The Shadow of Death.
The Hrothgarsons returned to home to find growing tensions across all three villages. The war had been won and the peace was now being fought over. In Glawmæd the native Britons were resentful of the occupying Saxon forces. Their population had been decimated and their Chieftain killed, admittedly by other Britons, but they were now ruled by a Saxon Thane. There was grumbling that Lucnot was not made Thane. Wulfhere, who was presently in charge until Cerdic decided otherwise, had been away on an embassy to Kernow. There had been bickering in his absence and he had not been there to put a stop to it so it had continued to fester.
Wulfhere had decided that he must do something in Glawmæd to bring the warring factions together. He talked with Lucnot and they agreed that they should use the feast of Beltaine to bring two sides together. Wulfhere had also noted that there were many widowed women in the village and many newly arrived warriors. He thought the difficulty might be limited communication and that both factions tended to remain within their own groups. He and Lucnot thought that celebrating Beltaine, the Festival of Fire, with a lot of alcohol might encourage both groups to come together. He thought the Festival of Eostre or Lughnasa would have been better as they both were fertility festivals and that would definitely encourage more mingling.
Wulfhere said that he was prepared to spend some of his silver to make sure the celebration was successful. Wulfhere left Dunstan and Lucnot to make withy booths which he hoped would be useful for the celebration and said he would travel to Cædering with Uthric to discuss buying Ale and Mead from Eadstan, the most prominent merchant in the area.
Dunstan had been thinking about Cwen and a possible marriage contract. He was however worried that she might be pregnant from her time with King Mark of Kernow. He was not keen for his life to become more complicated and if she was carrying Mark's bastard this could eventually involve him in dynastic struggles in Kernow. He was more than convinced that Kernow was one place to which he never wanted to return. Therefore, he bided his time and left Cwen in his mother’s household.
Wulfhere and Uthric left the preparations in Lucnot’s capable hands and travelled to Cædering. They arrived to find the place in uproar. In Cælctun most of the population had moved to Cædering, the village that was once their rival and with whom they had recently fought a war. Modrig had been put in charge of Cælctun by Taethle while she spent time in Cædering because Oshehrt was still too ill still to dispense laws and justice. Modrig was a good War Leader and an excellent warrior but his skills did not extend to administration. The remaining Cælctun population were bitter and annoyed and their village was becoming less important. Moreover, the promised restoration had not happened.
In Cædering there had been a murder of one of Taethle's men called Bredoc. He was one of her best Carls and he had been found dead with his own axe lodged in his head. Taethle blamed the warriors of Cædering. Bredoc was half British and she suspected that that had been the reason for his murder. Taethle was in a white fury. She was demanding blood feud and justice for Bredoc. Osberht was still too ill to attend to his duties and Eadstan was arguing with Taethle when they entered the Hall. Eadstan was the most prominent person in Cædering after the Thanes and certainly the richest. He had been a key person in Osberht’s idea of creating a trading network of the three villages and selling surpluses to the bigger towns in the South. His other advantage was that he was from Cædering and he had the ear of the Carls in Osberht’s absence whereas Taethle, despite her prowess, was still viewed as an outsider.
Eadstan loudly expounded the idea that one of Taethle's own men killed Bredoc, a suggestion Taethle vehemently repudiated. Eadstan had the support of the local Carls and they murmured their agreement during Eadstan’s speech. They disliked Taethle's accusations and there was growing tension between the two groups of Carls.
Wulfhere and Uthric were surprised by the argument. They had come to see Eadstan about buying mead and ale, not to get involved in an argument. Taethle barely acknowledged either brother as she left the Hall with a face that looked like thunder. Eadstan, on the other hand, looked pleased with himself as Taethle left and Wulfhere asked him for details of what had happened. Eadstan told them that Bredoc and another Carl, Sigebeorht had been on watch the previous night. Bredoc had been attacked by someone and even more strange had been killed with his own axe. Eadstan said that Sigebeorht had claimed to be asleep and reported that he had not witnessed anything. Eadstan said that in his opinion Sigebeorht had to be the prime suspect and Taethle needed to apologise to Cædering’s Carls for such blatant untruths. Wulfhere said he thought it was unlike Taethle to make groundless allegations. He had always found her to be calm and controlled.
