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Hláfordsearu ond Hlóþslieht (Treason and a Gang of Murderers)



The Brothers took their prisoner to Osberht’s hall. He was rather deflated and all they could discover immediately that he was called Dreng Betlieson and was one of Garm's Carls. They thought that he might have been present at  Osberht’s feast with Garm, but they weren't sure. Dunstan said that he thought he should be nicknamed Dreng the Sorry as he was sure to be contrite for trying to fight the Hrothgarsons. Uthric thought that he may not be as sorry as his companions, who were lying dead, but how sorry he was would remain to be seen when he was well enough to talk.

In the meantime, they discussed matters with Osberht and Taethle. They told Osberht about the Horse soldiers in the forest. Osberht was worried they could be British scouts or worse they could be Dumnonian Cavalry. He said neither would be a cause for celebration and he left momentarily to order double guards on the fighting platforms. Horse soldiers were not good at fighting against walls so he felt there was little danger but thought it was still better to be safe rather than sorry. He also gave orders that the farmers and animal herds should be brought inside the walls. He did not want more avoidable deaths. 

Wulfhere was keen to remind Osberht of Connal and his willingness to accept Cerdic as Ealdorman and his need for urgent protection. They agreed that either Osberht or Taethle should tell Cerdic of the proposal and the need for more warriors. All thought it likely that if Connal's decision was to become known to Anyon, then Glawmaed would be in danger. Connal would require significant warriors to be stationed at Glawmaed which may not please his people. Saxons occupying their village might lead to resentment or could cause trouble. Wulfhere thought that having a small amount of trouble was worth it to protect the villagers. 

They also discussed what they had found out about the British settlement, the strong defences and the large Warband gathered there. Dunstan also mentioned the Sacred Pool and his opinion that it could be magical. None of Brothers could say for sure what the pool did or did not do. Taethle thought that it was likely to be just a votive pool despite the butterflies, as there were many of these in Briton. However, all agreed that it would be unwise to annoy the Landvættir unnecessarily.

Both Taethle and Osberht thought that they did not have the forces to attack the Britons without more reinforcements form Cerdic. Taethle said that attacking a fortification was always wasteful of men and if it was up to her she would rather face the Britons in the open where they could choose the battleground. She thought that perhaps they could use the British numbers against them hoping that they would be overconfident and make mistakes. She asked specifically about Anyon's character and if he might be thought of as impetuous and hot-headed. All the Brothers agreed that from what they had seen of him, this was likely to be the case. Taethle hoped that this could be used as an advantage.

The Brothers asked Osberht his opinion on the prisoner. Osberht said that he had no strong opinion on what they should do. He deserved a dishonourable death by hanging but equally they could make him a thrall. They brought Dreng before them and asked him to explain what had happened. Dreng said that he had been one of the four Carls that had come with Garm to the feast. Afterwards Garm had told them to wait in ambush for the Brothers and to make sure they were dead. The three men had initially tried to track the Brothers but were afraid to enter the forest, as it had an evil reputation. They were also annoyed that Garm had left them alone to complete the task and had gone back to Caelctun. They all felt his actions showed he did not hold them in a high esteem and seemed to care little if they lived or died. Dreng said his comrades had not fought well because they were feeling in low spirits. On another day it was likely that they would have killed the brothers. Wulfhere said it was always easy to boast about great deeds if you were alive.

The Brothers left him alone and went off a short distance to discuss Dreng's fate. They purposefully spoke loudly so that Dreng would hear them. Uthric argued that he should die for his actions and in as dishonourable a way as possible. He favoured hanging from a tree and letting the ravens have him. Wulfhere thought that they should be lenient and make him a thrall. He was after all being led by a cowardly Thane. Dunstan had the deciding vote and argued for both cases. It was obvious Dreng was becoming very worried by the discussions. It was not that he minded dying, it was the manner of death that was important. He had a rather pessimistic view of his Wyrd since Garm had left them alone and had suggested to his two dead comrades that they should leave Garm’s service and find a more courageous Lord. He had been overruled and now they were dead and he was going to be hanged.

