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Se ǣrende æt Kernow


Nozbat

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Embassy to Kernow
 

Wulfhere knew Glawmaed was in trouble. Although the harvest had been gathered it had been destroyed in the war and many of the livestock had been killed. He had been put in charge of Glawmaed until Cerdic made a decision about who should be Thane. It was therefore Wulfhere's responsibility to find enough food for the villagers and the extra warriors, who were now guarding the village.

The destruction in Glawmaed, Caedering and Caelctun meant that usually self-sufficient villages that had produced surplus for trade had nothing to spare. Wulfhere sent messages to Stuf at Portus Caester and he obliged by sending five oxcarts of supplies north. Wulfhere was concerned that Coelfrith might still want to cause trouble for Caedering. Osberht's defection had set up a chain of events in which Coelfrith had lost considerable standing and honour. He had been humiliated by Aelle and Wulfhere wondered if he would react by targeting Caedering. Wulfhere decided that he was probably over-interpreting things and he hoped there would be peace for some years.

Uthric asked Modrig the names of the Huscarls that had left Garm to die. He memorised them for the future as he thought they might seek revenge. He also asked about Beorthric and Wilfrith and if Modrig had any knowledge of them. He was disappointed to learn Modrig had no knowledge of either man. Dunstan, Wulfhere and Lucnot began to rebuild the houses. Dunstan spent his spare time training his brother Egfryd. He was still concerned that Hildegard was giving Egfryd too many honey-cakes.

The situation with their mother had not got any better but equally it had not got worse. Dunstan was more critical of her than either Wulfhere or Uthric. He felt she was not honouring their father’s memory. He remarked that it was time she remembered that she was a grandmother and had responsibilities rather than her continual sulking just because he intended to kill her husband.

Ealdorman Cerdic knew that his Yule celebrations would be critical for the coming year. This was the fifth year of Aelle's reign as Bretwalda and Cerdic had it in mind that he would be challenging Aelle for the title soon. The battles at Caelctun, Caedering, Glawmaed and Llys had changed the political landscape. Coelfrith's loss of Caedering and Caelctun had side-lined him as a force in the west and Cerdic was keen to take the land west of the Moen and north to the Tamyse  for himself. It was rumoured that Coelfrith had been struck down by the plague and they hoped to hear news of his death soon.

Cerdic's men had been to Friesland, Jutland and Saxony spreading news that there was more than enough land in Briton for any warriors who were strong enough to take it. He hoped that he would see the fruits of his message in spring when the weather allowed the boats to sail again. He was concerned about Octa. King Octa was the exiled king of Ceint and he was the one remaining son of Hengist. Octa was also a bad-tempered drunkard and his men were outlaws, murderers and traitors who he recruited in the hope of regaining his throne in Ceint. Cerdic knew that although he had an alliance with Octa that he would soon need to deal with him. Octa was in perpetual war with Aelle and his bloodthirsty warriors spent their time raiding Ceint or in piracy of Ceintish ships. Octa was also rumoured to have made an alliance with the Dumnonians. Cerdic knew that this would need to change but he was content to leave it for the moment. Octa kept Aelle occupied and stopped him expanding his realm along the Tamyse valley and into Mierce. The Leæces in Halig's isle had read the runes and told Cerdic he would be a king soon.

Cerdic sat and watched his Thanes, Huscarls and Carls celebrate Yule at his Hall in Portus Caester. He sat at the top benches with his son, Cynic, nephew Stuf and a Thane, Frodda who had come from Froddington.

The Yule feast was going well when suddenly it was interrupted by Stuf and Cynic who began attacking a man with their swords. Dunstan remarked that he must have stolen someone's Yule sausage and had really upset them. It turned out that the man had used a bucket of water to extinguish the Yule log. This was considered a very bad omen and try as he might to pass it off, Cerdic was worried. Rumours circulated that the man was one of Octa's Carls. Some even said he was Aelle's man. Cerdic called for the best Yule Ale to be served and a skald told the story of Cerdic's victories and the taking of Portus Caester. But the mood in the Hall was dampened and, on the benches, men wondered what bad luck was coming.

