A Violent Death and The Bretwaldamoot
There was a silence in Caedering as the villagers waited to see if Osberht would die from his wounds. He was still wracked by a fever and Taethle had sent to Portus Caester for a leæce as she believed that curing Osberht was now beyond Eadgyd’s skills.
Taethle sat with the Brothers in the Thanes Hall. They discussed their current problems. To the west lay a British Warband which they had already estimated to be over 100 warriors. They were in agreement that this force would be difficult to defeat with their current strength of. To the east was Caelctun and Thane Garm. They thought it probable that Garm had around 40 warriors if Coelfrith had already sent the promised reinforcements.
Caedering had Taethle's 36 seasoned warriors and 46 men of the Fyrd who could fight but might not do well against seasoned warriors. All four considered Garm the biggest threat. They would be unable to deal with the Britons if Garm remained active for fear that he would take advantage of the situation if they left few people to defend Caedering. Cerdic had more or less told them to deal with Garm and then sort out the legal and political issues with Aelle afterwards.
Wulfhere thought that Garm's men might not be too interested in fighting for him. Garm had shown himself to be a coward and had not joined in fights with his men, running away and leaving his men to die. Uthric said that it might also be useful to remind his men about the rumours Garm had killed his brother and blamed another Carl.
They agreed that they could not leave Caedering undefended but needed to send a big enough force to look like they were serious about attacking Caelctun and force Garm’s hand. Taethle wanted to keep 20 warriors in Caedering which meant they had 61 to try and intimidate Caelctun. Wulfhere hoped they would not have to fight. He was keen to solve the problem of Garm but not create long-term enemies of the people of Caelctun by killing the warriors unnecessarily. They thought that there was no use in delaying things and gathered the warriors to allow Taethle to tell them what was expected. She told them they needed to look intimidating and as be ready to fight if required. She hoped that it would not come to fighting as they needed every man to deal with the Britons.
The warriors led by the Brothers arrayed themselves in a Shield wall outside Caelctun and waited for a reaction. Garm’s men did not respond but continued to watch from the fighting platform. The gates remained firmly shut. Wulfhere set fire to a barn and watched it spread to another dwelling outside the walls. Dunstan and Uthric discussed setting a fire in the forest in the hope that it would provoke a response. However, they decided against it as they worried they might not be able to control any resulting blaze and it might be more dangerous to them than Caelctun.
Eventually a man came out of the gate holding his shield upside down. Taethle and the Brothers went to meet him and he introduced himself as Modig, a Carl of Caelctun. He asked why they had come armed as for war, why they had burned buildings and were threatening the peace of Caelctun. Wulfhere replied that their mission was peaceful as far as the people of Caelctun were concerned. But it was his opinion that neither Caelctun nor Caedering would have peace if Garm was allowed to continue to prosper. He said that Garm had needlessly provoked an illegal fight with Thane Osberht, gave him a wound that was likely to bring about his death and then tried to kill both him and his brothers on several occasions. Unfortunately for Garm, both Osberht and the Hrothgarsons had proved harder to kill than Garm had imagined and that was why he was now standing before the gates of Caelctun armed and ready for war. But his war was only with Thane Garm and Wulfhere said he would be grateful if Modig would ask the Thane to come and fight him now.
Wulfhere said that Modig should consider how badly Garm led his men and on several occasions had left them to fight while he saved his own life. It therefore seemed to him that Garm was only good at two things. Firstly, he seemed good at allowing his own men to be killed and secondly, he appeared to be good at running away.
Uthric told Modig that amongst other things he considered himself an expert in running and that up to this point he had met very few men that could outrun him. He said he had been amazed that Garm had been able to outdistance him so easily and wondered if this was a skill that Garm frequently practised.
Wulfhere asked Modig why Garm, as a Thane, was not conducting his own negotiations. Modig had not responded to the accusations and Dunstan thought that he might be seeing the truth in Wulfhere’s words. Modig said that Garm was in his Hall with his Huscarls and he said he would only be too happy to tell him the Hrothgarsons had come to discuss resolving their current conflict.
Modig left and the gate closed again. Both sets of warriors watched each other and Dunstan felt the tension rise but nothing of importance happened. Just after midday Modig came out of the gate again. He said that Garm had not been seen since going into his Hall and had not given any instructions when he banged on the Hall door. The men had decided that they were no longer willing to fight for Garm. There had been, he said, a few dissenting voices but they had been won over by argument or else they were no longer in a position to help Garm.
The Brothers waved their followers forward and entered through the gates behind Modig. Two men lay dead near the gate. The rest of Garm’s men watched sullenly as the Brothers ran to the Thane's Hall.
