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Sé Bléteaþ ond þæs Gesalde



The Blood Sacrifice and Those who were Sold


There was peace along the Tamyse valley. The war had been short but bloody and destructive. For the survivors there would be a struggle to get enough food and shelter for the coming winter. Food was in short supply all over Cerdic’s Kingdom. The wars had destroyed the growing crops and killed or displaced livestock. Even for those that had silver to spend, the cost of food was high.

The Atheling Stuf had told Wulfhere to start re-fortifying Hambladensted and had left forty warriors from his army with Wulfhere to help with the construction and promised to send woodwrights, shipwrights and people who were experienced in building. Wulfhere was aware that the refugee women, older people and children from Hambladensted and Farnhamble would be sent back north and he would need to find food and shelter for them. He was also told to expect some of the refugees who had come from the north side of the Tamyse. Stuf thought it unlikely that Aelle would want them or even allow them to return to their own destroyed villages therefore Stuf was keen to share the burden of feeding them throughout the northern lands. 

Wulfhere appointed Uthric as Þegn of Hambladensted. He hoped this would then allow him to start to build the alliances in the four nearby settlements while Uthric concentrated on the defensive palisade of Hambladensted. Wulfhere split up his warriors into people who would construct the palisade and shelters, those that would collect wood and oversee seasoning of wood for the building of boats and others that would help with the farming. He sent a fifth of his men out to hunt and fish to supplement the meagre supplies they had. Wulfhere also sent the pack mules south to Wincen Cæster or Pontus Cæster to try and buy grain to cover any immediate shortfall. The Hrothgarsons used their own money hoping this would be an investment for the future. Wulfhere met with the four local Þegns, Issa, Taran, Darwyne and Uthric. They realised the people were going to be hungry at least until harvest and tried to plan to share the available food. 

Wulfhere thought that they should be fortifying the south end of the Bridge at Pontes but following discussions with his Þegns he agreed that this would have to wait until the next year at the earliest. They decided that they should focus for the present on survival during the coming winter. They hoped that the harvest would be good and therefore there would be less deaths throughout the winter. News came back with the men who had been sent to get food in Wincen Cæster that King Octa had taken his army and attacked and captured Hamafunta. His rapid success had been a surprise and Octa had decided that he would attack and capture Cissa Cæster which he thought would make a better capital than Wihtwarasburgh.

Wulfhere was discussing how many people were needed to build fish traps when he was interrupted by an exhausted boy. He had run as fast as he could to tell Wulfhere that some spearmen had attacked one of the outlying farms, killed some of the men and then took off the women. Wulfhere took his brothers and ten men and followed the boy to the fields. The farm was close to the forest and the three men who had been working with the women were lying dead in the field. Wulfhere asked the boy how many spearmen he had seen but the boy said he was unsure. He was certain the women who had been taken had still been alive. Wulfhere ordered his men to look for tracks and they searched up to the forest edge. Wulfhere found some tracks that led into the forest but after a short period lost which way they were going. Eventually Uthric found more tracks and they went down a trail that led to a small house in a clearing. Uthric was positive the tracks led to the house and they watched hidden in the undergrowth as a younger man and older man worked outside. At Wulfhere's signal his men moved forward and the two men tried to run. Uthric threw his javelin and it pierced the younger man through the neck. As he fell the older man escaped into the doorway and the door was slammed shut. They could clearly hear a woman scream from inside and they were in no doubt that they had found the missing women. Wulfhere sent some men round the back of the house to guard against anyone trying to leave. He reminded people that this had been an error they had made at Garm's hall and he did not want the enemy to escape this time. 

Wulfhere asked the people inside to come out. The old man answered saying that he was not sure this was a good idea and asked why there were armed men outside his house. Uthric told him that they might be better coming out as he thought it would soon get too hot to stay inside. When the man asked why that would be, Uthric said his plan was to set a fire at the walls and door. The man said he thought that in that case he and his wife would prefer to come out provided that Uthric would guarantee that they would not put a javelin in his head. Wulfhere said that they would not kill them immediately and only wished to question them. Dunstan said their safety really depended on the answers they gave. The man and the women came out and were pulled aside and held by some of the spearmen. Dunstan checked out the house but there was no-one else inside and he told Wulfhere that the women were not there. They were both confused as they had thought it was clear the tracks had come this way.  

