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  1. We do not know much about St Hywel’s life and the little we know comes to us from the Venerable Bede. Asser mentions him but only that King Alfred kept Hywel’s knucklebone in a silver and gold reliquary which he lent to the Bishop of Worcester when there was a sickness in the Priory of St. Mary. Hywel’s skull was said to have been destroyed by the Vikings in the destruction at the Monastery of Thanet in 753. Hywel was born in Powys and the son of a successful Blacksmith. He was brought up a pagan but when he was 12 an angel visited him in his father’s smithy when he was alone. The angel told Hywel that he had a great future ahead of him but he needed to renounce his parents’ false gods and turn to the one true God. Hywel told his parents and they were angry with him. They took him to the local Druid to cast out the evil that had possessed him. Hywel debated with the Druid and the power of God was in him so that his whole body shone with an inner light. The Druid was struck dumb by the glory of God and he never spoke again. This is the first miracle attributed to St Hywel. The boy left Powys and went to see Abbot Tudwal of Lindinis and begged to study The Word of God with him. Abbot Tudwal was unsure about the ragged boy who had turned up on his doorstep and was inclined to refuse the request. Hywel was prepared for this and he said that he was willing to show the Abbot a sign that he was sent from God. The Abbot had for several years been suffering from Ficus and when Hywel touched him and called upon God he was immediately cured. This was the second miracle attributed to Hywel. Hywel stayed with the Abbot and learnt the scriptures. God had given him the gift of Oratory and he used the gift to glorify God and bring many sinners to the Church. At that time the leaders of Briton turned away from God and they trusted in their own strength of arms or worse sacrificed to the older gods in dark places. Hywel was a constant thorn in their side with his fiery oratory and he was often seen haranguing the rich and powerful who had turned away from the Light of God. An angel visited Hywel and told him to go to Dunum where he would be needed to help defend the people against the wrath of the pagan Sais. Hywel gathered his meagre belongings and went to Dunum on the River Terstan. The Sais had attacked and the local Captain had told the people of Dunum he could not defend them. Hywel was unhappy with the Captain and berated him for his sins. It was Easter and Hywel led the populace in a great service glorifying God. After the service had finished Hywel went to the bridge of Dunum. He told the people that an Angel had told him that the Sais would come and destroy their town, kill the men and enslave their women and children. The soldiers had all left during the night and the people were afraid that the words Hywel had spoken would come true. Hywel told them that they should not fear his words because he would hold up the Sais until they had time to escape. The people thanked him and he allowed them to kiss his plain wooden cross that he carried. Hywel went on to the bridge and began singing and glorifying God. It was not long before the Sais attacked. They were not worried that a single man was standing on the bridge and they rushed forward to strike him down. Hywel did not pay them any attention and continued singing, his arms outstretched and his face to heaven. The spears and axes of the Sais did not harm him no matter how hard he was hit. This is the third miracle attributed to Hywel. After three days Hywel began to tire and he commended his soul to heaven. The Sais took him and bound him. Some argued that this was a holy man and that they should let him go but the leaders of the Sais were steeped in evil and had consorted with many demons. They took Hywel and crucified him. He did not utter a word of complaint and kept his face toward heaven. Many of the Sais were converted on the spot and continued to glorify God. They argued that since this land was filled with such Holy men that they should leave them in peace and withdraw, never again taking up arms against Christians. Hywel’s body was retrieved by monks of Abbot Tudwal. The Sais willingly gave his body back because they were struck with awe by his composure and holiness. St Hywel became the patron saint of Bridgebuilders.
  2. 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.
  3. A Parting of Body and Soul and the Search for the Lost. Dunstan did not feel well after the night’s sleep. Hereweard had told him his soul had been stolen but Dunstan said he could not accept this was true. He had interpreted the constant growling noises he was making as anger at all the people who had annoyed his family and the injustices that had been visited upon them. His list of people that he intended to make pay was increasing and now included the Bretwalda Aelle, the Atheling Cissa, Guthmaer Sleddeson and Griswold Frithowulfson, both of whom ran the slave market in Cissa Cæster, the Atheling Wlencing and his wife Ealhwyn Hrofsdotter. When Uthric asked him if Beorthric and Winfrith were on the list Dunstan said that they were already dead and they did not matter. Uthric was puzzled because he knew Beorthric was alive and well and living in Cissa Cæster but he let it pass. He did ask Dunstan why he was so dishevelled and Dunstan told him of the strange dream. Uthric thought it might be best if Dunstan went to talk with Hereweard. He thought that maybe the leæce might be able to help with whatever was wrong. Dunstan reluctantly talked to Hereweard who he found mixing some herbs. Dunstan said that he had never believed the story about losing his soul and thought that it was due to the stress of being in too many Shieldwalls and then the disappointment of losing his wife and children. He thought if he could talk to Hereweard about all his troubles he might feel less concerned within himself. Hereweard said he doubted this would change anything for Dunstan, because it was clear to him that the reason Dunstan did not feel well within himself was because he had no soul. Dunstan said he was tired of hearing about his soul and thought it best if he left or he might fly into another rage and do something he might regret. Dunstan said that he would come back to see Hereweard in another moon to prove to him that the discussion about losing his soul was nonsense. Hereweard said that he thought it likely that by then Dunstan’s body would have consumed itself because he was soulless and even the potions that Hereweard gave him could not protect him from death. Uthric went to see Dunstan when he heard that he had not told the leæce about the dream. Dunstan said that he found it hard to believe that he could have lost his soul but Uthric pointed out he had awoken with a Rune on his forehead and there might be some truth in Hereweard’s words. He prevailed on Dunstan to return to Hereweard and tell him about the dream. Hereweard was not surprised to see Dunstan return. He asked Dunstan if he was having difficulty containing his emotions as that was a clear sign of losing his soul. Dunstan still maintained that his anger was only a reaction to difficult times and he thought it would pass however he consented to tell Hereweard about his dream. Dunstan told him that he dreamt he had been asleep in his booth. People he did not know came in and held him down. They took out sharp knives and began to cut his body into pieces. Each part was put in a different sack and they then left. Dunstan said that although he could see what they were doing with his body it had been like he was watching as if he was an observer. When the people left he went too and followed them to a grove in a dark forest. The grove had an outer circle of nine Ash trees and an inner circle of nine elm trees. In the centre of the grove were three oak trees. The middle oak had been struck by lightning and still smouldered. Dunstan watched the people put his body back together and then they painted a Rune on his forehead. He noticed that a bit of his body escaped from the bag in the shape of a black cat and squeezed into a hole between two rocks at the foot of the lightning struck oak. Hereweard sighed when he heard the dream. He said that he had never been particularly good at interpreting dreams but he thought it might be a sign that Dunstan's body could no longer exist without his soul and the bind to Miðgarðr was becoming weaker. The rune was easy to interpret it meant Travel, Rhythm, Spontaneity or Evolution. It was likely that the rune was connected to Dunstan but how he would need to find out for himself. Hereweard said that he knew where the grove was in Dunstan's dream. He had visited it once with Stithwolf when they were talking to the spirits in the area. It was likely that Dunstan would need to travel to Nastrønd or Hel to get his soul back. Dunstan asked if Hereweard would come with him but Hereweard said that he would not expose himself to the dangers of such a journey. He agreed to help Dunstan and would show him the way to go but he thought he would not have the strength or courage to face Nastrønd. Hereweard said that Dunstan should return in five days and bring people he trusted that would go with him on his journey. Hereweard said he should also bring ten men, digging tools and a goat. Dunstan tried to ask Hereweard what would happen but the leæce told him to go and prepare. Wulfhere was trying to decide how many men he should send to Ealdorman Stuf to join the raid into Dumnonia. He was unsure about the benefits of losing more men but, following a debate with Uthric, agreed that if they did not get enough food for the winter many of the people would die anyway. He agreed that he would lead thirty men and join Stuf as soon as they were ready. His plans were upset when Dunstan came back with the news that he needed to go to Nastrønd to get his soul back. Wulfhere was unsure that they all needed to go. The idea of going to Nastrønd did not fill him with joy. He decided that he would delegate the raid on Dumnonia to his younger brother Halig as he thought he would need to help Dunstan regain his soul. The situation became more complicated when a stranger arrived at Hambladensted. He told Wulfhere he had a message from Beorthric and had been asked to deliver it. The man named himself as Ernbald Ormarson and said he was going to Lundenwic to seek employment with a Þegn. He hoped to make money to buy land for a farm and have lots of children. Beorthric had found out that Wulfhere's wife had been taken to Anderida and there was also hope that Dunstan's wife was also there. Wulfhere quizzed Ernbald about Beorthric but Ernbald said that he could not say much other than he had already said. He did not really know Beorthric and thought he was therefore unlikely to be able to shed any light on Beorthric or his motives. Wulfhere thanked him for his message and spoke privately with his brothers. Dunstan was scathing of Ernbald and Beorthric. He said that it was clear that they could not trust either man and he was sure that this was a trick. Wulfhere said that he did not yet see the purpose of the information and if it was a trick why would Beorthric pay a man to come so far just to give a message. Dunstan said he could not trust Ernbald and felt that he was dubious and the information was to disrupt what they needed to do in the villages. He went through all the ills that people had caused him and his family and was keen to extact revenge. Uthric listened to his younger brother’s list of the people with whom he would like to discuss perceived wrongs with by using his spear and said that he must remember to always stay on the right side of Dunstan. Wulfhere said that he was of a mind to ask Ernbald to stay. He thought that if Dunstan was right about Ernbald' they would keep him close and then could exact revenge if he proved to be false. On the other hand, if he was honest then they had added another experienced warrior to the settlement. Wulfhere said that the priority was to find Dunstan's soul. Dunstan was worried that he might not find his soul or possibly get the wrong one. Wulfhere said that might be an outcome but when he got one back he should really look after it this time. Hereweard came to meet the brothers and advised them that they must fast for three days before the ritual. On the third day they would travel to the forest north of Calleva and go to the sacred grove. Dunstan confirmed he had ten loyal men and had bought a black goat from one the farmers. Hereward told him to make a wooden platform that they could erect when they got there. It had to be big enough for three men to lie on. He asked Dunstan to also make a ladder with nine rungs. Dunstan asked if there was any significance in this and Hereward said they would not have too long to wait to understand it more. On the appointed day Hereweard, the Hrothgarsons and ten trusted men made their way to the Sacred Grove. There was a distinct lack of bird song around the grove and the air was heavy and still. The grove was just as Dunstan had seen it in his dream. The outer circle of trees were nine ashes and the inner nine elms. The three oak trees in the centre of the grove were the only vegetation in the circle and the middle oak tree had been hit by lightning at some point in the past but it still smoked as if it had happened recently. Hereweard asked everyone to erect the platform and the ladder. After they had constructed the platform, Hereweard brought the goat into the grove. He got the men to dig a shallow pit at the bottom of the platform and he rested the ladder in it. The goat began to get nervous but Hereweard soothed it by whispering in its ear. He ordered the men to light a fire and when it was hot enough he bought the goat to the pit and expertly slit its throat. He let the goats blood flow into the pit and Uthric thought he could see shadowy figures lapping the blood up with long tongues. He pointed it out to Wulfhere and Dunstan but neither saw anything. Hereweard cut the legs off the goat and removed the flesh. He gave a thigh bone to each brother and instructed them how to write runes on the bones. It took several attempts from each of the brothers to satisfy Hereweard but finally he was happy. He explained that the brothers need to keep these runebones on them or the they would not be able to return to Miðgarðr. He then took some of the pooled blood in the pit and wrote further runes on their foreheads. Hereweard had told them that he would not be travelling with them but he would come the first part to make sure they got past the Horned Man and started on the road between the worlds. Hereweard explained his spirit animal was the wolf and when in that shape he could not speak with words and they would not understand spirit speech so that he would not be able to give them further instructions. Wulfhere asked how they would know where to go but Hereweard said that they needed to follow the road wherever it took them. Hereweard said that they might meet many people and many obstacles on their journey. They must bargain, use trickery and only resort to fighting if there was no other option. He asked the Hrothgarsons to lie on top of the platform and gave them a bitter potion to drink. He sat calmly on the platform and began to beat a small hide drum and shake a rattle. Hereweard asked them to put a cloak over their bodies and to concentrate. In the next few hours they would feel that they separated from their bodies. He told them when that happened then they must climb down the rungs of the ladder. How many rungs they climbed down would depend on their ability to concentrate. Hereweard spoke to them as they lay under the cloaks and told them to empty their minds of their daily tasks and listen to the drumbeat. He told them he had instructed their men to cover them with earth when Hereweard gave the signal. This was the ritual of Death that would take them to one of the other worlds. Someone then began to chant to the rhythm of the drum but they did not understand the words. Wulfhere was the last to leave his body behind because he had had difficulty emptying his mind of the temporal affairs of organising the settlements, but at last he made his way down the ladder. Wulfhere estimated that he only went down three or four rungs before he hit solid ground and joined his brothers in the darkness. Bits of earth showered them as they stood waiting to see what would happen next. A large wolf sat beside them and they assumed that it must be the fylgja of Hereweard. Wherever they were it was dark and there was no light but they could still see. The darkness had a living quality to it and they felt that as they breathed it in they became more attuned to it. Gradually shapes could be seen and they noticed that a large man was standing in front of them. He had horns like a deer growing from his head or perhaps he was wearing an intricate headdress. The wolf lay down and they thought perhaps they should kneel too. When they had done so the Horned Man said he would like to ask Dunstan some questions in order that they could continue. Dunstan said he would try and answer any questions honestly. He asked Dunstan if he thought family or king were more important. Dunstan said that in his view family were more important and that he owed a lot to his family that were close to him. He said that he always tried to serve his family as well as he could. The Horned Man said that he saw a lot of hate in Dunstan's heart and asked why he hated so much. Dunstan said that he always tried to live honourably but often he came against people who lived by different rules and they had been hurtful to those who could not defend themselves, killing and despoiling innocents. Dunstan said that he had always shown pity and mercy to the deserving. He spoke about rescuing villagers from despoilers and that he was aware he judged people but it was always on their actions. The Horned Man nodded but said he was not sure that Dunstan always lived up to his views on pity and mercy. Dunstan said he tried to observe the general good but the Horned Man laughed and said it might be that hate that had made him stronger. However, he was aware that Dunstan gives pity and mercy to his friends but not to anyone else and often suspects their motives. He thought Dunstan might want to think on that. The Horned Man then pushed the wall and a way opened into a dark land. It seemed nearly featureless apart from a road that stretched into the distance. The wolf joined them outside and pointed the way along the road. The brothers looked at each other and started along the empty road. The Hrothgarsons walked along the road for what seemed like days. The land was flat and empty and there was no sun to shed light or mark the passing of time, but they were able to see despite the darkness. The road ran up to a small hillock out of which the sound of hammers banged as if on a smithy. The door stood open and was lit by the reddish glow of fire. Coloured smoke escaped through the open door that made them cough and the smell was of hot metal and charcoal. The road went into the mound and the Hrothgarsons thought that they should not bypass this situation. They carefully went down the short tunnel that led to the smithy. Three Duergar were working with their hammers, bent around the fire that burnt white hot. Discarded weapons and armour lay around the floor of the workshop. One of the Duergar approached the brothers and introduced himself as Brúni and pointed out his brothers Gustr and Mótsognir. Brúni asked the Hrothgarsons how he could help them and wondered if they had come to buy weapons or armour. Wulfhere, Uthric and Dunstan introduced themselves and Wulfhere said that he would be interested in buying a Byrnie. Brúni said that he would be pleased to sell anything they wished to have, but the bargain would have to be fair. Wulfhere asked what payment would be made as none of their shadow bodies had any valuable metals and he did not know what Brúni might desire. Brúni said that he would be happy to take skills or attributes. For instance, one of the Jötunn traded his height for a magical shield or a Troll had given her Hide ability to buy an axe that would cleave through stone. Brúni said that they would be willing to trade their Rune sticks but Wulfhere did not think that that would be a good idea. Wulfhere tried on a metal Byrnie but found it overly heavy if he needed to march for any length of time. The Duergar thought that if Wulfhere wanted a less heavy option he might like a Byrnie made of Doeskin but forged with the endurance of a troll. Wulfhere thought that the Doeskin tunic might suit him well and offered his ability to dance. The Duergar conferred and agreed that this would be a suitable bargain. Brúni said that Wulfhere would never be able to dance again and if he was content with that then the deal was complete. Mótsognir said that they had been asked to make them a rope and he had just finished making it. Uthric said that he was unsure why he needed a rope and did not know if he could afford the price. Mótsognir said that the price had already been paid and the rope was a gift. He warned them that the rope was made from the hair of drowned maidens and that it was both thin and strong however they would be unable to take it back to Miðgarðr. Mótsognir said he believed it might come in useful in their travels. Dunstan thanked the Duergar and they bid them farewell. Wulfhere was pleased with his Doeskin tunic. It was light and flexible. He tried dancing some steps but tripped over his own feet and fell on the road cutting both knees. He tried dancing again and the same thing happened. He said he thought he still might have had the better of the bargain despite his inability to dance. The Hrothgarsons continued along the stone road and after a number of days saw that they were approaching a forest that stretched as far as they could see in either direction. The trees grew tall but were bent and gnarled. Uthric thought this was an old forest from the beginning of days. Dunstan tried to cut one of the branches but it blunted his seax and did not seem to make any impression on the tree. The path led through the middle of the forest and Uthric said that he did not see any point in putting off the journey. Wulfhere agreed and warned that they should not leave the path. They walked along the path but it was difficult to see under the trees. They could not tell if the darkness stopped them seeing or there was some spell that created a mist. They were aware of the noises, grunts, snuffling and crashes as of large creatures making their way through the undergrowth. Periodically eyes would stare at their foliage reflecting amber, green or vivid blue in some unseen light. The brothers were unnerved by the unseen creatures that watched from the shadows and they moved cautiously forward expecting an attack. Dunstan became very concerned about the creatures and started at any sudden noise. He impetuously ran after a sudden appearance of amber coloured eyes. His brothers tried to stop him but having failed to prevent him they felt they had no option but to follow him. The eyes flickered and disappeared but Dunstan continued to pursue where he thought they had gone. When Wulfhere and Uthric caught up with Dunstan, they were unsure where the path lay. Uthric suggested that they use the Duergar rope to try and methodically find their way back to the path. Wulfhere said he was reluctant to use the rope as he did not think that this was what it was given to them for and cutting it up could diminish its purpose. They made a guess at where the road lay and fortunately reached it after a short time. Wulfhere told Dunstan that he really needed to control his fears but he acknowledged that it might be because Dunstan still lacked a soul. They walked for several more days through the blackened forest and Dunstan resisted the urge to chase unknown beasts through the darkness. After another day, they became aware that something was following them. The pursuit seemed to be more than the infrequent watchers from the forest edges and the footfalls often mirrored their own, starting and stopping when they did. Eventually the pressure of their unseen foe became too much and they turned around to await their pursuer, locking their shields together. After waiting several hundred heartbeats they could see a tall shape that began to look less human as it came closer. Suddenly the creature began to run at them and Wulfhere shouted at his brothers to brace their spears to use the creatures speed against itself. However, the impact never happened. The creature jumped just before it reached them and cleared them, swivelling easily to block the road ahead. All three turned around and had just about set themselves as the creature attacked. Now that it was up close they saw that it was a gigantic wolf. The Wolf reared up on its hind legs and took on a more human posture. It moved swiftly and before any of the three men could advance it attacked Wulfhere who blocked its bite with his shield but almost fell with the force of the impact. Uthric stabbed it in the foreleg with his spear and Dunstan hit its forequarters. Wulfhere recovered from his stumble and hit the creature in the same leg as Uthric. The Wolf again attacked Wulfhere and although he blocked the hit, the force slammed his shield into his chest. The others hit it again and appeared to incapacitate its forearm and caused deep wounds in the chest and hindquarters. The creature attacked Wulfhere again for the third time and injured his abdomen but all three cut it badly with their spears and the creature collapsed. They were all exhausted after the fight and Wulfhere had several cuts from claws and fangs. They looked at the creature, wondering if it was a man in wolf shape or a wolf that could walk like a man. Dunstan noticed that its wounds seemed to be healing on their own and the creature seemed to be stirring. Wulfhere said he thought that if they had to fight this creature again that they might not survive the next encounter as they did not have the same ability to heal their wounds. They agreed the best thing was to try and outrun the wolf. They run as fast as they could but Wulfhere's injuries were hampering him and he tripped and fell. Dunstan and Uthric stopped and helped him to his feet. They could hear the sound of pursuit and ran again. It was possible that the creature was still wounded because they managed to keep well ahead, however they were becoming exhausted. Wulfhere said he was glad now he had not bargained for the Chainmail Byrnie became he could not have kept ahead of the wolf when he was wearing it. They could see the edge of the forest and tried to run faster. The Wolf was close but they kept ahead until they left the forest. The Wolf stopped at the forest edge and the brothers stopped too. Uthric said it was just as well the wolf did not pursue them as he did not think he could have run much further. Dunstan threw a piece of wood at the wolf but did not hit it. Uthric said he did not think the Wolf would be interested in fetching the piece of wood. Dunstan said that while he had not thought of distracting the Wolf like that it might have been a good strategy while they were fighting it. They bound Wulfhere's wounds and all recovered their breath. They could hear the wolf howling and its howls were answered by other howls. Uthric wondered why wolves did not bark but Dunstan said that he had heard wolves both bark and howl. He thought that the difference was like humans speaking and shouting. Wulfhere said that this was all very interesting but they should really get as far away from the forest as possible in case the wolf and his friends decided to come after them. They continued walking for several days until they arrived at a wide, black, turbid river. The river smelt of bitumen and sulphur. Every so often bubbles came to the surface and the foul stench was released. The road ended at an ancient jetty but there was no boat. They tried to see how wide the river was but the darkness and mist defeated their efforts. Wulfhere thought they should shout to attract the attention of a ferryman. They discussed if this might attract something dangerous but decided they needed to take the risk. Wulfhere shouted and they sat down to await whatever would appear. After several hours they saw a large fin approach. Wulfhere thought the fish must be the length of five grown men. The fish surfaced and hailed them. It said that its name was Torhtsige and thought it might be helpful to them if they wanted to cross the river. Dunstan said that he wasn't sure if he could trust such a large fish with sharp teeth. Dunstan wondered if there was alternative such as more conventional transport like a ferry. Torhtsige said that if only they had arrived earlier then there would have been more transport options. Sadly, the ferryman had recently been eaten and therefore those that needed to cross the river would have to rely on Torhtsige. Dunstan asked what had happened to the ferryman. Torhtsige said that he was embarrassed to admit that he had been ravenously hungry and unfortunately had eaten the ferryman and then because he had still been hungry he had eaten the ferry too. Uthric said that this did not forebode well if Torhtsige was to carry them across and get hungry again. Torhtsige said that he could vouch that, for now, he had eaten enough for the next few days and they would be safe, Dunstan said that Torhtsige did not really fill him with optimism. He asked the fish what he would get out of the transaction. Torhtsige said that despite his fearsome appearance, he actually liked helping people and that he would get joy and pleasure from taking them to the other side. Wulfhere thought that maybe the joy and pleasure might not be mutual and shared by all parties in the arrangement. Torhtsige admitted that he had originally been happy to take them over safely, but all the talk about eating things had made him hungry again. However, he could see that they were keen to get to the other side and he wanted to know how they would feel if he only ate one of them as payment for the journey. Dunstan said he did not feel that this was an acceptable bargain and that he could speak for his brothers in saying that, if it was alright with Torhtsige, they would wait to see if there were other methods of transport. Torhtsige said that he could understand their concern and he would leave them to it but would come back tomorrow to see if they had changed their minds. Uthric suggested they walk along the sides of the bank to see if there was another way across. They spent several hours searching to no avail. They returned to the jetty to see if they had missed any way of summoning the ferry. Dunstan thought there might have been something at the end of the pier which had been broken off recently. They tried using their spears to search in the river but it was too deep. As they were standing on the jetty they saw Torhtsige return. The fish was approaching rapidly and it was only too late that they saw it was his intent was to ram the jetty that they were standing on. They held onto the rail and braced themselves for the impact and watched in horror as Torhtsige began eating parts of the jetty. They all managed to get off the jetty without injury or falling into the water. Uthric threw his javelin at Torhtsige and it stuck upright near the fish’s tail. Torhtsige seemed a bit warier of coming closer to the shore after his encounter with Uthric’s javelin and circled out of throwing range. After a while Torhtsige appeared to grow bored or perhaps as Dunstan said that the old jetty did not taste as good as the fish had thought and he went off to get other food that did not use javelins. They waited several hours to make sure the fish had gone. Wulfhere said that he thought that there had been something at the end of the jetty that had fallen into the river and that he might be able to get it. He divested himself of armour and clothes and got into the dark water. It felt like creatures were swirling around him, touching his skin and he shuddered but despite his fear he dived beneath the surface. He followed the broken piles of the jetty down until he reached the bottom. The black water prevented him from seeing anything and also appeared to sap his strength and his ability to think. Wulfhere was beginning to forget why he was even in the water when his hand felt an object that must have been made by people. He grabbed it and kicked hard against the bottom of the river. He was so disorientated by the darkness that he was not sure that he was going the right way to the surface. Dunstan and Uthric were standing on the remains of the jetty anxiously looking at the dark water flow slowly by. Wulfhere's head appeared close to the jetty but before either could react he sank below the surface again. Dunstan reached down and managed to grab his brother and with the help of Uthric lifted him onto the jetty. Wulfhere did not move or say anything and they carried him back to the bank and wrapped him in a cloak. In Wulfhere's hand he held a brass bell but when they tried to get it off him, they could not release his grip. They sat and watched Wulfhere. They could see no injuries on his body and Dunstan concluded it must be the effect of the dark water. Hours passed and Wulfhere gradually recovered his senses. He was still unsure where he was and had some difficulty in accepting Dunstan and Uthric's story. He had no recollection of going into the water. Uthric said if that was the effect of the water then swimming across it was not the best idea anyone could have. As Wulfhere relaxed he was able to release his hold on the brass bell and Dunstan thought that they should ring it. Uthric said in his opinion it was unlikely that they could meet anything worse than they already had so that he might as well try it. Dunstan said he was not sure and thought there might be much worse things in this world and personally he had no desire to meet them. However, they agreed that there were no other options to get across the river. Dunstan rang it twice and they sat down beside Wulfhere to await whatever the bell summoned. Several more hours passed and Wulfhere seemed to be recovering. He still had no memory after their meeting with the Duergar. A voice hailed them from the river and they could dimly make out a man in a small boat three lengths off the jetty. Dunstan said that they were keen to get to the other side of the river, and requested if the man would be kind enough to help. The man said that they were in luck because he had come to ask them if they needed help but there was the small matter of payment. None of the brothers appeared to have any silver or ornaments and Uthric asked what price the man would like to charge. He said that it was usual to be charged a penny for the trip. Uthric said that if the man was willing they could give him items as none of them had silver. Dunstan offered his seax and Wulfhere offered his javelin. The man accepted both as payment. Uthric said that sadly he had lost his javelin only recently but the man said as Wulfhere had already given him a javelin he did not think he needed another one. Uthric said that he had a fine helmet taken as a spoil of war and he would be willing to trade it for passage across the river. The man agreed and said he was pleased with such an unusual helmet but when he tried it on, it was a tight fit. The man arranged the Hrothgarsons in his boat and advised them not to move too much in case they capsized. He began to scull across the river using a single oar at the rear of the craft. Uthric said he was curious about a fish called Torhtsige and asked the man if he knew the creature. The man said that he had run into Torhtsige from time to time and he had usually found him to be an irritating creature who often interfered with the job of running a ferry service. Uthric said that Torhtsige had mentioned that it had eaten the ferryman and the boat and he wondered what the man's opinion of the story was. The ferryman said that indeed Torhtsige's story was correct. He told them that periodically the huge fish would get hungry and eat both him and the boat. He could not say for sure what happened after that, but he always found himself afterwards on this boat by the jetty. When they got to the other side they thanked the old man for helping them. Uthric asked the old man if he often wore helmets because he did not think the helmet suited him. The old man was puzzled by Uthric's remarks and said while he acknowledged the helmet was too small and the nasal guard caught on his nose, it was nothing he could not get a friendly Duergar to fix for him. Uthric polished the blade of his seax and showed the old man his reflection. The old man said that he could see Uthric's point of view and that perhaps he should not wear it. Uthric said that he had no real interest in the discussion but was just trying to be helpful. The old man thought for a moment and said that in that case he would return the helmet to Uthric. He made Uthric try it on and then turn around. The old man said he was satisfied that he had done the right thing as he thought Uthric looked particularly splendid in the helmet. As they walked along the road Uthric asked Dunstan if he would have really got on the back of the fish. Dunstan said he did not think he would have because he could not trust such a large fish that had so many sharp teeth. Wulfhere wondered if things with sharp teeth were to be avoided in these worlds if they were to live a long life. The road continued for several days until they saw they were approaching a vast hall. As they got closer they could see that it perched on the side of a massive cliff. The cliff stretched away on either side of the Hall and they thought they had come to another test in their journey. They climbed the three steps to the platform before the main doors. Standing before the doors was an armoured Duergar. Around the eaves of the Hall were severed heads in various states of decay. Some were freshly severed and some were already skulls. Wulfhere introduced himself to the Duergar who called himself Skønnar. Skønnar welcomed them to Bölþorn's Hall. Uthric asked who Bölþorn might be and was Skønnar aware how they could get to the valley below. Skønnar said nothing but opened the double doors. They walked into the wide hall and saw a Jötunn drinking at the High Table. Bölþorn welcomed them and asked them to join him for a drink. He said he was pleased that they had come as he was becoming rather bored. Wulfhere said that they were keen to get to the valley below and if Bölþorn would show them how to get there, he would be grateful and also happy to help alleviate his boredom for a while. Bölþorn said that they could indeed help to alleviate his boredom by challenging him to a game. He had long ago decided that anyone entering his hall had to engage in a contest of knowledge. If Wulfhere won then he would find out how to reach the valley below. The loser whether it was Bölþorn or Wulfhere would have to submit to having his head chopped off. Bölþorn indicated a chopping block and a heavy bearded axe that was in the corner of the hall. The Hrothgarsons conferred together. Wulfhere was happy to attempt to win the contest but Dunstan said that they were here because he had lost his soul and he felt it was only right that it should be him that lost his head if the Jötunn won. Dunstan asked Bölþorn that if he lost the contest would Bölþorn then tell his brothers the way to the valley. Bölþorn said by rights that he should make each person challenge him for information but he had been in an excellent mood since Angrboða had recently given him good news and he accepted that no matter the outcome he would let the surviving bothers know how to get to the valley. Dunstan said he was satisfied with that and asked Bölþorn what the rules of the contest were. Bölþorn said that it was simple. Each person asked the other a question on any subject and if the other could not answer it then they had lost. The price of failure was to lose your head. Uthric asked Bölþorn if there might not be another forfeit as it all seemed very severe. Bölþorn said that the loser needed to lose their head in order that Bölþorn could gain their knowledge by eating the brain of the beheaded individual. He said he was not known as Etere Sundorcýþþe, the Eater of Knowledge, for no reason. Dunstan said that he had prepared a question for the Jötunn and he was sure that he would not know the answer and his brothers should not worry. The Jötunn sat down and took a long draught of his horn of ale. Dunstan asked Bölþorn if he knew what a clampit was. The Jötunn screwed up his face and thought. Dunstan smiled as he watched Bölþorn torture himself to try and remember what the word meant. Bölþorn finished his ale and called for Skønnar to refill the horn. It took him three horns before he decided that he would give an answer. Dunstan tried not to show impatience as he watched the Jötunn but he hoped this ordeal would be over soon. Bölþorn said eventually that the word was obviously local slang and strictly it therefore should be discounted. Dunstan said that although it was true that the word was slang, if Bölþorn had intended to object to it he should have said so at the beginning and not after hours of ruminating. Bölþorn agreed this was correct and conceded that he had been in error and was now trapped into making a guess. Wulfhere said that in his opinion Bölþorn had more than enough time to decide on an answer and he should hurry up about it. Bölþorn guessed that is meant something do with holding on but Dunstan said that the answer was incorrect. He told Bölþorn that it was an obscure word that he had first heard from an Irish king, called Diarmuid, who had used it to describe King Mark. Bölþorn was confused. He said it would have been impossible for him to know who these people were and the question was unfair. Dunstan said again that he should have objected at the start and now that the Jötunn had got it wrong he should tell them how to get the valley below. Bölþorn said that Skønnar would tell them but Dunstan would now have to visit the forfeit on him by chopping his head off. Dunstan said he was reluctant to do so to his host but Bölþorn said that if he didn't do it then his own head and those of his brothers would forfeit instead. Dunstan could barely lift the great axe that Bölþorn gave him and it took him a while to grow accustomed to the weight while Bölþorn waited patiently kneeling at the block. Dunstan said he was prepared to show the Jötunn mercy but Bölþorn stopped him and said that it was important to keep to the rules of the game. Dunstan struck with force and chopped the Jötunn's head off. Immediately the doors to the hall opened and Skønnar came in. He motioned to the Hrothgarsons and took them through a door hidden in the shadows at the back of the Hall. He opened another door and advised them that the steps leading downwards would take them on their journey. Uthric was last to leave the main Hall and when he looked back, he thought he could see the Jötunn’s body looking for its head which appeared to have rolled into a corner. Uthric drew Skønnar's attention to his master's plight and the Duergar excused himself and went to the aid of Bölþorn. Wulfhere said that they should hurry. He was not at all convinced that they would be so lucky with a return match if they were challenged to another contest. He asked Dunstan what a clampit was and Dunstan told him it was an Irish word for feckless. The steps came out in the valley at the bottom of the cliff. They stood in a dreary country and could hear the sound of waves crashing on a shore which as they walked never seemed far away. They could not see the sea and did not dare leave the road to find out what was at the shore. As they walked along they could see in the distance a massive Hall that was curiously built. As they got closer they could hear screams of people in agony. Wulfhere said they needed to be careful and they approached cautiously. The door was open and the air was acidic and hurt their lungs to breath in. They could see hundreds of people writhing in agony inside. The Hall was bigger than they first thought. The screams died down for a moment and there was an eerie quietness as the occupants stared at the roof. Dunstan tried to see what they were looking at when the inside of the thatched roof began moving. The people inside started moving as large snake like creatures started to drip poison on those below. The screams started again as the poison hit the people on the ground and a fierce fire tore up from the floor to engulf everyone. Dunstan was forced back from the door by the heat. It is not a good idea to enter the building said a voice. All three Hrothgarsons looked to see who had spoken and a man stepped from the shadows. Uthric asked what kind of place this was, who owned the Hall and who the people were who were inside. The man said they were leæce- killers, murderers and oath-breakers, rapists and those that had committed adultery. The Hall was called Nastrønd's Hall and the people would be tortured forever became of their crimes. Wulfhere asked if the man knew if they had to go into the Hall to continue on their way but the man said that no-one voluntarily went into that Hall. If they wished to continue along the road he suggested that they might want to go around the back of the building and pick up the road at that point. The man asked why living men had come to Nastrønd. Dunstan explained that a leæce called Hereweard had sent them here to get his soul back after he had had it stolen. The man nodded and said that he thought that was unfortunate. Wulfhere was interested if the man could give any advice to which the man replied he would only be too pleased to help but that they might not like his answer. Dunstan said that he thought at this stage there were no answers that were pleasant. The man said this was probably true and in that case they needed to continue and must complete their journey to regain Dunstan’s soul. He told them to travel for ten days until they came to Yggdrasil, the One Tree. At the roots of Yggdrasil lives the dragon, Níðhǫgg, who they must battle for Dunstan's soul. They should be careful of Níðhǫgg as he is very devious and likes nothing better than to trick people into making wrong choices. Níðhǫgg spends his time sucking the blood from the living dead and gnawing the roots of Yggdrasil. Wulfhere agreed with the man and said he had been correct, it had not been pleasant to hear his words. Wulfhere thanked him for his advice and they set off. Inside the Hall it was again quiet and they were thankful because the screams were unnerving. As they drew level with the door a man from inside hailed them and asked them to save him. Dunstan stared in horror when he recognised Garm the former Þegn of Cælctun. The man from the shadows warned them that they should not interfere with those who suffer in the Nastrønd. Uthric took Dunstan by the arm and they continued around the side of the Hall. They seemed to walk for days before they reached the back of the Hall and found the road coming out of another door. Wulfhere wondered if they had got lost and were at the same point they had been days ago, but Dunstan thought the landscape looked different and so they continued along the road. After five days walking they could see a massive tree in the distance that rose to such a height that its crown was lost in the clouds. As they got closer the size of the One Tree became apparent. They could also smell death and it became so strong that it felt that the air also tasted of death. At the base of the tree was an enormous dragon coiled several times around the roots. The rest of the body of the dragon stretched away into the mist. Níðhǫgg was sucking blood noisily from a pile of bodies and afterwards he had finished with the body he tossed it aside to two waiting wolves who then ripped the bodies apart before eating them. The Hrothgarsons were not sure what to do or how to approach the Dragon. Wulfhere said that it might be good to start with introductions and then ask Níðhǫgg about Dunstan's soul. Dunstan waited until the dragon had finished eating and introduced himself. Níðhǫgg watched him closely as he spoke and Dunstan had to look away as he found his thoughts had become confused. Níðhǫgg said he had many souls in his keeping but he was sure that after they each had fought a contest of willpower with him he could sort out which soul was the right one. Dunstan said that it did not sound like an equal contest. Níðhǫgg said that Dunstan was correct in his thinking and if he did not want to accept the contest he was free to leave. Dunstan talked it over with his brothers. Wulfhere said that this is what they had come to do and they should not back down now. Uthric agreed and said he would happily face the dragon if Dunstan was afraid. Dunstan said that he would go first as it was his fault they were about to have a contest with Níðhǫgg. He looked into Níðhǫgg’s eyes and felt himself being dragged into blackness. He looked away and felt his sight clear again. Níðhǫgg laughed and told Dunstan that he would suffer serious consequences if he ever took a prisoner. Dunstan asked what sort of consequences he would be likely to suffer. Níðhǫgg reminded him of Nastrønd’s Hall and said that those that broke a geas would be brought alive to Nastrønd for judgement. He told Dunstan that he would have to try better or suffer further consequences. Dunstan steeled himself and looked again into Níðhǫgg's eyes. This time Dunstan managed to keep his mind focused against the Dragon. Eventually Dunston broke eye contact and staggered backwards. Níðhǫgg said to Dunstan that he was impressed that he was able to hold out so long, and rewarded him with knowledge of how to fight with a spear. Uthric said that he had best go next. He stood in front of the Níðhǫgg and forced himself to look into the dragon's eyes. He immediately lost all sense of himself and had to look away. The dragon laughed again and told him that he would never again be able to refuse anyone who asks something of him directly. The dragon waited while Uthric prepared himself for another attempt by casually gnawing on one of the writhing bodies at the foot of Yggdrasil. When Uthric had composed himself, he signalled to Níðhǫgg that he was ready. He looked again into the dragon’s eyes but this time he focused on Meire and that helped him to survive the pull of the darkness. The Dragon released Uthric and said that he thought that Uthric had been clever to keep a focus on his wife. Níðhǫgg rewarded him with knowledge of how to lead men in battle. Wulfhere was reluctant and said that he would prefer not to face the dragon. Uthric told him to concentrate on something important to him like Bronwyn. He stood in front of the Dragon and signalled he was ready. Wulfhere felt that he was getting sucked into darkness. He tried to focus on anything but his mind was blank and he had to break contact. Níðhǫgg laughed and told him to try again. Wulfhere again felt himself getting lost in darkness so he broke contact. Níðhǫgg said that Wulfhere would now have two taboos. If he wanted to gain something Níðhǫgg offered Wulfhere a chance for another attempt to keep control of himself but Wulfhere thought that it was unlikely he would succeed. Wulfhere asked Níðhǫgg what the consequences of his failures were and the dragon told him that he would always have to obey Leæces and never use a javelin against a woman. Níðhǫgg warned the Hrothgarsons that if they broke their taboos he would come looking for them and they would offer the same fate as the bodies he sucked dry. Dunstan said they had challenged the dragon and that if Níðhǫgg didn't mind he would like to be reunited with his soul as he had suffered from its loss. Níðhǫgg pointed to two black cats and said that reuniting with his soul might be another challenge. He said Dunstan would have to make a choice of either black cat or he could ask the wolves for help if he preferred. The dragon told him that one wolf would always lie and the other would always tell the truth. Moreover, if Dunstan chose to ask the wolves he could only could ask one wolf a single question. Dunstan said that he would like to confer with his brothers if Níðhǫgg did not mind. Uthric said that the answer was simple and he had heard a similar riddle at last year’s Yule festival. Dunstan just had to ask one wolf which soul the other wolf would choose in order for Dunstan to get the right soul back. Uthric said no matter which soul they pointed to, all Dunstan had to do was choose the other one. Neither Dunstan nor Wulfhere could follow the logic but Uthric said that he was certain he was right. Dunstan said he trusted his brother and did as Uthric told him, choosing the soul that was not indicated by the wolf. Níðhǫgg asked Dunstan if he was sure he wanted that soul and since he was in a kind mood he would allow him to change his mind. Dunstan said that he had made his choice and the black cat jumped into his stomach. While Dunstan made his choice and was re-united with his soul, Uthric watched a large red squirrel that was perched on a branch of Yggdrasil and seemed interested in the proceedings. Uthric went over to the squirrel and introduced himself and asked if perhaps he might ask it some questions. The squirrel seemed pleased to be noticed and said he would be happy to help after he had delivered a message to Níðhǫgg. As soon as Dunstan had decided what soul he wanted the squirrel hopped down from the branch that he was perched on and whispered in Níðhǫgg’s ear. The dragon responded by biting chunks out of the roots of Yggdrasil and lashed his tail which caused mild tremors in the ground. The wolves gave up eating one of the still writhing corpses discarded by Níðhǫgg and moved further away for safety. The large squirrel hopped over to the Hrothgarsons. It introduced itself as Ratatoskr. Ratatoskr said that his job was to convey messages between the eagle and stag and Níðhǫgg but he was very interested why living humans were in Nastrønd. Uthric said that his brother, Dunstan, had come to get his soul and now that they had found it they needed to get home. Ratatoskr was interested in that story but wondered if he might be of any help to get them home. He said that Níðhǫgg seemed to be preoccupied in gnawing roots and was unlikely to help and no-one in their right mind would ever trust the wolves became they were impossible to tell apart and one always lied and one always told the truth. Uthric said that he would be grateful if Ratatoskr could help tell the brothers how to get back to Hambladensted. Ratatoskr said that he didn't think Hambladensted was one of the nine worlds and that it might be better to be a little less specific about where they wanted to go. For instance, he suggested they might want to say to Aelfheim or Niflheim or perhaps Muspelheim. Wulfhere said that although all these places might be interesting in their own right they would prefer to return to Miðgarðr. Ratatoskr thought in that case they might have two options. One would be to follow the road back the way they had come and overcome each challenge again. The drawback with this option was that the way had been opened by someone and there was a possibility it might have since closed. Dunstan said that he wasn't sure that it would turn out well if they went back the same way. He thought that if there was another option it might be one that he and his brothers might want to take. Ratatoskr said the other option was that they might want to get to Miðgarðr by climbing Yggdrasil. The Hrothgarsons looked at each other and agreed that although climbing such a height could be dangerous it was likely to be the only option. Ratatoskr nodded and said that the climb was long and arduous but he found it relatively easy because he had four feet all of which could cling to branches whereas he recognised that they only had two and that was likely to make things more difficult. Ratatoskr said of course that he would need payment to help as nothing should ever be for free and he was providing a service. Wulfhere said that they really didn’t have much they could give the squirrel. Ratatoskr smiled and said that what he had in mind they seemed to have plenty of. He said that he dealt in information and would be pleased if they could tell him stories of things that they had encountered on their travels. Dunstan said he was happy with such a bargain. Wulfhere said that they could increase their chance of success by using the rope that the Duergar had made for them. With that it was agreed and they set off climbing with Ratatoskr as a guide. It took them ten days of climbing with many slips and falls but fortunately no lasting injuries as the rope stopped them from falling far. On the way, the brothers took it in turns to tell Ratatoskr tales of their lives that he thought he might be interested in. Ratatoskr was most interested in Offa’s ale and was keen that should they ever return that he would like it very much if they could bring a skin. Uthric promised he would. Eventually they reached a branch that Ratatoskr said would lead to Miðgarðr. They crawled along the branches until they were able to see clouds. Ratatoskr told them to jump and they would end up in their physical bodies. They woke on top of a wooden platform, sore and wet from a recent shower of rain. There was no-one to greet them or give them food. Wulfhere said that from now on Dunstan needed to be careful with his soul. He was not sure he could survive another episode like that.
