The Death of a Ring-giver and the West Saxon King
In the morning there was more news that Ealdorman Cœlfrith had arrived with a strong Warband. The Hrothgarsons thought it best that they did not go abroad and stayed in Rowena's Hall. They created a small hiding place in the undercroft by stacking sacks of grain and flour so that it would take a lot of effort if anyone was searching for them. They discussed the situation with Rowena and Wulfhere told her the history that they had with Cœlfrith. Rowena said that there was a leæce who had come with Cœlfrith and he matched Dunstan’s description of Dunric. Dunstan thought that they might really be in trouble and he said to Wulfhere that they should have left earlier. He said that he was not afraid to die but would prefer if it was not at the hands of Dunric.
The next day Dunric came to Rowena's Hall and asked for the Hrothgarsons. Rowena said that they had left Taddenlæge the previous night and she believed that they may have returned to their home having thought that there was nothing more that they wanted to do in the north. She said that she thought that they were unlikely to escape the Artrebate blockade and had more than likely been killed. Dunric was polite but suspicious and made Rowena nervous by continually sniffing the air.
That night they again discussed leaving. Uthric could still not walk on his leg without frequent rest and he certainly would not be able to fight or run. Wulfhere was not keen to leave him and Dunstan said that the brothers had never been separated before. He thought that if they should die then they should die together. Uthric said he had no intention of dying yet and Dunstan should remember they had separated during the battles at Glawmæd and Cædering and they had managed to do so without coming to harm. He thought that this was one of those times that they should leave each other as they were always lucky in wars. Dunstan said that maybe that they should make their own wyrd and attack Cœlfrith and Dunric rather than leaving because they would be doing the people of Miðgarðr a favour if they managed to kill both of them. Wulfhere said that while this was a fine plan it was unlikely to work. Cœlfrith had over sixty warriors and they had three and one of them could still not walk. He thought that perhaps they needed to think of another plan.
Dunstan was concerned that Cœlfrith must have come past Glawmæd on his way north. He thought that this might be bad news for their mother and wives. Wulfhere said that this was unlikely as Coelfrith would have been foolish to openly attack one of Cerdic's villages. That would be a declaration of war and invite reprisals when Cœlfrith had gone north. Yet he conceded that Coelfrith could have been spiteful enough to do something to their mother and wives but consoled himself that when he had left the south, Cœlfrith had not known the Hrothgarsons were at Taddenlæge.
The night was dark and cloudy and with Rowena’s help Wulhere and Dunstan slipped over the wall and safely made their way along the Arle and kept east until they reached the upper Moen. They then travelled south over open land and did not encounter many people. Those that they saw in the distance hurried away without making contact. Wulfhere thought people were afraid and he suspected the rumours of war had made people fearful of armed men. They spent the night in Old Wincen Cæster Hill and recalled their fight with the Déaþscufa and Ætremód. When he slept, Dunstan had nightmares about the Ætremód and the darkness that he had been caught in. In the morning he said that Uthric's idea of building a village here might possibly be a bad idea and he thought he would not support it. Wulfhere said he thought there still might be evil here and he too would oppose Uthric’s idea of a settlement.
They went on to Glawmæd and met with Lucnot and their wives. Meire was concerned that Uthric was not with them and thought something might have happened to him. Wulfhere assured her that while Uthric had been unable to travel at the time they left, he had been alive and well four days ago. They left early next morning having avoided talking to their mother because Bronwyn had told Wulfhere Hildegard was annoyed about their time keeping again. Wulfhere also wanted to see Cerdic as soon as possible and tell him the news of the north. He hoped Cerdic would give him warriors to expel Cœlfrith from Taddenlæge. Wulfhere asked Dunstan how he felt about going to Cædering to see Tæthle but they decided it would not serve much purpose at present.
When they arrived at Portus Cæster they asked the guards at Cerdic's Hall if they could see Cerdic but were refused entry. The guards told the brothers that Cerdic was not in Portus Cæster and no one was permitted to enter. Dunstan began to get annoyed with the Chief guard, Alaric, who also refused to let Wulfhere or Dunstan know where they could find Cerdic. All they could discover was that Cerdic had gone West to attack Dumnonia. Dunstan was incensed by Alaric’s lack of interest and information and threatened to tell Cerdic that he was obstructive. Alaric said that he was not particularly bothered about what Dunstan said or didn't say. Alaric said his job was to protect Cerdic's Hall and he intended to do that as well as he could. Wulfhere stopped Dunstan from doing something to Alaric that he might regret. They decided that they should go north and then west to look for Cerdic. Wulfhere thought that he could ask people where Cerdic was as they travelled. He thought it might be hard to hide a large army and he felt sure that people would tell him. Dunstan complained about Alaric during the days travel. He thought that Cerdic needed to improve the quality of his guards and importantly there should be a system of how to get important messages to him. After a while Wulfhere asked Dunstan to be quiet but Dunstan said he was too angry to be quiet and spent his time muttering to himself.