Uthric lifted the older man off his feet by his tunic and asked him where the rest of the women were. The man looked puzzled and said that he lived here with his wife and his son who they had recently and unnecessarily killed. He wanted to know why they had killed his son as none of them had ever done anything to deserve this. Dunstan pushed him over and stood over him. He asked the man to tell him where the other spearmen and women had gone. The woman rushed at Dunstan and began to pummel him. Duncan pushed her back and his spearmen held her arms. Wulfhere asked the man again where the others had gone but he only looked more confused and upset. Wulfhere told him that he had tracked raiders to this place and he would think the least the man could do was to say where they had gone. After some time, it became clear that neither the man nor woman could add anything to their knowledge although both Uthric and Dunstan thought they were both lying.

Some of the warriors picked up tracks on the far side of the clearing and they left the house. As they walked further into the forest they could hear drum beats ahead of them. They were unsure what the drumbeat signified and some of the men began to get nervous. They came to a steep mound with a narrow cleft cut through it. The walls of the cleft were lined with fist sized stones and periodically there were niches in the stones that held skeletal heads. No-one wanted to enter and Uthric decide he would go around the mound to see if there was another way in. He came back when it was beginning to get dark and reported there did not appear to be any way in apart from the narrow cleft. He said he had thought about climbing the mound and looking down from above, but the sides were too steep to safely climb up and, in particular, come down again.

The drum beats grew louder and seemed to reach a crescendo when they suddenly stopped just as it got fully dark. Dunstan thought that the sound came from under the earth and wondered if there were tunnels through which the drummers could escape. None of the men would approach the cleft and no-one wanted to go in. They spent an uncomfortable and cold night shivering and watching the cleft. At one point during the night Dunstan drew everyone’s attention to a huge raven which flew over the mound and was silhouetted by the nearly full moon. 

At daybreak there was a death scream and no-one knew what it meant and no-one volunteered to find out. After some time Dunstan said that he would go in if someone else would join him. He said there were some captives that needed to be rescued and it wouldn't change things if they all stood outside and shook with fear. Uthric and Wulfhere agreed to go too although Uthric clutched his hammer amulet rather than the spear as they went into the deep cleft in single file.

They came into a larger circular region after about thirty paces. There was an mound of rocks and behind it, an ash tree. On the rocks were piled nine severed heads and their eyes shone like they were reflecting rush light candles. A man with a grey beard hung on the ash tree. His face had a fresh wound that still bled where someone had taken his eye.  

All three men stared at the scene and no-one spoke. There was no sign of any living creature and they thought the five missing women were likely among the heads on the altar. By mutual consent they turned and started to leave but Dunston went forward to take a closer look at the man on the tree before Wulfhere pulled him away. When they got out of the cleft they discussed what the situation could possibly mean. Dunstan asked if they thought they had just seen Woden and he reminded them there had been a large raven flying in the night. Wulfhere said that he was not sure but something had happened here that he now wished he hadn't seen and he feared that it might come back to haunt them further. 

Uthric wondered about the woodcutter’s part in this and thought he must have knowledge of what happened here because he lived so close. Dunstan said he did not believe the man could have seen nothing and that his worst fear is that the woodcutter might somehow be linked to the deaths. They had only seen one son and there might be other sons and if so, Dunstan thought they might be involved. Wulfhere said that there was nothing more they could do here. The men who took the women were likely on the altar too. He did not understand what had happened but it wouldn't become any clearer by standing around in the forest. They collected the old man and woman on the way back and took them to Farnhamble and Darwyne. Dunstan questioned them further but was no wiser at the end of it. Wulfhere told Darwyne to post some spearmen near the forest but nothing untoward happened over the next few days.

Uthric had agreed with his brothers that he would return to Glawmæd to see their wives. They had been away for over three moons and they all feared the consequences. They held a conference and agreed that they would offer their families the option of coming north to live in Hambladensted or remain in Glawmæd until next spring. Wulfhere thought that there was still a danger of war in the north and hunger would be a problem until at least the harvest was gathered. Dunstan asked should the invitation also extend to their mother. He was unsure if it would be a good idea. Uthric said no matter what she thought of them, Hildegard was still their mother. There was also their brothers Sighard, Egfryd and sister ldris as well as Beorthric the baby. He felt he could not in all conscience leave her on her own. Sighard was almost a man but he would not be able to provide for Hildegard. Wulfhere agreed with Uthric and so it was settled they would ask their mother to come north too.  

Uthric set out the next day for the south. He thought that if he kept to the roads the travel would be quicker and would be reasonably safe. He expected to back in about fourteen days. He stopped the first night with Taran in Dunbriwan and left early in the morning. It took almost two days to get to Taddenlæge and he spent the night telling Tadda of the happenings in the north. He told the tale of the strange mound in the forest and the grey-headed, one-eyed, hanging man. Uthric realised that the people listening to his tale reacted badly and he resolved that he would not tell this tale again. He set off in the morning having bid farewell to Tadda and Rowena and walked through most of the next night to reach Wincen Cæster. He stayed in Stuf's Hall. Cerdic was in the South dealing with Aelle. Stuf said he hoped that they would conclude a peace treaty so that he could go back to fighting Dumnonians. Uthric stayed a day with Stuf but he spent most of the day asleep because he had walked through the previous night.

