Hildegard said that this could wait until they had eaten and told their story of their journey and deeds. She told them she was glad to see them and greeted them warmly as she had been of the opinion that they must have been dead because they had been gone for so long.   

The Brothers told the story of Hrothgar, his travels and his death. They told of their own travels, how they found out the truth of what had happened, of the betrayal of Beorthric and Wilfrith and finally their desperate fight and final revenge on the Bannucmann. At appropriate times they introduced their new companions, Hildegard’s new son Egfryd, her daughter-in-law Meire and her grandchild, Hrothgar. Hildegard took all these new events calmly but the Brothers were worried that Hildegard had barely reacted to all this good news and they wondered if she was ill.

A tear rolled down her face and she thanked her sons for what they had done for Hrothgar, their father. She told them, at first after they had left, she and the two children had been well. The harvest had not been as good as they had hoped last year and the family was short of food. They did not have the Brothers to provide food from the hunt and Hildegard was too proud to ask her neighbours for help, knowing they also had little extra to give. Every day that passed she thought her three sons would return but each day she was disappointed in her hope and their plight became desperate.  

Hildegard told how Beorthric and Wilfrith had returned to Caedering shortly after the brothers had left and it was Beorthric that had noticed her situation and had been kind to her, bringing food. He had asked her to marry him as he had a desire to support her and he thought a marriage might be a good arrangement, but she had refused. Winter is a hard time for everyone she told them and no-one has much to spare but Beorthric always brought food and as time went on she had relied more on him, just to be able to survive. When he asked again if she would marry him, this time she agreed to protect her two remaining children. She had been of the opinion that none of eldest sons would ever now return and she needed to protect and feed Hrothgar’s  remaining two younger children.

For once the Brothers were unsure how to proceed. It had all seemed very simple on their return journey. Tell Osberht what had happened, agree a blood feud and kill the two cowards. Now one of the men they wished to kill was married to their mother and he had saved her life and that of their younger siblings.

There was an awkward silence as the Brother’s tried to digest the news. For something to do, Hildegard ruffled Egfryd's hair and took him to get some honey cakes. Egfryd was relieved. He had been close to tears when the story was being told and was unsure if his new mother would accept him as her son. Hildegard also welcomed Meire and nursed Hrothgar who seemed to be aware of the tension and had begun to cry. Hildegard made pleasant chat with Meire, politely ignoring the greenish tinges. She was after all descended from Thunor and her ancestors had probably found such small oddities as green tinged skin rather common place, so she too, decided to ignore it. The Brothers left Egfryd happily eating honey cakes and Meire and Hildegard talking about babies and went out to discuss how things stood.  

Dunstan said he was shocked at how fickle Hildegard was, his father had just been laid to rest and she had already forgotten him and then married the man that had caused his death. Uthric, who was using the time to sharpen his axe, thought that at least they would not have to travel far to find Beorthric, all they would have to do was wait until he came home and then kill him.

Wulfhere urged caution. He was unsure what they should do and thought it best to ask advice from Osberht when he returned. It was obvious that if they killed Beorthric they risked upsetting their mother. He felt that in the case of Beorthric they could perhaps be magnanimous and for the sake of their mother they would only ask for a wergild and outlawry. Wilfrith, on the other hand, they had already agreed that they wanted his death.

Dunstan said that Beorthric was known previously for his meanness and if they asked for a wergild he would probably want to offset it against the food he had provided. Uthric laughed and said it was likely that Beorthric must have had a premonition and that he had therefore been paying the wergild in small instalments of food. They were all in better form after their discussion and told their mother they would seek Osberht’s advice and judgement before taking any action. This sufficed for now as Hildegard thought that Osberht would talk sense into her sons.

Osberht returned towards evening of the next day. He had a company of 36 warriors with him who were all strangers to the Brothers. They were shocked by Osbert's appearance. He was gaunt and hollow- eyed and fidgeted with a strip of embroidered cloth. He delivered short curt orders and lost his temper when the servants were slow in bringing ale. Yet he was pleasant to the Brothers and asked them the tale of their journey and if they had been able to give Hrothgar’s unrestful spirit peace.

