A Very British Coup
A dozen years ago Aelle marked the borders of his kingdom. He had sent a man called Tadda, a Kingsthane, north to make a settlement near the abandoned city of Calleva. Aelle had thought to use it as a base for expansion to the north and west but as often happens in uncertain times, he was distracted by other events closer to home and Taddenlæge was forgotten.
Tadda was an astute man and one that sought compromise rather than conflict. He made alliances with the local British villages and even traded with the fortress city of Venta before the Dumnonians took it over. Tadda and the Atrebates tribe had common enemies in the Dumnonians who lived on the other side of the Itchen. Taddenlæge grew over the years and the population increased to the point where it was more like a small city.
It was the sixth year since Aelle declared himself Bretwalda and the fourteenth since he became King of the Jutes and South Saxons having deposed Hengist’s sons Esc and Octa. Esc had sworn allegiance to Aelle and now ruled the isle of Thanet. Octa had chosen to go into exile but with Cerdic’s help he now ruled Whit from Whitwarasburgh.
Kingsthane Osberht travelled to Ealdorman Cerdic’s Yule festival in an oxcart. He was still in pain from his burns but thought that it was time he took up his duties and he was attending the Yule feast to renew his oaths to Cerdic. Thane Taethle, Lucnot and the Hrothgarsons travelled with him.
Dunstan asked around the taverns in Portus Cæster if anyone had seen Beorthric or Winfrith. A merchant told him that he had met men with that name in Cissa Cæster two moons ago. They had asked him for information about travelling to Lundenwic or possibly to Anderida and Caer Ceint. The merchant could not remember the exact request but he remembered the names and what they looked like. Dunstan told his brothers and they discussed that the information was already two moons out of date. It was unlikely that either man would still be in Cissa Cæster and they could not go travelling across Ceint in the hope they might meet the two fugitives.
Cerdic’s feast was lavish as usual. After last year’s incident the number of guests in the main hall was smaller. There were other smaller feasting halls that had been set up for the Carls and people of Portus Cæster who had an interest in attending. The last year had not gone as Cerdic had hoped but he still felt it was a success. He had curbed Octa’s power by purging his warband of known criminals and turning some of the outlaws over to the justice of those looking for them. It was said that Octa had become much more accommodating to Cerdic’s wishes after Cerdic took his action. Cerdic had had to postpone his war with Dumnonia. The Leæces of the Isle of Halig had warned him that war would be unlucky and although not a superstitious man he had postponed his attack. Instead he had sent the new people who had arrived from Friesland over the Moen to build fortified villages or to take over abandoned British villages that had been cleared of the previous inhabitants.
In the north, news had come that the Bretwalda Aelle was planning to move along the Tamyse valley and there was murmuring among Cerdic’s Carls that he should do something about this. Most were of the opinion that Cerdic should declare himself King and break with Aelle. The leæces of Halig Isle had made the old sacred sacrifice, examined the sacrifice’s entrails and read the runes and they had told Cerdic that Aelle would die soon. The Carls thought that it should be Cerdic’s main task to hurry Aelle’s death.
Cerdic’s feud with Ealdorman Coelfrith continued after the events at Cædering where a Deáþscúfa had been summoned by Dunric. Coelfrith had disowned Dunric. He has told Aelle that the Leæce has not been seen since the Midsummer festival. Cerdic had complained to Aelle that Coelfrith’s leæce, Dunric had summoned the Deáþscúfa but Coelfrith denied it was on his orders and the leæce had been acting on his own. There was peace with Coelfrith but most were under the impression that the payment was still to be made.