They reached Clausentium at nightfall and spoke with Arnulf, the Þegn in command of the garrison. Arnulf told them Cerdic had been at Clausentium half a moon ago but had gone north along the road with his army. There had been talk about attacking a fortress in the north but Arnulf had not been part of that discussion. He could not tell them any more information as no-one had brought any news from the north and the garrison had been too busy fighting off Dumnonian raids to send their own messenger. Dunstan took the opportunity to tell Arnulf what he had been thinking about for the last two days. Wulfhere recognised what was coming so he decided to see if he could get his spear sharpened at the smithy. Dunstan ignored Wulfhere's look and told Arnulf that he had a good mind to tell Cerdic that if he was off fighting wars then he needed a system that could send messages to his commanders. It was not good enough if people could not find him when they needed decisions made. Arnulf said he would like to be present when Dunstan criticised Cerdic for not being a good leader. He said the last time he had seen Cerdic he had not been in a good frame of mind and had reacted angrily to criticism. Dunstan was a bit surprised and said that he always found Cerdic open to discussion. Arnulf said that this may have been how Cerdic used to be but more recently he had found Cerdic was increasingly intolerant of people who offered stupid advice. Dunstan said that his advice was not stupid and it was clear that Cerdic needed to make changes if the size of his lands was increasing and it only was good governance to be able to know where he was at any given time. Wulfhere returned and was not surprised to see Dunstan still telling Arnulf his thoughts. He was surprised however that Arnulf had not knifed him to keep him quiet. Wulfhere said he thought he was tired of Dunstan's discussions on what should or should not be done and he was going to sleep because they needed to leave early in the morning.
They travelled north for another day and were thinking how they could cross the Itchen before they reached the Dumnonian fortress at Venta. Neither wanted to be caught by a Dumnonian patrol but they could not find a ford. Wulfhere doubted that either of them could swim over the river with their armour and weapons so they thought they should try and find a boat. They could see the smoke of Venta in the distance and were unsure what they should do. Wulfhere thought that crossing the Itchen into Dumnonian territory could be very dangerous. They camped for the night but were awoken by Saxon voices calling to each other as they searched either side of the road. Wulfhere and Dunstan shouted to them and they identified themselves to the leader, Ranulf. Wulfhere said he had been looking for Cerdic as he had news that he would like to get to him as soon as possible. Ranulf said that Wulfhere was in luck because they could easily take him to Cerdic.
Cerdic was in the process of assaulting Venta Belgarium. The camp was spread out to prevent reinforcements reaching the defending troops before the final assault on Venta. Dunstan thought that it would be a difficult assault on the walls and likely to end in many deaths. Groups of armed men lazed around which Wulfhere suspected were to react to any aggressive move by the Dumnonians but he wondered how effective they would be. Most of the men had taken off their armour and were eating and drinking or playing gambling games using British throwboards. Dunstan thought it amusing that warriors were always complaining about a lack of silver but when they had silver they contrived ways to rid themselves of it quickly. Wulfhere remarked that it was interesting for all the warrior’s belligerence and rejection of British culture, throwboards had made the cultural leap in popularity amongst the warriors.
As they were approaching Cerdic’s tent they could hear him shouting which they thought might not bode well. However, when they were brought in by Ranulf, Cerdic looked pleased to see them and asked for the news. He dismissed a group of Þegns except for his nephew Stuf and sat down to listen. Wulfhere told him of the events in Taddenlæge, of Tadda's illness, of the rising of the Artrebates, of Gorbold the new Þegn and the alliance of Octa and Cœlfrith. They could see that Cerdic was annoyed at what they said and Wulfhere thought it was time to stop talking. Cerdic said that he had been under the impression that they had brought him men but they had only brought him more troubles. After a while he calmed down and asked more questions. He asked the Hrothgarsons why they had come and said he hoped that it had not been only to convey bad news and a failure to complete the task he had set them. Wulfhere was hesitant to say that they had come to ask for warriors but, in the end, he saw no easy way to say it other than point out that Cœlfrith had to be stopped. Cerdic agreed but said he had no warriors to spare at present. As it now stood, any assault on Venta would mean that he would suffer loses that might not be acceptable. He told Wulfhere to gather men from Cædering, Glawmæd and Cælctun. All three villages still had their garrisons. Wulfhere asked him what would Cerdic wanted them to do. Cerdic looked bemused and said he thought it was clear. They should kill Cœlfrith and bring men back to Venta for the final assault. Stuf took them out of the tent and said that it was urgent that they completed their task quickly. It was becoming difficult to hold the warriors outside Venta and they would have to attack soon or the army would go home. Stuf said that was the reason for Cerdic's anger and it had not necessarily directed at the Hrothgarsons.
