Fish wars and the Battle of Dunum.
It was the second year since Cerdic declared himself Westseaxacyning. Aelle had been the Cantacyning for seventeen years and it was seventh year since he had named himself Brytenwealda. Guercha One-eye the Angelcyning still disputed Aelle's claim to be Brytenwealda for the past two years.
Aelle had taken advantage of plague in Gwent to capture Spinae and Brige when they were under-garrisoned. Aelle considered both towns strategically important for war against the Dumnonians in that they gave easy passage of the River Kennet. Aelle then made peace with the King of Gwent but would not give back the captured towns. It was rumoured that he even paid tribute to Gwent but Aelle had denied that and had told Cerdic it had been a bribe not to support Dumnonians in the coming war.
Reports from the British kingdoms told of struggles for power between the different kingdoms. Powys and Dumnonia both claimed that they should be the British Brytenwealda. The king of Powys declared himself Brytenwealda but other kingdoms objected to him and there had been rumours of Battles in the western lands. There had also been religious wars in the British kingdoms. The British leæces of the different gods had been killing each other with both sides claiming that their god is the strongest. Cerdic's leæces have said that the portents for a successful war are good.
Guercha One-eye continued his fight with Aelle. He had reinforced his garrison in Lundenwic and sent raiding parties over the Tamyse. Cerdic and Aelle had agreed that they will jointly attack Dumnonia. Aelle planned to attack along the Tamyse Valley and over the Kennet while Cerdic would strike south over the Terstan and towards the Afon. Cerdic had sent bribes to Cadwy of Isca to rebel against Dumnonia. Cerdic hoped that Dumnonia would face three enemies simultaneously, Powys in the north, Isca in the west and the West Saxons coming from the east.
Cerdic enjoyed the Yule festival. He had received the renewed oaths from his Ealdorman and Þegns and accepted and gave gifts. He talked to some individually in his private chambers either giving them specific tasks, words of encouragement or in one case to ask why they had neglected their duties. He asked the Hrothgarsons if they would come and see him in his private Hall away from the feast. Cerdic congratulated them for their actions in stopping Aelle's advance south of the Tamyse. He told them that Stuf had thought highly of them. Cerdic asked them if they had been able to find their families. Wulfhere said that they had no further word but he hoped that they might be able to look again soon. Cerdic said that it was unfortunate and if they required any help from him he would try and do his best to offer what he could.
He asked Wulfhere how well he spoke Brythonic. Wulfhere said that he could understand what was said if it was spoken slowly however Uthric was fluent in the language and if Cerdic required a translator then Uthric could do it with ease. Cerdic said that he needed people who could pass as Dumnonians. Uthric said that despite being fluent, he did not speak the Dumnonian dialect and any Dumnonian listening would know that he was not a local. Cerdic nodded but was still interested Uthric spoke Brythonic. He explained that the army would need to cross the Terstan but the scouts had said that the only option south of Old Sarum would be to take the bridge at a place called Dunum which was fortified on the west bank. He explained the geography of the area and told them he had a plan to take Dunum by infiltrating it and holding the gate until the reinforcements arrived. Cerdic said that he believed the Hrothgarsons had used a similar tactic at Taddenlæge. Cerdic used items on the table to show how the fortifications lay. There were two settlements at the bridge over the Terstan. On the east bank was Onna. There was a way station for merchants enclosed by a palisade. There were twenty or so homes scattered either side of the road where a population of Dumnonians lived. On the west bank was Dunum. It was a heavily fortified settlement with a ditch and palisade that was right against the river. The bridge was guarded on the west bank by two towers at the gate and several more towers along the palisade. Cerdic said he had thought about landing Warbands by sea but the land south of Dunum was relatively open and there were Dumnonian cavalry stationed in the South to prevent the raids. He did not want to have to try and march a Warband from the Coast to Dunum while being harried by cavalry.
He and Cyrnic had thought that the best thing to do was to send warriors disguised as Britons to join the garrison. If Uthric could not convince the Britons he was Dumnonian then he could say he came from the northern British tribes to help fight the Saxons. Cerdic said that they should take at least twenty warriors. He could give them horses and anyone going would be well rewarded. Wulfhere said that he thought it might be possible to do. He thought it might be useful to ask Orin or Issa if they would join him for a chance to fight the Dumnonians. Cerdic said that he would leave the plan to them but if they needed to know any information he should talk to Stuf. They should be ready to go a moon before Eostre. The Dumnonians had a high regard for their gods on Eostre and held religious rites. Cerdic intended to use that time to attack. Wulfhere agreed to return at least a moon before Eostre. They met with Stuf and he told them all he knew from the scouts. They thought the garrison was about forty warriors which was more than enough to hold the fort and bridge against an army.
On the last day of the Yule feast their mother, Hildegard, came to see them. Hildegard said that they had left Cissa Cæster very abruptly last time they had met and she had not had time to say goodbye. She said she would not at this time comment on their competence as sons but would leave it to another time but it was enough for her to say that she was disappointed in them. However, she said that she would put that behind her for now. She had brought Beorthric with her as she thought they should hear what he had to say. They had left so quick last time she wondered if they were actually interested in getting their families back.
Beorthric said that he was aware that they did not have a good opinion of him. He told them that he has had to live with running away in fear when Hrothgar needed him and he said that knowledge has not been easy to cope with. He said that he had been trying to make things better since that time. He was only too aware that he could not change what had happened but he wanted to make amends. A merchant friend who sold his cloth and wool in Anderida called Wayard has a friend called Deorling Siredson. Deorling has married a woman called Rhedyn who had come from Glawmæd. Rhedyn had told Wayard that she knew where Bronwyn was in Anderida. Wulfhere said that he would ask the merchant to get Bronwyn back. Dunstan said that Wulfhere should really go himself. He thought it too important a task to leave to a merchant. Wulfhere asked Beorthric if he had knowledge of how much a slave would cost. Beorthric said that a heathy adult would generally cost 1500 Silver but if they had others skills it could be much more. Beorthric said that if he could be of help just to ask them and he gave them each two small gold bars. They thanked him for his generosity.
After he had left, Wulfhere said that he was slowly going off the idea of killing Beorthric. Dunstan said that he was not sure and was still of the opinion that there could be treachery. He said, in his view, their mother was a nasty old harridan but at least she had her families interests at heart. He said he still did not trust Beorthric and he was now trying to buy them off with gold. He wondered where Beorthric got all his money from. Uthric said that if Dunstan was unhappy about taking Beorthric's gold then he could give it to his brothers who really had no compunction about taking Beorthric’s money. Dunstan said his scruples did not go so far as to handing over gold. He said he was going to see Egfryd to check how many honey cakes he had eaten recently.
Wulfhere thought that they should go to Anderida soon as he was unsure how long the peace between Aelle and Cerdic would last. However, Cerdic had given him another 183 men, women and children to take north. He needed to allocate land to the families and make sure they were settled. He needed to talk to Issa, Taran and Orin about volunteers for Cerdic's mission. He said to Uthric that they would have to go back north before going to Anderida. Uthric agreed and said it would be unlikely they would get time to go to Anderida before Eostre. Wulfhere said that if this was their way of thinking it would likely be after the war, if they survived, that they would have time to go looking for lost families.