  4. The Blood Sacrifice and Those who were Sold There was peace along the Tamyse valley. The war had been short but bloody and destructive. For the survivors there would be a struggle to get enough food and shelter for the coming winter. Food was in short supply all over Cerdic’s Kingdom. The wars had destroyed the growing crops and killed or displaced livestock. Even for those that had silver to spend, the cost of food was high. The Atheling Stuf had told Wulfhere to start re-fortifying Hambladensted and had left forty warriors from his army with Wulfhere to help with the construction and promised to send woodwrights, shipwrights and people who were experienced in building. Wulfhere was aware that the refugee women, older people and children from Hambladensted and Farnhamble would be sent back north and he would need to find food and shelter for them. He was also told to expect some of the refugees who had come from the north side of the Tamyse. Stuf thought it unlikely that Aelle would want them or even allow them to return to their own destroyed villages therefore Stuf was keen to share the burden of feeding them throughout the northern lands. Wulfhere appointed Uthric as Þegn of Hambladensted. He hoped this would then allow him to start to build the alliances in the four nearby settlements while Uthric concentrated on the defensive palisade of Hambladensted. Wulfhere split up his warriors into people who would construct the palisade and shelters, those that would collect wood and oversee seasoning of wood for the building of boats and others that would help with the farming. He sent a fifth of his men out to hunt and fish to supplement the meagre supplies they had. Wulfhere also sent the pack mules south to Wincen Cæster or Pontus Cæster to try and buy grain to cover any immediate shortfall. The Hrothgarsons used their own money hoping this would be an investment for the future. Wulfhere met with the four local Þegns, Issa, Taran, Darwyne and Uthric. They realised the people were going to be hungry at least until harvest and tried to plan to share the available food. Wulfhere thought that they should be fortifying the south end of the Bridge at Pontes but following discussions with his Þegns he agreed that this would have to wait until the next year at the earliest. They decided that they should focus for the present on survival during the coming winter. They hoped that the harvest would be good and therefore there would be less deaths throughout the winter. News came back with the men who had been sent to get food in Wincen Cæster that King Octa had taken his army and attacked and captured Hamafunta. His rapid success had been a surprise and Octa had decided that he would attack and capture Cissa Cæster which he thought would make a better capital than Wihtwarasburgh. Wulfhere was discussing how many people were needed to build fish traps when he was interrupted by an exhausted boy. He had run as fast as he could to tell Wulfhere that some spearmen had attacked one of the outlying farms, killed some of the men and then took off the women. Wulfhere took his brothers and ten men and followed the boy to the fields. The farm was close to the forest and the three men who had been working with the women were lying dead in the field. Wulfhere asked the boy how many spearmen he had seen but the boy said he was unsure. He was certain the women who had been taken had still been alive. Wulfhere ordered his men to look for tracks and they searched up to the forest edge. Wulfhere found some tracks that led into the forest but after a short period lost which way they were going. Eventually Uthric found more tracks and they went down a trail that led to a small house in a clearing. Uthric was positive the tracks led to the house and they watched hidden in the undergrowth as a younger man and older man worked outside. At Wulfhere's signal his men moved forward and the two men tried to run. Uthric threw his javelin and it pierced the younger man through the neck. As he fell the older man escaped into the doorway and the door was slammed shut. They could clearly hear a woman scream from inside and they were in no doubt that they had found the missing women. Wulfhere sent some men round the back of the house to guard against anyone trying to leave. He reminded people that this had been an error they had made at Garm's hall and he did not want the enemy to escape this time. Wulfhere asked the people inside to come out. The old man answered saying that he was not sure this was a good idea and asked why there were armed men outside his house. Uthric told him that they might be better coming out as he thought it would soon get too hot to stay inside. When the man asked why that would be, Uthric said his plan was to set a fire at the walls and door. The man said he thought that in that case he and his wife would prefer to come out provided that Uthric would guarantee that they would not put a javelin in his head. Wulfhere said that they would not kill them immediately and only wished to question them. Dunstan said their safety really depended on the answers they gave. The man and the women came out and were pulled aside and held by some of the spearmen. Dunstan checked out the house but there was no-one else inside and he told Wulfhere that the women were not there. They were both confused as they had thought it was clear the tracks had come this way. Uthric lifted the older man off his feet by his tunic and asked him where the rest of the women were. The man looked puzzled and said that he lived here with his wife and his son who they had recently and unnecessarily killed. He wanted to know why they had killed his son as none of them had ever done anything to deserve this. Dunstan pushed him over and stood over him. He asked the man to tell him where the other spearmen and women had gone. The woman rushed at Dunstan and began to pummel him. Duncan pushed her back and his spearmen held her arms. Wulfhere asked the man again where the others had gone but he only looked more confused and upset. Wulfhere told him that he had tracked raiders to this place and he would think the least the man could do was to say where they had gone. After some time, it became clear that neither the man nor woman could add anything to their knowledge although both Uthric and Dunstan thought they were both lying. Some of the warriors picked up tracks on the far side of the clearing and they left the house. As they walked further into the forest they could hear drum beats ahead of them. They were unsure what the drumbeat signified and some of the men began to get nervous. They came to a steep mound with a narrow cleft cut through it. The walls of the cleft were lined with fist sized stones and periodically there were niches in the stones that held skeletal heads. No-one wanted to enter and Uthric decide he would go around the mound to see if there was another way in. He came back when it was beginning to get dark and reported there did not appear to be any way in apart from the narrow cleft. He said he had thought about climbing the mound and looking down from above, but the sides were too steep to safely climb up and, in particular, come down again. The drum beats grew louder and seemed to reach a crescendo when they suddenly stopped just as it got fully dark. Dunstan thought that the sound came from under the earth and wondered if there were tunnels through which the drummers could escape. None of the men would approach the cleft and no-one wanted to go in. They spent an uncomfortable and cold night shivering and watching the cleft. At one point during the night Dunstan drew everyone’s attention to a huge raven which flew over the mound and was silhouetted by the nearly full moon. At daybreak there was a death scream and no-one knew what it meant and no-one volunteered to find out. After some time Dunstan said that he would go in if someone else would join him. He said there were some captives that needed to be rescued and it wouldn't change things if they all stood outside and shook with fear. Uthric and Wulfhere agreed to go too although Uthric clutched his hammer amulet rather than the spear as they went into the deep cleft in single file. They came into a larger circular region after about thirty paces. There was an mound of rocks and behind it, an ash tree. On the rocks were piled nine severed heads and their eyes shone like they were reflecting rush light candles. A man with a grey beard hung on the ash tree. His face had a fresh wound that still bled where someone had taken his eye. All three men stared at the scene and no-one spoke. There was no sign of any living creature and they thought the five missing women were likely among the heads on the altar. By mutual consent they turned and started to leave but Dunston went forward to take a closer look at the man on the tree before Wulfhere pulled him away. When they got out of the cleft they discussed what the situation could possibly mean. Dunstan asked if they thought they had just seen Woden and he reminded them there had been a large raven flying in the night. Wulfhere said that he was not sure but something had happened here that he now wished he hadn't seen and he feared that it might come back to haunt them further. Uthric wondered about the woodcutter’s part in this and thought he must have knowledge of what happened here because he lived so close. Dunstan said he did not believe the man could have seen nothing and that his worst fear is that the woodcutter might somehow be linked to the deaths. They had only seen one son and there might be other sons and if so, Dunstan thought they might be involved. Wulfhere said that there was nothing more they could do here. The men who took the women were likely on the altar too. He did not understand what had happened but it wouldn't become any clearer by standing around in the forest. They collected the old man and woman on the way back and took them to Farnhamble and Darwyne. Dunstan questioned them further but was no wiser at the end of it. Wulfhere told Darwyne to post some spearmen near the forest but nothing untoward happened over the next few days. Uthric had agreed with his brothers that he would return to Glawmæd to see their wives. They had been away for over three moons and they all feared the consequences. They held a conference and agreed that they would offer their families the option of coming north to live in Hambladensted or remain in Glawmæd until next spring. Wulfhere thought that there was still a danger of war in the north and hunger would be a problem until at least the harvest was gathered. Dunstan asked should the invitation also extend to their mother. He was unsure if it would be a good idea. Uthric said no matter what she thought of them, Hildegard was still their mother. There was also their brothers Sighard, Egfryd and sister ldris as well as Beorthric the baby. He felt he could not in all conscience leave her on her own. Sighard was almost a man but he would not be able to provide for Hildegard. Wulfhere agreed with Uthric and so it was settled they would ask their mother to come north too. Uthric set out the next day for the south. He thought that if he kept to the roads the travel would be quicker and would be reasonably safe. He expected to back in about fourteen days. He stopped the first night with Taran in Dunbriwan and left early in the morning. It took almost two days to get to Taddenlæge and he spent the night telling Tadda of the happenings in the north. He told the tale of the strange mound in the forest and the grey-headed, one-eyed, hanging man. Uthric realised that the people listening to his tale reacted badly and he resolved that he would not tell this tale again. He set off in the morning having bid farewell to Tadda and Rowena and walked through most of the next night to reach Wincen Cæster. He stayed in Stuf's Hall. Cerdic was in the South dealing with Aelle. Stuf said he hoped that they would conclude a peace treaty so that he could go back to fighting Dumnonians. Uthric stayed a day with Stuf but he spent most of the day asleep because he had walked through the previous night. In the morning he set off and spent the night at Old Wincen Cæster Hill. Uthric was amazed to see that there were many new farms built or being built along either side of the road. He stopped to ask one farmer where he had come from. The man said that he had brought his family from Saxony and had been given the land by Atheling Cyrnic. It had taken two days to get to Glawmæd from Wincen Cæster but as he approached he noticed something was wrong. The village had been burnt and he could see no living thing. There were fresh graves alongside the road but although he searched and called out he could find no one to tell him what had happened. Uthric thought that Tæthle or Osberht might have some news of Meire so he thought it was best to go there and ask what they knew. He found Cædering also burnt and deserted. He could find no-one to talk to and he walked on to Cælctun hoping for answers to the mystery. He found more unanswered questions at there. The village was deserted but there was no destruction. Uthric puzzled over what might have happened. It was as if everyone had disappeared and taken all that they owned. He spent the night in Cælctun and resolved to go to see Cerdic in Portus Cæster in the morning. Cerdic was not in Portus Cæster, having gone to meet Aelle to conclude a peace treaty. Some of the Huscarls recognised Uthric and told him the story of what had happened. Octa had attacked and captured Hamafunta and then gone on to attack Cissa Cæster but could not take it due to the high, well-defended walls. Aelle had gathered his army and had surprised Octa outside Cissa Cæster and after defeating the army had then killed Octa. Aelle had decided Cerdic had told Octa to attack him and took his army to besiege Portus Cæster. While part of his army had stayed besieging Portus Cæster the other half had ravaged the county side. He had taken Glawmæd and Cædering killing both Oshehrt and Tæthle. Cælctun had surrendered as there were no warriors left to defend it. All the survivors of the three villages were taken as captives. The Huscarl assumed they had been sold as slaves. Uthric asked if they knew if anyone had escaped but none of the Huscarls knew anything more. They said Aelle had moved so fast that no-one had been prepared for his attack. Cerdic had eventually brought his army south and he and Aelle fought some indecisive skirmishes before Aelle decided to withdraw. Cerdic had threatened to attack Aelle's lands and Aelle had agreed to a peace treaty. Uthric thought he should go back to Glawmæd and from there go to Llys. He hoped that some of the people of Glawmæd might have escaped through the forest and then made their way to Llys. At Glawmæd he thought about digging up the silver he had given Meire but realised that a single warrior with so much silver would be vulnerable and they would need to keep the silver for later. He travelled through the forest of Mœn, visited the Pool of Butterflies but did not see anyone until he got to Llys. He met with the Þegn of Llys, Thorold, and asked for his advice. Thorold told him that as far as he was aware Aelle's Warband had caught everyone by surprise and no-one had time to react. It had been assumed Aelle would have been content with killing Octa but he blamed Cerdic for the destruction caused by Octa and took revenge. By the time the peace treaty was agreed, Aelle had started to see sense and was willing to make peace. Thorold thought that there would be more wars with Aelle but for now both sides were content to shout insults. He said that no doubt that border raids would continue and that might provoke a major fight. Llys had become prosperous. All along the Mœn river, new farms had been built and Thorold hoped if there was peace they would have a good harvest. Uthric said that the land would need a good harvest for in the north there had been so much destruction it was likely that people would starve. Thorold said that he could not imagine how he would deal with losing his wife and children and asked Uthric if lending him a horse would be useful. Uthric thanked him and said it would certainly make the journey more comfortable and save him having to buy new boots this year. However, he was not sure it would be any quicker for he was not used to horses and worried about falling off. Thorold said that he would give him a horse that was of good temperament and as long as he did not try to gallop he should remain safely on its back. It took Uthric another four days of travel to return to Hambladensted and to tell his brothers what had occurred in Glawmæd and the disappearance of their wives and children. The brothers held a conference. The situation in the north was still delicate. They had been tasked with securing the area by Cerdic and Stuf. If they left on a journey they would be going against Cerdic's express orders. Dunstan said equally that he did not have to think too hard to imagine the trouble they might be in if they left their wives in captivity for a whole year. He said that he was not a violent man but the man who had taken her would have to give her over or suffer the consequences. He resolved that he would not offer payment for his wife. Uthric said that he felt he had been reacting to events over the last number of years and would for once he would like to be on the offensive. The more Dunstan thought about the situation the angrier he got. He said he was of the opinion Cerdic was disorganised and did not protect his people as he was sworn to do as the Westseaxacyning. He said if it came to an election he would not vote for him again. He asked his brothers to remember the time when they were in trouble at Taddenlæge and no one knew where Cerdic was. He thought Cerdic might want to improve his communication lines and he was never where he was supposed to be. Wulfhere said that Dunstan would be better to keep his opinions to himself as he thought others might not share such views. He thought it was fair that Dunstan held these views but he needed to be careful before talking too much. Wulfhere told Uthric that while he had been away there had been grumbling that he had not tried to pay the wergild for the son of Wictrum the woodcutter. Uthric said that he was reluctant to pay the wergild as he thought Wictrum and his son had something to do with the deaths of the captured women and the spearmen. However, he used the treasure that he had got from the battles to pay Wictrum. People said that they hoped the new Þegn would not always be so late in paying his debts. Wulfhere said that they needed to go to see Cerdic and ask him for permission to seek their wives and children. Halig said he agreed with this but he thought finding their mother and siblings was also important. Uthric and Dunstan said they were sure that their mother would be fine and Dunstan was certain that she would have likely married someone again. They travelled to Taddenlæge and stayed the night in Tadda's Hall. They asked Tadda and Rowena for advice. Dunstan said that he was not that interested in advice at the present and would prefer vengeance on those who had wronged him and his family. He began to make growling noses and every time someone talked to him he just growled. Rowena said to Wulfhere that she would not be too hopeful that their journey would be successful. Their wives and children could be dead. She said that she had a daughter of marriageable age and she would have no objection to making a match with Wulfhere if they were unsuccessful. Wulfhere thanked her but said that he thought he at least needed to try before thinking of a new wife. They left the next morning and went to Wincen Cæster hoping to meet with Cerdic but were told he was not there. They asked to meet with Stuf and were taken to his Hall. Stuf was with his war Þegns and planning raids into Dumnonia but he agreed to see the Hrothgarsons privately. Wulfhere told him of their problems and their missing families. He asked what Stuf thought Cerdic would say. Stuf was sympathetic to their problems but he did not hold out much chance of success. He thought they could go chasing women all over Britain and will not find them. He advised that there were too many British slave women and it would be unlikely that anyone would be able to remember the difference. He suggested that if they had no clear leads they should take new wives and go back north. Uthric said that Meire was memorable. He explained that Meire had a slight greenish tinge around her temples and he thought people would recollect her. Stuf said that he hoped for their sake it was true but he thought their biggest obstacle might be Cerdic. Cerdic had been annoyed with everyone after Aelle attacked and had not been that approachable about anything. He said things had got that difficult both he and Cyrnic had made sure they had other things to do rather than be in his presence. Wulfhere and Uthric were downhearted with Stuf's news and Dunstan just growled. Stuf looked at Dunstan and was about to ask a question when Uthric said that it appeared to be another fine mess they were in and they were now setting off to heroically buy back their wives. Dunstan growled again. Stuf said that he needed to meet with his Þegns but invited them to stay in his Hall for the night and they would talk more. At food that night Stuf asked the Hrothgarsons to tell him about their meeting with the Bannucman. Dunstan would usually have told the tale but he was in no mood to do so and continued growling when anyone came too close. Uthric told the tale and people who listened were impressed. Some called for an anvil to be brought in as an argument had erupted on the warrior’s benches about who could possibly throw an anvil. Stuf put a stop to the argument by saying no-one would be throwing anvils in his Hall unless a Bannucman appeared. If that happened he said that everyone would be welcome to try and throw anvils. Wulfhere asked Stuf what he knew about the slave markets in Cissa Cæster. Stuf said that unfortunately he had no real knowledge of how they worked so that he could add nothing to what they already knew. He asked Wulfhere about the food situation in the north. He said that he hoped the harvest was good this year and the weather would remain mild. Stuf said he was becoming concerned that if the harvest was bad, or ruined by rains and storms there could be serious famine. He intended to make raids into Dumnonia after their harvest in the hope that he could capture enough food. Wulfhere and Uthric thought that if they were able to they would like to take part in raids to get food. In the morning they bade farewell to Stuf. He wished them luck in their quest and in particular with Cerdic. He also gave them each two silver bars which he felt might be useful for their quest for the families. They went to Glawmæd to recover their buried silver and were surprised that new famines had settled in the ruined village and were beginning to rebuild the houses, palisade and tend the fields. They spoke with the Þegn, Wictred, who confirmed that they had all newly arrived at Portus Cæster from the Eider in Saxony. Dunstan was angry with this new development saying that no one was respecting the law anymore and land rights were being ignored. Wictred said that he had been given the land by Cerdic and was unaware that any other people had a claim on the land. Wulfhere said that they used to have land here but they now lived on the south side of the Tamyse valley and he should not be concerned about Dunstan who was angry for lots of reasons. Dunstan made more growling noises and people moved away from him. Wulfhere told Wictred they would be gone soon but they needed to get their silver that they had buried for safe keeping. Wictred said they were welcome to get it and wished them all the best for their onward journey. At Pontus Cæster they found both inside and outside the walls of the city were packed with new people. Abandoned boats in various states of decay lay on the beaches. It was clear that many new settlers had come from Saxony, Danevirke, Friesland and Jutland. Uthric thought it might be good to advertise the south Tamyse valley as a place to live but Wulfhere thought it best not to invite them north until they got back there. He thought that large numbers of new settlers might not go down well unless they were there to make sure there was no friction with the people already settled there. There was also the issue of a lack of food. Wulfhere asked if Cerdic was in Portus Cæster and when he was told that he was in his Hall he asked to see him. Cerdic was surprised to see them and asked why they were in the south when there was so much to do in the north. He asked if they had already secured a crossing over the Tamyse and rebuilt the damaged settlements. Wulfhere said that work was ongoing on all these projects but they had come to seek advice from Cerdic and permission to find their wives and children. Cerdic was clearly not happy about their request. When Dunstan tried to speak he cut him short and would only allow Wulfhere to talk. Cerdic said that women and children were important but the Hrothgarsons had all been given responsibilities. There were dwellings to rebuild, fortifications to make secure and importantly the harvest needed to be brought in, assessed and preparations made for the next Spring planting. They needed to be there to choose the livestock for slaughter and which should be used for breeding. Cerdic said he had made Wulfhere responsible for that and now he was asking to ignore his duty to his people and go off on a journey into hostile territory. Cerdic said he had heard stories that they frequently wandered all over Britain and were not good about coming back on time. He reminded Wulfhere that he had sworn an oath to him and Cerdic wondered if he was now intent on breaking it. Wulfhere said that he was asking for seven days to try and get their children back or at least find out what had happened to them. Cerdic said he would reluctantly agree to a seven-day period but if they were going to Cissa Cæster they should do nothing to upset the treaty he had made with Aelle. Cerdic said that there would be a reckoning for Aelle but he was not ready for that battle yet. Cerdic said that he would expect them back in seven days. He had over two hundred people that he was sending north with Wulfhere and they needed to be back to collect them. Wulfhere thanked Cerdic and asked if he would object to building a Burgh on the south side of the Bridge at Pontes. Cerdic said that he had no objection but Wulfhere was the KingsÞegn and he had to decide if he could keep and support a garrison in the area. Wulfhere said he thought that having some control of the Bridge would be a good strategic move and would consider it over the winter. Cerdic dismissed them but said that they needed to think how they could balance their responsibilities to him as their Oathlord and to their people who they had sworn to protect against their personal troubles. He had noticed in the past years that people in positions of responsibility had to put the good of everyone ahead of the good of the individual. Dunstan suppressed a low growl which fortunately no-one else heard. Wulfhere said that before they left Portus Cæster he wanted to talk to Hereweard. They found Hereweard in a tavern and he greeted them warmly. Wulfhere told him of the mound with the cleft, the hanged man and the altar with the heads and asked him for his opinion. Hereweard said it would be hard to make any other opinion than someone was completing a ritual to gain knowledge much like Woden had in the sagas. Without examining the site further and looking for signs that only leæces might notice he could have no further views. Wulfhere asked if it could actually have been the All-father himself. Hereweard said that could be possible but again he would have to see the place himself. Uthric asked what Hereweard’s opinion would be if they filled in the cleft from above. Hereward looked at Uthric but did not answer. He asked Uthric what he thought about the idea. Uthric said that when he said it aloud he had immediately realised it was a stupid idea. Hereweard patted Uthric's hand and said he was glad to see that becoming a Þegn had brought some small amount of wisdom. Wulfhere thanked Hereward and they left to travel to Cissa Cæster. Dunstan growled as he left and Hereward looked at him for a long time and remained watching him as he left. Dunstan said that he remained angry and he was of the opinion that someone would lose their head for this. They avoided Hamafunta in case they were recognised but they could see that it was being rebuilt after being burnt in the war. Wulfhere said that they must be careful about telling people who they were and what business they had. He suggested that they call themselves the Coerlsons and say that they came from Wiht. They would keep their first names as that would minimise any mistakes. He reminded them all that they should not do anything to attract any attention. Cerdic and Stuf had said that the peace treaty was fragile and they should not be the ones to start another war. The gates to Cissa Cæster were guarded by four spearman who asked their business. Wulfhere told the leader, Calemund that they were the Coerlson brothers and had come to buy slaves. Calemund asked where they had come from and Wulfhere said that they lived on Wiht. Calemund demanded to know if they were Octa's men as he was aware that Octa had been the Wihtcyning. He said that they should know Aelle might have made peace with Cerdic but they still had an argument with Octa's men who had killed their men and women without pity. The other three guards who had been amusing themselves playing knuckle bones for scraps of hacksilver sensed the increase in tension and picked up their spears and began paying much more attention to the conversation. Wulfhere said that they had never been Octa's men but they were Cerdic's men. Calemund said that it was just as well for they would be dealing with Octa's men like they dealt with Octa himself. They looked up on the walls where a body covered with pitch was impaled on a spear. Calemund explained that they had had to cover Octa's body in pitch to stop the crows eating it after Aelle had flayed him. We wanted to keep him safe for a while and Aelle has a new war banner called Octaferygt which the leæces had told him would bring victory as long as Octa's body did not decay. To stop that happening Aelle had Octa dipped in pitch. One of the other guards, Athmund, was paying close attention to Uthric. He asked what they said their names were. Wulfhere told him they were the Coerlson brothers but Athmund said that this was not the truth. He said that he had been at Cœlfrith’s Moot and in Anderida when Uthric and his brothers had brought a case against Cœlfrith and had humiliated him. Wulfhere said that this was true and they had only said that they were Coerlsons to stop any possible trouble while they bought some slaves. Calemund said that there was peace between Aelle and Cerdic so he would not be stopping them coming into Cissa Cæster however he thought it only fair to warn them that Octa was lonely. When Wulfhere looked confused, Calemund said that if they caused any trouble they would be joining Octa on the walls. He said he doubted that their flayed skin would make a good Battle banner but he would enquire of the leæces. Wulfhere thanked him for his advice and said that he would be mindful of it when they did business at the slave market. Dunstan had not said anything in the entire exchange but only emitted growling sounds. Calemund warned Wulfhere he would also be telling Cissa they were here and they might hear more from him. He thought that it might also be useful for Dunstan to be put on a leash as he seemed to be acting like a dog. The two men that ran the slave market were Guthmaer Sleddeson and Grimwold Frithowulfson. When Wulfhere explained that they were looking for particular slaves both men expressed surprise. They said that one British slave was much the same as another and there would be no way they could possibly be of help. Uthric said that his wife was memorable because she had a greenish tinge at her temples. Guthmaer said that Uthric was right, she was noteworthy and he had no difficulty remembering what had happened to her. She had been bought by Hrof's daughter. Uthric looked puzzled and Guthmaer said he was happy to enlighten him. He told him that Hrof’s daughter was called Ealhwyn. He thought that most of the other slaves brought in at that time were bought by the army which meant they could be anywhere in Ceint. Wulfhere thanked the two men for their information and declined their invitation to buy some slaves. Dunstan was angry and said that he would not be wrong in predicting a dark future for the two slave traders. Wulfhere warned Dunstan that they must do nothing to bring them any attention. They walked through the market to find somewhere to talk without other people hearing. Dunstan suddenly saw Hildegard. She was buying fruit and vegetables and handing her purchases to a younger woman. She looked well cared for and was wearing a rich and costly cloak with gold ornaments at her throat and wrists. She suddenly saw her sons and screamed. Dunstan went over to Hildegard. She was shocked to see them. Hildegard spoke quickly to the young woman she was with and gave her the purchases she had made. The young woman then left. Hildegard wanted to give Dunstan a hug but he stopped her with a motion of his hand. Dunstan said that he was surprised to meet her in a market in Cissa Cæster and he thought she was obviously doing well for herself. He said he could see that her clothes were of good quality and she wore gold and silver ornaments at her neck and wrists. Hildegard said she would explain all this in good time but asked him why he was here and where were her other sons. Dunstan pointed to Wulfhere and Uthric who had been watching from a distance. Hildegard began to cry and said that she would explain the situation to the best of her ability but they should go somewhere to talk rather than stand in the busy market. Dunstan refused her offer to go to her house but said he would wait to hear her explanations before making any judgement. Hildegard took her three sons to a tavern and ordered food and drinks. She asked her sons what they had been doing and Wulfhere gave a short explanation of how they had secured the north at the expense of losing their families. Hildegard said that the attack on Glawmæd was so swift that if they had been there then they would likely have been killed like most of the other warriors. She said there had been no warning and no time to prepare. Aelle’s army has descended and killed anyone who had resisted. Uthric said that this was why they had come to Cissa Cæster in order to find out what had happened to their families. Hildegard said that she would expect no less from her sons. She said they might not be strong on timekeeping but they were dogged about tasks and would keep going until they succeeded. She said that Hrothgar had the same virtues and he would have been proud of them. Dunstan growled when he heard this and said in his opinion his mother had forgotten their father very quickly. He said he was interested to know how come Hildegard was dressed like a noblewoman when he knew the survivors of Glawmæd, Cædering and Cælctun had been sold into slavery. Uthric said while he was glad his mother seemed to be doing well, he would be interested in her news about her daughters-in-law and her grandchildren. He said he thought it might be interesting to hear if they were doing as well as his mother. Hildegard said that Aelle's army had taken Glawmæd by surprise. Many of the warriors were killed trying to protect their families and there had been no organised defence. There had been a lot of confusion and captives had been allocated to different warriors. She knew that all three of their wives had been alive after the attack and had managed to talk to them briefly on the journey back to Cissa Cæster. There had been so many slaves after the war that not all were kept at the pens of the Slave market. She knew for sure that Meire had been claimed by Ealhwyn Hrofsdotter and she had seen her being taken away with her children. She did not know what had happened to Bronwyn or Gwenith, but she might have more news soon. Wulfhere said this was all well and good but he would really like an explanation of why Hildegard was dressed like a noblewoman having been sold into slavery. He said as far as he was aware slaves might be treated kindly by their owners but he had never heard that kindness extended to giving gold jewellery, but he was keen to learn if he was wrong in his assumption. Hildegard began to cry and said that she had left the most difficult news to the last. Dunstan kicked a chair across the tavern causing other customers to stare and the Taverner to come over and ask if everything was all right. Uthric assured him that it was and that Dunstan sometimes reacted to difficult news this way. The Taverner said that if they had more bad news to share it might be best that they should hear it outside. Wulfhere calmed the man down and offered to pay if the chair had been broken. The interruption had enabled Hildegard to compose herself. She said she had been bought by a benefactor who had known her and she had benefitted from that. She told them that her benefactor had spent silver trying to find out where their wives had been taken. Dunstan kicked another chair and said that once again she had disrespected their father and her dead husband. She had even forgotten Beorthric who she had professed to love. Uthric asked who this benefactor was and what he had found out while Wulfhere promised the now angry Taverner that there would not be any further kicked chairs. Hildegard said that she knew that they would not like this but that they must start to live in the present rather than the past. Uthric asked again who the benefactor was and Dunstan had to be restrained by Wulfhere when Hildegard said that it was Beorthric who had rescued her. Uthric asked why he had not also helped their wives but Hildegard said that they had already been sold by the time Beorthric had found her. She said he had tried to find out what happened to their families and hoped that there would be information in the next few days. Wulfhere asked what had happened to their brothers Sighard, Egfryd and sister Idris. Hildegard said that they were all safe with her and they were welcome to come and visit. She said she noticed that Wulfhere did not ask about the whereabouts of their other brother Beorthric. Wulfhere said that this should really not surprise her as they were still intent on killing his father. Hildegard begged them to come and make peace with Beorthric. She had sent a messenger and he would be expecting them. Uthric was angry that she had told Beorthric that they were here as he was likely to make trouble for them. He asked if Winfrith was with Beorthric and if there would be an ambush if they went to meet him. Hildegard said that as far as she knew Winfrith had gone north to Lundenwic but Beorthric was keen to make peace. Uthric said he was not going to listen to this anymore and said to his brothers that they should leave now. All three left Hildegard crying and waited until they got a safe distance away from the tavern before stopping to agree a plan. Uthric said that in his opinion they were in danger and needed to leave immediately. He thought that either they or Beorthric would begin a fight and if they were caught by Cissa they could only expect death by flaying and thereafter decorating the Westgate until the crows ate them. Wulfhere said that this was not the fate that he had in mind and agreed they should leave. Dunstan said that he could not believe what their mother was doing. Beorthric was a sneaking, conniving arschloch and that he thought they should go to Lundenwic to get their wives. He said he felt let down by Cerdic and blamed him for not protecting his people. Wulfhere said that he thought Cerdic had been taught a lesson by what happened. Uthric said that the problem had been Octa and then Aelle's interpretation that Cerdic had been supporting Octa. Dunstan said that he would still blame Cerdic. A king is meant to protect his people and, in his opinion, Cerdic had failed to protect all three villages. The Hrothgarsons left through the Eastgate and travelled east along Stane Street before striking north and then northwest through the forest to the ridges that led to Cælctun. They were concerned that Beorthric or Cissa would send men after them either to kill them or force a return to Cissa Cæster. They did not see anyone except for some woodsmen and charcoal burners until they got to Cælctun. They introduced themselves to the new Þegn of Cælctun, a man called Seirhead. He welcomed them and they told them about Cælctun's history. Seirhead said that he was sorry that they had suffered so much and he hoped that they would find their families. Uthric said that he understood the situation and it was difficult to blame anyone. Wulfhere said that they could blame the gods for their capriciousness but that would probably only bring further bad luck. They took their leave of Seirhead and went to Portus Cæster to tell Cerdic they were back. He had been doubtful that they would return on time and Wulfhere wanted him to be clear that they were now heading north. Uthric thought that if their mother was lost to them by remaining with Beorthric, then Cerdic might be a good substitute as he did not have much faith in their time keeping either. Portus Cæster was full of families and warriors from Saxony, Friesland and Jutland who had arrived on the last days of sailing before the Autumn and Winter storms made travelling by boats too dangerous. Uthric spoke with some of the farmers, encouraging them to come north. He told them there was plenty of spare land and they could have farms in return for swearing an oath to Wulfhere as Þegn. Wulfhere told Uthric to tell any families that wanted to come north that they would need to wait to travel with the Hrothgarsons. He was not keen that people just picked land themselves as he would rather allocate it in a strategic manner. He said he was also not keen to have warriors wondering around aimlessly in sensitive borderlands. Cerdic listened to their report as Wulfhere told him that he had learnt his wife had been sold in a slave market and they were unaware where they had gone. Uthric also told Cerdic that they had talked to their mother who had been living with Beorthric. Cerdic was interested in that development and asked about their thoughts. Wulfhere said that he had no thoughts except sadness. Cerdic said that to lose a wife and children was difficult but it might be time to move on and that there were plenty of other women. He said that he had lost his own wife to childbirth and while he had never taken another wife, he had always had a woman. He gave each brother a gold torc as compensation for the loss of their wives and children and then turned to other business. He had over 200 people that he was sending north to repopulate the Tamyse valley. Wulfhere thanked him for the torcs and they left Cerdic to go and find the families that were to come north. Wulfhere discussed what had happened with his brothers and all decided to get drunk before meeting with their new settlers. As they were drinking Hereweard the leæce came to join them. He said that he had been thinking about Dunstan since their last meeting and had been worried about him. He was keen to know if Dunstan had had any changes in personality and if he had been making any animal noises. Uthric said that Dunstan had not stopped growling since he left the north and had been particularly angry for some time. Hereweard said that he thought that maybe Dunstan had had his soul stolen when he stayed too long in the ritual mound. Dunstan thought that Hereward was talking nonsense and that he only growled so that he didn't say anything stupid or people didn't talk to him. Hereweard said that he would give Dunstan a potion to preserve his body because sooner or later he was going to burn up. His body would not survive without its soul for long. Dunstan was still sceptical but Wulfhere said it might be best to let Hereweard make further investigations. Dunston was suspicious about the potion. He thought that Hereweard was only trying to relieve him of his silver but relaxed when Hereweard said that there would be no cost for the potion. Hereweard asked Wulfhere if he could travel north with them when they were going. He thought he might find it useful to understand the situation better if he was closer at hand. When Hereweard left them drinking, Wulfhere said to his brothers that they were facing lots of problems. They had to rebuild Hambladensted, find enough food until harvest so that people would not die, find their wives and children, find enough land for their new settlers and finally find Dunstan's soul. He thought that this was a depressing list and made him feel that he'd like to buy a horse just to cheer himself up but with the luck that they had had recently it would be likely they wouldn't have enough food and the horse would die. The next days were spent in Portus Cæster buying supplies, oxen and carts and arranging for the families who were going north to get equipment to build new farms. It took almost ten days to travel back to Hambladensted but they did so without major incident. Wulfhere then spent a week allocating land for new farms in the bend of the Tamyse. The Harvest was good despite the war over the growing season and Wulfhere was content that no-one would starve. He sent thirty men to Stuf to help raid the Dumnonian harvest. Dunstan spent time with Hereward and Uthric continued to supervise the re-construction of the stockade at Hambladensted.
