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AS18b Edstaðelung ond Āsyndrung


Nozbat

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Restoration and Divorce

It took a week to travel from Anderida to Hrofnacæster. The Hrothgarsons had travelled along the Roman road using Way stations or staying at Steadings along the way. Northern Ceint was rich and fertile. Ruins of Roman houses were everywhere. Some had been scavenged for stone and others were intact apart from the roofs which had fallen in. Dunstan thought of himself as a builder and he was intrigued to see how the Romans had built their farms and dwellings. He discussed it with his brothers and Uthric pointed out that and seemed obvious to the Romans, withy making was not the height of building and Dunstan might want to stick to being a Þegn.                       

As they approached Hrofnacæster they could see the still extant Roman walls surrounding the Old Roman fort and dwellings that guarded the stone bridge over the river Meduwaen which flowed into the sea. On the shoreline they could see two armies drawn up for battle. The larger army had the smaller army trapped against the shore. None of the Hrothgarsons could conceive why a battle was being fought in Ceint but they went to the top of a low hill to get a better view and to wait for the inevitable outcome.           

Wulfhere thought the smaller force did well to stand up to the larger one for so long but their Shieldwall was breached and the battle was suddenly over, ending in rout and slaughter for the smaller force. Uthric could see that the larger victorious Army had howling black wolves on their shields and he told his brothers they were Hrof's men. He said he had no idea who their opponents were. Dunstan was concerned that war had broken out again between Cerdic and Aelle but Wulfhere said that was unlikely. Some of the merchants they had met on the road would have told them if the situation had changed. He thought it more likely that the defeated army were raiders and probably Angles.            

They sat and waited for something to happen. None of them thought it was a good idea to approach the battlefield as strangers in case they were accused of belonging to the smaller army. The wait was not long. They had been seen and a party of ten warriors were sent to find out who they were.        

The leader of the warriors introduced himself as Baldthryth Siferthson and asked why they were sitting on a hill, armed for war. Wulfhere introduced himself and his brothers and told Baldthryth they had come to seek counsel from Hrof. Baldthryth apologised for not recognising Wulfhere. He explained he had been at the Battle of Dunum and had been with the Aethling Stuf when he had relieved Wulfhere's small force that had been holding the gate. He told Wulfhere that he had stood behind him in the Shieldwall in the latter part of the battle. Wulfhere said his memory was not what it was in his youth and besides he had been facing forward in the battle owing to the amount of Dumnonians trying to kill him. He said he had not thought at the time to look behind him. Baldthryth laughed at Wulfhere's comments and welcomed them to Hrofnacæster.

Wulfhere said that he was interested the Baldthryth was now Hrof’s man having so recently fought for Stuf. Baldthryth said that he had come to Hrofnacæster because of a woman and joked why else would anyone choose to uproot and travel across the country. He said that besides that, Hrof was an excellent Lord and rewarded those who were loyal to him.            

He brought the Hrothgarsons to Hrof's hall and got the servants to give them food and drink after their journey. Baldthryth told them that Hrof would be some time. He was seeing to the wounded and hearing the deeds of those of his men who had died in the fight. Wulfhere said that they were in no hurry to leave since they had only got here and the ale was of such good quality to make a person want to wait longer.

Dunstan asked if he could have a bowl of porridge from one of the servants. He said that he had not had a decent bowl of porridge for several weeks and his mouth was beginning to water at the thought of one. He then started an argument with Uthric about whether the porridge should be salted or honey should be added.

The argument was still going on when Hrof arrived and he thought that he would give his opinion and sided with Uthric in that adding honey was best. Dunstan who had been arguing for salt was silenced for the first time in weeks. Wulfhere wondered if they shouldn't stay longer at Hrof's hall as he enjoyed the momentary peace and quiet.

Hrof was a huge man although he was well into middle age. He explained he was in an agreeable mood since he had just defeated several boatloads of Angle raiders and captured their boats. He also had taken some prisoners and after they were questioned he would have them executed to deter future raiders from coming. 