When Dunstan returned from seeing Egfryd he reported that their younger brother was doing well. His apprenticeship with the blacksmith appeared to be going well. Uthric asked about the eating of honey cakes. Dunstan said he was not sure. Egfryd had told him that was just a childish whim and that now he was almost a man he had put over-eating behind him. Uthric said that Dunstan's constant shaming had borne fruit. He thought a better way to deal with it would have been to get a lot of honey cakes and make Egfryd eat them all in one go until he was sick. Dunstan said that as ever Uthric was good at giving advice after the event and never at the time it was needed.
They called to see Tadda on the way north. He had been made an Ealdorman due to the importance that Cerdic placed on the north. Dunstan and Uthric also took the opportunity to renew their acquaintance with Rowena. They told Rowena that they had still not been able to find their families. Rowena said that they should remember that nothing lasts forever and the longer they were separated the more likely that there would not be a good outcome. She reminded them that she had a widowed daughter who she would be keen to marry to either of them as they were both in her opinion a good match. Uthric thanked her but said both of them needed to at least try and find their families before they agreed to any other arrangements.
They took the new immigrants north but could not agree where they should be settled. Wulfhere wanted to settle them near the bridge at Pontes and get them to build a fort that would guard the bridge. Uthric thought that the important thing was to get them to build farms and fill the lands between Hambladensted and Farnhamble on either side of the road. Wulfhere said that ensuring the southern side of the bridge was fortified must be a priority as there would always be a risk of new hostilities between Aelle and Cerdic. He thought that while there was peace now it would be unlikely to last. Uthric said that while he agreed with Wulfhere that he should remember that for now there was peace. At this time, they needed to build enough farms to supply a permanent fortification and there was no way it could be supported. The argument was resolved when some of the settlers voiced their opinions. They wanted a hyde of land to support their families and to build their steads on. If this was not done soon then they would not be able to plant crops this season. As it was they thought that already they could be too late. Some also voiced the opinion that if Wulfhere insisted that they build his fortification they would travel further north into Mierce and find their own land. Wulfhere said that Aelle was not likely to let that happen but the men said they would go further north. They knew that the Waeclingas or the Chilternsaete were independent lands. Some of their kin had settled there and they said if Wulfhere denied them what was promised by Cerdic they would take their chances in the north.
Wulfhere knew that he had to agree to the request or risk losing people on what he considered a futile journey north. Aelle would not let independent lands develop and Wulfhere hoped that he had time to build a fortification before Aelle turned his attention south of the Tamyse again.
Wulfhere still had to think about building his own Hall. There was no centre of administration in his lands where people could petition him for either favours or justice. He knew that now the population was increasing and that it would be necessary to have somewhere soon. He appointed Dunstan as Þegn over the new territories and told him that the fortification needed built sooner rather than later. Dunstan was pleased that he was now a Þegn and on equal footing with his brothers.
Wulfhere said that they would rest for a few days and then go and see Issa, Taran and Orin about Cedric's proposal. He had decided against taking horses from Cerdic as he feared that it would make them a target for every stronger Warband. Uthric said that they could a still take the horses from Cerdic but not take them to Dumnonia. They could use them to breed more horses. Wulfhere said he was not sure how Cerdic would respond if he heard what Uthric had proposed. Dunstan was kept busy marking our boundary stones for the hydes for each family and Uthric inspected the almost finished palisade at Hambladensted.
Wulfhere's rest was interrupted by a clamour of loud and complaining voices. He went outside to find Uthric trying to calm down a crowd of twenty or so fishermen who were surrounding him. When the men calmed Uthric asked one of them to tell him what they were annoyed about. Tathere was elected as the spokesperson. He told Uthric that one of their fishing boats had been sunk by the men of Ceswican. Tathere was told that traditionally the men of Hambladensted laid their fish traps on the north side of the river opposite Hambladensted. The fishermen of Ceswican had begun wrecking the fish traps and the situation escalated to the point where there had been a scuffle between opposing fishing boats and one of the boats had been rammed and subsequently sank.
The fishermen were demanding reparations and a restoration of their fishing rights. Wulfhere joined in the discussion. He asked who traditionally fished at the spot opposite Hambladensted which the fishermen said that it had always been their fishing grounds as it had the best fish there. Ceswican had always fished around their own village. Wulfhere said that he was concerned that the recent new boundary had confirmed the north bank of the Tamyse as Aelle's land but there was the matter of the sunk boat which they could ill afford to lose. Uthric asked how much compensation would be acceptable for the boat to which Tathere said that 1000 silver would be a fair compensation. Wulfhere said that he would leave Dunstan in charge of the situation.
Dunstan said that they would have to stand up to Cescwican and they could not give an inch on it. He said that he would detail two boats with five spearmen in them to be on standby to attack and sink one of the Cescwican boats and also to protect the fishermen. They should also retaliate by destroying the fish traps of the Cescwican fishermen. He said he would also patrol the banks of the river up to Cescwican on the south bank. Wulfhere said that on no account was anyone to set foot on the north bank and break the treaty. Dunstan said he understood that and that he was happy to engage in border skirmishes but not keen for another war. Wulfhere asked Dunstan afterwards if he was going to withdraw over fifteen warriors from their farming duties and building projects. It was a lot of lost production. Dunstan said this might be so but they could or should not show weakness or they would come off second best in every border dispute. Dunstan said he planned to escalate the situation, get even and then see if they could reach a treaty with the Þegn of Cescwican. He asked Wulfhere if things escalated if he could Issa to support them with his boats.
Wulfhere and Uthric went to discuss Cerdic's plan with Issa and Taran and hopefully get some troops. They then planned to see Orin for advice and to ask him for warriors if they did not get enough from Issa and Taran. They thought Orin might know something about the layout of the land they would need to travel through. The meeting with Issa went well. He was only too keen to let men go to humiliate the Dumnonians. There was a long history of conflict between the Artrebates and Dumnonians. Dumnonia had always been stronger but memory of long ago fought battles and humiliations was always kept alive in the songs and tales of the Artrebates. Issa said that he would be able to send six men.
Uthric asked him about the fishermen of Cescwican and if they had any troubles. Issa said that since they tended to fish the Kennet and the marshes for eels, he generally had no contact with Cescwican with each village keeping to its historical fishing grounds. He said that this did not mean he would be unhappy to join in a general guerrilla war against the Ceswican fishermen if they needed help. He suggested that they contemplate a raid on the Cescwican boats at night. Wulfhere said he hoped it would not come to that and just wanted to be in a strong portion for the inevitable negotiations. He thanked Issa for his help and left him planning how a night raid could be carried out.
Taran said he would be equally keen to fight the Dumnonians. However, it was planting season and he could only offer four men. He was keen to create a surplus crop for the markets in Wincen Cæster. Wulfhere said that he did not need a large Warband but would see if Orin could offer more warriors. They thanked Taran and left to visit Orin. Orin was pleased to see Wulfhere and Uthric. They shared some food and ale while Wulfhere explained what they had in mind. Orin said that in his opinion it sounded like an extremely dangerous plan. He advised against saying that they were Dumnonians and it would be a better idea to say that they were warriors from Elmet or Rheged. He thought most Dumnonians would not know where those kingdoms were or have ever met anyone from them. Their chances of being discovered were lessened and they might actually succeed. He asked them what route they would take and Wulfhere said they had two options. They could come from the north as Orin had suggested and down the Roman roads and then follow the Terstan to Dunam. The other option would to be landed on the south coast by ship. Orin said that the coastlines were always well watched because of the danger of raids and it was likely that either the landing or their march north would be marked by scouts. It might be difficult to explain why they had come from that direction unless they said they were from Kernow. However, Orin pointed out that they had none of the tribal tattoos of Kernow and they would be easily discovered as not telling the truth. They thanked Orin for his advice and he promised them ten more warriors to make their force up to twenty. They promised Orin to be back a moon before Eostre.