  5. The Battle for the Thames In the first year of Cerdic's reign the Yule feast was held at his new capital of Wincen Cæster on the banks of the Itchen. Looking back over the year Cerdic was pleased with how things stood. He had taken land from the Dumnonians and had captured Venta, renaming it Wincen Cæster. The siege and battle had been costly in men but those that had survived had been richly rewarded with silver and lands. Cerdic had made a treaty with Octa having killed enough of his men to make him think about who held the real power in the land. He had not wanted to expend more troops in an assault on Whitwarasburgh which would have been bloody but would have been of little value either strategically or in treasure. Cerdic wanted to weaken Aelle and the price for the treaty was that Octa would need to be active in keeping Aelle busy. Aelle did not seem overly concerned that Cerdic had declared himself Westseaxacyning but he was demanding that Cerdic acknowledge him as Brytenwealda. Cerdic had not done so yet. He informed Aelle that he had important tasks of pacifying the land between the Moen and the Itchen and would not be able to visit him. Cerdic had raided across the Itchen into Dumnonia and the Dumnonians had raided his new lands. Both sides had been content with raiding but it was rumoured that the Dumnonians would try and take Venta back. Cerdic was also keen to push north and secure a way to get over the Tamyse River into Mierce. He had spoken to Wulfhere after the taking of Venta to sound out his views on an undertaking to the Tamyse valley. Cerdic was aware that Aelle was also keen to establish more settlements along the Tamyse valley and that meant they were likely to come into conflict with Guercha One-eye, the Angelcyning. Guercha had long been a rival to Aelle and had been annoyed that Aelle had claimed to be the Brytenwealda. This year Guercha decided that he would challenge Aelle and his supporters had acclaimed him Brytenwealda too. The Yule festival was not as extravagant as the previous year. Cerdic had put a lot of effort into repairing the damage to Venta after the city was sacked. It had been a frontier fortress for years and many of the buildings had fallen into ruin before the city was partially burnt during the sack. Cerdic had repaired the walls and had taken over the barracks as his feast hall, digging a fire pit down the centre of the main hall and building benches for his warriors to eat at and sleep after a feast. Cerdic called the Hrothgarsons to see him in his private chambers to hear Wulfhere's reply to his suggestion about securing the north. Wulfhere had talked it over with his brothers and had agreed that it would present a good opportunity to gain land and wealth. Cerdic told him he was pleased with the decision and made Wulfhere a KingsÞegn. He was keen that they use their knowledge and relationships to scout out the Tamyse valley and try and secure a bridge or at least a passage across the Tamyse into Mierce. He also was keen that they develop more alliances and eliminate any hostile settlements. Wulfhere said that he was honoured by being made KingsÞegn. Cerdic reminded Wulfhere that this task was important to him and he was keen that it did not fail. He gave Wulfhere eighteen warriors, five pack mules and five bars of silver and one of gold to help complete the task. Cerdic said that since Wulfhere was likely to remain in the north the situation in Glawmæd needed to be resolved. He therefore made Lucnot the Þegn of Glawmæd as he had been loyal and he thought it a good thing that Britons also got promoted to positions of responsibility. They all returned to Glawmæd to prepare for the trip into the north. Wulfhere made a list of things that he thought might be useful and paid for it with the silver Cerdic had given. Dunstan wondered if they were expected to build a fortification and thought that perhaps they did not have the right skills to do it properly. He did offer to make withies for the settlement but Wulfhere thought that if the area was hostile that he would prefer the gates to be of something more solid than withies. Uthric said that solving that problem would be Wulfhere's task. He was now a KingsÞegn and Cerdic would be asking Wulfhere why their mission had failed. Wulfhere said that this was not an individual task but one that they all had a responsibility to fulfil. Uthric disagreed. He said that in his opinion Wulfhere had accepted the responsibility and as far as he was concerned Wulfhere was also the buffer between himself and Cerdic. So it would be Wulfhere that Cerdic would be asking if they failed in their task. They all thought that they would be in a relatively good position to achieve their task as they were held in high esteem in the north. They had restored Tadda to health, eliminated the threat to Taddenlæge from Cœlfrith and helped the Artrebates get justice. Wulfhere thought that Orin would he useful contact. He was not only likely to know the area but would have contacts with local settlements and people. The major concern that all had was how they would tell their wives that they were going away. This was always a point of contention and always fuelled by their mother, Hildegard, who had no faith in their timekeeping. Halig who was going north with them was keen to remind them that they had not been generous to Hildegard when they had gone to Ratae which had had negative consequences for their lives and relationships. Dunstan thought it was unfair of Halig to bring up their failure again. Halig said that he could accept that they had not meant to let their mother starve to death but he found it upsetting that they were still intending to kill Beorthric. He said he had only fond memories of Beorthric and particularly since he had paid with his own money to provide Halig with weapons and armour. He did not feel it was appropriate that has three elder brothers intended to kill Beorthric when they were the ones that had been negligent towards their mother and siblings. Wulfhere said this was an old argument and that it was his opinion it was not important at present. If and when they found Beorthric they could decide on the proper course of action. Dunstan agreed but said that he still intended to kill both Beorthric and Wilfrith. Wulfhere stopped the argument by sending Dunstan to get some dry firewood for the trip that they could load on the mules. Uthric told Meire that he was likely to be gone three or four moons and gave her silver that would last for a year. Wulfhere told Bronwyn that it was likely that he would be back within one and a half Moons and Dunstan told Gwenith he would be home inside a moon to be on time for the birth of their child. Both Wulfhere and Dunstan left their wives silver that would last half a year. All three woman discussed the Brothers intended absences with Hildegard. Hildegard said that in her opinion her sons had no intention of being back either in one moon or in four moons. Why else would they have given them so much money? She said it was her greatest regret that she had not been able to breed sons who were able to keep to their word and were good at time-keeping. She thought that they had taken after their father in this and had not inherited her nature. Hrothgar had frequently left her and never returned on time. Wulfhere met with the warriors that Cerdic had sent when had arrived in the morning. They were led by Mærleswein, a veteran of many Shieldwalls. He has tall and his face was covered with scars from fights he had had over the years. Five of the others were also veterans and the rest had arrived from Friesland either last summer or had just come with the opening of the seas after the Winter. Wulfhere asked if they had any other skills other than fighting. Helpric said that he was a Smith in Jutland but had given that up to get land and silver in Britain. Most of the others were farmers or hunters. Eadbald said that he had trained dogs for an Ealdorman but when his lord was killed in a fight with another Ealdorman, he left and came to Britain to seek his fortune. The journey to Taddenlæge was without incident. They had stayed the night in Wincen Cæster and had been surprised how much repairs had been completed since Yule. Cerdic was not in Wincen Cæster but had gone south to meet with Stuf. At Taddenlæge they met with Tadda who had recovered from the sickness spirit that Dunric had sent to him. Tadda had not met Wulfhere, Uthric or Halig. Dunstan had been the only one to see Tadda after his recovery but he had been told how the others had thwarted Cœlfrith's attempt to kill him. He welcomed them and asked for their news. Rowena was also glad to meet them again and told them that she had gone back to being a merchant. She thought that her warrior days were now finished. Tadda held a feast and afterwards discussed how he could help them with Cerdic’s task. Wulfhere had already talked to Uthric about asking Orin ap Brinn if he could be of help and Tadda also suggested that this could be a useful idea. They thought it was better not to arrive at Orin's village with a Warband and left Mærleswein with twelve of their warriors. They took five warriors with them in case there was trouble but nothing of importance happened on the journey. They found Orin helping to re-construct his ruined village. He was welcoming particularly of Uthric for Uthric had saved his life when he had been imprisoned. Wulfhere told him of their task and asked Orin for information. Orin told them that the people who lived in these parts were fiercely independent. Most had chosen to live here because they did not want to be tied by oaths to some distance Ealdorman or King. Orin felt that Wulfhere would have his work cut out for him. Nevertheless, he explained to Wulfhere about the closest settlements that he knew. Some of them were friendly and others would be neutral to any proposal of alliance. Orin told them that in the north the old peoples road split into two. One branch went north until it came to the river Cunnet that in Saxon was known as the Kinnete. The river was the boundary for the Kingdom of Gwent and the bridge was guarded by a fort called Brige. If they had followed the north-west road they would have come to Spinae, a town that also guarded the crossings of the Kinnete. The Kinnete was a long and wide river and flowed into the Tamyse. If the Hrothgarsons took the road east from Calleva they would come to Dunbriwan. The Chieftain there was Taran and his Hillfort guarded the ford at the Bourne. Taran was friendly to Tadda and paid taxes in previous years. If they followed the Bourne to the Tamyse then they would come to the wide marsh that protected Duromagus. Issa was the Chieftain and he was friendly with Tadda. His marsh people were famous for eels and fish which they traded with Taddenlæge. He had heard Rowena packed the eels in salt and sent them south. Further to the west of Dunbriwan were two Saxon villages. Farnhamble had a Thane called Darwyne. They were fiercely independent and had not paid any taxes to anyone in years. They worked a salt mine and made charcoal for the smiths of Venta. On the banks of the Tamyse was the village of Hambladensted. The Thane of Hambladensted was a man called Aart. It is a strong village that made their living from fishing the river. They too are independent and pay no taxes. Wulfhere asked if they had boats that could carry people across the Tamyse but Orin said that he thought it unlikely as their boats would be small and light. The villagers lived by fishing and were unlikely to be interested in wars. Another half day march from Hambladensted they would come to Pontes. Pontes had a large bridge that stretched across the Tamyse. Dunstan asked if Pontes was occupied by anyone but Orin said he thought it was unlikely. Pontes was difficult to hold without a big Warband because it had no fortifications. Uthric thought that whoever had built Pontes had done a poor job if they had not fortified such a strategic point. Orin said that he had not been there for many years. but when it was built by the Romans, people had not needed fortifications. Dunstan asked who the Romans were and where they dwelt. Uthric said that he had heard that they lived near Kernow and were allied to the Dumnonians. Orin said that the Romans had left Britain years ago to go back to their city called Rome. They had lived in Britain for hundreds of years and all that was left of them were their buildings and roads. Wulfhere asked if they would come back in the future but Orin said he did not expect them to return. Their cities were being attacked and their kings were fighting each other. He thought it was likely they had been defeated by their enemies so Wulfhere did not have to worry about having to fight Romans. Wulfhere asked Orin if he could travel with them to be a guide and help with the people they met. Orin declined. He said that they were trying to rebuild their destroyed villages and make sure the fields were planted. He said that Tadda had helped getting more livestock but it was going to be a hungry year. He needed to be sure that the people had proper shelter for the winter. The Hrothgarsons returned to Taddenlæge and got their men ready. They were heartened that Orin’s son, Brinn, had come to join them. He was keen for some adventure and told them he had persuaded his father to let him travel as a guide for the Hrothgarsons. Brinn was a tall, well-built 14-year-old. He said that he had experience in fighting when Cœlfrith's men had attacked their villages and had fought at the battle of the Calleva Road and at the taking of Venta. Wulfhere said that despite his experience in recent wars he would prefer if Brinn didn’t join in any fighting as he was unsure how he could tell his father that Brinn had suffered a misfortune. They discussed how they might achieve Cerdic's aims. Dunstan thought it would be best to go directly to Pontes. He was keen to see a bridge that the Romans had built. Uthric said that one bridge was much the same as another and it was unlikely that it was as impressive as the bridge at Lundenwic. Tadda had told them what he knew of Pontes. He was of the opinion that no-one had tried to hold it because there was no hinterland to grow food. Any Warband stationed there permanantly would need others to supply them so it would be costly. Wulfhere was unsure how they should proceed. He was keen to visit all the villages to find out how things stood but was rather pessimistic about finding a bridge if they could not hold Pontes. Halig said that they might not be able to eliminate hostiles but they could make alliances. After more discussions they agreed that Pontes should be their first goal and they could visit the villages along the way. Wulfhere thought that the settlements in the north in Gwent were unlikely to be helpful in their fulfilling their task and he did not think Cerdic would be pleased if they invaded Gwent. Dunstan remembered that he had heard Aelle's son, Cissa, was in Aeglesburgh and he asked Tadda if he had heard any news of his visit. Tadda said that he had not had much time to listen to the news but he had heard that Cissa was hoping to secure the area for Aelle. Dunstan said that they would need to be careful. Wulfhere agreed and said that he did not see their job as starting a war between Aelle and Cerdic. Brinn proved an interesting guide. He was able to tell them stories about this land they walked through. When they came out of the forest they could see the valley slope down to the river Tamyse. They all felt a bit exposed by the open lands. Smoke from villages’ cooking fires could be seen to the west, north and east. Dunstan thought that a lot of people lived in this area. Brinn said that previously more people had lived along the banks of the Tamyse but war and plague had reduced their numbers. People had moved away from the river and into the forests where they could be safe. At evening they came to Dunbriwan. Their approach caused concern and they could see the villagers running to the safety of the Hillfort. Brinn said that this was a usual reaction if armed men approached. People were suspicious and with good reason. Most Warbands took what they wanted without paying. Wulfhere took his brothers and Brinn forward. They laid down their spears and shields and went forward signifying they wanted to talk. Four men left the village and walked towards them. One of the men introduced himself as Taran ap Gweir, Chieftain of the village. Wulfhere introduced himself and his brothers. Taran knew Brinn and he gave them welcome for his sake. Wulfhere explained that they had been sent by Cerdic who was King of these parts. Taran said that he was surprised by this news and that he had not heard of Cerdic. He said that he usually paid his taxes to Tadda and he was sure that Tadda was not called Cerdic. Wulfhere had to spend some time explaining the new political situation. Taran said that in his opinion it didn't change his situation as he would continue to pay his taxes to Tadda and what Tadda did with his own oath was of little concern to him or his people. He did invite the Hrothgarsons to spend the night in his Hall. He would not allow eighteen warriors inside the Hillfort but made room for them to sleep in one of the outhouses outside the palisade. In the morning Wulfhere gave Taran a silver armring as a gift from Cerdic. Taran was impressed. He had not been given an armring from a King before and asked them to send his gratitude. He said that he would keep his oath to Tadda who he knew to be a good man despite the recent troubles in the area. From the hilltop they saw the valley better in the morning light. Their initial impression that the valley was well populated was confirmed. To the west they could see the border fortress of Brige on the banks of the Kinnete and further off the town of Spinae. They bade farewell to Taran and went to the north along the Bourne to talk with Issa in Duromagus. Duromagus was built on a hill in the middle of a marsh. They could not get closer than five bow shots. Dunstan thought that there might be a path through the marsh and pointed to the withies that seemed to mark out a hidden way. If there was a path it was under water and none of them wanted to attempt a passage without a local guide. Uthric and Dunstan waved until they saw one of the marsh boats come toward them. The Warband moved back at Wulfhere's request and he rest laid down their weapons to signify they came in peace. The boat stopped a bow length away and a man who named himself as Issa ap Arryn asked them for the news. Wulfhere told Issa that he brought messages from Cerdic. Issa agreed to come closer and Wulfhere explained why he had come. Issa was obviously an experienced warrior but he said that that life was now behind him and that now his goal was to protect his people. He confirmed that he would continue to pay his taxes to Tadda and when Wulfhere gave him an armring he was pleased. He did not offer to take the group to Duromagus and none of them pressed the issue. Issa bade farewell and told Brinn to tell his father to visit when Orin had time to do so. The Warband returned to the Roman road and went north-east towards Pontes. On the way they passed numerous ruins of houses. Dunstan thought that the Romans must have needed lots of space. Their houses were larger than most Saxon or British houses and were constructed with stone. Some of the houses still had colourful pictures on the walls but most were ruins which had been scavenged for stone. Wulfhere decided that they should press on to Pontes and visit Farnhamble and Hambladensted on the way back. He thought otherwise they would arrive in Pontes after dark and he thought that could make for a difficult situation. Pontes is dominated by a huge stone bridge that crosses the Tamyse. There is another tributary river that joins the Tamyse from the north and there is a lesser bridge there too. Nearly all the buildings on the south bank were ruins but the bridge remained. There were two towers on either end of the bridge that must have at one time been able to stop people crossing. They could not see any sign of life on the buildings of the north bank. They crossed the Bridge and searched the buildings. There were recent signs of occupation but whoever had lived there had left. One of the large buildings had been used as a byre for cattle and they found difficulty exploring it because of the dung, the smell and the flies. Dunstan thought the smell of byre reminded him of Kernow and he shuddered at the thought. In other buildings there were signs that people had cooked but the ashes were cold. Ingeld and Brynstan told Wulfhere that they had found a large building that was defensible which they could all sleep in. The floor had been tiled but someone had broken sections in the middle to make a fire pit. They brought their gear into the building but when a strong gust of wind lifted dust and swirled it around several of the men thought that Old peoples’ ghosts were coming to haunt them and wouldn't go in. Wulfhere had to re-assure them that they would be protected from ghosts but many of the men did not sleep well. In the morning they continued to look at the buildings. Alongside Roman buildings there were halls that had been built by Saxons and British. Dunstan thought many different people had lived here but it seemed none could hold it for long, Uthric thought they should maybe track the cattle who had been here recently as that might lead to a fruitful encounter. Mærleswein had posted guards on the north bridge and the guards alerted Wulfhere that there was a warband coming from the northwest. Wulfhere told his men to withdraw across the bridge to the south bank. He and Dunstan climbed the tower on the north side of the bridge. They could not recognise the badge on the shields and left to re-join their men. Dunstan told Uthric that the men coming towards them had bulls on their shields. Uthric said that he was sure Cœlfrith had a bull on his shields. He wondered if Aelle had really killed Cœlfrith after all and that the rumours of his death had been just rumours. The other Warband stopped on the north side of bridge and a man walked forward. He laid down his spear and shield. Uthric said that he was surprised that neither Dunstan nor Wulfhere had recognised Cissa's charging bull that was on the man's shield. Wulfhere went forward to the middle of the bridge to where the other man had stopped. He named himself as Sæwine Godwinson one of Cissa's Þegns. He asked who Wulfhere was and why he had a Warband in Aelle's lands. Wulfhere acknowledged Sæwine and told him he was Cerdic's Þegn. Sæwine said he was surprised that Cerdic had men in the north and was keen for Wulfhere to explain his purpose in being here. Wulfhere said that they were viewing the bridge as they had been told it was a marvel. Sæwine did not believe that Wulfhere was merely viewing bridges and he said that he had two options. He could either leave immediately or come with him to Aeglesburgh and swear an oath to Cissa. Wulfhere said that he was happy to withdraw as he had no wish to antagonise Cissa. He said he was oath sworn to Cerdic and therefore sadly felt unable to go to Aeglesburgh. The Conference ended and both men returned to their Warbands. Wulfhere took his men along the Roman road and stopped at Farnhamble. He met with Darwyne and told him his purpose. Darwyne said that he was not presently interested in what Kings did or said. In his opinion kings wanted money for wars and the ordinary people got little benefit from these conflicts other than violent death, their farms destroyed and their women and children enslaved. Besides he said Kings come and go and they are only interested in taxes, he was keen that his village was left in peace. He said that Cerdic was welcome to spend as much time around here as he wished but Farnhamble would not be paying taxes. Wulfhere said that he thought Darwyne had a short-sighted view and there were other things to consider when it came to Kings but he said he would accept his decision and discuss it with Cerdic. He gifted Darwyne an armring and left. The Warband travelled to Hambladensted and met with the Thane, Aart. Aart gave much the same answer as Darwyne. He said that he and his people valued their independence and while he would not be hostile to Cerdic he did not see any benefits in swearing an oath to him. Wulfhere said that in his opinion these were dangerous times and that situations could change quickly. Aart said that in his experience the world around here changed slowly like the passing of the river but he had no difficulty in accepting Cerdic's gift of an armring. It was getting toward evening and Wulfhere said that they needed to find a camp. It was too far to return to Dunbriwan so they decided to camp in the ruins of a Roman villa. Dunstan wasn't keen to stay the night. He said that ever since the ghosts had been disturbed in Pontes they had been unlucky. Wulfhere said that he was concerned that recently Dunstan had become superstitious. Dunstan said he had still not got over the horror of Kernow which was making him have evil dreams. Besides he thought it unwise to provoke more ghosts. In the morning they awoke to see people coming down the Roman road from the north. They were a large group of woman and children and when they got closer they could see that all the warriors with them were wounded. All four brothers went to find out the news. The people were led by a warrior called Wulfroth and they had come from a place called Wealdnathorp, on the north side of the Tamyse. Wulfroth explained that they had rejected Cissa's offer to swear an oath to him and several days later their steads had been attacked and burnt. He believed that they had been allowed to escape but did not know for what purpose. Wulfhere gave them food because none of them had eaten for days and offered to escort them somewhere safe. He thought that he could take them to Taddenlæge but they were moving slowly and travelling with them for any long distance was going to be slow. The children needed rest and the wounded warriors could hardly stand. While he was deliberating about what was best with his brothers, Eadbald drew their attention to smoke that was visible in the north. Eadbald said that he was sure the smoke came from burning thatch, which he thought would mean more villages burning. The Warband escorted the refugees back to Dunbriwan and agreed with Taran to let them stay the night. Wulfhere gave Taran another armring as payment and then took his brothers to see Issa in Duromagus. They discussed how things stood and warned Issa that it was likely trouble was coming his way. Issa said that he thought Duromagus would be safe because the marsh protected it from attack and unless someone spent time and effort to understand the twists and turns of the marshes. He acknowledged that Aelle's men seemed to clearing the area of any settlements that would not swear oaths to him. Wulfhere gave him another armring as he felt that Issa might need silver in the near future. They spent the night in Dunbriwan to allow the woman and children to rest and get food. Wulfhere fretted that any attempt to move fast would be thwarted by slow moving children and he was in a hurry to make sure the settlements were protected. The next day it became clear that the refugees would not be able to travel. Many of the children were unwell after two days of travelling and the old people were still exhausted. The fires on the north side of the river continued to burn throughout the day and Wulfhere warned Taran that he could expect more refugees coming south. Uthric thought it unlikely that the refugees could be absorbed by Taddenlæge and its surrounding villages. The death, destruction and ruin of the crops last year had put a strain on the available food and shelter. Dunstan and Halig thought it would be better to send them to Wincen Cæster but all wondered how many would die on the way, They stood on the fighting platform and watched to the north throughout the day. In the late afternoon, more refugees could be seen coming down the Roman road from Pontes. Wulfhere took some of the Warband north to help the refugees and find out information. They were led by Stranebeorg. He had three injured warriors and fifty-two children, woman and older people. Stranebeorg told of sudden attacks by Aelle's men and destruction of their village. They had been driven south by Spearmen until they crossed the bridge at Pontes. The Hrothgarsons wondered at the strategy behind the refugees. Dunstan said that he thought it was a simple answer, Aelle was clearing the north of people who would not support him. Wulfhere agreed and said he suspected if the positions were reversed Cerdic would be doing exactly the same. They discussed what they should do about the refugees. Wulfhere was quite forthright in his view. In his opinion it was not possible to look after all these people. He said that he was prepared to give them what food they had left and then they must make a decision to either go to Wincen Cæster and seek help from Cerdic or to continue down the Roman road and found a new settlement on Old Wincen Cæster Hill. The people were not happy with Wulfhere's decision. They pointed out that many of the children and older people would die on such a journey. Wulfhere said that this was the way of Miðgarðr and that he had done what he could and could do no more. Stranebeorg said that this was the reason that they never gave their oaths to kings. In the end, ordinary people were left to find their own way unless the king wanted taxes. Wulfhere shrugged and said that he had done all he could. He gave Taran another armring to help look after the refugees until they were strong enough to continue their journey. Towards late afternoon a shout came from the guards on the fighting platform. They had seen smoke rising from the direction of Hambladensted and people went to the walls to see if they could see what was happening. The smoke was definitely from south of the river and there was a discussion on what that portended. Wulfhere agreed that the most likely explanation was that Aelle had sent troops over the river and was now attacking villages that would not give him their oaths. Wulfhere said that he had invested an armring in Hambladensted and that in order to protect that investment they should see what had occurred. Wulfhere told Uthric to take the men to Hambladensted and use this as an opportunity to make friends and alliances. Wulfhere sent his brothers and sixteen warriors to see what was happening at Hambladensted. He kept two warriors to accompany him to Wincen Cæster. He was of the opinion that Cerdic urgently needed to understand what was happening in the north and send more men. He thought that it would be best to argue the case himself rather than just send a messenger. He delayed his departure while he talked to Taran about his thoughts for the refugees. He was interrupted by one of the guards who told him there were more refugees on the road. Wulfhere and Taran went to the walls and watched the crowd of people moving down the road. There appeared to be spearmen behind them who were marshalling them toward Hambladensted. It was too far to count how many spearmen there were but their red and black shields identified them as belonging to Aelle's son, Cissa. There was no sign of the troops Wulfhere had sent to Hambladensted so he assumed that they must have got there and would probably be trapped by the force behind the refugees. In Hambladensted, Uthric was discussing the situation with the Thane, Aart. Aart had allowed them inside the palisade and Uthric's men had helped extinguish the fire in the storehouse where the boat supplies were kept. Uthric asked Aart what had happened and Aart told him that they had been attacked by people from boats who had come ashore and killed a few villagers and had then set the store house on fire and had gone away again. He thought they might have been Aelle's men but could not be sure. Uthric and Dunstan discussed the raid. Dunstan thought that the purpose might have been to calculate the defences. They were interrupted in their discussion by shouts from the guards on the wall. A crowd of woman and children had appeared out of the forest and were asking for entry. The women were saying they had been forced to come here by spearmen. Aart refused to open the gates as he feared that the spearmen were hiding in the woods and would use the opportunity of the open gates to force an entry into Hambladensted. He was forced to reconsider when his own people appeared running out of the forest and demanded entry. They appeared to have been forced from their steadings by spearmen. Dark clouds of smoke rose behind them. Aart ordered the gate to be opened and got his warriors to form a shield wall outside the gate to protect the people as they were going in. In the end no spearmen appeared out of the forest and the people were bought inside. Aart tried to get information from the people who had seen the spearmen but no-one could give accurate numbers. Most people said there were hundreds. Aart admitted he was at a loss about what to do. Uthric said that he and his men would support Aart in the defence but he should remember that they were Cerdic's men and that without Cerdic’s help they would likely be overwhelmed. Aart said that he was mindful of such connotations and if they survived this then they could talk about it more. In the meantime, they calmed the distressed people who had fled the spearmen and gave the northern refugees food and water. Many of those that fled had not brought weapons and Aart feared that their defence was severely reduced. The arrival of spearmen on the northern road forced Wulfhere to rethink his plans. He decided that he would gather what warriors he could from the surrounding villages and defend their settlements. Wulfhere left Taran to gather the warriors. Taran was willing to commit to the actions Wulfhere proposed but he was not willing to leave Dunbriwan undefended. They eventually agreed that the nine wounded warriors would stay in Dunbriwan and would be supported by the fyrd. Taran armed his fifteen warriors and awaited Wulfhere's return from seeking help in Duromagus with Issa. Wulfhere did not find Issa hard to persuade but like Taran he was not willing to leave his village undefended. He left five warriors and the fyrd to defend the village. He did not think the risk great as no Warband could easily attack Duromagus because of the surrounding marshes and wetlands. Wulfhere was disappointed that Issa could only give a further nine spearmen but he did not make his disappointment known and only grumbled to himself. Issa was an experienced spearman and had led Warbands in his youth and was only too keen to get involved in fighting. Now that he was going to war again Issa was of the opinion that life had been too tame recently. Wulfhere had now twenty-six spearmen which he thought formidable but he did not know the number of his enemies. He thought it wise to talk to Darwyne and ask his views in joining an alliance against Aelle’s forces. They set off along the Roman road but their scouts reported that there were spearmen on the road on the south side of the Pontes Bridge. It was too far away for the numbers to be counted but it looked like there were more than forty spearmen. Taran asked one of his hunters to take them through the forest game trails to Farnhamble so that they would not been seen by the enemy. Darwyne had seen the burning steads in the south and had withdrawn his people and their animals behind the stockade. The arrival of spearmen caused a panic but Wulfhere identified himself and Darwyne came out to meet him. Darwyne was not at first interested in Wulfhere's proposal to join forces to fight the invading Warbands but when he saw the Warband that had come over the bridge at Pontes and he listened to Wulfhere's views that Aelle would not allow any independent settlements remain in the area. Wulfhere said that they had two options that they could either all fight together or get destroyed individually. He pointed out that Issa and Taran had also had to make decisions to fight. Both could have stayed behind their walls and been safe. Darwyne recognised the truth in Wulfhere's words. He agreed he and ten warriors would join Wulfhere's alliance. Darwyne sent the old, the women and children into the forest. He kept some men of the fyrd to guard the walls so that they would have a fortified place to retreat to if they were overcome by Aelle's men. The battle took place on the Roman Road south of Farnhamble. Wulfhere, Darwyne,bIssa and Taran met with Bryning and Mearcred before the battle. Bryning was an Ealdorman of Aelle and offered to accept their surrender. He said that they would be treated well if they swore allegiance to Aelle. Wulfhere declined his offer and suggested that Bryning might want to go back north of the River. Wulfhere thought it might be a pity that Bryning and his men would leave their bones on the road. He said he would try to make sure they were buried but he said he could not be sure it would be his priority as he was busy at that moment. Bryning laughed at Wulfhere and pointed out that he was outnumbered and faced hardened warriors whereas his force had spent their time farming for the last number of years. He was also dismissive of the Artrebates who he declared to be an effete and weak force. Issa, when it was translated for him, spat at Bryning’s feet and promised he would use his head as a standard. The conference was finished and both sides separated to marshal their warriors into a Shieldwall. Wulfhere encouraged his men by telling them that they were fighting for their villages and the right not to be dictated to by Aelle. He told them they had worked hard to build their farms and their children deserved peace and should inherit their hard work. His men cheered him and were strengthened in their view that they would win the battle. Bryning was confident of victory but his men were not keen to close the Shieldwalls. They knew they were going to win but they would rather not have to fight and risk injury or death. As they advanced they did not lock shields properly and advanced slowly. Issa was an experienced Warleader and although it had been many years since he stood in or commanded a Shieldwall, he organised it well. He recognised the reluctance of the enemy and shouted at his troops to advance quickly. The Shieldwalls met and pushed and shoved each other. Greater numbers began to tell and the wings of Wulfhere's force were under pressure. Issa roared at his men in the centre to follow him into a gap in the enemy wall where the fighting had become ferocious. Issa speared Bryning in the throat and the enemy recoiled when they saw their Warleader die. Issa encouraged the men forward again and the enemy centre broke and started to flee. Issa however did not see his victory. An axe caught him in the helmet and while he was stunned one of the enemy rear rank stabbed him with a spear in the eye. The force of the blow was stopped by the cheek piece of his helmet and although he lived he was known from then on as Issa One-eye. Darwyne too was seriously injured defending the right flank, taking a spear wound to the thigh and it would be weeks before he would be able to walk. Taran had also suffered a serious wound from an axe in the shoulder. Afterwards he developed a fever and spent several days close to death before he eventually recovered. Wulfhere allowed his men to pursue the broken enemy but called them back as he was keen to go to the help of his brothers in Hambladensted. He could see smoke rising in the forest and thought it did not bode well. Wulfhere's decision to recall the men from the pursuit allowed many of the enemy to escape over the Pontes bridge but he thought it would carry the message to Aelle that taking the south of the Tamyse would be difficult. He took their wounded back to Farnhamble and took Bryning's head and put it on a spear for his standard, just as Issa had promised. He thought it might discourage the enemy if it came to another battle. At Hambladensted the village was overcrowded by the people driven in by the spearmen from their scattered dwellings outside the palisade and by the refugees from the north. From the fighting platform they could see spearmen in the forest watching the defenders. Dunstan thought they were in trouble. They had about forty warriors and it was unlikely they could hold the palisade if the enemy had large numbers. Three men came out of the forest and laid down their weapons seeking a Conference. Aart, Uthric and Dunstan went out to meet them and introduced themselves to Edric, Sæwine and Wynsig. Edric who was an Ealdorman, asked Aart to surrender and spare his men and their families slaughter. Edric said that Aelle was a good Brytenwealda and would support them if they agreed to swear an oath to him. Aart said that he had not been keen to swear an oath to any king. He said he wanted to be clear that he was not particularly against Aelle but his people had come north to avoid the wars that kings always brought. Edric said that unfortunately this was a time to choose sides and that independence was no longer an option. Aelle was asserting his right to these lands and they could choose loyalty or death. He said that it didn’t matter to him what they chose. Dunstan offered to fight Edric in single combat but Edric just laughed at him. Edric said that it was beneath his status to dispatch young boys. Dunstan would have pursued the matter but Uthric told him to let the matter go. Dunstan complained to Uthric that he just did not want to see him triumph again. Uthric pointed out that Edric was a battle-hardened veteran who looked like he had spent his whole life fighting. While Dunstan’s victory over Anyon had been impressive he was like a lamb in comparison with Edric. Halig said that despite their differences about Beorthric and their mother, he would prefer Dunstan to be alive. and he was glad Edric had refused the fight. Aart arranged fifteen men on the palisade either side of the gate. Uthric commanded the left side of the gate and Aart took the right. A small force of ten warriors under the command of Dunstan and Halig were left in reserve in reinforce either palisade if they became overwhelmed. Their plans went array when they saw five small boats approaching the shore where there was no protecting palisade. Dunstan and Halig knew that they would have to beat the men landing from the boats or they were doomed. Outside two separate Warbands formed up to assault the palisade. The war band in front of Uthric's section made an assault against the palisade. His men met the assault by throwing a hail of javelins and rocks. They repulsed the attack and one of his men wounded Edric with a javelin. Edric’s men dragged him out of range of more missiles. Uthric saw that Edric looked badly wounded and thought that he was unlikely to participate in further fighting. Dunstan and Halig had told some of the woman to collect rocks and asked for volunteers to pelt the boats with missiles. There was thick mud on the shore and the boats grounded before they reached solid ground. Two men jumped out of the two lead boats but were immediately struck down by a hail of javelins and rocks. The next two men floundered in the deep mud and could not move toward the shore. One was injured by one of the hunter’s bows and their comrades pulled them back into the boats. They rowed off seemingly having no appetite for a landing. The men on the bank jeered at them and made obscene gestures. Halig said that if he had been attacking by boat he would have checked that the river was higher before trying to land. Dunstan acknowledged Halig's view and said that it is definitely hard to fight if you are up to your knees in mud. Their jubilation was short lived when they heard screams and warning calls from behind. Aart had a larger section of the palisade to defend than Uthric. Some of the Warband outside engaged his men in throwing javelins and making feint charges against the wall while others went to the far side and climbed over the undefended palisade. Aart had tried to warn the Uthric and Dunstan but they were already engaged in fighting and did not hear his warning in time. By the time the others realised what had happened there was already an enemy shield wall forming inside the palisade. Aart withdrew his men from the palisade so that they would not be attacked from the front and the rear. He formed them up in a thin shield wall hoping to protect their woman and children. He shouted for others to join him. Uthric saw the Warband in front of him running to the right and guessed that something must have happened on the other palisade. He brought his men to strengthen Aart’s thin wall. Dunstan and Halig brought their men too and added to the line that protected the children and woman. The two Warbands faced each other only briefly before both Shieldwalls clashed. The sounds of battle drowned out all other noise with the grinding death of the Shieldwalls. The defenders although outnumbered, were fighting for their lives and fought fiercely and their ferocity at first seemed to take them forward. However weight of numbers began to tell. No matter how many of the enemy they killed, their Shieldwall was getting bigger as more of the enemy climbed over the palisade and the defender’s wall grew smaller as men fell wounded or dead. Despite their loses the defenders did not give way until both sides became exhausted and the Shieldwalls drew apart, separated by a wall of dead or dying. By this time many of the woman and children had escaped out the now open gate. All or most of the enemy were now inside the palisade and their escape was unopposed. Both sides had fought themselves to a standstill. Aart had been killed trying to rescue his son who had been wounded and the remaining warriors looked to Uthric for leadership. Uthric knew that if the enemy charged again their end would be swift. Dunstan said that he thought that they had given a good account of themselves and despite being outnumbered they had outfought their enemies. He said he was content to die knowing that he had sent many warriors to their deaths. Halig said he had a different opinion. He said that while he was not afraid to die, he had only begun to enjoy seeing different lands and that this had encouraged him to do more travelling. He also thought that if they tried to escape now most of them would likely make it as the enemy, in his opinion, did not look up for more fighting. Uthric agreed and on his command, they ran out of the gate. The enemy warriors only half-heartedly chased them. They seemed content that they had won the battle and not particularly interested in putting themselves at further unnecessary risk. Uthric led his few warriors south hoping to find safety at Farnhamble. He did not think that the men would make it to Dunbriwan without being overrun by the enemy. As they came out of the woods they met Wulfhere coming north with the remnants of his army. Wulfhere discussed if they should go back to Hambladensted and attack when the enemy thought they were safe. Uthric said that he was unsure how many of the enemy were left but he knew that none of the men he had brought could fight again without a rest. Wulfhere only had thirty-seven warriors but both Dunstan and Halig estimated the enemy still had twice the numbers. Wulfhere agreed reluctantly to retreat to Farnhamble. They collected the woman and children who had fled and were scattered throughout the woods and took them to Farnhamble. Wulfhere and Halig inspected the fortifications at Farnhamble and decided that they could not be held against an overwhelming attack. They reluctantly thought that they would need to retreat to either Dunbriwan or Duromagus. Dunbriwan was a hillfort and had steep embankment with a palisade and fighting platform. To assault it the enemy would suffer significant loses. Duromagus was built on a hill in the marshes, and would be almost impossible to assault either by land or by river. Both were good sites for defence but in the end, they chose Dunbriwan so they could control the road coming from the south. Wulfhere still hoped that Cerdic would send warriors north to support them. It took almost a day to get everyone ready to leave Farnhamble. They collected everything of value that they could carry and buried whatever they couldn't take in the hope that they could return to get it. Wulfhere asked that the hunters who knew the trails through the forest, to mark out a path that the people could take so they would not be seen by the enemy. They could see the enemy watching them from a distance. It seemed that no-one was really intent on fighting at present. Aelle's men collected their dead from the battle on the road and buried or burnt them on pyres. They were content to watch Farnhamble and did not come close enough to see the preparations to leave. Wulfhere kept as many men on the palisade as possible to keep the pretence that they were prepared to defend the village. The battles they had fought had been vicious affairs and not many of either his own warriors or seemingly the enemy wanted another battle. When darkness fell, Wulfhere got the villagers to leave in small groups and make their way through the forest. The distance to Dunbriwan was not far but they were encumbered by food, livestock, children and the old. It was just before dawn when the last people left Farnhamble. Wulfhere hoped that the enemy would not notice they had gone and that by the time they did it would be too late for pursuit. Wulfhere did not want to fight a running battle through the forest. He knew his men would not keep in any order as they would want to protect their families. Fortunately, either the enemy had not noticed their departure or were not interested in pursuing a retreating enemy. It took most of the day for all the stragglers to make it to safety. The warriors were exhausted in trying to move so many people and there were lots of grumbling but not within Wulfhere's hearing. Wulfhere called his brothers and Issa to make plans for defence. Taran was still feverish and did not take part in the conference. Darwyne was equally too hurt to attend and his daughter told Wulfhere that she feared he would die of his wounds. Issa was keen that Duromagus be reinforced with some more warriors. He had only left five when he had gone with Wulfhere. He was willing to stay in Dunbriwan to help organise the defence and help with the Artrebate warriors who might not be keen to take orders from a Sais. They also made a decision to send the women and children to Taddenlæge and Dunstan volunteered to take them. The plan was to get all non-combatants out of Dunbriwan and also ask Tadda for some help. If the northern villages fell to Aelle it would be likely that Taddenlæge would be next. Dunstan set off in the morning and by midday an enemy army had encamped outside the walls of Dunbriwan. Uthric and Wulfhere counted the warriors and estimated there were at least 150 of them. Halig was of the opinion that even with an army that size they would be safe inside the walls. They had food to last several months and the army outside had a long supply chain. Over the next few days the besiegers tested out the strength of the defences by feinting attacks but they did not press any attack home. It was clear that climbing the bank to the palisade would end in death and whoever commanded the troops would likely not risk it. The besiegers spent the time making shelters on the other side of the ford. They did not seem worried about surrounding the village and Wulfhere thought it would be possible to get men in and out. After two day of slow travel, Dunstan arrived in Taddenlæge. He spoke at length with Tadda and Rowena, explaining what had befallen the settlements on the Tamyse. Tadda said that he was willing to send men north became both Taran and Issa paid taxes and he was obliged to help them. He was not that thrilled by the number of refugees Dunstan had brought. Food was still in short supply and Dunstan had added almost 200 hungry people. Dunstan was apologetic and gave Tadda two armrings to go towards some of the cost. He thought that Tadda might want to send some of the northern Tamyse refugees on to Wincen Cæster in the hope that Cerdic could feed them. Tadda agreed that if they were to have a chance of survival he had no other option but he thought Cerdic might equally not be impressed as he was aware there were food shortages until the harvest was gathered. Dunstan was keen to return north as soon as possible and asked Tadda how quick he could have men ready. Tadda said that ideally he would like three days to get the men equipped and make thrice-baked bread for trail rations. Dunstan thought that if they didn't hurry they might arrive too late and all they would be able to do would be to bury the dead bodies. Tadda agreed that this could be a possible outcome but he thought that Aelle would have difficulty assaulting either Duromagus or Dunbriwan. Dunstan asked if he had seen the messenger Wulfhere had sent five days ago. Tadda confirmed that Heathbeorht had passed through four days ago and would have been with Cerdic two days ago. Tadda asked Dunstan how large Aelle’s army had been but Dunstan said that he could not be sure. The fighting had been ferocious and they could not rule out that Cissa had not sent reinforcements. Dunstan left at first light with twenty warriors. He asked Tadda to tell Cerdic to hurry if he did not want to lose the south side of the Tamyse. As Dunstan approached Dunbriwan he could see that his brothers still held the village. He came along the road hoping to get inside before the besiegers on the other side of the ford noticed. Wulfhere was told by some of the guards that Dunstan was coming along the road with reinforcements. Wulfhere sent Halig and Uthric to guard the east walls with ten men each and some of the fyrd. He took forty men outside the walls and formed a Shieldwall outside the west gate. Aelle's men noticed the newcomers and sent over a hundred warriors across the ford to intercept Dunstan's force. They did not see Wulfhere's force hidden behind the hill of the fortification and where surprised by an already formed Shieldwall. Their Þegn shouted at them to move toward Wulfhere’s force to engage them. It seemed that it was a race for Dunstan's men to get to the gate before Wulfhere's force was engaged by an overwhelming greater force. Uthric could see that Wulfhere's force was in danger from the east wall but he could not move to help because two smaller forces had moved to their section of the wall and if he took his men to the west gate they would climb over the palisade and the fortress would be lost. He and Halig had to content themselves with exchanging javelin throws with the enemy. Outside Wulfhere knew he had misjudged the speed of the enemy reaction and the numbers they had sent. The enemy was coming fast over the corn fields and was likely to engage him before Dunstan arrived. Wulfhere had never claimed to be lucky but that day his luck was there for everyone to see. The front ranks of the enemy force ran into an irrigation ditch and tumbled over. The following ranks either fell or jumped their comrades. Either way their momentum was stopped and they could not reform in time to engage Wulfhere's men. before Dunstan got to the gate and Wulfhere was able to withdrew and close the gate. He did say afterwards that he had considered charging the enemy but if he did not break them then he would have been heavily outnumbered. His men jeered at the enemy from the safety of the fighting platform. The next day three men came forward and laid down their weapons looking for a Conference. The leader introduced herself as Aethelstan Dycgheorhtson. Aethelstan said that he had decided to offer the defenders terms. If they surrendered then Aethelstan would allow them to leave unmolested. They could take their weapons and any goods they could carry. Wulfhere thanked Aethelstan for his offer but he felt compelled to remain in his place. Dunstan momentarily thought about challenging Aethelstan to single combat but decided that he would need to be very lucky to beat the Ealdorman. Aethelstan noticed Dunstan had been paying him close attention and asked Dunstan what had been on his mind. Dunstan was surprised at the question but decided to be forthright in his answer. He said that he had been weighing his chances if he challenged Aethelstan to single combat. Aethelstan laughed and said that he was more than welcome to try but Dunstan should be aware that he had fought twenty-three single combats and won them all. He said he admired Dunstan's thinking and if he would consider joining Aelle's men, he would be made very welcome. Dunstan thanked him for his offer but thought he should remain with his brothers. Aethelstan said that his offer to leave remained open until nightfall. He would come back tomorrow but the offer would be reduced and that every tenth man would be killed. The offer would remain open but increase by a tenth every day. Wulfhere said nothing in reply and left. Wulfhere called a conference and discussed Aethelstan’s offer with the other Þegns and his brothers. He said he thought the offer was to scare them. Wulfhere reckoned they had enough food for a month and it was unlikely Aethelstan could take Dunbriwan by assault. He hoped that Cerdic would send help within that time. Aethelstan met Wulfhere and Dunstan for three more days. He and Dunstan grew to respect each other in their exchanges and Aethelstan said he would exempt them from being killed when they eventually surrendered. Wulfhere said that he was expecting Cerdic to send help any day and then they could have a proper battle to see which King would rule south of the Tamyse. Aethelstan was amused by the boast and said he was confident that the King would still be Aelle. On the fourth day the defenders could see a Warband coming up the road from the south. The men on the wall cheered which alerted the besieging warband. They could see Aethelstan ride out alone towards the new warband and he had a conversation with the leader. He then rode back to his men and they began to leave and went east towards Pontes. A short time after, they could see Stuf's Wolf Standard approach and Wulfhere and his brothers went out to meet him. Wulfhere thanked him for coming. He told Stuf that they had been heavily outnumbered but had managed to hold unto most of the territory. Stuf listened to the news and praised their actions. He said he had agreed to meet Aethelstan in Pontes in two days to conclude a treaty and they were welcome to join him. He told them news from the south that Octa had declared war on Aelle and had besieged and taken Hamafunta and was now besieging Cissa Cæster. He thought that might attract Cissa’s attention back to the south. The peace of Pontes was concluded two days later. Aelle would hold the north of the Tamyse and Cerdic would hold the south Tamyse as far as Lundenwic.