Wulfhere and Dunstan left as soon as they could and travelled through the night to reach Glawmæd in one day. Despite their exhaustion they went to see Tæthle and told her of Cerdic's request. Tæthle said that she was not entirely impressed by the plan. Taking most of the Warband north left the three villages dangerously exposed, particularly if Cœlfrith was still an active enemy She suggested that she could only spare forty warriors and even keeping twenty and the Fyrd would leave them open to attack. Dunstan was pleased to see Hereward the Leæce was in Cædering and asked if he would like to come with them. Wulfhere told him Dunric was in the north and they would need Hereweard to counter Dunric’s spells. Hereward said he did not have Dunric's skills in dark or blood magic but as he enjoyed a challenge, he would agree to come. He did warn Dunstan that if things got too dangerous it might be that he would leave them because he was not as young as he used to be and was not keen to end up having his soul tormented by Dunric’s demons. Dunstan for once was lost for words.
It took four days for Wulfhere, Dunstan, Hereweard and the forty warriors to get to the Taddenlæge. Travelling with them was their younger brother, Halig, who was going to his first war. They arrived at the ford of Arles to find that it was held against them by Cœlfrith's men. They had not enough men to force a passage and when. more men came out of Taddenlæge to add to the defenders Wulfhere ordered a withdrawal from the ford to the forest to consider how they would proceed.
Uthric lay in his hidden room in the undercroft of Rowena's Hall. Her men had stacked more sacks of grain in such a way as to hide the pallet that Uthric was using for a bed. His leg was slowly healing but it would still be at least a week before he could even hobble around on it. Any movement could cause the wound to reopen and set the healing process back weeks. Uthric asked Rowena if some of the men would remove the sacks each day so that he could make brief journeys outside his cramped bedroom to test and exercise his leg. He was not keen that it remain stiff and sore. However, he did not go into the main Hall and Rowena would meet him periodically and tell him the news.
On the second day after these arrangements were agreed, Uthric heard his name being talked about by a man whose voice he did not recognise. He could hear Rowena answer but the sound was too muffled to hear what was said. It was only towards evening he learnt from Rowena that Dunric had come to her Hall to ask for the Hrothgarsons. He had seemed suspicious that all three brothers had left Taddenlæge and had been aware that Uthric had been injured and unable to walk. Rowena had denied all knowledge of Uthric's whereabouts and she assured Dunric about her loyalty to Taddenlæge. She also told Uthric that Dunric had begun to execute one prisoner each day outside of Taddenlæge to terrify the besieging Artrebates. The prisoners were horribly mutilated whilst still alive. She said that she was sickened by Dunric's cruelty and the suffering of the prisoners and did not see how it benefited Taddenlæge.
After another three days, warriors again came to Rowena's Hall to search for Uthric. They even searched the undercroft but did not discover Uthric's hiding place. Rowena met with Uthric afterwards and he thought she looked scared. He asked if Dunric had threatened her but she said that she just thought he was an evil man and capable of much cruelty. She thought it did not forebode well for the future if men like Dunric did what they pleased. She said she had the impression that darkness followed him. Uthric said that he should leave as soon as he could walk because he thought he would put everyone in danger if he was to be discovered. Rowena said that it was her opinion there was a great difference between walking on his leg and being able to fight. She thought that it was only Uthric who was at risk if he was discovered. Gorbold and Dunric would not dare to attack her or her people. They could not afford to lose warriors when the situation was so delicately balanced. Uthric said he was not sure but was glad she had such confidence.
Rowena came again the next day to talk with Uthric and told him that each day Dunric continued to kill a prisoner by torturing them and that he was saving the Artrebate Chieftain, Orin to the last. In her opinion it was not lifting the blockade and meant that the Artrebates were likely to do the same to Saxon prisoners. Uthric asked how many prisoners were left and Rowena said she thought there were three including Orin.
Uthric's leg was improving and it could now bear his weight but he was unsure if it would be sufficient to fight with. He was beginning to formulate a plan but didn't think he could wait until the leg was fully healed. He spent the next few days exercising the leg and practicing with his spear and shield. Uthric noticed he got tired early and the leg hurt after exercise but at least he could move on it. He decided it was time to make a move and asked if Rowena would come and see him.
Uthric said he was unsure that his brothers would have got any help but he thought it might be good to get the support of the Artrebates in the area. Rowena asked him if lying in the dark had unsettled his wits and in case he was not up to date with the news he should be aware that the Artrebates had surrounded Taddenlæge and had declared war on the Saxon people. Uthric said that he was aware of that but he had a plan to rescue Orin which may persuade the Artrebates that not all Saxons agree with Cœlfrith and that he has manipulated the situation in Taddenlæge. Rowena said she was doubtful that the Artrebates would agree. They remained incensed about the destruction and death in the villages and she doubted that Dunric's continued torturing and killing of captives would have changed their views. Uthric said that he should at least try and siting waiting to be discovered and killed by Dunric or Cœlfrith was not doing him any good.