In Hambladensted, Dunstan had led a series of reprisals against the Cescwican fishermen. He set up a patrol of five spearmen in one of the bigger boats to patrol and dissuade any Cescwin boats from the area around Hambladensted. In one engagement his warriors encountered two fishing boats and they tried to sink one of the boats with their axes. A Cescwin fisherman threw his fishing spear at one of the warriors and wounded his shoulder. Another of the warriors stabbed a defending fisherman in the stomach with his spear and he fell into the Tamyse. Dunstan told his men to get the man out of the water but he did not surface after he fell overboard. The other boat escaped. They then destroyed the fish traps along the north side of the river almost to Cescwican. Following the death of the fisherman, Dunstan thought it would be appropriate to visit Eadweald, Þegn of Cescwican and give him an ultimatum.
Dunstan took his boat and spearmen to Cescwican and met with a clearly furious Eadweald. Dunstan told a clearly incredulous Eadweald that there had been an unfortunate accident as his boat had turned a corner in the river and they had accidently collided with a Cescwican fishing boat. In the ensuing confusion it seems that one of the Cescwin fishermen got knocked overboard and did not resurface. Eadweald said that that was not what he had heard and he had witnesses to say that Dunstan and his men had clearly murdered the fisherman and had destroyed many fish traps. Dunstan said that he also had witnesses to say that it was an accident. He said he was keen to avoid further incidents but would also use all necessary force to protect his fishermen. Eadweald said that if that was Dunstan’s attitude then he could see no future for either him or his fishermen. They left each other without resolving the dispute and neither was satisfied with the other.
Uthric and Wulfhere met with Dunstan on their return from Orin and asked him the news. Uthric asked if the fisherman had died. Dunstan said that they had done their best to kill him and after his meeting with Eadweald he thought that the only way to resolve the conflict was by reducing Cescwican to ashes. Uthric said they should do whatever was necessary. It was not their fault that this situation had arisen but they should not back down because that would only show weakness. Dunstan ordered that there would be one warrior in each fishing boat and five warriors patrolling the South banks of the river to dissuade any aggression from Cescwican.
Rodderic three-spear came to see Uthric. He said that Uthric needed to know that it was not the fishermen of Cescwican that had started the conflict. The Hambladensted fishermen had destroyed the Cescwican fish traps first and then attacked the Cescwican fishing boats when they were setting more traps. Uthric said that he felt hoodwinked but decided to check out the situation with other villagers. They confirmed that their own fishermen had started the conflict.
Uthric discussed the new information with his brothers. He said that he had been prepared to risk war for the village but they had been made a fool of. Wulfhere said that this changed the situation completely. Cescwican would need to be offered compensation to resolve this situation. They could not risk an escalation that started a war between Cerdic and Aelle. He said that their side was not spotless but equally they could not back away from it. Uthric thought that the fishermen needed to learn a hard lesson. Wulfhere said this was an awkward situation. He reminded his bothers that the fishermen were still their people and they needed to support them. Dunstan was not so sure. He thought they had acted on their own agenda. They twisted the facts that got him to act against Cescwican and that had clearly that acerbated the situation. He felt it was clear that the fishermen had not shown any due respect. Uthric agreed he said that the fishermen need to learn a lesson from this as he had been about to start a war. Wulfhere thought that while all this was true and he could find no fault in their arguments they needed to still be on the side of their people when dealing with Cescwican. Uthric said he was too angry about being made a fool of to consider any actions at present. They really only needed the Carls on their side if it came to a vote.
They agreed to call Tathere who had been elected the fishermen's spokesperson, and put the allegations that Hambladensted had started hostilities. Tathere did not deny the facts. He said that it may have been otherwise than they first had said, but the north bank was their traditional fishing grounds. The fishermen from Hambladensted had fished these waters long before anyone had heard of Aelle or Cerdic. He thought this might not be important to the Hrothgarsons as they were newcomers to the area. Wulfhere said he would think about what Tathere had said and he would call a Hambladensted Moot tonight to discuss options and hopefully resolve the issue. Tathere said that Wulfhere was the Þegn and while he had the right to impose his will, he should be aware that all the fishermen felt wronged. After Tathere left, Dunstan said that he had shown no respect to them. He thought they should keep an eye on him or he would cause more trouble.
Wulfhere said they should take it to the Moot. He said that he would acknowledge Cescwican encroached and that he thought there was justification in allowing people to take actions to protect their property and interests. However, he intended to point out that the developing situation could provoke a war. He thought it was important to calm things down but not alienate the people who pay taxes. He reminded his brothers that they only held office with the agreement of the Carls. Dunstan still felt aggrieved by Tathere’s attitude and actions and that they had already caused trouble. Uthric told Dunstan he should calm down. It was absolutely clear that they had been lied to but they now had to sort the situation out.
At the Moot, most of the people of Hambladensted attended. Uthric spoke first. He said that the fishermen had been wrong in lying about what had happened. He said that their actions could have started a war and that would benefit no one. The recent experience of the wars had been calamitous and had almost destroyed Hambladensted and no-one wanted that to happen again.
Dunstan said the past is now past. He told them that Cerdic was a King that promised stability and they were lucky to have such a great King. Wulfhere told the people that he could understand that they felt aggrieved. A man had died and for that compensation would need to be paid. He said he intended to speak with Eadweald of Cescwican and agree demarcation lines. Tathere said that all the fishermen were angry and they were only exercising their own traditional rights. The principles of free men protecting their families was strong in Saxon culture and despite what had been said by their Þegns, they should be aware that as fishermen, they were still aggrieved. He said that he noticed that political settlements were always made by Þegns who did not know how their decisions would affect hardworking people. The fishermen cheered Tathere's speech. Wulfhere said that he would be mindful of their views and would represent them but it was important to find a way forward and that meant a degree of compromise.
The next day Wulfhere took his brothers and some of the Carls to Cescwican. He was received by the Þegn, Eadweard and they agreed that they needed to find a resolution to the recent fishing conflict to stop it becoming more serious. Eadweald agreed but said that the situation had not been helped by Dunstan’s attitude and actions. However, he felt the damage was hurting both sides and they needed to find a solution but warned there had been the death of a fisherman that would need to be considered and compensation given.
Discussions happened over three days. It was agreed the loss of the boats cancelled out. Compensation for the death of the fishermen was partly offset by the wounding of a Carl. It was discovered that the Hambladensted fishermen had destroyed thirty-five Cescwican fish traps. They had had only three of their own fish traps destroyed. The issue that took a long time was where the fishing rights lay. Wulfhere wanted a demarcation on the area around both villages whereas Eadweald wanted a north and south bank demarcation. Wulfhere knew that the best fishing grounds lay on the north bank opposite Hambladensted and held out for the river length demarcation. He eventually wore Eadweald down and sweetened the deal by offering to pay the 1500 silver compensation immediately. Eadweald acknowledged that Wulfhere drove a hard bargain. Uther and Dunstan suggested that they should continue to set up a resolution meeting each season to ensure the agreement was kept and to resolve any disagreements peacefully. Eadweard thought this was an excellent idea. Wulfhere said that would raise a marker on the bank to denote the demarcation line. They then clasped hands on the deal.