Wulfhere thought that the truth was likely to come out soon. He said that he had come to see Eadstan about some help in organising a celebration of Beltaine. Eadstan said he was unfamiliar with Beltaine but would do whatever he could to help. Wulfhere told him what he needed and they agreed a price and shook hands on the contract. Eadstan said that it was good things were returning to normal and planning celebrations after all the recent troubles. Uthric remarked that he was not that sure that normal had yet returned but he would like to be proved wrong.
Uthric thought that it might be better to return to Glawmæd and stay out of the arguments in Cædering. He did not think it would serve any purpose to take sides in this argument. Wulfhere disagreed and reminded him they were still Huscarls of Cædering but they also had a debt of gratitude to Taethle. Moreover, he said she had been a good friend and a staunch ally. Uthric said he had to reluctantly agree but he worried that they would become involved in something they might ultimately regret.
They found Taethle in the Hall she had been using for her warriors. She was brooding on events and not overly welcoming to Uthric and Wulfhere. She said she was considering going back to Cælctun but first she wanted justice for her man. Wulfhere suggested that as both sides would see him and Uthric as neutral, he thought it might be helpful if they tried to get the truth of the matter. Taethle reluctantly agreed. She said she needed justice both for her and her men and that would likely mean a blood feud.
Uthric sent for Dunstan. He thought all three of the brothers needed to be in Cædering and in the meantime, they spoke with Sigebeorht. He repeated what he had already told others. He said that he had been drinking before going on watch and had fallen asleep almost immediately and could add nothing new as to how Bredoc met his death. Neither Uthric nor Wulfhere had believed Sigebeorht but they chose not to confront him at that time.
When Dunstan arrived, they met him in the main Hall and told him of how things stood. They discussed what people were thinking. Wulfhere pointed out that it came down to not what people think, but more what the three brothers were going to do. They thought that they should talk to Winfrith the Smith who had been a good friend of Bredoc. Winfrith was saddened by the loss of his closest friend. They had often spent time together talking about the best way to forge a blade. Winfrith said that even as a friend he could see that Bredoc had strengths and flaws. Bredoc was brave, loyal and above all he had honour. But in his opinion people had found Bredoc too direct. He said that Bredoc was forever causing offence by being too quick to point out errors in others actions or behaviour. It was clear that not everyone took that well and Winfrith wondered if Bredoc had said something that might have led to his death. He was aware warriors could be very sensitive and react with violence to the smallest slight. Winfrith also recalled that Bredoc had recently argued several times with Sigebeorht about drinking too much and falling asleep on watch.
While the Brothers mulled this over information, they were approached by Sunngyth. Sunngyth was a Shieldmaiden and was known for her ferocity in battle. Equally she was known to be extremely superstitious. She was known at times to not be able to stir herself became the omens were wrong. She told the Brothers that two mice had told her that Bredoc had not been murdered by anyone in Cædering. She had watched the skies and the flight of a heron flying north had suggested that a spirit from a cursed hill had been responsible. Uthric thanked her for her observations and they returned to talking about what to do next. Dunstan thought that as they were at a loss for a solution that it might be useful to investigate what Sunngyth had said. Wulfhere said he had no time for superstitions and could not believe Dunstan was even contemplating listening to what she said. He said that Sunngyth talks to mice and they really do not need to take any advice from vermin. He asked Dunstan if that maybe they should talk to spiders next and seek their views. Dunstan said that talking to spiders could maybe wait until they were really stuck.