Wulfhere introduced himself and his brothers and Hrof said that he had heard some of their exploits from Baldthryth. He told them there would be a victory feast that night and he thought that it might be interesting to hear Wulfhere's view of the Battle of Dunum. Wulfhere said that he would be glad to tell the tale for it had been an interesting battle.            

Hrof was interrupted by one of the servants who told him that the prisoners had been questioned and that they would be executed soon. Hrof asked the Hrothgarsons to join him in watching the prisoners’ deaths. He explained that they would be beheaded for although the crime of raiding was one where the perpetrators should be hung as lowly criminals, Hrof’s view was that they were still warriors and should die like warriors.

Dunstan was looking at the line of prisoners when he recognised Offa Pendason who they had met at Danasted and who had thrown an anvil at the Bannucmann, precipitating his timely demise. Dunstan told Wulfhere and Uthric that the man near the end was their friend, Offa. Uthric thought Offa might be more grumpy than usual as he was about to lose his head but that they should seek to help him to keep him in a better mood. Wulfhere was worried about approaching Hrof with such a request as he was not sure what his standing with Hrof actually was. Uthric suggested that he offer wergild for Offa's life. Dunstan said that they better act quickly as Offa was almost at the front of the queue to face the axe wielding executioner. He did wonder how Offa might react to being saved from death when his comrades were to die.

Wulfhere talked to Hrof and told him that the tall prisoner in the line was their friend and he wanted to ask Hrof if he could buy the man's life. Hrof was intrigued how Wulfhere might be friends with an Angle raider but he stopped the executions to allow Wulfhere to state his case. Wulfhere briefly told Hrof that Offa had been instrumental in helping put their father's spirit to rest and that he was sure Offa could give a good explanation as to why he was now in Ceint rather than Mierce. Hrof said that he would not usually grant clemency for raiders who he considered criminals but he knew that Wulfhere was a good man and could trust his judgement.

Uthric and Dunstan were listening to Wulfhere and Hrof and both could not help but wonder if Hrof was not mixing their brother with another Wulfhere. However, they thought that questioning Hrof's judgement at this time might complicate matters, so they let it pass.

Wulfhere and Hrof went to talk to Offa and Wulfhere offered him his life. Offa looked more grumpy than normal and said he was conflicted about what he should do. He thought it might be better for him to die with his comrades rather than be made a slave. Wulfhere said that was not his intention. Offa had helped both him and his brothers when they were in need and near death and they had fought and defeated the Bannucmann together. He thought that he should now return the favour for Offa. Offa asked Hrof if he could have some time to consider his options and decide what he should do. Hrof said that he was agreeable to wait until the rest of the raiders had been killed and then Offa needed to make a choice about whether he wanted to live or die. Offa thought this delay would be sufficient.

Dunstan and Uthric took Offa aside and told him that he should chose life and come to Pontes with them unless he had a family he needed to return to. Offa said that he had nothing to return to in Mierce but wondered what his life would be like in Pontes. Uthric said that he would be a free man and they would ensure he was honoured. Offa thought this might be acceptable and when Hrof returned, Offa told him he chose to live. Wulfhere paid Hrof a wergild for Offa. He offered the wergild of a Þegn but Hrof accepted the wergild of a Carl.

That night at the Feast, Dunstan told the story of the Bannucmann. Dunstan told the story with many flourishes and emphasised Offa's role in the death of the Bannucmann. Hrof's warriors wanted to see Offa throw an anvil and they all went outside. Offa was still a strong man but he only just managed to lift and throw the anvil. He apologised saying that as he got older his strength was slowly seeping away. However, when others tried to lift the anvil they found out how difficult it was. Offa discovered that his reputation went up and he was even seen by Uthric to be smiling during the rest of the feast.

Hrof was delighted with the tale and gave the Hrothgarsons engraved silver capped drinking horns and he gave Offa some new clothes to replace his rather shabby clothing. Offa was pleased and Dunstan said to Uthric that he thought Offa looked less grumpy over the last day. Uthric thought that perhaps being saved from being beheaded might have cheered him up.