The Hrothgarsons called another Moot when they arrived home. Wulfhere said that a deal had been struck and that he had paid the compensation himself rather than taxing the people for it. However, he told them that lessons from this situation needed to be learnt. Wulfhere said that they needed to know he would always support their interests but he was still angry that he had not been told the truth. If this situation had escalated to war they again faced ruin and death. He let them know he was aware that it had been a hard year and he had decided that for this year he would only collect half the taxes due. However, because the fishermen had caused the conflict and more importantly had not been truthful which had caused more hardship, they would then not be exempt from the tax reduction. The general consensus was that Wulfhere had been fair in his judgment. The fishermen did not agree and grumbled to themselves.
The Hrothgarsons then took thought about how they would achieve their mission for Cerdic. They realised that the mission might lead to many deaths and in particular they might meet their own Wyrd. After much discussion they agreed that their story would be that they had been sent south on the words of a Vølva or wise woman who prophesised that they would be critical to the defence of a river town in the south. They agreed that they would need at least half a moon to get to Dunum. They talked at length with Orin and Issa who had fought in those places long ago. They thought they should take the Calleva road to a place called Old Sarum and from there go south. No-one knew if there was a road to Dunum from Old Sarum but they knew they could follow the River Terstan to Dunum, if they could not ask for directions. Uthric was confident that they could pass for northern Britons. He warned Dunstan and Wulfhere that they must not speak when near any Dumnonians. Their Brythonic was not good so they needed to be careful what they said.
They met with Stuf and Cerdic before they left and agreed that Stuf would attack and destroy Onna. Stuf reckoned that Onna was poorly protected and could be destroyed beforehand and then they could withdraw again until Wulfhere and his Warband were in place. They agreed that the attack on Dunum would happen on the Dumnonian Holy Day at Eostre. Wulfhere wanted to leave a moon before Eostre. They were unsure how long it would take to get to Dunum but were concerned that the more time they spent travelling in Dumnonia the more likely they would be discovered. Cerdic eventually said they should leave when the moon was half full which he thought should be more than enough time. He emphasized that without taking the bridge their plans would be harder and they might not defeat the Dumnonians.
They arrived after three days at Old Sarum. Dunstan was impressed by the fortifications. There were two huge outer ditches and then a palisade enclosing the area where people lived. At the centre was another ditch with Roman walls. He said that he thought no-one would take this fortress if it was defended by competent warriors. Its only weakness might be that there would not be enough warriors to defend the walls of the outer defences.
At the gate they were told to see Merfyn ap Bradwr, the Captain of the guard. He would allocate them sleeping places and where to get food. Merfyn was distracted by trying to sort out so many warriors. He had an army of people who followed him around and made marks on waxed tablets. Uthric said that they had come from the north to fight the Sais on the advice of their wise woman. Merfyn was not particularly interested in their story and told them to seek out Siawn ap Afarn who was in charge of the west wall sector. Dunstan said to Uthric that he wondered what the people marked on the wax tablets and thought that they may be writing runes. Uthric said that if those men were leæces then he was not too keen in getting close to them. Dunstan’s conversation with Uthric was spoken in Saxon and even although Dunstan spoke quietly he was overheard by Merfyn who looked round and asked Uthric if Dunstan had spoken Sais. Dunstan was able to say in Brythonic that he had used a northern dialect and he had not spoken Sais. Merfyn looked dubious but after staring at Dunstan, he nodded and told them to go to Siawn.
Siawn turned out to be an affable man more like a well-fed merchant than a soldier. He told Uthric to settle his men down and see to their food and then come and see him. Uthric thanked Siawn. He told Dunstan that he was to keep his mouth shut and not to speak under any circumstances. Dunstan started to say something but Uthric said he could not be trusted and not speaking started from this point. Dunstan looked annoyed but nodded in agreement.
Siawn gave Uthric some excellent wine from some place called Armorica. Uthric thanked him and asked about his prospects in Old Sarum. Siawn said that unless Uthric accepted baptism and believed in the one true God, Uthric's prospects were very limited. Siawn said his God was coming back to Earth and that those who had not been baptised would be cast into a pit of fire. He invited Uthric to come with him to hear a new priest who had come from Kernow because he thought it might be a revelation to him. Uthric tried to decline and said he had once been to Kernow and in his opinion nothing good came out of it. Siawn laughed and said he was probably correct in his thinking and no doubt that was why the priest had left Kernow. Uthric found it hard to resist and found himself standing in a large hall being harangued by a priest. He discovered that his soul was sinful and needed washed in blood which would cleanse it. There were groups of people who chanted and sang at points when the priest stopped talking. They seemed to have chewed on magical herbs because they frequently screamed and yelled and often seemed to respond to conversations that no one else seemed to hear.
Uthric found some of the concepts difficult. He wasn't sure he liked this religion and thought that he preferred wary acknowledgement of the gods. He found it amusing that the Romans didn't like this God either because they had killed him but they had not done it properly because he managed to come back to life again. The God was due to return this year and the priest wanted everyone to be baptised. Uthric thought that if it was a matter of washing then he should be all right as he frequently washed himself. Siawn was disappointed that Uthric did not repent of his sins and be baptised. Uthric said he had trouble with this. He was mostly happy with the things he had done and those actions that he was not happy with, he generally gave compensation to those that he had wronged. He told Siawn about the fish war in his village and how he had solved the problem. Uthric thanked Siawn for his company and left to return to his men although in truth he thought that the Dumnonians were all mad. He did not think religious fervour was good for anyone.
In the morning they left and continued along the Roman road. Uthric noticed that many of the houses in Old Sarum had fishes painted on the doors. Dunstan wondered if the people in Old Sarum had also had a fish war but Uthric said it was a sign of the nailed god who had given fish to his followers to eat. They also noticed that the few homes that did not have fish had broken doors or had been damaged in some way. They continued along the road and came to a part of the road that split into three different ways. One way went northwest, another went west and the third went southwest, which was the route they decided to take. There were rune markings on stones of the kind that the Dumnonians used, but no-one knew what they meant, so they thought it best to ignore them. Wulfhere thought the runes might be magical and he touched them cautiously but nothing happened. There were more refugees on the road. Uthric asked them where they were going and all of them said they were fleeing the Sais who were going to attack. Uthric discovered that the road went to a place called Vindoclodia but no-one could tell him if Dunum was also in that direction. They thought if they continued to Vindoclodia that someone would be able to tell them which direction to go. They moved faster than most of the refugees on the road who were often encumbered by small children, farm animals and hand carts full of their possessions.
At the end of the day they reached Vindoclodia. It was a large city although the defensive walls were in a bad state of repair. The city was swollen by refugees from the east but it seemed that there was no urgency about war. They noticed that there had been considerable violence in the city. There were quite a lot of bodies on the banks of the river. It looked like people had been killed violently and then dumped in the river only to wash up on the banks. Some of the homes had suffered fire damage or had been broken into. They again noticed pictures of a fish on the doors.
Uthric asked the gate guard where they could stay for the night. The guard said it would probably be best for them to go to the barracks. He said since they did not have a fish on their shields it could be dangerous in the city for them. Uthric was puzzled but thanked the guard.
Dunstan said if this is how the Dumnonians acted then Cerdic should have no problem about conquering the whole country. When they arrived at the barracks, which had a walled enclosure, a troupe of cavalry were leaving. None of them had ever seen the Dumnonian cavalry before and they were surprised at the size of the horses which were much bigger than any of the horses they had seen at home. Wulfhere said that if they had several Warbands of horse soldiers it would be unlikely Cerdic's victory would come that easy.
