The Disappointing Meeting
The Hrothgarsons returned to Hambladensted and set the lands in order. Dunstan’s steward, Aldfrid, had done a good job in collecting the rents and administering justice but he had been unable to convince the farmers to work on the fortifications. Dunstan said that he was concerned that the building of the stockade at Pontes was not going as quickly as he would have liked. He discussed it further with his farmers who said they would do what they could. Dunstan thought that he might have convinced them but said to Wulfhere that it might take an extended period when they were both present to get full co-operation. Wulfhere said that they needed to leave soon before winter to find their families. He did agree to speak to the farmers himself.
Uthric showed the Iscans the land and asked them to choose where they wanted to live as a reward for their part in the Battle of Dunum. As a Dumnonian, Idwal was not keen to live near the Artrebates as they had a long history of conflict and despite Uthric’s encouragement to do so, Idwal and his men chose to settle near the southern bank ruins at Pontes. They started to build their farms and Uthric thought they would be content.
There was disagreement among the Hrothgarsons about the best way to travel to Anderida. Uthric thought the quickest way was to go to Lundenwic and then south. Wulfhere thought while that would definitely be quicker, they should really go to Cissa Cæster and see Hildegard and Beorthric. He thought that Beorthric might have found more information, which would be useful in their search for their families.
On the trip south, they stopped overnight in Glawmæd and were guested by the Þegn Wictred. Dunstan said he felt a bit depressed as he thought of the many good memories associated with Cædering and Glawmæd. When he discussed it with his brothers, they advised him to think of the future rather than the past. Uthric told him to remember that nothing lasts forever.
On the journey to Hamafunta, Dunstan again became angry saying, and not for the first time, that he still believed Cerdic was partly responsible for the destruction of the three villages and capture of their families. Uthric and Wulfhere said that Dunstan must remember that Cerdic was their King and holder of their oaths but they let Dunstan continue to complain. They decided to skirt Hamafunta and took the forest road from Cælctun. Wulfhere thought it was best not to look for trouble and he thought the people of Hamafunta would not particularly be happy about their presence due to their very active part they had taken in the downfall of the Ealdorman Cœlfrith.
At Cissa Cæster they met with Hildegard and Beorthric. Uthric and Wulfhere said that they needed to resolve the conflict with Beorthric and put the blood feud behind them. They acknowledged what he had done for their mother and the gifts he had given them. Wulfhere thought a small symbolic gesture would close the issue. Uthric said that he had looked forward to this day when they could work together. Hildegard hugged her sons and said that she thought at last they could be a family again. Beorthric presented each of the brothers with a new set of clothes. Wulfhere thanked him and Uthric was delighted with the quality of the clothes. He said they would look very splendid when they went to Anderida. Wulfhere said that he thought it was best if they did not go to Anderida looking prosperous. If they had to buy back their wives then they would be better not to look too wealthy. Beorthric was pleased that they liked his gifts. Hildegard said that they were made from their own weaving rooms. She said that she would be keen to re-unite the family and had wondered what their sons thought if she and Beorthric came north to live. Wulfhere and Uthric said they would both be welcome. Dunstan had not said anything throughout the exchange as he still did not trust Beorthric but both for his brothers’ and mother's sake he said nothing.
Beorthric gave them information and told them to contact Wayard the Merchant in Anderida. He told them he had a lot of dealings with Wayard in the past and he would be helpful.
They left Cissa Cæster and travelled on to Anderida. On the way to Anderida Uthric and Dunstan nearly came to blows. Dunstan had been telling Uthric that Gwenyth was the most beautiful woman he had met. Uthric said that Dunstan had been hit on the head too many times and in reality Gwenyth was rather plain if you compared her to Meire or even Bronwyn. Dunstan was not amused by Uthric’s point of view and had to be restrained by Wulfhere.