In the morning they talked again with Hrof. They told him they were searching for their families and needed to go to Contaburgh to seek information. Dunstan said that he did not particularly blame Aelle for their predicament however he still harboured resentment towards Cerdic for not protecting his lands. Hrof thought that Dunstan might find life difficult if he voiced that sentiment in Cerdic's hearing. Wulfhere said that he was tired telling Dunstan that he needed to hold his tongue. Hrof said sometimes a warrior needed to say what was on his mind. He thought that they might like to return to him if they found life difficult under Cerdic. He said that he could not have enough men with good reputations. Hrof offered each brother two hydes of land if they would give him their oaths. Wulfhere said that this was a generous offer but they needed to find their families first and then decide their future.

Uthric asked Hrof if he had news of his daughter, Ealhwyn. Hrof said that the last he knew was that she had rode north into Mierce with her household guard and he had not had any news from her since before the Dumnonian war, although he believed she might have visited her cousin on her mother’s side, Sigebeorht, King of Colnacæster. He thought she had had harsh words with the Aethling Wlencing and she was avoiding him. Uthric asked if Hrof had noticed Meire in her company but Hrof said he had not noticed her despite her unusual appearance and could not add anything to their current knowledge.

They bade farewell to Hrof and travelled to Contaburgh.

Dunstan wanted to why they were going back to Cerdic. He said that Hrof held his own lands and ruled them as he wanted. He thought that could have a good life in Ceint with Hrof if they accepted his offer. Uthric said that they had put a lot of work into the lands south of the Tamyse and he was loathe to give that up. Wulfhere said in his opinion that they needed to stop this conversation as his brothers needed to understand that their reputation depends on their loyalty to their Lord who, until they decide to give their oaths to someone else, remains Cerdic. Uthric said that Wulfhere was of course right and they should all keep their oaths to Cerdic, the Westseaxacyning.

The Saxon settlement of Contaburgh was situated beside the old Roman city of Caer Ceint. Caer Ceint was said to have been abandoned since the Romans had left. The old city was now crumbling but there was still an impressive theatre and temple to the Roman War God. The local population avoided the ruins because they feared the ghosts of the city and the Roman god had a fearsome reputation. The Saxon settlement was less impressive and was ruled by an Ealdorman called Ermenred. The Hrothgarsons thought that it would be best to call with the Ealdorman. Wulfhere thought it might also be useful to get help from Ermenred and it was well known that Ermenred's ale was excellent. He thought after the journey they had that it would be good to sample it and give their opinion.           

Wulfhere introduced himself and his brothers. Ermenred was interested in their business and was amused that they were looking for their families, particularly since they had lost them in Aelle’s rampaging victory in the south. He said that he would be happy to give them lodging and he would give them whatever help they needed. Wulfhere thanked him and returned to one of the benches where his brothers had seated themselves. Uthric and Dunstan were discussing that they had seen Cwen in the hall. She seemed to have been well dressed so Uthric thought she had done well for herself. Dunstan was wondering what had happened to King Marc of Kernow’s bastard. Uthric said he thought that Dunstan may be trying to change the subject because Cwen was another woman Dunstan had rejected. Dunstan said he did not like to be reminded of this as it was a difficult time in his life. When Wulfhere joined them he thought that it would be best to talk to Cwen as she was likely to have some information on Gwenyth and Lucnot.            

Uthric attracted Cwen's attention and she came to the bench to greet them. Wulfhere said that she seemed to have done well and noted the gold and gems at her throat and gold on her arms. Cwen said that the gold meant nothing to her compared to happiness. Uthric asked her to sit with them but noticed she looked at the high table first before she sat down. Uthric tried to follow her gaze hut could see no reaction from the people gathered around the Ealdorman.           

Wulfhere asked Cwen for her news and she told them she was married to Ermenred. He said that he was surprised for he knew Cwen had been in Glawmæd when it was sacked and would have thought she had been made a slave. Cwen said that was exactly what happened but she had been freed by her uncle who was one of Aelle's Ealdorman having been given the title when his brother, Cwen's father had died. Wulfhere said that he had not been aware of Cwen's family connections as he had always thought of her as an orphan who had been sent to King Marc by Cerdic. Cwen acknowledged that had been true at the time but she had been nobly born.            