The Hall was barred or locked from the inside and Taethle called for Halig who had a Great Axe. Halig was known for his strength and made short work of the door and the warriors went into the Hall. There was no one visible in the main hall and they thought Garm may be hiding in his private chambers at the back. When they tried to open the door, it was again barred but Halig broke through it with one stroke of his axe. Dunstan belatedly wondered if there was a rear door in the Hall and sent three men racing around the back to prevent or delay any escape.
They searched the two bedchambers. In the first was a woman and two young children who they ignored. In the second, the room was empty but they discovered that a hole had been cut through the wall. Torht’s head suddenly appeared through the hole from the outside. He was one of the Caedering farmers and reported that they had found the hole in the back of the hall and had decided they should investigate it. They had so far not located Garm. Uthric advised Torht that in future he should consider where he put his head because he had only just stopped himself from putting a spear in his eye. Torht said that he considered himself lucky because he had seen what Uthric could do with a spear.
Dunstan asked the woman where Garm had gone and she replied that she did not care. Dunstan found this reply strange but continued to press her for an answer. She eventually told him she believed Garm and six Huscarls had cut their way out of the Hall but she was unaware where they had gone.
Taethle ordered a search of the village and Odel, one of the Carls, found a rope going down the cliff face. Taethle and the Brothers thought Garm would be trying to get to Coelfrith in Hamafunta and they agreed the Brothers would follow Garm while Taethle and 20 warriors would go south on the forest path to Hamafunta. They hoped to trap Garm between them and kill him before he reached safety with Coelfrith.
Uthric, Dunstan and Wulfhere went down the rope. They took along another 10 warriors. Uthric found tracks heading north which surprised them but they suspected that Garm was very familiar with the woods and knew some quicker route to Hamafunta. They estimated that Garm had a good head start but all thought they would still catch him, despite his expertise in running. The tracks continued to go north and after a time they came into a glade. They found Garm lying against a tree trunk bleeding from a wound in his side.
He was still alive and attempting to grasp the sword that just lay just beyond his reach. Uthric kicked the sword out of the way and all three brothers regarded him. They thought it was likely Garm would die if they left him but equally he might live if they gave him aid. Garm opened his eyes and asked for his sword to hold before he died. Dunstan laughed and Uthric was unmoved. He bent down and looked into Garm’s face and told him he was not worthy to go to Neorxanwang. His place of death would be in Hellewíte with the other damned souls.
Uthric worked himself into a rage that Garm could even consider that he should go to Neorxanwang after all his treachery and was determined to make sure he died dishonourably. He attached a rope to Garm and hung him from an ash tree. They all watched in silence until Garm died leaving the body for the crows and wild animals.
They sent a runner to Taethle to tell her the news and get her to return to Caelctun. They were worried that if Garm did not come as expected she might go nearer to Hamafunta and come into conflict with Coelfrith’s men. They returned to Caelctun and Uthric announced what had happened as proscribed by the Law and that he had killed Garm. The Caelctun warriors were unhappy and asked Wulfhere what would happen now. Wulfhere said that he would discuss it with Taethle when she returned but that he was certain that they would be left in peace now that Garm was dead.
The woman they had found in the bedchamber was Garm's wife, Aethelind. She and her children were unaware of what had happened and were waiting in the Thane’s Hall for news. She was obviously a woman of high birth and she held herself well while she waited only responding to and comforting her children. Wulfhere agreed that he would tell her of Garm's death and all three Brothers went to the Hall. Wulfhere started to tell Aethelind gently but Dunstan grew impatient and told her she was now a widow. For the first time Aethelind looked scared and asked what they intended to do with her children. She said that she was worried that they might take revenge on the children because of Garm’s injuries to Osberht. Wulfhere said that none of the Brothers made war on children and she too would be free to go wherever she wished. She thanked him and said that she would consider the matter and inform him of her decision later.
When Taethle returned they appointed Modig as temporary leader in Caelctun until Coelfrith appointed a new Thane. With that all the warriors returned to Caedering. Aethelind came with them. She said that she did not want to spend another day in Caelctun if at all necessary.
They agreed that they should hold a feast to celebrate the end of the conflict and decided to also ask the Caelctun warriors to join the feast. They were keen to make amends with the warriors so there would be peace between Caelctun and Caedering and they sent a runner to Modig. Modig was a pragmatic man and saw sense in the proposal and agreed that he would come with as many warriors as wanted to go.
The Brothers thought that they should declare Garm’s death to Coelfrith as he was Garm’s Ealdorman but Taethle thought they should seek Cerdic's counsel first. She did not feel that Coelfrith would take Garm's death lightly and that such a venture might be dangerous.