The Brothers thought it would be useful to go back to Sigebeorht and ask some more questions. They thought he was looking more like the suspect in the case and they thought it best to confront him. Uthric wondered if they should ask Taethle first and that perhaps she should join them. Sigebeorht after all was one of her men and she had been annoyed that any had been accused of the murder. Wulfhere thought this an excellent idea. When they found Taethle, she was busy arranging supplies for Cælctun but gave the Hrothgarsons permission to talk to Sigebeorht.
They confronted Sigebeorht and told him that they did not believe his account of the death of Bredoc and he eventually and reluctantly revealed what he witnessed. He apologised for not telling the truth of the matter but what he had seen was unbelievable and he feared that people would think he had made it up. Sigebeorht described a shadow of roughly human shape but very much larger that was attempting to get into the Hall where the warriors were sleeping. Bredoc challenged Monster and both he and Sigebeorht attacked it but their axes but did little damage. When they hit the monster, it showed no injuries. The monster had focused attacks on Bredoc but even though it hit him, Sigebeorht had not seen any injuries on Bredoc even when he fell over. The monster then took Bredoc’s axe from his hand and killed him with it.
The brothers went to Taethle and told her what Sigebeorht had said. Taethle said she found it hard to believe that a monster was attacking her men and she reminded them that Sigebeorht would often drink too much and he might have had a nightmare. Uthric said that it would be impossible to find the truth without more evidence and he would stand guard that night. He might then be able to help them find the information to help them decide on what had happened.
That night Uthric helped Sigebeorht and Aldric with the watch. They saw nothing until just after midnight when a dark shape climbed over the palisade. Sigebeorht challenged it and when it turned on him and attacked, the others joined in. None of their weapons seem to cause any damage to the shadowy monster but its claws caused Sigebeorht to stumble after every hit, but neither Aldric nor Uthric could see any hurt on him. The creature took Sigebeorht’s axe from his limp hand having knocked him to the ground then killed him with a blow to the chest with his own axe. The shadow creature then leapt over the palisade and went off in a northly direction. Uthric threw his javelin at it but could not tell if he had done any damage. The noise of the fight brought other warriors from the Hall and they gathered around Sigebeorht’s body.
Uthric described his experience of the shadow creature. He said that it was 1 ½ times the size of a tall man with huge claws and a gaping maw. Uthric said the worst thing was that it seemed to be surrounded by darkness. After all the warriors had heard Uthric’s tale they agreed to light torches and placed them around the palisade and put 20 men on guard in case the shadow monster returned but the night passed peacefully following the murder of Sigebeorht.
In the morning the Brothers discussed with Taethle what they should do. They all felt that they needed help from a leæch because this was clearly a supernatural shadow creature, a Déaþscufa. If they were to defeat it they would need someone who understood these things better than they did. Taethle sent a man to Portus Cæster to ask for a help from a leæch as quickly as possible. She did not want more deaths while they just waited. For something to do they all went outside the palisade to see if they could find any tracks and at least understand where the creature went. Although they searched thoroughly there was nothing to be found. They returned to the Hall to try and think of a plan to defend Cædering.
Eadstan and Taethle were still not on the best terms. Eadstan still insisted the Taethle apologise for believing the carls of Cædering had murdered one of her men. She still felt she was justified to make the accusations. The tension affected the discussion and Eadstan was not being helpful by making demands about what should be done. Dunstan wondered if they should go north and search for the Déaþscufa. He reminded them that Sunngyth had said that there was a darkness in the north on a hill but the only hill that he knew was Old Win Cæster Hill. He thought it might be useful to check with Osbeorn at Seaxeneat, a village at the foot of the hill, to see if he had noticed anything unusual. Wulfhere reminded them that last time they had tried to talk with Osbeorn it had not been a success and he had not been very forthcoming. Dunstan also recalled stories told by Hildegard that there was supposed to be in magic sword buried in one of the old peoples graves in the north. Everyone thought relying on Sunngyth and old stories would not solve their problem of a Déaþscufa that was killing their friends.
