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  1. Continuing the exploration of the different Cultures from the Mythras Core Rulebook, this time looking at Nomads. Nomadic people have coexisted with settled peoples since the dawn of humanity. There has been a dichotomy between settled people and nomadic travellers since the first humans left Olduvai Gorge to fend for themselves when it became too crowded. Some humans settled in new places ... others, kept on going. Epic Scale Going by the fossil records, hominins evolved bipedal locomotion (walking upright) millions of years before Homo sapiens arrived in the world. Fossil evidence of Homo foot and leg bones show that the early ancestors of modern humans literally walked around the world - many thousands of miles, in all directions. They picked a direction, and only the oceans stopped them. And when they invented sailing, even the oceans ceased to be a barrier. Nomad Lifestyle The earliest nomadic lifestyle is also the oldest actual lifestyle. Early humans were hunter-gatherers, regularly following the migrating herds and seeking out locations where seasonal plants and game could be found. Pastoral nomadic tribes raised cattle and drove them across the land in order to ensure that their herds never overgrazed in any one given area. Of course, the herds themselves knew where to go to find the best food sources, and the nomadic tribes supplemented their mostly-meat diet with whatever vegetables, fruits, and grains they came across in their travels. Wealth Nomadic peoples usually measure wealth by their herds. Since their wealth is mobile, theft is discouraged through a culture of fear from reprisal. A code of honour is a necessity, particularly when different nomad tribes' routes intersect, for instance at their regular overwintering stops. Diet Ironically, many nomadic tribes suffered from lactose intolerance. They usually got around this by fermenting milk, from cattle or horses, since fermentation destroys lactose. There is, of course, no problem with consuming the herd animals' meat, which is often served boiled, in a broth. Grains which grow quickly and easily, requiring little labour to cultivate, are also common. Millet, fennel, oats, and spelt are staples, often served boiled or roasted. Millet and fennel can provide sustenance to keep people on their feet for days. Clothing and Art Every part of a nomad's life has to be portable. And that includes art. There is little need for heavy artefacts such as statues or paintings. Personal adornment is common; jewellery and other forms of artistic expression, possibly including tattooing, were common. Clothing tends to be practical and designed for endurance; clothes would be worn until they fell apart. It has been argued that horse nomads invented the first trousers, to spare their inner thighs from chafing from riding over long distances. Trousers could be tucked into boots, providing extra protection to the extremities from exposure to the elements. Nomadic peoples also adorn their tools and equipment. Those wanderers who travel in wagons traditionally decorate their vehicles - which are also their homes. The symbolism of their art can tell a story of the family, painted and carved into the wooden sides of their wagons, or adorning the fabric of their tents. Rugs, carpets, and other items of furniture such as cushions are also highly decorative items in and of themselves, as well as being functional in keeping out draughts and providing soft surfaces to sit and sleep on. These items are bundled with the tents, or stowed in the wagons, as part of their homes, and are designed to be as portable as the homes' structures themselves. There is archaeological evidence to suggest that many nomadic tribes were accomplished at working copper, bronze, tin, silver, and gold. Some are expert craftspeople at woodworking and leatherworking. In Britain, wandering metalworkers may have driven the trade in ores from the tin mines of Cornwall and the malachite (copper ore) mines of the Great Orme in North Wales, responsible for driving the Bronze Age. Across The Sea Oceans did not offer a barrier to people, either. Nomadic people often take to the water for trade and to conduct diplomacy between people living on the land. The Pacific Ocean hosted an entire culture of people who regularly travelled between the Polynesian islands on sailing canoes. Diversity Nomadic cultures are diverse. Historically, the Eurasian Nomads were different to Amerind Nomads, and the most famous Nomads of all - the Mongol Hordes - were among the most aggressive people on Earth, until the United States. Nomads In Your Fantasy Game Your fantasy roleplaying game can be based around your characters belonging to a Nomad culture tribe, wandering between towns, meeting other cultures. Of all the different cultures, Nomads are the likeliest to encounter and interact with every other culture - Civilised, Barbarian, and Primitive - on a regular basis. This gives the Nomadic campaign a perspective that has not often been explored in many fantasy roleplaying games. Here are some example themes for a Nomadic campaign, using an example