Uthric talked to the guard commander, Ofydd ap Adda, and asked him for directions to Dunum. Ofydd said that they had gone too far west from Old Sarum. They should have followed the river south from Old Sarum and they would have got there. There were no Roman roads going southeast from Vindoclodia but if they followed the packhorse trail along the River Afon they would come to Bellunum. From Bellunum they could travel directly along the road to Dunum. Ofydd asked them if they would not rather stay in Vindoclodia. It was more civilised here and they could do with more experienced warriors. The City Magistrates had only lately thought they might need warriors and they could good get good rewards. Ofydd complained the Magistrates had also ignored the walls and they were in a bad state of repair. Uthric said he did not think the Sais would get this far and it was unlikely there would be in any danger. He said he and his men were travelling from the north to fulfil a prophecy by their village wise woman. Uthric said he thought it would be pleasant to stay but they had to go to Dunum first.
Ofydd said in that case they should be careful. This city was full of Christians and they had purged the city of any pagans who would not convert. Ofydd said that it was obvious that they were pagans and being armed warriors would not help them against the mob mentality of the Christians. Uthric nodded and said he had noticed the bodies and the destroyed buildings as he was coming in. Ofydd confirmed Uthric's thoughts and said he had lost a file of ten warriors days ago to the mob. He now confined everyone to barracks when the mobs were active. Ofydd said that if they wanted to destroy the city it was up to them but he did not want to lose any more men. Uthric thanked Ofydd for his advice and went back to his men. Later they got into conversation with some men from Isca, a city near Kernow. They swopped stories of fighting Kernow warriors and about how awful Mark the king was. The leader of the men was Idwal, a huge tattooed man. He had lost some of his men to the Christian violence and was not happy. He said that Cadwy, the king of Isca had not tolerated Christian nonsense and had put down any religious hatred with spears. Idwal said that’s what the Magistrates should have done but they were too afraid of the mob. One of Idwal's men, a man called Cadog, had lost his brother and cousin to the mob. He said they had come to fight the Sais and had been killed by the people they had come here to defend. Cadog said that he would quite like to martyr one of the priests in revenge. Idwal said that he was thinking of taking his men out of Vindoclodia but they were too few to protect themselves if they were beset by the mobs. He asked Uthric if he could come with him as the city was not somewhere that was safe for followers of the old gods. Uthric said that he would discuss it with his men but he thought it might be a good idea.
Uthric told his brothers about Idwal's suggestion and they agreed that it would be extra cover for their disguise but meant that Wulfhere and Dunstan needed to be extra careful. Idwal was happy with the decision and they made preparations to leave that day. However, they were frustrated when Ofydd confined everyone to barracks when the mob went on the rampage. More fires were set in the city and more people were killed. The mobs raged for the whole day and night. After that there was a lull when it seemed the mob had exhausted itself. Uthric took advantage of the peace to take his men south along the River Afon. He thanked Ofydd for his hospitality and wished him well in the war.
On the ninth day since leaving Cerdic they arrived at Bellunum. They had taken the path along the banks of the Afon and had enjoyed the walk through the country. Wulfhere noted that it was a rich country. There were small farms in the eaves of the forest. Thirty warriors are always treated with suspicion but when they did not loot or kill, they were treated well by the country folk. Dunstan noticed that most of these folks were followers of the old gods. Uthric asked a Chieftain about it and he said that they still followed the old ways. The Christian God come from the east and was brought to Britain by the Romans. He thought that if Britain deserted their gods it would be destroyed and overrun by the Sais.
At Bellunum the Chief Magistrate had stopped the Christian mobs. Although he was a Christian himself he had executed some of the Christian agitators. He was clear that Bellunum would not be destroyed like other cities in Dumnonia. Dunstan thought that Bellunum was well worth preserving. It was the most Romanised city they had seen. Many of the buildings had been repaired and although the repairs were inferior to the original buildings they kept the idea of what it might have been like to live under the Romans.
The Guard commander was a grizzled veteran called Grufydd. He had so many scars on his body, Dunstan wondered how he had survived. He wore a curious garment called a toga which seemed to Dunstan as not very practical for the climate. The Chief Magistrate Aeoron also wore a toga but the effect was not so impressive as he wore woollen undergarments which showed at the parts of exposed flesh. They enquired of Grufydd how far they had to travel to get to Dunum. Grufydd said that it was only a day's march. He said that if they wanted to fight the Sais then they were going in the right direction. Three days ago, the Sais had attacked Onna and destroyed it. They had withdrawn after and no-one was sure where they were. Scouts had been sent out and there was a detachment of Cavalry that had been brought up from the south coast to find and destroy the Sais. Wulfhere hoped that Stuf would avoid the cavalry. If he got forced back or delayed, then he and his men would be in trouble.
There were lots of refugees on the road to Dunum. At first Uthric asked what had happened but all told the same tale of a Sais advance along the Itchen. There was no consensus on numbers of Sais but Wulfhere reflected that fleeing people rarely stopped do count the numbers of the enemy.
They reached Dunum at sundown and were inspected by Goronwy the Captain of the Guards. He welcomed another thirty warriors but dismissed Uthric's tale of the wise woman. He said he was a Christian and they should not be cavorting with witches. Uthric said that he and his men had been travelling for three weeks and he just wanted to fight the Sais. Idwal could be seen rolling his eyes. They had six days until the Christian Eostre festival and they tried to keep themselves separate. It wasn't that difficult. As soon as the people and warriors knew they were northern pagans or worse as in Idwal's case, from Isca which was currently declaring independence and in rebellion from Dumnonia. Idwal rolled his eyes again when he heard about the rebellion and declared Cadwy a fool. He said that Cadwy’s head would end up on a spear when Arthur caught up with him. Cadog thought it might be difficult for Cadwy to run away as he was monstrously fat.
Over the next five days they suffered taunts from people and soldiers of Dunum. Idwal had to restrain Cadog after he was goaded too many times. Idwal said he thought the situation was becoming serious and perhaps they should leave before a fight broke out. Uthric said that he could not leave yet as he had a duty to carry out the request of the wise woman of their village. He tried to encourage Idwal to leave as he did not want to have to kill Idwal and his men when Stuf came. He did not think that Idwal would be pleased at the deception. Idwal said he would stay. He reflected that he was not only a pagan, but he was also from Isca and his tribal tattoos showed that plainly. He thought that if he left it would be a death sentence. Idwal thought a Warband of thirty would have more chance to survive. Uthric nodded but thought it a shame that a good man like Idwal would have to die.
Wulfhere said that they could try to protect Idwal and his men when Stuf came. Dunstan thought it would be unlikely they would succeed but felt they owed it to Idwal to try. The five days passed without major incident apart from some bruises and blackened eyes. Tension remained high however and it was clear it would only take a spark to set off a major incident. Uthric spoke with Goronwy and asked him if he wanted his men to do guard duty on the morning of their worship ceremonies. Goronwy said that he thought that would be suitable unless Uthric wanted to attend the service with his men and receive baptism. Uthric said that he would think on it but he thought someone should guard the walls in care the Sais came.