Uthric again told the story of their journey into the north. He did not embellish it but spoke plainly. Osberht listened and then asked questions while looking at Meire. He asked her directly if she was an Ælfar and if so did she bring luck or evil to the village. Meire smiled and said she was not an Ælfar but merely Uthric's wife and Hrothgar's mother. Osberht stared for a time at her but said nothing further. The Brothers asked Osberht for his news as they said that they could see from his demeanour and bearing that some momentous events had occurred in their absence. Osberht told of increased tensions between the Saxon peoples and the British. Ealdorman Coelfrith had been attacking the British to the West and Ealdorman Cerdic had been raiding by sea along the coasts of Dumnonia.  

The British had struck back and Caedering, being the farthest western settlement, bore the brunt of the attacks. Osberht reminded them that he was to many Mildgyth last Midsummer, which they had celebrated with great joy, despite the Brothers absence. Three days ago, the British struck and Mildgyth was outside the palisade arranging the new pens for the sheep shearing and lambing. She didn't see the raiders until it was too late to seek shelter or safety. She was killed by a chance spear. Osberht had buried her and told the Brothers that his anger had grown. He did not blame the British, for they just did what our people do, raid and defend their homes. Osberht laid the blame on Ealdorman Coelfrith who he had asked many times for aid and support. Coelfrith had always denied help, making up plausible excuses as to why he could not lend warriors and Osberht said that he was left with the view that in Coelfrith’s opinion, Caedering was expendable.

Therefore,  two days ago, Osberht went to Cerdic and told him of about his problem. Cerdic had immediately offered warriors for the defence of Caedering. Osberht acknowledged that the price had been high because he had to repudiate Coelfrith as lord  and to swear allegiance to Cerdic. Also, Caedering would now have to combine forces with Cerdic to eliminate the growing threat of British raids. The Brothers offered their condolences to Osberht and recalled fond memories of Mildgyth and thought she would have been a good influence on the village had she lived.

Osberht thanked them for their words and said there would be a feast held for their return at which everyone would hear their tale of victory which would, without doubt, cheer and enhearten the men after so much sorrow. He also felt it would serve two further purposes that he had in mind. It would be a formal welcome to Cerdic's warriors and their Thane, the Shieldmaiden Taethle. Secondly, it would be an opportunity for the warriors to hear how Caedering will prosecute this war against the British.


The Brothers brought up their concerns about their legal issues and the unforeseen complication now that Beorthric was their new step-father . Osberht said that he was now in no mood for mercy and he would support their call for a blood feud against Beorthric and Wilfrid. He would call an Assembly to ensure its legality and allow them to seek vengeance. The Brothers thanked Osberht and asked what they could do in return for this favour. Osberht said that he would no doubt think of something that would suit their skills by tonight and he could probably be able to announce it at the feast so they would not have to wait too long to repay him. Wulfhere was not sure they might be pleased with Osberht’s plan as he seemed to have suddenly become over reckless and had lost his ability to take a slow and steady route through problems.

The Brothers knew that they had a difficulty about how to tell their news to Hildegard. Both Dunstan and Uthric thought that Wulfhere should tell her as he was the eldest and they felt that he had gained wisdom beyond his years when it came to telling other people bad news. Wulfhere did not concur with his brothers and complained that they often volunteered to tell others good news but somehow, he was always chosen to bring evil tidings. He worried that he might get a name for it.

It was not hard to predict that Hildegard was upset by the news and even when Wulfhere offered to mitigate Beorthric's judgement to outlawry if he would lay down his spear, she was not pleased and took to her bed. Wulfhere left her alone as he said to his brothers afterwards that he could not change what had now been decided and no words would make it easier for her. Uthric observed that it was likely that Hildegard would become a widow again for the second time in two years and some people would consider this unfortunate. Dunstan thought that perhaps next time Hildegard should consider all the facts before she agreed to marry her next husband. He also hoped that she would choose wisely as to have a third husband die would probably ruin her chances of getting a forth. 