setting introduced in the last article, The Barbarian Voice - Alternative, where the Southern peoples are Civilised, and the Northern nations are small Barbarian cultures. Trade Characters can be hired by a caravan of the Northwestern Trading Tribespeople to provide protection for the wanderers from raiders, both of their own people and from barbarian, primitive and civilised robbers. Examples: mercenaries hired to travel along the dangerous West Coast Road between the Southerners and the wintering grounds of the Northwestern Trading Tribes. The greatest danger comes near the end of their epic journey, when the caravan has to cross through the territory of the Northern Mountain People. On the road, the characters can learn about the Traders. At first, they hardly interact at all with the Traders; but as the journey unfolds, they find themselves becoming assimilated into their wandering culture, ultimately going native. They discover that this is how the Traders keep going - through a steady influx of strong, hardy men and women they collect along the way. Diplomacy There is often little in the way of a centralised Nomadic leadership. However, on occasion a conflict may arise between individual tribes - and there are rules in place to smooth ruffled feathers and ensure harmony between the tribes. One of these is the provision of moots, gatherings where the conficting tribes meet in a neutral place, under a flag of truce, in order to negotiate peace and to offer diplomatic trade - horses, cattle, husbands, wives. The characters can be drawn into one such moot, either as hired hands (in which case they get to see very little of the trade, only to become involved in an investigation when things go wrong and someone begins killing the Elders in their tents), or as members of the tribes themselves, getting together and resolving their differences to fight against a raiding party of outsider brigands. Survival The characters can begin a campaign out in the wilderness, starving, freezing half to death, only to be picked up by wandering Nomads. As they travel, and earn their Culture, Locale, Language, Lore, Navigation, Survival, and Track skills, and gradually assimilate into the Nomadic way of life, the reason for their stranding can become clear - they were robbed, and left for dead, by Southerner brigands who operate in the area, taking from lone wanderers. The brigands have left hundreds of people lying dead on the side of the road, and the Nomads are familiar with these brutes, so much so that when the characters next neet those brigands, they have plenty of opportunities to mete out justice for themselves, and for their other victims. And this time, the Travellers won't be alone. Exploration The characters are Nomads, and they have reached sufficient numbers - along with their spouses, families, and herds - that the caravan of which they are a part can no longer sustain such numbers, and part of the caravan must hive off and forge their own road in an unexplored territory to the Northeast. This is a story of exploration, of survival, and of conflict. The characters are responsible for their people as they carve out a new path to a land nobody has heard of before - a land of tumbled ruins and ghosts, but also abundant plants, game, and water. Along the way, they may find primitive peoples, and trade with them. Conflict There is so much potential for conflicts. Internally, a Nomadic people can be at war with its own identity. Opportunities can arise for people to settle down and form a sedentary community. If this internal faction does settle down while the characters keep moving, can the sedentary settlers ever be called Nomads again? And will they extend the same hospitality when their wandering cousins return along their route, looking for a spot to overwinter? Externally, the most obvious conflict is one which, sadly, is echoed in the real world. Bigotry is prevalent in many Civilised cultures, and often as Civilised cultures degenerate they turn to nationalism, populism and racism, painting a romanticised illusion of hearkening back to some "good old days" or "glorious Empires" - and wandering peoples, from Travellers to Rroma and Sinti peoples, are often picked upon by these governments, enacting harsh laws which criminalise them for just existing - something which is not confimed to history books talking about World War II, but which is actually taking place in Great Britain and Europe in 2021. This is an ugly theme, one of the ugliest themes you will encounter - and it is included here only as a reminder that the real world is often a harsher place for footloose people than any fantasy world can ever be. Games Masters may wish to explore this theme, but bear in mind that it always brings out the worst in people, and it can lead to conflicts around the table - so this is a theme best left alone, unless everybody around the table is comfortable with wanting to explore this theme. The Nomadic Voice Here, then, is the alternative Nomadic Voice, from the Lands of the Southerners and Northerner Tribes. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ The road had never been this rough before. Our cattle were complaining, the horses were complaining, and every single baby began squalling at the same time in the nursery wagons. We were all on edge as we entered The Valleys of Pain, just north of the dreaded Forest of the Storm Child. They say that a great spirit of pain dominates this entire region, and that not a single valley is free of its influence. People are afraid to sing here. Afraid to love, or to laugh, or to compose poems or tell the stories. We must cross through these valleys in order to reach our wintering grounds to the North, and everybody hates this part, the worst leg of our route. I spotted the first corpse, lying beside Hovath's crossroads. A piece of broken steel protruded from the body's chest. A sword, snapped off halfway up the blade. The dead man must have been in agony in his last moments. It wasn't long before Davvo saw another corpse beside the one I saw. Then Matti saw a dozen more in a field nearby. But we had already sent for Affric, our leader, long before. No wonder the Pain Spirit was strong. There had been a war here. A major one, by the looks of it. We used the Southerner loan word for war in our speech, because there is no equivalent in our language. Most of the dead were fringe Southerners, in their fancy armour and shields, all shattered. One or two of their weapons were intact, and some in need of repair. Matti crowed in triumph as he unearthed what looked like one of the Southerners' fancy new firearms, a black powder musket. But then we heard Vrida's keening lament. She recognised some of the bodies. They were Gailo, Fendi, and Tamon, three of her cousins from the Bariski Clan; and Sardi, the only nephew of her late brother, who had settled in with the Southerners. By the looks of it, they had met here and been forced to kill each other without even recognising that they were kin by blood and birth. Affric told us all that the rules were clear. We could not profit from slaughter. Moreover, since the fancy weapon had belonged to Vrida's nephew Sardi, there would be a blood curse upon any of his kin by blood and birth who took that gun from Sardi's body. We buried all of their weapons of war, along with the bodies, in a single mass grave near the edge of the Gorimir Forest, and left a marker to future Trading Tribes caravans who will wander along here. Some treasures are to be left alone. We could not do much more for them. We were in the last days of Autumn, and we could not stay for long, if we were to make our wintering camp site in time. The night before we moved on, we defied the Great Spirit of Pain with singing and festivities, honouring the dead and releasing the spirits of Sardi, and the cousins Gailo, Fendi, and Tamon, who had ended up dying at Sardi's hand before Sardi fell at their hands. But in the morning, we slaughtered one of our herd, a sickly thing, and prepared it for a feast in honour of the Pain Spirit. We left it there, on the corner of Hovath's crossroads, in the hope that there could be peace between it and the travelling tribes which crossed through its land. After all, hospitality is our highest virtue, and we never exclude family from our feasts.
  2. The Civilised Voice - Alternative ended up being delayed ten hours from its usual go-live time of 12:00 UTC+1. It went live at 22:00 UTC+1. This was due to my ongoing preparations for running "A Race Through Dark Places" for Fioracitta, at GenCon Online, September 17 and 18. All future blog posts are going live at 10pm UTC or UTC+1 on Saturday nights, from the 2021-09-11 post onward.
  3. And so it's the turn of civilised cultures to come under the spotlight. The words "civic," "civil," "civilian," "civility," and "civilisation" come from a Latin root, "civitas," city. It can be argued that a civilised nation is one which has reached a sufficient level of sophistication as to require urban developments - the formation of communities into cities, plural. Throughout history, there have been a good many examples of civilised societies, each of which thought itself the pinnacle of human societal development. Until they weren't. What, then, makes a civilisation? The cities? The languages? The landmarks? The wonders? The songs? It could be argued that it is consensus and consistency alone which define a group of people as a civilisation or a society - the agreement that all members of that society share a common identity, history, language, and so on, and the independent standardisation of the stories the members tell of themselves, how they came to be, and who they are. Arguably, it's the consensus which defines a civilisation. No civilisation ever declared itself to be the barbarians. Strange Nations This time, this blog looks at the civilisations you create for roleplaying games, rather than real world historical civilisations. The Earth has so damn many civilisations and societies that to chart them all, from their origins to their downfalls, would fill the syllabuses of entire universities. As, indeed, it does. You don't need a doctorate to create a culture for Mythras - not a Primitive, Barbarian, Nomadic, or Civilised culture. Going by what's on the