Dunum was built around a Roman fort, custom house and way station. The palisade went down to the banks of the river Terstan and the bridge ended at the eastern gates. There were watchtowers on either side of the gate and two further towers on each corner of the wall facing the river. There were two further towers at the west gate. The defences all faced the river to protect against Saxon pirates and Wulfhere thought it was a formidable defence. The width of the bridge was a little over that of a cart so that any attackers would have little opportunity to defend themselves. A barricade had been built across the width of the bridge near the gate to stop an assault. Wulfhere thought it was no wonder Cerdic wanted Durum taken. The only other bridge was at Old Sarum and that could not be taken without a long siege.
Uthric placed two men in each of the four towers at the river and a further one in each tower. The rest of the man he put on the palisade facing the river. He kept all of Idwal's men on the South part of the palisade. He concentrated most of his men around the gate. He expected that he would have to form a Shield wall when Stuf appeared and he opened the gates. He hoped that if Stuf arrived quickly the fight would be over before the defenders realised what had happened. The Christians held their ceremony from daybreak in the big hall they used for their meetings. The night guards were still asleep in the barracks. Dunstan expected that they would no doubt join the ceremonies when they had some sleep.
Uthric went to talk to Idwal. He asked Idwal if he trusted him. Idwal said he found this a strange question but thought maybe Uthric wanted to tell him something. Uthric said that he had a bad feeling about the day and wanted Idwal's assurance that no matter what strange things happened that if he and his men stayed by Uthric then they would be safe. Idwal said he was concerned about such talk but he confirmed that he trusted Uthric and would follow his lead. Uthric thanked him and asked him to tell his men.
Uthric was getting more anxious as the morning wore on. There was no sign of Stuf. Dunstan said that he would go and look for him and went over the bridge to Onna. He could see no sign of a Saxon army. He went along the road keeping to the eaves of the forest but still found nothing of any note. Dunstan wondered if something had happened. He was sure that the Warband should be here by now. He thought there was no point in going further and decided to return.
Uthric and Wulfhere were unsure how they should proceed. If Stuf did not come soon then their plans might have to be delayed. They could hear singing and shouting from the Hall where the Christians were having their rites. They saw that Dunstan returned just before midday. Wulfhere thought that the Christians would be finished soon and the next watch would take over from Uthric's men. He wondered if they would have to keep the gates by force and refuse to give way.
Shortly after midday one of the men posted on the Westgate tower came running over. He reported a procession of people coming from the Christian’s Hall towards the gate. Uthric told the man to go back to the tower but be prepared to join the main force. He climbed up onto the Eastgate towers and looked east and west. He could not see any movement to the east but could watch the approaching procession. He and Wulfhere briefly considered closing the Westgate and holding Dunum but they would then let the enemy know their intent when they were unsure when they would be reinforced by Stuf. They were also aware that there were at least thirty sleeping warriors in the barracks that would be inside the palisade. If they made an aggressive move then they would need to be dealt with quickly.
Dunstan joined them in the tower and told them that there was no sign of Stuf or a Warband. Uthric sighed and said he would go down to the troops. He signalled for the men to get ready to form a Shieldwall. The procession came through the Westgate. It was proceeded by sounds of singing but more concerning there were shouts of threats against pagans. Wulfhere reflected that people were too often concerned about things that really shouldn’t concern them. Uthric told his men to form a Shieldwall in front of the east gates. Idwal joined him and said that he thought this would get very ugly. Uthric agreed. Idwal called his men to join the Shieldwall and they waited for the procession to approach. Uthric told the men to lock their shields together but not to make any aggressive movements. He said he did not want a bloodbath yet. Someone within Shieldwall said that it seemed that the Christians were keen to meet their God and he felt it would be good if they could help them with their task. There was general laughter in the Shieldwall but Uthric said they must not provoke the crowd.
While he was waiting for the procession to arrive Uthric said to Wulfhere and Dunstan that they might need to make a fighting retreat and it might be better to clear the barricade on the bridge. He said he did not fancy the idea of fighting and being trapped against it. Dunstan said that he would start clearing it if fighting broke out.
The procession approached the Shieldwall and stopped about two spear lengths away. The crowd was hostile and shouting insults at his men. A group of women stood off to the left and sang songs. Wulfhere had left the Shieldwall and was watching from a tower. He thought the sound of the singing sounded sweet in comparison to the screaming of the crowd. Uthric stood forward and asked to speak with Goronwy, the Captain of the Guard but he could not see him. He was answered by the priest who said that his congregation had come because they wanted to offer baptism to all the pagans. Uthric said that he had nothing against being washed but now was not the time to offer it as they were presently protecting Dunum from the Sais.
The priest said he was not happy with Uthric's response and told him that he would burn in hell. Uthric ignored him and addressed the crowd. He told them to go home before someone got hurt. He was still trying to see if Goronwy was present to help restore some order but still he could not see him. He could see some of the warriors from the barracks come out to investigate the noise. Some went back inside and returned carrying weapons. Uthric thought this was not a good sign but he hoped that they would support him rather than the mob. Uthric turned his attention on the small priest in front of him who was still haranguing him for being a demon worshipper. Uthric was almost prepared to tell the priest he had seen real demons and would be happy to introduce him but thought better of it.
Someone in the crowd threw a rock which hit one of the spearmen. There were more taunts and demands that the Spearmen lay down their weapons. Uthric thought the situation was getting out of control and he thought he should take the initiative. He said that he was willing to get baptised. The crowd cheered his response but they had interrupted Uthric and he had not finished what he wanted to say. He repeated that he was willing to get baptised but he added that it would not be until he finished his guard duty. He was not able to say anymore for the crowd shouted and screamed at him. More rocks were thrown and a spearman fell when he was hit by a particularly large rock.
Uthric called for his men to lock shields and move forward. He was hoping the crowd would disperse if he moved forward. Uthric shouted that no one was to be hurt but either his men did not hear or they chose to ignore him. Two men were killed by the spearmen and the crowd moved back momentarily unsure what to do. The priest came forward and checked the fallen men and shouted that they had been martyred by the pagans.
More rocks ever thrown, Uthric tried to see if Wulfhere, who was in the tower, had seen any sign of a Saxon Warband. Wulfhere was watching the scene below and did not make any signal. Uthric was tempted to charge the crowd and disperse it but he did not want to leave the gate undefended. He shouted at his men to fall back and form up again in front of the gate.
The withdrawal emboldened the mob and Uthric could see armed warriors joining the mob. Wulfhere came down from the tower and Dunstan also joined the Shieldwall. They agreed that they might need to retreat and Wulfhere and Dunstan would start clearing the barricade. Uthric watched the priest who had begun to rile the mob. More spearmen were joining the mob and still Uthric could not see Goronwy. He made another attempt to get the crowd to disperse telling them they were putting everyone’s lives at risk. From behind him someone shouted that they should make a martyr of the priest. There was laughter from his Shieldwall and another voice said he had a hammer and nails and would happily use them on the priest.
Uthric turned to tell his men to be quiet as they were not helping things. A rock struck him on the helmet and he felt slightly dizzy. Someone pulled him back into the Shieldwall and the warriors used their shields to protect him. The priest was screaming at the Dumnonian Spearmen to kill the pagans who were defiling God’s Holy day and had murdered innocent Christians.