Rowena offered to help but Uthric declined. He thought that the chances of success were low and if he was captured it would be better for her that she was not associated with his actions. There was little light that night because of the clouds and the new moon and Uthric was able to move between the buildings unseen. Rowena had told him there were only two guards watching Orin at night and he thought if he was able to kill both before the alarm was raised he could free Orin and get over the palisade before anyone knew what was happening. Rowena had ensured her men were guarding the section of the wall near to the Arle and they had been told to expect men would be leaving at night.
Uthric watched the guards from the shadows. One was standing leaning on his spear and the other was sitting on a log close to the door of the hut they were using as a prison. Uthric moved forward as quietly as he could and was able to get close enough to hit the standing man in the stomach just as he turned. The spear caught on the man’s ribs and Uthric struggled to remove his spear. The sitting man, although surprised, got up and tried to attack but swung wildly with his axe. Uthric easily parried with his shield and thrust his spear at full force into the man’s chest. The force of the blow was so great that the spear protruded from his back. The man was dying but Uthric thought that it would be better if he could die more quietly and decided it was best to finish him off with a well-placed blow of his seax. He paused for a while to see if the noise of the combat had alerted anyone before removing the bar from the hut. He called Orin quietly in Brythonic and was answered cautiously by a man inside. Uthric told Orin that he was here to rescue him and that he needed to act quickly. Orin and another man came out. Uthric introduced himself and reminded Orin of their last meeting. He then briefly told Orin the plan. Orin and the other man took the dead guards’ weapons and both followed Uthric through the buildings keeping to the shadows. They reached the part of the wall where Rowena's men guarded and watched the open ground for possible enemies. Uthric thought it best that they walk calmly to the wall as if they were part of the new guards. Their plan was challenged when they head sounds of alarm. It seemed someone had at last discovered the bodies of the guards and was sounding a horn. Rowena's shieldman, Regenmær, signalled for them to hurry. If anyone saw them they would be caught and Uthric would not be able to explain away the fresh blood on his weapons and clothes. Regenmær had attached a rope to the palisade and told them to hurry. Uthric insisted Orin went first and then his companion, Wynn, went next. Uthric went over last, careful not hurt his leg again. Uthric had asked Regenmær to raise the alarm when they were almost at the forest. He thought that they would be safe at that point because he did not expect that any of the Saxons would pursue them at night in Artrebate infested woods.
They paused to catch their breaths on the edge of the forest. Uther stretched his leg and realised that the cramped conditions of the undercroft had not allowed him to exercise as much as he should have and the exertion of the combat and escape had probably hurt it again. Wynn began making barking noises like a fox. The barking was answered to the left and to the front of them. Suddenly they were surrounded by Artrebate warriors. Orin told Uthric to lay down his weapons and not to make any sudden moves. Both he and Wynn did the same and they sat down and waited. The initial suspicion of the surrounding warriors gave way to glad reunion as men recognised Orin and Wynn.
Uthric was taken to Calleva where Orin talked to the other leaders of the Artrebates. Uthric urged the Artrebates to send out scouts south of Taddenlæge to look for his brothers. He said he hoped that they would be coming north with a Warband. Uthric explained the situation in Taddenlæge as he understood it. He said he was not aware of all the motivations but he told of the alliance between Cœlfrith, Gorbold and Dunric, the illness of Tadda and that in his opinion that the people of Taddenlæge had been tricked by the Cœlfrith and his men. The attacks on the Artrebate villages had been orchestrated to provoke conflict by Dunric to allow Cœlfrith to take over.
The Artrebate leaders elected Orin as their leader. He was not keen to be the Warleader as he felt his skills were more peaceful than warlike but was persuaded to accept the role for the duration of the conflict. He returned the Helmet of Anyon to Uthric as a reward for his actions. He agreed to send out scouts who had knowledge of Saxon to try and find Uthric’s brothers. They were unsure of the numbers of warriors that Cœlfrith had but Taddenlæge was a difficult place to attack without overwhelming numbers and Orin wanted to minimise every death. He thought that it would be difficult enough to rebuild their villages without more massive casualties from assaulting a defended fortification.
Orin spent time organising the defence of Calleva and appointed warriors to lead small mobile Warbands that would operate independently but could gather together quickly if a larger Warband was needed. Uthric was able to rest his leg and he felt confident that he could now stand in a Shieldwall if required. On the fifth day after their escape, word came that there was a large Sais Warband coming north toward Calleva along the Old People's road. Orin thought this might be an opportunity to even up numbers if they were able to defeat a Warband outside the walls of Taddenlæge. Uthric thought from the red bull shield design they were Cœlfrith’s men. If they could kill or capture Cœlfrith there might be no need to fight further. Orin agreed but was worried about the number of warriors he could get that had experience of standing in a Shieldwall. Most of the Artrebates had only experience in skirmishing with hunting bows or javelins. Hunting bows were not particularly successful against close order troops in a Shieldwall. They were more often annoying rather than effective. His Javelin skirmishers were likely to cause more damage but then ran the risk of being counter-charged by experienced troops and might get in the way of their own Shieldwall. Nevertheless, Orin organised the warriors and they set off to find a suitable position to offer battle. He ordered his skirmishers to harass the Sais march, slow them down and make them cautious.