While they were waiting for the leæch to arrive they agreed how they would defend Cædering by setting fires around the walls and posting more guards. But it didn’t help. The Déaþscufa climbed over the walls and killed Glædwine, one of the Cædering Carls, and no one who was there was able to prevent it. In the morning, they discussed why a Déaþscufa might have suddenly appeared and begun to kill people. They wondered if they had inadvertently annoyed something but no-one could remember anything out of the ordinary happening. Eadstan said that it would be his view that it must have been raised by wiććecræft and he recalled that a week ago he had been travelling from the north and had heard there was a leæch call Dunric had been seen by other travellers. Dunstan wanted to know if this could be the same leæch that served Coelfrith and what did it mean if it was. He had thought the troubles with Ealdorman Coelfrith were over but this was a clear sign that Coelfrith had not finished his revenge on Caedering.
Just after mid-morning Hereweard, a leæch from Portus Cæster, arrived. He had come after a request from Taethle and he was interested in the details of the Déaþscufa. When he had been told the details he told them he was in no doubt that it had been summoned and when he was told it might have been Dunric he laughed and said that he would have guessed that anyway. Dunric was known among the other leæches to be overly interested in the darker areas of the spirit world. Taethle assigned ten warriors to the task of finding and destroying the Déaþscufa and they would accompany the Hrothgarsons and Hereweard to the north in search of an answer. Taethle told them that they needed to hurry or there might be no-one left when they returned.
The group went up the old people’s road but saw nothing of significance until they approached Seaxeneat. They smelt blood and death on the wind before they saw anything and Hereweard began to shake as if he had a fever. He told them it was nothing and they should continue but Dunstan was not sure this was the best idea. They found that the village of Seaxeneat had met with horror. Everyone had been killed, even the animals had been slaughtered. Thirteen bodies hung from trees and the others lay where they had been killed. One of the younger Warriors vomited and two others refused to enter the village because they saw the deaths as omens of their own death. When Wulfhere tried to persuade them that they would be safe, they told him that they would happily face enemies in a Shield-wall but they did not want to have their souls destroyed by a Déaþscufa. Wulfhere said that if they would not enter the village then they could be of use and take the bodies down from the trees and guard the gates. He ordered the rest of the men to search the village thoroughly and they found a young girl who was alive hidden in the cellar of a house. She was terrified and when Wulfhere tried to talk with her she grew hysterical. Wulfhere spoke soothing words and managed to calm her down. She was able to tell them her name was Idris but for the moment she would say no more.
In the meantime, Wulfhere told the men to collect the bodies and build pyres. It was a gruesome job as many of the bodies had been dismembered and some seemed to have been flayed alive. In the end they counted 29 people who had been killed. By the time they had completed the work it was getting towards dark and they needed to find a place to stay for the night. No one wanted to stay in Seaxeneat. They agreed they would not light the pyres until tomorrow when there was daylight. Uthric led them to the west where they found a dell in which a fire would not be seen from a distance. Dunstan was extremely uneasy. He was concerned that Dunric had directed an attack at Cædering and he felt they were all under threat. Uthric pointed out that they are no longer lived in Cædering but had moved to Glawmæd so if the curse was on Cædering then they were safe. Wulfhere and Hereweald were not too sure and both felt that they should not take chances. They set a fire and four men were told to be on watch at any one time. Despite their fear the night passed peacefully but they thought that it was likely that in Cædering another warrior had died at the hands of the Déaþscufa during the night.