Uthric asked Cwen what had happened to Cwen's son by Marc. Cwen said he still lived and was a thriving boy of four summers. She had called him Tristan to annoy Marc because Tristan had been nice to her during her brief stay in Kernow.            

Dunstan said that they had come seeking news of their families. Cwen said that Dunstan will be glad to hear that Gwenyth is one of her servants and she has been kept safe. Dunstan asked after her and Cwen said she was well and had always believed that he would come for her. She said that his son Uthred, was also with her and he was well too. Dunstan was once again stuck for words and Uthric wondered aloud if there would be another night of heavy drinking complete with a troupe of dwarven smiths.            

Cwen brought Gwenyth to see Dunstan and she was overjoyed to see him. She told him she had prayed to all the gods for him to be safe and rescue her. Dunstan was overcome and could only mumble replies. Cwen sensed that something was not quite right and told Gwenyth to go back to her rooms and prepare to travel. She asked why Dunstan had such a poor reaction to his wife and when Dunstan did not reply Uthric spoke for him. Uthric told Cwen Dunstan had not expected to find her and had become betrothed to an Ealdorman's daughter. Cwen said that things were never simple and she suggested that all three join her in the Woman's Hall for the evening meal. Wulfhere asked if Ermenred would not mind but Cwen dismissed his concern and said that she might pay for it later but it would not matter in the end. Uthric said he did not understand what she meant but she did not answer and got up and joined her husband at the High Table.           

Dunstan said he was in shock. He now had a wife and was betrothed to Æthlind. Uthric said that Dunstan's problem was he always tried to do the right thing and ended up annoying everyone. Wulfhere asked Dunstan what he proposed to do. Dunstan said that he was married and that was where he should stay. He would just go home and not go back to Anderida. Uthric said that that would be unfair to Æthlind. Wulfhere reminded them that they had to go back to Anderida to get his children. He thought that Ælfrith would probably hear they had come back. Dunstan agreed and said he would have to visit Ælfrith and Æthlind and tell them he had made a mistake.

He said that he needed to face this situation. He reminded himself that he had stood in many Shieldwalls and fought individual combats but was shaking because he had to tell a woman that he no longer wished to be betrothed. Uthric said that Dunstan should think carefully about his decision. Æthlind was rich, had status and would increase his renown whereas Gwenyth was a British woman with no family. Dunstan said that he felt it was his duty to stay with Gwenyth. Uthric wondered if Cwen had good ale because he felt it might be needed.

When they arrived at the Woman's Hall they were surprised to find themselves dining alone with Cwen. Cwen said that she had a favour to ask them and Wulfhere said that if it was in their power they would try and do as she asked. Cwen told them that her marriage was unhappy and the wished to divorce Ermenred. She described him as a monster in the same vein as Marc of Kernow. Wulfhere said that he was sure that if he was as awful as she said, then she could divorce Ermenred according to the law. Cwen said that she was very aware what the law was but the difficulty was that she needed a witness to her proclamation of divorce and all the people who could uphold the proclamation were her husband’s men. They all feared Ermenred and would not agree to be a witness.           

Dunstan said that he would like to help but that as far as he was concerned, Cwen was married and she had made that choice. He felt she should make the best of it. Uthric said that they were strangers in Contaburgh and Cerdic's oath sworn warriors and had up until recently been at war with Aelle. He thought that there was no way to do this. Wulfhere said that they could not witness the divorce and that had to be the end of it. Cwen said that she could trade their help for information on where Lucnot was to be found. Uthric said that he had an obligation to help Lucnot who was his childhood friend. Wulfhere said this might make a difference but they would prefer to discuss it on their own. They bid farewell to Cwen and went back to a tavern where they could agree what to do in private.            