market, most roleplaying game settings just set up civilisations as backdrops for adventures, with a cursory paragraph or two defining the known history of how the city came to be, and so on. Few settings ever take the time to write long and detailed historical essays about their settings (Kelestia Publications' Summa Venariva, which defines the history of Venarive, Northwest Lythia, for the Harnworld setting, is one exception), and fewer readers will pay good money for such a book, apart from diehard completists. Settings are presented as is, with stock tropes of Nomadic, Primitive, and Barbarian outsiders coming to the relatively static Town to sample the food, the ale, and the willing nightlife. As a Games Master or setting creator, you are not bound to follow any logical structure for defining your civilisation; but for verisimilitude, here are some guidelines. Water Water is the hidden element which defines where the centres of civilisation will set up. Crop plants will only grow where there is an abundant supply of water. Plants can grow in desert conditions, but not without some source of water coming from somewhere - the Atacama Desert is described as the driest place on Earth, and the only plant life which grows anywhere in that most arid of wastes exists because of the fogs which blow over the barrier mountains from the Pacific. Without the clouds bringing airborne moisture, there'd be nothing growing there at all. Water enables plant growth. Abundant water brings herbivores, carnivores, and eventually humans. Those who decide to settle in these places of abundant water eventually found the communities which grow into cities. Agriculture A society develops into a civilisation when it can move out of basic subsistence farming, where intensive labour provides only just enough to satisfy one's immediate needs. Advances in farming technology, such as the Archimedes Screw, the mouldboard plough, and selective breeding of grains and domesticated animals for different characteristics such as food animals for their meat or milk, or other herd animals for their skins or wool, yield a surplus of goods which can be taken to a city for trade with its every-growing hungry population. Other forms of domestication include apiary (beekeping), domestication of birds for their meat (chicken in particular), and even silkworms to produce silk. Just don't ask how they go about extracting the silk from the silkworm caterpillars' cocoons. You'll never touch silk again. Surplus means trade - trade for better equipment, for money, for labour to improve on the buildings of the holdings - and even time, because if you have a stock of goods you can sell, and some way of preserving them from rot and vermin, you won't have to labour so hard to fill your stocks - and that means time to begin to pursue leisure pursuits not related to growing crops or animal husbandry. Trade Of course, trade goes both ways - goods come in, goods go out. Coin is a useful guide to measure the worth of something, but many civilisations exist for centuries without a currency, just going by honouring debts and bartering. Currency can be food, equipment, labour or more abstract things such as artworks. The independent publishers WMB Saltworks have published a book listing 108 different forms of currency, and some of these are historically relevant - such as salt, which was so valued to the ancient Romans that it was used to pay the wages of the Empire's soldiers - hence the word salary, which derives from the Latin word for salt, and the modern phrase "Worth their salt." One harsh note here - a lot of ancient and not so ancient civilisations considered disenfranchised people a form of currency, too. The history of the world is a lot darker than the history books would have it, because many of the monuments and cities listed in those books were likely built, and maintained, but never run by, slaves. Communications Travelling along the trade routes with the cargoes would have been information; gossip, news, songs, jokes, and stories. Instructional information - planting advice, recipes, and so on - are also transmitted along these trade routes. In time, they become a corpus of information which, at least in civilisations, become solidified on paper - which leads us to:- Writing and Arithmetic One of the earliest signs of a civilisation, though not a definitive sign, is the adoption of a writing system to abstract trade, turning words into symbols to represent cargoes and consignments of trade goods, and number systems to quantify amounts. Gradually, writing systems expand beyond their remit of facilitating trade to encompass the transmission of stories, poems, and so on. Laws and Standards As a development from trade, civilisations develop standardised weights and measures to determine the standards by which traders must follow, in an attempt to establish universal consistency across the market places in all parts of the overall community or polity which shares the common cultural identity. Lawmakers arise, to press their stamp on fair trading standards on things like the length of cloth, standard weights of grains, the prescribed