Neither Beorthric and Wilfrid had returned with Osberht. They had stayed behind to consult a leæce on Wilfrid’s indigestion. Wulfhere said that it was a pity Wilfrid had not asked him. as he had always found his spear point usually sorted out all sorts of pains to make them of negligible importance in the future. The Brothers left Hildegard’s house as they did not want another confrontation with their mother so as to be in a good cheer for the feast later.

That night the brothers sat at the Thane's table opposite Osberht. In the place of honour, at Osbert's left, sat Thane Taethle and on his right sat Garm, Thane of Cælctun who had arrived unannounced earlier that evening. Osberht did not like Garm, who he thought was arrogant and too fond of himself. It had not helped that Garm had previously accused one of Osberht’s Carls of murdering Garm's older brother. Osberht found such a story unlikely having known the Carl well. Garm had done well out of his brother’s death and had been elected Thane in his brother's place. While Garm was an unwelcome guest, the others were not and for a while Osberht forgot his troubles.  

After everyone had had enough to eat, Uthric was called to tell the tale of their travels, the dramatic ending of the Bannucmann and Offa's heroic feat of strength. The gathered warriors applauded the story, stamping the ground and banging their benches and all agreed Uthric had told it well. Osberht stood and called an Assembly to decide the fate of Beorthric and Wilfrith. Wulfhere, as eldest brother, stood forward and called for a blood feud to be agreed by acclamation of the Assembly. He acknowledged that while these men had not actually caused the death of Hrothgar they had not aided him to defeat the Bannucmann. Their own experience  of fighting the Bannucmann was that pinning him down was a sure way to stop him killing others and ultimately led to his own timely death. Wulfhere contended that if Beorthric and Wilfrith had aided Hrothgar when Hrothgar had him pinned, then it was likely that Hrothgar would be standing at the feast telling of his exploits in killing the Bannucmann. 

The-assembled warriors cheered their acclaim and the blood feud was agreed. Any dissenting voices were ignored. Garm suggested that if only Hrothgar had had an anvil, things would have been different, but only Dunstan heard his remark because of the clamour in the Hall. Dunstan gave the Thane a hard look which Garm ignored.

More ale was brought in and the warriors made the best use they could of it by drinking it quickly.  The Brothers met old acquaintances and heard their news from their friends. Much mirth was had with Sunngyth one of the Caedering Shieldmaidens who said she saw two ghosts in the shape of mice talking about 0sberht's death. As usual the other warriors made fun of her. She was well known for seeing omens everywhere and everyone was of the view that none of the portents came true. But the general consideration was that if she kept seeing signs, the odds of one coming true would reduce and one day to everyone’s amazement she would be right. Despite the constant fun made of Sunngyth’s predictions, most of the warriors showed concern for Osberht. He had become bitter and angry since Mildgyth’s death and they thought he should take a new wife. Some even suggested Thane Taethle as a match but others considered it unlikely.  

Wulfhere and Dunstan were asked about Uthric’s new wife and if she was actually an Ælfar. They were keen to know if she would bring luck to Caedering or would she curse the village. They all thought her beautiful but uncanny in skin tone.

Osberht called for attention and the rowdiness died down. He invited the Brothers back to the top table and told the Assembly that now they had shown some ability in walking places, he was going to ask them to walk a bit more. Maybe he said they could get the task done a bit quicker this time as he was not going to get them to walk the length of Briton. Cerdic had asked that Osberht secure the area of hostile Britons but as yet no-one knew where they had their base. He was going to send the Brothers to find this out as they had proved their ability to do difficult things by putting their father's spirit to rest. The Hall erupted in cheers and shouts. Osberht again quietened the crowd and brought presents for the Brothers, a silver-chased knife for Wulfhere, a jewelled broach for Uthric and a new cloak for Dunstan.

