Taxes, Re-building and the Ale of Alnoth
Wulfhere decided that when he returned he would travel his lands to see what changes had occurred over the year. He was met by delegation after delegation of Farmers on his travels. Many complained that there had been a bad growing season due to adverse weather conditions and many of the crops had rotted in the fields which left them with little surplus to pay their rents for the year. Others said that they had been forced by Aldfrid the Hlafweard1 to work on the fortifications at Pontes and they had not enough people to work on their fields and their farms had suffered. All the farmers said that they felt that they had been unable to complain to Wulfhere because he had been absent at wars or on business of his own. They wondered if the Ealdorman and their Þegns were absent who they should make a complaint to when they wanted a reduction in their rents similar to the last year. Wulfhere said he would take their suggestions under consideration and would look into their circumstances but he told them he would not make a decision immediately but he would give the farmers an answer in a few days when he called a Moot.
Wulfhere told his brothers of the farmers requests. Dunstan was annoyed by the request for half rent. He felt the farmers wanted to have their Solmonath Honey cakes and eat them too. Uthric said that there had not been a good crop this year. He told them that he had seen for himself that heavy rain had rotted a lot of the crops in the fields and a lot of the grain had been contaminated with a white blight. He told that one of his farmers, a man called Heahmund, had gone mad after eating the grain and his family had become sick and been lucky to survive. Wulfhere asked Uthric to check what the surplus would be and they would make a decision about rents. He thought that if there was genuine hardship then it was reasonable to reduce the rents. Uthric said he agreed that the rents should be reduced as it was always more useful to have live farmers who would pay future rents rather than dead ones who might be impossible to get anything from.
Cwen asked Wulfhere if he was agreeable to let her learn how to use weapons. She told him that she would never again let a man hold her as a chattel and she wanted to learn how to protect herself. Wulfhere said that it should be up to her what she wanted to do. In his view, she was now a free woman and the daughter of a former Ealdorman. He said he had realised how much she had been misused by other powerful men and it might be a good idea to learn how to protect herself. Cwen said she was grateful and accepted that she did not need to ask his permission but she thought she should ask him none-the-less in case he thought it odd that she was practicing with a spear.
Dunstan had been set the task of reviewing the defences in Pontes. He was concerned about the lack of effort in building the palisade and asked Aldfrid, his Hlafweard, to account for the inaction. Aldfrid said that he had discovered that his task had been made harder because it was clear that there were two distinct groups in the districts. There were those that came from the old families who had lived in the area for several generations and then there were the newcomers. The newcomers focus had been in trying to set up their farms and produce enough food to feed their families. They had not seen the point in building defences if their families starved to death. He had got little support from them in the building. The older families had sent people to work on the defences but there were never enough of them and work proceeded slowly. Dunstan was not happy with his response and told Aldfrid that he might consider a new Hlafweard if the situation did not improve.
Cwen had been listening to Dunstan’s conversation with Aldfrid and thought this was an old argument that Dunstan would lose every time. She told him he needed to look at the problem afresh and that maybe he should suggest to Wulfhere that they seek woodwrights and stonemasons and pay them to construct the defences. She said that she intended to travel to Wincen Cæster and the thought it might be a good idea to call on Cerdic as she believed he owed her a debt for his previous behaviour. Dunstan then spoke to Wulfhere and got him to agree that he would pay for wrights or masons. He said that Cwen was going to Wincen Cæster and had offered to hire the men for the task of building the defences.
Æthlind, who had become friendly with Cwen, said that she and Cwen would take charge of getting the defences and Þegn's hall built as it was clear that none of the brothers had been able to organise anything significant. Cwen said that she remembered that Hildegard always used to say that it was better to not let the brothers make plans as they were not that good at arranging things on time. Dunstan said he thought that this was unfair but Cwen asked him how long they had been planning and trying to build the palisade and their Halls. Neither Dunstan nor Wulfhere had an answer for her.
Beorthric and Hildegard arrived before the Horvert feast. They brought the brothers’ siblings Egfryd, Idris and Sigtrygg north also. Egfryd was now a man of 16 summers and he had been apprenticed to a Blacksmith in Cissa Cæster. Dunstan, who had always cared for Egfryd since they found him hiding from the Bannucmann in a shearing pit, made sure that he got work with the local blacksmith, Ceadda, to continue his training.
Idris was now a young woman of 15 summers and was following Hildegard in her ability to organise people and tell them where they were going wrong in their lives. Hildegard said that she thought Idris would have excellent prospects for her future if she continued to learn from her mother. Dunstan wondered if he should perhaps take Idris under his wing in the same way he had helped Egfryd. However, he decided against it when Idris asked him why he had not yet managed to build his Hall yet, thinking that his task to reform Idris might not be successful.