  6. The Death of a Ring-giver and the West Saxon King In the morning there was more news that Ealdorman Cœlfrith had arrived with a strong Warband. The Hrothgarsons thought it best that they did not go abroad and stayed in Rowena's Hall. They created a small hiding place in the undercroft by stacking sacks of grain and flour so that it would take a lot of effort if anyone was searching for them. They discussed the situation with Rowena and Wulfhere told her the history that they had with Cœlfrith. Rowena said that there was a leæce who had come with Cœlfrith and he matched Dunstan’s description of Dunric. Dunstan thought that they might really be in trouble and he said to Wulfhere that they should have left earlier. He said that he was not afraid to die but would prefer if it was not at the hands of Dunric. The next day Dunric came to Rowena's Hall and asked for the Hrothgarsons. Rowena said that they had left Taddenlæge the previous night and she believed that they may have returned to their home having thought that there was nothing more that they wanted to do in the north. She said that she thought that they were unlikely to escape the Artrebate blockade and had more than likely been killed. Dunric was polite but suspicious and made Rowena nervous by continually sniffing the air. That night they again discussed leaving. Uthric could still not walk on his leg without frequent rest and he certainly would not be able to fight or run. Wulfhere was not keen to leave him and Dunstan said that the brothers had never been separated before. He thought that if they should die then they should die together. Uthric said he had no intention of dying yet and Dunstan should remember they had separated during the battles at Glawmæd and Cædering and they had managed to do so without coming to harm. He thought that this was one of those times that they should leave each other as they were always lucky in wars. Dunstan said that maybe that they should make their own wyrd and attack Cœlfrith and Dunric rather than leaving because they would be doing the people of Miðgarðr a favour if they managed to kill both of them. Wulfhere said that while this was a fine plan it was unlikely to work. Cœlfrith had over sixty warriors and they had three and one of them could still not walk. He thought that perhaps they needed to think of another plan. Dunstan was concerned that Cœlfrith must have come past Glawmæd on his way north. He thought that this might be bad news for their mother and wives. Wulfhere said that this was unlikely as Coelfrith would have been foolish to openly attack one of Cerdic's villages. That would be a declaration of war and invite reprisals when Cœlfrith had gone north. Yet he conceded that Coelfrith could have been spiteful enough to do something to their mother and wives but consoled himself that when he had left the south, Cœlfrith had not known the Hrothgarsons were at Taddenlæge. The night was dark and cloudy and with Rowena’s help Wulhere and Dunstan slipped over the wall and safely made their way along the Arle and kept east until they reached the upper Moen. They then travelled south over open land and did not encounter many people. Those that they saw in the distance hurried away without making contact. Wulfhere thought people were afraid and he suspected the rumours of war had made people fearful of armed men. They spent the night in Old Wincen Cæster Hill and recalled their fight with the Déaþscufa and Ætremód. When he slept, Dunstan had nightmares about the Ætremód and the darkness that he had been caught in. In the morning he said that Uthric's idea of building a village here might possibly be a bad idea and he thought he would not support it. Wulfhere said he thought there still might be evil here and he too would oppose Uthric’s idea of a settlement. They went on to Glawmæd and met with Lucnot and their wives. Meire was concerned that Uthric was not with them and thought something might have happened to him. Wulfhere assured her that while Uthric had been unable to travel at the time they left, he had been alive and well four days ago. They left early next morning having avoided talking to their mother because Bronwyn had told Wulfhere Hildegard was annoyed about their time keeping again. Wulfhere also wanted to see Cerdic as soon as possible and tell him the news of the north. He hoped Cerdic would give him warriors to expel Cœlfrith from Taddenlæge. Wulfhere asked Dunstan how he felt about going to Cædering to see Tæthle but they decided it would not serve much purpose at present. When they arrived at Portus Cæster they asked the guards at Cerdic's Hall if they could see Cerdic but were refused entry. The guards told the brothers that Cerdic was not in Portus Cæster and no one was permitted to enter. Dunstan began to get annoyed with the Chief guard, Alaric, who also refused to let Wulfhere or Dunstan know where they could find Cerdic. All they could discover was that Cerdic had gone West to attack Dumnonia. Dunstan was incensed by Alaric’s lack of interest and information and threatened to tell Cerdic that he was obstructive. Alaric said that he was not particularly bothered about what Dunstan said or didn't say. Alaric said his job was to protect Cerdic's Hall and he intended to do that as well as he could. Wulfhere stopped Dunstan from doing something to Alaric that he might regret. They decided that they should go north and then west to look for Cerdic. Wulfhere thought that he could ask people where Cerdic was as they travelled. He thought it might be hard to hide a large army and he felt sure that people would tell him. Dunstan complained about Alaric during the days travel. He thought that Cerdic needed to improve the quality of his guards and importantly there should be a system of how to get important messages to him. After a while Wulfhere asked Dunstan to be quiet but Dunstan said he was too angry to be quiet and spent his time muttering to himself. They reached Clausentium at nightfall and spoke with Arnulf, the Þegn in command of the garrison. Arnulf told them Cerdic had been at Clausentium half a moon ago but had gone north along the road with his army. There had been talk about attacking a fortress in the north but Arnulf had not been part of that discussion. He could not tell them any more information as no-one had brought any news from the north and the garrison had been too busy fighting off Dumnonian raids to send their own messenger. Dunstan took the opportunity to tell Arnulf what he had been thinking about for the last two days. Wulfhere recognised what was coming so he decided to see if he could get his spear sharpened at the smithy. Dunstan ignored Wulfhere's look and told Arnulf that he had a good mind to tell Cerdic that if he was off fighting wars then he needed a system that could send messages to his commanders. It was not good enough if people could not find him when they needed decisions made. Arnulf said he would like to be present when Dunstan criticised Cerdic for not being a good leader. He said the last time he had seen Cerdic he had not been in a good frame of mind and had reacted angrily to criticism. Dunstan was a bit surprised and said that he always found Cerdic open to discussion. Arnulf said that this may have been how Cerdic used to be but more recently he had found Cerdic was increasingly intolerant of people who offered stupid advice. Dunstan said that his advice was not stupid and it was clear that Cerdic needed to make changes if the size of his lands was increasing and it only was good governance to be able to know where he was at any given time. Wulfhere returned and was not surprised to see Dunstan still telling Arnulf his thoughts. He was surprised however that Arnulf had not knifed him to keep him quiet. Wulfhere said he thought he was tired of Dunstan's discussions on what should or should not be done and he was going to sleep because they needed to leave early in the morning. They travelled north for another day and were thinking how they could cross the Itchen before they reached the Dumnonian fortress at Venta. Neither wanted to be caught by a Dumnonian patrol but they could not find a ford. Wulfhere doubted that either of them could swim over the river with their armour and weapons so they thought they should try and find a boat. They could see the smoke of Venta in the distance and were unsure what they should do. Wulfhere thought that crossing the Itchen into Dumnonian territory could be very dangerous. They camped for the night but were awoken by Saxon voices calling to each other as they searched either side of the road. Wulfhere and Dunstan shouted to them and they identified themselves to the leader, Ranulf. Wulfhere said he had been looking for Cerdic as he had news that he would like to get to him as soon as possible. Ranulf said that Wulfhere was in luck because they could easily take him to Cerdic. Cerdic was in the process of assaulting Venta Belgarium. The camp was spread out to prevent reinforcements reaching the defending troops before the final assault on Venta. Dunstan thought that it would be a difficult assault on the walls and likely to end in many deaths. Groups of armed men lazed around which Wulfhere suspected were to react to any aggressive move by the Dumnonians but he wondered how effective they would be. Most of the men had taken off their armour and were eating and drinking or playing gambling games using British throwboards. Dunstan thought it amusing that warriors were always complaining about a lack of silver but when they had silver they contrived ways to rid themselves of it quickly. Wulfhere remarked that it was interesting for all the warrior’s belligerence and rejection of British culture, throwboards had made the cultural leap in popularity amongst the warriors. As they were approaching Cerdic’s tent they could hear him shouting which they thought might not bode well. However, when they were brought in by Ranulf, Cerdic looked pleased to see them and asked for the news. He dismissed a group of Þegns except for his nephew Stuf and sat down to listen. Wulfhere told him of the events in Taddenlæge, of Tadda's illness, of the rising of the Artrebates, of Gorbold the new Þegn and the alliance of Octa and Cœlfrith. They could see that Cerdic was annoyed at what they said and Wulfhere thought it was time to stop talking. Cerdic said that he had been under the impression that they had brought him men but they had only brought him more troubles. After a while he calmed down and asked more questions. He asked the Hrothgarsons why they had come and said he hoped that it had not been only to convey bad news and a failure to complete the task he had set them. Wulfhere was hesitant to say that they had come to ask for warriors but, in the end, he saw no easy way to say it other than point out that Cœlfrith had to be stopped. Cerdic agreed but said he had no warriors to spare at present. As it now stood, any assault on Venta would mean that he would suffer loses that might not be acceptable. He told Wulfhere to gather men from Cædering, Glawmæd and Cælctun. All three villages still had their garrisons. Wulfhere asked him what would Cerdic wanted them to do. Cerdic looked bemused and said he thought it was clear. They should kill Cœlfrith and bring men back to Venta for the final assault. Stuf took them out of the tent and said that it was urgent that they completed their task quickly. It was becoming difficult to hold the warriors outside Venta and they would have to attack soon or the army would go home. Stuf said that was the reason for Cerdic's anger and it had not necessarily directed at the Hrothgarsons. Wulfhere and Dunstan left as soon as they could and travelled through the night to reach Glawmæd in one day. Despite their exhaustion they went to see Tæthle and told her of Cerdic's request. Tæthle said that she was not entirely impressed by the plan. Taking most of the Warband north left the three villages dangerously exposed, particularly if Cœlfrith was still an active enemy She suggested that she could only spare forty warriors and even keeping twenty and the Fyrd would leave them open to attack. Dunstan was pleased to see Hereward the Leæce was in Cædering and asked if he would like to come with them. Wulfhere told him Dunric was in the north and they would need Hereweard to counter Dunric’s spells. Hereward said he did not have Dunric's skills in dark or blood magic but as he enjoyed a challenge, he would agree to come. He did warn Dunstan that if things got too dangerous it might be that he would leave them because he was not as young as he used to be and was not keen to end up having his soul tormented by Dunric’s demons. Dunstan for once was lost for words. It took four days for Wulfhere, Dunstan, Hereweard and the forty warriors to get to the Taddenlæge. Travelling with them was their younger brother, Halig, who was going to his first war. They arrived at the ford of Arles to find that it was held against them by Cœlfrith's men. They had not enough men to force a passage and when. more men came out of Taddenlæge to add to the defenders Wulfhere ordered a withdrawal from the ford to the forest to consider how they would proceed. Uthric lay in his hidden room in the undercroft of Rowena's Hall. Her men had stacked more sacks of grain in such a way as to hide the pallet that Uthric was using for a bed. His leg was slowly healing but it would still be at least a week before he could even hobble around on it. Any movement could cause the wound to reopen and set the healing process back weeks. Uthric asked Rowena if some of the men would remove the sacks each day so that he could make brief journeys outside his cramped bedroom to test and exercise his leg. He was not keen that it remain stiff and sore. However, he did not go into the main Hall and Rowena would meet him periodically and tell him the news. On the second day after these arrangements were agreed, Uthric heard his name being talked about by a man whose voice he did not recognise. He could hear Rowena answer but the sound was too muffled to hear what was said. It was only towards evening he learnt from Rowena that Dunric had come to her Hall to ask for the Hrothgarsons. He had seemed suspicious that all three brothers had left Taddenlæge and had been aware that Uthric had been injured and unable to walk. Rowena had denied all knowledge of Uthric's whereabouts and she assured Dunric about her loyalty to Taddenlæge. She also told Uthric that Dunric had begun to execute one prisoner each day outside of Taddenlæge to terrify the besieging Artrebates. The prisoners were horribly mutilated whilst still alive. She said that she was sickened by Dunric's cruelty and the suffering of the prisoners and did not see how it benefited Taddenlæge. After another three days, warriors again came to Rowena's Hall to search for Uthric. They even searched the undercroft but did not discover Uthric's hiding place. Rowena met with Uthric afterwards and he thought she looked scared. He asked if Dunric had threatened her but she said that she just thought he was an evil man and capable of much cruelty. She thought it did not forebode well for the future if men like Dunric did what they pleased. She said she had the impression that darkness followed him. Uthric said that he should leave as soon as he could walk because he thought he would put everyone in danger if he was to be discovered. Rowena said that it was her opinion there was a great difference between walking on his leg and being able to fight. She thought that it was only Uthric who was at risk if he was discovered. Gorbold and Dunric would not dare to attack her or her people. They could not afford to lose warriors when the situation was so delicately balanced. Uthric said he was not sure but was glad she had such confidence. Rowena came again the next day to talk with Uthric and told him that each day Dunric continued to kill a prisoner by torturing them and that he was saving the Artrebate Chieftain, Orin to the last. In her opinion it was not lifting the blockade and meant that the Artrebates were likely to do the same to Saxon prisoners. Uthric asked how many prisoners were left and Rowena said she thought there were three including Orin. Uthric's leg was improving and it could now bear his weight but he was unsure if it would be sufficient to fight with. He was beginning to formulate a plan but didn't think he could wait until the leg was fully healed. He spent the next few days exercising the leg and practicing with his spear and shield. Uthric noticed he got tired early and the leg hurt after exercise but at least he could move on it. He decided it was time to make a move and asked if Rowena would come and see him. Uthric said he was unsure that his brothers would have got any help but he thought it might be good to get the support of the Artrebates in the area. Rowena asked him if lying in the dark had unsettled his wits and in case he was not up to date with the news he should be aware that the Artrebates had surrounded Taddenlæge and had declared war on the Saxon people. Uthric said that he was aware of that but he had a plan to rescue Orin which may persuade the Artrebates that not all Saxons agree with Cœlfrith and that he has manipulated the situation in Taddenlæge. Rowena said she was doubtful that the Artrebates would agree. They remained incensed about the destruction and death in the villages and she doubted that Dunric's continued torturing and killing of captives would have changed their views. Uthric said that he should at least try and siting waiting to be discovered and killed by Dunric or Cœlfrith was not doing him any good. Rowena offered to help but Uthric declined. He thought that the chances of success were low and if he was captured it would be better for her that she was not associated with his actions. There was little light that night because of the clouds and the new moon and Uthric was able to move between the buildings unseen. Rowena had told him there were only two guards watching Orin at night and he thought if he was able to kill both before the alarm was raised he could free Orin and get over the palisade before anyone knew what was happening. Rowena had ensured her men were guarding the section of the wall near to the Arle and they had been told to expect men would be leaving at night. Uthric watched the guards from the shadows. One was standing leaning on his spear and the other was sitting on a log close to the door of the hut they were using as a prison. Uthric moved forward as quietly as he could and was able to get close enough to hit the standing man in the stomach just as he turned. The spear caught on the man’s ribs and Uthric struggled to remove his spear. The sitting man, although surprised, got up and tried to attack but swung wildly with his axe. Uthric easily parried with his shield and thrust his spear at full force into the man’s chest. The force of the blow was so great that the spear protruded from his back. The man was dying but Uthric thought that it would be better if he could die more quietly and decided it was best to finish him off with a well-placed blow of his seax. He paused for a while to see if the noise of the combat had alerted anyone before removing the bar from the hut. He called Orin quietly in Brythonic and was answered cautiously by a man inside. Uthric told Orin that he was here to rescue him and that he needed to act quickly. Orin and another man came out. Uthric introduced himself and reminded Orin of their last meeting. He then briefly told Orin the plan. Orin and the other man took the dead guards’ weapons and both followed Uthric through the buildings keeping to the shadows. They reached the part of the wall where Rowena's men guarded and watched the open ground for possible enemies. Uthric thought it best that they walk calmly to the wall as if they were part of the new guards. Their plan was challenged when they head sounds of alarm. It seemed someone had at last discovered the bodies of the guards and was sounding a horn. Rowena's shieldman, Regenmær, signalled for them to hurry. If anyone saw them they would be caught and Uthric would not be able to explain away the fresh blood on his weapons and clothes. Regenmær had attached a rope to the palisade and told them to hurry. Uthric insisted Orin went first and then his companion, Wynn, went next. Uthric went over last, careful not hurt his leg again. Uthric had asked Regenmær to raise the alarm when they were almost at the forest. He thought that they would be safe at that point because he did not expect that any of the Saxons would pursue them at night in Artrebate infested woods. They paused to catch their breaths on the edge of the forest. Uther stretched his leg and realised that the cramped conditions of the undercroft had not allowed him to exercise as much as he should have and the exertion of the combat and escape had probably hurt it again. Wynn began making barking noises like a fox. The barking was answered to the left and to the front of them. Suddenly they were surrounded by Artrebate warriors. Orin told Uthric to lay down his weapons and not to make any sudden moves. Both he and Wynn did the same and they sat down and waited. The initial suspicion of the surrounding warriors gave way to glad reunion as men recognised Orin and Wynn. Uthric was taken to Calleva where Orin talked to the other leaders of the Artrebates. Uthric urged the Artrebates to send out scouts south of Taddenlæge to look for his brothers. He said he hoped that they would be coming north with a Warband. Uthric explained the situation in Taddenlæge as he understood it. He said he was not aware of all the motivations but he told of the alliance between Cœlfrith, Gorbold and Dunric, the illness of Tadda and that in his opinion that the people of Taddenlæge had been tricked by the Cœlfrith and his men. The attacks on the Artrebate villages had been orchestrated to provoke conflict by Dunric to allow Cœlfrith to take over. The Artrebate leaders elected Orin as their leader. He was not keen to be the Warleader as he felt his skills were more peaceful than warlike but was persuaded to accept the role for the duration of the conflict. He returned the Helmet of Anyon to Uthric as a reward for his actions. He agreed to send out scouts who had knowledge of Saxon to try and find Uthric’s brothers. They were unsure of the numbers of warriors that Cœlfrith had but Taddenlæge was a difficult place to attack without overwhelming numbers and Orin wanted to minimise every death. He thought that it would be difficult enough to rebuild their villages without more massive casualties from assaulting a defended fortification. Orin spent time organising the defence of Calleva and appointed warriors to lead small mobile Warbands that would operate independently but could gather together quickly if a larger Warband was needed. Uthric was able to rest his leg and he felt confident that he could now stand in a Shieldwall if required. On the fifth day after their escape, word came that there was a large Sais Warband coming north toward Calleva along the Old People's road. Orin thought this might be an opportunity to even up numbers if they were able to defeat a Warband outside the walls of Taddenlæge. Uthric thought from the red bull shield design they were Cœlfrith’s men. If they could kill or capture Cœlfrith there might be no need to fight further. Orin agreed but was worried about the number of warriors he could get that had experience of standing in a Shieldwall. Most of the Artrebates had only experience in skirmishing with hunting bows or javelins. Hunting bows were not particularly successful against close order troops in a Shieldwall. They were more often annoying rather than effective. His Javelin skirmishers were likely to cause more damage but then ran the risk of being counter-charged by experienced troops and might get in the way of their own Shieldwall. Nevertheless, Orin organised the warriors and they set off to find a suitable position to offer battle. He ordered his skirmishers to harass the Sais march, slow them down and make them cautious. Wulfhere had withdrawn his forces from the ford. He had spoken with Cœlfrith when the Ealdorman came to support his troops. Wulfhere had kept most of his warriors in the woods to make sure that Cœlfrith would be uncertain of numbers. Wulfhere had suggested that Cœlfrith withdraw from Taddenlæge as he was now outnumbered by Cerdic's forces. Cœlfrith laughed at Wulfhere's suggestion and said that he was welcome to try and come across the food. Wulfhere said that he did not see any advantage for him to try to fight his way across but if Cœlfrith was so confident in his own ability then he could withdraw back to allow his men to cross and then they could fight. Coelfrith laughed again and said that he would be a poor leader if he gave away an advantage due to some misguided principle of fairness. He said that life was not fair and the strongest would always take what they wanted. Wulfhere said he did not see any point in continuing the conversation as he had delivered the warning to Cœlfrith and if he chose to ignore it then he would have to accept the consequences of his actions. Wulfhere hoped that by talking to Cœlfrith that Cœlfrith's men and more importantly the warriors of Taddenlæge would begin to doubt their position. Halig said that although he was inexperienced in these matters there were obviously different factions in Taddenlæge which they should exploit for their own purposes. There must be a number of people who had grave suspicions of Gorbold. They must also see that the attacks on the Artrebate villages were perpetrated by Cœlfrith's outlaws to allow him to take over Taddenlæge. Dunstan thought if they could defeat or reduce Cœlfrith's power then there might be those inside Taddenlæge who would help them or at least not hinder what they were doing. Wulfhere said he thought this might all be true but the problem they faced was that the ford was guarded and they needed to get across. He thought it was also important to remember that Uthric was still inside Taddenlæge and probably in danger. They needed to try and get him out. Wulfhere sent Dunstan and Halig along the Arle to scout out Taddenlæge from that side. It would also give a view of the north side and Wulfhere hoped that they might find another way across the river and perhaps find a weak point to attack. Dunstan took ten warriors with him, choosing those that were good at moving through forests unseen. They all lay at the forest edge and watched the settlement. Wulfhere sent some of the men to guard the ford and others to forage for food. Dunstan and Halig grew bored of watching as nothing appeared to be happening in Taddenlæge. Dunstan wondered how their families were getting on in Glawmæd. Halig said that as ever his elder brothers were not good at coming back home when they said they would otherwise Dunstan would be in his own Hall and able to ask Gwenyth how she was. He said that their mother had been right, none of the women in the family could trust the men’s words. He thought that Dunstan and his elder brothers always downplayed their responsibility and sometimes actually stayed away longer than agreed on purpose. Dunstan grew angry and said he wondered why Halig always saw their mother’s viewpoint. He said it had not been their fault that they always returned late as situations that they assumed were simple turned out more complex. Halig said that this was a situation in point and that a little forethought and factoring in extra complexity would have given a more realistic timescale. This was in his view all the women were asking for. They were always concerned that their menfolk had been killed if they did not come back on time. The argument became more heated. Halig said that the worst time was when they left their mother in poverty and the family had nearly died of starvation. Dunstan said that he was tired of hearing this old narrative and that if Halig did not stop talking about it, then he would be sent home. Halig said that Dunstan needed to remember that he was not a child any more but a grown man and issuing threats to send him home was puerile. They began to tussle and the situation might have developed further if the guards on the palisade had not noticed them and were coming down to the banks of the Arles to investigate. Nothhelm, who was the most experienced warrior with the group, told Dunstan and Halig to stop arguing about their mother and pay attention to the enemy. Dunstan suddenly noticed that his argument with Halig had endangered his men and ordered them to withdraw and keep out of javelin range. The argument meant that they almost missed a large Warband of 50-60 warriors leaving the Callevagate and heading north. Fortunately, Uscfrea had been paying attention and pointed it out to Dunstan as they retreated. Dunstan and Halig returned to Wulfhere to talk with him. Neither mentioned their disagreement but Wulfhere asked what had happened that they both looked angry. Dunstan said that they had seen a large Warband heading north. What they thought was more concerning was that there was still the same number of men guarding the Ford. Wulfhere said that Cœlfrith had more warriors than they had realised and that did not bode well for the success of their task. Dunstan said that he was of the opinion that they should return to Venta and ask Cerdic for more reinforcements. Wulfhere said that this was not possible. Cerdic had been quite clear that he had no further men to give and moreover he expected them to complete the task with the men he had given or die trying. Orin and Uthric set their Shieldwall in the middle of the road flanked by two groups of hunters armed with bows. The bows were more an annoyance than a serious threat but the Saxon Shieldwall kept its distance. Orin and Uthric went forward to talk to the Saxon Warleader, a man called Osred. Uthric translated for Orin. Orin asked the Sais to lay down their arms and they would be spared death. Osred said that he had no intention of leaving but would generously allow the Artrebates to surrender. He said he recognised that it would be difficult for the Artrebates to do so but did not want to cause them more unnecessary death. He said that the only death he would require would be Uthric, who he considered to be a traitor to his people and family and spat at Uthric’s feet to show his contempt. Orin said that he thought they would just have to fight and Osred could try and kill Uthric. He warned Osred that many people had tried to kill Uthric but none had succeeded and they that they were now in Annwn's pits. With that the conference was over and the Commanders walked back to their troops. Uthric was angry after the discussion with Osred and said that he would like to meet him in the battle. He used his anger to make a speech to the men. He told them that Osred had called them barbarians but he told them that they were not the ones who killed and burnt woman and children. Uthric said that they were not Artrebates or Sais but they were heroic men who were fighting to protect their families and their villages. The Artrebate Warband were inspired by Uthric’s speech and shared his anger at the Sais. They advanced quickly before Osred had got his warriors aligned and many of the front-rank warriors fell to Artrebate spears. Osred's men were disorganised by the sudden attack and he desperately tried to hold them together. Orin's archers took advantage of the disorder to appear on the flanks and fire point blank into the sides of the Shieldwall. By force of will Osred get his men to stand firm and they were able to lock shields but the earlier numerical advantage they had was now lying dead or dying on the ground. The Saxon Shieldwall started to push the lighter armed Artrebates back but Orin shouted at his men to target Osred who stood in the front rank. His men responded to the call and the Artrebates attacked strongly, focusing on Osred. Osred was stabbed below his shield in the thigh and would have fallen to the ground but for the press of the Shieldwalls. However, it could be seen by both sides that he was clearly badly wounded. The men in the second rank of the British Shield wall used their long spears to thrust at his head and shoulders. Osred could not defend himself but the men around him tried to protect him with their own shields. Unfortunately for them, they were then exposed to other Artrebate spears and the Saxon Shieldwall began to disintegrate. The end came when the two groups of archers charged the rear and enveloped what was left of the Saxon troops. Not many Saxons escaped the carnage and the pent-up frustration of the Artrebates who had seen their women and children murdered, added to the slaughter. Those Saxons who escaped were hunted through the woods by the Artrebate skirmishers. Uthric reckoned that only a handful escaped and he hoped that because of the cordon of scouts around Taddenlæge, they would be unable to tell Cœlfrith what had happened to his Warband. After the battle Orin sent the wounded back to Calleva and they dispatched any surviving Sais quickly. Uthric thought it would be good to strip the bodies and hang them from the trees as a warning to Cœlfrith. Orin said it might be more perplexing if they removed the bodies and hid them in the forest so that Cœlfrith would be unsure what had happened to his men. They could not hide the fact there had been a battle on the road but if there was no evidence of the outcome then he would be uncertain as to what happened. While they were moving the bodies, a messenger came from the Artrebates maintaining the siege around Taddenlæge saying that a Sais Warband had been seen on the south side of the Arle. The scouts had been alerted by two men arguing and had watched as they retreated into the forest to meet with a Warband of about forty warriors. The scouts did not know who they were but they did not carry red bull shields of Cœlfrith or the Thunor’s hammer of Taddenlæge. Uthric thought that it was likely to be his brothers with reinforcements from Cerdic. He said he had no idea who the men fighting on the banks of the Arle were and supposed that they had been trying to subdue a captive who had momentarily got free. The scout said that this was not the case. He had noticed that they had been lying watching Taddenlæge for several hours before getting up and trying to punch each other. The scout said from watching the strangeness of the Sais that he thought it was a wonder how they ever managed to be successful. Uthric did not respond to the jibe but asked Orin if he could go and meet the new force and asked if some of the scouts would take him. The scouts said they would be happy to him on the condition he did not instigate any wrestling matches at awkward moments. Uthric said he was not that keen on wrestling as he preferred using his spear but would keep their request in mind. Uthric found Wulfhere, Dunstan and Halig camped beneath the trees near the ford that was still defended by Cœlfrith’s men. They discussed what they should do next. Uthric and Wulfhere were certain that if they could gain a tactical advantage over Cœlfrith then the people of Taddenlæge might be less inclined to fight for him. Wulfhere thought that they might fear an Artrebate victory but if they could show a combination of Saxon and Artrebate forces they may be less concerned. The news that Uthric and Orin had managed to destroy a Warband meant that Cœlfrith's forces were already severely reduced. Dunstan reminded them that Dunric was still in Taddenlæge and he needed to be dealt with or neutralised. Wulfhere was unhappy that they could not get across the ford and asked Uthric if the scouts could get his men across to join up with the Artrebates. The scouts were happy to take them north but the route would likely take a day. Wulfhere said the time period might be too long and asked Uthric how he had got across the Arles but he was told that Uthric had taken a small two-person boat across. There was only one boat therefore transporting the Warband and their equipment across would take time. If they were discovered then those men on the far bank would be at risk of death or capture as they could not be reinforced quickly. They agreed that getting across the ford was the next step and how to do it safely was the difficult issue. Wulfhere was certain that he did not want to have to force the ford even if the numbers were initially similar. The defenders could be quickly reinforced from Taddenlæge and any defeat or too many loses would endanger their mission. Uthric suggested that they could gather all the hunters on the south side and use missile fire to force the defenders at the ford to retreat. He said he had been impressed by the use of bows in their battle on the road. The Artrebate scouts agreed that this possible and could be done relatively quickly. The scouts could swim the Arle while their equipment could be ferried by the small boat. They pointed out that there was a risk that the Sais in Taddenlæge could then discover that there was no-one maintaining the siege. Wulfhere thought this was a risk worth taking. The siege could be reinstated if he got his troops on the north bank of the Arle and would have the advantage of being reinforced by his Warband. Uthric said that he had also thought of a way to get inside Taddenlæge. He had proposed to Orin that they dress in Saxon war gear and pretend to be the remnants of Osred's Warband returning wounded. When the gates were opened then they would hold them, kill the guards and the remaining hidden Warband would reinforce them. If Wulfhere had forced the ford then his warriors could join Orin’s men in holding the gates. Once inside he thought that resistance would crumble. The warriors of Taddenlæge would run to protect their families leaving only Cœlfrith's men to fight. He thought that the combined force of Artrebates and Saxons would be then greater than Cœlfrith’s men. And so that is what they planned. The hunters lifted their siege and made their way over the Arle to the south side and joined with Wulfhere’s Warband. Wulfhere readied his troops while the hunters shot arrows from the south side of the Arles Ford at Coelfrith's troops on the north side. The defenders had initially formed up in a Shieldwall but retreated from the ford when the arrows kept falling. None of the warriors were killed but here and there an arrow had found exposed flesh and there had been a dribble of wounded men returning to Taddenlæge. When the Warband retreated out of range, Wulfhere hurried his men across the ford and formed a Shieldwall. The archers then formed a bank of skirmishers on the flank of the Shieldwall. The enemy seeing that Wulfhere had successfully crossed the ford retreated inside the palisade. Wulfhere took his men into the forest on the north side of the Arles and spread them along the eaves ensuring they were out of sight. The hunters returned to their stations around Taddenlæge to enforce the siege. Several hours later a motley band of wounded and injured men bearing the Bull shields of Cœlfrith limped into the clearing. A man wearing a closed helm shouted at the gate guards to open and let them in as they were being pursued by Artrebates. Wulfhere counted twenty-six men in the Warband and he hoped it would be enough. Wulfhere smiled as a rearguard of five men formed up facing towards the road. He thought he might have been convinced if he had been a gate guard. He gave a quiet command for his men to be ready to run for the gate when Uthric and Orin’s men formed a shield wall. Uthric was not sure that the guards were going to open the gate. They delayed and seemed to be more nervous about a rapid attack from a pursuing force that might mean they were unable to get the gate closed again in time. He shouted at his rearguard to fall back towards the gate but when nothing happened he realised that none of them could understand Saxon. Uthric shouted at the gate guards again to open the gates quickly and the foremost of his group began to hammer at the gates. Uthric ran to the rearguard and pushed them back toward the gate. When they saw that there was no enemy nearby the gate guards moved to open the gate and let what they assumed was the remnants of Cœlfrith’s men enter. There was a stampede of men through the gate and by the time Uthric had pushed his way through to the front of his men, the gate guards were dead and a Shieldwall had been formed inside the gates to keep them open. One man was using a Saxon war axe to try and hack off the hinges of the door to ensure they could not be closed again. The guards along the palisade had seen what had happened and alarm horns were sounded. Defenders ran to form up in a Shieldwall to face the Artrebates but Uthric could see no leader and he noticed most of the shields were not Cœlfrith's Bull. He looked behind him in the hope that Orin and Wulfhere's men would have arrived but could not see anything because of his own Shieldwall. He took off his helmet so that the Saxons could see him and asked where Gorbold or Cœlfrith were. No-one answered so Uthric let them know that he had no intention of fighting the men of Taddenlæge. He told them that he his only enemies were Gorbold and Cœlfrith both of whom had contrived the situation by creating a crisis. As no one again responded, he told the Saxons to go to their families and they would be safe. By this time, he could hear shouts of more men arriving in both British and Saxon and he thought that Wulfhere and Orin had now reinforced his original force. He did not want to look round because he was too close to the Saxon Shieldwall and was concerned someone might try and strike at him. He was relieved when Wulfhere and Orin joined him. Wulfhere said that he had no desire to kill any of the warriors of Taddenlæge or to destroy the town but he was going to order his men to move forward to the market place and the Þegn's Hall. Anyone who resisted would be overwhelmed. When he gave the order to move forward, the opposing Shieldwall melted away. Wulfhere led his men to the marketplace where there was another smaller Shieldwall. Gorbold was on the raised platform attached to the Þegn's Hall to direct the defence. Wulfhere thought that Gorbold must see he was heavily outnumbered and order his men to surrender. Wulfhere called on Gorbold to surrender and save his men from certain death but Gorbold said that he would not give in to outlaws like Wulfhere. He told his men to make a name for themselves in songs and fight to the death. He told them that the more of the enemy they killed, the more followers they would have in Neorxanwang. He called for his spear and shield and turned to shout some more instructions to his men when a javelin suddenly pierced his throat. It was likely he was dead before he hit the ground. Wulfhere was surprised. He had not seen anyone throw a javelin until Uthric said loudly that he had promised himself this one pleasure when next he met Gorbold. The situation was still tense. Gorbold’s Huscarls were keening their death songs and it was well known that such men die hard and no-one wanted to be first to attack them. The situation was rescued by Rowena who had appeared with her men. She asked Wulfhere to withdraw his men to the far side of the Marketplace while she spoke to Gorbold's Huscarls. Dunstan said that they had not seen Cœlfrith or Dunric in this confrontation and he was concerned about what they could be doing. Wulfhere agreed with Dunstan but he did not want to split his forces when there was still a possibility of a battle in the market place. It was almost evening by the time Rowena had agreed the terms of surrender. Wulfhere had said he did not require anything from the Huscarls other than their agreement not to take up arms against his men. As soon as the peace was agreed, Dunstan took a Warband of thirty men to look for Coelfrith but quickly learnt that he had left by the Callevagate during the standoff in the marketplace. Dunstan wanted to go after Cœlfrith but Wulfhere said that he had almost half a day start and it would be futile. Orin was annoyed too that Cœlfrith and in particular Dunric had escaped. He blamed himself for withdrawing the hunters from the siege of Taddenlæge to take part in the assault. Uthric said that he should not be angry with himself and in his opinion it could not be helped. They had needed all the warriors to look like they had overwhelming forces. He pointed out that only the gate guards and Gorbold had died and they had taken Taddenlæge and that would be good for the peace. Dunstan said that he hoped that they would not regret Cœlfrith's escape. He reminded them that Cœlfrith would have to go past Glawmæd and they had most of the experienced Glawmæd and Cædering warriors in the north. Wulfhere said this was not such a good thought and agreed to send Uthric and Halig south as soon as possible. Dunston reminded Wulfhere that Cerdic was expecting reinforcements for the assault on Venta Belgarium. Uthric looked doubtful. He was keen to get back to Glawmæd as he knew Cœlfrith was vindictive enough to take revenge on their families. No-one wanted to think what would happen if any of their relatives fell into the hands of Dunric. It was agreed that Uthric and Halig would take Tæthle’s thirty warriors and any of the Artrebates who wanted to attack the Dumnonian Venta. After the battle the survivors were then to travel on to Glawmæd. Uthric and Halig led their thirty warriors and Orin brought twenty Artrebates to the assault of Venta. The battle was bloody but swiftly over. The defenders had been reduced in numbers over the siege but still fought to the death. Uthric was badly injured in the assault and had to spend half a moon recuperating and came late home again. Orin returned north with Cerdic’s thanks and considerable treasure as compensation for the burnt villages and murdered people. Cerdic agreed that the Artrebates would rule themselves with their own lords and laws but pay taxes to Taddenlæge. Orin thought this was fair and he left Cerdic on good terms. Hereweard expelled the spirit of sickness from Tadda who gradually recovered and was grateful to the Hrothgarsons and Hereweard. He renounced his oath to Aelle and swore an oath to Cerdic as his new oath Lord. Cerdic renamed Venta Belgarium the Saxon name Wincen Cæster and decided it would be the chief city of his lands. He also declared himself the Westseaxacyning and independent of the Brytenwealda Aelle. He made his cousin, Tadda, an Ealdorman. Dunstan stayed with Rowena to help restore order in Taddenlæge while Tadda recovered and was late home. He suffered a scolding from Hildegard. Gwenyth was just pleased to see him. Wulfhere and Halig went to Glawmæd and were re-unnited with their families. They discovered that no-one had seen Cœlfrith come south and it was not known where he had gone after leaving Taddenlæge. They heard from some merchants during the next moon that there were rumours that Aelle had killed Cœlfrith for his treachery.