And so, two days after the feast they stood before Cerdic at Portus Cæster and explained their actions. Cerdic counselled against seeing Coelfrith, who he said would have them murdered without compunction. He said that men like Coelfrith were small-minded and petty. His advice was to present the case to Aelle at the Kings Assembly at the next full moon. Cerdic said he would support them in whatever way he could but could not acknowledge that they were acting on his advice.
The Brothers were unhappy when they returned to Caedering They complained to Taethle that Cerdic had asked them to go to Aelle's Assembly at the next moon to present their case and ask for forgiveness. It was their opinion that the death of Garm was necessary for the safety of both Caedering and Glawmaed and they had acted in a way that preserved lives and kept the peace in all three villages.
Taethle sympathised with them but acknowledged the Law must be followed. Aelle would listen and make judgement which was the only way to proceed to end the bloodletting. Besides she had another task for them if they were going to Anderida. They could escort Aethelind and her children as she had expressed a wish to return to her father's home in Aelle's capital. Dunstan worried that they might spend their lives apologising to Lords for things that weren’t their fault and he wondered that they might get a reputation for it.
The Brothers spent the next half a moon preparing for the journey. Osberht was slowly recovering and while still weak he could now sit up and eat by himself. Wulfhere spoke with Taethle and Osberht discussing how he should argue the case in front of Aelle. They were of the opinion that the major difficulty was that no-one knew the King other than by reputation so were unsure how to proceed.
Dunstan spoke with Aethelind on the journey to Anderida. The brothers had thought that Aethelind would have been angry with them for the death of Garm. However, she seemed almost relieved to be free of him. Dunstan discussed her life with Garm and Wulfhere decided that her insights might be useful in the upcoming case. They had a week of travel and Wulfhere used it well to glean useful information.
When they arrived in Anderida they took Aethelind to her father, Aelfnoth’s house. Aelfnoth was one of Aelle's counsellors and an Ealdorman. He was grateful that the Brothers had brought his daughter home. He had told them he had never liked Garm and had only agreed to the marriage because Coelfrith had recommended it. Coelfrith said that Garm would be playing a prominent part in the Saxon expansion into British lands. He offered the Brothers rooms to stay while in Anderida because he was aware that accommodation was scarce. It would also be a way to thank them for their kindness to his daughter. Dunstan was only too happy to accept as he did not have to pay for any accommodation.
Anderida is a fortress built by the old people. It was said that it was originally built to prevent Saxon raids but no-one knew for sure. It had an excellent harbour and the air was good despite being surrounded by marshes. The Brothers were amazed by the market. There were traders from all the Saxon kingdoms of Briton and others from Frankonia, Friesland, Jutland with any type of goods available. Both Uthric and Wulfhere bought gifts for Meire and Bronwyn.
Wulfhere and Uthric asked Dunstan if he did not have a good opinion of Aethelind because both felt it might be a good match and Aelfnoth seemed well disposed to the Brothers. She was not only beautiful and rich but she was intelligent and had a good temperament. She never once complained about the journey from Caedering to Anderida. Dunstan said that while he found her attractive and interesting company, he was waiting for someone special. The Brothers laughed and said that he might be too fussy and that he could do much worse than Aethelind.
During the week of the Assembly, Aelle held lavish feasts. The Brothers thought about attending but did not want to let Coelfrith know they were in Anderida. They remembered Cerdic's words that he was likely to be the real enemy whereas Garm was only the outward face of the conflict. They had already annoyed Coelfrith once at his own Assembly last moon and they knew that no matter what the outcome of the Kings Assembly he was likely to be even more annoyed. The food at Aelfnoth's house was both rich and good and went some way to make up for missing the King’s feasts. They also had an opportunity to explore the town to their great amusement.
Aelle's Hall was massive. The Hall was a new construction and unlike many other of the Saxon Lords who lived in British cities, it was built in the traditional Saxon way. Aelle was reputed to be the richest of the Saxon kings and the decoration of the Hall showed it.
On the second day of the Assembly after the midday meal, Coelfrith stood up and announced his Lawsuit against Osberht and Caedering. He demanded Osberht’s death and the destruction of Caedering for the death of Thane Garm. Aelle called for Osberht to come forward and defend himself but Cerdic rose and said that Osberht was currently indisposed. Thane Garm had presented him with a spear in his chest and he was too ill to travel. Aelle asked Cerdic if he was defending the case but Cerdic advised that while he was aware there was a dispute between the Thanes he had not been aware of the escalation of violence and death. He said he had therefore no knowledge of events but would of course take responsibility for his Thane's and Carls' actions, as he was their Ealdorman.