On the third night of the Feast, the Brothers were invited to tell the tale of the Battles in the North. Dunstan spoke well and held the attention of the audience while he told of the treachery of Garm and his ignominious death. He spoke of the humbling of Coelfrith at Aelle's Moot and the battle at Caedering and how even the women and children of Caedering fooled the Britons by pretending to be warriors. Cerdic gave Dunstan, Uthric and Wulfhere arm rings and new clothes. Men said that it was well with the Hrothgarsons and their reputation was growing and they were going to be like their father.

Cerdic asked the Brothers to come and see him privately. He praised their exploits and enquired if they could speak British as well as he had been told. He acknowledged this was a useful skill which would make them ideal for a delicate task. He told them of his plans to invade Dumnonia and capture land as far as the Itchen. He knew this would be a momentous task for the Dumnonians were fierce warriors and moreover they often fought from horseback. Cerdic thought that causing a distraction might help his cause and wanted to see if he could gain some allies for his cause.

He told of a strong Kingdom beyond Dumnonia called Kernow, ruled by a king called Mark. He wanted to see if it was possible to forge an alliance with this Mark and get him to attack Dumnonia when Cerdic did. The Dumnonians would either have to split their army or leave one of the enemy armies to rampage through their lands.

He wanted the Brothers to go on a diplomatic mission that would require both tact and delicacy. Mark was known to be a drunken king who preferred to spend his time playing with his many woman. But the warriors of Kernow were fierce and Mark may be tempted to take land and wealth from his rival, the Dumnonian King. It was well known that he hated this man, The Bear, but for what reason Cerdic had not been able to discover.

Wulfhere thought that this task was not beyond their skills but he was concerned if they had to walk through Dumnonia that they would likely attract some attention and that attention would not always be friendly. Cerdic agreed that walking to Kernow was possibly not the best idea so he had engaged one of his trusted Frisian traders to take them there in a boat. Uthric said that he would be willing to go just for the experience of being in a boat although he had heard it could be dangerous. Dunstan said that he had become used to travelling and sometimes he found it hard not to be on the road.

Cerdic was pleased with their response and said that the boat would be ready to leave a moon after Hretha's feast. He had been told that the storms were less by then and that it could even be a pleasant voyage. They were to take ten Carls with them in case of trouble and he also had gifts for Mark that might help sway the argument. He said that it was likely Mark would want silver and perhaps land that but he thought it well worth the effort if he gained an advantage in the coming war.

After Yule the Brothers took their leave of Cerdic and promised to return a moon after the Feast of Cakes. They spent the intervening time arranging the defence of Glawmaed with Lucnot and Taethle. They also discussed the crops needed for the following year and what animals they should concentrate on breeding. Uthric and Wulfhere said goodbye to Meire and Bronwyn. Both women told them they were pregnant and hoped they would return for the birth. Wulfhere said they expected to be home long before harvest. Hildegard told both woman that from her own experience, her sons' timekeeping was not their strong point.

Cerdic reminded them that they might be provoked while in Kernow and they were to do nothing to endanger a potential alliance. They went aboard the trading ship that was to take them to Caer Dore. Cerdic had also installed two young woman from minor noble families who thought that being Concubines to a rich king would improve their prospects. Cwen and Daira were both blonde and beautiful but understandably nervous now that they were about to leave their familiar surroundings for the unknown. The Ships Master was Durwin, an experienced sailor who looked at his human cargo of the Brothers and the ten Carls with some amusement. He was heard telling his sailors to lay bets who would be seasick first.
A sailor called Wyre won 5 silver for predicting Dunstan would be the first to spend time leaning over the gunwale. It took five days to get to Caer Dore. None of the passengers were able to enjoy the passage and they were too ill to watch the coast of Dumnonia or the majestic cliffs of Kernow that protected the bleak Moors where the men of Kernow mined and smelted tin.

The port of Caer Dore was a filthy, smelly village. The people were small and squat and seemed impoverished. They stood back and stared at the tall Carls with their bright cloaks and sharp spears. Durwin spoke with the Harbour master and agreed the price for the berth. He asked Wulfhere how many days he should pay for but Wulfhere had no answer. He was unsure of the task that lay ahead and could only advise that it might be several days. He agreed that two warriors should stay with the ship to help the sailors protect it. Durwin was concerned that there was no treaty about shipping between Cerdic and Kernow and he was keen to protect his ship and income. Wulfhere promised that he would send a message as soon as he could about the state of negotiations and possible time to return home.