In the morning he set off and spent the night at Old Wincen Cæster Hill. Uthric was amazed to see that there were many new farms built or being built along either side of the road. He stopped to ask one farmer where he had come from. The man said that he had brought his family from Saxony and had been given the land by Atheling Cyrnic. It had taken two days to get to Glawmæd from Wincen Cæster but as he approached he noticed something was wrong. The village had been burnt and he could see no living thing. There were fresh graves alongside the road but although he searched and called out he could find no one to tell him what had happened.  

Uthric thought that Tæthle or Osberht might have some news of Meire so he thought it was best to go there and ask what they knew. He found Cædering also burnt and deserted. He could find no-one to talk to and he walked on to Cælctun hoping for answers to the mystery. He found more unanswered questions at there. The village was deserted but there was no destruction. Uthric puzzled over what might have happened. It was as if everyone had disappeared and taken all that they owned. He spent the night in Cælctun and resolved to go to see Cerdic in Portus Cæster in the morning. 

Cerdic was not in Portus Cæster, having gone to meet Aelle to conclude a peace treaty. Some of the Huscarls recognised Uthric and told him the story of what had happened. Octa had attacked and captured Hamafunta and then gone on to attack Cissa Cæster but could not take it due to the high, well-defended walls. Aelle had gathered his army and had surprised Octa outside Cissa Cæster and after defeating the army had then killed Octa. Aelle had decided Cerdic had told Octa to attack him and took his army to besiege Portus Cæster. While part of his army had stayed besieging Portus Cæster the other half had ravaged the county side. He had taken Glawmæd and Cædering killing both Oshehrt and Tæthle. Cælctun had surrendered as there were no warriors left to defend it. All the survivors of the three villages were taken as captives. The Huscarl assumed they had been sold as slaves. 

Uthric asked if they knew if anyone had escaped but none of the Huscarls knew anything more. They said Aelle had moved so fast that no-one had been prepared for his attack. Cerdic had eventually brought his army south and he and Aelle fought some indecisive skirmishes before Aelle decided to withdraw. Cerdic had threatened to attack Aelle's lands and Aelle had agreed to a peace treaty.

Uthric thought he should go back to Glawmæd and from there go to Llys. He hoped that some of the people of Glawmæd might have escaped through the forest and then made their way to Llys. At Glawmæd he thought about digging up the silver he had given Meire but realised that a single warrior with so much silver would be vulnerable and they would need to keep the silver for later. 

He travelled through the forest of Mœn, visited the Pool of Butterflies but did not see anyone until he got to Llys. He met with the Þegn of Llys, Thorold, and asked for his advice. Thorold told him that as far as he was aware Aelle's Warband had caught everyone by surprise and no-one had time to react. It had been assumed Aelle would have been content with killing Octa but he blamed Cerdic for the destruction caused by Octa and took revenge. By the time the peace treaty was agreed, Aelle had started to see sense and was willing to make peace. Thorold thought that there would be more wars with Aelle but for now both sides were content to shout insults. He said that no doubt that border raids would continue and that might provoke a major fight. 

Llys had become prosperous. All along the Mœn river, new farms had been built and Thorold hoped if there was peace they would have a good harvest. Uthric said that the land would need a good harvest for in the north there had been so much destruction it was likely that people would starve. 

Thorold said that he could not imagine how he would deal with losing his wife and children and asked Uthric if lending him a horse would be useful. Uthric thanked him and said it would certainly make the journey more comfortable and save him having to buy new boots this year. However, he was not sure it would be any quicker for he was not used to horses and worried about falling off. Thorold said that he would give him a horse that was of good temperament and as long as he did not try to gallop he should remain safely on its back. 

It took Uthric another four days of travel to return to Hambladensted and to tell his brothers what had occurred in Glawmæd and the disappearance of their wives and children. The brothers held a conference. The situation in the north was still delicate. They had been tasked with securing the area by Cerdic and Stuf. If they left on a journey they would be going against Cerdic's express orders. Dunstan said equally that he did not have to think too hard to imagine the trouble they might be in if they left their wives in captivity for a whole year. He said that he was not a violent man but the man who had taken her would have to give her over or suffer the consequences. He resolved that he would not offer payment for his wife. Uthric said that he felt he had been reacting to events over the last number of years and would for once he would like to be on the offensive.  