formulae of medicines, and so on. Trade guilds form to codify the authorised procedures which members of the guild must apply to their work, and set the standards of quality of goods, and the market prices. The highest forms of laws governing such topics as crime, enforcement, trials, and punishments, srise from the earliest trade laws. It does not take long for the law to change to forbid murder, once some landowner starts killing off their neighbours to take their land. Shared Resources This, then, is where civilisations develop, when there is a shared experience of history, carried down through the generations both orally and in written form; where systems regulating trade develop into bureaucracies, and all that leisure time develops into arts and crafts, songs, poetry, myths and legends. Every culture develops its cultural identity through art, but civilisations do what they can to preserve the material forms of those expressions - artworks, books, journals, recipe collections, history books, and so on. Biijs, including libraries of scrolls, enable people to learn what once had only been available to a selected few who'd been entrusted to keeping the oral records through recitation. Community and Identity In the end, it is the people who define their society as a civilisation. It is people who are responsible for maintaining the histories and creating their own, for sharing their dreams and composing new songs, for forgetting stories only to have mystified future historians dig them up down the line. Most other cultures generally have little time for such things as professional dancers, artists, and philosophers - and there is a threshold through which a society must pass in order to be considered a civilisation, something which does not depend on inventions and technology, but on the ability of its individual members to live out entire lives pursuing abstract goals unrelated to living out a life making or growing things just to survive. It is the move away from subsistence which provides the roots for the consensus and consistency which define that which is shared by the civilisation. The Civilised Voice Here, then, is the alternative Civilised Voice. This one is set in Fioracitta, the Heart of Power. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ My name is Zurhan al-Turaph, and this is my journal. I have been asked to provide a regular journal of my daily activities and musings. A man in Lascha East swears to me that my written thoughts can be a source of much luchre from an ever-increasing, demanding audience, so I cannot deny him his ambitions, however vain they seem to be to me. After all, what harm can it do to write about my life? The hardest thing for me to write about is contemporary idiomatic speech. What exactly does it mean when somebody is rolling in the pigs? It is an expression much used among the young to denote someone who has come into wealth. Personally, I cannot see the metaphor. Pigs are inedible to me, carriers of parasites, dwellers in their own filth. Although, now I've written down those words, perhaps the metaphor does describe the rich, and their behaviour once they have money. I cannot exactly exempt myself, since my home in Degianna appears to be the most expensive home of this party of Adventurers to which I have become attached, and I am considerably wealthier than all of them put together. Perhaps this is a timely warning to myself not to allow myself to follow suit and "roll in pigs." I would introduce the other members of this expedition, but they have all requested that I refrain from dropping names. They are all, in their own way, charming and peculiar. One, a Latolian, was once seen by myself as they emerged from the staff entrance of The Painted Mask in Lascha East District, before crossing the piazza to attend services at the San Tamaggia opposite. Until then, I had never met a more beautiful - looking person. I was assured by my employer that they are definitely human, unlike my Bestia and Longane colleagues. I am not startled by the sight of Bestia, Longane, Monacielli and Serpent People roaming the streets - my old mentor was a Besti - but these two companions of mine are a rare breed. I had never seen anyone swim that lake as quickly as my Longane companion. I swear, she must have mystical capabilities. The other two are as human as I am, though they have not got, nor can they imagine, my history. My story is unique. As with the Latolian, I am not certain of the sex of one of my colleagues - I swear, they are male one moment and female the next, or so it seems in the dark of this place we are exploring. A trick of the light, perhaps. The other, a well-dressed and refined man, reminds me so much of myself in my impetuous, cocky, callow youth. So, then, these are the people I am to work with. And a fine assembly they are. I watched them from the vantage of the rowing boat which bore me to the boat dock of the house we are to explore. My boat was last, of course, and apart from my rower I was alone; but I watched the others as they sat in pairs in their boats, chatting and gossiping excitedly. I have not yet told them about the destination, this house in Escharro we have to explore. Namely, that I think I may know its layout better than they can imagine. It is tied to my story - for this is the home of my old mentor in the Arts of the Benedittara. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ If you want to know the rest, see if there's a space available in "A Race Through Dark Places" at GenCon on the 17th and 18th of September, at GenCon Online. Or you can wait till I publish the fanfic afterwards ...