Caer Dore lies inland from its port. The track was muddy and full of ruts. After half a mornings March they approached King Mark's royal seat. Caer Dore is a vast sprawl of haphazard buildings, on the outskirts most of the buildings are shacks with narrow muddy paths leading to a central hill on which stood a large hall. The concentration of dwellings, byres, barns and corrals increased as they approached the centre. The people they passed were sullen and Uthric frequently heard the word 'Sais', the British word for Saxons. It was hard to estimate how many people lived in this town. Dunstan thought it might be more than a 1000 but probably less than 2000. It was certainly the biggest place they had ever seen but it seemed that every other person was a beggar, holding their hands out to the strangers. Most of the people looked poor and more ragged than their own lands. There were some warriors who watched them with open hostility.

The Brothers were shown into Mark’s Hall. The Hall stank of discarded food and vomit. It looked as if the remnants of a feast had not been cleared away and hungover warriors snored on the benches set against the walls. Mark's steward Bannon greeted them and asked them if their journey had been good. Wulfhere responded politely and wondered if they might meet with King Mark. Bannon said unfortunately King Mark was indisposed after last night’s carousing, but he would have a feast to welcome the Sais to Kernow. Bannon offered the travellers food and watered ale. Dunstan found the pastry dumplings filled with meat and vegetables not very appetizing and wondered if Bannon could provide something different and perhaps some stronger alcohol. Bannon ignored Dunstan's request and advised them that there would be a feast tonight and Dunstan could have all manner of interesting foods but perhaps he suggested they needed to retire before then to rest after their arduous journey.

Bannon showed them to a hut which would be their living quarters while in Kernow. He apologised that it had not been cleaned and there had been no fresh straw for the bedding nor any fresh reeds for the floor. He assigned them a serving woman who he said would see to their needs. Wulfhere thought he had never met a more surly woman in his life. She made his mother’s recent bad tempers seem like joyous song. She seemed to interpret every reasonable request as a personal insult.

Daira and Cwen looked scared about what they had seen so far. It did not fill them with confidence that their lives would be improved. They asked Wulfhere to send them back to the ship. Wulfhere acknowledged that so far, their expectations had not been met but he was sure that after they were introduced to King Mark their opinions would change and they would see things differently. They should see their situation as the start of a new life and they would have many opportunities for advancement. It was a good speech but everyone's spirits were so low that it convinced no-one that things could improve. The woman went off to try to bathe and prepare themselves. They could be heard crying in the back of the room.

The Brothers and the eight Carls discussed their situation. They agreed they were in a hostile town and there was danger everywhere. Wulfhere reminded them of Cerdic's instructions. They must do nothing to provoke their hosts and ruin the chance of an alliance. Wulfhere told the Carls that it would be best that they did not come to the feast. He did not think that any of the Brothers would be directly provoked but he worried that the Carls might not have the same level of hospitality.

He reminded the Brothers that they should not drink more than was necessary and they should keep their wits about them. Uthric said that he was of the opinion that the only way to endure this country would be to pass out from drink and wake up again on the boat home. Dunstan agreed in principle with Uthric but said that it might be too long a time to remain drunk.

They were introduced to various local dignitaries at the feast. Tristan, the King’s son, was civil and courteous but was very clear at declaring his support for Dumnonia and against the Sais. He said his father might have other ideas but he and his men would not fight against their friends, The Dumnonians. Mark's champion was Aud, a huge tattooed man. He had blue swirls over most of his body and wore warrior rings on each finger and in his beard which clinked when he moved. He did not speak much but drank huge quantities of ale. Wella was Mark's Leæch. He was an old man whose thinning white hair had been shaved at the front in the manner of the British. He performed a brief ceremony where he killed a hare and sprinkled the blood over the gathered warriors. Wulfhere touched his Thunor's hammer in the hope that whatever spell Wella had cast would be averted. They were introduced to Diarmuid, an lrish King. He was known as Bloody Shield but none of the Brothers wanted to hear why. Two other chieftains were present at the top bench called Rhan and Dubv. Both spent the night cramming food and drink into their mouths while sharing unsavoury jokes with Diarmuid. Wulfhere noticed that despite seeming to match Rhan and Dubv, Diarmuid actually drank very little. There was no sign of Mark. His throne remained empty while the feast went on. Dunstan was disappointed that the main food was more of the inedible pastries or dumplings. He eventually settled on some vegetable and pork broth.