The more Dunstan thought about the situation the angrier he got. He said he was of the opinion Cerdic was disorganised and did not protect his people as he was sworn to do as the Westseaxacyning. He said if it came to an election he would not vote for him again. He asked his brothers to remember the time when they were in trouble at Taddenlæge and no one knew where Cerdic was. He thought Cerdic might want to improve his communication lines and he was never where he was supposed to be. Wulfhere said that Dunstan would be better to keep his opinions to himself as he thought others might not share such views. He thought it was fair that Dunstan held these views but he needed to be careful before talking too much. 

Wulfhere told Uthric that while he had been away there had been grumbling that he had not tried to pay the wergild for the son of Wictrum the woodcutter. Uthric said that he was reluctant to pay the wergild as he thought Wictrum and his son had something to do with the deaths of the captured women and the spearmen. However, he used the treasure that he had got from the battles to pay Wictrum. People said that they hoped the new Þegn would not always be so late in paying his debts. 

Wulfhere said that they needed to go to see Cerdic and ask him for permission to seek their wives and children. Halig said he agreed with this but he thought finding their mother and siblings was also important. Uthric and Dunstan said they were sure that their mother would be fine and Dunstan was certain that she would have likely married someone again.

They travelled to Taddenlæge and stayed the night in Tadda's Hall. They asked Tadda and Rowena for advice. Dunstan said that he was not that interested in advice at the present and would prefer vengeance on those who had wronged him and his family. He began to make growling noses and every time someone talked to him he just growled. Rowena said to Wulfhere that she would not be too hopeful that their journey would be successful. Their wives and children could be dead. She said that she had a daughter of marriageable age and she would have no objection to making a match with Wulfhere if they were unsuccessful. Wulfhere thanked her but said that he thought he at least needed to try before thinking of a new wife.

They left the next morning and went to Wincen Cæster hoping to meet with Cerdic but were told he was not there. They asked to meet with Stuf and were taken to his Hall. Stuf was with his war Þegns and planning raids into Dumnonia but he agreed to see the Hrothgarsons privately. Wulfhere told him of their problems and their missing families. He asked what Stuf thought Cerdic would say. Stuf was sympathetic to their problems but he did not hold out much chance of success. He thought they could go chasing women all over Britain and will not find them. He advised that there were too many British slave women and it would be unlikely that anyone would be able to remember the difference. He suggested that if they had no clear leads they should take new wives and go back north. Uthric said that Meire was memorable. He explained that Meire had a slight greenish tinge around her temples and he thought people would recollect her. Stuf said that he hoped for their sake it was true but he thought their biggest obstacle might be Cerdic. Cerdic had been annoyed with everyone after Aelle attacked and had not been that approachable about anything. He said things had got that difficult both he and Cyrnic had made sure they had other things to do rather than be in his presence. Wulfhere and Uthric were downhearted with Stuf's news and Dunstan just growled. Stuf looked at Dunstan and was about to ask a question when Uthric said that it appeared to be another fine mess they were in and they were now setting off to heroically buy back their wives. Dunstan growled again. 

Stuf said that he needed to meet with his Þegns but invited them to stay in his Hall for the night and they would talk more. At food that night Stuf asked the Hrothgarsons to tell him about their meeting with the Bannucman. Dunstan would usually have told the tale but he was in no mood to do so and continued growling when anyone came too close. Uthric told the tale and people who listened were impressed. Some called for an anvil to be brought in as an argument had erupted on the warrior’s benches about who could possibly throw an anvil. Stuf put a stop to the argument by saying no-one would be throwing anvils in his Hall unless a Bannucman appeared. If that happened he said that everyone would be welcome to try and throw anvils.

Wulfhere asked Stuf what he knew about the slave markets in Cissa Cæster. Stuf said that unfortunately he had no real knowledge of how they worked so that he could add nothing to what they already knew. He asked Wulfhere about the food situation in the north. He said that he hoped the harvest was good this year and the weather would remain mild. Stuf said he was becoming concerned that if the harvest was bad, or ruined by rains and storms there could be serious famine. He intended to make raids into Dumnonia after their harvest in the hope that he could capture enough food. Wulfhere and Uthric thought that if they were able to they would like to take part in raids to get food. 