When they were alone Dunstan said that he could not see how they could help Cwen. Wulfhere said that they owed Ermenred no favours either and if he was a monstrous as Cwen said or worse than Marc of Kernow then it might be good to help. Uthric said that if he remembered correctly it had been Wulfhere that had let her on the boat when they were leaving Kernow. He thought that if Wulfhere had not done as he had advised him to do at the time, then they would not be in this mess. Uthric said he thought it was up to Wulfhere as the eldest brother and senior Þegn to make the decision. Dunstan still felt that there was no reason for them to be involved but agreed that he would abide by Wulfhere's decision. Wulfhere thought about it for a while in silence and then said to his brothers that he felt they would put their mission to find their families at risk if they helped Cwen. They all felt relieved by Wulfhere's decision and ordered some more ale. Uthric said that despite their decision he needed to find out if Lucnot was still alive and if so he was under obligation to help him. He reminded Wulfhere that Lucnot was also Wulfhere's former wife’s brother. Uthric said that he would go and see Cwen in the morning to convey their decision and to see if she would give him information on Lucnot.

Uthric went to Ermenred's Hall where he asked where he might find Cwen. He was told she was in the Threshing Rooms supervising the separation of grain from the stalks and husks. Uthric waited until Cwen was available to talk with him. She suggested that they should walk and talk. Uthric told Cwen that he and his brothers had decided that they could not help her with her proclamation. Cwen was silent for a while and Uthric did not say anything either. Cwen turned to him and asked him directly to help her. She said she could no longer stay with Ermenred as he was a monster.            

Uthric groaned inwardly while remaining calm to outward appearances for he had a geas given to him by the dragon Níðhǫgg in that he could never refuse a request directly asked of him. He told Cwen that he was willing to help her and give his oath that he would do so or die trying. He said he would need to talk to his brothers about the details. He asked about Lucnot. Cwen told him that Lucnot was hiding in the old City having killed his Master. Cwen had been supporting him with food and clothing. Uthric asked if she could get a message to Lucnot so that when they left Contaburgh they could take Lucnot too. Cwen brought Uthric to meet a man, Mearcread, who she trusted to meet with Lucnot. Uthric gave him a message for Lucnot to arrange a meeting. Uthric then went back to his brothers and told them of the change of plan.

Uthric said he thought he should tell Ermenred about what was going to happen. Wulfhere said that in his opinion Ermenred would not need to know and Wulfhere was not keen to tell him. He said that Ermenred could act in many different ways, but he feared that agreeing to the divorce peacefully would not be his chosen option. Dunstan said that sneaking around was not the Hrothgarson way of doing things and he agreed with Uthric that Ermenred should be told. Wulfhere said that his brothers had misunderstood him. He said that according to the Law the proclamation of Divorce has to be done publicly and therefore it has to be done in the open and to be above board. However, he thought that whatever they chose to do, it did not have to be a challenge to Ermenred and thus provoke a response that none of them would want.

Wulfhere said that if they completed the proclamation according to the law then that would protect them and presumably Cwen also. Therefore, the plan should be brazen without being a challenge. Uthric wondered that if Cwen was comparing Ermenred to Marc, how would he react when his wife divorced him and how that would go for the Hrothgarsons since they were aiding Cwen’s actions. Dunstan said that he did not want to think of that. He said that he still had nightmares about their time in Kernow.

They went to see Cwen again and asked her how she thought Ermenred would react. Cwen said that however he reacted it would probably not go well for them if they were still within striking range. Wulfhere said that in that case Offa would take Gwenyth and Uthred and leave early. Uthric said that he wanted his brothers to leave at the same time. He thought that he would prefer knowing that they were safe with only Cwen and himself taking the risk. Wulfhere said he was in favour of this and Uthric thought that fast horses might be useful in the situation.

Wulfhere bought horses for himself, Uthric, Dunstan, Gwenyth and Offa. Uthred was still very young and they thought he could ride in front of Gwenyth. Cwen wanted to bring her son Tristan too and it was agreed he could also travel in front of an adult. Cwen had her own horse and was the only one of the group who was reasonably competent on a horse.            