Diarmuid, the Irish King spoke with Wulfhere. Only he and Tristan were not drinking heavily. Dunstan asked him where Ireland was and Diarmuid told him that it was two days march directly north. Diarmuid was an interesting man but they felt that it would be difficult to trust him.

Eventually Mark arrived. He was supported by several guards as he appeared unsteady on his feet. He was fat and bloated and covered like Aud in swirling blue tattoos over his face and arms. As he came closer they could smell that he had already been drinking. Wulfhere stood as was customary and getting Uthric to translate, introduced himself as an embassy from Cerdic. Mark waved a hand in acknowledgement as he almost fell off his throne. He mumbled something to Bannon who asked Wulfhere if he had any gifts for King Mark.

Wulfhere thanked the king for his hospitality and said that indeed Cerdic had sent him two gifts which he had hoped would please him. He sent Dunstan to bring Cwen and Daira to the hall. They had spent the afternoon getting ready and when they arrived the warriors went silent as the two women made their way to the front of the hall. On their arrival Mark sat up and for the first time since coming to the Hall, looked interested. He again spoke to Bannon. Bannon in turn signalled for the two spearmen on either side of Mark to move forward. They ripped the Women’s dresses off and turned them around for Mark to see. Each woman screamed and shouted but the guards threatened to hit them and they quietened. Uthric had to stop Dunstan from objecting to the treatment of the women. Mark clapped his hands and through Bannon he thanked them for his presents which he said he would enjoy. Uthric noticed that Tristan averted his eyes and made a sign, touching his forehead and breast. Uthric assumed it was a sign against evil peculiar to Kernow

The court skald, Yspaddon sang a triumphant song which Uthric translated for Wulfhere and Dunstan. Dunstan was still angry after witnessing the humiliation of Daira and Cwen. Fortunately, most people were too drunk to notice except for King Diarmuid who made some jokes at Dunstan's expense. After Yspaddon had finished a prisoner was brought in. Uthric was told by Rhan that he was a Chieftain who had rebelled against Mark and had been captured after his spearman had been slaughtered.

The man was naked and his body was covered in bruises and wounds. Aud, the Kings Champion, drew his sword and began slowly cutting the Chieftain. Mark became very animated and leaned forward in his chair while his champion showed his skill with the sword by cutting the man but each cut was designed not to kill him but to cause pain. The Brothers were hardened warriors but this sickened them all. Prince Tristan stayed for the man's death but left soon afterwards.

Wulfhere, through Uthric, attempted to engage King Mark but the King was barely coherent. Bannon said that this Feast was a celebration of their arrival and not the time to discuss policy. They should drink, eat and enjoy themselves. He said that Mark would talk to him tomorrow and he should show patience as befitted an emissary.

Queen Iseult was brought into the Hall. There was silence as she approached the Kings dais. Dunstan, in particular, thought he had never seen such a beautiful woman. She was dark haired and fragile looking but equally had an inner strength and grace that he found it hard to look away. Diarmuid advised Dunstan to close his mouth and think of other things. Mark was an extremely jealous man and did not like other men looking at his Queen despite treating her badly and publicly humiliating her. As if to prove his point, Mark began shouting at her and attempted to get up. He grabbed a spear from his Guard and threw it at her. Fortunately, he was so incapacitated from drink that she easily avoided the throw. Diarmuid explained that Iseult’s beauty came from the Danu, an Irish goddess that was reputed to be her ancestor. Dunstan thought a two-day march north to Ireland might be worthwhile if Ireland had other women who looked like this.

The Queen poured each of the guests some wine and gave a greeting and compliment to all. She then left. A short time later the king collapsed and was carried out by servants. The Brothers agreed that it was time to leave the feast now that the king had retired. They had become increasingly uneasy about being in such a strange place.

It had begun to rain when they had left the feast and the paths back to their lodging were muddy and slippery. They also discovered that the roof of their house leaked and there was a large pool of water in the middle of the floor. Wulfhere thought that it would be an even more uncomfortable night as it was going to be difficult to find somewhere dry to sleep. They discussed their situation. All were appalled by the nights events and were beginning to wonder what they could achieve in Kernow. Wulfhere said that they needed to be careful and constantly on their guard. Mark was the kind of King that once offended, stays offended, even if he doesn't remember why.