In the morning they bade farewell to Stuf. He wished them luck in their quest and in particular with Cerdic. He also gave them each two silver bars which he felt might be useful for their quest for the families. They went to Glawmæd to recover their buried silver and were surprised that new famines had settled in the ruined village and were beginning to rebuild the houses, palisade and tend the fields. They spoke with the Þegn, Wictred, who confirmed that they had all newly arrived at Portus Cæster from the Eider in Saxony. Dunstan was angry with this new development saying that no one was respecting the law anymore and land rights were being ignored. Wictred said that he had been given the land by Cerdic and was unaware that any other people had a claim on the land. 

Wulfhere said that they used to have land here but they now lived on the south side of the Tamyse valley and he should not be concerned about Dunstan who was angry for lots of reasons. Dunstan made more growling noises and people moved away from him. Wulfhere told Wictred they would be gone soon but they needed to get their silver that they had buried for safe keeping. Wictred said they were welcome to get it and wished them all the best for their onward journey.

At Pontus Cæster they found both inside and outside the walls of the city were packed with new people. Abandoned boats in various states of decay lay on the beaches. It was clear that many new settlers had come from Saxony, Danevirke, Friesland and Jutland. Uthric thought it might be good to advertise the south Tamyse valley as a place to live but Wulfhere thought it best not to invite them north until they got back there. He thought that large numbers of new settlers might not go down well unless they were there to make sure there was no friction with the people already settled there. There was also the issue of a lack of food.

Wulfhere asked if Cerdic was in Portus Cæster and when he was told that he was in his Hall he asked to see him. Cerdic was surprised to see them and asked why they were in the south when there was so much to do in the north. He asked if they had already secured a crossing over the Tamyse and rebuilt the damaged settlements. Wulfhere said that work was ongoing on all these projects but they had come to seek advice from Cerdic and permission to find their wives and children. Cerdic was clearly not happy about their request. When Dunstan tried to speak he cut him short and would only allow Wulfhere to talk. 

Cerdic said that women and children were important but the Hrothgarsons had all been given responsibilities. There were dwellings to rebuild, fortifications to make secure and importantly the harvest needed to be brought in, assessed and preparations made for the next Spring planting. They needed to be there to choose the livestock for slaughter and which should be used for breeding. Cerdic said he had made Wulfhere responsible for that and now he was asking to ignore his duty to his people and go off on a journey into hostile territory. Cerdic said he had heard stories that they frequently wandered all over Britain and were not good about coming back on time. He reminded Wulfhere that he had sworn an oath to him and Cerdic wondered if he was now intent on breaking it. Wulfhere said that he was asking for seven days to try and get their children back or at least find out what had happened to them. Cerdic said he would reluctantly agree to a seven-day period but if they were going to Cissa Cæster they should do nothing to upset the treaty he had made with Aelle. Cerdic said that there would be a reckoning for Aelle but he was not ready for that battle yet. 

Cerdic said that he would expect them back in seven days. He had over two hundred people that he was sending north with Wulfhere and they needed to be back to collect them. Wulfhere thanked Cerdic and asked if he would object to building a Burgh on the south side of the Bridge at Pontes. Cerdic said that he had no objection but Wulfhere was the KingsÞegn and he had to decide if he could keep and support a garrison in the area. Wulfhere said he thought that having some control of the Bridge would be a good strategic move and would consider it over the winter. Cerdic dismissed them but said that they needed to think how they could balance their responsibilities to him as their Oathlord and to their people who they had sworn to protect against their personal troubles. He had noticed in the past years that people in positions of responsibility had to put the good of everyone ahead of the good of the individual. Dunstan suppressed a low growl which fortunately no-one else heard.

Wulfhere said that before they left Portus Cæster he wanted to talk to Hereweard. They found Hereweard in a tavern and he greeted them warmly. Wulfhere told him of the mound with the cleft, the hanged man and the altar with the heads and asked him for his opinion. Hereweard said it would be hard to make any other opinion than someone was completing a ritual to gain knowledge much like Woden had in the sagas. Without examining the site further and looking for signs that only leæces might notice he could have no further views. Wulfhere asked if it could actually have been the All-father himself. Hereweard said that could be possible but again he would have to see the place himself. Uthric asked what Hereweard’s opinion would be if they filled in the cleft from above. Hereward looked at Uthric but did not answer. He asked Uthric what he thought about the idea. Uthric said that when he said it aloud he had immediately realised it was a stupid idea. Hereweard patted Uthric's hand and said he was glad to see that becoming a Þegn had brought some small amount of wisdom. Wulfhere thanked Hereward and they left to travel to Cissa Cæster. Dunstan growled as he left and Hereward looked at him for a long time and remained watching him as he left. 