Sigtrygg was 17 summers and had been training as a warrior. Wulfhere invited him to join his household which Sigtrygg said he would be pleased to do so. Beorthric also brought over 100 sheep along with the shepherds who looked after them. Beorthric was keen to get good grazing land but the farmers were concerned the sheep would ruin their crops. Beorthric resolved the problem by offering to slaughter 50 of the sheep and hold a grand feast to feed the whole district. The farmers thought this was an excellent idea and fully supported Beorthric’s plans. Hildegard said that they hoped to recruit women for their weaving sheds to produce cloth for the next year and she would talk to them at the Hærfestlic2.
Wulfhere allocated Beorthric land and Beorthric then hired men to build sheds for his wool. Hildegard talked at length with Offa. She told him she had heard that he made excellent ale and wondered if he would be prepared to brew enough ale for Beorthric's feast at the Hærfestlic. Offa said that he would be glad to help out as he appeared to have time on his hands however, he doubted that there would be enough barley available to make ale due to the poor harvest. Hildegard said that she thought that problem would be easy to overcome as Beorthric would buy enough barley to make ale for the feast. Offa said in that case he thought that if Beorthric could manage to get the barley on time then he would be able to make good enough ale for the feast.
Wulfhere agreed with his brothers that they would again reduce the farmers’ rents by half. He told the farmers that the reason for the poor harvests was that they had perhaps neglected to perform the Haerfestlic rituals correctly. He told them that they may have neglected the beating of the grain to make sure the evil spirits were chased off. He informed them that this year the last grains harvested would be collected and the grain would be beaten in the time-honoured way to chase out the Blight wóddréam3 and to ensure a good harvest for next year. Wulfhere appointed trusted men to gather the last grain for he thought the hungry farmers would try to conceal the grain to eat it. He asked Hereweard to oversee the ritual to ensure it was done correctly. He told the farmers that while their rents would be reduced by half again this year, he expected full rents would be re-instated the next year.
Tathere asked Wulfhere if the fishermen would also benefit from a reduction in rents but Wulfhere said he did not feel this was necessary. He said that as the fishermen had not presented a case to either him or his brothers as to why the rents should be reduced. Tathere said that he felt that the fishermen were always singled out and they had to bear the brunt of the farmers inadequacy. Dunstan, who felt strong antipathy to Tathere for his part in the FisċgúÞ, had to be restrained by Uthric. Uthric said that Dunstan needed to be careful about singling out the fishermen as they were needed, particularly when food was short. Dunstan said that he would be calm but muttered under his breath and he gave Tathere dark looks. He told Uthric that he had no longer any stomach for smoked eels.
Wulfhere made a grand speech to the farmers in which he told them that in order to protect themselves, they needed to establish strong defences, grow enough crops and establish their herds. Dunstan thought these three points were a useful motto for the people of the districts to remember and he repeated them often to his farmers.
Uthric spoke with Wulfhere about Lucnot. He was of the opinion Lucnot had either suffered too much in his captivity or an déaþscufa had settled in his soul. Wulfhere said that it would be better to send him to Orin. At least he would be with his own people and not likely to kill any Saxons in a fit of rage. Uthric said he would be happy to take Lucnot and make sure he was settled with the Atrebates. He said he intended to settle a sum of silver on Lucnot to help him build a farm. Wulfhere thought it might be good if Uthric also took his sons to Tadda to foster as at present he did not have much time to be a father and he thought young Wulfhere and Offa would benefit from being with Tadda. Uthric said he would be happy to arrange it and he thought Tadda would be honoured by the task.
Cwen overheard Hildegard discussions with Offa about ale. She said she thought it would be an excellent opportunity if Offa set up a brewery for his ale. She had been thinking that South Pontes needed to establish a regular market as it was ideally placed between Cerdic's lands and Mierce to the north. If the peace held with Aelle, they might also attract traders from Hrof’s lands. Wulfhere said that he agreed with the idea of a market and that if successful would bring more people and power under his control. He said he thought that he could support Cwen in her venture.
Uthric said that Beorthric was likely to have cloth next year that needed to be sold so if they could establish a regular market it would bring in more silver. Offa thought he might like the idea of setting up a brewery. In truth he was enamoured with Cwen and as Dunstan pointed out to Uthric when they were travelling to Calleva that he believed Offa would have followed her to Nastrønd if she had asked him. Uthric was of the opinion that Cwen had her eye on Wulfhere but Wulfhere for whatever reason seemed oblivious to her. Dunstan said that Cwen was the second most beautiful woman in the district as his wife, Æthlind, outshone her in every aspect. Uthric ignored Dunstan and his views as he knew that his own opinion would likely to start another dispute and he was weary of endless discussions about wives. It just reminded him he had not yet found Meire.