Wulfhere had withdrawn his forces from the ford. He had spoken with Cœlfrith when the Ealdorman came to support his troops. Wulfhere had kept most of his warriors in the woods to make sure that Cœlfrith would be uncertain of numbers. Wulfhere had suggested that Cœlfrith withdraw from Taddenlæge as he was now outnumbered by Cerdic's forces. Cœlfrith laughed at Wulfhere's suggestion and said that he was welcome to try and come across the food. Wulfhere said that he did not see any advantage for him to try to fight his way across but if Cœlfrith was so confident in his own ability then he could withdraw back to allow his men to cross and then they could fight. Coelfrith laughed again and said that he would be a poor leader if he gave away an advantage due to some misguided principle of fairness. He said that life was not fair and the strongest would always take what they wanted. Wulfhere said he did not see any point in continuing the conversation as he had delivered the warning to Cœlfrith and if he chose to ignore it then he would have to accept the consequences of his actions. Wulfhere hoped that by talking to Cœlfrith that Cœlfrith's men and more importantly the warriors of Taddenlæge would begin to doubt their position.
Halig said that although he was inexperienced in these matters there were obviously different factions in Taddenlæge which they should exploit for their own purposes. There must be a number of people who had grave suspicions of Gorbold. They must also see that the attacks on the Artrebate villages were perpetrated by Cœlfrith's outlaws to allow him to take over Taddenlæge. Dunstan thought if they could defeat or reduce Cœlfrith's power then there might be those inside Taddenlæge who would help them or at least not hinder what they were doing. Wulfhere said he thought this might all be true but the problem they faced was that the ford was guarded and they needed to get across. He thought it was also important to remember that Uthric was still inside Taddenlæge and probably in danger. They needed to try and get him out.
Wulfhere sent Dunstan and Halig along the Arle to scout out Taddenlæge from that side. It would also give a view of the north side and Wulfhere hoped that they might find another way across the river and perhaps find a weak point to attack. Dunstan took ten warriors with him, choosing those that were good at moving through forests unseen. They all lay at the forest edge and watched the settlement. Wulfhere sent some of the men to guard the ford and others to forage for food.
Dunstan and Halig grew bored of watching as nothing appeared to be happening in Taddenlæge. Dunstan wondered how their families were getting on in Glawmæd. Halig said that as ever his elder brothers were not good at coming back home when they said they would otherwise Dunstan would be in his own Hall and able to ask Gwenyth how she was. He said that their mother had been right, none of the women in the family could trust the men’s words. He thought that Dunstan and his elder brothers always downplayed their responsibility and sometimes actually stayed away longer than agreed on purpose. Dunstan grew angry and said he wondered why Halig always saw their mother’s viewpoint. He said it had not been their fault that they always returned late as situations that they assumed were simple turned out more complex. Halig said that this was a situation in point and that a little forethought and factoring in extra complexity would have given a more realistic timescale. This was in his view all the women were asking for. They were always concerned that their menfolk had been killed if they did not come back on time. The argument became more heated. Halig said that the worst time was when they left their mother in poverty and the family had nearly died of starvation. Dunstan said that he was tired of hearing this old narrative and that if Halig did not stop talking about it, then he would be sent home. Halig said that Dunstan needed to remember that he was not a child any more but a grown man and issuing threats to send him home was puerile. They began to tussle and the situation might have developed further if the guards on the palisade had not noticed them and were coming down to the banks of the Arles to investigate. Nothhelm, who was the most experienced warrior with the group, told Dunstan and Halig to stop arguing about their mother and pay attention to the enemy. Dunstan suddenly noticed that his argument with Halig had endangered his men and ordered them to withdraw and keep out of javelin range. The argument meant that they almost missed a large Warband of 50-60 warriors leaving the Callevagate and heading north. Fortunately, Uscfrea had been paying attention and pointed it out to Dunstan as they retreated.
Dunstan and Halig returned to Wulfhere to talk with him. Neither mentioned their disagreement but Wulfhere asked what had happened that they both looked angry. Dunstan said that they had seen a large Warband heading north. What they thought was more concerning was that there was still the same number of men guarding the Ford. Wulfhere said that Cœlfrith had more warriors than they had realised and that did not bode well for the success of their task. Dunstan said that he was of the opinion that they should return to Venta and ask Cerdic for more reinforcements. Wulfhere said that this was not possible. Cerdic had been quite clear that he had no further men to give and moreover he expected them to complete the task with the men he had given or die trying.