In the morning they returned to Seaxeneat and they lit the pyres that had begun yesterday putting the bodies on when the flames were hot enough. Wulfhere continued to try and talk to Idris who had become much calmer. Idris told them that a man with a sneer who wore dark robes and had a wolfs teeth necklace had come to the village three days ago. He had some warriors with him and they had killed Osbeorn, the Thane, and any who tried to resist them. The rest they sacrificed to a creature of darkness who drank the life from the people. She saw the man with the necklace laugh and when they had finished killing everyone they left. She thought they went north but she thought she might be wrong because she was sure no-one lived in the north in the ruins on the hill. Dunstan said he thought that Dunric was like a lot of people who annoy the Hrothgarsons in that afterwards they all run away and hide. Uthric was not sure Dunric was actually hiding, it was more likely that he was up to something else and they had just not found out what it was yet.
Wulfhere asked Hereweald for his opinion because they wondered if Dunric had summoned the Déaþscufa by sacrificing all the people of the village. Hereweald said that sacrificing 29 people would make a very powerful summoning and it might be difficult to counter. They asked Hereweald how you might offset such a spell. Hereweald said a sure way would be to sacrifice a further 29 people. Dunstan was not keen on that idea. The others discussed possible ways of finding enough people to sacrifice but no one could think of where to find suitable sacrifices and they were not keen to sacrifice people to the dark spirits anyway. Hereweald said that it was possible that they might only need thirteen people for sacrifice and they might find that easier. Wulfhere said they needed to find another way other than sacrifice. He wondered why leæches were always so keen to kill people. Hereweald said that human sacrifice always meant that the magic was much more powerful and effective.
The burning of the bodies took a good part of the day but Wulfhere was keen to try and find out how to counter the spell. He was also aware that another warrior would die tonight if something was not done. He left his men to finish the task of cremating the dead and took Dunstan, Uthric and Hereweald north. They thought that while they still had light they should investigate Old Wincen Cæster Hill. Dunstan said that it was always mystery to him how Osbeorn had survived in Seaxeneat so close to so many dangerous enemies and he was disappointed that now with his death they would never know. He worried that they had been cursed by Dunric and the curse would cause the deaths of all the people of the three villages. They made their way to north to the abandoned village on Win Cæster Hill. Nearly all of the buildings had been destroyed and only a few walls remained upright. They searched round the entire circumference of the hill and eventually found a place that could possibly be one of old peoples’ graves.
It was too late to start digging into the grave so they returned to Seaxeneat to get food, rest and tools for digging. Dunstan took two Carls and Idris back to Glawmæd. He gave Idris to their mother to look after and she asked if they were collecting all the waifs and strays in the world on their wanderings. Dunstan did not reply to her provocation but gently told Idris that Hildegard was her new mother and would feed her honey cakes if she was good. Dunstan then went to see Taethle and told her what they had discovered. She felt the leæch with the sneer and the wolf’s teeth necklace could be none other than Dunric and she intended to send a messenger to Cerdic to tell him what had happened. She also told Dunstan that they needed to find a solution to the Déaþscufa as quickly as possible. She was losing a warrior every night and was contemplating leaving Cædering deserted until they either stopped Dunric or the Déaþscufa. Dunstan also found time to talk to Eadstan and discuss buying a present for Cwen, should he decide that he wanted to marry her. They agreed on an exquisite cloak broach which had garnets and a gold dragon of British workmanship. Dunstan took it to Glawmæd and hid it in his possessions.
He then went back north but did not arrive until after dark. His appearance scared Leofdæg and Pæga who were on guard duty and they nearly threw their javelins at him. In the morning the Hrothgarsons and Hereweald took tools and went to dig up the old people’s grave. It took several hours of digging and Uthric wondered if they were digging in the right place because the earth here had not been disturbed. They eventually found the entrance passage still blocked by a large stone. When they removed it the darkness was almost solid. The torches they used to try and see into the passage guttered and went out. Hereweald was certain that there was drýcræft causing the torches to go out. They discussed what to do. Dunstan agreed that he would go in and see what was there. He thought he could get out quickly if there was something dangerous and was relying on his brothers to pull him out if he could not move or was injured by whatever lay in the darkness.