Dunstan said that he remained angry and he was of the opinion that someone would lose their head for this. They avoided Hamafunta in case they were recognised but they could see that it was being rebuilt after being burnt in the war. Wulfhere said that they must be careful about telling people who they were and what business they had. He suggested that they call themselves the Coerlsons and say that they came from Wiht. They would keep their first names as that would minimise any mistakes. He reminded them all that they should not do anything to attract any attention. Cerdic and Stuf had said that the peace treaty was fragile and they should not be the ones to start another war. 

The gates to Cissa Cæster were guarded by four spearman who asked their business. Wulfhere told the leader, Calemund that they were the Coerlson brothers and had come to buy slaves. Calemund asked where they had come from and Wulfhere said that they lived on Wiht. Calemund demanded to know if they were Octa's men as he was aware that Octa had been the Wihtcyning. He said that they should know Aelle might have made peace with Cerdic but they still had an argument with Octa's men who had killed their men and women without pity. The other three guards who had been amusing themselves playing knuckle bones for scraps of hacksilver sensed the increase in tension and picked up their spears and began paying much more attention to the conversation.  

Wulfhere said that they had never been Octa's men but they were Cerdic's men. Calemund said that it was just as well for they would be dealing with Octa's men like they dealt with Octa himself. They looked up on the walls where a body covered with pitch was impaled on a spear. Calemund explained that they had had to cover Octa's body in pitch to stop the crows eating it after Aelle had flayed him. We wanted to keep him safe for a while and Aelle has a new war banner called Octaferygt which the leæces had told him would bring victory as long as Octa's body did not decay. To stop that happening Aelle had Octa dipped in pitch. 

One of the other guards, Athmund, was paying close attention to Uthric. He asked what they said their names were. Wulfhere told him they were the Coerlson brothers but Athmund said that this was not the truth. He said that he had been at Cœlfrith’s Moot and in Anderida when Uthric and his brothers had brought a case against Cœlfrith and had humiliated him. Wulfhere said that this was true and they had only said that they were Coerlsons to stop any possible trouble while they bought some slaves. Calemund said that there was peace between Aelle and Cerdic so he would not be stopping them coming into Cissa Cæster however he thought it only fair to warn them that Octa was lonely. When Wulfhere looked confused, Calemund said that if they caused any trouble they would be joining Octa on the walls. He said he doubted that their flayed skin would make a good Battle banner but he would enquire of the leæces. Wulfhere thanked him for his advice and said that he would be mindful of it when they did business at the slave market. 

Dunstan had not said anything in the entire exchange but only emitted growling sounds. Calemund warned Wulfhere he would also be telling Cissa they were here and they might hear more from him. He thought that it might also be useful for Dunstan to be put on a leash as he seemed to be acting like a dog. 

The two men that ran the slave market were Guthmaer Sleddeson and Grimwold Frithowulfson. When Wulfhere explained that they were looking for particular slaves both men expressed surprise. They said that one British slave was much the same as another and there would be no way they could possibly be of help. Uthric said that his wife was memorable because she had a greenish tinge at her temples. Guthmaer said that Uthric was right, she was noteworthy and he had no difficulty remembering what had happened to her. She had been bought by Hrof's daughter. Uthric looked puzzled and Guthmaer said he was happy to enlighten him. He told him that Hrof’s daughter was called Ealhwyn. He thought that most of the other slaves brought in at that time were bought by the army which meant they could be anywhere in Ceint. Wulfhere thanked the two men for their information and declined their invitation to buy some slaves. Dunstan was angry and said that he would not be wrong in predicting a dark future for the two slave traders. Wulfhere warned Dunstan that they must do nothing to bring them any attention. 

They walked through the market to find somewhere to talk without other people hearing. Dunstan suddenly saw Hildegard. She was buying fruit and vegetables and handing her purchases to a younger woman. She looked well cared for and was wearing a rich and costly cloak with gold ornaments at her throat and wrists. She suddenly saw her sons and screamed.

Dunstan went over to Hildegard. She was shocked to see them. Hildegard spoke quickly to the young woman she was with and gave her the purchases she had made. The young woman then left. Hildegard wanted to give Dunstan a hug but he stopped her with a motion of his hand. Dunstan said that he was surprised to meet her in a market in Cissa Cæster and he thought she was obviously doing well for herself. He said he could see that her clothes were of good quality and she wore gold and silver ornaments at her neck and wrists. Hildegard said she would explain all this in good time but asked him why he was here and where were her other sons. Dunstan pointed to Wulfhere and Uthric who had been watching from a distance. 