Uthric went to meet with Lucnot in the Old City. He was concerned about the change in Lucnot. He thought he might have been driven half mad because of his experiences and Uthric thought he detected a mad gleam in his eye and his talk was about killing as many Sais as he could. His plans were reckless and unlikely to get anyone killed apart from himself. Uthric calmed him down and Lucnot agreed to abide by the plan for his rescue. Uthric later told Wulfhere that they needed to be careful of Lucnot as he might challenge any Saxon he saw. Wulfhere agreed that this may be so but they would still need to give Lucnot weapons and horses in case it came to a fight and so it would be up to Uthric to keep him calm.          

Cwen had discovered that Ermenred was going to a nearby village in two days time to gather his rents. She thought that this might be the time to make the proclamation. Uthric said that as soon as Ermenred left they should act but Cwen thought it better to allow him to get to the village that was a quarter of a morning’s ride away. She thought that one of the HusÞegns would ride to let him know that she had made the Proclamation of Divorce and that way they would have half a morning start on Ermenred.            

Later that day, Cwen publicly declared that she was releasing Gwenyth’s oath of servitude and she was free to travel wherever she wished. The Hrothgarsons formally thanked Ermenred for his hospitality and now told him that now Dunstan had found his wife they would be travelling home. Ermenred said that he was glad their task was successful and wished them a good journey.

Early on the next day, Wulfhere led his party out of Contaburgh. They set off early and collected Lucnot from the Old City and they gave him new clothing so that he would not look like an escaped slave. Uthric waited in Ermenred's Hall until he thought the sun was at the right height. He went to Ermenred's private chamber where Cwen opened the door. She had gathered some belongings in a cloak and then stood by the bedside and proclaimed her divorce from Ermenred. Uthric then proclaimed that as a Þegn he witnessed her divorce. 

Cwen went to the entrance of the private bed chamber and made the same proclamation which Uthric again witnessed. Finally, she completed the proclamation at the door to the Hall and Uthric repeated this witness confirmation almost as a challenge. One of the HusÞegns came over to bar their exit but Uthric said that he did not want to spill blood and that he should stand aside. The HusÞegn looked at Uthric and then at Cwen and thought better of his actions before he stood aside to let them pass.        

Cwen and Uthric went to get their horses and left as soon as possible. As they left Contaburgh Cwen pointed to a horsemen hurrying north in the direction where Ermenred was. She told Uthric they needed to hurry in case Ermenred chose to follow them.

Wulfhere was having difficulty controlling his horse. It appeared to want to spend its time eating the grass at the side of the road and showed no interest in what Wulfhere said. The result was they made slow progress. Offa was rather gloomy and said that he would have thought Wulfhere might have bought a less strong willed horse if he did not really understand them. Wulfhere did not comment but got off his horse and led it forward. Dunstan said that at least they were moving even if it was at walking pace but thought if Wulfhere wanted to walk home it might have been cheaper just to buy new shoes rather than an expensive horse.

Just after midday, Uthric and Cwen caught up with the rest of the group. Uthric was frustrated as he thought Ermenred could be coming after them and their pace was not enough to get out of his lands. His frustration increased when just before the time for the evening meal Dunstan saw dust on the road behind them that was likely caused by fast moving horses. They tried to get their horses to trot faster but it was clear that the dust cloud was getting closer. After a while, Offa said he thought he could see horsemen in the distance. Wulfhere said that they needed to get as far as possible in the hope that they could get into Hrof's lands. He thought Ermenred might not pursue them if they could cross the border.         

However it became clear that they would be overtaken. Wulfhere told Cwen to leave them and ride fast. He thought that Ermenred would not be interested in them and Cwen had a greater skill in horse riding. Dunstan and Uthric decided that they would stay behind and delay the pursuit. They put Tristan on Offa’s horse and they went to a farmhouse and dismounted and put on their war gear.