He slowly made his way down the passage and unable to see, he used his spear to feel ahead. After crawling along the passage for a short bit he felt more than saw that the passage opened up into a larger space and heard a chink which he thought might be coins. He tried to see what he was doing but the darkness was absolute despite the fact he did not feel he had gone far enough for the light at the entrance to fade. He heard something stir in the darkness and tried to look to see what it was. Dunstan thought perhaps he was seeing things but slowly coalescing out of the darkness was a gigantic dragon like creature. Dunstan could not swear it was a dragon but it certainly looked like one and he backed out quickly and suddenly came into the morning light which momentarily blinded him. He told the others what he thought he had seen but could not tell if it was real or some kind of spirit.
Hereweald thought it might be a spirit because of the darkness but perhaps one that looked like a dragon. He was uncertain how to deal with it. He said it was likely that Dunric was more powerful than him and had more experience in dealing with the dark spirits. He said that he was worried that they may not be able to overcome either the dragon or the Déaþscufa. Uthric wondered if the Dragon and the Déaþscufa might not be one in the same. Hereweald said he was uncertain if that was the case but what he was sure of was that most spirits could be bargained with. The difficulty was that the bargain generally was one that a living person would not want to make.
They agreed that they would try and bargain with the spirit and see if they could gain an advantage that would help them defeat the Déaþscufa. They all thought that they should travel with the leæch into the spirit world and Hereweald said that they would therefore need to individually gather certain plants at midnight. The good news he said was that the moon was in the right phase but it would take until tomorrow to prepare the spirit tent and prepare the roots for the spirit journey which would mean another warrior would die that night. Hereweald said that it might have been quicker to sacrifice the warriors that had been killed but he thought there might be no volunteers.
At midnight Hereweald showed them the plants and told them how to creep up on them safely and harvest them without harming the roots. It was a long and tedious job to harvest the plants and they were exhausted by morning but the leæch pushed them onwards with encouraging words. He set about preparing the leaves and roots while the Hrothgarsons built a spirit tent. Dunstan considered himself the leading expert in withies and he was critical of Uthric and Wulfhere’s choice of and placement of withies. They were becoming irritated by Dunstan’s constant directions and offered to let him build it by himself. They realised that they were tired and becoming difficult with each other and thought they should rest rather than argue. Dunstan agreed that they should not argue and said he would finish the spirit tent in order to make it right. He said he was keen to strike a bargain with the spirit and destroy the Déaþscufa before there was no one left alive in Cædering.
By midmorning Dunstan and Hereweald had completed their preparations and were ready to start the journey to the spirit world. Hereweald made them all drink a foul-tasting liquid and threw herbs and leaves on the fire. The smoke produced by the fire was suffocating and the surroundings became vague. Hereweald beckoned them forward and they left the tent with him. The darkness in the grave was not quite so complete as before and they all followed Hereweald through the passageway. The dragon spirit welcomed them to its home and named itself Ætremód, the keeper of secrets. Hereweald named himself Spirit-traveller and Ætremód nodded in welcome. Hereweald told it they were seeking knowledge of the Déaþscufa and how to send it back to Neorxanwang. He asked Ætremód if it had the secret they were looking for and how they could bargain for the knowledge. Ætremód stretched its wings and settled on a hoard of treasure. The movement caused a brief landslide of treasure and revealed an old sword. Ætremód told them it would be a simple matter and the sword in the treasure would achieve what they wanted but the price would be the spirit of one of the ælfar. Hereweald said they would retire to consider Ætremód’s offer and would return shortly.