Aelle said that he was disappointed and had hoped for an interesting story and a good argument. Cerdic said that he might not remain disappointed as he understood the Hrothgarsons were at the Assembly to provide both legal argument and tell an interesting tale. Aelle said he disliked being disappointed and others had often noted that people suffered if he was dissatisfied with things. He sat down to listen and called for his horn of ale to be refilled. He said he would be interested to find out why these events occurred.
In his haste to present the case, Coelfrith made two serious errors. His first mistake was to forget to refer to Aelle as Bretwalda, a point which was duly noted by Wulfhere. Secondly, he attempted to paint Osberht as a deranged and maddened man who inexplicably decided to launch an attack on Thane Garm, his neighbour. Most people in the Hall found this incredulous. They knew Osberht as a calm and placid man who only ever got excited about breeding cows and sheep. Coelfrith spoke of Garm as an ideal of a Saxon lord, loyal and trustworthy, fierce in battle and a leader who led his men from the front. He had been set upon by the miscreant Osberht and hounded to death by his equally deranged Carls. He asked that not only should Osberht suffer death but the Hrothgarsons should also be killed because they had caused the death of Garm.
Wulfhere stood up to respond to Coelfrith’s accusations. He told of the Feast in Caedering where Garm had provoked Osberht. He spoke of the men who were sent to kill the Hrothgarsons to prevent them from reporting on the strength and location of the British forces who had been raiding Saxon steadings. He insinuated that Garm may have had an understanding with the Britons. He told of the illegal declaration of a Blood feud and the ambush in which Osberht had got a spear in his chest. He then told how they had tried to calm the situation by attending Coelfrith’s Assembly which despite making good arguments and asking for a settlement, Coelfrith had ignored. He spoke of the treacherous attack by Garm’s Carls as they went home.
He painted a picture of Caedering faced by two hostile forces, the Britons in the west and Garm in the east. Both he said had been intent on the destruction of Caedering. He asked the Assembly if they too would not want to defend both their Lord and their family. He said that all had agreed that their actions had been just and proportionate.
He pointed out that although Caedering had sent a force to attack Caelctun, they had had no intention of fighting the Carls or the Fyrd. Their dispute had been solely with Garm. They had discussed it with his warriors before the walls of Caelctun and the Carls had agreed that Garm was not the sort of Thane that anyone would willingly follow and to prove it they had opened the gates of Caelctun and had stood aside.
The Brothers had then sought out Garm but he had again run away with some of his Huscarls leaving his warriors leaderless and at the mercy of a potentially hostile force. He had even left his wife and children behind. They had tracked him into the woods and found him with a knife wound in his belly, presumably caused by his own Huscarls who had abandoned him.
Wulfhere said that they had been overcome by youthful exuberance and they had acted without thinking. He said he was aware that this was a shortcoming in the Brothers character and they were working hard to rectify their impetuous behaviours.
When Wulfhere finished, the people in the Assembly said he had spoken well. Aelle seemed pleased with the tale but asked if there were any witnesses to either argument. Neither Wulfhere nor Coelfrith had any witnesses which rather disappointed the Assembly as everyone had been enjoying the tale. However, Aelfnoth stood and addressing Aelle told that his daughter, Garm’s widow, could be called as a witness. She had confirmed Wulfhere's version of events and was ashamed that she had been married to such a man. Aelle thanked Aelfnoth for his opinion and said he did not think it necessary for his daughter to attend.
Aelle then made his judgment. Aelle is unique in the Saxon lands. It would be normal for the Thanes, Carls and Ealdormen to vote on legal matters by clashing their swords or spears on shields to signal approval to cases. Thus, judgement is given by the people. Aelle, however, would always give his judgement and then expected the Assembly to ratify it. He said that this was because he was the Bretwalda and not a mere king. And of course, the Assembly always ratified his judgment.
Aelle admonished Coelfrith. He said that Garm was the instigator of his own downfall. He not only provoked Osberht, he illegally tried to have him killed, a fact Coelfrith ignored in his own Assembly. Garm was a coward and refused to lead his own men, allowing them to die. He fled rather than face combat with a champion of Caedering, leaving his wife and children behind. He therefore deserved a dishonourable death. If Garm had been at this Assembly, Aelle said he would have had him hung without delay.
Aelle said that his judgement would be the following. As punishment the village of Caelctun would become part of the Thane of Caedering’s lands and Osberht, if he lived, would now become a Kingsthane. Coelfrith was forbidden to act against Caedering or Osberht or the Hrothgarsons. With that he sat down and called for more ale.
Aelle later spoke to the Brothers privately and thanked them for their actions. As befits a Bretwalda he gave them each a costly arm ring and a sword.
Cerdic also rewarded the Brothers by giving arm rings. He was pleased that now he was in a position to expand northwards. He told the Hrothgarsons to return to Caedering and prepare for war against the Britons.