When the crowd stopped cheering, Thane Garm rose and asked the Brothers some questions. He wondered how they would succeed in finding the British base if they had to go around asking for help from this Offa, who was a mere Angle, and it was he that they had to get to kill the Bannucmann. Wulfhere said that perhaps the Thane had misheard Uthric but they all had a hand in killing the Bannucmann. Dunstan said quietly to Uthric that surely it wasn't anyone’s fault that Garm was deaf, but it was definitely tedious if after every speech, Garm was  going to ask stupid questions in clarification. Garm laughed at Wulfhere's explanation and suggested that far from being experienced travellers that they had merely walked a lot following the Old People's roads. Even cows can walk that far if they have a farmer to lead them, so perhaps they should engage one of the local farmers to aid them this time. Taethle stood and interrupted Garm. It was clear that Garm was trying to goad the Brothers and she asked some slightly more pointed questions. She wondered if the Brothers could tell her of Wiglaf’s troops, their quality and number. Uthric knew he was being tested and was able to tell her a description of what she had asked for, although he admitted later he had guessed. She seemed satisfied with the account and asked Wulfhere about the troops in Lundenwic. Wulfhere truthfully had only noticed the Angles wore their hair braided to one side and so he admitted that he had not counted the warriors as they were spread out over a wide area and the Brothers had mostly stayed in a Waystation with merchants. Taethle did not seem so satisfied with this answer and was noted to scowl slightly in response. Finally, she asked Dunstan how the Angles had fought in a shield wall and if the used different tactics to the South Saxons. Dunstan who at this point could barely stand managed to only say no before being helped onto his bench by a supporting warrior. 

Taethle would have likely made another comment but Garm said that he had not finished asking questions and he was annoyed that Taethle had interrupted him. Some had noticed his annoyance and remarked on it afterwards in the light of events to come. Garm moved over to Wulfhere and in a loud voice challenged him to a riddling contest. Wulfhere knew that the Thane was trying to mock him and looked for support from Osberht. Unfortunately, at that particular moment Osberht was not available to support anyone. He was staring into his cups and those around him had left him to his thoughts. The Warriors in the Hall took up the shout encouraging Wulfhere to show Garm that Caedering Carls could out-riddle anyone. They had possibly not thought the contest through as Wulfhere was only thought of as competent in riddle making. 

Garm’s first riddle was not particularly difficult but most understood it to be a thinly veiled reference to Osbert's desire to find peaceful means of living rather than the glory of fighting. After some thought Wulfhere gave an answer, which while not the answer that Garm wanted was adjudged by the assembled warriors to be equally correct. Wulfhere then asked a standard riddle in return which Garm easily answered to loud boos from the back of the Hall.  

Garm moved closer to Wulfhere and the Thane delivered his second riddle in Wulfhere’s face. About three years ago, Wulfhere had been betrothed to marry a local woman, Daira, but she had died from the plague and Wulfhere had not shown much interest in getting married since then.  He knew that Garm’s riddle was referring to his betrothal and his subsequent lack of a woman in his life since. He answered correctly but refused to be goaded by Garm's unpleasant manner. Wulfhere could not think of a difficult riddle and Garm easily answered his next question.  

Garm's third riddle was a thinly disguised reference to Osberht’s deceased wife and his inability to protect her. The Hall fell silent and Osberht, whose head had been in his cups, looked up. His face charged and a black rage descended on him. Osberht leapt up and taking a spear from a wall, advanced on Garm. Afterwards men said they had never seen Osberht so angry, not even when he buried Mildgyth. He would have struck at Garm had not one of his Carls interceded, taking up a battle-axe and threatening Osberht. Without so much as blinking Osbert struck the man in the throat and he fell face first on the reed floor, his life blood flowing and staining the ground.

The Hall was silent and everyone stood still. All except Garm. The Thane rapidly made his way to the door of the Hall, paused before he went out and shouted with a loud voice how Osberht had broken the guest rights by killing a visitor in his own Hall after offering food and protection. With that Garm left and no-one tried to stop him.

Osberht stood still and men remarked that while a black rage had only recently been visible on his face, it was now looked as drained of blood and as pale as the dead man on the floor.
 

 

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