The next morning after a very uncomfortable night they made their way to Mark's Hall. Warriors were still asleep where they had collapsed. Prince Tristan was at the High Table on the dais and he waved for them to join him. He asked them if they had slept well and when Dunstan said that they had spent a rather uncomfortable night with a leaking roof and there was now a lake in the middle of the floor and in the fire pit that he had been able to wash in. Tristan said he was embarrassed by the poor hospitality and called Bannon to get new accommodation immediately. Bannon said that he would see to it right away.

Tristan ordered food, the Brothers opted for a course ground porridge rather than meat dumplings, judging that losing a tooth to a piece of unseen stone from the grinding mill was a better risk than the pastries. Wulfhere enquired if they could meet King Mark today. He said that he was keen to return to Portus Caester because Cerdic would want to know King Mark's views as soon as possible. Tristan apologised and said he suspected his father might not be available until that night as he often slept all day after a feast. Wulfhere said he was disappointed but could wait until tonight if the king was indisposed. Tristan offered to take them hunting. Rhan, Dhuv and Diarmuid were all going Boar hunting and he said he would be delighted if they would accompany them. The Brothers reluctantly agreed.

They saw Cwen and Daira in the hall and managed to talk to them. Both women were distressed and asked the Brothers to take them home with them. Wulfhere said that this was unlikely to happen. While it was not how they had hoped things would turn out, unfortunately they were part of a treaty settlement and that could not be undone without causing offence to Mark. Both women reminded him that they had come of their own choice and now chose to return. Wulfhere was conflicted but without Marks agreement he said he could do nothing.

The Beaters sounded a horn to signify that prey had been found and that it was heading their way. Uthric had reminded them of the risks they were taking going boar hunting and that it might suit Tristan if they all died. He was very much against any alliance with the Saxon lords and this might be a simple and convenient way of solving his problem. Uthric said that in his opinion it would be a good solution for it was known that people died all the time in boar hunts.

Tristan said that the honour of killing the boar would go to the person who saw it first. They agreed that this person would have first strike and the others would only join in if there was a risk to his life or the boar became too stubborn about dying. Diarmuid laughed and said that in his experience boars never wanted to give up their lives and indeed quite often managed to kill or severely injure the hunter even after they had taken enough hurt to have killed a normal beast. He for one was relishing the prospect of a life and death struggle with the boar and he hoped he would be first to see it. Besides he said to Wulfhere, he was sick of meat in pastry and would look forward to roast boar tonight.

They made their way through dense undergrowth and listening intently they could hear the boars breathing. Dunstan spotted it first as it lay in a tangle of briars. It was an immense beast and had scars on its back from other fights with hunters. Wulfhere when he heard about the scars thought it did not bode well and observed that this boar probably had some tricks it used to escape from being speared. He urged that Dunstan to be careful. 
Dunstan moved forward while the others readied their spears. He poked his own spear into the undergrowth hoping to irritate the boar into a charge as he did not like the idea of trying to cut this way through the dense vegetation while guarding himself against the boar's attack. He heard a grunt and just had time to brace the spear as the boar charged head down. Dunstan's spear hit the boars' shoulder but it seemed to ignore the wound. The speed and mass of the creature was immense and it smashed into Dunstan's shield splitting it in two and colliding with his abdomen. Dunstan thought he might have some severe bruising if he managed to survive the next few heartbeats.  

His spear was still stuck in the boar’s shoulder and he tried to work the spear point deeper into its flesh and hit something vital. Under the boar’s weight, the spear snapped and Dunstan fell with the boar on top of him. The boar lowered its head to disembowel him but fortunately  Dunstan managed to pull up his legs and force the boar’s tasks away from his chest and stomach. The tusks raked his leg leaving an impressive scar that he would carry until his death day. Dunstan was in real danger and Uthric, Wulfhere, Tristan and Diarmuid all plunged their spears into the boar, trying to push it off Dunstan. Dunstan tried to reach for his seax but it was pinned under him with the weight of the boar on top. The boar again tried to use his tusks to disembowel Dunstan but fortunately he got his legs in the way again and the boar raked his other leg. Dunstan punched the boar. The damage from his friends eventually told and the boar expired and in doing so released a stream of urine over Dunstan.