Hildegard began to cry and said that she would explain the situation to the best of her ability but they should go somewhere to talk rather than stand in the busy market. Dunstan refused her offer to go to her house but said he would wait to hear her explanations before making any judgement. Hildegard took her three sons to a tavern and ordered food and drinks. She asked her sons what they had been doing and Wulfhere gave a short explanation of how they had secured the north at the expense of losing their families. Hildegard said that the attack on Glawmæd was so swift that if they had been there then they would likely have been killed like most of the other warriors. She said there had been no warning and no time to prepare. Aelle’s army has descended and killed anyone who had resisted. Uthric said that this was why they had come to Cissa Cæster in order to find out what had happened to their families. Hildegard said that she would expect no less from her sons. She said they might not be strong on timekeeping but they were dogged about tasks and would keep going until they succeeded. She said that Hrothgar had the same virtues and he would have been proud of them. Dunstan growled when he heard this and said in his opinion his mother had forgotten their father very quickly. 

He said he was interested to know how come Hildegard was dressed like a noblewoman when he knew the survivors of Glawmæd, Cædering and Cælctun had been sold into slavery. Uthric said while he was glad his mother seemed to be doing well, he would be interested in her news about her daughters-in-law and her grandchildren. He said he thought it might be interesting to hear if they were doing as well as his mother. Hildegard said that Aelle's army had taken Glawmæd by surprise. Many of the warriors were killed trying to protect their families and there had been no organised defence. There had been a lot of confusion and captives had been allocated to different warriors. She knew that all three of their wives had been alive after the attack and had managed to talk to them briefly on the journey back to Cissa Cæster. There had been so many slaves after the war that not all were kept at the pens of the Slave market. She knew for sure that Meire had been claimed by Ealhwyn Hrofsdotter and she had seen her being taken away with her children. She did not know what had happened to Bronwyn or Gwenith, but she might have more news soon.  

Wulfhere said this was all well and good but he would really like an explanation of why Hildegard was dressed like a noblewoman having been sold into slavery. He said as far as he was aware slaves might be treated kindly by their owners but he had never heard that kindness extended to giving gold jewellery, but he was keen to learn if he was wrong in his assumption. Hildegard began to cry and said that she had left the most difficult news to the last. Dunstan kicked a chair across the tavern causing other customers to stare and the Taverner to come over and ask if everything was all right. Uthric assured him that it was and that Dunstan sometimes reacted to difficult news this way. The Taverner said that if they had more bad news to share it might be best that they should hear it outside. Wulfhere calmed the man down and offered to pay if the chair had been broken. 

The interruption had enabled Hildegard to compose herself. She said she had been bought by a benefactor who had known her and she had benefitted from that. She told them that her benefactor had spent silver trying to find out where their wives had been taken. Dunstan kicked another chair and said that once again she had disrespected their father and her dead husband. She had even forgotten Beorthric who she had professed to love. Uthric asked who this benefactor was and what he had found out while Wulfhere promised the now angry Taverner that there would not be any further kicked chairs. Hildegard said that she knew that they would not like this but that they must start to live in the present rather than the past. Uthric asked again who the benefactor was and Dunstan had to be restrained by Wulfhere when Hildegard said that it was Beorthric who had rescued her. Uthric asked why he had not also helped their wives but Hildegard said that they had already been sold by the time Beorthric had found her. She said he had tried to find out what happened to their families and hoped that there would be information in the next few days. Wulfhere asked what had happened to their brothers Sighard, Egfryd and sister Idris. Hildegard said that they were all safe with her and they were welcome to come and visit. She said she noticed that Wulfhere did not ask about the whereabouts of their other brother Beorthric. Wulfhere said that this should really not surprise her as they were still intent on killing his father. Hildegard begged them to come and make peace with Beorthric. She had sent a messenger and he would be expecting them. Uthric was angry that she had told Beorthric that they were here as he was likely to make trouble for them. He asked if Winfrith was with Beorthric and if there would be an ambush if they went to meet him. Hildegard said that as far as she knew Winfrith had gone north to Lundenwic but Beorthric was keen to make peace. Uthric said he was not going to listen to this anymore and said to his brothers that they should leave now. 

All three left Hildegard crying and waited until they got a safe distance away from the tavern before stopping to agree a plan. Uthric said that in his opinion they were in danger and needed to leave immediately. He thought that either they or Beorthric would begin a fight and if they were caught by Cissa they could only expect death by flaying and thereafter decorating the Westgate until the crows ate them. Wulfhere said that this was not the fate that he had in mind and agreed they should leave. Dunstan said that he could not believe what their mother was doing. Beorthric was a sneaking, conniving arschloch and that he thought they should go to Lundenwic to get their wives. He said he felt let down by Cerdic and blamed him for not protecting his people. Wulfhere said that he thought Cerdic had been taught a lesson by what happened. Uthric said that the problem had been Octa and then Aelle's interpretation that Cerdic had been supporting Octa. Dunstan said that he would still blame Cerdic. A king is meant to protect his people and, in his opinion, Cerdic had failed to protect all three villages.