Orin and Uthric set their Shieldwall in the middle of the road flanked by two groups of hunters armed with bows. The bows were more an annoyance than a serious threat but the Saxon Shieldwall kept its distance. Orin and Uthric went forward to talk to the Saxon Warleader, a man called Osred. Uthric translated for Orin. Orin asked the Sais to lay down their arms and they would be spared death. Osred said that he had no intention of leaving but would generously allow the Artrebates to surrender. He said he recognised that it would be difficult for the Artrebates to do so but did not want to cause them more unnecessary death. He said that the only death he would require would be Uthric, who he considered to be a traitor to his people and family and spat at Uthric’s feet to show his contempt. Orin said that he thought they would just have to fight and Osred could try and kill Uthric. He warned Osred that many people had tried to kill Uthric but none had succeeded and they that they were now in Annwn's pits. With that the conference was over and the Commanders walked back to their troops. Uthric was angry after the discussion with Osred and said that he would like to meet him in the battle. He used his anger to make a speech to the men. He told them that Osred had called them barbarians but he told them that they were not the ones who killed and burnt woman and children. Uthric said that they were not Artrebates or Sais but they were heroic men who were fighting to protect their families and their villages.
The Artrebate Warband were inspired by Uthric’s speech and shared his anger at the Sais. They advanced quickly before Osred had got his warriors aligned and many of the front-rank warriors fell to Artrebate spears. Osred's men were disorganised by the sudden attack and he desperately tried to hold them together. Orin's archers took advantage of the disorder to appear on the flanks and fire point blank into the sides of the Shieldwall. By force of will Osred get his men to stand firm and they were able to lock shields but the earlier numerical advantage they had was now lying dead or dying on the ground. The Saxon Shieldwall started to push the lighter armed Artrebates back but Orin shouted at his men to target Osred who stood in the front rank. His men responded to the call and the Artrebates attacked strongly, focusing on Osred. Osred was stabbed below his shield in the thigh and would have fallen to the ground but for the press of the Shieldwalls. However, it could be seen by both sides that he was clearly badly wounded. The men in the second rank of the British Shield wall used their long spears to thrust at his head and shoulders. Osred could not defend himself but the men around him tried to protect him with their own shields. Unfortunately for them, they were then exposed to other Artrebate spears and the Saxon Shieldwall began to disintegrate. The end came when the two groups of archers charged the rear and enveloped what was left of the Saxon troops. Not many Saxons escaped the carnage and the pent-up frustration of the Artrebates who had seen their women and children murdered, added to the slaughter. Those Saxons who escaped were hunted through the woods by the Artrebate skirmishers. Uthric reckoned that only a handful escaped and he hoped that because of the cordon of scouts around Taddenlæge, they would be unable to tell Cœlfrith what had happened to his Warband.
After the battle Orin sent the wounded back to Calleva and they dispatched any surviving Sais quickly. Uthric thought it would be good to strip the bodies and hang them from the trees as a warning to Cœlfrith. Orin said it might be more perplexing if they removed the bodies and hid them in the forest so that Cœlfrith would be unsure what had happened to his men. They could not hide the fact there had been a battle on the road but if there was no evidence of the outcome then he would be uncertain as to what happened.
While they were moving the bodies, a messenger came from the Artrebates maintaining the siege around Taddenlæge saying that a Sais Warband had been seen on the south side of the Arle. The scouts had been alerted by two men arguing and had watched as they retreated into the forest to meet with a Warband of about forty warriors. The scouts did not know who they were but they did not carry red bull shields of Cœlfrith or the Thunor’s hammer of Taddenlæge. Uthric thought that it was likely to be his brothers with reinforcements from Cerdic. He said he had no idea who the men fighting on the banks of the Arle were and supposed that they had been trying to subdue a captive who had momentarily got free. The scout said that this was not the case. He had noticed that they had been lying watching Taddenlæge for several hours before getting up and trying to punch each other. The scout said from watching the strangeness of the Sais that he thought it was a wonder how they ever managed to be successful. Uthric did not respond to the jibe but asked Orin if he could go and meet the new force and asked if some of the scouts would take him. The scouts said they would be happy to him on the condition he did not instigate any wrestling matches at awkward moments. Uthric said he was not that keen on wrestling as he preferred using his spear but would keep their request in mind.
Uthric found Wulfhere, Dunstan and Halig camped beneath the trees near the ford that was still defended by Cœlfrith’s men. They discussed what they should do next. Uthric and Wulfhere were certain that if they could gain a tactical advantage over Cœlfrith then the people of Taddenlæge might be less inclined to fight for him. Wulfhere thought that they might fear an Artrebate victory but if they could show a combination of Saxon and Artrebate forces they may be less concerned. The news that Uthric and Orin had managed to destroy a Warband meant that Cœlfrith's forces were already severely reduced. Dunstan reminded them that Dunric was still in Taddenlæge and he needed to be dealt with or neutralised.