At the Hærfestlic, Beorthric and Hildegard had spoken to the woman of the district about making cloth. Many of the women were keen to be involved but none wanted to work in the sheds Beorthric intended to build. They told him that they needed to be on their own farms dealing with the day-to-day business. Hildegard came up with a compromise by suggesting the woman could work in their own dwellings and when they have made the wool into thread they could bring it to the weaving sheds where it would be made into cloth. The women were pleased with the suggestion and a bargain was struck.
After Hærfestlic, Cwen, Æthlind and Offa left to go to Wincen Cæster. Cwen told Wulfhere she was confident that Cerdic would give her the things they needed. Wulfhere said that he wasn't so sure that Cerdic would be so helpful, but he was impressed in her confidence on the matter.
Uthric was keen to get to Colnacæster to find Meire. They intended to travel through Lundenwic and then on to the land of the Upplingas. Uthric said that they could get information from the merchants in Lundenwic to find out which way to travel as they were unsure which road to take to Colnacæster. Uthric was keen to take the horses but Wulfhere worried that they might be a target for thieves. Dunstan said that he thought they could deal with any bandits and as they were both well-armed and looked dangerous, he did not feel that anyone would attack them. Wulfhere remained reluctant but was swayed by Uthric who thought it was important to travel as fast as possible before the weather got worse and the winter came.
When they arrived in Lundenwic they found that a fire had destroyed most of the buildings. The burnt area was still visible but it did not look as if it had been a violent destruction. The Way station was still in use as it was built by the Romans and stood on its own surrounded by the burnt land. The roof was newly thatched, suggesting although it might have also been burnt but the Roman built stone walls had survived. Uthric asked one of the gate guards what had happened. The guard told them there had been a fire in one of the houses that had spread throughout the closely built dwellings. Some of the people who survived left and went north. Others built their homes in the new settlement.
Dunstan thought Lundenwic was much diminished from the last time they were there. It was more squalid and smelt worse. Wulfhere asked if the settlement was still ruled by the Angles but the guard told them that it was a free settlement and owned no allegiance to any lord. The Angles had been displaced by the Upplingas and Hæferingas but neither were interested in Lundenwic and left it alone. The guard said that if they were looking for a lord they should talk to the Merchants who were always keen for Spearmen to help guard their goods. Wulfhere said that they were passing through and were only interested in food and somewhere safe to sleep. The guard directed them to the Inn in the Way station.
Uthric asked the Merchants in the Inn if they remembered a woman called Ealhwyn. One of the merchants remembered that a noble woman fitting her description had come through Lundenwic just over half a moon ago and said she was going to Colnacæster. He remembered her because she had not been pleasant to deal with and had made many unreasonable demands. Uthric asked if the Merchant remembered a woman called Meire and said she had a green tinge around her temples. The merchant laughed and said he might have remembered a woman such as that, however, there was no such woman with Ealhwyn's party.
Uthric said to his brothers that he was worried that they might again be disappointed in their search. Dunstan said that he felt he could remain hopeful as they would at least hear some information when they found Ealhwyn but Uthric said he had a bad feeling about the future and that he was not sure he would ever find Meire. Wulfhere said that he and Dunstan would support Uthric until he decided that there was no hope. Uthric said he thought that time might be near.
In the morning they left Lundenwic and they all felt better. Dunstan said that the smell in the air was bad and he thought that maybe the newer settlement was built on marshes. Wulfhere said that someone should take charge of the place and develop it properly. Uthric thought that if it were not for the bridge over the Tamyse, no-one would even bother to live there. He pointed out that it was a day’s journey at least from the sea and it would be better for trading ships to go to Hrofnacæster or Anderida. He was also sure there were easier ports to access in the Angle lands to the north.
As they travelled northeast, the weather got worse. Often, they travelled in heavy rain but were able to find places to stay either at Way stations or at farms that served the Roman road to Colnacæster. They stayed a night and a day at Celmeresfort and another at Mældun because the weather was so bad. The people they talked to were known in the south as East Saxons but they identified themselves by tribes such as Hæmelingas, the Denge or the Hæferingas. Wulfhere wondered were all these people had come from. When he asked them, they said they had recently arrived and they had been so many they were able to push the Angles north and hold the lands against any retaliatory Angle incursions. Wulfhere was impressed and he guessed that Guercha One-eye was not having it all his own way.