  4. DIADOCHI WARLORDS Campaign Here you will find the continuing story of four adventurers in Hellenistic Greece https://chrisbrann.wordpress.com/role-playing-games/diadochi-warlords-campaign/ Hope you enjoy it
  5. Continuing my look into the four basic cultural backgrounds from the Mythras Core Rulebook. What, exactly, is a barbarian anyway? What distinguishes a Barbarian culture from a Primitive, Nomadic, or Civilised culture? The answer, shockingly, is nothing. "Barbarian" is a political definition - basically, it's "any culture that isn't ours." Technically, "barbarian" just means "foreign," or "outsider," just like "pagan" just means "country bumpkin" and "mundane" means "man of the world." It's only in gaming that barbarians are conflated into a generalised image of some shirtless, woad-daubed warrior types with braided beards and hair and helmets with horns. Technically, there really should be no Barbarians - just other people. However, fantasy games demand that barbarians exist, so what can you do? Barbarian Culture A Barbarian culture is one which does not follow the laws or mores of the civilised culture next door. That does not mean that they are Primitives, though it is feasible to have a culture which leans towards Primitive or Nomadic, yet retains an identity which is identifiable as Barbarian. Languages Barbarians could speak their own language, heavily accented, and either plain speaking or laden with idiomatic expressions. Half the fun of dealing with a Barbarian party encountered in the wild is figuring out which tribe they are, and which language and dialect they speak. Language defines territory, for the most part, and an Adventurer familiar with Barbarian cultures may have to fine tune their Lore to cover, for example, the Northern Lake People from the Northern Mountain People and the Northwestern Trading Tribespeople, even though they could all be classified as "The Northern People" to people from the Southern lands. Social Structure Generally, Barbarian cultures tend to be led by Chieftains, Thanes, and tribal leaders with similar titles. Rulership does not have to come at the end of a sword, nor does the title always go to the strong. A weak man may win the mantle through guile; a woman can rise to prominence as a great leader, uniting disparate tribes through trade and diplomacy yet also enforcing the accord between tribal nations by commanding strong armies, leading from the front. Clans and lineages of ancestry are common, with extended families being led by a Matriarch or Patriarch, and revered elders frequently making journeys to attend a Parliament, or Thing (pronounced "ting") of the tribes, to lay down the new laws for the year and to settle disputes between individuals and entire tribes. Knowledge of The Land Your Barbarian culture is highly likely to have just as extensive knowledge of Locale as their Primitive cousins. They are likely to have Animism as their primary source of magic, with some Mysticism and Folk Magic. Their literature, carried mostly in the head with the same oral traditions which sustained the Primitives, may tell of ancient gods and even older demons, those demons being the Primitive gods who were rendered obsolete by the new deities of the Barbarian tribes. The oral traditions are also likely to form the basis for their Locale and Lore skills - knowledge of where the healing herbs are, knowledge of how to cultivate crops, make the proper sacrifices to the land to allow travellers to pass without incident, and the best seasons to plant and to reap. The oral tradition ties the Barbarians to the land, perhaps even more deeply than it does the Primitive peoples. Laws Laws are kept in the minds of Lawkeepers, and mostly have to do with the placement of borders and bounds between the lands of different tribes, or matters of inheritance. Again, do not assume that only men may be Lawkeepers - imagine a Barbarian, tribal culture dominated by their women, ruling each tribe with a Triummulierate (the term for a Triumvirate of women) and laying down laws regarding the need to be honourable in conduct, whether that be in trade, diplomacy, or warfare. Some of the highest laws in Barbarian cultures concern hospitality. Many Barbarian tribes dwell in wilderness regions which would be considered inhospitable to a "civilised" citizen, and even to other Barbarians who are used to the land, to be exiled from the comforts of the hearth is effectively a death sentence. The presence of a warm hearth nearby can mean the difference between life and death - so there are laws of hospitality proscribing the conduct of both hosts and passing strangers. The offering of hospitality to a