Wulfhere was unhappy that they could not get across the ford and asked Uthric if the scouts could get his men across to join up with the Artrebates. The scouts were happy to take them north but the route would likely take a day. Wulfhere said the time period might be too long and asked Uthric how he had got across the Arles but he was told that Uthric had taken a small two-person boat across. There was only one boat therefore transporting the Warband and their equipment across would take time. If they were discovered then those men on the far bank would be at risk of death or capture as they could not be reinforced quickly.
They agreed that getting across the ford was the next step and how to do it safely was the difficult issue. Wulfhere was certain that he did not want to have to force the ford even if the numbers were initially similar. The defenders could be quickly reinforced from Taddenlæge and any defeat or too many loses would endanger their mission. Uthric suggested that they could gather all the hunters on the south side and use missile fire to force the defenders at the ford to retreat. He said he had been impressed by the use of bows in their battle on the road. The Artrebate scouts agreed that this possible and could be done relatively quickly. The scouts could swim the Arle while their equipment could be ferried by the small boat. They pointed out that there was a risk that the Sais in Taddenlæge could then discover that there was no-one maintaining the siege. Wulfhere thought this was a risk worth taking. The siege could be reinstated if he got his troops on the north bank of the Arle and would have the advantage of being reinforced by his Warband.
Uthric said that he had also thought of a way to get inside Taddenlæge. He had proposed to Orin that they dress in Saxon war gear and pretend to be the remnants of Osred's Warband returning wounded. When the gates were opened then they would hold them, kill the guards and the remaining hidden Warband would reinforce them. If Wulfhere had forced the ford then his warriors could join Orin’s men in holding the gates. Once inside he thought that resistance would crumble. The warriors of Taddenlæge would run to protect their families leaving only Cœlfrith's men to fight. He thought that the combined force of Artrebates and Saxons would be then greater than Cœlfrith’s men.
And so that is what they planned. The hunters lifted their siege and made their way over the Arle to the south side and joined with Wulfhere’s Warband. Wulfhere readied his troops while the hunters shot arrows from the south side of the Arles Ford at Coelfrith's troops on the north side. The defenders had initially formed up in a Shieldwall but retreated from the ford when the arrows kept falling. None of the warriors were killed but here and there an arrow had found exposed flesh and there had been a dribble of wounded men returning to Taddenlæge. When the Warband retreated out of range, Wulfhere hurried his men across the ford and formed a Shieldwall. The archers then formed a bank of skirmishers on the flank of the Shieldwall. The enemy seeing that Wulfhere had successfully crossed the ford retreated inside the palisade.
Wulfhere took his men into the forest on the north side of the Arles and spread them along the eaves ensuring they were out of sight. The hunters returned to their stations around Taddenlæge to enforce the siege. Several hours later a motley band of wounded and injured men bearing the Bull shields of Cœlfrith limped into the clearing. A man wearing a closed helm shouted at the gate guards to open and let them in as they were being pursued by Artrebates. Wulfhere counted twenty-six men in the Warband and he hoped it would be enough. Wulfhere smiled as a rearguard of five men formed up facing towards the road. He thought he might have been convinced if he had been a gate guard. He gave a quiet command for his men to be ready to run for the gate when Uthric and Orin’s men formed a shield wall.
Uthric was not sure that the guards were going to open the gate. They delayed and seemed to be more nervous about a rapid attack from a pursuing force that might mean they were unable to get the gate closed again in time. He shouted at his rearguard to fall back towards the gate but when nothing happened he realised that none of them could understand Saxon. Uthric shouted at the gate guards again to open the gates quickly and the foremost of his group began to hammer at the gates. Uthric ran to the rearguard and pushed them back toward the gate. When they saw that there was no enemy nearby the gate guards moved to open the gate and let what they assumed was the remnants of Cœlfrith’s men enter. There was a stampede of men through the gate and by the time Uthric had pushed his way through to the front of his men, the gate guards were dead and a Shieldwall had been formed inside the gates to keep them open. One man was using a Saxon war axe to try and hack off the hinges of the door to ensure they could not be closed again.
The guards along the palisade had seen what had happened and alarm horns were sounded. Defenders ran to form up in a Shieldwall to face the Artrebates but Uthric could see no leader and he noticed most of the shields were not Cœlfrith's Bull. He looked behind him in the hope that Orin and Wulfhere's men would have arrived but could not see anything because of his own Shieldwall. He took off his helmet so that the Saxons could see him and asked where Gorbold or Cœlfrith were. No-one answered so Uthric let them know that he had no intention of fighting the men of Taddenlæge. He told them that he his only enemies were Gorbold and Cœlfrith both of whom had contrived the situation by creating a crisis. As no one again responded, he told the Saxons to go to their families and they would be safe. By this time, he could hear shouts of more men arriving in both British and Saxon and he thought that Wulfhere and Orin had now reinforced his original force. He did not want to look round because he was too close to the Saxon Shieldwall and was concerned someone might try and strike at him. He was relieved when Wulfhere and Orin joined him.