The first horsemen to reach Dunstan and Uthric did not attack but remained on their horses, surrounded them and lowered their spears. Uthric said to Dunstan they may have made a mistake as they were now hemmed in by horsemen. Dunstan said that if this was the day of their death at least he had found Gwenyth whereas Uthric still did not know what happened to Meire. Uthric said that Dunstan should be more optimistic because they were only facing ten men on horseback and that they had faced much greater odds. Dunstan said that may have been so but generally they had also been backed by an army. However the men were content to just watch them and no-one said anything.

The group that had gone past Dunstan and Uthric overtook Wulfhere and only slowed to check Cwen was not with him. Wulfhere still thought it likely that Cwen was skilled enough at horse riding to stay ahead of the pursuit and escape. He stopped his horse and tried to see or hear what was happening with his brothers but gave up when neither he nor the others could hear anything.

Uthric spoke with the leader of the horsemen who named himself Alerid Swintheson. Uthric asked what Alerid intended to do as if nothing was going to happen Uthric thought he might like to continue his journey. Alerid said that this was a matter for Uthric and he allowed both Uthric and Dunstan to get their horses. Alerid signalled to his men and they rode off. Dunstan said he was a bit bewildered but Uthric said that it was likely they had wanted to delay them from being present at whatever was happening ahead.

Wulfhere continued after Ermenred and found him ahead. It appeared Cwen's mare had gone lame and when he arrived Cwen was on the ground, knocked down by Ermenred from a blow to her face. There was already bruising around her eyes. Ermenred was standing over her and shouting that he would rather see her dead than divorce him. Wulfhere came over to Ermenred and asked him if he shouldn't like to fight an armed warrior rather than punch women. Ermenred said that he thought it better that Wulfhere stay out of this argument. When Wulfhere replied that he might have to stop Ermenred with his spear point the Ealdorman turned to meet him. His men moved forward to surround Wulfhere but Ermenred waved them back and said that he would deal with Wulfhere on his own.

When Dunstan and Uthric rode up they found Wulfhere facing Ermenred and both men were readying their weapons. Uthric asked Offa what had happened and Offa said that Wulfhere had challenged Ermenred because he had hit Cwen. Uthric did not like the look of what was happening but Dunstan said he had full confidence in his older brother.

Both men fought with spears and shields. Ermenred had better armour and looked the more experienced warrior. After a few attacks, Ermenred thrust so hard it would have pierced Wulfhere's shield and drove into his chest if Wulfhere had not moved suddenly the other way. As it was his shield was split but was still usable. Wulfhere had trouble getting close enough to Ermenred to get in a good strike. Ermenred was able to easily parry Wulfhere's spear. It seemed to Dunstan Ermenred was playing with Wulfhere and he expected a lethal thrust that would end his brother’s life. Ermenred again lunged suddenly and Wulfhere only just managed to get his shield in the way. The fight was going badly for Wulfhere and everyone watching thought that it would end swiftly. When the Ealdorman struck again it looked as if it would catch Wulfhere in the throat but he twisted to the right and brought his shield up to hit Ermenred’s outstretched hand causing him to drop his spear. Wulfhere moved forward and Ermenred retreated slightly, drawing his seax. Wulfhere now had the advantage with his longer spear. They both stood and watched the other for both were breathing heavily from the exertion. Ermenred moved suddenly inside Wulfhere's spear but Wulfhere again used his shield to stop the blow. The collision knocked both men backward and both fell. Wulfhere had a cut on his arm that bled heavily but Ermenred had lost his seax in the collision and fall.

Ermenred attempted to get up but he someone had placed a foot on his chest and he found that he was too exhausted to get out from underneath the force holding him down. When his sight cleared he could see the Ealdorman Hrof standing with his foot on his chest and his feared Great Axe, Widuwanwyrcend poised to strike. Hrof said to no-one in particular that before anyone decided to fight on his land he always insisted that they ask his permission. He said this was particularly relevant whenever someone invaded his lands and attacked his friends to whom he had extended guest nights and he looked hard at Ermenred.