In the end, Dunstan decided that they should make Dreng a thrall. His decision was mostly based on the fact that he thought their mother might be less angry with them if they give her a thrall to do some of the hard labour in her house. He also was concerned that somehow Beorthric and Wilfrith were mixed up in the plot to kill the Brothers and he wanted time to question Dreng more closely on the matter.

Dreng was relieved by the decision but it did not improve his mood. He tried to console himself that he was still alive but he recognised that his prospects were not that good. Dunstan asked him about Beorthric and Wilfrith and was surprised that Dreng had no idea about either man. Nonetheless, Dunstan was convinced that both had some part to play in the events and he discussed it with his brothers. They agreed that even if Dreng was not aware of the men, it was likely that Beothric, Wilfrith and Garm were working together.

They returned home to tell Hildegard of her new thrall but found that she was still sulking about their decision to kill her husband. They thought her sulking had gone on for an unreasonable amount of time. They asked Uthric if Meire would ask her to stop grumping, as the two seemed to get on well together. Meire refused and said all three might perhaps want to reflect on their own behaviour. It appeared to Uthric that Meire was also somewhat grumpy and he thought that this might not bode well for any hair stroking that night. There was too much tension in the house so they agreed that they should leave and let the women calm down. It seemed that they might be better employed at present in investigating what had happened to the horse soldiers. Dunstan felt that facing a whole squadron of Dumnonian Cavalry was better than facing the two grumpy woman. 

They went down the path to the place where they had fought the three Carls. Dunstan was still exercised about the sacred pool in the forest. He wondered if they had overpaid the amount that needed to be given. He felt that the more money they got the more other people demanded it. He told the others that he felt that he was overcharged for everything - by armourers, boot makers, cheese sellers, Waystations. All of these people were just trying to relieve the Brothers of their hard-earned silver. He really was unsure how anyone ever managed to get rich when there was always someone wanting their money. The others were tired of Dunstan's constant complaints about silver and the cost of buying things and asked him to be quiet.

They went through the forest to the place Uthric had seen the horse soldiers. There was no sign of anyone and they could not find any tracks or horse droppings that suggested there had ever been horses in the area. They both looked at Uthric. He just shrugged and said that to be a good Scout, you had to leave no trace or tracks after you left. In his opinion it was very obvious that the horse soldiers were excellent scouts. They were startled by a sudden flock of birds that had risen from the forest about a league to the South. They were sure something had scared them but could not see what. Uthric was confident it was the horse soldiers but Wulfhere said they were not that excellent scouts if they gave away their position by scaring birds. They agreed that there was no point going to investigate and that the extra guards in the village were sufficient to keep everyone safe.

They went back to the village and Dunstan busied himself by teaching Egfryd how to use a spear and shield. Wulfhere dreamed a bit of Bronwyn and Uthric played with Hrothgar trying to improve Meire’s mood. All three stayed out of Hildegard’s way.

The next morning, Osberht invited them to help fix some of the withies for the pigpens. In truth, he wanted to be away from Taethle as they were still arguing about his killing of the Carl. He said he was conflicted about what to do and did not want to appear indecisive in front of her. He had come to the decision that they might be best to go to Caelctun to confront Garm. His difficulty, at present, was that he did not see how this could be achieved without leaving Caedering undefended. 

Uthric said that the Brothers had been discussing why Beorthric and Wilfrith had not returned to Caedering and they thought that, even with Dreng's denial, they were somehow involved with the attempt to kill them. Osberht agreed that it might be possible but that he could not quite yet see the pattern of how it all fitted.  

Wulfhere spoke more about their trip to Glawmaed and was concerned that Anyon might hear of Connal's decision to swear loyalty to Cerdic. He was keen to get help for Connal as soon as possible. Osberht agreed but he still could not leave Caedering undefended. There were horse soldiers in the area and they were facing hostility from a British Burgh with a large Warband. There was also the uncertainty of Garm and Caelctun. The danger required that a Thane and most of the warriors would have to remain in Caedering to provide defence. In the meantime, Connal and his villagers would need to continue to protect themselves.