The Hrothgarsons left through the Eastgate and travelled east along Stane Street before striking north and then northwest through the forest to the ridges that led to Cælctun. They were concerned that Beorthric or Cissa would send men after them either to kill them or force a return to Cissa Cæster. They did not see anyone except for some woodsmen and charcoal burners until they got to Cælctun. They introduced themselves to the new Þegn of Cælctun, a man called Seirhead. He welcomed them and they told them about Cælctun's history. Seirhead said that he was sorry that they had suffered so much and he hoped that they would find their families. Uthric said that he understood the situation and it was difficult to blame anyone. Wulfhere said that they could blame the gods for their capriciousness but that would probably only bring further bad luck. 

They took their leave of Seirhead and went to Portus Cæster to tell Cerdic they were back. He had been doubtful that they would return on time and Wulfhere wanted him to be clear that they were now heading north. Uthric thought that if their mother was lost to them by remaining with Beorthric, then Cerdic might be a good substitute as he did not have much faith in their time keeping either.

Portus Cæster was full of families and warriors from Saxony, Friesland and Jutland who had  arrived on the last days of sailing before the Autumn and Winter storms made travelling by boats too dangerous. Uthric spoke with some of the farmers, encouraging them to come north. He told them there was plenty of spare land and they could have farms in return for swearing an oath to Wulfhere as Þegn. Wulfhere told Uthric to tell any families that wanted to come north that they would need to wait to travel with the Hrothgarsons. He was not keen that people just picked land themselves as he would rather allocate it in a strategic manner. He said he was also not keen to have warriors wondering around aimlessly in sensitive borderlands.

Cerdic listened to their report as Wulfhere told him that he had learnt his wife had been sold in a slave market and they were unaware where they had gone. Uthric also told Cerdic that they had talked to their mother who had been living with Beorthric. Cerdic was interested in that development and asked about their thoughts. Wulfhere said that he had no thoughts except sadness. Cerdic said that to lose a wife and children was difficult but it might be time to move on and that there were plenty of other women. He said that he had lost his own wife to childbirth and while he had never taken another wife, he had always had a woman. 

He gave each brother a gold torc as compensation for the loss of their wives and children and then turned to other business. He had over 200 people that he was sending north to repopulate the Tamyse valley. Wulfhere thanked him for the torcs and they left Cerdic to go and find the families that were to come north. Wulfhere discussed what had happened with his brothers and all decided to get drunk before meeting with their new settlers. As they were drinking Hereweard the leæce came to join them. He said that he had been thinking about Dunstan since their last meeting and had been worried about him. He was keen to know if Dunstan had had any changes in personality and if he had been making any animal noises. Uthric said that Dunstan had not stopped growling since he left the north and had been particularly angry for some time. Hereweard said that he thought that maybe Dunstan had had his soul stolen when he stayed too long in the ritual mound. Dunstan thought that Hereward was talking nonsense and that he only growled so that he didn't say anything stupid or people didn't talk to him. Hereweard said that he would give Dunstan a potion to preserve his body because sooner or later he was going to burn up. His body would not survive without its soul for long. Dunstan was still sceptical but Wulfhere said it might be best to let Hereweard make further investigations. Dunston was suspicious about the potion. He thought that Hereweard was only trying to relieve him of his silver but relaxed when Hereweard said that there would be no cost for the potion. Hereweard asked Wulfhere if he could travel north with them when they were going. He thought he might find it useful to understand the situation better if he was closer at hand. 

When Hereweard left them drinking, Wulfhere said to his brothers that they were facing lots of problems. They had to rebuild Hambladensted, find enough food until harvest so that people would not die, find their wives and children, find enough land for their new settlers and finally find Dunstan's soul. He thought that this was a depressing list and made him feel that he'd like to buy a horse just to cheer himself up but with the luck that they had had recently it would be likely they wouldn't have enough food and the horse would die. The next days were spent in Portus Cæster buying supplies, oxen and carts and arranging for the families who were going north to get equipment to build new farms. It took almost ten days to travel back to Hambladensted but they did so without major incident. Wulfhere then spent a week allocating land for new farms in the bend of the Tamyse.

The Harvest was good despite the war over the growing season and Wulfhere was content that no-one would starve. He sent thirty men to Stuf to help raid the Dumnonian harvest. Dunstan spent time with Hereward and Uthric continued to supervise the re-construction of the stockade at Hambladensted.


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