Cerdic asked to see the Hrothgarsons on the second day of the Feast. He praised their deeds in their recent help in defeating the Deáþscúfa, their successes in the Battles at Cædering, Cælctun and Glawmæd that had allowed the taking of Llys. He was especially pleased that they had humbled Coelfrith and he had lost power in the area. He told them of his plans for this season with an attack on Dumnonia and a likely push north to the Tamyse valley to secure a crossing point. He asked if they would be willing to take a message to his cousin Tadda, a King’s Thane who ruled in a settlement called Taddenlæge. Cerdic explained that Tadda had been sent north twelve years ago by Aelle and more or less forgotten. Tadda had made a success of the settlement and attracted a lot of the British Atrebates tribe as his allies and building a loose confederation who lived in peace with each other. The Atrebates were traditional enemies of the Dumnonians and had been in conflict with them for many years. Tadda had supported their conflict and helped them maintain their independence. None of the Hrothgarsons had ever heard of Taddenlæge even when Cerdic explained where it lay. Cerdic wanted his cousin to swear an oath of allegiance to him rather than Aelle and send him troops south to help him with his war against the Dumnonians. He was keen for as many troops as possible, either Saxon or British and all would be rewarded when the victory came. Wulfhere said that they would be willing to take the message and Cerdic thanked them. He emphasised the importance of persuading Tadda to join him and said that he would have better support from him than he ever had from Aelle.
After Yule they returned to Glawmæd to set things in order. They planned to leave after the Festival of Sol-monath. Dunstan, who felt most responsible for Egfryd and constantly fretted that Hildegard was over-feeding him on honey cakes, consulted Iola, the wise woman. He asked her to make a charm to make Egfryd refuse proffered honey cakes. Dunstan paid Iola who inscribed some marks on a stone and told Dunstan he should bury it underneath a Bee’s nest. Wulfhere asked Lucnot why he had not chosen a wife over the last year. Lucnot said that he had been hoping to ask Taethle to marry him but every time he was in her presence his tongue seemed to stick to the roof of his mouth. He asked Wulfhere if he might sound out the proposition with her as he was Lucnot’s brother-in-law and oldest living relative. Wulfhere promised to do so when he returned from the north.
Dunstan decided that Egfryd was old enough to learn a trade. He talked to the boy and Egfryd said that he had an interest in being a Blacksmith. He had often heard Dunstan complain about the cost of armour and he thought if he learnt how to make spears and armour, he would not only help his brothers, but also become rich in the process. He confided to Uthric later that his goal was to become rich because that way he could employ someone to make him honey cakes whenever he wanted instead of having to wait for Hildegard to offer them when Dunstan was not around. Uthric said he thought this was a shrewd move by Egfryd and he swore on his Hammer amulet he would not tell Dunstan.
The Hrothgarsons prepared for their journey. On Hildegard’s advice, Meire and Bronwyn insisted that Wulfhere and Uthric set a time when they would return home. Wulfhere estimated they would only be gone half a moon at the most. Their task was simple and according to the merchants they had talked to it was a relatively straight forward journey along the old people’s road heading west. The only dangerous part was to skirt round the Dumnonian fortress of Venta and then go on the road north until they reached Taddenlæge.
On the morning they were to leave five riders appeared coming from the north. They were led by an imposing woman riding a white horse who named herself as Ealhwyn Hrofsdotter. She told them she was an emissary of Aelle and she had been made aware that they were going to Taddenlæge to ask for help from Tadda for Cerdic. Aelle’s command to them was to ignore Cerdic’s request and tell Tadda to send him troops to Anderida instead, where they would be needed for Aelle’s forthcoming campaign. If they were successful Aelle would give them all great rewards. Wulfhere apologised but asked how he was to know if Ealhwyn spoke for Aelle as he had never met her before. She told Wulfhere that she was the daughter of Ealdorman Hrof, who they had met on the occasion of their visit to Anderida but she was also married to Aelle’s son, Wlencing and therefore a Princess. Wulfhere bowed his knee for he believed her words. After getting his agreement she jumped on her horse and rode south.
Wulfhere discussed what had happened with his brothers and expressed the view that there was a spy in Cerdic’s court. Dunstan reminded him that they had talked to merchants about possible routes but agreed that their mission for Cerdic had not been disclosed. Uthric said that since his eldest brother was a Thane it was for him to work out what they should do. Wulfhere took some time to think through the tangle of relationships. As a Thane he swore an oath to Cerdic who was his Ealdorman. Cerdic in turn swore an oath to Aelle as his King. The King was therefore the arbiter and keeper of all oaths. The conflict in oaths between Cerdic and Aelle was the issue. Wulfhere decided that the simplest solution was to tell Tadda of both demands and let him decide what he wanted to do.