Uthric, Wulfhere, Tristan and Diarmuid pushed the dead boar off of Dunstan. He looked a mess. Both legs suffered deep cuts and it was impossible to tell if the blood was his or the boars. Uthric closed and bound the wounds and Dunstan gingerly tested his legs. He was able to walk but was in pain. Tristan apologised for putting his life in danger. Diarmuid said that this story would keep Feasts amused for many days. Dunstan said that in his opinion that was easily the fiercest opponent he had ever fought. He had thought that Wulfhere would have to tell his mother he had met his death in Kernow. The beaters gralloched the boar and took the carcass back for that night’s feast.

Tristan said that his step-mother was good at healing and she would attend to Dunstan when they got back. Diarmuid asked Tristan how many step-mothers he has had. Tristan laughed and said that he believed that Iseult was his sixth or seventh. Diarmuid grinned and said he had always found that King Mark tended to be careless and kept losing his wives. Tristan looked sad and Wulfhere wondered what Mark did to all these women.

Dunstan was unsure that he wanted any attention from Iseult given Mark's temperament and evident jealousy but Tristan insisted and the Queen herself was keen to help. Dunstan found her to be gentle and skilled at healing. Iseult was about his age and Mark was over 50 years. It was clear from their conversation that Iseult was unhappy in her marriage. She told Dunstan she was from Ireland a land that was over the western sea. Dunstan was a bit confused. Diarmuid had told him that Ireland was two days march north but it was also over the western sea according to Iseult. He thought that it must be a big place. Iseult hinted that she would like to get away from Mark who she described as worse than a murderous pig with habits that would disgust the Demons of Hell. Dunstan was unsure what the Demons of Hell were but concluded that they were not people you would ask to a feast. He felt sorry for the Queen but he said that his loyalty to Cerdic and their mission took precedence to Iseult's sorrows and troubles.

While the Queen talked to Dunstan and closed and bound his wounds, Uthric and Wulfhere talked to the Warlords, Dubv and Rhan. Uthric thought that both were suggesting that they would never get an answer from Mark. They suggested in low voices that another king might have a better answer to their inquiries. They said that if Cerdic would lend them 100 spearmen they might be able to be of help with Cerdic's plans. Wulfhere tried to change the subject, recognising that the two Warlords were proposing treason. He did not know what Cerdic's opinion of this would be and certainly did not want to be accused of helping to overthrow King Mark. He thought it best to give ambiguous answers and play for time. He was thankful that Tristan returned to the Hall and both Rhan and Dubv changed the talk to hunting stories.

When they returned to their accommodation the Brothers shared their concerns. Dunstan advised that they needed to search their boat thoroughly before they left. He fully expected that they might have some unexpected passengers. It appeared to be that every woman in any way closely connected to Mark was very keen to escape hm and at present they were the surest way to leave the country. He had no wish to have to fight their way to the boat and fight a sea battle all the way to Portus Caester. He said that if they were not on a diplomatic mission he would have no problem rescuing all these women but he felt his allegiance to Cerdic outweighed other things.

Uthric and Wulfhere discussed the treason that was hinted at by Dubv and Rhan. They noted that this country was riven by factions and Wulfhere thought it was a surprise it functioned at all. He was even more surprised that no-one had put a knife in Mark's black heart. Uthric supposed that the only reason it had not happened was because no-one could agree on who would replace Mark. If Mark was killed, Tristan would be obligated to revenge his father and that would be a hard task for potential rebels to overcome. Both Uthric and Wulfhere thought Tristan would make a fine king but it would not help Cerdic's plans. It was clear Tristan's sympathies lay with Dumnonia and he would never attack them. They agreed that their embassy was doomed and they should see Mark as soon as they could and take his answer to Cerdic. Cerdic would want their opinion of Mark and Kernow and they were clear that they had had enough of this country from its interminable meat pastries to its drunken mad and deadly King.