When the Hrothgarsons arrived in Anderida they went to visit the Ealdorman Ælfrith. Ælfrith had been indebted to the Hrothgarsons for bringing his daughter back to him after Þegn Garm’s death. Ælfrith had also been helpful and had supported them at the Cyningmoot when they had accused Cœlfrith of acting illegally against Osberht.
Ælfrith bade them welcome and listened intently to their tale of searching for their families. Ælfrith said that he would help them whatever way he could. He offered them rooms in his house but Wulfhere said he was unsure how Aelle would view their stay if he came to hear of it. He thought it best to stay in one of the taverns by the quayside. He asked Ælfrith if he knew Wayard the Merchant but Ælfrith said that he could add nothing to what they already knew of him. While they were talking, his daughter Æthlind came in to the room. She welcomed them and asked for their news. She paid particular attention to Dunstan but he tried not to encourage her. He said afterwards to Uthric that he needed to find Gwyneth before he dallied with other women. Uthric thought his younger brother might regret not returning Æthlind’s advances. Uthric reminded Dunstan that he had already ignored her obvious interest when they had previously travelled to Anderida. Dunstan said that he would rather get drunk than try to think of the intricacies of another relationship. Uthric reminded Dunstan that she was also the only child of a rich and powerful Ealdorman and that it would improve his standing.
They stayed overnight in a tavern and agreed that in the morning they would meet with Wayard the Merchant to see if he had any news. Dunstan said that he found himself in a reflective mood and that the best ale in Anderida helped him recall all the bad things that had happened. He still blamed Cerdic for most of the events and neither Wulfhere nor Uthric tried to stop him from talking too loudly. Dunstan wondered if had been a mistake to put trust in anyone other than his brothers. He grew so melancholy that he almost got into a fight with a man called Osbryght. It was fortunate that Wulfhere was not as drunk as either Dunstan or Uthric and he managed to calm everyone down before getting Dunstan to bed.
In the morning Wulfhere woke Dunstan and told him that they had previously agreed not to draw attention to themselves but Dunstan had nearly started a fight which would not have ended well. Dunstan could only mumble apologies. He told them that there was a high possibility that a whole gang of dwarven smiths were using the inside of his head as a smithy. Uthric by comparison was feeling good about the world and when he told Dunstan he needed to eat, his brother could only vomit in the empty hearth.
Wulfhere told them he had found where he could find Wayard the Merchant from the Taverner. Wayard owned a shop near the Saehinwearf where he also had his storehouse. They went through the streets of Anderida and were amazed by the old Roman buildings that still stood. Some of the houses were three or four stories high and most were still occupied by families or businesses. Uthric tried to get Dunstan interested but Dunstan was still suffering from hammering dwarves inside his skull and had little capacity to listen and barely opened his eyes beyond a squint.
Wayard welcomed the Hrothgar sons and told them that their father had told him that they would be looking for information from him. Wulfhere wondered how Hrothgar had been communicating as he had been dead for ten summers but managed to refrain from asking what might have been difficult questions when he realised Wayard was talking about Beorthric, their step-father. Uthric removed Dunstan before he said anything about Beorthric by making an excuse that Dunstan had the need for air.
Wayard said that he had spoken with his friend Deorling Siredson who was married to Rhedyn. Rhedyn had originally come from Glawmæd and had been aware that Cenbeorht Earnwulfson had originally bought Bronwyn. Cenbeorht had given Bronwyn to his tenant Æwulf the Tanner and Æwulf had made Bronwyn his wife. Wulfhere thanked Wayard and offered him a gift but Wayard declined. He said he was happy to help since their father, Beorthric, had always been helpful to him. Wulfhere got directions from Wayard to Leðerwyrhtan Lanen and he said they should then ask for Æwulf by name when they got there.