They had disagreements about the possible route. They knew that there was a Dumnonian fortress, Venta that they had to pass which was likely to have patrols that could be a danger. They discussed taking more men but agreed stealth was better than strength. Eventually they decided on the quickest route which would be to go along the old people’s road and strike north through the forest before they came to Venta and re-join the road further north which should take them to Taddenlæge. They stayed the first night of travel at Old Wincen Cæster Hill in the company of a Thane called Ælfric and some of his warriors. Ælfric was returning to Portus Cæster having taken his men over the Moen on an errand for Cerdic. Dunstan told them the story of the death of Ætremód and Ælfric shared mutton and ale that they had raided from the Britons. Uthric spent some time looking at the Hill. He had long thought he might like to build a settlement here and was of the opinion that this would be an excellent position for trade and defence. Wulfhere said that perhaps trade would not be ideal at present because apart from Glawmæd, the closest neighbours would be Dumnonians. It might also be difficult to farm if your lands kept getting raided. Uthric said that this was his future dream and he could envision heavily laden Oxcarts taking goods north and staying overnight in the safety of the Hill.
They continued along the old people’s road and crossed the ford at the Moen without seeing anyone. The land around had been raided and although it was good farm land no one had lived here for many years. Most existing settlements were heavily fortified Burghs and relied on other settlements far behind the disputed lands for food. They smelt the smoke of cooking fires of Venta before they could see it and agreed that it would be best to go north through the forest. The forest was old and full of dead-end trails and they quickly became lost and unsure if they were heading in the right direction. They turned west hoping to strike the road but realised that they had not gone far enough north and had come too close to Venta. Wulfhere was not pleased with Dunstan and said that he expected more from Dunstan’s skills in woodcraft. He did not think that they were proficient enough with their spears for all three of them to attack Venta and if that was Dunstan’s idea then he needed to have a more realistic view of himself. Dunstan was apologetic and they again went north staying close to the road but did not yet dare to walk in the open.
After half a day’s march Uthric realised that they were being followed by some people that were trying to remain hidden. They kept moving north but agreed that they would try and lay an ambush. Wulfhere and Uthric hid themselves in the undergrowth and surprised a group of three Britons who were trailing them. Uthric and Wulfhere used their spears well and the two leading men fell. The third managed to get two arrows off which hit Wulfhere in the chest and Uthric in the helmet. Uthric stabbed him in the leg with his spear and the man fell over incapacitated. He put his spear to the man’s throat and he surrendered. Wulfhere was not pleased that his new leather jerkin had a hole in it and very obvious blood stains. His injury was not significant and was likely to heal quickly. Uthric looked comical with an arrow lodged in his helmet. They removed their prisoner’s weapons. His wound in his leg was serious and it was unlikely that he would walk without help. Uthric stopped the bleeding in his leg and sat beside him and asked him his name. The man was startled that Uthric spoke British but told them his name was Caradoc. Uthric said he had been unlucky to meet the Hrothgarsons and even more unlucky to have a leg wound. Caradoc said that his luck had not been good recently and he had a premonition that it did not look like improving. Wulfhere wanted to know where he was from and why they had been trailing them. Caradoc said that all Sais were his enemy and after they had burnt his village and even killed all the women and children it was unlikely that he would ever be friends with the Sais. He said he had lost all faith in anything the Sais said and considered them wreckers, murderers and without honour. Wulfhere thought that he should perhaps have a more open mind and that not all Saxons were without honour. He said for instance he had a British wife and lived in a mainly British village. Caradoc said that this might be so for him but asked if he had a British or a Sais Chieftain. Wulfhere admitted the village was ruled by Saxons and Caradoc nodded and said that this was how it always started. The Sais would initially be friendly but in the end, they killed the British and took what they wanted. Wulfhere said that he could only speak for himself and his brothers but that was not how they saw things but each person was entitled to their own opinion. He offered Caradoc his life if he would agree to serve him for a year. Caradoc said that he didn’t see any advantage for him in being a slave. He considered himself a free man and he had been a person of importance in his village before the Sais had destroyed it and killed his wife and children. He said he would rather end his life and go to the otherworld to be with his family who were likely waiting for him. Wulfhere said that he accepted his decision and killed him quickly.