Tristan sent a new set of clothes to Dunstan as his own set had been ruined in the fight with the boar. They attended the Feast hoping to be able to talk to Mark and leave in the morning. Similar to the previous night, Mark did not appear when the feast started. Dunstan had been looking forward to the roasted boar, but the cook had managed to overcook it and it was tough. At least, that is what Dunstan told herself when it stuck in his throat. Wulfhere said that this was a common reaction after a battle when a warrior recalls all the sword and axe strokes that nearly took his life. In the same way Dunstan was remembering his almost fatal duel with the boar and not only was he finding the memory tough but even the eating of it was tough.

Mark eventually arrived and Wulfhere announced his intention of leaving the next day. Mark ignored him and said there was plenty of time to discuss matters of state. Tonight, he thought they would be better enjoying themselves. Mark was keen for his entertainment to begin. Two prisoners were brought in and both made to fight to the death. Mark was enthralled by the fight and clapped when one of the prisoners disembowelled the other. He laughed as the disembowelled man tried to pick up his guts and put them back inside before collapsing and being dispatched by Aud. The victor knelt before Mark's High seat expecting a reward but Aud came up behind him and decapitated him with a single sword stroke. The assembled warriors cheered. Mark laughed so much that he had a coughing fit in which it looked like he would expire. Wulfhere was hopeful that this might be the end of the King, but Marks coughing calmed down and he called for more drink. Iseult bought him a jug of ale. Mark was still coughing and just as Iseult poured, Mark moved his drinking horn and the ale went over his tunic. ln a rage he hit her with the back of his hand.

Diarmuid restrained Dunstan and told him he should calm down if he did not want to end up as one of Mark’s entertainments at the next feast. The warriors in the Hall were a hard-bitten, lawless crew but they were silent after Mark had hit Iseult. Mark clearly sensed the mood of the Hall and attempted to change the atmosphere by ordering Cwen and Daira to dance. Diarmuid told Dunstan that Mark was a drunken bully but he needed to be aware that he was still a powerful drunkard who took petty joy at inconveniencing those who crossed him. It was usual, he continued, that those who came to Marks attention did not usually live long enough to have a second opportunity to cross him. Diarmuid said that Dunstan should also note the mood of the warriors when Mark hit Iseult. He was of the opinion that they were all in love with Iseult and one day Mark would go too far and then he would pay the price for his crimes. Dunstan would do well to focus on the future justice. Despite her swelling and bruised face, Iseult continued to serve the guests ale as was the duty of the Queen. As she filled Dunstan's drinking horn she whispered to him that he needed to take her away with him. Diarmuid stood on Dunstan's foot and he only nodded and smiled in response. 

The nights horrors had not finished yet. After they had danced, Cwen and Daira were called over to Marks High seat to serve him. Daira became incensed by some remark made by Mark and she slapped him, turned and walked away. Mark his face purple with anger grabbed the spear from one of his guardsmen and threw it at the retreating woman. She never saw it coming and the heavy spear took her life. The mood in the Hall changed immediately. Mark attempted to enliven the situation by getting Yspaddon to play the Marching long of Beli Mawr, one of the warriors’ favourites but it failed miserably. Mark left complaining that his warriors had gone soft.

The Feast broke up with Prince Tristan again trying to apologise for his father's outrageous behaviour. Rhan whispered to Uthric that if Cerdic would support him there could be a reasonable king on the throne of Kernow who would be grateful for Saxon help. The Brothers ignored all discussions and bade goodnight to Tristan and Queen Iseult. They were stunned by events and wished to be as far away as possible from Kernow and in particular its mad King, Mark.  

The horror of what they had seen was possibly why they did not see the man hidden in the shadows who stabbed Dunstan in the leg and attempted to kill Uthric. They only had their seaxs with them, weapons being forbidden in the Hall but made short work of the assassin. Wulfhere's anger was such that he killed him outright. He regretted later that he did not take him alive but at the time he thought the man had killed his brother. Dunstan was still alive but badly hurt with another impressive scar to add to the growing number on his legs. He complained that it was perhaps he was too tall and assailants could not reach other parts of his body. He wondered if he had been smaller then it might have been that  his scars would be more evenly spread over his body. Wulfhere and Uthric carried Dunstan back to the house and bound his new wounds. It was clear he would be unable to walk unaided for a number of weeks. To make matters worse it began to rain again and despite Bannon's promise the roof still leaked.