Uthric said that he was adamant about not giving Meire to Ætremód and anyway he said she denied being an ælfar and he believed her. Dunstan pointed out she had that odd greenish tinge in her skin and Ætremód was likely to think she was an ælfar. Uthric was unmoved by Dunstan’s argument. Hereweald said they did not know where they could find an ælfar so they were at an impasse. Uthric asked Hereweald if they could defeat Ætremód in a spirit fight. He had no experience of how to fight the creature but thought that they might get the better of it if they all attacked. Hereweald said that he thought it was possible but that they were risking their spirit bodies. Dunstan said he was willing to do that for the sake of defeating the Déaþscufa. Hereweald was unsure and said that while he had no issue meeting his death he was not sure he wanted his spirit eaten by a darkness spirit. Wulfhere asked him what would persuade him to take the risk and he offered half the treasure in the mound. Hereweald still looked doubtful and Uthric increased the offer to include all of the treasure. Hereweald still said he thought this might turn out badly for all of them but finally agreed. Dunstan said he was not happy with this agreement. He thought they were all taking equal risks and the treasure should be split evenly. To settle it, he said he would act as bait for Ætremód by going into the passage first. Wulfhere thought that maybe bait was the wrong word and Dunstan should consider distraction as the appropriate endeavour. Dunstan thanked his brother for his advice and prepared himself for combat with Ætremód.
Dunstan moved slowly up the passage and when he saw Ætremód raise its head from the bed of treasure he struck it with his spear and then turned and ran. Ætremód had not been expected the blow from the spear and fortunately for Dunstan it took a moment for it to realise what had happened. Dunstan was almost out of the passage way when Ætremód breathed a blackness that raced along the passage and engulfed the fleeing Dunstan. His body and mind felt numbed but he managed to stumble out of the passage. Ætremód flowed after him and with its presence the area outside the grave became as dark as it had been in the grave. Their spirit bodies could see better in the darkness and they saw Ætremód’s vast size as it reared up and prepared to bite Dunstan. He was saved by Hereweald who put himself in between Ætremód and Dunstan and then struck Ætremód on the head with his staff. There was a loud percussion that deafened everyone. Ætremód switched its attack to Hereweald and struck him on his leg with a claw. Hereweald fell heavily but was able to crawl backwards. Wulfhere and Uthric moved forward to attack, protecting the prone leæch and struck the creature with their spears. Ætremód retaliated by raking Wulfhere with a claw which he blocked with his shield but still caused bruising to his arm. Uthric thought his spear struck the soft underbelly of Ætremód but he could not see much damage. Dunstan had scrambled to his feet. He had blisters as if he had been burnt all over his body but he ignored the pain and picked up his warspear to attack. Hereweald again pointed his staff at Ætremód and the creature recoiled in obvious pain. However, it slashed with its claws at Wulfhere whose shield was almost broken and the claws raked his leg. Both Wulfhere and Uthric again hit it with their spears and Uthric parried the claw attack with his shield. Ætremód ignored Wulfhere and Uthric and tried to bite Hereweald. Hereweald shoved his staff into the open jaws and there was a loud explosion as his staff burst apart. Bits of wood hit both Uthric and Wulfhere but Ætremód recoiled allowing all three of the Hrothgarsons to attack with their spears. Ætremód again clawed at Wulfhere and split his shield and injured his chest. Dunstan attacked from behind which attracted the attention of Ætremód who tried to bite him. Dunstan managed to get his shield in the way but the force of the bite snapped his shield in two and injured his shield arm. Ætremód towered over Dunstan and prepared to bite him again but it allowed Wulfhere and Uthric to attack again and both spears went deep into its body. Ætremód let out a high-pitched cry and lashed Wulfhere with its tail breaking the shield and causing damage to his hip. Uthric stuck his spear into the creature’s head and suddenly the darkness was gone.