Dunstan and Wulfhere were perplexed by Caradoc’s words. They had been told that there were good relations between the British and Saxons and yet there was a Saxon Warband attacking and destroying British villages. Wulfhere wondered if the Warbands were the same ones Cerdic had sent out last year and if this was so, it would likely complicate their mission. Uthric said he was interested in the British Otherworld and wondered if it was the same as the Saxon Afterworld. He observed that events in the Afterworld frequently mirrored those in Miðgarðr and he would not be surprised if the British were feasting in their otherworld and enjoying themselves when a warband of Saxons would arrive, kick down the door and kill all the men and take over the feast. He laughed at the thought and said that it would be a great shock to Caradoc if it happened. Dunstan said that this was the British wyrd and he agreed with Uthric that it was an amusing thought. He thought it would be interesting to see the look on Caradoc’s face when Saxon raiders burst in.
The Hrothgarsons arrived in Taddenlæge just as the sun set. The gate guards looked nervous but directed them to the Thane’s Hall as they had requested. There were more guards at the entrance which they found odd but they let them past with minimal questions. They approached the high seat where two men were seated. They addressed the older man assuming he was the Thane and named themselves saying that they had travelled form the south with messages for Tadda. The older man introduced himself as Gorbold Gethlison, one of the prominent men of Taddenlæge and the younger man he introduced as Brecca Taddason. Brecca welcomed them although they noticed that he seemed unsure of himself and often stumbled over his words. He told them that his father was ill and had been so for the last two weeks. He was not able to receive guests but that Brecca, as his son, could hear the message. Wulfhere thanked him and asked if they could be assigned a dwelling where they could refresh themselves and meet with Brecca in private. Brecca called the steward, Eadric, who offered them a choice of staying in the Hall or if they required somewhere quieter he could let them have the use of a bur outside the palisade. Wulfhere agreed that the bur would suit their purposes but they did not expect to be staying for long. Gorbold offered to show them the bur and Eadric said that he would need a short time to prepare in order to make sure it was swept, had fresh rushes laid on the floor and the bedding straw was fresh. Uthric and Dunstan thought this was a good thing. They both were thinking of their experiences in Kernow and the difference in Saxon and British hospitality.
Brecca said he would be delighted if they joined him tonight in the hall for food and afterwards they could talk but in the meantime they should rest after their journey. That night Brecca held a feast. He asked The Hrothgarsons about their family and what news they had. Dunstan told them of their recent difficulties in the south with Thane Gorm and the battles with the British Regneses tribe. Dunstan told the story modestly and did not overly promote either himself or his brothers. Everyone said that he had spoken well and many were impressed. Gorbold gave Dunstan a ring when he sat down told Brecca to bring him some of the special ale to ease Dunstan’s throat.
Brecca was interested in the story of the Déaþscufa and Dunric’s part in it. He told how a leæce of a similar description and name had come to Taddenlæge one moon ago. Dunstan said that Dunric seemed to bring trouble wherever he went and Wulfhere thought it might not be a coincidence that Tadda fell ill after a visit from Dunric. Brecca thought it unlikely that a leæce would have caused so much trouble. He believed his father was ill because he had been Ælfshot having inadvertently offended one of the ælfar. Uthric said it would not be the first time that Dunric sets spirits on his kin. Indeed, trouble didn’t seem to avoid Dunric but preceded and followed him too.