  7. Betrayal of one’s Lord They awoke the next day with sore heads. Uthric spent the morning vomiting and Duncan just felt sorry for himself. It was almost midday before they felt better and Dunstan swore that he would never touch alcohol again. They had planned that they should go and speak with Rowena. She had not made any overtures towards them but neither had they sought her out. They arrived at her Hall which was magnificently decorated with rich tapestries and inlaid carvings of the Æsir and Jotuns on the wooden posts. They found Rowena sitting at her high seat discussing something with her men. Wulfhere introduced himself and his brothers and asked that if the Lady Rowena had time, would she mind talking about what was happening in the area. Rowena was cold at first but once Wulfhere convinced her that he did not blame her for the attacks on the Artrebates, or more importantly for her disastrous assault on Calleva, she was more agreeable to discuss matters. Rowena said she had been thinking over the situation and wished she had not been so hot-headed on the previous day. She had not been able to understand why the Artrebates were indiscriminately blaming Saxons for attacks on their settlements. As far as she was aware no-one from Taddenlæge had attacked the Artrebates and she told them that just before the Hrothgarsons had come to her Hall she had been discussing that it may have be outlanders or outlaws who were responsible. She now thought that as Tadda seemed to be dying there was no longer any way to communicate with the Artrebates. Wulfhere asked if the main Artrebate settlement was Calleva but Rowena said that Calleva had been deserted for years and was now a ghost town, full of howling winds and decaying buildings. She told him that the Artrebates had 10-12 villages in the area and many other smaller family settlements. However the Artrebates now seemed to have re-occupied Calleva as the centre of their fight against Taddenlæge. Dunstan said that he had noticed that things had only started happening when the leæce, Dunric, had come to Taddenlæge. Rowena said she had not taken much notice of leæce at the time, considering him just another wandering healer but she did wonder why anyone would mistrust a leæce as they more often than not served the community. Dunstan said that they had had difficulties with this particular leæce before. He told her that Dunric had been disowned by his patron and fled the area after summoning shadow creatures that he had sent to kill warriors. Dunstan said that in his opinion all evils flowed from Dunric. Rowena said this might be so but Dunric was no longer here and she thought the priority but was to start talking to the Artrebates. She had not been aware until earlier that day that their villages had been destroyed. Wulfhere said this would be one posable way to begin to understand about the difficulties in the area and he asked her how she intended to do this. Rowena said that she has called a council tonight to elect a new Þegn. In her opinion, Brecca has been inept and has not shown leadership. She thought it was time to replace him and she felt that needed to happen sooner rather than later. Wulfhere and Dunstan left Rowena's Hall and returned to Uthric who was trying not to move too much to allow his wounds to heal. They told him what Rowena had said but it did not add any more to their knowledge. Wulfhere thought Taddenlæge might have a new þegn tonight but he was unsure what would happen next. Dunstan helped Uthric strap up his leg so that if he had someone to help him he could get around slowly without opening his wounds again. All three brothers attended the Þegn's moot that night. The moot was held outside the Þegn's Hall in the cleared space where on market day the farmers and merchants would put up their stalls to allow as many as possible of the townsfolk to attend. The torches cast a flickering light on the faces of the people who watched the proceedings. Rowena had opened with a speech declaring that Brecca had not provided the leadership his father did. She said that Tadda was ill and probably dying but Taddenlæge deserved strong leadership and needed it now that there was a crisis. Rowena said that she was putting herself forward as the new Þegn. Gorbold who had been standing watching the crowd from the raised platform of the Þegn’s Hall, asked for permission to speak. He said that he had not been thinking to stand for Þegn but since Rowena had brought it up, he said he thought that he might be a better candidate than Brecca or Rowena. Gorbold said he thought that they had to show strength to the Artrebates and that was likely to be the only way Taddenlæge would be respected. Equally he thought it would be important to find out why the Artrebates had taken up arms when they had lived in peace for so long with their neighbours in Taddenlæge. Gorbold said that he would take a more pragmatic approach to this conflict, reaching out to the Artrebates to negotiate but always with the view of protecting the people of Taddenlæge. He said he thought that Rowena was too impetuous to be Þegn. She had lost over half her men in a futile attack on Calleva. He said that these men had been their friends, warriors that had stood in the Shieldwall beside them, men who had families and had hoped to see their grandchildren but had died because Rowena decided to seek vengeance for herself. Gorbold said that if he was Þegn, no-one would lose their life without reason. He said that Brecca had shown indecision and lack of leadership. Gorbold thought that there was no doubt that if Tadda had not been sick things would have looked differently. However, Tadda was dying and Brecca had not the same skills as his father. Gorbold said that he was the only person who could bring peace and security to Taddenlæge. Uthric and Dunstan thought Gorbold had spoken well and had no doubt that he would bring a resolution to the troubles in Taddenlæge. Wulfhere was unsure about Gorbold and said to his brothers that he did not truly trust him but could not say why he thought that way. The Carls and villagers felt the same as Uthric and Dunstan and elected Gorbold as their Þegn. Brecca had only four votes from his father’s house Huscarls. Gorbold held a victory feast in his Hall that night but the Hrothgarsons did not attend. Uthric's leg did not allow him to move freely and he thought it best not to exert himself too much. Wulfhere and Dunstan thought that they should think about how they were to achieve their mission. Wulfhere said they were no closer to understanding what had happened in Taddenlæge. They decided they would sleep in the bur again that night. In the morning they were awoken by the door of the bur being kicked open and loud shouting in Brythonic for them to surrender or be killed. Uthric could not even stand unaided so while Wulfhere and Dunstan would have considered trying to fight they agreed that it would mean the death of Uthric. Dunstan said they were already in enough trouble with their mother so it would probably be best to live a bit longer rather than tell her they had left Uthric to die on his own. Wulfhere said that still might be the case but they agreed to put down their weapons. They were bound and taken outside. Taddenlæge was surrounded by over one hundred British warriors. Some were well armed and some only had hunting spears or bows but all were focused on a conversation that was occurring just out of the Hrothgarsons hearing. Eventually three men came over and one said in halting Saxon that he had work for them. Uthric said that he spoke Brythonic if the man would prefer to use that language however since he was a prisoner he was happy to leave the choice to his captor. The man smiled ruefully and said he wished all Sais had such curtesy but then again being in threat of your life tends to provoke compromises that might not otherwise be agreed to if a person was fully armed and healthy. The man introduced himself as Orin ap Brinn, a Chieftain of the Artrebates. He said he had thought about killing them but he did not much like killing prisoners and had therefore thought that rather than death they might wish to convey a message to Tadda. Uthric said that this might be difficult. When Brinn signified his displeasure at this seeming reluctance, Uthric said it was not that he would refuse to do what Brinn had asked nor that he was unwilling. It was that any message sent to Tadda could be delivered but it was unlikely that there would be any answer that Orin would understand. He told Orin that Tadda was delirious and looked as if he was going to die of his illness. Orin nodded and asked who was in charge of Taddenlæge now. Uthric said that from the previous night it was Gorbold. Orin said he had asked for someone to come out and talk with him but they had refused. Orin said that Uthric should perhaps be thankful for that refusal to talk had helped Uthric and his brothers live at least another day. He asked them to take his demands to Gorbold and he would allow him a day to consider a reply. Orin said that she would return tomorrow at noon to listen to Gorbold’s words. Orin said that he needed them to be aware of the Artrebates’ demands which were that 1. They wanted all Sais to be gone from their ancestral lands 2. They could no longer trust the Sais. They had promised peace but had killed innocent villagers 3. If there are some Sais who could prove they were not involved in the murder and torture of their women and children and wanted to stay then they must accept Artrebate Chieftains 4. They wanted the men who murdered and tortured their children and women to be given up for justice 5. Failure to agree to these terms would mean that Taddenlæge will be declared besieged and there would be no ingress or egress Orin asked Uthric if he understood these demands and asked him to repeat them back. He said he was curious about how Uthric spoke Brythonic. He said that the Sais rarely bothered to learn their language and relied on slaves or captives to translate or on shouting loudly and waving weapons in the air. Uthric said that where he came from Saxons and Britons mixed freely and had equal rights under the King. Orin said that this was unusual but he was interested to learn if the Chieftains were Britons or Sais. When Uthric replied that they were Saxon, Orin said that he thought that would be the case and at some point, when the Britons became inconvenient, they would be turned out of their lands. Uthric asked Orin if they could keep their weapons and armour but Orin refused. Orin then signalled to his men to withdraw and Wulfhere and Dunstan supported Uthric to walk to the gate. Wulfhere and Uthric told Gorbold of Orin's demands. Gorbold was angry that Taddenlæge was being threatened but decided he would call a Moot that night because he thought it best if all the townspeople were in agreement to any tough decisions and if there were going to be harsh measures people would need to be willing to back him. Uthric said that seemed a good idea but he was curious why Gorbold had not spoken to Orin directly. Gorbold shrugged and said he was considering options. Wulfhere said that in his view that it had been a good decision not to talk as he and his brothers had not been killed. Dunstan was unhappy with the situation and said that they were now down and out in Taddenlæge. Uthric said they at least were still alive and reasonably healthy even if their weapons and equipment were gone. Dunstan said he thought it might be time to take up Gorbold's offer of accommodation and that he was no longer quite so keen to sleep outside the walls in the bur. Uthric wanted Dunstan and Wulfhere to leave and get some warriors either from Cerdic or Tæthle but neither Wulfhere or Dunstan wanted to leave yet. Dunstan said the brothers needed to stay together besides travelling through enemy territory without weapons was not the greatest idea he could come up with. Just after midday there was excitement in Taddenlæge. Thirteen men, led by a grizzled warrior called Leofstan, had arrived from the Southlands to reinforce the defence. Everyone said this was unexpected except for Gorbold who said that he would reveal all at the Moot. Most of the adults of Taddenlæge attended the Moot which had to be held in the market place again to allow people to hear what was happening. Gorbold told everyone that he had secretly sent a Messenger south several weeks ago when the troubles had started. He said he had foreseen that the situation would get worse and had sent one of his man to visit all the great Lords of the Saxons to ask for aid. He pointed out that Aelle had been their oath Lord for years but not once had he helped Taddenlæge. No-one was sure of Cerdic as no-one could predict what he would do. Gorbold said that he had hoped Cerdic's ambition to rule more lands would have helped to get a favourable response but he had refused to send help. The only Southern Lord who had responded was King Octa and he had sent men immediately and had promised more to come. Gorbold said that they should make no mistake. The demands of the Artrebates show that they were intent on taking Taddenlæge for themselves. He said this was their land and that Saxons had built it up from nothing with hard work, sweat and blood. He said that no-one would take the homes from the people of Taddenlæge particularly since they were innocent of the crimes the Artrebates had accused them of. Gorbold said that he had spent the afternoon thinking about this and he had come to the decision it was an Artrebate plot to take their homes and goods but he would resist them with the help of King Octa. Gorbold was a good orator and the people gave him his support. They agreed they would reject the Artrebate demands and hold the town until Octa's reinforcements arrived in two or three days. Rowena was the only one to object to Gorbold’s speech. She said she thought maybe the Artrebates might have a point and Gorbold should at least negotiate about their grievances. She was shouted down by the crowd and the people agreed with Gorbold that they would resist the Artrebates despite the short-term discomfort. Gorbold invited the Hrothgarsons to come to his Hall and when they returned Gorbold called for food and ale. He said he was happy with the outcome and asked the brothers for their opinion. Uthric said that Gorbold should be aware that Octa was treacherous and this might be a case of Octa stirring things up. Gorbold said that he needed warriors now and Octa was the only Lord to respond. He thought if he had to wait for Aelle or Cerdic there might be nothing left here to defend particularly if the Artrebates carried through with their threat to destroy Taddenlæge. Octa had sent a message with his men to say that he had sent Ealdorman Coelfrith with a large Warband north to subdue the Artrebates and protect Taddenlæge. Wulfhere and Dunstan were dismayed. Dunstan said that Coelfrith was Aelle's Ealdorman, not Octa's but even so he had been untrustworthy in all dealings with all the villages around his town. He was also the Ealdorman who was Dunric's patron. Gorbold dismissed Dunstan's opinions and said that he was doing what he could for the best of Taddenlæge. The Hrothgarsons spoke privately together after the feast. Wulfhere said that someone was playing a game. They knew that they could not trust Octa or Coelfrith and they were certainly not keen to be in Dunric's company. They again discussed if they should leave, Dunstan asked if they really wanted to be in Taddenlæge when Coelfrith and Dunric arrived. Uthric agreed and said that he would not be getting good odds on their survival after Dunric arrived not to mention Coelfrith. They again decided they should wait and Dunstan pointed out that they had no weapons and armour yet. Uthric wondered if it was on purpose that no one had offered any weapons to replace the ones that Orin had taken. They hoped that they would be safe to wait until Uthric could stand on his leg unaided. The next day they decided to go and see Rowena again. Wulfhere did not like the idea of staying in Gorbold's Hall if Coelfrith was coming and thought that it might be very easy for them to get a knife in their ribs when asleep or vulnerable. Rowena was happy for them to stay and even gave them weapons and armour from her store for which they were grateful. They discussed the situation with her further. She said she was not aware of Octa but thought if he had offered help then they would do well to accept it. None of the other Lords had offered any aid. She admitted that she had heard rumours that Octa's army were comprised of men who were desperate, landless or outlaws and had a reputation for cruelty and this worried her as there were likely to be more Artrebates in the area than Saxon warriors. Wulfhere said that Coelfrith was not known for actively supporting his Þegns or their villages, nor did he follow his Lords commands in their own experience of him. Rowena thought that although she did not necessarily agree with Gorbold’s decisions they had been made for the good of Taddenlæge. Dunstan disagreed. He said that someone associated with Octa and Coelfrith had been causing trouble. He thought it likely that Rowena's husband had been killed by those people and it was no coincidence that Tadda was sick because he is friendly with the Artrebates. Rowena was not wholly convinced by their arguments and wondered what purpose it served if it were as Wulfhere and Dunstan said. Wulfhere said that he had also had these worries and the only reason he could come up with was that Coelfrith and Octa wanted more power and land. Their discussions were interrupted by the news that Orin had arrived for his answer to his demands and Gorbold was going to meet him. When they arrived at the gate they watched as Gorbold talked to Orin. They could not hear what was spoken but they could see that Orin was visibly angry. Gorbold started to return to the gate when Orin ran forward and pointed to Leofstan. They could hear Orin’s words as he accused Leofstan of being the leader of the Warband that had attacked their villages and killed women and children without mercy. Orin spoke in Saxon and his voice was loud enough for all who were at the gates or walls to hear his accusations. Gorbold stopped momently but continued walking and ordered the gates to be closed. Orin came forward and announced that Taddenlæge was besieged. No-one would go in-out until either the Sais were dead or the Atrebates had died in the attempt. He turned and left without saying anything further. Rowena had been listening to what Orin had said and she had confronted Leofstan but he had denied any knowledge of killing Artrebates. He said that Orin must have been mistaken as he had only come north two days ago. She said that she was not sure about that and asked Gorbold to hold a town Moot that night. She thought it best that the allegations were aired in public and some agreement reached because if the Artrebates would not allow anyone to leave or come in then Taddenlæge was under the greatest threat in its history. Gorbold would need to devise a plan and that plan needed to have the support of the whole town. Gorbold agreed with Rowena and invited everyone to attend the town Moot that night. Wulfhere asked Rowena if she could talk to Brecca about seeing Tadda. He thought that if he knew more about the illness then they might be able to get help for it. Rowena agreed and took them to see Brecca. She persuaded him that Wulfhere might be able to help. When they entered the room, Tadda was lying in bed. The bed clothes were drenched with sweat and he tossed fitfully from side to side. Sometimes he would mumble words but they could make no sense of what he said. They noticed he was painfully thin and the woman who was tending him said that she even had difficulty getting him to drink. It was clear to Wulfhere and Dunstan that Tadda was dying slowly. The only question appeared to be how long he would continue to hold on. Wulfhere asked if there was a leæce in the town but Brecca said that sometimes leæces would make the trip north but they could never tell when they would come. Wulfhere delivered Cerdic's greetings to his cousin, Tadda, and Wulfhere said he hoped that he would recover. Tadda did not respond and they doubted that he had heard them. With that they left as the smell of death was already in the room and they could not abide it any longer. At the Town Moot that night the market place was packed. The Hrothgarsons had decided to stay at the back of the crowd. Rowena told the crowd that she had grave misgivings about Gorbold’s behaviour. She said she felt that he had acted duplicitously with this new alliance with Coelfrith and Octa. No-one knew who these men were and why they suddenly had an interest in the north and in particular with Taddenlæge. All their difficulties had started when the leæce, Dunric, had visited Tadda and he had fallen ill shortly afterwards. She said that she had become aware that Dunric had fled the north after summoning a Déaþscufa to attack people he had an argument with. She reminded them that it was customary that if you have an argument with someone you bring it to an Ealdorman or the King. She felt it was an underhand to summon creatures from the shadows rather than accuse people in the daylight. She said it was interesting that the attacks on the Saxon traders, including her husband’s murder, and on the Artrebates had begun at that time of Dunric’s arrival. She asked what purpose had this been for and who had benefitted. She said she knew that it was not the people of Taddenlaege. She asked the crowd to consider what Orin ap Brinn had said about Leofstan. Orin had been their friend and now he was their enemy. She said that not only had the people of Taddenlaege suffered but the Artrebate villages had been destroyed and women and children killed. Orin had blamed Leofstan and he needed to account for his actions. Leofstan slowly got to his feet from where he had been lounging on one of the mead benches that had been brought out of the Þegn’s Hall. Leofstan denied that he had been involved in any killing of the Britons in the north. If it had been a Saxon that had killed the Artrebates then he thought it must have been outlaws. He believed Orin was mistaken and was only following his own agenda to rid the north of the Saxons who had made Taddenlæge wealthy. There were loud cheers for Leofstan’s speech and muttering throughout the crowd about Rowena. Dunstan had had enough. He moved to the front of the crowd and asked if he could say something. Before anyone could refuse him, he started by saying he had been sent north with his brothers to deliver a message to Tadda and had come here in good faith. He said that he found these times troubling and the prospect of an all-out war now seemed likely. He said that people needed to consider what had happened three weeks ago. Dunric was a leæce who had been banished from his homeland. He murdered people in the south, unleashed a Déaþscufa on innocent people and then visited Tadda who immediately had fallen sick. At the same time attacks had started on the Saxon traders and on the Artrebate villages. The people of Taddenlæge have said it was not them and the Artrebates deny attacking Saxons. He asked the people to think about who might be attacking both sides and for what purpose. He also said that they should remember that Orin accused Leofstan of being behind the attacks. He said that people needed to think for themselves and look at the evidence. Coelfrith was devious and Octa was a desperate man, a King without a kingdom or power. He asked why would they want or be interested in lands in the north. Leofstan stood up and said that they could not believe Dunstan as he was an outlander. He asked if Dunstan was here to help why had he not brought any warriors. He thought it was strange that Dunstan was choosing to believe an Artrebate rather than a Saxon and wondered if Dunstan and his brothers were actually behind the attacks. Dunstan was infuriated and demanded Leofstan apologise for the remark. Both men drew their seaxs and the crowd parted to let them fight but Gorbold moved in between them and asked both men to put away their weapons. He said it was unbecoming of either warrior to fight the other when the real enemy was besieging Taddenlæge. Gorbold said that this is what Orin wanted. He had sowed mistrust and doubt in people who should be allies. He thought it was likely that Orin had recognised Leofstan as a stranger and decided on this ploy to weaken Taddenlæge. Gorbold said he was sure that Coelfrith would arrive soon with a Warband and together they would defeat the Artrebates and have peace once again. Rowena said that she did not believe any of Gorbold’s words and Leofstan had been identified by Orin as a murderer. She said that if people really wanted to trust Coelfrith and Octa they were free to do so but she for one was reserving judgement and would be seeking the truth. The Moot broke up and Uthric said to Wulfhere that he had no doubt that Orin could tell the difference between a stranger and the man who had led a Warband to destroy villages and kill women and children. Dunstan was still angry when they got back to Rowena's Hall and said he would still like to fight Leofstan but Rowena made him sit and gave him ale. Uthric's wounds had bled again because he had been moving around too much and it was agreed that from now on he was to say in Rowena's Hall. They discussed what they should do. None of them wanted to fall into Coelfrith's hands particularly if Dunric was with him. The leæce had a cruel reputation and the death he gave anyone would be long and painful. Uthric wanted his brothers to leave that night and seek out Cerdic and tell her what was happening. Wulfhere thought that would be a good idea. Cerdic would not want to see Coelfrith establish a base in the north and he would likely send reinforcements. Dunstan said he was reluctant to leave Uthric behind but Rowena said it would be necessary because he could not walk unaided and any sustained walking would open his wounds. She said that Dunstan had now made an enemy of Leofstan and he would need to have eyes in the back of his head. Rowena said that they should not be concerned about Uthric as she could keep him safe in the secret room in the undercroft of the Hall. He could recover while Wulfhere and Dunstan sought advice from Cerdic. Wulfhere said that this was the best plan they could make but thought they might have difficulty in escaping the Artrebate blockade. Rowena said that this was true but she thought if they travelled east along the banks of the river Alre and keep on until they reach the Moen then they should avoid any Artrebates. She thought the difficult bit might be getting out of Taddenlæge. Wulfhere said both he and Dunstan were more than capable of sneaking through woods so he was not particularly worried. Rowena ordered her cooks to bake thrice-baked travel bread and gave Dunstan and Wulfhere the pick of weapons and armour. They agreed that if the next night was cloudy they would attempt to get away. Brecca came to see Rowena but was happy to include the Hrothgarsons in the discussion. He was concerned that the delicate peace and relationships that his father had built up with the Atrebates had been shattered. He was concerned that Taddenlæge would be destroyed and that they were being manipulated by outside forces. Wulfhere said he agreed with Brecca's views but was unsure what they could do about it until the outside forces showed their hand and they could react. Brecca said he was tired of reacting and that he wanted to go on the offensive and let others react as they saw fit. Dunstan suggested that if he was intent on seeking help from others then he could talk to Tæthle in Cædering. She would likely give him warriors to come north because of her close relationship with the Hrothgarsons. Brecca thanked them for their advice and said he would think about how he would react to that information. In the morning there was a new development. It seemed the Brecca had left with his remaining four loyal Huscarls had gone over the wall in the night. No-one knew where or why they had gone. Gorbold was angry that five warriors had left and he gave orders that no-one else was to leave. When he heard of the new order, Dunstan said that he for one would not be taking any advice from Gorbold. Dunstan said that they should remain together until they had six working legs between the three of them. He said that he had noticed that Leofstan had become very brave after Gorbold had told everyone there would be no fighting. He said he was still annoyed by Leofstan's insults and he planned to take it up with him again. Uthric still said that they should leave as soon as possible and get help from Cerdic. He thought every day of delay would bring Coelfrith and Dunric closer and trying to hide three men was much more difficult than hiding one man. Wulfhere said he would have difficulty telling Cerdic why he needed to ask for help. He still had no real idea what was happening and who was doing what. He reminded them what Cerdic had asked them to do and how he had said that he wanted Tadda to send him men therefore it might be likely Cerdic had no warriors to spare. Wulfhere also said he had difficulty in seeing what the advantages in this were for Gorbold. He had become Þegn but that was a poisoned cup. He wondered who might be pulling the strings. Dunstan said that in his mind it was clear that the rogue leæce, Dunric, was behind this and probably Coelfrith. He doubted Octa would have thought of this on his own. Dunstan was sure that Gorbold was somehow involved but he could not prove it. Wulfhere said that Gorbold had definitely benefitted from the upheavals and conflict but they had no proof that he was in on it and may have only taken the opportunity to take control. Uthric said that in this case they had two options given the lack of evidence. They could attempt to get out of Taddenlæge and tell Cerdic and ask for his advice or alternately they could wait to see what happens. In the late afternoon, Orin came to Taddenlæge and asked to talk to Gorbold. He gave Gorbold the body of Brecca who he said had been killed when he tried to evade the blockade. Orin said that he was sorry Brecca had died but too many good men had also died and he thought that if Gorbold was willing they should think about agreeing a peace. He said that he would like to know if Gorbold had made a decision about the Artrebates’ demands. Gorbold accepted Brecca's body and said that he would see that Brecca was treated with respect. Gorbold said that he thought maybe the killing should end and asked Orin to come back tomorrow and he would give him an answer. He said he needed time to talk to the people of Taddenlæge and make them see that further killing was unnecessary. Orin said that there was an exception in any peace deal with regards to Leofstan. He would need to be given over to be tried for murder. He said that Gorbold should know that it was likely he would be tried, found guilty and executed. Orin said that it would be a better death than he deserved and better than the deaths Leofstan had given many of the women and children he had captured. Gorbold laid Brecca's body in the marketplace on a table he had bought from the Þegn’s Hall and dressed him in his richest clothes and wrapped him in an embroidered cloth to hide the wounds. Gorbold let it be known that he would hold a Moot that night. The people of the town came to see Brecca and added small items that he might find useful in the afterlife. Gorbold made a great speech that night. He told the people of Taddenlæge that they had two choices. Firstly, they could stay and fight or else they could gather their portable belongings and leave. He said his own choice would always be that they needed to stay and fight. Some of the Carls asked Gorbold about Orin’s claims that the Artrebate villages were attacked by Leofstan. Many of the Carls had been friendly with the Artrebates and some had Artrebate wives. Gorbold said he had not really had time to think about the claims and had not been able to investigate it. Leofstan said that they should not believe the word of a Briton over that of a Saxon. The Carls were not happy with Leofstan's answers and there was murmuring which Gorbold tried to unsuccessfully stop. The Carls and other townsfolk demanded Leofstan's arrest and Gorbold reluctantly agreed. He was not keen to lose another warrior but he recognised that the people would not agree to any other outcome. Leofstan began to say something but Gorbold tore a piece of cloth from his tunic and put it in his mouth. He said that in his opinion warriors needed to face their wyrd bravely and he was not keen to hear Leofstan’s pleadings. Leofstan looked for a way to escape but was held by two strong carls and he was then bound with ropes. Gorbold ordered that Leofstan be taken out of the palisade and tied to a stake for the Artrebates. Leofstan could be heard whining even with the cloth stuck in his mouth. When Leofstan was led away Gorbold ordered that a pyre be built in the marketplace. Gorbold lead the procession that carried Brecca’s body to the pyre and the townspeople all watched solemnly while Brecca's body was consumed by the fire. After the fire had cooled his ashes were gathered and put into a sealed Roman urn to bury under a mound when there was peace again. Much to the surprise of the watchers on the walls Leofstan was still there the next morning and throughout the day. The people were angry that Brecca had been killed and they blamed Leofstan. Nothing much happened that day and people tried to go about their business. Children watched Leofstan and wondered what would happen to him. That night Leofstan was taken and in the morning, there was a severed head on top of the stake he had been tied to. Orin stood beside the stake and waited for Gorbold to come. Gorbold had planned this moment. He had warriors hidden behind the stockade near the gates. He himself went out with four of his best warriors to talk to Orin. After some minutes of discussion, Gorbold suddenly seized and held Orin. One of his warriors hit Orin with his spear butt and the Artrebate Chieftain went limp. Gorbold was quickly reinforced by his men who had hidden behind the palisade whereas Orin's men were slow to react. They had not been expecting treachery and when they ran to help their chieftain they were either killed or captured by the Saxon warriors. Gorbold was pleased with his treachery. He had captured Orin and five other men and told the people he would use them to bargain for a peace settlement.
  8. A Very British Coup A dozen years ago Aelle marked the borders of his kingdom. He had sent a man called Tadda, a Kingsthane, north to make a settlement near the abandoned city of Calleva. Aelle had thought to use it as a base for expansion to the north and west but as often happens in uncertain times, he was distracted by other events closer to home and Taddenlæge was forgotten. Tadda was an astute man and one that sought compromise rather than conflict. He made alliances with the local British villages and even traded with the fortress city of Venta before the Dumnonians took it over. Tadda and the Atrebates tribe had common enemies in the Dumnonians who lived on the other side of the Itchen. Taddenlæge grew over the years and the population increased to the point where it was more like a small city. It was the sixth year since Aelle declared himself Bretwalda and the fourteenth since he became King of the Jutes and South Saxons having deposed Hengist’s sons Esc and Octa. Esc had sworn allegiance to Aelle and now ruled the isle of Thanet. Octa had chosen to go into exile but with Cerdic’s help he now ruled Whit from Whitwarasburgh. Kingsthane Osberht travelled to Ealdorman Cerdic’s Yule festival in an oxcart. He was still in pain from his burns but thought that it was time he took up his duties and he was attending the Yule feast to renew his oaths to Cerdic. Thane Taethle, Lucnot and the Hrothgarsons travelled with him. Dunstan asked around the taverns in Portus Cæster if anyone had seen Beorthric or Winfrith. A merchant told him that he had met men with that name in Cissa Cæster two moons ago. They had asked him for information about travelling to Lundenwic or possibly to Anderida and Caer Ceint. The merchant could not remember the exact request but he remembered the names and what they looked like. Dunstan told his brothers and they discussed that the information was already two moons out of date. It was unlikely that either man would still be in Cissa Cæster and they could not go travelling across Ceint in the hope they might meet the two fugitives. Cerdic’s feast was lavish as usual. After last year’s incident the number of guests in the main hall was smaller. There were other smaller feasting halls that had been set up for the Carls and people of Portus Cæster who had an interest in attending. The last year had not gone as Cerdic had hoped but he still felt it was a success. He had curbed Octa’s power by purging his warband of known criminals and turning some of the outlaws over to the justice of those looking for them. It was said that Octa had become much more accommodating to Cerdic’s wishes after Cerdic took his action. Cerdic had had to postpone his war with Dumnonia. The Leæces of the Isle of Halig had warned him that war would be unlucky and although not a superstitious man he had postponed his attack. Instead he had sent the new people who had arrived from Friesland over the Moen to build fortified villages or to take over abandoned British villages that had been cleared of the previous inhabitants. In the north, news had come that the Bretwalda Aelle was planning to move along the Tamyse valley and there was murmuring among Cerdic’s Carls that he should do something about this. Most were of the opinion that Cerdic should declare himself King and break with Aelle. The leæces of Halig Isle had made the old sacred sacrifice, examined the sacrifice’s entrails and read the runes and they had told Cerdic that Aelle would die soon. The Carls thought that it should be Cerdic’s main task to hurry Aelle’s death. Cerdic’s feud with Ealdorman Coelfrith continued after the events at Cædering where a Deáþscúfa had been summoned by Dunric. Coelfrith had disowned Dunric. He has told Aelle that the Leæce has not been seen since the Midsummer festival. Cerdic had complained to Aelle that Coelfrith’s leæce, Dunric had summoned the Deáþscúfa but Coelfrith denied it was on his orders and the leæce had been acting on his own. There was peace with Coelfrith but most were under the impression that the payment was still to be made. Cerdic asked to see the Hrothgarsons on the second day of the Feast. He praised their deeds in their recent help in defeating the Deáþscúfa, their successes in the Battles at Cædering, Cælctun and Glawmæd that had allowed the taking of Llys. He was especially pleased that they had humbled Coelfrith and he had lost power in the area. He told them of his plans for this season with an attack on Dumnonia and a likely push north to the Tamyse valley to secure a crossing point. He asked if they would be willing to take a message to his cousin Tadda, a King’s Thane who ruled in a settlement called Taddenlæge. Cerdic explained that Tadda had been sent north twelve years ago by Aelle and more or less forgotten. Tadda had made a success of the settlement and attracted a lot of the British Atrebates tribe as his allies and building a loose confederation who lived in peace with each other. The Atrebates were traditional enemies of the Dumnonians and had been in conflict with them for many years. Tadda had supported their conflict and helped them maintain their independence. None of the Hrothgarsons had ever heard of Taddenlæge even when Cerdic explained where it lay. Cerdic wanted his cousin to swear an oath of allegiance to him rather than Aelle and send him troops south to help him with his war against the Dumnonians. He was keen for as many troops as possible, either Saxon or British and all would be rewarded when the victory came. Wulfhere said that they would be willing to take the message and Cerdic thanked them. He emphasised the importance of persuading Tadda to join him and said that he would have better support from him than he ever had from Aelle. After Yule they returned to Glawmæd to set things in order. They planned to leave after the Festival of Sol-monath. Dunstan, who felt most responsible for Egfryd and constantly fretted that Hildegard was over-feeding him on honey cakes, consulted Iola, the wise woman. He asked her to make a charm to make Egfryd refuse proffered honey cakes. Dunstan paid Iola who inscribed some marks on a stone and told Dunstan he should bury it underneath a Bee’s nest. Wulfhere asked Lucnot why he had not chosen a wife over the last year. Lucnot said that he had been hoping to ask Taethle to marry him but every time he was in her presence his tongue seemed to stick to the roof of his mouth. He asked Wulfhere if he might sound out the proposition with her as he was Lucnot’s brother-in-law and oldest living relative. Wulfhere promised to do so when he returned from the north. Dunstan decided that Egfryd was old enough to learn a trade. He talked to the boy and Egfryd said that he had an interest in being a Blacksmith. He had often heard Dunstan complain about the cost of armour and he thought if he learnt how to make spears and armour, he would not only help his brothers, but also become rich in the process. He confided to Uthric later that his goal was to become rich because that way he could employ someone to make him honey cakes whenever he wanted instead of having to wait for Hildegard to offer them when Dunstan was not around. Uthric said he thought this was a shrewd move by Egfryd and he swore on his Hammer amulet he would not tell Dunstan. The Hrothgarsons prepared for their journey. On Hildegard’s advice, Meire and Bronwyn insisted that Wulfhere and Uthric set a time when they would return home. Wulfhere estimated they would only be gone half a moon at the most. Their task was simple and according to the merchants they had talked to it was a relatively straight forward journey along the old people’s road heading west. The only dangerous part was to skirt round the Dumnonian fortress of Venta and then go on the road north until they reached Taddenlæge. On the morning they were to leave five riders appeared coming from the north. They were led by an imposing woman riding a white horse who named herself as Ealhwyn Hrofsdotter. She told them she was an emissary of Aelle and she had been made aware that they were going to Taddenlæge to ask for help from Tadda for Cerdic. Aelle’s command to them was to ignore Cerdic’s request and tell Tadda to send him troops to Anderida instead, where they would be needed for Aelle’s forthcoming campaign. If they were successful Aelle would give them all great rewards. Wulfhere apologised but asked how he was to know if Ealhwyn spoke for Aelle as he had never met her before. She told Wulfhere that she was the daughter of Ealdorman Hrof, who they had met on the occasion of their visit to Anderida but she was also married to Aelle’s son, Wlencing and therefore a Princess. Wulfhere bowed his knee for he believed her words. After getting his agreement she jumped on her horse and rode south. Wulfhere discussed what had happened with his brothers and expressed the view that there was a spy in Cerdic’s court. Dunstan reminded him that they had talked to merchants about possible routes but agreed that their mission for Cerdic had not been disclosed. Uthric said that since his eldest brother was a Thane it was for him to work out what they should do. Wulfhere took some time to think through the tangle of relationships. As a Thane he swore an oath to Cerdic who was his Ealdorman. Cerdic in turn swore an oath to Aelle as his King. The King was therefore the arbiter and keeper of all oaths. The conflict in oaths between Cerdic and Aelle was the issue. Wulfhere decided that the simplest solution was to tell Tadda of both demands and let him decide what he wanted to do. They had disagreements about the possible route. They knew that there was a Dumnonian fortress, Venta that they had to pass which was likely to have patrols that could be a danger. They discussed taking more men but agreed stealth was better than strength. Eventually they decided on the quickest route which would be to go along the old people’s road and strike north through the forest before they came to Venta and re-join the road further north which should take them to Taddenlæge. They stayed the first night of travel at Old Wincen Cæster Hill in the company of a Thane called Ælfric and some of his warriors. Ælfric was returning to Portus Cæster having taken his men over the Moen on an errand for Cerdic. Dunstan told them the story of the death of Ætremód and Ælfric shared mutton and ale that they had raided from the Britons. Uthric spent some time looking at the Hill. He had long thought he might like to build a settlement here and was of the opinion that this would be an excellent position for trade and defence. Wulfhere said that perhaps trade would not be ideal at present because apart from Glawmæd, the closest neighbours would be Dumnonians. It might also be difficult to farm if your lands kept getting raided. Uthric said that this was his future dream and he could envision heavily laden Oxcarts taking goods north and staying overnight in the safety of the Hill. They continued along the old people’s road and crossed the ford at the Moen without seeing anyone. The land around had been raided and although it was good farm land no one had lived here for many years. Most existing settlements were heavily fortified Burghs and relied on other settlements far behind the disputed lands for food. They smelt the smoke of cooking fires of Venta before they could see it and agreed that it would be best to go north through the forest. The forest was old and full of dead-end trails and they quickly became lost and unsure if they were heading in the right direction. They turned west hoping to strike the road but realised that they had not gone far enough north and had come too close to Venta. Wulfhere was not pleased with Dunstan and said that he expected more from Dunstan’s skills in woodcraft. He did not think that they were proficient enough with their spears for all three of them to attack Venta and if that was Dunstan’s idea then he needed to have a more realistic view of himself. Dunstan was apologetic and they again went north staying close to the road but did not yet dare to walk in the open. After half a day’s march Uthric realised that they were being followed by some people that were trying to remain hidden. They kept moving north but agreed that they would try and lay an ambush. Wulfhere and Uthric hid themselves in the undergrowth and surprised a group of three Britons who were trailing them. Uthric and Wulfhere used their spears well and the two leading men fell. The third managed to get two arrows off which hit Wulfhere in the chest and Uthric in the helmet. Uthric stabbed him in the leg with his spear and the man fell over incapacitated. He put his spear to the man’s throat and he surrendered. Wulfhere was not pleased that his new leather jerkin had a hole in it and very obvious blood stains. His injury was not significant and was likely to heal quickly. Uthric looked comical with an arrow lodged in his helmet. They removed their prisoner’s weapons. His wound in his leg was serious and it was unlikely that he would walk without help. Uthric stopped the bleeding in his leg and sat beside him and asked him his name. The man was startled that Uthric spoke British but told them his name was Caradoc. Uthric said he had been unlucky to meet the Hrothgarsons and even more unlucky to have a leg wound. Caradoc said that his luck had not been good recently and he had a premonition that it did not look like improving. Wulfhere wanted to know where he was from and why they had been trailing them. Caradoc said that all Sais were his enemy and after they had burnt his village and even killed all the women and children it was unlikely that he would ever be friends with the Sais. He said he had lost all faith in anything the Sais said and considered them wreckers, murderers and without honour. Wulfhere thought that he should perhaps have a more open mind and that not all Saxons were without honour. He said for instance he had a British wife and lived in a mainly British village. Caradoc said that this might be so for him but asked if he had a British or a Sais Chieftain. Wulfhere admitted the village was ruled by Saxons and Caradoc nodded and said that this was how it always started. The Sais would initially be friendly but in the end, they killed the British and took what they wanted. Wulfhere said that he could only speak for himself and his brothers but that was not how they saw things but each person was entitled to their own opinion. He offered Caradoc his life if he would agree to serve him for a year. Caradoc said that he didn’t see any advantage for him in being a slave. He considered himself a free man and he had been a person of importance in his village before the Sais had destroyed it and killed his wife and children. He said he would rather end his life and go to the otherworld to be with his family who were likely waiting for him. Wulfhere said that he accepted his decision and killed him quickly. Dunstan and Wulfhere were perplexed by Caradoc’s words. They had been told that there were good relations between the British and Saxons and yet there was a Saxon Warband attacking and destroying British villages. Wulfhere wondered if the Warbands were the same ones Cerdic had sent out last year and if this was so, it would likely complicate their mission. Uthric said he was interested in the British Otherworld and wondered if it was the same as the Saxon Afterworld. He observed that events in the Afterworld frequently mirrored those in Miðgarðr and he would not be surprised if the British were feasting in their otherworld and enjoying themselves when a warband of Saxons would arrive, kick down the door and kill all the men and take over the feast. He laughed at the thought and said that it would be a great shock to Caradoc if it happened. Dunstan said that this was the British wyrd and he agreed with Uthric that it was an amusing thought. He thought it would be interesting to see the look on Caradoc’s face when Saxon raiders burst in. The Hrothgarsons arrived in Taddenlæge just as the sun set. The gate guards looked nervous but directed them to the Thane’s Hall as they had requested. There were more guards at the entrance which they found odd but they let them past with minimal questions. They approached the high seat where two men were seated. They addressed the older man assuming he was the Thane and named themselves saying that they had travelled form the south with messages for Tadda. The older man introduced himself as Gorbold Gethlison, one of the prominent men of Taddenlæge and the younger man he introduced as Brecca Taddason. Brecca welcomed them although they noticed that he seemed unsure of himself and often stumbled over his words. He told them that his father was ill and had been so for the last two weeks. He was not able to receive guests but that Brecca, as his son, could hear the message. Wulfhere thanked him and asked if they could be assigned a dwelling where they could refresh themselves and meet with Brecca in private. Brecca called the steward, Eadric, who offered them a choice of staying in the Hall or if they required somewhere quieter he could let them have the use of a bur outside the palisade. Wulfhere agreed that the bur would suit their purposes but they did not expect to be staying for long. Gorbold offered to show them the bur and Eadric said that he would need a short time to prepare in order to make sure it was swept, had fresh rushes laid on the floor and the bedding straw was fresh. Uthric and Dunstan thought this was a good thing. They both were thinking of their experiences in Kernow and the difference in Saxon and British hospitality. Brecca said he would be delighted if they joined him tonight in the hall for food and afterwards they could talk but in the meantime they should rest after their journey. That night Brecca held a feast. He asked The Hrothgarsons about their family and what news they had. Dunstan told them of their recent difficulties in the south with Thane Gorm and the battles with the British Regneses tribe. Dunstan told the story modestly and did not overly promote either himself or his brothers. Everyone said that he had spoken well and many were impressed. Gorbold gave Dunstan a ring when he sat down told Brecca to bring him some of the special ale to ease Dunstan’s throat. Brecca was interested in the story of the Déaþscufa and Dunric’s part in it. He told how a leæce of a similar description and name had come to Taddenlæge one moon ago. Dunstan said that Dunric seemed to bring trouble