Eventually they arrived at Colnacæster. The city had been built by the Romans and many of the Roman buildings still stood and were occupied by the Upplingas for as Wulfhere noted they did not appear to suffer the usual Saxon concern that the old buildings were full of ghosts. The Upplingas King was Sæberht and he was Ealhwyn’s mother’s brother’s son. The Hrothgarsons were impressed by Saeberht’s palace which stood at the centre of the old city and was the grandest building they had ever seen. There were strange animals painted on the walls or on the stone floor and they wondered if creatures such as that still lived in these parts. Uthric said that it might be dangerous to stay in the open as he was not sure if you could kill creatures like that with iron. Dunstan said cold iron was as good as anything for killing weargas.
They asked if they could speak with King Sæberht but were told that he had gone to see a ship docked at Old Hythe, the port where goods were landed for Colnacæster. Wulfhere thought they should go to Hythe but one of the warriors, who named himself as Ingweald said the king would return before nightfall and they were likely to have a wasted journey. Uthric asked about Ealhwyn and Ingweald said he thought she might be with the King as she was close kin. He said she had arrived some weeks ago and the King had spent three days talking to her in his private chambers. Ingweald thought that the King was planning some special event which he thought could mean war after the Spring planting. In Ingweald’s opinion, that would be a good thing as there would be silver and glory for all who wanted it. Ingweald was of the view that if they wanted to join as Sæberht’s oath warriors they had come at the right time.
Uthric said that in other circumstances he might consider the offer but he was looking for his wife. Ingweald said that it was odd that Uthric had come to Colnacæster to find a wife. He agreed that the women of the Upplingas were the most beautiful but was surprised that Uthric could not find a woman who would be willing to marry him in his own land. He didn’t think Uthric looked that bad and he was richly dressed and looked like he could handle himself in a fight. Uthric said that he had come to find his wife who had been taken from him and he had hoped to find out from Ealhwyn where she might be. Ingweald said he was sorry he had misunderstood but Uthric's accent was hard to understand.
He thought as way of compensation that they should try some of Alnoth's apple ale. He believed that it was possibly the best tasting ale he had ever had the pleasure of drinking. Dunstan said that he felt he could not pass up such a treat if it was good as Ingweald had attested. Wulfhere said that he too had a sudden thirst and that he would hate to have been in Colnacæster and left without trying Alnoth's ale. Uthric said that he might try a small amount because he wanted to speak urgently to Sæberht and being drunk was probably not a good thing when asking a King for favours. Wulfhere and Dunstan said that they could leave the asking of favours to Uthric and that they would be more than happy to give an opinion on the ale.
The King did not come back until after dark and he only briefly came into the Hall to greet his warriors. Uthric did not have time to introduce himself. He said to his brothers that he had a bad feeling about this. Not only was he unable to speak to the King but he would not be able to indulge himself in Alnoth's ale for fear of being unable to speak sensibly to the King in the morning.
Neither Wulfhere or Dunstan could open their eyes fully the next morning. Wulfhere remarked the light seemed to be stronger in the north and the birdsong louder. Dunstan said he had to agree with Wulfhere but he thought that this effect might have been caused by Alnoth’s ale. He noted that he had been able to learn the local Saxon dialect quickly because after five horns of ale he had found that he and Ingweald could understand each other perfectly. He wondered if the ale allowed easier learning of other languages.
Uthric had meantime presented himself to Sæberht and explained his request. Sæberht said that Uthric spoke well and he was moved by his plea. Uthric was disappointed to learn the Ealhwyn was no long in Colnacæster but Sæberht was able to tell him that Meire had been with Ealhwyn and that she was well. Uthric asked the King if he could tell him where he could find Ealhwyn because he was keen to be reunited with Meire as soon as possible. Sæberht told him that Ealhwyn had gone to visit King Weacla in Veralamacæster. Uthric thanked him for the information and asked which way he would travel to get to Veralamacæster. Sæberht told him to return to Lundenwic and then travel northwest along the Roman road.
Uthric wanted to set out immediately but Wulfhere said that he needed to clear his head first by dipping it in a cold stream. Dunstan was little better than Wulfhere and equally reluctant to leave just at that moment but when Uthric threatened to go by himself they packed their things and left with him. Uthric said they needed to move quickly. He noted that the year was near its ending and the weather might take a turn for the worse so as not to allow travel.
(1) Hlafweard is a steward
(2) Haerfestlic is the Harvest festival. A feast is held to celebrate the bringing in of the harvest. The last grain harvested holds a spirit. The grain is beaten to chase the spirit out before being planted again where the seeds will be sown in the next sowing season, thus blessing the crop.
(3) Wóddréam. An evil spirit