Gorbold said that all the talk of Ælfar and spirts was depressing and that the feast was turning melancholy. He thought that they should enliven things by having a riddling contest. He challenged Wulfhere to a contest and put forward the prize of a thick silver torc. Wulfhere said that he would rather not as his last riddling contest had not ended so well. The warriors laughed at him and they shouted that southerners were not as capable as the hardy northerners. Wulfhere reluctantly agreed.
The contest went on over ten rounds and was evenly matched, sometimes Wulfhere failed but Gorbold also failed to guess the answer to Wulfhere’s riddle. At last Wulfhere asked a riddle that Gorbold could not answer:
My hall is not silent, nor am I myself loud.
My lord created a journey together for us two.
I am faster than him, sometimes stronger; he is more powerful.
Sometimes I rest; he must run onwards.
I will dwell in him for as long as I live:
If we two part, death will be fated to me.
There was loud acclaim for Wulfhere’s final riddle and since Gorbold did not guess it Wulfhere would not tell the answer. Wulfhere said that it will remain a mystery for now. Gorbold willingly gave him the silver torc and with his own hands put it round his neck.
The feast was enjoyable and Brecca asked Wulfhere what was the message he had brought for his father. Wulfhere said that he would prefer to deliver it to Brecca in private or with his counsel rather than at a feast where most had already too much to drink. Gorbold thought that the political situation in the world was changing. New powers were arising and the old order might be swept away.
Uthric asked why the British were hunting travellers. Brecca and Gorbold looked at one another before answering. It was Gorbold that said that as far he was aware the British had decided that they no longer accepted Saxon rule. He was not sure why but he thought it might be because they knew Tadda was sick and that he might die. He thought it might not be beyond the bounds of possibility that if the sickness was because of evil spirits sent to afflict Tadda then it had been the Britons who had done it. There was a murmur of agreement in the hall after Gorbold’s speech. Brecca tried to change the subject because he said he felt uneasy talking about these things in an open hall with so many people listening. He asked about the political situation in the south and the rumours they had heard about Cerdic challenging Aelle. The brothers said that high level politics were not their concern but acknowledged that there was a growing tension. Gorbold said that he thought that he had heard Wulfhere say that they brought a message from Cerdic and therefore must have some knowledge of what Cerdic was thinking. When none of the brothers replied he let the question go and spoke of lighter subjects.
After the feast, Gorbold walked them back to their bur. He said that they should come tomorrow to his Hall for a feast as he would like to talk to them further. Wulfhere said they would be pleased to do so and they left each other on good terms.
When they were back in the bur, they discussed the new information they had learnt. They were all most concerned that Dunric had visited Taddenlæge and the troubles seemed to escalate from when he had arrived. Tadda had fallen ill, the British seemed to take exception to Saxon overlords, the British alleged that Saxons were killing their women and children and they were in turn killing Saxons. Dunstan wanted to know why Dunric would have travelled north. He could not think of a reason but thought that maybe they had just not found the answer yet. Uthric wondered if the Carls who had killed Garm were behind the attacks on the British villages and they might have linked up with Dunric. Wulfhere said they could speculate all night on links and causes. He was more concerned about what they should do about Dunric if they found him. There was a proscription on killing leæces and it was well known that it would bring bad luck on the person who did it until the fifth generation. It was also said that the souls of those who killed a leæce would be gnawed by the dragon Níðhǫgg in the underworld. They all shuddered at the thought but Wulfhere said that he wondered how true this was. The proscription on killing leæces came from other leæces and he thought there might be a bit of self-interest in the ruling. None of them were sure that they wanted to test out the truth of the matter. It was left unresolved how they would deal with Dunric if they found he was mixed up in this.
In the morning they went to see Brecca. As they arrived in the Hall they interrupted what appeared to be a tense situation. A tall woman was shouting at Brecca, calling him a useless cowardly nīþing and she was demanding that he get off his father’s chair and do something useful. Brecca did not look at her while she shouted at him and spent the time studying his hands. The woman stopped shouting when she saw the Hrothgarsons and abruptly turned and walked off. She paused briefly to stare at the Hrothgarsons before walking on. She did not say anything to them. She stopped and turned again at the entrance to the Hall and said that if Brecca was not prepared to take action, then she would do so on her own.