wherever he went and Wulfhere thought it might not be a coincidence that Tadda fell ill after a visit from Dunric. Brecca thought it unlikely that a leæce would have caused so much trouble. He believed his father was ill because he had been Ælfshot having inadvertently offended one of the ælfar. Uthric said it would not be the first time that Dunric sets spirits on his kin. Indeed, trouble didn’t seem to avoid Dunric but preceded and followed him too. Gorbold said that all the talk of Ælfar and spirts was depressing and that the feast was turning melancholy. He thought that they should enliven things by having a riddling contest. He challenged Wulfhere to a contest and put forward the prize of a thick silver torc. Wulfhere said that he would rather not as his last riddling contest had not ended so well. The warriors laughed at him and they shouted that southerners were not as capable as the hardy northerners. Wulfhere reluctantly agreed. The contest went on over ten rounds and was evenly matched, sometimes Wulfhere failed but Gorbold also failed to guess the answer to Wulfhere’s riddle. At last Wulfhere asked a riddle that Gorbold could not answer: My hall is not silent, nor am I myself loud. My lord created a journey together for us two. I am faster than him, sometimes stronger; he is more powerful. Sometimes I rest; he must run onwards. I will dwell in him for as long as I live: If we two part, death will be fated to me. There was loud acclaim for Wulfhere’s final riddle and since Gorbold did not guess it Wulfhere would not tell the answer. Wulfhere said that it will remain a mystery for now. Gorbold willingly gave him the silver torc and with his own hands put it round his neck. The feast was enjoyable and Brecca asked Wulfhere what was the message he had brought for his father. Wulfhere said that he would prefer to deliver it to Brecca in private or with his counsel rather than at a feast where most had already too much to drink. Gorbold thought that the political situation in the world was changing. New powers were arising and the old order might be swept away. Uthric asked why the British were hunting travellers. Brecca and Gorbold looked at one another before answering. It was Gorbold that said that as far he was aware the British had decided that they no longer accepted Saxon rule. He was not sure why but he thought it might be because they knew Tadda was sick and that he might die. He thought it might not be beyond the bounds of possibility that if the sickness was because of evil spirits sent to afflict Tadda then it had been the Britons who had done it. There was a murmur of agreement in the hall after Gorbold’s speech. Brecca tried to change the subject because he said he felt uneasy talking about these things in an open hall with so many people listening. He asked about the political situation in the south and the rumours they had heard about Cerdic challenging Aelle. The brothers said that high level politics were not their concern but acknowledged that there was a growing tension. Gorbold said that he thought that he had heard Wulfhere say that they brought a message from Cerdic and therefore must have some knowledge of what Cerdic was thinking. When none of the brothers replied he let the question go and spoke of lighter subjects. After the feast, Gorbold walked them back to their bur. He said that they should come tomorrow to his Hall for a feast as he would like to talk to them further. Wulfhere said they would be pleased to do so and they left each other on good terms. When they were back in the bur, they discussed the new information they had learnt. They were all most concerned that Dunric had visited Taddenlæge and the troubles seemed to escalate from when he had arrived. Tadda had fallen ill, the British seemed to take exception to Saxon overlords, the British alleged that Saxons were killing their women and children and they were in turn killing Saxons. Dunstan wanted to know why Dunric would have travelled north. He could not think of a reason but thought that maybe they had just not found the answer yet. Uthric wondered if the Carls who had killed Garm were behind the attacks on the British villages and they might have linked up with Dunric. Wulfhere said they could speculate all night on links and causes. He was more concerned about what they should do about Dunric if they found him. There was a proscription on killing leæces and it was well known that it would bring bad luck on the person who did it until the fifth generation. It was also said that the souls of those who killed a leæce would be gnawed by the dragon Níðhǫgg in the underworld. They all shuddered at the thought but Wulfhere said that he wondered how true this was. The proscription on killing leæces came from other leæces and he thought there might be a bit of self-interest in the ruling. None of them were sure that they wanted to test out the truth of the matter. It was left unresolved how they would deal with Dunric if they found he was mixed up in this. In the morning they went to see Brecca. As they arrived in the Hall they interrupted what appeared to be a tense situation. A tall woman was shouting at Brecca, calling him a useless cowardly nīþing and she was demanding that he get off his father’s chair and do something useful. Brecca did not look at her while she shouted at him and spent the time studying his hands. The woman stopped shouting when she saw the Hrothgarsons and abruptly turned and walked off. She paused briefly to stare at the Hrothgarsons before walking on. She did not say anything to them. She stopped and turned again at the entrance to the Hall and said that if Brecca was not prepared to take action, then she would do so on her own. Wulfhere looked at Brecca. It was clear that he was out of his depth and could not take control of what was happening or make decisions to remedy the situation. However, he decided this was none of his business and his job was to deliver a message from Cerdic and another message from Aelle. It was then up to Brecca as Thane to decide on what he would do. Brecca could not even look at Wulfhere as he spoke of Cerdic and Aelle’s requests. Wulfhere tried to be as neutral as possible and not to give either message preference. He thought it might have been lost on Brecca anyway as he did not seem to comprehend what was being asked of him. Wulfhere said that Brecca was likely to need time to consider his response so he would come back tomorrow for an answer. There was a silence in the Hall that became awkward and the brothers exchanged glances. When Brecca continued to say nothing, Wulfhere said they would leave and let him contemplate on his own. They turned and left but as they were leaving they asked the guard at the Hall door who the woman had been. The guard laughed and said that was the Lady Rowena, head of one of the most powerful families in Taddenlæge. They discussed the interview with Brecca when they were alone. Uthric said that he had never met a Thane who appeared so inept and useless. Rowena had been right to call him a nīþing. Dunstan thought that their mission to get reinforcements was doomed even discounting the poisoned cup they had been given by Cerdic and Aelle. Wulfhere sat and stared at the forest for a long time and said it was likely that the Carls would not stand for Brecca’s behaviour much longer. He expected that if Tadda did not recover soon then there would be a new Thane elected. Wulfhere thought they should insist on seeing Tadda. He wondered if they might be able to do something to heal him or even to let him know about the requests. Wulfhere said that he suspected that even if Tadda was well, it was unlikely that any help could be sent south while the British were killing Saxons. They feasted with Gorbold that night. They found him pleasant company and he had good food and ale. The conversation was generally light-hearted but they did ask about Rowena. Gorbold said that Rowena had not been the same since her husband was killed by bandits two weeks ago. She had demanded that Brecca lead a Warband to the British base at Calleva and punish and kill the bandits. Brecca had been incapable of making a decision but it was also unlikely that the Carls would follow him anyway. Everyone viewed Brecca as an unproven Warleader. Gorbold said that he had heard that Rowena was going to take her men north and attack on her own if Brecca would not help. Gorbold said that he felt sorry for Brecca but he thought that it was only a matter of time before there would be a decision by the Carls to replace him as Thane with someone more experienced. Wulfhere asked if Gorbold would be standing for Thane but Gorbold said that despite his prominence in matters of trade, Rowena was a Shieldmaiden in her youth and what Taddenlæge needed now was a War Thane to defend the settlement and destroy the insurgent British. Gorbold thought that Rowena would be the best Warleader for Taddenlæge and he intended to support her if it came to an election. He said that personal ambition had to be put aside for the good of Taddenlæge. Wulfhere and Dunstan agreed that this made sense. Uthric was not sure that he trusted Gorbold. Gorbold offered the brothers to stay the night in his Hall or as many nights as they would be in Taddenlæge. He thought that they might be more comfortable in his Hall rather than in a bur. Wulfhere said that they would likely take him up on his offer but tonight they would sleep in the bur. They again discussed what they should do when back at the bur. It was clear that Taddenlæge could not give troops because of the standoff between the Saxons and the British. It was also clear that Cerdic had not been aware of the situation when he asked them to come and they wondered should they go back and bring warriors from Cædering and Glawmæd to help resolve the situation. They talked around in circles for a while and then decided the best thing was to sleep and see what the next day brought. Dunstan said he felt this was the problem, they were always reacting to situations rather than creating them. In the morning, they were awoken by a commotion and cheering. When they came out of the bur they watched a small warband of twenty warriors led by Rowena heading north in the direction of Calleva. Uthric asked the gate guards why so few were going north and the guard told him that Brecca had refused to send more men so Rowena took her own warriors. Wulfhere said that they thought they should see Brecca and then make some decisions when they had more information. Brecca was in the Thane’s Hall alone and they approached him and asked if he had thought about what they had said the previous day. Brecca said that he could not make any decisions at present and would not be sending any warriors south until the situation was resolved in the north. Wulfhere said that while he understood this he was confused that Brecca had not helped Rowena and sent more warriors with her. Brecca could not answer the question and Wulfhere had to remain confused. Uthric said that he had some skill in healing and thought that he could help if he examined Tadda. Brecca said that he had given up hope that his father might recover but if there was any chance of Uthric healing him then he was willing to take it no matter how small. Brecca took the three Hrothgarsons to see Tadda. He was lying in bed with a fever and was clearly delirious, mumbling and shouting incomprehensible words. Uthric said that unfortunately he had never seen an illness like this before and had no knowledge of his symptoms. When Brecca heard what Uthric said he asked them to leave Tadda in peace. Dunstan asked Wulfhere if there was any point in staying in Taddenlæge if they were unlikely to fulfil their mission. Uthric thought that at least they should wait until Rowena returned which he felt may change the situation. Wulfhere said he thought a positive resolution was slipping away but he needed to make every effort before going back to Cerdic and telling him that he would not get any reinforcements from the north. Wulfhere agreed that they should wait for Rowena to return at the least. It was late afternoon when Rowena and what was left of her Warband returned. They had lost over half of their men on an assault on Calleva where they had tracked the British force to. Rowena went straight to her Hall and did not speak to anyone. Uthric saw Gorbold watching her return from a distance and he went to his own Hall shortly afterwards. Uthric thought it might be good to scout the enemy at Calleva. He said he was tired sitting around waiting for something to happen. If they knew the strength of the fortifications and the numbers of the enemy at least they might be able to add some knowledge to help solve this issue. Dunstan agreed and they went to get their armour and weapons from the bur. They knew the road north went straight to Calleva but thought it unwise to follow it openly because of the danger of enemy patrols. They moved quietly through the forest heading north. Unfortunately, they were not moving as quietly as they thought they were and were ambushed by a British patrol. The arrows that suddenly hit the trees around them or stuck in their shields surprised them but did no damage. The enemy, seeing that they had not hurt any of the brothers, tried to escape but were caught and quickly killed or disabled. One of the enemy did escape and he stopped again and fired arrows. Uthric decided he had had enough of being shot at and charged at the man, crouching behind his shield. The man was either luckier or a better shot that his dead or wounded comrades because two arrows hit Uthric’s right leg. One went through his thigh and the other hit his kneecap and he fell over unable to move without sever pain. The man fired two more arrows but they stuck in Uthric’s shield which he had hid behind. It was likely if Uthric had been alone the man would have killed him but he ran off when Wulfhere and Dunstan came to Uthric’s aid. They helped Uthric up and helped him to walk. It was clear that the return journey would be slow because Uthric was unable to walk without support. Wulfhere examined the bodies of the men they had killed and finding one was still alive interrogated him. The man refused to answer questions other than calling them child murderers and woman killers. He said he would prefer to be killed quickly rather than burnt alive as the Sais usually did. Wulfhere said that this was exactly the stereotypical binary views that perpetuate misunderstanding. Sadly, Wulfhere’s British was good, but not good enough to translate exactly what he meant and the man looked confused. Uthric said that what Wulfhere had said was that the idea that the Saxons were all bad and the British all good was false and that it was not helpful in finding solutions. Wulfhere’s patience was growing thin and he gave the wounded man a quick death. They returned slowly to Taddenlæge without further incident but when they examined Uthric’s leg they knew that he would be unable to walk on it for some weeks. They sat in their bur and made plans. Uthric said that Wulfhere and Dunstan should leave and tell Cerdic what was happening and leave him here until he recovered. The other two disagreed and said that at present they should stick together. Dunstan asked what exactly could they tell Cerdic. They were still not sure what was happening or why there was conflict between the British and Saxons. They decided that they needed a lot of ale and all drank too much before they went to sleep.
  9. The Shadow of Death. The Hrothgarsons returned to home to find growing tensions across all three villages. The war had been won and the peace was now being fought over. In Glawmæd the native Britons were resentful of the occupying Saxon forces. Their population had been decimated and their Chieftain killed, admittedly by other Britons, but they were now ruled by a Saxon Thane. There was grumbling that Lucnot was not made Thane. Wulfhere, who was presently in charge until Cerdic decided otherwise, had been away on an embassy to Kernow. There had been bickering in his absence and he had not been there to put a stop to it so it had continued to fester. Wulfhere had decided that he must do something in Glawmæd to bring the warring factions together. He talked with Lucnot and they agreed that they should use the feast of Beltaine to bring two sides together. Wulfhere had also noted that there were many widowed women in the village and many newly arrived warriors. He thought the difficulty might be limited communication and that both factions tended to remain within their own groups. He and Lucnot thought that celebrating Beltaine, the Festival of Fire, with a lot of alcohol might encourage both groups to come together. He thought the Festival of Eostre or Lughnasa would have been better as they both were fertility festivals and that would definitely encourage more mingling. Wulfhere said that he was prepared to spend some of his silver to make sure the celebration was successful. Wulfhere left Dunstan and Lucnot to make withy booths which he hoped would be useful for the celebration and said he would travel to Cædering with Uthric to discuss buying Ale and Mead from Eadstan, the most prominent merchant in the area. Dunstan had been thinking about Cwen and a possible marriage contract. He was however worried that she might be pregnant from her time with King Mark of Kernow. He was not keen for his life to become more complicated and if she was carrying Mark's bastard this could eventually involve him in dynastic struggles in Kernow. He was more than convinced that Kernow was one place to which he never wanted to return. Therefore, he bided his time and left Cwen in his mother’s household. Wulfhere and Uthric left the preparations in Lucnot’s capable hands and travelled to Cædering. They arrived to find the place in uproar. In Cælctun most of the population had moved to Cædering, the village that was once their rival and with whom they had recently fought a war. Modrig had been put in charge of Cælctun by Taethle while she spent time in Cædering because Oshehrt was still too ill still to dispense laws and justice. Modrig was a good War Leader and an excellent warrior but his skills did not extend to administration. The remaining Cælctun population were bitter and annoyed and their village was becoming less important. Moreover, the promised restoration had not happened. In Cædering there had been a murder of one of Taethle's men called Bredoc. He was one of her best Carls and he had been found dead with his own axe lodged in his head. Taethle blamed the warriors of Cædering. Bredoc was half British and she suspected that that had been the reason for his murder. Taethle was in a white fury. She was demanding blood feud and justice for Bredoc. Osberht was still too ill to attend to his duties and Eadstan was arguing with Taethle when they entered the Hall. Eadstan was the most prominent person in Cædering after the Thanes and certainly the richest. He had been a key person in Osberht’s idea of creating a trading network of the three villages and selling surpluses to the bigger towns in the South. His other advantage was that he was from Cædering and he had the ear of the Carls in Osberht’s absence whereas Taethle, despite her prowess, was still viewed as an outsider. Eadstan loudly expounded the idea that one of Taethle's own men killed Bredoc, a suggestion Taethle vehemently repudiated. Eadstan had the support of the local Carls and they murmured their agreement during Eadstan’s speech. They disliked Taethle's accusations and there was growing tension between the two groups of Carls. Wulfhere and Uthric were surprised by the argument. They had come to see Eadstan about buying mead and ale, not to get involved in an argument. Taethle barely acknowledged either brother as she left the Hall with a face that looked like thunder. Eadstan, on the other hand, looked pleased with himself as Taethle left and Wulfhere asked him for details of what had happened. Eadstan told them that Bredoc and another Carl, Sigebeorht had been on watch the previous night. Bredoc had been attacked by someone and even more strange had been killed with his own axe. Eadstan said that Sigebeorht had claimed to be asleep and reported that he had not witnessed anything. Eadstan said that in his opinion Sigebeorht had to be the prime suspect and Taethle needed to apologise to Cædering’s Carls for such blatant untruths. Wulfhere said he thought it was unlike Taethle to make groundless allegations. He had always found her to be calm and controlled. Wulfhere thought that the truth was likely to come out soon. He said that he had come to see Eadstan about some help in organising a celebration of Beltaine. Eadstan said he was unfamiliar with Beltaine but would do whatever he could to help. Wulfhere told him what he needed and they agreed a price and shook hands on the contract. Eadstan said that it was good things were returning to normal and planning celebrations after all the recent troubles. Uthric remarked that he was not that sure that normal had yet returned but he would like to be proved wrong. Uthric thought that it might be better to return to Glawmæd and stay out of the arguments in Cædering. He did not think it would serve any purpose to take sides in this argument. Wulfhere disagreed and reminded him they were still Huscarls of Cædering but they also had a debt of gratitude to Taethle. Moreover, he said she had been a good friend and a staunch ally. Uthric said he had to reluctantly agree but he worried that they would become involved in something they might ultimately regret. They found Taethle in the Hall she had been using for her warriors. She was brooding on events and not overly welcoming to Uthric and Wulfhere. She said she was considering going back to Cælctun but first she wanted justice for her man. Wulfhere suggested that as both sides would see him and Uthric as neutral, he thought it might be helpful if they tried to get the truth of the matter. Taethle reluctantly agreed. She said she needed justice both for her and her men and that would likely mean a blood feud. Uthric sent for Dunstan. He thought all three of the brothers needed to be in Cædering and in the meantime, they spoke with Sigebeorht. He repeated what he had already told others. He said that he had been drinking before going on watch and had fallen asleep almost immediately and could add nothing new as to how Bredoc met his death. Neither Uthric nor Wulfhere had believed Sigebeorht but they chose not to confront him at that time. When Dunstan arrived, they met him in the main Hall and told him of how things stood. They discussed what people were thinking. Wulfhere pointed out that it came down to not what people think, but more what the three brothers were going to do. They thought that they should talk to Winfrith the Smith who had been a good friend of Bredoc. Winfrith was saddened by the loss of his closest friend. They had often spent time together talking about the best way to forge a blade. Winfrith said that even as a friend he could see that Bredoc had strengths and flaws. Bredoc was brave, loyal and above all he had honour. But in his opinion people had found Bredoc too direct. He said that Bredoc was forever causing offence by being too quick to point out errors in others actions or behaviour. It was clear that not everyone took that well and Winfrith wondered if Bredoc had said something that might have led to his death. He was aware warriors could be very sensitive and react with violence to the smallest slight. Winfrith also recalled that Bredoc had recently argued several times with Sigebeorht about drinking too much and falling asleep on watch. While the Brothers mulled this over information, they were approached by Sunngyth. Sunngyth was a Shieldmaiden and was known for her ferocity in battle. Equally she was known to be extremely superstitious. She was known at times to not be able to stir herself became the omens were wrong. She told the Brothers that two mice had told her that Bredoc had not been murdered by anyone in Cædering. She had watched the skies and the flight of a heron flying north had suggested that a spirit from a cursed hill had been responsible. Uthric thanked her for her observations and they returned to talking about what to do next. Dunstan thought that as they were at a loss for a solution that it might be useful to investigate what Sunngyth had said. Wulfhere said he had no time for superstitions and could not believe Dunstan was even contemplating listening to what she said. He said that Sunngyth talks to mice and they really do not need to take any advice from vermin. He asked Dunstan if that maybe they should talk to spiders next and seek their views. Dunstan said that talking to spiders could maybe wait until they were really stuck. The Brothers thought it would be useful to go back to Sigebeorht and ask some more questions. They thought he was looking more like the suspect in the case and they thought it best to confront him. Uthric wondered if they should ask Taethle first and that perhaps she should join them. Sigebeorht after all was one of her men and she had been annoyed that any had been accused of the murder. Wulfhere thought this an excellent idea. When they found Taethle, she was busy arranging supplies for Cælctun but gave the Hrothgarsons permission to talk to Sigebeorht. They confronted Sigebeorht and told him that they did not believe his account of the death of Bredoc and he eventually and reluctantly revealed what he witnessed. He apologised for not telling the truth of the matter but what he had seen was unbelievable and he feared that people would think he had made it up. Sigebeorht described a shadow of roughly human shape but very much larger that was attempting to get into the Hall where the warriors were sleeping. Bredoc challenged Monster and both he and Sigebeorht attacked it but their axes but did little damage. When they hit the monster, it showed no injuries. The monster had focused attacks on Bredoc but even though it hit him, Sigebeorht had not seen any injuries on Bredoc even when he fell over. The monster then took Bredoc’s axe from his hand and killed him with it. The brothers went to Taethle and told her what Sigebeorht had said. Taethle said she found it hard to believe that a monster was attacking her men and she reminded them that Sigebeorht would often drink too much and he might have had a nightmare. Uthric said that it would be impossible to find the truth without more evidence and he would stand guard that night. He might then be able to help them find the information to help them decide on what had happened. That night Uthric helped Sigebeorht and Aldric with the watch. They saw nothing until just after midnight when a dark shape climbed over the palisade. Sigebeorht challenged it and when it turned on him and attacked, the others joined in. None of their weapons seem to cause any damage to the shadowy monster but its claws caused Sigebeorht to stumble after every hit, but neither Aldric nor Uthric could see any hurt on him. The creature took Sigebeorht’s axe from his limp hand having knocked him to the ground then killed him with a blow to the chest with his own axe. The shadow creature then leapt over the palisade and went off in a northly direction. Uthric threw his javelin at it but could not tell if he had done any damage. The noise of the fight brought other warriors from the Hall and they gathered around Sigebeorht’s body. Uthric described his experience of the shadow creature. He said that it was 1 ½ times the size of a tall man with huge claws and a gaping maw. Uthric said the worst thing was that it seemed to be surrounded by darkness. After all the warriors had heard Uthric’s tale they agreed to light torches and placed them around the palisade and put 20 men on guard in case the shadow monster returned but the night passed peacefully following the murder of Sigebeorht. In the morning the Brothers discussed with Taethle what they should do. They all felt that they needed help from a leæch because this was clearly a supernatural shadow creature, a Déaþscufa. If they were to defeat it they would need someone who understood these things better than they did. Taethle sent a man to Portus Cæster to ask for a help from a leæch as quickly as possible. She did not want more deaths while they just waited. For something to do they all went outside the palisade to see if they could find any tracks and at least understand where the creature went. Although they searched thoroughly there was nothing to be found. They returned to the Hall to try and think of a plan to defend Cædering. Eadstan and Taethle were still not on the best terms. Eadstan still insisted the Taethle apologise for believing the carls of Cædering had murdered one of her men. She still felt she was justified to make the accusations. The tension affected the discussion and Eadstan was not being helpful by making demands about what should be done. Dunstan wondered if they should go north and search for the Déaþscufa. He reminded them that Sunngyth had said that there was a darkness in the north on a hill but the only hill that he knew was Old Win Cæster Hill. He thought it might be useful to check with Osbeorn at Seaxeneat, a village at the foot of the hill, to see if he had noticed anything unusual. Wulfhere reminded them that last time they had tried to talk with Osbeorn it had not been a success and he had not been very forthcoming. Dunstan also recalled stories told by Hildegard that there was supposed to be in magic sword buried in one of the old peoples graves in the north. Everyone thought relying on Sunngyth and old stories would not solve their problem of a Déaþscufa that was killing their friends. While they were waiting for the leæch to arrive they agreed how they would defend Cædering by setting fires around the walls and posting more guards. But it didn’t help. The Déaþscufa climbed over the walls and killed Glædwine, one of the Cædering Carls, and no one who was there was able to prevent it. In the morning, they discussed why a Déaþscufa might have suddenly appeared and begun to kill people. They wondered if they had inadvertently annoyed something but no-one could remember anything out of the ordinary happening. Eadstan said that it would be his view that it must have been raised by wiććecræft and he recalled that a week ago he had been travelling from the north and had heard there was a leæch call Dunric had been seen by other travellers. Dunstan wanted to know if this could be the same leæch that served Coelfrith and what did it mean if it was. He had thought the troubles with Ealdorman Coelfrith were over but this was a clear sign that Coelfrith had not finished his revenge on Caedering. Just after mid-morning Hereweard, a leæch from Portus Cæster, arrived. He had come after a request from Taethle and he was interested in the details of the Déaþscufa. When he had been told the details he told them he was in no doubt that it had been summoned and when he was told it might have been Dunric he laughed and said that he would have guessed that anyway. Dunric was known among the other leæches to be overly interested in the darker areas of the spirit world. Taethle assigned ten warriors to the task of finding and destroying the Déaþscufa and they would accompany the Hrothgarsons and Hereweard to the north in search of an answer. Taethle told them that they needed to hurry or there might be no-one left when they returned. The group went up the old people’s road but saw nothing of significance until they approached Seaxeneat. They smelt blood and death on the wind before they saw anything and Hereweard began to shake as if he had a fever. He told them it was nothing and they should continue but Dunstan was not sure this was the best idea. They found that the village of Seaxeneat had met with horror. Everyone had been killed, even the animals had been slaughtered. Thirteen bodies hung from trees and the others lay where they had been killed. One of the younger Warriors vomited and two others refused to enter the village because they saw the deaths as omens of their own death. When Wulfhere tried to persuade them that they would be safe, they told him that they would happily face enemies in a Shield-wall but they did not want to have their souls destroyed by a Déaþscufa. Wulfhere said that if they would not enter the village then they could be of use and take the bodies down from the trees and guard the gates. He ordered the rest of the men to search the village thoroughly and they found a young girl who was alive hidden in the cellar of a house. She was terrified and when Wulfhere tried to talk with her she grew hysterical. Wulfhere spoke soothing words and managed to calm her down. She was able to tell them her name was Idris but for the moment she would say no more. In the meantime, Wulfhere told the men to collect the bodies and build pyres. It was a gruesome job as many of the bodies had been dismembered and some seemed to have been flayed alive. In the end they counted 29 people who had been killed. By the time they had completed the work it was getting towards dark and they needed to find a place to stay for the night. No one wanted to stay in Seaxeneat. They agreed they would not light the pyres until tomorrow when there was daylight. Uthric led them to the west where they found a dell in which a fire would not be seen from a distance. Dunstan was extremely uneasy. He was concerned that Dunric had directed an attack at Cædering and he felt they were all under threat. Uthric pointed out that they are no longer lived in Cædering but had moved to Glawmæd so if the curse was on Cædering then they were safe. Wulfhere and Hereweald were not too sure and both felt that they should not take chances. They set a fire and four men were told to be on watch at any one time. Despite their fear the night passed peacefully but they thought that it was likely that in Cædering another warrior had died at the hands of the Déaþscufa during the night. In the morning they returned to Seaxeneat and they lit the pyres that had begun yesterday putting the bodies on when the flames were hot enough. Wulfhere continued to try and talk to Idris who had become much calmer. Idris told them that a man with a sneer who wore dark robes and had a wolfs teeth necklace had come to the village three days ago. He had some warriors with him and they had killed Osbeorn, the Thane, and any who tried to resist them. The rest they sacrificed to a creature of darkness who drank the life from the people. She saw the man with the necklace laugh and when they had finished killing everyone they left. She thought they went north but she thought she might be wrong because she was sure no-one lived in the north in the ruins on the hill. Dunstan said he thought that Dunric was like a lot of people who annoy the Hrothgarsons in that afterwards they all run away and hide. Uthric was not sure Dunric was actually hiding, it was more likely that he was up to something else and they had just not found out what it was yet. Wulfhere asked Hereweald for his opinion because they wondered if Dunric had summoned the Déaþscufa by sacrificing all the people of the village. Hereweald said that sacrificing 29 people would make a very powerful summoning and it might be difficult to counter. They asked Hereweald how you might offset such a spell. Hereweald said a sure way would be to sacrifice a further 29 people. Dunstan was not keen on that idea. The others discussed possible ways of finding enough people to sacrifice but no one could think of where to find suitable sacrifices and they were not keen to sacrifice people to the dark spirits anyway. Hereweald said that it was possible that they might only need thirteen people for sacrifice and they might find that easier. Wulfhere said they needed to find another way other than sacrifice. He wondered why leæches were always so keen to kill people. Hereweald said that human sacrifice always meant that the magic was much more powerful and effective. The burning of the bodies took a good part of the day but Wulfhere was keen to try and find out how to counter the spell. He was also aware that another warrior would die tonight if something was not done. He left his men to finish the task of cremating the dead and took Dunstan, Uthric and Hereweald north. They thought that while they still had light they should investigate Old Wincen Cæster Hill. Dunstan said that it was always mystery to him how Osbeorn had survived in Seaxeneat so close to so many dangerous enemies and he was disappointed that now with his death they would never know. He worried that they had been cursed by Dunric and the curse would cause the deaths of all the people of the three villages. They made their way to north to the abandoned village on Win Cæster Hill. Nearly all of the buildings had been destroyed and only a few walls remained upright. They searched round the entire circumference of the hill and eventually found a place that could possibly be one of old peoples’ graves. It was too late to start digging into the grave so they returned to Seaxeneat to get food, rest and tools for digging. Dunstan took two Carls and Idris back to Glawmæd. He gave Idris to their mother to look after and she asked if they were collecting all the waifs and strays in the world on their wanderings. Dunstan did not reply to her provocation but gently told Idris that Hildegard was her new mother and would feed her honey cakes if she was good. Dunstan then went to see Taethle and told her what they had discovered. She felt the leæch with the sneer and the wolf’s teeth necklace could be none other than Dunric and she intended to send a messenger to Cerdic to tell him what had happened. She also told Dunstan that they needed to find a solution to the Déaþscufa as quickly as possible. She was losing a warrior every night and was contemplating leaving Cædering deserted until they either stopped Dunric or the Déaþscufa. Dunstan also found time to talk to Eadstan and discuss buying a present for Cwen, should he decide that he wanted to marry her. They agreed on an exquisite cloak broach which had garnets and a gold dragon of British workmanship. Dunstan took it to Glawmæd and hid it in his possessions. He then went back north but did not arrive until after dark. His appearance scared Leofdæg and Pæga who were on guard duty and they nearly threw their javelins at him. In the morning the Hrothgarsons and Hereweald took tools and went to dig up the old people’s grave. It took several hours of digging and Uthric wondered if they were digging in the right place because the earth here had not been disturbed. They eventually found the entrance passage still blocked by a large stone. When they removed it the darkness was almost solid. The torches they used to try and see into the passage guttered and went out. Hereweald was certain that there was drýcræft causing the torches to go out. They discussed what to do. Dunstan agreed that he would go in and see what was there. He thought he could get out quickly if there was something dangerous and was relying on his brothers to pull him out if he could not move or was injured by whatever lay in the darkness. He slowly made his way down the passage and unable to see, he used his spear to feel ahead. After crawling along the passage for a short bit he felt more than saw that the passage opened up into a larger space and heard a chink which he thought might be coins. He tried to see what he was doing but the darkness was absolute despite the fact he did not feel he had gone far enough for the light at the entrance to fade. He heard something stir in the darkness and tried to look to see what it was. Dunstan thought perhaps he was seeing things but slowly coalescing out of the darkness was a gigantic dragon like creature. Dunstan could not swear it was a dragon but it certainly looked like one and he backed out quickly and suddenly came into the morning light which momentarily blinded him. He told the others what he thought he had seen but could not tell if it was real or some kind of spirit. Hereweald thought it might be a spirit because of the darkness but perhaps one that looked like a dragon. He was uncertain how to deal with it. He said it was likely that Dunric was more powerful than him and had more experience in dealing with the dark spirits. He said that he was worried that they may not be able to overcome either the dragon or the Déaþscufa. Uthric wondered if the Dragon and the Déaþscufa might not be one in the same. Hereweald said he was uncertain if that was the case but what he was sure of was that most spirits could be bargained with. The difficulty was that the bargain generally was one that a living person would not want to make. They agreed that they would try and bargain with the spirit and see if they could gain an advantage that would help them defeat the Déaþscufa. They all thought that they should travel with the leæch into the spirit world and Hereweald said that they would therefore need to individually gather certain plants at midnight. The good news he said was that the moon was in the right phase but it would take until tomorrow to prepare the spirit tent and prepare the roots for the spirit journey which would mean another warrior would die that night. Hereweald said that it might have been quicker to sacrifice the warriors that had been killed but he thought there might be no volunteers. At midnight Hereweald showed them the plants and told them how to creep up on them safely and harvest them without harming the roots. It was a long and tedious job to harvest the plants and they were exhausted by morning but the leæch pushed them onwards with encouraging words. He set about preparing the leaves and roots while the Hrothgarsons built a spirit tent. Dunstan considered himself the leading expert in withies and he was critical of Uthric and Wulfhere’s choice of and placement of withies. They were becoming irritated by Dunstan’s constant directions and offered to let him build it by himself. They realised that they were tired and becoming difficult with each other and thought they should rest rather than argue. Dunstan agreed that they should not argue and said he would finish the spirit tent in order to make it right. He said he was keen to strike a bargain with the spirit and destroy the Déaþscufa before there was no one left alive in Cædering. By midmorning Dunstan and Hereweald had completed their preparations and were ready to start the journey to the spirit world. Hereweald made them all drink a foul-tasting liquid and threw herbs and leaves on the fire. The smoke produced by the fire was suffocating and the surroundings became vague. Hereweald beckoned them forward and they left the tent with him. The darkness in the grave was not quite so complete as before and they all followed Hereweald through the passageway. The dragon spirit welcomed them to its home and named itself Ætremód, the keeper of secrets. Hereweald named himself Spirit-traveller and Ætremód nodded in welcome. Hereweald told it they were seeking knowledge of the Déaþscufa and how to send it back to Neorxanwang. He asked Ætremód if it had the secret they were looking for and how they could bargain for the knowledge. Ætremód stretched its wings and settled on a hoard of treasure. The movement caused a brief landslide of treasure and revealed an old sword. Ætremód told them it would be a simple matter and the sword in the treasure would achieve what they wanted but the price would be the spirit of one of the ælfar. Hereweald said they would retire to consider Ætremód’s offer and would return shortly. Uthric said that he was adamant about not giving Meire to Ætremód and anyway he said she denied being an ælfar and he believed her. Dunstan pointed out she had that odd greenish tinge in her skin and Ætremód was likely to think she was an ælfar. Uthric was unmoved by Dunstan’s argument. Hereweald said they did not know where they could find an ælfar so they were at an impasse. Uthric asked Hereweald if they could defeat Ætremód in a spirit fight. He had no experience of how to fight the creature but thought that they might get the better of it if they all attacked. Hereweald said that he thought it was possible but that they were risking their spirit bodies. Dunstan said he was willing to do that for the sake of defeating the Déaþscufa. Hereweald was unsure and said that while he had no issue meeting his death he was not sure he wanted his spirit eaten by a darkness spirit. Wulfhere asked him what would persuade him to take the risk and he offered half the treasure in the mound. Hereweald still looked doubtful and Uthric increased the offer to include all of the treasure. Hereweald still said he thought this might turn out badly for all of them but finally agreed. Dunstan said he was not happy with this agreement. He thought they were all taking equal risks and the treasure should be split evenly. To settle it, he said he would act as bait for Ætremód by going into the passage first. Wulfhere thought that maybe bait was the wrong word and Dunstan should consider distraction as the appropriate endeavour. Dunstan thanked his brother for his advice and prepared himself for combat with Ætremód. Dunstan moved slowly up the passage and when he saw Ætremód raise its head from the bed of treasure he struck it with his spear and then turned and ran. Ætremód had not been expected the blow from the spear and fortunately for Dunstan it took a moment for it to realise what had happened. Dunstan was almost out of the passage way when Ætremód breathed a blackness that raced along the passage and engulfed the fleeing Dunstan. His body and mind felt numbed but he managed to stumble out of the passage. Ætremód flowed after him and with its presence the area outside the grave became as dark as it had been in the grave. Their spirit bodies could see better in the darkness and they saw Ætremód’s vast size as it reared up and prepared to bite Dunstan. He was saved by Hereweald who put himself in between Ætremód and Dunstan and then struck Ætremód on the head with his staff. There was a loud percussion that deafened everyone. Ætremód switched its attack to Hereweald and struck him on his leg with a claw. Hereweald fell heavily but was able to crawl backwards. Wulfhere and Uthric moved forward to attack, protecting the prone leæch and struck the creature with their spears. Ætremód retaliated by raking Wulfhere with a claw which he blocked with his shield but still caused bruising to his arm. Uthric thought his spear struck the soft underbelly of Ætremód but he could not see much damage. Dunstan had scrambled to his feet. He had blisters as if he had been burnt all over his body but he ignored the pain and picked up his warspear to attack. Hereweald again pointed his staff at Ætremód and the creature recoiled in obvious pain. However, it slashed with its claws at Wulfhere whose shield was almost broken and the claws raked his leg. Both Wulfhere and Uthric again hit it with their spears and Uthric parried the claw attack with his shield. Ætremód ignored Wulfhere and Uthric and tried to bite Hereweald. Hereweald shoved his staff into the open jaws and there was a loud explosion as his staff burst apart. Bits of wood hit both Uthric and Wulfhere but Ætremód recoiled allowing all three of the Hrothgarsons to attack with their spears. Ætremód again clawed at Wulfhere and split his shield and injured his chest. Dunstan attacked from behind which attracted the attention of Ætremód who tried to bite him. Dunstan managed to get his shield in the way but the force of the bite snapped his shield in two and injured his shield arm. Ætremód towered over Dunstan and prepared to bite him again but it allowed Wulfhere and Uthric to attack again and both spears went deep into its body. Ætremód let out a high-pitched cry and lashed Wulfhere with its tail breaking the shield and causing damage to his hip. Uthric stuck his spear into the creature’s head and suddenly the darkness was gone. The sudden increase in light left them all blinded and they felt themselves getting drawn back to their physical bodies that still lay in the spirit tent. Uthric was the only one unharmed. Dunstan had been hit by Ætremód’s breath and had suffered serious hurt all over his body. Wulfhere would likely limp for weeks and Hereweald would need help to walk even short distances. Uthric did what he could to make everyone comfortable and went to examine outside and the grave mound. Now that the darkness had gone he could use a torch to explore the inside of the mound. There was a vast array of silver and even some gold but the real prize was the sword that lay half buried in the mound of treasure. Uthric was disappointed when he looked closer at it, for the sword looked old and covered with verdigris. He thought that all their effort to kill the Ætremód had been for an old sword that in his opiniont would not cut soft butter. He lifted it up and was surprised when the mould and verdigris fell off and he was left with a shiny bronze sword. Uthric reported what he had found and showed the sword. Wulfhere said that only Uthric was in any state to take on the Déaþscufa but he was aware that Uthric was also not familiar in fighting with a sword. Uthric acknowledged that this was a problem but thought that unless Wulfhere had a better idea he would have to take his chances and fight the Déaþscufa. They took some treasure in their cloaks and sealed the mound again hoping to disguise its entrance. The others waited while Uthric went and got the rest of their men from Seaxeneat. They all carried Hereweald, Wulfhere and Dunstan back to Cædering as none of them could walk well. They met with Taethle in the hall and told her of events and how they believed they could defeat the Déaþscufa. She said that it was her duty as a Thane to fight the Déaþscufa and exact revenge for the death of so many of her men. She thanked Uthric for his offer to fight but she also pointed out that she had had training in the use of a sword and could at least use it competently. That night Taethle stood alone on the palisade awaiting the arrival of the Déaþscufa. The fight was long and dreadful but eventually she triumphed and dispelled the Déaþscufa but she had taken numerous grievous wounds. Her shout of victory brought others from the Hall and they saw her fall unconscious as they approached. Taethle was carried back to the Hall by her Carls but they were uncertain if she would live. Her armour was torn and ripped but there were no marks on her skin or indication where the wounds were. Hereweald was brought in on a stretcher from his sick bed and he was able to give direction as to where the healers should bandage. It took several weeks before the wounded had healed sufficiently and they are able to return to Old Wincen Cæster Hill to get the rest of the treasure. There was no longer any hope of dividing the treasure five ways. So many people had been injured or killed by the Déaþscufa that they needed to use the treasure to ease the suffering caused. Even Hereweald thought that this was the best idea. They gave Osberht a golden torque as he was their Thane and the rest they split between those that had suffered injury. Wulfhere kept enough silver so that he would be able to add extra provisions for the Feast of Beltaine and Lughnasa. He thought that there had been so much sorrow, death and destruction over the last number of years that everyone needed some distraction. Dunstan married Gwenith, a British woman who had been widowed by Anyon’s attack on Glawmæd. She brought three children with her from her previous marriage. Uthric thought that Dunstan had done well to marry at last and he wished him every success. Wulfhere and Lucnot took the credit for helping to heal the divisions in Glawmæd. For the rest of the year the Hrothgarsons helped to rebuild Glawmæd and to bring in the harvest. They made sure that they attended to both British and Saxon festivals and considered each of equal importance which brought the two peoples together. It also helped that many of the Saxon warriors had married British women. The Hrothgarsons spent their odd quiet moment plotting the downfall of Ealdorman Coelfrith, the fugitives Beorthric and Wilfrith and they also added Dunric to the list. They were unsure how they would deal with Dunric as he was a leæch and killing a leæch was likely to consign the killer’s soul to Neorxanwang and have it gnawed by the dragons, who live in the roots of the One tree, until the end of the world. Word arrived from Cerdic that he had complained to Coelfrith about his leæch’s actions and threatening war if there was no compensation and wergild for the men who died or were injured. Coelfrith had denied any involvement but acknowledged that it was likely to be Dunric who had caused the hurt. He had disowned the leæch and told Cerdic’s messengers that the leæch had gone too far and that he regretted any involvement with him. Coelfrith said that he was unaware where Dunric had gone. He had left with some followers and he believed him to be in Mierce. He did not offer to pay any wergild.