Ermenred said that he had not meant to offend Hrof and had only been seeking to get his property and wife back. He asked if Hrof would mind letting him get up as he felt it was undignified to remain lying on the ground. Hrof ignored him and asked Wulfhere what had happened. Wulfhere said that they had been escorting Cwen after she had divorced Ermenred when they had been attacked by the Ealdorman. Hrof asked if the divorce had been proclaimed according to the law and Uthric said it had and that he had been the witness. 

Cwen came forward and said that it had all been carried out properly and she confirmed that she still had the view that the wanted to divorce Ermenred. Hrof noticed the bruises on her face and asked how she had come by them as he thought they looked recent. He wondered perhaps if Ermenred had caused them. When Cwen confirmed it has been caused by Ermenred, Hrof grew more angry. He pulled Ermenred up by putting his fingers in the Ealdorman's nostrils. He asked Ermenred why he should not hang him from a tree for the crime of armed invasion. Ermenred was in pain but managed to say that if he had offended Hrof then he was more than happy to leave. However, he thought that he should insist that Cwen forfeit all of her possessions as they were in fact his and she had not brought anything as a dowry. Hrof said that in his opinion the disputed possessions were compensation for Cwen's bruises. Hrof said he also thought that Ermenred needed to pay wergild to Wulfhere for the wound to his arm. Hrof thought that Ermenred’s black stallion might be a reasonable wergild. He asked Ermenred if he had a different opinion but the Ealdorman could only say that he thought it was fair.

Hrof released Ermenred and told him that it would be best for him to leave his land immediately. When he had gone Hrof greeted the Hrothgarsons and asked them if he could accompany them on their journey as far as his Hall. Wulfhere thanked him for the intervention and said he thought that things had not been going well for him and he was glad Hrof had come. Hrof said that they had both made an enemy of Ermenred that day but he was of the opinion that Ermenred was unlikely to bother him whereas the Hrothgarsons should think carefully before going back to Contaburgh. He thought it best to tell that Ermenred was known to be vindictive and took great pleasure in making life awkward to people he considered weaker than him.

Hrof guested them for two days and when they were strong enough after their recent exertions, they left to return to Anderida. They parted on good terms with Hrof saying that he would be glad to have them as guests whenever they came this way again.

Dunstan was having a difficult time deciding how to tell the Ealdorman Ælfrith and Æthlind that he was going to break the marriage contact. He sought advice from his brothers. Uthric was amused that there was any doubt about it and said his opinion was to divorce Gwenyth and marry Æthlind. Wulfhere said this was a more difficult decision. He thought they had already made enemies of one Ealdorman in Aelle’s kingdom and making an enemy of one so close to Aelle might not be all that good for their future prospects. Uthric said they should also remember they were responsible for humiliating Cœlfrith and for exposing him as a traitor. He thought that at this rate Aelle might be running out of Ealdormen. Wulfhere said that it might be that Aelle thought they were targeting his Ealdormen if he was suspicious about their motives. 

Dunstan did not like Uthric’s advice and thought maybe Wulfhere was over-complicating matters but he agreed to be tactful and sympathetic and not cause an incident that left hard feelings. When he told Gwenyth what had happened she was tearful and went to Wulfhere to tell him that he must not let Dunstan supplant her with Æthlind. Wulfhere said that while he had no say in Dunstan’s decision, he was sure that he would make the right choice.

While Wulfhere went to get his children, Dunstan went alone to meet with Æthlind and her father. When he arrived Æthlind greeted him warmly and explained all the plans she had made. It was quite a while before Dunstan could interject and tell her that he had found Gwenyth. Æthlind talked to him for most of the morning and the end result was that Dunstan agreed that as he had contracted marriage with her, they would get married and he would set Gwenyth aside. Dunstan then left Æthlind and went to tell Gwenyth. She was upset at the decision and Dunstan was unsure how to console her. Uthric thought he should help and talked to Gwenyth and reassured her that Dunstan would make sure she was provided for and she would not be disgraced.

On the way back to Pontes, Æthlind spoke at length with Gwenyth and it seemed to Dunstan that Æthlind was able to win her over with kind words and friendship. He was grateful for his new wife’s diplomacy skills.

 

 

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