Wulfhere joined his brothers who were in the middle of a heated argument. Dunstan's dwarf smiths had calmed down for him to be able to raise his voice above a whisper. He was furious that Wayard had referred to Beorthric as their father. He reminded his brothers that Hrothgar was their father and that no-one else could take his place. Wulfhere said that they needed to be more pragmatic and sometimes being known as the Beorthricsons might be useful. Dunstan would have responded but the Dwarves started hammering again inside his head and he started retching.
Wulfhere took them in the direction of Leðerwyrhtan Lanen where the tanners worked. They smelt the stink before they got there and reckoned that they would not have to ask for directions. The smell was overpowering and Dunstan thought that it would be impossible for him to live somewhere like this. Dunstan said that he disliked the fact that he could taste it in the air. Uthric said he thought that if Bronwyn lived here she would be only too glad to come back with Wulfhere. Wulfhere said that that remained to be seen and asked someone where he could find Æwulf. The man pointed to a yard that had one gate off its hinges. The courtyard was built of Roman walls but the house was a typical Saxon building.
They could see a boy of about ten summers stir a pool of murky water with a pole twice his size. They stood watching at the gateway unsure what to do. Uthric said he thought that the smell would not get any better the longer they waited. Wulfhere went in through the gates and saw a man shovelling manure into another pool. He had been hidden by the walls of the yard.
The man asked if he could be of help and Wulfhere introduced himself but stopped in mid-sentence when a heavily pregnant woman came out of the house. She was scolding some of the children who ran around her but stopped when she saw Wulfhere. She screamed and crumpled to the ground and both Wulfhere and the man ran toward her. The man reacted slightly before Wulfhere and he cradled the woman's head. Wulfhere was unsure what to do so he patted her hand. The two men stared at each other while the woman opened her eyes and said that as usual Wulfhere had come back too late before clutching her side in pain. The man cradling her head asked if the baby was coming early but the woman shook her head. The man and Wulfhere both helped her to her feet and the boy who had been stirring the tanning pit brought out a bench for her to sit on.
Uthric was trying not to notice the awkward scene and when he had examined the tanning pits for some minutes, he went over to a crowd of grubby children that were clustered around the door of the house. He thought two of them might be young Wulfhere and Offa. He spoke in Brythonic and introduced himself as their father's brother, Uncle Uthric. The boys looked at him curiously but showed no sign of understanding him. The smaller child asked in Saxon if Uthric really was a warrior and that if so he might have been a bit bigger. Uthric said he thought size did not matter if you could use a spear properly and showed his skill by skewering the thatch. The boys did not seem very impressed.
Dunstan noisily vomited in the corner of the yard drawing the attention of two dogs. Uthric said afterwards that Dunstan had obviously been sick because of the open affection Wulfhere was trying to convey to Bronwyn. Dunstan denied Uthric's assertion and said it was a combination of skull-hammering dwarves, the smell of the tannery and too much of Wiglac's best ale.
Wulfhere was trying to talk to Bronwyn but she was not prepared to listen. She told him that as ever he was late in returning. She should have listened to Hildegard in this matter. Wulfhere told her that he had spent almost a year searching for her and had only just learnt where she was. He had come straight away and would like to have her back. Bronwyn said that while she would think over the matter he should not hold out too much hope. She told him that she was tired having to stay at home while he went off to wars. She was never sure if he would come home at all, whether she would be a destitute widow and never knowing what had happened to him. Bronwyn said that dealing with that uncertainty was not easy.
She reminded him that he had told her when they married that he would be there with her. She said that they were lucky to spend more than one moon together throughout all of their marriage. Wulfhere said that he had now put things in order and they now had rich lands where she would be a KingsÞegn's wife. Bronwyn said that she was not interested in status but would rather have stability and someone that would be there for her. Æwulf might not have high status but he was a good man and didn't run off to wars every time his Lord said so.