In the morning they went to Marks Hall. Tristan was there as usual, giving the daily orders to the servants and hearing complaints from the people who petitioned Mark. He waved to the Brothers as they entered and continued to discuss a case of some stolen sheep. When he finished the judgement, he excused himself and came over to the Brothers as he had noted their scowling countenances. Wulfhere told him that someone had tried to kill them last night and he demanded to see Mark. Tristan apologised profusely and asked what he could do for recompense. He said that he was not happy that honoured guests had been attacked and nearly killed. Wulfhere said that the only thing that Tristan could do was to get his father out of bed so they could talk and then they could leave Kernow.

Mark did not come to the Hall until after midday leaving the Brothers to fret if they would see him at all. Wulfhere complained to Mark about the assailant but Mark just laughed. He said that if they imagined he had tried to kill them they were wrong. They would already be dead if he wanted them killed and their bodies fed to the swine. Mark said that if Cerdic had been bothered to ask about them he would have told him the ship had left safe and sound and must have been attacked by pirates or foundered in a storm. Mark informed them it was not his fault if they flaunted their wealth and that was bound to attract thieves and robbers. Unfortunately, he continued there are still too many of those in the world. Wulfhere knew this was an argument that he would not win and he acknowledged Mark's twisted logic on the matter.

Wulfhere then formerly asked Mark what it would take for an alliance with Kernow and ensure both armies attacked Dumnonia at the same time. Mark scratched at a louse in his beard and said that Dumnonia had a powerful army and he would not be keen to stick his finger in the beehive. He thought he might just continue raiding and stealing cows which would likely provoke a response. Wulfhere held firm.He said that Cerdic was most specific in his instructions and he wanted an invasion, not a raid. Dumnonia had to feel threatened from both sides and thus have to split their army. Mark said that if Cerdic sent 100 spearmen then the only further prize he wanted would be Isca. Wulfhere asked what or where or who Isca was. Mark told him it was a Roman City on the border with Kernow. Wulfhere had never heard of the tribe called Romans but he assumed they were client-kings of the Dumnonian King. Wulfhere said that he would convey the request to Cerdic and Mark would no doubt hear Cerdic's answer soon. He thanked Mark for his hospitality and bade him farewell. Dunstan said that Mark might want to fix the roof of the guest hall before someone else stays there. They were all happy to leave the Hall and went back to their lodgings.

On the way back they met Queen Iseult. Uthric was aware of Dunstan's pity for her and he warned him against doing something gallant but stupid. He reminded her that she was Mark's Queen and he would not forgive this if they were to take her away. Dunstan bowed to the Queen and told her that they were leaving on the ebb tide before the evening meal. She shook her head sadly and said that she had been glad to meet him. She turned away and went back to the main Hall.

When they arrived at their lodgings they found that the Carls had packed up their belongings. They also found Cwen who pleaded with them to take her back too. Wulfhere told her that Mark obviously couldn't look after gifts and in his opinion did not deserve to keep them. He did not go so far as to openly advertise that they had taken Cwen but disguised her as a Carl for the travel to the Port. They made their way back to the boat and were relieved to be leaving Kernow. Wulfhere said that he never wanted to return to this place again and if this was what British kingdoms were like then it should be no problem to conquer them. He reckoned that he could take Kernow with 100 spears. Dunstan watched the docks until they faded into the distance. He had hoped against hope but she did not come.

The journey back was not as bad as the outward journey. They were only sick one of the days. It felt good to be back in the familiar sights of Portus Caester.

Wulfhere reported back to Cerdic. His opinion was that Cerdic would be wasting time, effort, silver and spearmen on Kernow. Mark, he said was a drunken sot, without honour, without valour and of no use to anyone let alone his people. The Country seemed to be riven with factions and each would destroy the other. Wulfhere said that he was amazed that Mark remained king but he had seen many strange things in his life and Marks continued reign was one of the strangest. The only competent person in Kernow was the Edling, Prince Tristan. However, he unequivocally supported Dumnonia and would not support Cerdic's plan. Cerdic accepted their judgement and considered the matter closed for now.

Cerdic asked why they had brought Cwen back. Wulfhere said that Mark had been careless with his gifts, he mislaid one and killed the other. He felt that he did not deserve them. Cerdic said that since her family were dead, Cwen would be his responsibility. He thanked the Brothers for their work and he released them to go back home

 

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