They were interrupted in their deliberations by one of the village farmers, Taled, who shouted to Osberht that one of his cows, Clufwyrt escaped. Osberht laughed and said that the Clufwyrt had a habit of escaping and excused himself to help Taled. As Osberht walked towards one of the low buildings three armed men came around the corner. One of them shouted something and threw a spear at Osberht. It caught him in the chest and he was thrown backwards by the impact. The Brothers were surprised by the suddenness of events but nevertheless reacted swiftly. They had no weapons other than seaxs but thought they needed to defend their Lord. They ran forward and stood over the body of Osberht. The three men formed a shield wall but seeing the Brothers were armed only with their long knives they grew overconfident and split apart.

Uthric saw an opening and stepped inside an extended spear to slash the approaching man in the abdomen, opening a deep cut. The man fell over, using both hands to try to keep his guts from falling out. Dunstan similarly stabbed his foe in the stomach, twisting the seax before withdrawing it upwards. The man had been too slow to parry and dropped both spear and shield to try and staunch the flow of blood. Wulfhere dodged a spear thrust and as the man overextended and fell forward he stabbed the seax into his chest.  All three attackers were on the ground.  

Dunstan went to help Osberht and put strips of cloth over his wound to staunch the flow of blood. Osberht was barely conscious and Dunstan feared he might die. Uthric checked the men who were moaning on the ground. The one he had slashed with the seax had died. Dunstan's foe looked like he might live if someone helped him stop the bleeding but Uthric did not feel in the mood to offer. Wulfhere's opponent was in pain and bleeding but still conscious and was asking for mercy. Wulfhere allowed him to stop the bleeding while keeping a careful watch over him. The man named himself as Eorlstan Addison and he seemed genuinely bemused that he had just lost a fight to a man armed with only a seax when he had his full war gear on.

Other people were arriving and they helped take Osberht back to his hall. No-one knew if he would live or die as the wound looked serious and he was pale and unmoving. Some carried the wounded man back the hall and others helped Eorlstan to stand and walk. Eorlstan could be heard telling people that he had been unaware that such great warriors lived in Caedering and if he had known it beforehand, he might have thought twice about coming. Wulfhere had initially thought Eorlstan was trying to save his life by flattery but concluded he was just likely to have over-estimated his own skills.  

Eadgyd was called and both she and Uthric worked on Osberht. Wulfhere and Dunstan stood over their prisoners and asked them why they had tried to kill Osberht. Eorlstan was the only one able to answer, the other man being barely conscious. Eorlstan said that he had already announced the reason for his attack before he had thrown the spear. If Wulfhere had not heard it, he was more than happy to recap for him. Wulfhere denied hearing either a challenge or a reason and said Eorlstan was not telling the truth in the matter, trying to cover up an evil deed by giving it some legitimacy. Eorlstan said he was happy to tell the whole tale but if he could have a drink of water beforehand it might make his speech easier as he always got thirsty after a fight. Wulfhere agreed to his request but he was beginning to seriously dislike this man.

Eorlstan told how Garm had held a feast the previous night and had declared a blood feud against Osberht with a reward of a jewelled arm ring for the person to kill him. Eorlstan had become enamoured by the arm ring which he described as magnificent and the most spectacular arm ring that he had ever seen. He was also keen to get the glory for killing Osberht before anyone else did. He and two friends had waited in some of the outbuildings with the hope that they could strike at Osberht. They thought their luck was good when they saw him talking to three people who were all unarmed. He had shouted as prescribed by law, My Lord Garm declares a blood feud. He claims justice for the wrongs you have done. He threw the javelin and it flew true hitting Osbert in the chest. He did not expect to be a captive afterward and described his position as unfortunate.

Wulfhere was taken aback by Eorlstan's frankness. He wondered that along with a rather overinflated view of his own abilities, he also lacked any sense. He appeared to have no realisation of the current threat to his life. Wulfhere’s thoughts were confirmed when Eorlstan asked that if they had finished asking him stupid questions then he would like to go and claim his reward from Garm. Wulfhere wondered what sort of people lived in Caelctun as they seemed to have no firm grasp of reality. He informed Eorlstan that if Osberht lived he would decide his fate and if he died, then he, Wulfhere, would personally hang him from a tree.  