  10. Embassy to Kernow Wulfhere knew Glawmaed was in trouble. Although the harvest had been gathered it had been destroyed in the war and many of the livestock had been killed. He had been put in charge of Glawmaed until Cerdic made a decision about who should be Thane. It was therefore Wulfhere's responsibility to find enough food for the villagers and the extra warriors, who were now guarding the village. The destruction in Glawmaed, Caedering and Caelctun meant that usually self-sufficient villages that had produced surplus for trade had nothing to spare. Wulfhere sent messages to Stuf at Portus Caester and he obliged by sending five oxcarts of supplies north. Wulfhere was concerned that Coelfrith might still want to cause trouble for Caedering. Osberht's defection had set up a chain of events in which Coelfrith had lost considerable standing and honour. He had been humiliated by Aelle and Wulfhere wondered if he would react by targeting Caedering. Wulfhere decided that he was probably over-interpreting things and he hoped there would be peace for some years. Uthric asked Modrig the names of the Huscarls that had left Garm to die. He memorised them for the future as he thought they might seek revenge. He also asked about Beorthric and Wilfrith and if Modrig had any knowledge of them. He was disappointed to learn Modrig had no knowledge of either man. Dunstan, Wulfhere and Lucnot began to rebuild the houses. Dunstan spent his spare time training his brother Egfryd. He was still concerned that Hildegard was giving Egfryd too many honey-cakes. The situation with their mother had not got any better but equally it had not got worse. Dunstan was more critical of her than either Wulfhere or Uthric. He felt she was not honouring their father’s memory. He remarked that it was time she remembered that she was a grandmother and had responsibilities rather than her continual sulking just because he intended to kill her husband. Ealdorman Cerdic knew that his Yule celebrations would be critical for the coming year. This was the fifth year of Aelle's reign as Bretwalda and Cerdic had it in mind that he would be challenging Aelle for the title soon. The battles at Caelctun, Caedering, Glawmaed and Llys had changed the political landscape. Coelfrith's loss of Caedering and Caelctun had side-lined him as a force in the west and Cerdic was keen to take the land west of the Moen and north to the Tamyse for himself. It was rumoured that Coelfrith had been struck down by the plague and they hoped to hear news of his death soon. Cerdic's men had been to Friesland, Jutland and Saxony spreading news that there was more than enough land in Briton for any warriors who were strong enough to take it. He hoped that he would see the fruits of his message in spring when the weather allowed the boats to sail again. He was concerned about Octa. King Octa was the exiled king of Ceint and he was the one remaining son of Hengist. Octa was also a bad-tempered drunkard and his men were outlaws, murderers and traitors who he recruited in the hope of regaining his throne in Ceint. Cerdic knew that although he had an alliance with Octa that he would soon need to deal with him. Octa was in perpetual war with Aelle and his bloodthirsty warriors spent their time raiding Ceint or in piracy of Ceintish ships. Octa was also rumoured to have made an alliance with the Dumnonians. Cerdic knew that this would need to change but he was content to leave it for the moment. Octa kept Aelle occupied and stopped him expanding his realm along the Tamyse valley and into Mierce. The Leæces in Halig's isle had read the runes and told Cerdic he would be a king soon. Cerdic sat and watched his Thanes, Huscarls and Carls celebrate Yule at his Hall in Portus Caester. He sat at the top benches with his son, Cynic, nephew Stuf and a Thane, Frodda who had come from Froddington. The Yule feast was going well when suddenly it was interrupted by Stuf and Cynic who began attacking a man with their swords. Dunstan remarked that he must have stolen someone's Yule sausage and had really upset them. It turned out that the man had used a bucket of water to extinguish the Yule log. This was considered a very bad omen and try as he might to pass it off, Cerdic was worried. Rumours circulated that the man was one of Octa's Carls. Some even said he was Aelle's man. Cerdic called for the best Yule Ale to be served and a skald told the story of Cerdic's victories and the taking of Portus Caester. But the mood in the Hall was dampened and, on the benches, men wondered what bad luck was coming. On the third night of the Feast, the Brothers were invited to tell the tale of the Battles in the North. Dunstan spoke well and held the attention of the audience while he told of the treachery of Garm and his ignominious death. He spoke of the humbling of Coelfrith at Aelle's Moot and the battle at Caedering and how even the women and children of Caedering fooled the Britons by pretending to be warriors. Cerdic gave Dunstan, Uthric and Wulfhere arm rings and new clothes. Men said that it was well with the Hrothgarsons and their reputation was growing and they were going to be like their father. Cerdic asked the Brothers to come and see him privately. He praised their exploits and enquired if they could speak British as well as he had been told. He acknowledged this was a useful skill which would make them ideal for a delicate task. He told them of his plans to invade Dumnonia and capture land as far as the Itchen. He knew this would be a momentous task for the Dumnonians were fierce warriors and moreover they often fought from horseback. Cerdic thought that causing a distraction might help his cause and wanted to see if he could gain some allies for his cause. He told of a strong Kingdom beyond Dumnonia called Kernow, ruled by a king called Mark. He wanted to see if it was possible to forge an alliance with this Mark and get him to attack Dumnonia when Cerdic did. The Dumnonians would either have to split their army or leave one of the enemy armies to rampage through their lands. He wanted the Brothers to go on a diplomatic mission that would require both tact and delicacy. Mark was known to be a drunken king who preferred to spend his time playing with his many woman. But the warriors of Kernow were fierce and Mark may be tempted to take land and wealth from his rival, the Dumnonian King. It was well known that he hated this man, The Bear, but for what reason Cerdic had not been able to discover. Wulfhere thought that this task was not beyond their skills but he was concerned if they had to walk through Dumnonia that they would likely attract some attention and that attention would not always be friendly. Cerdic agreed that walking to Kernow was possibly not the best idea so he had engaged one of his trusted Frisian traders to take them there in a boat. Uthric said that he would be willing to go just for the experience of being in a boat although he had heard it could be dangerous. Dunstan said that he had become used to travelling and sometimes he found it hard not to be on the road. Cerdic was pleased with their response and said that the boat would be ready to leave a moon after Hretha's feast. He had been told that the storms were less by then and that it could even be a pleasant voyage. They were to take ten Carls with them in case of trouble and he also had gifts for Mark that might help sway the argument. He said that it was likely Mark would want silver and perhaps land that but he thought it well worth the effort if he gained an advantage in the coming war. After Yule the Brothers took their leave of Cerdic and promised to return a moon after the Feast of Cakes. They spent the intervening time arranging the defence of Glawmaed with Lucnot and Taethle. They also discussed the crops needed for the following year and what animals they should concentrate on breeding. Uthric and Wulfhere said goodbye to Meire and Bronwyn. Both women told them they were pregnant and hoped they would return for the birth. Wulfhere said they expected to be home long before harvest. Hildegard told both woman that from her own experience, her sons' timekeeping was not their strong point. Cerdic reminded them that they might be provoked while in Kernow and they were to do nothing to endanger a potential alliance. They went aboard the trading ship that was to take them to Caer Dore. Cerdic had also installed two young woman from minor noble families who thought that being Concubines to a rich king would improve their prospects. Cwen and Daira were both blonde and beautiful but understandably nervous now that they were about to leave their familiar surroundings for the unknown. The Ships Master was Durwin, an experienced sailor who looked at his human cargo of the Brothers and the ten Carls with some amusement. He was heard telling his sailors to lay bets who would be seasick first. A sailor called Wyre won 5 silver for predicting Dunstan would be the first to spend time leaning over the gunwale. It took five days to get to Caer Dore. None of the passengers were able to enjoy the passage and they were too ill to watch the coast of Dumnonia or the majestic cliffs of Kernow that protected the bleak Moors where the men of Kernow mined and smelted tin. The port of Caer Dore was a filthy, smelly village. The people were small and squat and seemed impoverished. They stood back and stared at the tall Carls with their bright cloaks and sharp spears. Durwin spoke with the Harbour master and agreed the price for the berth. He asked Wulfhere how many days he should pay for but Wulfhere had no answer. He was unsure of the task that lay ahead and could only advise that it might be several days. He agreed that two warriors should stay with the ship to help the sailors protect it. Durwin was concerned that there was no treaty about shipping between Cerdic and Kernow and he was keen to protect his ship and income. Wulfhere promised that he would send a message as soon as he could about the state of negotiations and possible time to return home. Caer Dore lies inland from its port. The track was muddy and full of ruts. After half a mornings March they approached King Mark's royal seat. Caer Dore is a vast sprawl of haphazard buildings, on the outskirts most of the buildings are shacks with narrow muddy paths leading to a central hill on which stood a large hall. The concentration of dwellings, byres, barns and corrals increased as they approached the centre. The people they passed were sullen and Uthric frequently heard the word 'Sais', the British word for Saxons. It was hard to estimate how many people lived in this town. Dunstan thought it might be more than a 1000 but probably less than 2000. It was certainly the biggest place they had ever seen but it seemed that every other person was a beggar, holding their hands out to the strangers. Most of the people looked poor and more ragged than their own lands. There were some warriors who watched them with open hostility. The Brothers were shown into Mark’s Hall. The Hall stank of discarded food and vomit. It looked as if the remnants of a feast had not been cleared away and hungover warriors snored on the benches set against the walls. Mark's steward Bannon greeted them and asked them if their journey had been good. Wulfhere responded politely and wondered if they might meet with King Mark. Bannon said unfortunately King Mark was indisposed after last night’s carousing, but he would have a feast to welcome the Sais to Kernow. Bannon offered the travellers food and watered ale. Dunstan found the pastry dumplings filled with meat and vegetables not very appetizing and wondered if Bannon could provide something different and perhaps some stronger alcohol. Bannon ignored Dunstan's request and advised them that there would be a feast tonight and Dunstan could have all manner of interesting foods but perhaps he suggested they needed to retire before then to rest after their arduous journey. Bannon showed them to a hut which would be their living quarters while in Kernow. He apologised that it had not been cleaned and there had been no fresh straw for the bedding nor any fresh reeds for the floor. He assigned them a serving woman who he said would see to their needs. Wulfhere thought he had never met a more surly woman in his life. She made his mother’s recent bad tempers seem like joyous song. She seemed to interpret every reasonable request as a personal insult. Daira and Cwen looked scared about what they had seen so far. It did not fill them with confidence that their lives would be improved. They asked Wulfhere to send them back to the ship. Wulfhere acknowledged that so far, their expectations had not been met but he was sure that after they were introduced to King Mark their opinions would change and they would see things differently. They should see their situation as the start of a new life and they would have many opportunities for advancement. It was a good speech but everyone's spirits were so low that it convinced no-one that things could improve. The woman went off to try to bathe and prepare themselves. They could be heard crying in the back of the room. The Brothers and the eight Carls discussed their situation. They agreed they were in a hostile town and there was danger everywhere. Wulfhere reminded them of Cerdic's instructions. They must do nothing to provoke their hosts and ruin the chance of an alliance. Wulfhere told the Carls that it would be best that they did not come to the feast. He did not think that any of the Brothers would be directly provoked but he worried that the Carls might not have the same level of hospitality. He reminded the Brothers that they should not drink more than was necessary and they should keep their wits about them. Uthric said that he was of the opinion that the only way to endure this country would be to pass out from drink and wake up again on the boat home. Dunstan agreed in principle with Uthric but said that it might be too long a time to remain drunk. They were introduced to various local dignitaries at the feast. Tristan, the King’s son, was civil and courteous but was very clear at declaring his support for Dumnonia and against the Sais. He said his father might have other ideas but he and his men would not fight against their friends, The Dumnonians. Mark's champion was Aud, a huge tattooed man. He had blue swirls over most of his body and wore warrior rings on each finger and in his beard which clinked when he moved. He did not speak much but drank huge quantities of ale. Wella was Mark's Leæch. He was an old man whose thinning white hair had been shaved at the front in the manner of the British. He performed a brief ceremony where he killed a hare and sprinkled the blood over the gathered warriors. Wulfhere touched his Thunor's hammer in the hope that whatever spell Wella had cast would be averted. They were introduced to Diarmuid, an lrish King. He was known as Bloody Shield but none of the Brothers wanted to hear why. Two other chieftains were present at the top bench called Rhan and Dubv. Both spent the night cramming food and drink into their mouths while sharing unsavoury jokes with Diarmuid. Wulfhere noticed that despite seeming to match Rhan and Dubv, Diarmuid actually drank very little. There was no sign of Mark. His throne remained empty while the feast went on. Dunstan was disappointed that the main food was more of the inedible pastries or dumplings. He eventually settled on some vegetable and pork broth. Diarmuid, the Irish King spoke with Wulfhere. Only he and Tristan were not drinking heavily. Dunstan asked him where Ireland was and Diarmuid told him that it was two days march directly north. Diarmuid was an interesting man but they felt that it would be difficult to trust him. Eventually Mark arrived. He was supported by several guards as he appeared unsteady on his feet. He was fat and bloated and covered like Aud in swirling blue tattoos over his face and arms. As he came closer they could smell that he had already been drinking. Wulfhere stood as was customary and getting Uthric to translate, introduced himself as an embassy from Cerdic. Mark waved a hand in acknowledgement as he almost fell off his throne. He mumbled something to Bannon who asked Wulfhere if he had any gifts for King Mark. Wulfhere thanked the king for his hospitality and said that indeed Cerdic had sent him two gifts which he had hoped would please him. He sent Dunstan to bring Cwen and Daira to the hall. They had spent the afternoon getting ready and when they arrived the warriors went silent as the two women made their way to the front of the hall. On their arrival Mark sat up and for the first time since coming to the Hall, looked interested. He again spoke to Bannon. Bannon in turn signalled for the two spearmen on either side of Mark to move forward. They ripped the Women’s dresses off and turned them around for Mark to see. Each woman screamed and shouted but the guards threatened to hit them and they quietened. Uthric had to stop Dunstan from objecting to the treatment of the women. Mark clapped his hands and through Bannon he thanked them for his presents which he said he would enjoy. Uthric noticed that Tristan averted his eyes and made a sign, touching his forehead and breast. Uthric assumed it was a sign against evil peculiar to Kernow The court skald, Yspaddon sang a triumphant song which Uthric translated for Wulfhere and Dunstan. Dunstan was still angry after witnessing the humiliation of Daira and Cwen. Fortunately, most people were too drunk to notice except for King Diarmuid who made some jokes at Dunstan's expense. After Yspaddon had finished a prisoner was brought in. Uthric was told by Rhan that he was a Chieftain who had rebelled against Mark and had been captured after his spearman had been slaughtered. The man was naked and his body was covered in bruises and wounds. Aud, the Kings Champion, drew his sword and began slowly cutting the Chieftain. Mark became very animated and leaned forward in his chair while his champion showed his skill with the sword by cutting the man but each cut was designed not to kill him but to cause pain. The Brothers were hardened warriors but this sickened them all. Prince Tristan stayed for the man's death but left soon afterwards. Wulfhere, through Uthric, attempted to engage King Mark but the King was barely coherent. Bannon said that this Feast was a celebration of their arrival and not the time to discuss policy. They should drink, eat and enjoy themselves. He said that Mark would talk to him tomorrow and he should show patience as befitted an emissary. Queen Iseult was brought into the Hall. There was silence as she approached the Kings dais. Dunstan, in particular, thought he had never seen such a beautiful woman. She was dark haired and fragile looking but equally had an inner strength and grace that he found it hard to look away. Diarmuid advised Dunstan to close his mouth and think of other things. Mark was an extremely jealous man and did not like other men looking at his Queen despite treating her badly and publicly humiliating her. As if to prove his point, Mark began shouting at her and attempted to get up. He grabbed a spear from his Guard and threw it at her. Fortunately, he was so incapacitated from drink that she easily avoided the throw. Diarmuid explained that Iseult’s beauty came from the Danu, an Irish goddess that was reputed to be her ancestor. Dunstan thought a two-day march north to Ireland might be worthwhile if Ireland had other women who looked like this. The Queen poured each of the guests some wine and gave a greeting and compliment to all. She then left. A short time later the king collapsed and was carried out by servants. The Brothers agreed that it was time to leave the feast now that the king had retired. They had become increasingly uneasy about being in such a strange place. It had begun to rain when they had left the feast and the paths back to their lodging were muddy and slippery. They also discovered that the roof of their house leaked and there was a large pool of water in the middle of the floor. Wulfhere thought that it would be an even more uncomfortable night as it was going to be difficult to find somewhere dry to sleep. They discussed their situation. All were appalled by the nights events and were beginning to wonder what they could achieve in Kernow. Wulfhere said that they needed to be careful and constantly on their guard. Mark was the kind of King that once offended, stays offended, even if he doesn't remember why. The next morning after a very uncomfortable night they made their way to Mark's Hall. Warriors were still asleep where they had collapsed. Prince Tristan was at the High Table on the dais and he waved for them to join him. He asked them if they had slept well and when Dunstan said that they had spent a rather uncomfortable night with a leaking roof and there was now a lake in the middle of the floor and in the fire pit that he had been able to wash in. Tristan said he was embarrassed by the poor hospitality and called Bannon to get new accommodation immediately. Bannon said that he would see to it right away. Tristan ordered food, the Brothers opted for a course ground porridge rather than meat dumplings, judging that losing a tooth to a piece of unseen stone from the grinding mill was a better risk than the pastries. Wulfhere enquired if they could meet King Mark today. He said that he was keen to return to Portus Caester because Cerdic would want to know King Mark's views as soon as possible. Tristan apologised and said he suspected his father might not be available until that night as he often slept all day after a feast. Wulfhere said he was disappointed but could wait until tonight if the king was indisposed. Tristan offered to take them hunting. Rhan, Dhuv and Diarmuid were all going Boar hunting and he said he would be delighted if they would accompany them. The Brothers reluctantly agreed. They saw Cwen and Daira in the hall and managed to talk to them. Both women were distressed and asked the Brothers to take them home with them. Wulfhere said that this was unlikely to happen. While it was not how they had hoped things would turn out, unfortunately they were part of a treaty settlement and that could not be undone without causing offence to Mark. Both women reminded him that they had come of their own choice and now chose to return. Wulfhere was conflicted but without Marks agreement he said he could do nothing. The Beaters sounded a horn to signify that prey had been found and that it was heading their way. Uthric had reminded them of the risks they were taking going boar hunting and that it might suit Tristan if they all died. He was very much against any alliance with the Saxon lords and this might be a simple and convenient way of solving his problem. Uthric said that in his opinion it would be a good solution for it was known that people died all the time in boar hunts. Tristan said that the honour of killing the boar would go to the person who saw it first. They agreed that this person would have first strike and the others would only join in if there was a risk to his life or the boar became too stubborn about dying. Diarmuid laughed and said that in his experience boars never wanted to give up their lives and indeed quite often managed to kill or severely injure the hunter even after they had taken enough hurt to have killed a normal beast. He for one was relishing the prospect of a life and death struggle with the boar and he hoped he would be first to see it. Besides he said to Wulfhere, he was sick of meat in pastry and would look forward to roast boar tonight. They made their way through dense undergrowth and listening intently they could hear the boars breathing. Dunstan spotted it first as it lay in a tangle of briars. It was an immense beast and had scars on its back from other fights with hunters. Wulfhere when he heard about the scars thought it did not bode well and observed that this boar probably had some tricks it used to escape from being speared. He urged that Dunstan to be careful. Dunstan moved forward while the others readied their spears. He poked his own spear into the undergrowth hoping to irritate the boar into a charge as he did not like the idea of trying to cut this way through the dense vegetation while guarding himself against the boar's attack. He heard a grunt and just had time to brace the spear as the boar charged head down. Dunstan's spear hit the boars' shoulder but it seemed to ignore the wound. The speed and mass of the creature was immense and it smashed into Dunstan's shield splitting it in two and colliding with his abdomen. Dunstan thought he might have some severe bruising if he managed to survive the next few heartbeats. His spear was still stuck in the boar’s shoulder and he tried to work the spear point deeper into its flesh and hit something vital. Under the boar’s weight, the spear snapped and Dunstan fell with the boar on top of him. The boar lowered its head to disembowel him but fortunately Dunstan managed to pull up his legs and force the boar’s tasks away from his chest and stomach. The tusks raked his leg leaving an impressive scar that he would carry until his death day. Dunstan was in real danger and Uthric, Wulfhere, Tristan and Diarmuid all plunged their spears into the boar, trying to push it off Dunstan. Dunstan tried to reach for his seax but it was pinned under him with the weight of the boar on top. The boar again tried to use his tusks to disembowel Dunstan but fortunately he got his legs in the way again and the boar raked his other leg. Dunstan punched the boar. The damage from his friends eventually told and the boar expired and in doing so released a stream of urine over Dunstan. Uthric, Wulfhere, Tristan and Diarmuid pushed the dead boar off of Dunstan. He looked a mess. Both legs suffered deep cuts and it was impossible to tell if the blood was his or the boars. Uthric closed and bound the wounds and Dunstan gingerly tested his legs. He was able to walk but was in pain. Tristan apologised for putting his life in danger. Diarmuid said that this story would keep Feasts amused for many days. Dunstan said that in his opinion that was easily the fiercest opponent he had ever fought. He had thought that Wulfhere would have to tell his mother he had met his death in Kernow. The beaters gralloched the boar and took the carcass back for that night’s feast. Tristan said that his step-mother was good at healing and she would attend to Dunstan when they got back. Diarmuid asked Tristan how many step-mothers he has had. Tristan laughed and said that he believed that Iseult was his sixth or seventh. Diarmuid grinned and said he had always found that King Mark tended to be careless and kept losing his wives. Tristan looked sad and Wulfhere wondered what Mark did to all these women. Dunstan was unsure that he wanted any attention from Iseult given Mark's temperament and evident jealousy but Tristan insisted and the Queen herself was keen to help. Dunstan found her to be gentle and skilled at healing. Iseult was about his age and Mark was over 50 years. It was clear from their conversation that Iseult was unhappy in her marriage. She told Dunstan she was from Ireland a land that was over the western sea. Dunstan was a bit confused. Diarmuid had told him that Ireland was two days march north but it was also over the western sea according to Iseult. He thought that it must be a big place. Iseult hinted that she would like to get away from Mark who she described as worse than a murderous pig with habits that would disgust the Demons of Hell. Dunstan was unsure what the Demons of Hell were but concluded that they were not people you would ask to a feast. He felt sorry for the Queen but he said that his loyalty to Cerdic and their mission took precedence to Iseult's sorrows and troubles. While the Queen talked to Dunstan and closed and bound his wounds, Uthric and Wulfhere talked to the Warlords, Dubv and Rhan. Uthric thought that both were suggesting that they would never get an answer from Mark. They suggested in low voices that another king might have a better answer to their inquiries. They said that if Cerdic would lend them 100 spearmen they might be able to be of help with Cerdic's plans. Wulfhere tried to change the subject, recognising that the two Warlords were proposing treason. He did not know what Cerdic's opinion of this would be and certainly did not want to be accused of helping to overthrow King Mark. He thought it best to give ambiguous answers and play for time. He was thankful that Tristan returned to the Hall and both Rhan and Dubv changed the talk to hunting stories. When they returned to their accommodation the Brothers shared their concerns. Dunstan advised that they needed to search their boat thoroughly before they left. He fully expected that they might have some unexpected passengers. It appeared to be that every woman in any way closely connected to Mark was very keen to escape hm and at present they were the surest way to leave the country. He had no wish to have to fight their way to the boat and fight a sea battle all the way to Portus Caester. He said that if they were not on a diplomatic mission he would have no problem rescuing all these women but he felt his allegiance to Cerdic outweighed other things. Uthric and Wulfhere discussed the treason that was hinted at by Dubv and Rhan. They noted that this country was riven by factions and Wulfhere thought it was a surprise it functioned at all. He was even more surprised that no-one had put a knife in Mark's black heart. Uthric supposed that the only reason it had not happened was because no-one could agree on who would replace Mark. If Mark was killed, Tristan would be obligated to revenge his father and that would be a hard task for potential rebels to overcome. Both Uthric and Wulfhere thought Tristan would make a fine king but it would not help Cerdic's plans. It was clear Tristan's sympathies lay with Dumnonia and he would never attack them. They agreed that their embassy was doomed and they should see Mark as soon as they could and take his answer to Cerdic. Cerdic would want their opinion of Mark and Kernow and they were clear that they had had enough of this country from its interminable meat pastries to its drunken mad and deadly King. Tristan sent a new set of clothes to Dunstan as his own set had been ruined in the fight with the boar. They attended the Feast hoping to be able to talk to Mark and leave in the morning. Similar to the previous night, Mark did not appear when the feast started. Dunstan had been looking forward to the roasted boar, but the cook had managed to overcook it and it was tough. At least, that is what Dunstan told herself when it stuck in his throat. Wulfhere said that this was a common reaction after a battle when a warrior recalls all the sword and axe strokes that nearly took his life. In the same way Dunstan was remembering his almost fatal duel with the boar and not only was he finding the memory tough but even the eating of it was tough. Mark eventually arrived and Wulfhere announced his intention of leaving the next day. Mark ignored him and said there was plenty of time to discuss matters of state. Tonight, he thought they would be better enjoying themselves. Mark was keen for his entertainment to begin. Two prisoners were brought in and both made to fight to the death. Mark was enthralled by the fight and clapped when one of the prisoners disembowelled the other. He laughed as the disembowelled man tried to pick up his guts and put them back inside before collapsing and being dispatched by Aud. The victor knelt before Mark's High seat expecting a reward but Aud came up behind him and decapitated him with a single sword stroke. The assembled warriors cheered. Mark laughed so much that he had a coughing fit in which it looked like he would expire. Wulfhere was hopeful that this might be the end of the King, but Marks coughing calmed down and he called for more drink. Iseult bought him a jug of ale. Mark was still coughing and just as Iseult poured, Mark moved his drinking horn and the ale went over his tunic. ln a rage he hit her with the back of his hand. Diarmuid restrained Dunstan and told him he should calm down if he did not want to end up as one of Mark’s entertainments at the next feast. The warriors in the Hall were a hard-bitten, lawless crew but they were silent after Mark had hit Iseult. Mark clearly sensed the mood of the Hall and attempted to change the atmosphere by ordering Cwen and Daira to dance. Diarmuid told Dunstan that Mark was a drunken bully but he needed to be aware that he was still a powerful drunkard who took petty joy at inconveniencing those who crossed him. It was usual, he continued, that those who came to Marks attention did not usually live long enough to have a second opportunity to cross him. Diarmuid said that Dunstan should also note the mood of the warriors when Mark hit Iseult. He was of the opinion that they were all in love with Iseult and one day Mark would go too far and then he would pay the price for his crimes. Dunstan would do well to focus on the future justice. Despite her swelling and bruised face, Iseult continued to serve the guests ale as was the duty of the Queen. As she filled Dunstan's drinking horn she whispered to him that he needed to take her away with him. Diarmuid stood on Dunstan's foot and he only nodded and smiled in response. The nights horrors had not finished yet. After they had danced, Cwen and Daira were called over to Marks High seat to serve him. Daira became incensed by some remark made by Mark and she slapped him, turned and walked away. Mark his face purple with anger grabbed the spear from one of his guardsmen and threw it at the retreating woman. She never saw it coming and the heavy spear took her life. The mood in the Hall changed immediately. Mark attempted to enliven the situation by getting Yspaddon to play the Marching long of Beli Mawr, one of the warriors’ favourites but it failed miserably. Mark left complaining that his warriors had gone soft. The Feast broke up with Prince Tristan again trying to apologise for his father's outrageous behaviour. Rhan whispered to Uthric that if Cerdic would support him there could be a reasonable king on the throne of Kernow who would be grateful for Saxon help. The Brothers ignored all discussions and bade goodnight to Tristan and Queen Iseult. They were stunned by events and wished to be as far away as possible from Kernow and in particular its mad King, Mark. The horror of what they had seen was possibly why they did not see the man hidden in the shadows who stabbed Dunstan in the leg and attempted to kill Uthric. They only had their seaxs with them, weapons being forbidden in the Hall but made short work of the assassin. Wulfhere's anger was such that he killed him outright. He regretted later that he did not take him alive but at the time he thought the man had killed his brother. Dunstan was still alive but badly hurt with another impressive scar to add to the growing number on his legs. He complained that it was perhaps he was too tall and assailants could not reach other parts of his body. He wondered if he had been smaller then it might have been that his scars would be more evenly spread over his body. Wulfhere and Uthric carried Dunstan back to the house and bound his new wounds. It was clear he would be unable to walk unaided for a number of weeks. To make matters worse it began to rain again and despite Bannon's promise the roof still leaked. In the morning they went to Marks Hall. Tristan was there as usual, giving the daily orders to the servants and hearing complaints from the people who petitioned Mark. He waved to the Brothers as they entered and continued to discuss a case of some stolen sheep. When he finished the judgement, he excused himself and came over to the Brothers as he had noted their scowling countenances. Wulfhere told him that someone had tried to kill them last night and he demanded to see Mark. Tristan apologised profusely and asked what he could do for recompense. He said that he was not happy that honoured guests had been attacked and nearly killed. Wulfhere said that the only thing that Tristan could do was to get his father out of bed so they could talk and then they could leave Kernow. Mark did not come to the Hall until after midday leaving the Brothers to fret if they would see him at all. Wulfhere complained to Mark about the assailant but Mark just laughed. He said that if they imagined he had tried to kill them they were wrong. They would already be dead if he wanted them killed and their bodies fed to the swine. Mark said that if Cerdic had been bothered to ask about them he would have told him the ship had left safe and sound and must have been attacked by pirates or foundered in a storm. Mark informed them it was not his fault if they flaunted their wealth and that was bound to attract thieves and robbers. Unfortunately, he continued there are still too many of those in the world. Wulfhere knew this was an argument that he would not win and he acknowledged Mark's twisted logic on the matter. Wulfhere then formerly asked Mark what it would take for an alliance with Kernow and ensure both armies attacked Dumnonia at the same time. Mark scratched at a louse in his beard and said that Dumnonia had a powerful army and he would not be keen to stick his finger in the beehive. He thought he might just continue raiding and stealing cows which would likely provoke a response. Wulfhere held firm.He said that Cerdic was most specific in his instructions and he wanted an invasion, not a raid. Dumnonia had to feel threatened from both sides and thus have to split their army. Mark said that if Cerdic sent 100 spearmen then the only further prize he wanted would be Isca. Wulfhere asked what or where or who Isca was. Mark told him it was a Roman City on the border with Kernow. Wulfhere had never heard of the tribe called Romans but he assumed they were client-kings of the Dumnonian King. Wulfhere said that he would convey the request to Cerdic and Mark would no doubt hear Cerdic's answer soon. He thanked Mark for his hospitality and bade him farewell. Dunstan said that Mark might want to fix the roof of the guest hall before someone else stays there. They were all happy to leave the Hall and went back to their lodgings. On the way back they met Queen Iseult. Uthric was aware of Dunstan's pity for her and he warned him against doing something gallant but stupid. He reminded her that she was Mark's Queen and he would not forgive this if they were to take her away. Dunstan bowed to the Queen and told her that they were leaving on the ebb tide before the evening meal. She shook her head sadly and said that she had been glad to meet him. She turned away and went back to the main Hall. When they arrived at their lodgings they found that the Carls had packed up their belongings. They also found Cwen who pleaded with them to take her back too. Wulfhere told her that Mark obviously couldn't look after gifts and in his opinion did not deserve to keep them. He did not go so far as to openly advertise that they had taken Cwen but disguised her as a Carl for the travel to the Port. They made their way back to the boat and were relieved to be leaving Kernow. Wulfhere said that he never wanted to return to this place again and if this was what British kingdoms were like then it should be no problem to conquer them. He reckoned that he could take Kernow with 100 spears. Dunstan watched the docks until they faded into the distance. He had hoped against hope but she did not come. The journey back was not as bad as the outward journey. They were only sick one of the days. It felt good to be back in the familiar sights of Portus Caester. Wulfhere reported back to Cerdic. His opinion was that Cerdic would be wasting time, effort, silver and spearmen on Kernow. Mark, he said was a drunken sot, without honour, without valour and of no use to anyone let alone his people. The Country seemed to be riven with factions and each would destroy the other. Wulfhere said that he was amazed that Mark remained king but he had seen many strange things in his life and Marks continued reign was one of the strangest. The only competent person in Kernow was the Edling, Prince Tristan. However, he unequivocally supported Dumnonia and would not support Cerdic's plan. Cerdic accepted their judgement and considered the matter closed for now. Cerdic asked why they had brought Cwen back. Wulfhere said that Mark had been careless with his gifts, he mislaid one and killed the other. He felt that he did not deserve them. Cerdic said that since her family were dead, Cwen would be his responsibility. He thanked the Brothers for their work and he released them to go back home
  11. The Cleansing of the North Osberht's wound was healing slowly. It pleased him that he now managed to walk to his high seat most days without much pain. He sat with the Taethle and Brothers to hear of their travels to Anderida. He has interested in what had happened at Aelle's Assembly and had asked them several times to go over the story about things he wanted more details on. It was clear that some part of the story concerned him but he would not talk about it. Now that he was a KingsThane, Osberht told them he needed to make arrangements for the provisioning and defence of the three settlements of Caedering, Caelctun and Glawmaed. They had agreed the twenty warriors sent by Cerdic would go to Glawmaed to protect it from attack. Taethle also agreed she would be Thane of Caelctun and she and her warriors would go there. Osberht would remain in Caedering which would become the centre of an area that would co-operate and support each other. Osberht thought it was a good idea to ask Connal to join them in a ruling council to cooperate in growing crops and raising animals for trade. Cissa Cæster and Pontus Cæster had big populations which demanded constant food and they could all grow wealthy on trading food and raw materials. The Brothers listened to Osbert's plans but pointed out that the major obstacle to this happening would be the British Burgh in the Forest of Moen. They needed to think about how to deal with that. Wulfhere was also keen to visit Bronwyn and discuss a marriage contract with Connal. He wasn't sure if Connal would agree to it but he wanted to ask as soon as possible. He had the fine enamelled cloak broach that he had bought at great expense in Anderida. Osberht gave them permission to go since they were now his Huscarls and he wished Wulfhere luck with his discussions. It was almost harvest time so they felt that they should hurry to get to Glawmaed. No-one has any time to discuss anything while the harvest is being brought in. Uthric suggested to Osberht the need to build more homes in Caedering. He was particularly keen to have a home for Meire and Hrothgar away from his mother. Osberht agreed that the building would go ahead when they returned from Glawmaed. The population of Caedering had increased and it was likely the Caelctun might only become a fortified outpost so that people from there might come to Caedering. The Brothers travelled to Glawmaed and were greeted by Connal. He had heard from some of the merchants how they had dealt with Garm and was pleased that the threat was now over. He still was concerned that Anyon had not been dealt with and no-one was clear what his intentions were. The Brothers were of the same opinion and had discussed it with Cerdic when they had met. Wulfhere said that he had asked that Glawmaed be protected and was keen that any warriors sent north by Cerdic would be stationed here. Connal thanked him. He was certain that Anyon was aware he had sworn allegiance to Cerdic and he was equally sure that Anyon would see him as a traitor. Connal said that he worried about his people who would suffer if Anyon attacked. They discussed various options over a meal and agreed they would press Osberht and Taethle to take action after the harvest. Wulfhere said that he had come on other business too. Uthric and Dunstan had never really seen Wulfhere tongue-tied and they were amused at his reticence to speak. Uthric offered to help but Wulfhere said that as he still had a tongue, he could speak for himself. He told Connal that he would be keen to make a marriage contract with Bronwyn. Connal said that in his opinion this was the worst kept secret in Glawmaed. All of the village appeared to know about his interest but as Connal had not yet discussed it with Bronwyn and she would still need to agree. Connal said he was aware of Wulfhere's qualities and he would be happy to have him as a son-in-law. However, Wulfhere needed to be aware that although Bronwyn was intelligent, good at household management and rather beautiful he often found she had a sharp tongue when things did not go her way. Connal wanted to be sure Wulfhere was aware of her deficits as well as the strengths of his daughter. Wulfhere said he was of the opinion that the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages. Bronwyn was brought in and asked her opinion. She was agreeable to the match and Wulfhere gave her the enamelled Broach he had bought in Anderida. They agreed the marriage contract and would meet again to arrange the dowry with the wedding feast to be held in Spring. The Brothers promised to come back soon to discuss the dowry. Harvest is a difficult time for all the villages and it requires backbreaking work from dawn until dusk. Everyone in the village is involved in bringing in the harvest except those too young to walk or too old to work. Afterwards the village comes together to hold the Harvest feast. The last bit of grain harvested is beaten to kill or chase away the evil spirits and then it is planted where the next years grain will grow to ensure a good harvest. The feast is always a joyful affair and despite all the uncertainty over the last year the harvest was good. The Brothers were asked to tell the tale of their fight with the Bannucmann and their most recent dealings with the Bretwalda Aelle and how they humbled Ealdorman Coelfrith. It was noted that in Dunstan's telling of the tale of the Bannucmann, Offa now played a less prominent part than before. No-one seemed to mind and the Brothers’ reputation in Caedering increased. In the days following the Harvest feast, 0sberht, Taethle and the Brothers discussed the British threat. They were aware that Cerdic was expecting them to attack and they laid plans for the battle now that Caelctun was at peace. Their discussions were interrupted by Drefon the Smith from Glawmaed. He was bloodied and wearied. He told that he had escaped the attack by the British Warband on Glawmaed. Connal had asked him to come to get help from Osberht. When he left the villagers were still defending the wall and he hoped that somehow, they had managed to hold off the attackers. He feared that Glawmaed would be sacked and destroyed. Osberht ordered an immediate gathering of the warriors and the call up of the Fyrd. To get some information he asked the Brothers if they would scout out the situation and meet the army in the woods to the east of Glawmaed where they could plan the attack. They could smell the burning long before they could see anything. They lay in the undergrowth and watched as the victorious British Warband were putting severed heads on top of stakes which they had arranged in a semi-circle facing the path to Caedering. Dunstan thought they were making a ghost fence and he was worried that it might cause some difficulty to their army because they didn't have a leæce to counteract the hagorún. Wulfhere and Uthric said that they thought Dunstan was being over-dramatic and it was only to scare them. However, when they saw the British Drýicge putting the heads on stakes and Wulfhere acknowledged that perhaps Dunstan was right. The Drýicge was tall and dark haired. She wore a long loose robe embroidered with hares and gibbous moons. Even from a distance they could tell she had power in the way she walked and gestured. They met Taethle and Osberht in the forest that shielded them from hostile eyes and told what they had seen. They agreed that they needed to attack and make the best of things in the hope that they could save their friends in Glawmaed. Dunstan and Uthric were pessimistic about Connal’s chance of survival. They expected that he might be among the heads on the stakes. Wulfhere was concerned about Bronwyn. He was worried that if she was still alive she was likely to be caught up in the new fighting if they had to assault the palisade. They moved out of the trees and advanced in two shield walls. Taethle had her seasoned warriors and Osberht took charge of the Fyrd. The Fyrd were nervous but Osberht steadied them with encouraging words. They advanced toward two British Shield walls which had formed up to counter their advance. When Dunstan counted the enemy both Shield Walls had many more men. He thought that this might turn into a difficult fight. The Shield Walls stopped 50 paces apart and two men walked out from the British line, they were followed by the dark-haired Drýicge. Osberht and Taethle went forward and Osberht asked Uthric to come as a translator. The tall man introduced himself as Anyon the War Leader of the Britons. Osberht introduced himself as the KingsThane of Caedering and asked Anyon to withdraw. He told Anyon that Glawmaed was under the protection of Cerdic and Osberht and that he would resist any attempt by the Britons to remain here. Anyon replied that all this land had belonged to his ancestors and therefore he had no intention of leaving. Osberht said that he had hoped to resolve this dispute reasonably but if Anyon would not agree then the matter would be settled by