Uthric told his men to stand firm. He expected to be attacked soon and thought that this was likely to be a hard fight and long if Stuf did not come soon. Both sides began to taunt each other no matter what Uthric said. One of Idwal’s men was brandishing a hammer and some nails. Uthric tried to get him to stop as he could see the mob was getting wilder and incensed by the priest. Uthric looked at the sun and realised that it was midday. It would have been time for the guard to change but he did not dare let his men stand down. It seemed that most of the Christian Spearman had formed up against them and there were villagers adding to their number. If they managed to break their Shieldwall, Uthric believed they would all die. Some of his men were complaining that they needed water. Uthric told two of his men to go into the guard towers and get water from the barrel to share with the men. This seemed to spur the Dumnonians into action and they began to move forward. The priest stood with his arms apart and was calling down curses on Uthric's men. Uthric wished he had a javelin to throw at him and stop him casting the spell. From behind the enemy Shieldwall, they could hear people singing. Uthric made the sign against evil and many of the Artrebates spat to avert whatever curse the singers were casting on them.
The Shieldwalls clashed and shoved, pushed and hacked and stabbed at each other. Men who were injured stayed upright in the crush. At the barricade Wulfhere and Dunstan were joined by two of Idwal’s men who started to help them clear the barricade to allow for a fighting retreat if the weight of numbers told on Uthric's Shieldwall. The barricade was well made and difficult to dismantle.
Uthric felt the pressure of the enemy and they were pushed back against the palisade. He shouted at the men to heave forward and felt the resistance lessen as his men killed and moved into the spaces. Uthric knew he couldn't move forward too far because his men would be overlapped by superior numbers. The fighting continued as each side tried to gain an advantage.
The man helping Dunstan suddenly stopped and shouted ‘Sais’ and pointed at Saxons running across the bridge. He picked up his shield and spear and shouted that the Sais were coming. Wulfhere's companion did the same. Dunstan used his shield to hit the man nearest him in the hope that he would save his life. The man was surprised and fell backwards, the strength of the unexpected blow knocking him over the parapet of the bridge and into the river. Wulfhere tried to do the same with his man as he was preparing to defend the barricade but he only succeeded in knocking the man to the ground and against the parapet. The lead Saxons had reached the barricade and had begun to climb over it. The man with Wulfhere tried to stab one of the Saxons with his spear despite the fact he was on the ground. The Saxon retaliated with an overhead swing from his bearded are. Wulfhere parried the axe and undoubtedly saved his man’s life. Wulfhere shouted at the Saxons to join the fight at the gate. Wulfhere then hit the prone man on the head with his shield and he slumped unconscious.
Dunstan led the leading Saxons to the back of the Shieldwall and tried to push the Shieldwall forward. All the pushing did was to increase the pressure on the front ranks limiting even further their ability to strike at each other. The weight became intolerable but was suddenly released when someone in the second rank managed to injure the man in front of Uthric. The injured man was unable to use his shield which meant the men on either side of the wounded man were vulnerable to attack. The British warriors were experienced enough to re-align their shields and the enemy Shieldwall shifted to accommodate the loss of men. The shift allowed some of the arriving Saxons to join the Shieldwall and increase the numbers.
Uthric's men were better equipped and as the Shieldwalls expanded here and there villagers who had been initially at the back of the enemy Shield wall found themselves in the second rank. Uthric’s men targeted the villagers who were easier to incapacitate and used the advantage to lengthen their shield wall. The Dumnonians were being pushed backwards but they still stood firm and their Wall did not break.
Dunstan had joined the advancing Saxons and was wondering how he was going to get to the front of the Shieldwall to join the fight. Wulfhere had wanted to join the battle too but the bridge was packed with men and he also felt the necessity to protect the unconscious man at his feet. Wulfhere could see Stuf coming towards him, balancing on the parapet. Stuf smiled at Wulfhere as he drew level and asked him for the news. Wulfhere said that he believed they still held the gate but he thought it unlikely anyone would get through at this time. Stuf said he thought he might try even if it seemed impossible. He ran the last few steps and jumped and just about caught the top of the palisade. He then hauled himself over. Wulfhere considered following Stuf but thought it was unlikely he could emulate Stuf's agility. A few moments later Stuf appeared on the top of the guard tower.
Uthric had found the fight in the Shieldwall grim. He could see his men falling and their places were being taken by Saxons. He was fighting alongside Idwal who looked increasingly concerned that there were now Saxons in their Shieldwall. Uthric kept talking to Idwal to trust him and keep fighting. Uthric thought later if the fighting had been less fierce then he may have had trouble getting the Dumnonians to continue fighting for him whereas they had been concentrating on staying alive.
More men were joining each Shieldwall and neither could make progress against the other. The Saxons on the bridge could not join the fight until the front rank moved forward. It seemed that the Dumnonians were going to hold the Saxons or even push them back to the
gateway. Dunstan led some men off the bridge and into the water at the base of the palisade. The river came up to his waist and was flowing fast where the water flow was restricted by the stone piers of the bridge. One man lost his footing and was swept away. Dunstan could not see if he resurfaced. His men helped each other climb over the palisade and onto the fighting platform. More men saw what he was doing and joined the men climbing over the palisade. When Dunstan judged he had enough men he led a charge into the flank of the Dumnonian Shieldwall.
Uthric could feel the pressure of the enemy slowly begin to ease and they were slowly giving ground. He heard yelling and screams to his left but could not look because he was being attacked by several of the enemy at once. Idwal was on one side and an Artrebate called Iolo was on his other side. Both were defending Uthric. Suddenly the pressure ceased and there was open space in front of them. Dunstan’s flank attack had broken the Dumnonian Shieldwall and men started chasing the retreating enemy. Uthric shouted for Idwal to keep his men together and to stay with him. Idwal was bewildered by events as were most of his man. Only one of his men, a man called Cadog, seemed to still be interested in fighting. He had used the butt of his spear to bloody the face of the priest and had dragged the man over. The priest whimpered and tried to plead to be released. Cadog showed him his hammer and nails and suggested the priest might want to join his God. The event was a distraction from the horror going on around them. Cadog was telling the priest that he held him responsible for the deaths of his brother, his cousin and their families and for the fall of Dunum. The priest was responding put someone hit him across the mouth and he fell silent.
Idwal’s men seemed in shock and they stared around at the Saxon Warriors pursuing the routed Dumnonians. Idwal asked Uthric if he was a Saxon too. Uthric said he was sorry for misleading Idwal but he had not had any other choice. Idwal was either too exhausted or resigned to his fate to argue and he sank to the ground to join his men. He asked what would happen to him and his men. Uthric said that it would be up to Stuf but in his view they would be rewarded for their part in the fight. Uthric said it might be better to view this fight as of the Old gods against the Christian God rather than anything else. They had won a great victory for the old gods. Uthric was joined by Wulfhere and Dunstan and the three brothers sat down with Idwal and his men to rest. Someone brought a barrel of water and Wulfhere made sure everyone got some.
Wulfhere checked with his Warband. Four of the Artrebates had been killed or were not expected to survive. Five had been seriously wounded and would need rest. Idwal's Iscans had fared better. Two had been killed and three had been wounded. All the wounded men needed rest and would not be able to move from Dunum for several weeks.
Stuf joined Wulfhere and clasped him by the arm in friendship. He congratulated Wulfhere for holding the bridge. He wanted to know all of the Artrebates names and thanked them though Uthric for their support. He honoured the dead saying that he would pay wergild for all those that had died. Uthric introduced Idwal and told Stuf that he had unwittingly joined his small Warband but had fought well and without them Uthric believed they would not have held the gate. Stuf thanked Idwal and gave him a heavy gold arm ring set with jewels. He said that he intended to reward all his men when they were able to count the gold and silver they had won. Idwal thanked him.