Eorlstan said he was in a quandary. He desired to live but equally he desired the jewelled arm ring. He had always seen his future as dying in an heroic battle. Last year, he had even paid silver to a Helrýnegu in Cissa Caester to cast runes sticks to discover his wyrd. She had confirmed he would die in battle and he thought that the witch could not have been wrong. Wulfhere said that he might be better asking for his silver back but was unlikely now to get that opportunity. Eorlstan said that he found that unfortunate. Wulfhere checked Eorlstan’s head because he thought he might have a head wound. He found no sign of an injury.

Taethle came to stand beside Wulfhere and told him that Osberht was conscious and wishing to speak to him and his brothers. Taethle took all three into Osberht’s private chamber at the back of the hall. On the way in they passed Eadgyd who shook her head and whispered it was unlikely Osberht would live until the morning. They found him propped up in bed and his breath came in wheezes. He spoke with great effort and they did not stay long not wanting to tire him. He signified that Taethle should command the Village. When asked what they should do with their prisoners he told them to hang them.

Uthric was keen to carry out Osberht's directions immediately but Taethle thought they should discuss matters first. She was of the opinion that Garm's blood feud was not legal. It had been declared the previous night and not at the Ealdorman’s Assembly which would not happen for four more days. If Garm had waited it was unlikely that Coelfrith would have denied him permission for a blood feud, but he had made a mistake. There might be a chance to argue this at Coelfrith’s Assembly in front of his Carls. At the very least they would embarrass Garm and possibly Coelfrith.  

The brothers agreed that it might be a good plan. If they could persuade witnesses to testify and invalidate Garm's claims then they thought that they might have a better chance of success. Dreng was a witness to Garm's plan to kill the Brothers and Eorlstan was a witness to an illegal blood feud. Taethle wondered if both men could be convinced to act as a witness against Garm in exchange for their freedom. Otherwise she said both could hang.

Wulfhere said he thought that might be possible but his only worry was having to tell Hildegard that her thrall had been freed. She was already angry with him and this was only going to make matters worse. Dunstan said that he did not think it would be such a great deal. Wulfhere was so good at telling bad news that he would make it sound that they were doing Hildegard a favour by taking Dreng off her hands. Taethle said that she had no interest in their domestic squabbles. 

Uthric said that all this talk was frivolous and that they should at least hang the near dead one as a warning for Garm and his men. The Brothers were concerned that Dreng and Eorlstan would return to Garm and they might have to fight them again but Taethle said that was unlikely. Neither would return to Garm because they would be in fear for their lives.

Eorlstan was only too happy to be a witness and told Wulfhere that he had faith in the Helrýnegu’s prophecy and could therefore not be downhearted when things seemed to go wrong. Uthric wondered what the Helrýnegu would make of it if he stuck his seax into Eorlstan's throat. However, he thought better of it for the sake of Osberht. Wulfhere was unsure if he could cope with much more of Eorlstan and worried he might have to kill him before the Assembly to get some peace. Dreng said that he would agree to be a witness for least he would be free even though he did not think he would have long to live afterwards if Garm had his way. 

And so, it was agreed that the Brothers and two Carls, Aelfweard and Eadmund would travel to Hamafunta to Ealdorman Coelfrith’s Assembly to bring a Law case against Thane Garm. They would take Deng and Eorlstan as witnesses. Taethle would guard Caedering in their absence and they would all hope Osberht would survive. 

While they were gathering their things to go, Uthric and Wulfhere took the four dead bodies of Garm’s Carls and hung them in the trees close to Caelctun. They hoped they would be found and Garm would see the insult and the threat that they intended.  

Dunstan had been admonishing his mother for feeding Egfryd too many honey cakes. Egfryd had put on weight since arriving with his new mother and Dunstan was concerned that this would have an impact on his training. Hildegard ignored Dunstan and told him that he was not going to tell her what to do, and how to feed her son. Dunstan was both concerned and happy. He was concerned enough to put Egfryd on a strict training regime while he was away and happy that at least Hildegard was talking to him again.


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