Æwulf was a little awestruck by three Lords and warriors in his yard. The mightiest seemed to know his wife well and he wondered what was going to happen. He thought it might not end well for him. One of the warriors was scaring the children and the other was amusing the dogs by vomiting on the wall. He asked the Lord if they wanted some ale and some of the stew his wife had prepared however no-one paid him any attention. Bronwyn was deep in conversation with one of the Lords. He was going to tell her to be less shrill but the man looked forlorn rather than angry, so he held his tongue.
Wulfhere was pleading with Bronwyn to come with him but she put her hands over her ears and said that it might be best if he left as she did not want to hear his arguments anymore. Wulfhere said that he was heartbroken and had hoped that together they might have made a dynasty. Bronwyn said that this talk was now in the past and she thought it better that he should talk of dynasties with someone else as she had no interest in going to the north and she would remain with Æwulf.
Wulfhere said that he was disappointed in her response and would have preferred a different outcome. He did think if that was her final decision that they should then discuss their sons’ future. He said he would prefer if his sons came with him. Bronwyn said that this would not be her choice but agreed that they might have better prospects as the sons of a KingsÞegn rather than the sons of a tanner.
Uthric came to stand beside Wulfhere as he thought Wulfhere had run out of words and he wanted to know if Bronwyn had any other information on either Meire or Gwenyth. Bronwyn said that both Lucnot and Gwenyth had been taken to Contaburgh but she had no message from them since they were separated. Uthric thanked her for the news and wished her well.
Wulfhere said that he would come back in the morning for the boys and he left. Uthric thought he should help Dunstan who seemed to be resting with his eyes closed in the shade of the yard wall. One of the two dogs was playing with his cloak and the other was chewing his shoe but Dunstan did not seem to notice.
Uthric took Wulfhere to a tavern as he seemed unable to make decisions himself. He forbade Dunstan to order ale and made him drink beer instead. Dunstan tried to cheer Wulfhere by telling him that if any woman chose urine pits and a tanner to a KingsÞegn then perhaps he had not chosen so well in the first place and she lacked ambition. It might be better to think of a different future.
The conversation became rather morose even though Dunstan felt better after they ate some food. He thought that perhaps it was a mistake looking for their families and that they should move on with their lives. Uthric said that he needed to know about Meire before moving on. Dunstan thought that it wasn't worth it. He thought that he might go and talk to Æthlind as he really had no hope that Gwenyth had still any interest in him. Wulfhere said very little and the brothers hoped that he would get back to his usual self soon. They talked to him about horses but Wulfhere's demeanour did not improve.
Uthric and Dunstan thought that maybe they should go back to the Ealdorman Ælfrith's house as it would be safer and they worried that Wulfhere would pick a fight in the tavern. When they arrived at Ælfrith 's house they were told by the servants that he was out at the Wittan but Æthlind was in the house and she welcomed them. She arranged food and made them feel welcome. When Æthlind sat close to Dunstan he responded to her overtures. After they had finished eating and it grew dark she took him to her chamber.
In the morning Wulfhere told Uthric that he had made a decision. They would travel to Contaburgh and seek out Gwenyth and Lucnot. If they travelled to Lundenwic they could take the east road through Hrofnacæster and ask Hrof if he had news of Ealhwyn and Meire. They would leave Wulfhere's children with Bronwyn for the time while they tried to find out what happened to the others. Dunstan was late to arrive for the morning food and he looked as if he had not slept. He said that while Wulfhere arranged things with Bronwyn he would be asking Ælfrith for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Uthric laughed and said it looked like dwarves hammering in the skull had at last made Dunstan see some sense. Wulfhere was surprised but offered his congratulations.
Dunstan said that he had come to the point where he could take no more. This had not been his plan but he thought it was now time to face reality and that it was highly unlikely that Gwenyth would want him back. Too much time had now passed and he felt it better to make new arrangements. He said that he had had time to think about his situation and that he should have married Æthlind when they first came to Anderida.
After the arrangements were made with Ælfrith and Bronwyn the Hrothgarsons left to go to Hrofnacæster.