When the priest whimpered again, Stuf asked who he was and why he was whimpering. Uthric said that the man was a Christian leæce and he had been responsible for provoking the attack on his men because they would not accept baptism. Stuf said that he was unaware of the word and asked what it signified. Uthric said he thought it might be a sacred rite to transform people into Christians by dipping them in the river. Stuf said he was amazed about what people think and he wondered what Cadog intended to do with the leæce. Wulfhere said he was not sure but he did not believe it would end well for him. Stuf said that they should ensure that it did not bring bad luck if he was killed. He had no concern about fighting Dumnonians but he did not see the sense in purposefully upsetting the Christian God. Dunstan said that he did not believe it would upset anyone. They would give the leæce a good death and he would be transported to the Christian Neorxanwang and have a glorious time.
Stuf said in that case they should make the death quick, the man was continually whimpering and it would be better for everyone if he went immediately to Neorxanwang. Uthric told Cadog to end it and do what he had to do. Cadog took the priest to the wall of the barracks and nailed him to some crosspieces of wood. Groups of warriors watched and laid bets how long he would take to die.
Wulfhere told Stuf that the Christian religion was intolerant of others. They had seen people who followed the old gods driven out and even killed all through the lands through which they had travelled. Stuf was interested in Wulfhere's account and wondered if they could use the information for their gain. Uthric said the Christians had been killing their own people. Uthric thought there was a Holy war going on and he told Stuf how the crucified priest had riled up the mob and they had tried to stone his men.
Uthric and Wulfhere talked to Idwal about what he wanted to do. They told him he could bring his men north and they could get land to farm and either join with the Artrebates, the Saxons or set up their own dwellings. Idwal said that he would need to talk to his men and he would give an answer in the morning. During the night someone slit the priests throat to stop the constant noises that was keeping everyone awake.
In the morning Stuf sent out small raiding parties to gather loot and destroy buildings. Wulfhere and Dunstan would have liked to lead some of the Warbands but felt constrained to wait for Idwal's answer. They also felt the need to make sure neither their Artrebates nor Idwal's men came to any harm from some of the overzealous Saxons who might consider them to be enemies. Many of the men had been injured in the fierce battle at the gate and needed to rest to recuperate from wounds.
Idwal said that he had spoken with his men. They had been shocked that they had been fighting on the side of the Sais and many were still angry. However, they also recognised that their fellow countrymen who were Christians had attacked them and they would likely have been killed. Idwal said he had looked at his options. They could not return to Isca in the far west as Cadwy had rebelled and they would be viewed as rebels by other Dumnonians and therefore not likely to be able to make it home alive. The Christians in the rest of Dumnonia were also killing anyone who wanted to worship the old gods and Idwal and his men’s tattoos proclaimed their allegiance to Bel. Idwal said that the men had voted on the decision and had decided that going with Uthric would at least give them a chance of living. Idwal said that he needed to be clear that they had decided that they would not fight Dumnonians. They were happy to fight anyone else but would not fight their own tribes. Uthric said he was pleased Idwal would come north because he had liked both him and his men.
The Hrothgarsons did get a chance to lead a Warband several days later but they were unable to find anything valuable. All the Steadings or villages were already looted and they spent a frustrating day or two trying to discover something they could take. The villagers had all fled and they had taken anything of value with them. Wulfhere had decided to return to Dunum. They had not been able to find anything worthwhile in the broad sweeps that he had taken with the warband and they had only two large cooking cauldrons to show for it. On the way back, they encountered a messenger from Stuf who asked them to return anyway. Wulfhere was aware that the men were grumbling. They had been promised silver and glory and they had got neither.
When they armed back Stuf told the warriors that Cerdic and Aelle had agreed a peace treaty in which the king of the Dumnonians would pay tribute. The men grew excited and wanted to know how much they would get but Stuf said that they would not get the silver until a moon after Midsummer festival.
As Wulfhere was waiting for his men’s wounds to heal a group of Dumnonians came to meet Stuf. By their dress they looked like priests and they prostrated themselves in front of Stuf. Stuf seemed embarrassed and asked Uthric to tell them to stand on their feet. Uthric asked them why they had come. He was impressed that they had walked into Dunum when they were likely to suffer a hard death. The men said that they would like to recover the body of their fellow priest who had been killed by the Sais and give him a proper burial. Stuf said that he was not averse to the idea and asked them what they proposed in return. The priests said they were confused and pretended they did not know what Uthric had said. Stuf told them that he was willing to accept payment for the dead priest because as he understood it, the priest had been killed as a blood price for a brother and a cousin of one of his men. Stuf said by his reckoning that the priests still owed his man the wergild for a cousin. The priests conferred together and said that they were willing to offer prayers for the dead man’s soul which they said was worth his weight in silver. Stuf said he disagreed but unless they had any better ideas then he would pick a priest at random and he would suffer the same fate as their friend who they had come to collect. The priests again conferred with each other and said they were willing to donate the gold cross that was their only treasure and was very ancient. Stuf examined the cross and agreed it was just about enough. He allowed the men to retrieve the body of the dead priest and they carefully wrapped it in a white shroud before carrying it off. Stuf asked for an axe and called Idwal to him. He cut the cross in half and gave half of it to Idwal as wergild for Cadog’s cousin.
Wulfhere said that he was keen to go and look for his family. Stuf was happy to let the Hrothgarsons leave as they had more than fulfilled their task. He wished them good luck. Uthric said that they would need to take their men back north first. Neither the Artrebates nor Idwal’s Iscans would be safe travelling alone in Saxon lands. Wulfhere calculated that he would not have time to go north and arrange his lands and then go to Anderida to see if he could find his family before they had to travel in Cerdic's army to the Giants Stones to collect the tribute.
The journey north was without incident. Idwal chose land near the ruins of Pontes for his men. They had found women on the way up and when Dunstan asked how they had manged to do so Idwal told him that there had been so much death recently that there were too many women compared to men so it had been very easy to get married, particularly men with the gold and silver that they had been given by Stuf.
Dunstan appointed Aldfrid, a man who he thought would motivate and organise the farmers, as his steward. Dunstan wanted a stockade built at the south side of the Pontes bridge. He asked the farmers to spend half a day every three days to build the stockade. The farmers were not happy with Dunstan's idea. Dunstan called them together and told them they needed to be mindful of recent history. He reminded them that Aelle had swept through the area only two years ago and destroyed everything in his path both here and in the south. He thought it important for the farmers to build homes and farm the land, they also needed to protect their families from war. The farmers agreed and said that they would do their best.
The Hrothgarsons then took thirty men to Wincen Cæster to meet with Cerdic's army. They all travelled to the Giants Stones. They were impressed by the stones. Some said that the stones were built by Giants. Others said that they were giants that had turned into stones. The Dumnonians arrived the next day with twelve cartloads of tribute. The Saxon warriors were jubilant and thought they would be rich. The peace treaty agreed two years of peace between the Dumnonians and the Saxons.
Uthric took an opportunity to talk to the Atheling Wlencing about his wife Ealhwyn. Wlencing said that he was presently unaware where his wife was. Uthric thought it was strange but did not question the Atheling. He did ask if Wlencig had seen a slave called Meire with his wife. Wlencing said that he did not usually notice slaves so he could not help Uthric. Uthric did not press the issue as it was clear that Wlencing was not willing to say more.
Wulfhere said that they should leave soon and go to Anderida.