The sudden increase in light left them all blinded and they felt themselves getting drawn back to their physical bodies that still lay in the spirit tent. Uthric was the only one unharmed. Dunstan had been hit by Ætremód’s breath and had suffered serious hurt all over his body. Wulfhere would likely limp for weeks and Hereweald would need help to walk even short distances. Uthric did what he could to make everyone comfortable and went to examine outside and the grave mound. Now that the darkness had gone he could use a torch to explore the inside of the mound. There was a vast array of silver and even some gold but the real prize was the sword that lay half buried in the mound of treasure. Uthric was disappointed when he looked closer at it, for the sword looked old and covered with verdigris. He thought that all their effort to kill the Ætremód had been for an old sword that in his opiniont would not cut soft butter. He lifted it up and was surprised when the mould and verdigris fell off and he was left with a shiny bronze sword.
Uthric reported what he had found and showed the sword. Wulfhere said that only Uthric was in any state to take on the Déaþscufa but he was aware that Uthric was also not familiar in fighting with a sword. Uthric acknowledged that this was a problem but thought that unless Wulfhere had a better idea he would have to take his chances and fight the Déaþscufa. They took some treasure in their cloaks and sealed the mound again hoping to disguise its entrance. The others waited while Uthric went and got the rest of their men from Seaxeneat. They all carried Hereweald, Wulfhere and Dunstan back to Cædering as none of them could walk well.
They met with Taethle in the hall and told her of events and how they believed they could defeat the Déaþscufa. She said that it was her duty as a Thane to fight the Déaþscufa and exact revenge for the death of so many of her men. She thanked Uthric for his offer to fight but she also pointed out that she had had training in the use of a sword and could at least use it competently. That night Taethle stood alone on the palisade awaiting the arrival of the Déaþscufa. The fight was long and dreadful but eventually she triumphed and dispelled the Déaþscufa but she had taken numerous grievous wounds. Her shout of victory brought others from the Hall and they saw her fall unconscious as they approached. Taethle was carried back to the Hall by her Carls but they were uncertain if she would live. Her armour was torn and ripped but there were no marks on her skin or indication where the wounds were. Hereweald was brought in on a stretcher from his sick bed and he was able to give direction as to where the healers should bandage.
It took several weeks before the wounded had healed sufficiently and they are able to return to Old Wincen Cæster Hill to get the rest of the treasure. There was no longer any hope of dividing the treasure five ways. So many people had been injured or killed by the Déaþscufa that they needed to use the treasure to ease the suffering caused. Even Hereweald thought that this was the best idea. They gave Osberht a golden torque as he was their Thane and the rest they split between those that had suffered injury. Wulfhere kept enough silver so that he would be able to add extra provisions for the Feast of Beltaine and Lughnasa. He thought that there had been so much sorrow, death and destruction over the last number of years that everyone needed some distraction.
Dunstan married Gwenith, a British woman who had been widowed by Anyon’s attack on Glawmæd. She brought three children with her from her previous marriage. Uthric thought that Dunstan had done well to marry at last and he wished him every success. Wulfhere and Lucnot took the credit for helping to heal the divisions in Glawmæd. For the rest of the year the Hrothgarsons helped to rebuild Glawmæd and to bring in the harvest. They made sure that they attended to both British and Saxon festivals and considered each of equal importance which brought the two peoples together. It also helped that many of the Saxon warriors had married British women.
The Hrothgarsons spent their odd quiet moment plotting the downfall of Ealdorman Coelfrith, the fugitives Beorthric and Wilfrith and they also added Dunric to the list. They were unsure how they would deal with Dunric as he was a leæch and killing a leæch was likely to consign the killer’s soul to Neorxanwang and have it gnawed by the dragons, who live in the roots of the One tree, until the end of the world.
Word arrived from Cerdic that he had complained to Coelfrith about his leæch’s actions and threatening war if there was no compensation and wergild for the men who died or were injured. Coelfrith had denied any involvement but acknowledged that it was likely to be Dunric who had caused the hurt. He had disowned the leæch and told Cerdic’s messengers that the leæch had gone too far and that he regretted any involvement with him. Coelfrith said that he was unaware where Dunric had gone. He had left with some followers and he believed him to be in Mierce. He did not offer to pay any wergild.