fighting. Osberht said he thought this was a pity because too many more good men would have to die on both sides. However, he felt sure that the Saxons would prevail. Anyon just laughed and said that when they told the tale of his victory, Osberht would be remembered for his sense of humour. Uthric noticed that Anyon's translator was wearing the enamelled cloak broach that Wulfhere had given to Bronwyn on the day of their wedding contract. He worried that something untoward had happened to Bronwyn but decided that now was not the time to tell Wulfhere. Both parties returned to their men and both gave encouragement to prepare their warriors for the upcoming battle. The Drýicge began hoping around on one leg, leaning on her staff for balance, making faces at the Saxon war bands and screaming how the demons of the underworld would feast on their souls. Some of the men of the Fyrd asked Uthric what she said but he refused to translate. After a while she stopped and brought out two young Saxon prisoners. Wulfhere thought they were some of the men that Cerdic had sent to Glawmaed. The Drýicge held a black stone knife and in a quick motion slit one man’s throat along the blood to pool on the ground. She then used a hazel branch to sprinkle the blood on the British warriors. Dunstan did not like this hagorún. Two warriors lifted the body of the young Saxon and tossed it into one of the burning outbuildings and Drýicge danced around the blaze. The other prisoner had been left alone by his guards and although hobbled by ropes that secured his hands and legs, he took the opportunity to try and run to the safety of his own friends. The Drýicge stopped dancing and screamed. A long spout of fire from the bonfire shot upwards into the air and arced towards the escaping prisoner engulfing him in flame. He writhed briefly before lying still, flames still burning him. Osberht could see the terror on the faces of the Fyrd and they began to move backwards. He left the front rank and beseeched them to stand and fight. He had his back to the Britons and did not see the arc of fire that shot towards him, engulfing him in bright flame. The Fyrd turned and ran. For the Fyrd, facing a Shield wall was difficult enough, they were mostly farmers or hunters but facing scinncræft was too much and they fled. The Brothers were with the Fyrd and although terrified ran to Osberht and tried to put out the fires. They wrapped him in a cloak and rolled him on the ground. Taethle made the decision to retreat too. She was now outnumbered at least three to one and although her warriors would probably have fought and died for her, she thought living to fight another day was a better option at this point. She ordered the warriors to retreat slowly to provide cover for the Hrothgarsons as they carried Osberht wrapped in a cloak towards the trees. The British moved forward but Anyon could not convince them to charge and they were content to hurl javelins and abuse at their retreating foes. Fortunately, no further flame engulfed Taethle or her men but the advancing Britons were getting closer. Eventually when she saw the Brothers had made it to the trees, Taethle gave the order to run and the Shield Wall broke. The Britons followed. Some of the Saxons were caught but most escaped into the forest to regroup at Caedering. Taethle knew that she did not have much time before the Britons arrived. She sent scouts into the woods in all directions. She ordered the woman and children to go to the safety of Caelctun and sent a guard of ten men of the Fyrd. The rest she organised to defend Caedering. Osberht still lived but he was badly burnt over his body. She sent him to Caelctun with Eadgyd to look after him. Eadgyd gathered as much butter and animal fat as she could and covered the burns. Meire helped her and gave Osberht a sleeping draught that allowed him some peace. His groans were causing the children to cry. Meire also prepared some water that she had in a crystal phial collected from her pool far in the north and gave it to him as he slept. It was not long before the scouts returned and hard on their heels were the British warriors. The Britons formed up in four Shield walls and Anyon could be seen exhorting them to attack. Taethle had her warriors behind the palisade on the fighting platform and encouraged them to defend their village. The British attacked along the length of the wall hoping that the defenders had not enough warriors to defend it and would be disheartened by the burning of their Thane. Their first attack was easily repulsed with some loss on both sides. The Britons took some time to regroup and Anyon led them in another charge. Taethle had learnt from the first attack and had stiffened the Fyrd with her own warriors where the fighting was fiercest. The Britons suffered severe losses and the Saxons held firm. The Britons regrouped and contented themselves with burning and looting the buildings outside the palisade. Dunstan was annoyed that their new house had been burnt but consoled himself that things could have been worse. Wulfhere noticed that 20-30 Britons left the main group and went through the forest to Caelctun. He told Taethle and they were concerned that although they could hold against the enemy in Caedering, Caelctun only had ten of the Fyrd and all their women and children. Taethle reckoned they were still outnumbered at least three to one, but she admitted it was hard to count through the smoke of burning buildings. She knew that they were trapped. They could hold here for weeks as they had enough food and water but they could not get out. She discussed what needed to be done with the Brothers. Caedering was likely to hold, however Caelctun was weak and could easily be overwhelmed. It was agreed that Wulfhere would lead three men and try to get to Caelctun to help organise the defence. Taethle thought only 20-30 lightly armed troops had gone towards Caelctun and they were likely to be the British Fyrd. The Fyrd were good to make up numbers but could not be relied upon to attack fortified positions. Uthric volunteered to try and get to Cerdic in Portus Caester and get reinforcements. He was the best woodsman in Caedering and thought he could get past the enemy or outrun them if he was seen. Now that Garm was dead he thought he was the fastest runner in the three villages. Wulfhere was worried about getting into Caelctun. His plan was to climb the cliff face that did not have a pallisade and he expected that one or two of them would fall to their deaths but thought the risk was worth it. Dunstan agreed that he would stay in Caedering and help lead the Warriors. With Osberht badly injured it would allow Taethle to provide a steadying influence for the Fyrd and to organise them into defensive groups. Uthric used the second attack as cover to slip over the walls and into the forest. He was seen by some scouts but used his knowledge of the game trails to outdistance them. He went south hoping to get to the old people’s road to the east of the north-south junction. If the road was clear he hoped to run to Pontus Caester and arrive after nightfall. If the road was blocked by British warriors, he could go through the southern forest. It would be safer but longer. When he got to the road he travelled west but near the junction he saw 30-50 British warriors over 1000 paces away. He ran south and disappeared into the forest. They saw him but only made a half-hearted attempt to chase him. Wulfhere used the same attack to slip out through the woods. Fortunately, the scouts didn't chase him but followed Uthric. He and his three companions made their way north going down the rock face near Caedering by an old and twisting path and turning east to follow the cliff face towards Caelctun. There was smoke rising above them when they got to Caelctun but they could not see what was happening above. They cautiously climbed the cliff face. The defenders heard them climbing but recognised them and threw down ropes to help climbing over the more difficult parts. The British outside had not attempted to attack. Taethle had probably been right, they were lightly armed Fyrd. Most lacked a helmet or armour and some had no shield. There were even one or two who had scythes or mattocks instead of spears. They had contented themselves with burning buildings outside the palisade and watching the defenders. Wulfhere decided that he would arm everyone in Caelctun to pretend they had more warriors than they had. He asked the women to put on helmets and to wear men’s clothing. He told them the idea would be to fool the enemy until help came. He hoped that they would not need to defend the walls as he doubted they could resist an attack. Wulfhere found that his situation was more complicated by the fact his mother had gone into labour and was likely to give birth soon. He therefore ordered every woman who was not giving birth unto the walls and the men he organised into a small mobile group to go to wherever there was an attack. He tried to count the enemy but was not sure of the numbers because of the smoke. He had to be content to wait and see what happened. He thought that as a last resort if the walls were breached he should try to get as many as possible to escape down the cliff face. He ordered ropes to be found and attached to allow women and children to escape while he and the warriors made a last stand. Meanwhile in Caedering, Dunstan was discussing if they should try to make a sally if the conditions were right. In three attacks on the wall the defenders had killed or injured over 30 enemy for the loss of three injured on their side. Dunstan and Taethle thought the odds might be more even now. They hoped that if they could keep the majority of the enemy here then Caelctun would be safe. Dunstan worried what would happen if Anyon attacked Caelctun and captured the woman and children. and how that might impact on the husbands and fathers in Caedering. At sundown a tired Uthric approached the guards at Stuf's Hall and demanded urgent admittance. The guards refused him but fortunately Stuf heard the commotion and come out, sword in hand, to find out what was happening. Uthric named himself and said that he had travelled from Caedering in the north for most of the day and had important information to give. Stuf recognised him and told the guards to let him through. Uthric told him of the events in Glawmaed and the retreat to Caedering and Caelctun. Stuf was quick to assess the situation. He agreed that Uthric could take forty warriors north to help at Caedering. He asked about the location of the British Burgh and its defences. He said that he would move against that as it was likely to be denuded of troops if so many were in Glawmaed, Caedering and Caelctun. Uthric tried to explain were the British Burgh was but became confused about distances and locations. In the end Stuf grew impatient and said he would follow the Moen and he was sure that he would eventually come across it. At Caelctun Wulfhere saw that the Britons were massing for an attack. He brought forward the men of the Fyrd and placed them opposite the British forces. The War Leader was marshalling his troops, talking, cajoling and intimidating the men to get them to attack. It looked to Wulfhere that the Britons were reluctant and he thought that a good thing. He knew that the defenders could be easily overwhelmed if the enemy attacked at different points. If they managed to get over the palisade it was likely that all the defenders would die. Fortunately, their general reluctance to fight meant he knew where they would attack and could reinforce that with his Fyrd. After several hours of cajoling the Britons moved forward to attack. It was a rather half-hearted attempt and they were easily repulsed after a few were killed or injured for no loss to the defenders. Wulfhere was heartened by the defence and was of the opinion the War Leader was unlikely to get his men to attack again. Uthric was travelling north and was occupied by the thought of how he might deal with the troops at the road junction. He was concerned that even with his forty Warriors he knew that he was likely to be outnumbered. Therefore, his plan was that they should attack with surprise. Unfortunately, there was no way he could sneak up on the enemy without being seen therefore he thought that he needed to set an ambush in the forest and get the Britons to come to him. He arranged his warriors inside the forest and together with two volunteers went towards the road junction but could find no trace of the enemy. Uthric wondered if they had gone to Hamafunta and he thought it might be a good thing to keep Coelfrith on his toes. He thought briefly about going up the road to Glawmaed but decided that it would be best to go to Caedering to help with the defence. In Caedering, Dunstan found his opportunity to counter-attack. Some of the enemy troops had left and there seemed to be less outside the palisade. He agreed with Taethle that he would take the warriors outside and form a Shield wall. Taethle would use the Fyrd to guard the gate and act as a rear-guard should Dunstan’s troops be forced to retreat or be defeated. The enemy formed an opposing Shield Wall and to stall for time Dunstan left the front rank and offered a challenge of individual combat to anyone who would accept it. He was not disappointed when Anyon stepped out to take up the challenge. Dunstan watched him approach and wondered if he had done the right thing. Anyon seemed confident and capable. He handled his weapons well and wore better armour than Dunstan. He thought if he received a death blow here he would miss out on a lot of things he planned to do. He was somewhat discouraged by his thoughts. No words passed between them as they traded blows. Anyon was quickest and he hit Dunstan twice as often as Dunstan hit him. Dunstan knew he was in trouble. Anyon’s blows came in faster and although Dunstan parried his shield was slowly falling apart. Anyon thrust hard with his spear at Dunstan's head. Anyon had used the same killing stroke hundreds of times but to his astonishment his spear missed. Dunstan had stumbled on a tussock and the stumble had saved his life. Anyon had put all his strength behind the thrust expecting the resistance as the spear entered Dunstan's eye and into the brain but instead he overextended and pulled a muscle in his arm. Dunstan's riposte should have been parried but Anyon was blinded by his helmet and the spear tip cut open his arm to the elbow. Anyon fell and the chin strap of his helmet broke blinding him. Dunstan accepting his luck speared Anyon in the chest. He had barely time to celebrate his victory. Rather than be dismayed the Britons were incensed by Anyon's death and charged forward to protect the body of their fallen leader. Dunstan's comrades pulled him back to the safety of the Shield Wall and the Saxons counter-changed the British. Both Shield-Walls met with a sickening clash. Dunstan thought later that the British had not kept their discipline as they charged. Their shields must not have been overlapping for the Saxons penetrated deeply into the British formation causing twice as many casualties. The British held but were pushed back and the Saxons moved forward. There was a wall of dead and dying men and the ground was slippery with blood which made it treacherous to maintain balance and fight. Almost by mutual consent both walls drew apart. Dunstan took the pause in fighting as an opportunity to move back towards the gate thinking that he had achieved his aim. The British leader was dead and they had made the Britons less confident of victory by pushing their Shield-Wall back. Dunstan noticed the Drýicge was beginning to light a fire and he remembered what had happened to Osberht at Glawmaed. He feared that the battle would be lost through scinncræft. He shouted at Taethle that she should charge the Britons with the Fyrd as he exhorted his own warriors to change formation into the Swine's head. Dunstan said later that he was glad that the warriors had not seen the Drýicge at her work or else they may not have charged. Dunstan’s Swineshead smashed into the British Shield wall seconds before Taethle’s Fyrd hit them in the flank. The Britons disintegrated under the impact and their cohesion feel apart. Most turned and fled while screaming Saxons hunted and killed them as they ran through the forest. When Dunstan had time to look for the Drýicge, she had disappeared. He let his men hunt the scattered Britons through the forest before recalling them with a horn blast. They had been frustrated at hiding behind the palisade and vented their anger on the panicking Britons. Taethle congratulated Dunstan. He had won a famous victory by quick thinking and resolute action. She said she doubted if she could have done better herself. She thought that Dunstan was on his way to be a great War Leader despite being so young. She did think however that he might need to work on encouraging his men to attack the enemy Shield-wall. Dunstan had attempted to give a rousing speech to inspire the men. He admitted that perhaps he had been trying too hard and it had been over the heads of most of the men. Taethle suggested that simple messages are often best as the men can repeat them. She suggested that something like ‘killing the enemy’ or perhaps ‘defending your families’ are generally good. She thought that invoking the need to protect the cows was generally not a moral boosting topic and the average warrior did not care if the withies would be destroyed. But she felt it was important to try these things out and she had no doubt with more practice he would improve. The warriors were tired after their fight and glad to be alive. They were dismayed when another War Band appeared out of the forest. Dunstan rallied the men and pushed them into the Shield-wall to face their new foe. They relaxed when they realised the new Warband were Saxons led by Uthric. Dunstan went to greet his brother, who he thought did not look pleased about something. Uthric said that he thought it would have been polite of Dunstan to wait until he arrived and let him join in the fun of the battle. He complained that he had run all the way to Portus Caester and had come back only to find out he wasn't needed. He had encouraged the warriors to move faster with stories of silver and fame to be won. He now had to tell them the fight was over and he was not sure he could find the right words to be able to help them with their disappointment. Dunstan said that they were unlikely to be disappointed for long because they could soon have another opportunity to fight. He told Uthric of the War band that he believed to be at Caelctun and noted that smoke was now rising ominously from the direction of the village. He said he had a bad feeling about events there which might mar their victory in Caedering. Uthric was concerned that Meire, his son and mother were all in Caelctun and he hoped he would not be too late. He told his men to wait under the trees and went forward alone to see what lay ahead. The scene that met him was one of devastation. Buildings were burning and there was a line of dead men set out in a row. Uthric was relieved to see defenders still on the walls and was surprised to see so many having been told by Dunstan that there were less than ten of the Fyrd defending Caelctun. He estimated that he was facing a Warband of about 50 men but only some were formed up in a line facing Caelctun. Over half were sitting on the grass resting. He suspected that he could bring his own warriors through the forest under the cover of the smoke and charge the enemy, catching them before they had a chance to react. Uthric had the Warband form up in a rough shield wall on the edge of the forest. He knew that in charging over the intervening ground to engage the enemy, they would not hold their shape but he was banking that he could catch the enemy by surprise. He was helped by the fact that the defenders started banging their spears on their shields which distracted the enemy. The enemy had still not seen Uthric's War band but they were beginning to form a Shield wall in reaction to the noise from the palisade and whatever threat the defenders of Caelctun were planning. Uthric drove his warriors forward only screaming their war cries in the final seconds before the War bands crashed together. Uthric had told the men nearest him to target the big man who was organising the enemy War band. He thought that if they could kill the leader the rest would lose heart and flee. The Britons barely reacted to the charging Saxons and those that turned only saw death. Uthric’s men howled as they killed and they cut down the War Leader. The British lines disintegrated and the Saxons killed those that were too slow to run away. Uther and Wulfhere greeted when the battle had finished. Wulfhere told of the defence of Caelctun and how he had been unsure if they would survive. Uthric embraced Meire and their son Hrothgar. He discovered that Hildegard had given him another new brother who she had named Beorthric. Wulfhere thought that Dunstan might have something to say about this situation. Wulfhere appointed Modig War leader and returned with Uthric and his Warband to Caedering. They met with Taethle and she informed them that she was keen that they keep the momentum and press their advantage with an attack on Glawmaed. None of them were sure how many of the British force remained. They thought they could account for over 120 men dead or defeated and they still worried that the Drýicge had not been found. She could yet turn a victory into a horrible defeat. Uthric thought that now they were safe from attack he should tell Wulfhere that he had seen a man wearing the enamelled broach Wulfhere had bought for Bronwyn. Wulfhere was silent and admitted he was worried that Bronwyn may have met her death. He thought that a second such loss of a woman he was betrothed to did not bode well. He wondered if the gods were perhaps trying to tell him something. Uthric said that she was probably well and had just been imprisoned. The Britons did not generally kill women and children. Wulfhere reminded him that Anyon would have been perfectly aware that she was Connal's daughter and he might have made an exception for her. He also pointed out that the Drýicge had no such compunction about killing people. He hoped that Bronwyn's head was not on a stake. Uthric said he hoped that it would be the same for Connal and Lucnot but he had little hope for either of them. Taethle gathered all the warriors and the Fyrd together and told them they had one more battle to defeat the Britons and free Glawmaed. She promised that after that they would have peace for a while and their families would be safe. The warriors cheered and even the Fyrd seemed to be keen to go into battle. Dunstan thought that he could learn for Taethle's speech. Taethle divided the men into three separate groups. Uthric kept the men Stuf had lent him. Dunstan and Wulfhere commanded Taethle's warriors and Taethle commanded the Fyrd. She told the brothers that she would keep the Fyrd as a back-up should either Warband get in trouble and need reinforcements. They approached Glawmaed as quickly as possible. They were concerned that if their approach was too slow it would give time for the Drýicge to use her magic on them. They had remembered how devastating it had been for Osberht and were not at all keen that one of them would be her next target. Taethle had difficulty in getting the Fyrd to advance as they also remembered the Drýicge’s fire magic and they lagged behind the two Warbands of warriors. In the event it did not matter. Although there were over 50 Britons present at Glawmaed they ran as soon as they saw the Saxon Warbands. They liberated the Glawmaed captives who had been held in the Chieftain's Hall. Bronwyn was among the released prisoners and she was glad to see Wulfhere. Her father had been killed by Anyon along with other village leaders. She was not sure where Lucnot was. He had escaped the original assault and she hoped that he was in the forest with some of the other men. After a brief conference, Taethle sent the Brothers and 50 warriors towards the Burgh on the Moen River. She suspected that Stuf may have already attacked it but she thought that he may need help. As was usual for strangers in the forest of Moen, the Warband quickly became lost and after a quarter of a day’s march they found themselves at the strange pool with the wildflowers and butterflies. Dunstan suggested that they all put some hack silver in the pond and be careful not to trample the flowers. He warned the warriors that they should not attempt to take any of the treasure from the pool. He and Uthric stood guard to make sure no-one attempted it. After they gave the silver, the way became easier and they made good time. They began to come across bodies of dead Britons as they got closer to the Burgh. Eventually they ran into some of Stuf’s warriors who took them to him. Stuf was glad to see them and asked for their news. They told him of the battles they had fought, the death of Anyon and the escape of the Drýicge. Stuf told them he had found the Burgh which the Britons had called Llys to be lightly guarded. He was of the opinion that Anyon had too high a view of his own abilities and little tactical or strategic sense. He had risked everything in an all-out attack and had failed. Stuf said that they now had now an opportunity to expand to the north which they would accept with open arms. First though they needed to deal with Dumnonia They all looked across the Moen. Dumnonia was a rich, plump land and they were all keen to re-distribute those riches to the poor Saxons who were not so fortunate. Stuf told them that he would leave warriors at Llys under the command of a Thane called Arnod and that they were to send the warriors he had lent Uthric to Arnod as soon as possible. Wulfhere said that there was still a considerable threat from the Britons and perhaps it would be useful to keep 20 in case of further raids. Stuf agreed. He said that Wulfhere could act as Thane of Glawmaed until Cerdic made a decision. The Brothers should come to see him for Yule feast.
  12. A Violent Death and The Bretwaldamoot There was a silence in Caedering as the villagers waited to see if Osberht would die from his wounds. He was still wracked by a fever and Taethle had sent to Portus Caester for a leæce as she believed that curing Osberht was now beyond Eadgyd’s skills. Taethle sat with the Brothers in the Thanes Hall. They discussed their current problems. To the west lay a British Warband which they had already estimated to be over 100 warriors. They were in agreement that this force would be difficult to defeat with their current strength of. To the east was Caelctun and Thane Garm. They thought it probable that Garm had around 40 warriors if Coelfrith had already sent the promised reinforcements. Caedering had Taethle's 36 seasoned warriors and 46 men of the Fyrd who could fight but might not do well against seasoned warriors. All four considered Garm the biggest threat. They would be unable to deal with the Britons if Garm remained active for fear that he would take advantage of the situation if they left few people to defend Caedering. Cerdic had more or less told them to deal with Garm and then sort out the legal and political issues with Aelle afterwards. Wulfhere thought that Garm's men might not be too interested in fighting for him. Garm had shown himself to be a coward and had not joined in fights with his men, running away and leaving his men to die. Uthric said that it might also be useful to remind his men about the rumours Garm had killed his brother and blamed another Carl. They agreed that they could not leave Caedering undefended but needed to send a big enough force to look like they were serious about attacking Caelctun and force Garm’s hand. Taethle wanted to keep 20 warriors in Caedering which meant they had 61 to try and intimidate Caelctun. Wulfhere hoped they would not have to fight. He was keen to solve the problem of Garm but not create long-term enemies of the people of Caelctun by killing the warriors unnecessarily. They thought that there was no use in delaying things and gathered the warriors to allow Taethle to tell them what was expected. She told them they needed to look intimidating and as be ready to fight if required. She hoped that it would not come to fighting as they needed every man to deal with the Britons. The warriors led by the Brothers arrayed themselves in a Shield wall outside Caelctun and waited for a reaction. Garm’s men did not respond but continued to watch from the fighting platform. The gates remained firmly shut. Wulfhere set fire to a barn and watched it spread to another dwelling outside the walls. Dunstan and Uthric discussed setting a fire in the forest in the hope that it would provoke a response. However, they decided against it as they worried they might not be able to control any resulting blaze and it might be more dangerous to them than Caelctun. Eventually a man came out of the gate holding his shield upside down. Taethle and the Brothers went to meet him and he introduced himself as Modig, a Carl of Caelctun. He asked why they had come armed as for war, why they had burned buildings and were threatening the peace of Caelctun. Wulfhere replied that their mission was peaceful as far as the people of Caelctun were concerned. But it was his opinion that neither Caelctun nor Caedering would have peace if Garm was allowed to continue to prosper. He said that Garm had needlessly provoked an illegal fight with Thane Osberht, gave him a wound that was likely to bring about his death and then tried to kill both him and his brothers on several occasions. Unfortunately for Garm, both Osberht and the Hrothgarsons had proved harder to kill than Garm had imagined and that was why he was now standing before the gates of Caelctun armed and ready for war. But his war was only with Thane Garm and Wulfhere said he would be grateful if Modig would ask the Thane to come and fight him now. Wulfhere said that Modig should consider how badly Garm led his men and on several occasions had left them to fight while he saved his own life. It therefore seemed to him that Garm was only good at two things. Firstly, he seemed good at allowing his own men to be killed and secondly, he appeared to be good at running away. Uthric told Modig that amongst other things he considered himself an expert in running and that up to this point he had met very few men that could outrun him. He said he had been amazed that Garm had been able to outdistance him so easily and wondered if this was a skill that Garm frequently practised. Wulfhere asked Modig why Garm, as a Thane, was not conducting his own negotiations. Modig had not responded to the accusations and Dunstan thought that he might be seeing the truth in Wulfhere’s words. Modig said that Garm was in his Hall with his Huscarls and he said he would only be too happy to tell him the Hrothgarsons had come to discuss resolving their current conflict. Modig left and the gate closed again. Both sets of warriors watched each other and Dunstan felt the tension rise but nothing of importance happened. Just after midday Modig came out of the gate again. He said that Garm had not been seen since going into his Hall and had not given any instructions when he banged on the Hall door. The men had decided that they were no longer willing to fight for Garm. There had been, he said, a few dissenting voices but they had been won over by argument or else they were no longer in a position to help Garm. The Brothers waved their followers forward and entered through the gates behind Modig. Two men lay dead near the gate. The rest of Garm’s men watched sullenly as the Brothers ran to the Thane's Hall. The Hall was barred or locked from the inside and Taethle called for Halig who had a Great Axe. Halig was known for his strength and made short work of the door and the warriors went into the Hall. There was no one visible in the main hall and they thought Garm may be hiding in his private chambers at the back. When they tried to open the door, it was again barred but Halig broke through it with one stroke of his axe. Dunstan belatedly wondered if there was a rear door in the Hall and sent three men racing around the back to prevent or delay any escape. They searched the two bedchambers. In the first was a woman and two young children who they ignored. In the second, the room was empty but they discovered that a hole had been cut through the wall. Torht’s head suddenly appeared through the hole from the outside. He was one of the Caedering farmers and reported that they had found the hole in the back of the hall and had decided they should investigate it. They had so far not located Garm. Uthric advised Torht that in future he should consider where he put his head because he had only just stopped himself from putting a spear in his eye. Torht said that he considered himself lucky because he had seen what Uthric could do with a spear. Dunstan asked the woman where Garm had gone and she replied that she did not care. Dunstan found this reply strange but continued to press her for an answer. She eventually told him she believed Garm and six Huscarls had cut their way out of the Hall but she was unaware where they had gone. Taethle ordered a search of the village and Odel, one of the Carls, found a rope going down the cliff face. Taethle and the Brothers thought Garm would be trying to get to Coelfrith in Hamafunta and they agreed the Brothers would follow Garm while Taethle and 20 warriors would go south on the forest path to Hamafunta. They hoped to trap Garm between them and kill him before he reached safety with Coelfrith. Uthric, Dunstan and Wulfhere went down the rope. They took along another 10 warriors. Uthric found tracks heading north which surprised them but they suspected that Garm was very familiar with the woods and knew some quicker route to Hamafunta. They estimated that Garm had a good head start but all thought they would still catch him, despite his expertise in running. The tracks continued to go north and after a time they came into a glade. They found Garm lying against a tree trunk bleeding from a wound in his side. He was still alive and attempting to grasp the sword that just lay just beyond his reach. Uthric kicked the sword out of the way and all three brothers regarded him. They thought it was likely Garm would die if they left him but equally he might live if they gave him aid. Garm opened his eyes and asked for his sword to hold before he died. Dunstan laughed and Uthric was unmoved. He bent down and looked into Garm’s face and told him he was not worthy to go to Neorxanwang. His place of death would be in Hellewíte with the other damned souls. Uthric worked himself into a rage that Garm could even consider that he should go to Neorxanwang after all his treachery and was determined to make sure he died dishonourably. He attached a rope to Garm and hung him from an ash tree. They all watched in silence until Garm died leaving the body for the crows and wild animals. They sent a runner to Taethle to tell her the news and get her to return to Caelctun. They were worried that if Garm did not come as expected she might go nearer to Hamafunta and come into conflict with Coelfrith’s men. They returned to Caelctun and Uthric announced what had happened as proscribed by the Law and that he had killed Garm. The Caelctun warriors were unhappy and asked Wulfhere what would happen now. Wulfhere said that he would discuss it with Taethle when she returned but that he was certain that they would be left in peace now that Garm was dead. The woman they had found in the bedchamber was Garm's wife, Aethelind. She and her children were unaware of what had happened and were waiting in the Thane’s Hall for news. She was obviously a woman of high birth and she held herself well while she waited only responding to and comforting her children. Wulfhere agreed that he would tell her of Garm's death and all three Brothers went to the Hall. Wulfhere started to tell Aethelind gently but Dunstan grew impatient and told her she was now a widow. For the first time Aethelind looked scared and asked what they intended to do with her children. She said that she was worried that they might take revenge on the children because of Garm’s injuries to Osberht. Wulfhere said that none of the Brothers made war on children and she too would be free to go wherever she wished. She thanked him and said that she would consider the matter and inform him of her decision later. When Taethle returned they appointed Modig as temporary leader in Caelctun until Coelfrith appointed a new Thane. With that all the warriors returned to Caedering. Aethelind came with them. She said that she did not want to spend another day in Caelctun if at all necessary. They agreed that they should hold a feast to celebrate the end of the conflict and decided to also ask the Caelctun warriors to join the feast. They were keen to make amends with the warriors so there would be peace between Caelctun and Caedering and they sent a runner to Modig. Modig was a pragmatic man and saw sense in the proposal and agreed that he would come with as many warriors as wanted to go. The Brothers thought that they should declare Garm’s death to Coelfrith as he was Garm’s Ealdorman but Taethle thought they should seek Cerdic's counsel first. She did not feel that Coelfrith would take Garm's death lightly and that such a venture might be dangerous. And so, two days after the feast they stood before Cerdic at Portus Cæster and explained their actions. Cerdic counselled against seeing Coelfrith, who he said would have them murdered without compunction. He said that men like Coelfrith were small-minded and petty. His advice was to present the case to Aelle at the Kings Assembly at the next full moon. Cerdic said he would support them in whatever way he could but could not acknowledge that they were acting on his advice. The Brothers were unhappy when they returned to Caedering They complained to Taethle that Cerdic had asked them to go to Aelle's Assembly at the next moon to present their case and ask for forgiveness. It was their opinion that the death of Garm was necessary for the safety of both Caedering and Glawmaed and they had acted in a way that preserved lives and kept the peace in all three villages. Taethle sympathised with them but acknowledged the Law must be followed. Aelle would listen and make judgement which was the only way to proceed to end the bloodletting. Besides she had another task for them if they were going to Anderida. They could escort Aethelind and her children as she had expressed a wish to return to her father's home in Aelle's capital. Dunstan worried that they might spend their lives apologising to Lords for things that weren’t their fault and he wondered that they might get a reputation for it. The Brothers spent the next half a moon preparing for the journey. Osberht was slowly recovering and while still weak he could now sit up and eat by himself. Wulfhere spoke with Taethle and Osberht discussing how he should argue the case in front of Aelle. They were of the opinion that the major difficulty was that no-one knew the King other than by reputation so were unsure how to proceed. Dunstan spoke with Aethelind on the journey to Anderida. The brothers had thought that Aethelind would have been angry with them for the death of Garm. However, she seemed almost relieved to be free of him. Dunstan discussed her life with Garm and Wulfhere decided that her insights might be useful in the upcoming case. They had a week of travel and Wulfhere used it well to glean useful information. When they arrived in Anderida they took Aethelind to her father, Aelfnoth’s house. Aelfnoth was one of Aelle's counsellors and an Ealdorman. He was grateful that the Brothers had brought his daughter home. He had told them he had never liked Garm and had only agreed to the marriage because Coelfrith had recommended it. Coelfrith said that Garm would be playing a prominent part in the Saxon expansion into British lands. He offered the Brothers rooms to stay while in Anderida because he was aware that accommodation was scarce. It would also be a way to thank them for their kindness to his daughter. Dunstan was only too happy to accept as he did not have to pay for any accommodation. Anderida is a fortress built by the old people. It was said that it was originally built to prevent Saxon raids but no-one knew for sure. It had an excellent harbour and the air was good despite being surrounded by marshes. The Brothers were amazed by the market. There were traders from all the Saxon kingdoms of Briton and others from Frankonia, Friesland, Jutland with any type of goods available. Both Uthric and Wulfhere bought gifts for Meire and Bronwyn. Wulfhere and Uthric asked Dunstan if he did not have a good opinion of Aethelind because both felt it might be a good match and Aelfnoth seemed well disposed to the Brothers. She was not only beautiful and rich but she was intelligent and had a good temperament. She never once complained about the journey from Caedering to Anderida. Dunstan said that while he found her attractive and interesting company, he was waiting for someone special. The Brothers laughed and said that he might be too fussy and that he could do much worse than Aethelind. During the week of the Assembly, Aelle held lavish feasts. The Brothers thought about attending but did not want to let Coelfrith know they were in Anderida. They remembered Cerdic's words that he was likely to be the real enemy whereas Garm was only the outward face of the conflict. They had already annoyed Coelfrith once at his own Assembly last moon and they knew that no matter what the outcome of the Kings Assembly he was likely to be even more annoyed. The food at Aelfnoth's house was both rich and good and went some way to make up for missing the King’s feasts. They also had an opportunity to explore the town to their great amusement. Aelle's Hall was massive. The Hall was a new construction and unlike many other of the Saxon Lords who lived in British cities, it was built in the traditional Saxon way. Aelle was reputed to be the richest of the Saxon kings and the decoration of the Hall showed it. On the second day of the Assembly after the midday meal, Coelfrith stood up and announced his Lawsuit against Osberht and Caedering. He demanded Osberht’s death and the destruction of Caedering for the death of Thane Garm. Aelle called for Osberht to come forward and defend himself but Cerdic rose and said that Osberht was currently indisposed. Thane Garm had presented him with a spear in his chest and he was too ill to travel. Aelle asked Cerdic if he was defending the case but Cerdic advised that while he was aware there was a dispute between the Thanes he had not been aware of the escalation of violence and death. He said he had therefore no knowledge of events but would of course take responsibility for his Thane's and Carls' actions, as he was their Ealdorman. Aelle said that he was disappointed and had hoped for an interesting story and a good argument. Cerdic said that he might not remain disappointed as he understood the Hrothgarsons were at the Assembly to provide both legal argument and tell an interesting tale. Aelle said he disliked being disappointed and others had often noted that people suffered if he was dissatisfied with things. He sat down to listen and called for his horn of ale to be refilled. He said he would be interested to find out why these events occurred. In his haste to present the case, Coelfrith made two serious errors. His first mistake was to forget to refer to Aelle as Bretwalda, a point which was duly noted by Wulfhere. Secondly, he attempted to paint Osberht as a deranged and maddened man who inexplicably decided to launch an attack on Thane Garm, his neighbour. Most people in the Hall found this incredulous. They knew Osberht as a calm and placid man who only ever got excited about breeding cows and sheep. Coelfrith spoke of Garm as an ideal of a Saxon lord, loyal and trustworthy, fierce in battle and a leader who led his men from the front. He had been set upon by the miscreant Osberht and hounded to death by his equally deranged Carls. He asked that not only should Osberht suffer death but the Hrothgarsons should also be killed because they had caused the death of Garm. Wulfhere stood up to respond to Coelfrith’s accusations. He told of the Feast in Caedering where Garm had provoked Osberht. He spoke of the men who were sent to kill the Hrothgarsons to prevent them from reporting on the strength and location of the British forces who had been raiding Saxon steadings. He insinuated that Garm may have had an understanding with the Britons. He told of the illegal declaration of a Blood feud and the ambush in which Osberht had got a spear in his chest. He then told how they had tried to calm the situation by attending Coelfrith’s Assembly which despite making good arguments and asking for a settlement, Coelfrith had ignored. He spoke of the treacherous attack by Garm’s Carls as they went home. He painted a picture of Caedering faced by two hostile forces, the Britons in the west and Garm in the east. Both he said had been intent on the destruction of Caedering. He asked the Assembly if they too would not want to defend both their Lord and their family. He said that all had agreed that their actions had been just and proportionate. He pointed out that although Caedering had sent a force to attack Caelctun, they had had no intention of fighting the Carls or the Fyrd. Their dispute had been solely with Garm. They had discussed it with his warriors before the walls of Caelctun and the Carls had agreed that Garm was not the sort of Thane that anyone would willingly follow and to prove it they had opened the gates of Caelctun and had stood aside. The Brothers had then sought out Garm but he had again run away with some of his Huscarls leaving his warriors leaderless and at the mercy of a potentially hostile force. He had even left his wife and children behind. They had tracked him into the woods and found him with a knife wound in his belly, presumably caused by his own Huscarls who had abandoned him. Wulfhere said that they had been overcome by youthful exuberance and they had acted without thinking. He said he was aware that this was a shortcoming in the Brothers character and they were working hard to rectify their impetuous behaviours. When Wulfhere finished, the people in the Assembly said he had spoken well. Aelle seemed pleased with the tale but asked if there were any witnesses to either argument. Neither Wulfhere nor Coelfrith had any witnesses which rather disappointed the Assembly as everyone had been enjoying the tale. However, Aelfnoth stood and addressing Aelle told that his daughter, Garm’s widow, could be called as a witness. She had confirmed Wulfhere's version of events and was ashamed that she had been married to such a man. Aelle thanked Aelfnoth for his opinion and said he did not think it necessary for his daughter to attend. Aelle then made his judgment. Aelle is unique in the Saxon lands. It would be normal for the Thanes, Carls and Ealdormen to vote on legal matters by clashing their swords or spears on shields to signal approval to cases. Thus, judgement is given by the people. Aelle, however, would always give his judgement and then expected the Assembly to ratify it. He said that this was because he was the Bretwalda and not a mere king. And of course, the Assembly always ratified his judgment. Aelle admonished Coelfrith. He said that Garm was the instigator of his own downfall. He not only provoked Osberht, he illegally tried to have him killed, a fact Coelfrith ignored in his own Assembly. Garm was a coward and refused to lead his own men, allowing them to die. He fled rather than face combat with a champion of Caedering, leaving his wife and children behind. He therefore deserved a dishonourable death. If Garm had been at this Assembly, Aelle said he would have had him hung without delay. Aelle said that his judgement would be the following. As punishment the village of Caelctun would become part of the Thane of Caedering’s lands and Osberht, if he lived, would now become a Kingsthane. Coelfrith was forbidden to act against Caedering or Osberht or the Hrothgarsons. With that he sat down and called for more ale. Aelle later spoke to the Brothers privately and thanked them for their actions. As befits a Bretwalda he gave them each a costly arm ring and a sword. Cerdic also rewarded the Brothers by giving arm rings. He was pleased that now he was in a position to expand northwards. He told the Hrothgarsons to return to Caedering and prepare for war against the Britons.
  13. This coming Saturday- 30th November, the Newport Centre is hosting Dragondaze, a convention celebrating gaming, comics and other bits of geek culture for local charities. My friend John, a fine GM, is running the "Caves of Circind" Mythic Britain scenario. The convention runs from 10-5 and the session will run from 1 to 5 . So, if you're in the area, feel free to join the game. Andrew
  14. It's Labour Day here in North America, and as a special Labour Day treat, we're delighted to share some preview pages of Mythic Britain. http://www.thedesignmechanism.com/resou ... iew%20.pdf The book is well on its way to completion and expect further news regarding production and release dates soon. We will also be releasing a scenario, Caves of the Circind, which previewed at GenCon 2014, for free very soon. Please spread the Mythic Britain news far and wide. Merlin demands it.
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