Wulfhere looked at Brecca. It was clear that he was out of his depth and could not take control of what was happening or make decisions to remedy the situation. However, he decided this was none of his business and his job was to deliver a message from Cerdic and another message from Aelle. It was then up to Brecca as Thane to decide on what he would do. Brecca could not even look at Wulfhere as he spoke of Cerdic and Aelle’s requests. Wulfhere tried to be as neutral as possible and not to give either message preference. He thought it might have been lost on Brecca anyway as he did not seem to comprehend what was being asked of him. Wulfhere said that Brecca was likely to need time to consider his response so he would come back tomorrow for an answer. There was a silence in the Hall that became awkward and the brothers exchanged glances. When Brecca continued to say nothing, Wulfhere said they would leave and let him contemplate on his own. They turned and left but as they were leaving they asked the guard at the Hall door who the woman had been. The guard laughed and said that was the Lady Rowena, head of one of the most powerful families in Taddenlæge.
They discussed the interview with Brecca when they were alone. Uthric said that he had never met a Thane who appeared so inept and useless. Rowena had been right to call him a nīþing. Dunstan thought that their mission to get reinforcements was doomed even discounting the poisoned cup they had been given by Cerdic and Aelle. Wulfhere sat and stared at the forest for a long time and said it was likely that the Carls would not stand for Brecca’s behaviour much longer. He expected that if Tadda did not recover soon then there would be a new Thane elected.
Wulfhere thought they should insist on seeing Tadda. He wondered if they might be able to do something to heal him or even to let him know about the requests. Wulfhere said that he suspected that even if Tadda was well, it was unlikely that any help could be sent south while the British were killing Saxons.
They feasted with Gorbold that night. They found him pleasant company and he had good food and ale. The conversation was generally light-hearted but they did ask about Rowena. Gorbold said that Rowena had not been the same since her husband was killed by bandits two weeks ago. She had demanded that Brecca lead a Warband to the British base at Calleva and punish and kill the bandits. Brecca had been incapable of making a decision but it was also unlikely that the Carls would follow him anyway. Everyone viewed Brecca as an unproven Warleader. Gorbold said that he had heard that Rowena was going to take her men north and attack on her own if Brecca would not help.
Gorbold said that he felt sorry for Brecca but he thought that it was only a matter of time before there would be a decision by the Carls to replace him as Thane with someone more experienced. Wulfhere asked if Gorbold would be standing for Thane but Gorbold said that despite his prominence in matters of trade, Rowena was a Shieldmaiden in her youth and what Taddenlæge needed now was a War Thane to defend the settlement and destroy the insurgent British. Gorbold thought that Rowena would be the best Warleader for Taddenlæge and he intended to support her if it came to an election. He said that personal ambition had to be put aside for the good of Taddenlæge. Wulfhere and Dunstan agreed that this made sense. Uthric was not sure that he trusted Gorbold. Gorbold offered the brothers to stay the night in his Hall or as many nights as they would be in Taddenlæge. He thought that they might be more comfortable in his Hall rather than in a bur. Wulfhere said that they would likely take him up on his offer but tonight they would sleep in the bur.
They again discussed what they should do when back at the bur. It was clear that Taddenlæge could not give troops because of the standoff between the Saxons and the British. It was also clear that Cerdic had not been aware of the situation when he asked them to come and they wondered should they go back and bring warriors from Cædering and Glawmæd to help resolve the situation. They talked around in circles for a while and then decided the best thing was to sleep and see what the next day brought. Dunstan said he felt this was the problem, they were always reacting to situations rather than creating them.
In the morning, they were awoken by a commotion and cheering. When they came out of the bur they watched a small warband of twenty warriors led by Rowena heading north in the direction of Calleva. Uthric asked the gate guards why so few were going north and the guard told him that Brecca had refused to send more men so Rowena took her own warriors.