Wulfhere said that he had no desire to kill any of the warriors of Taddenlæge or to destroy the town but he was going to order his men to move forward to the market place and the Þegn's Hall. Anyone who resisted would be overwhelmed. When he gave the order to move forward, the opposing Shieldwall melted away. Wulfhere led his men to the marketplace where there was another smaller Shieldwall. Gorbold was on the raised platform attached to the Þegn's Hall to direct the defence. Wulfhere thought that Gorbold must see he was heavily outnumbered and order his men to surrender. Wulfhere called on Gorbold to surrender and save his men from certain death but Gorbold said that he would not give in to outlaws like Wulfhere. He told his men to make a name for themselves in songs and fight to the death. He told them that the more of the enemy they killed, the more followers they would have in Neorxanwang. He called for his spear and shield and turned to shout some more instructions to his men when a javelin suddenly pierced his throat. It was likely he was dead before he hit the ground. Wulfhere was surprised. He had not seen anyone throw a javelin until Uthric said loudly that he had promised himself this one pleasure when next he met Gorbold.
The situation was still tense. Gorbold’s Huscarls were keening their death songs and it was well known that such men die hard and no-one wanted to be first to attack them. The situation was rescued by Rowena who had appeared with her men. She asked Wulfhere to withdraw his men to the far side of the Marketplace while she spoke to Gorbold's Huscarls. Dunstan said that they had not seen Cœlfrith or Dunric in this confrontation and he was concerned about what they could be doing. Wulfhere agreed with Dunstan but he did not want to split his forces when there was still a possibility of a battle in the market place. It was almost evening by the time Rowena had agreed the terms of surrender. Wulfhere had said he did not require anything from the Huscarls other than their agreement not to take up arms against his men.
As soon as the peace was agreed, Dunstan took a Warband of thirty men to look for Coelfrith but quickly learnt that he had left by the Callevagate during the standoff in the marketplace. Dunstan wanted to go after Cœlfrith but Wulfhere said that he had almost half a day start and it would be futile. Orin was annoyed too that Cœlfrith and in particular Dunric had escaped. He blamed himself for withdrawing the hunters from the siege of Taddenlæge to take part in the assault. Uthric said that he should not be angry with himself and in his opinion it could not be helped. They had needed all the warriors to look like they had overwhelming forces. He pointed out that only the gate guards and Gorbold had died and they had taken Taddenlæge and that would be good for the peace. Dunstan said that he hoped that they would not regret Cœlfrith's escape. He reminded them that Cœlfrith would have to go past Glawmæd and they had most of the experienced Glawmæd and Cædering warriors in the north. Wulfhere said this was not such a good thought and agreed to send Uthric and Halig south as soon as possible. Dunston reminded Wulfhere that Cerdic was expecting reinforcements for the assault on Venta Belgarium. Uthric looked doubtful. He was keen to get back to Glawmæd as he knew Cœlfrith was vindictive enough to take revenge on their families. No-one wanted to think what would happen if any of their relatives fell into the hands of Dunric. It was agreed that Uthric and Halig would take Tæthle’s thirty warriors and any of the Artrebates who wanted to attack the Dumnonian Venta. After the battle the survivors were then to travel on to Glawmæd.
Uthric and Halig led their thirty warriors and Orin brought twenty Artrebates to the assault of Venta. The battle was bloody but swiftly over. The defenders had been reduced in numbers over the siege but still fought to the death. Uthric was badly injured in the assault and had to spend half a moon recuperating and came late home again. Orin returned north with Cerdic’s thanks and considerable treasure as compensation for the burnt villages and murdered people. Cerdic agreed that the Artrebates would rule themselves with their own lords and laws but pay taxes to Taddenlæge. Orin thought this was fair and he left Cerdic on good terms.
Hereweard expelled the spirit of sickness from Tadda who gradually recovered and was grateful to the Hrothgarsons and Hereweard. He renounced his oath to Aelle and swore an oath to Cerdic as his new oath Lord. Cerdic renamed Venta Belgarium the Saxon name Wincen Cæster and decided it would be the chief city of his lands. He also declared himself the Westseaxacyning and independent of the Brytenwealda Aelle. He made his cousin, Tadda, an Ealdorman. Dunstan stayed with Rowena to help restore order in Taddenlæge while Tadda recovered and was late home. He suffered a scolding from Hildegard. Gwenyth was just pleased to see him. Wulfhere and Halig went to Glawmæd and were re-unnited with their families. They discovered that no-one had seen Cœlfrith come south and it was not known where he had gone after leaving Taddenlæge. They heard from some merchants during the next moon that there were rumours that Aelle had killed Cœlfrith for his treachery.
Edited by Nozbat