stranger who arrives in a storm is one of the highest expressions of the Barbarian culture's ethos. Hospitality is sacrosanct, and hosts are expected to offer a warm bed, hot food, and a place by the fire to strangers. Likewise, a stranger may accept hospitality (they'd be a fool not to), but they are required to behave with dignity and grace, and to express gratitude to their hosts (rather than try to seduce or murder them). Good feasting, good poetry and song, and - if the stranger is a healer - treatment of the sick of the household for free, are generally accepted as a cause for celebration. A stranger who can entertain the hosts, or help them, or stand with them and defend them, is considered a gracious visitor and their good reputation will spread. Trade and Diplomacy The same drives behind the treatment of strangers applies to trade and diplomatic relations. Representatives of other tribes, including "civilised" cultures, are feted like visiting kings, because the hosts are bound by the laws of hospitality. This extends to visiting bands of Adventurers passing through Barbarian territory: these are Barbarians, not bandits or brigands, and the Games Master should take great care not to just turn an encounter with Barbarians as just another random combat encounter. It's a cliche, it's been done to death, and you can do so much better. The Barbarian Voice So here, then, is my take on The Barbarian Voice. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ We stumbled across the ragtag party of Southerners, close to sunset. They were still building their encampment in the worst possible place - exposed, high on a windswept hill particularly vulnerable to cold, high winds, and right next to a field of burial mounds prone to nightly hauntings. I ordered my men to stay silent and refrain from laughing. These Southerners seemed little more than children; and they seemed to be ill-equipped to handle the elements. They certainly had no awareness of the land, nor its hazards: one of them sought to pitch her flimsy tent right on top of a nest of firegrubs, and one of the party, a fancyman, was trying to erect their tent next to a tree ... on a hill prone to being struck by lightning in a storm. Indeed, there was a storm looming, and so I approached these wayward children, bringing with me one of my lovers, a man called Shanto - which means "Speaker of Truth in Many Tongues" - to ask the wanderers if they would like to share our fire tonight. Their response was predictably hostile. At our approach, they drew swords. The fancyman gestured to the sky, in a vain attempt to summon lightning to his aid. I did not have the heart to tell him that his vulgar sciences will not work on this sacred hill, if the spirits do not permit it. Instead, I let Shanto speak for me. I offered these frightened, ignorant children the chance to sit at our fire and share hospitality; a mark of respect, even to those who know not how to respect our highest laws. Fortunately, the fancyman knew both Shanto's language and his tribe, and spoke to him in greeting. Shanto told the fancyman to insist on speaking directly to me. It took some coaxing - apparently, the fancyman prefers the company of other men, or something- but eventually, he turned to me and stated his intent to seek out some treasure which was reputedly buried in the grounds of a ruined Southerner fort, abandoned to the wilds some two generations before even the summers of my Grandmother. I nodded, silently, and spoke to Shanto in my tongue, for him to translate, as was our custom, and made our offer. The young children gratefully accepted, and struck their tents and abandoned their futile attempt to light a fire on Windspirit Hill to join us at our camp. On the way back to the camp, Shanto spoke to me in my tongue, to let me know the strangers' plans, which they thought they could conceal from us by speaking in their Southerner tongue. I reminded Shanto that I could overhear them just as well as he, and that I was aware that they planned something nefarious with the artefact they sought. I also told Shanto that, should they survive the wilderness and the beasts which lurk around the Southerner fort, to return home with that prize they sought, that they may do what they like with it once they return home. In the end, if they are tested by the land and survive the tests, they would not need any artefact to seize power back home. They would be entitled to power in and of themselves, because the land will have tempered their strength beyond the capabilities of their fellow Southerners.