Wulfhere said that they thought they should see Brecca and then make some decisions when they had more information. Brecca was in the Thane’s Hall alone and they approached him and asked if he had thought about what they had said the previous day. Brecca said that he could not make any decisions at present and would not be sending any warriors south until the situation was resolved in the north. Wulfhere said that while he understood this he was confused that Brecca had not helped Rowena and sent more warriors with her. Brecca could not answer the question and Wulfhere had to remain confused. Uthric said that he had some skill in healing and thought that he could help if he examined Tadda. Brecca said that he had given up hope that his father might recover but if there was any chance of Uthric healing him then he was willing to take it no matter how small. Brecca took the three Hrothgarsons to see Tadda. He was lying in bed with a fever and was clearly delirious, mumbling and shouting incomprehensible words. Uthric said that unfortunately he had never seen an illness like this before and had no knowledge of his symptoms. When Brecca heard what Uthric said he asked them to leave Tadda in peace.
Dunstan asked Wulfhere if there was any point in staying in Taddenlæge if they were unlikely to fulfil their mission. Uthric thought that at least they should wait until Rowena returned which he felt may change the situation. Wulfhere said he thought a positive resolution was slipping away but he needed to make every effort before going back to Cerdic and telling him that he would not get any reinforcements from the north. Wulfhere agreed that they should wait for Rowena to return at the least.
It was late afternoon when Rowena and what was left of her Warband returned. They had lost over half of their men on an assault on Calleva where they had tracked the British force to. Rowena went straight to her Hall and did not speak to anyone. Uthric saw Gorbold watching her return from a distance and he went to his own Hall shortly afterwards.
Uthric thought it might be good to scout the enemy at Calleva. He said he was tired sitting around waiting for something to happen. If they knew the strength of the fortifications and the numbers of the enemy at least they might be able to add some knowledge to help solve this issue. Dunstan agreed and they went to get their armour and weapons from the bur.
They knew the road north went straight to Calleva but thought it unwise to follow it openly because of the danger of enemy patrols. They moved quietly through the forest heading north. Unfortunately, they were not moving as quietly as they thought they were and were ambushed by a British patrol. The arrows that suddenly hit the trees around them or stuck in their shields surprised them but did no damage. The enemy, seeing that they had not hurt any of the brothers, tried to escape but were caught and quickly killed or disabled. One of the enemy did escape and he stopped again and fired arrows. Uthric decided he had had enough of being shot at and charged at the man, crouching behind his shield. The man was either luckier or a better shot that his dead or wounded comrades because two arrows hit Uthric’s right leg. One went through his thigh and the other hit his kneecap and he fell over unable to move without sever pain. The man fired two more arrows but they stuck in Uthric’s shield which he had hid behind. It was likely if Uthric had been alone the man would have killed him but he ran off when Wulfhere and Dunstan came to Uthric’s aid. They helped Uthric up and helped him to walk. It was clear that the return journey would be slow because Uthric was unable to walk without support.
Wulfhere examined the bodies of the men they had killed and finding one was still alive interrogated him. The man refused to answer questions other than calling them child murderers and woman killers. He said he would prefer to be killed quickly rather than burnt alive as the Sais usually did. Wulfhere said that this was exactly the stereotypical binary views that perpetuate misunderstanding. Sadly, Wulfhere’s British was good, but not good enough to translate exactly what he meant and the man looked confused. Uthric said that what Wulfhere had said was that the idea that the Saxons were all bad and the British all good was false and that it was not helpful in finding solutions. Wulfhere’s patience was growing thin and he gave the wounded man a quick death.
They returned slowly to Taddenlæge without further incident but when they examined Uthric’s leg they knew that he would be unable to walk on it for some weeks. They sat in their bur and made plans. Uthric said that Wulfhere and Dunstan should leave and tell Cerdic what was happening and leave him here until he recovered. The other two disagreed and said that at present they should stick together. Dunstan asked what exactly could they tell Cerdic. They were still not sure what was happening or why there was conflict between the British and Saxons. They decided that they needed a lot of ale and all drank too much before they went to sleep.
Edited by Nozbat