  6. Last week's post covered the quest of the Games Master to stay relevant, and the introduction of hypnosis as a tool of Games Mastery; immersion; and the capabilities of the conscious and unconscious minds. This week, we move on to actual use of hypnosis in storytelling and in gaming, as used by the Games Master. The ABS Formula The crucial element of hypnosis is called the ABS Formula. It can be broken into three parts: Engage the Attention; Bypass the Conscious Mind; Stimulate the Unconscious. Engage The Attention The initial stage of hypnotic storytelling, this involves drawing the players' attention to the task at hand - beginning the game, allowing the story to unfold. You know that this stage is complete when all of the players are fosucing on you, and at that point you can begin to draw them into the game. Bypass the Conscious Mind This is the stage where you are bypassing the conscious censor and getting through to the unconscious mind to prepare it to create the inner environment In regular hypnosis, this would be the stage where the hypnotist engages the subjects in a formal trance induction. However, this is hypnotic storytelling, and the objective is not a trance state but the engagement of the players as their characters, living out the scenario. Bringing The Players Into Your Dream One way to begin the process of revivification is to ask the players a single question about their character; one which is designed to increase their focus, and to concentrate their unconscious' attention that they exhibit revivific Stimulate the Unconscious This is the part where you and the players' unconscious work together to create the inner environment in the players' minds to match the environment within your own. Here is where the players' minds are sufficiently focused for immersion to take place and for play to begin. Prep Work Strange New World This is an exercise from the Hypnosis Training Academy. Its aim is to encourage creativity, a vital ingredient in Games Mastery. Start with a random object - an egg, a book, a cup - and start imagining its environment. Is it in a nest? How big or small is it? Where is the nest? In a hedgerow? On a cliff ledge, or high atop a tall building like a tower? When I started with this exercise, I imagines a peregrine falcon's nest, and a pair of falcons, in the crenellatioins of a tower - the tallest tower in a city. I began to work out the details of what the tower looked like - it was square, made of brick, with a building below it, and a massive public square. That public square became populated with people, brightly coloured in Renaissance-style garb, reminiscent of characters from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck (in particular the II and III of Wands, the Queen and King of Cups, the Knight of Pentacles, the IX of Pentacles, and the VII of Swords. I furnished this august public square with fountains, added sex workers hanging around them, and placed a church across the way - facing a brothel directly opposite. Thus was born Piazza Derisola, the so-called Hanging Garden in Fioracitta. Part of this exercise involved me going first, entering a light trance (easy enough, once you learn self-hypnosis) and putting myself in the mind of a Magnate, perhaps the artisan from the II of Wands, holding a globe in his hand, gazing out at the Piazza Derisola, thinking of the business he had in hand, and the person he was expecting to meet there for a clandestine meeting ... Revivification This is another advanced hypnotic technique. Revivification is a state of mind where the mind is so engaged in something - remembering, usually - that they lose awareness of their surroundings. Hypnotic Games Mastery begins by including revivifying elements into your world building. Make your world setting compelling enough, through including sensory elements from the players' memories, that they can't help but be drawn in and practically feel the cobbles of the street beneath their feet. Describe a riot of scents of various cooking meats from the vendors preparing hot foods on the periphery of a market; the singsone voices of the stallholders hawking their wares; the seagulls' cries overhead, competing with the turbulent human babble below. Chances are, every player will have some sort of scent memories to draw from - and in your worldbuilding, strive to bring those memories to life by fanning the embers of their memories to bright flames with your words. Drawing The Players Into Your Dream So now you have the elements in place to induce revivification, you need to catalyse the players' focus. Annd you do this by asking each player one question. What makes your character happy? Once they begin answering the question, keep the ball rolling for each player by encouraging them to delve deeper. You can do this very simply, through support sounds - "Mm-h'mm," "Ah," "Cool," "Excellent" - and with the simple phrase "Go on." Observing Signs of Increasing Focus As the players get more involved in their characters, perhaps to the point where they are living their lives, walking a mile in their shoes as it were, observe their body language. If it looks as if they are not paying that much attention to you, but rather focusing on the character; and if they are making little gestures from picking up an orange to the act of drawing a polishing cloth across a blade; then you can begin the adventure. Maintaining Focus Maintain focus in the game by investing in the characters, and giving them plenty to do - and that means breaking the old habits of "team leader / party tank / cleric healer / mage artillery / rogue backstabber / ranger for the ranged combat" everybody seems to fall into. Give your characters advance knowledge. Have them encounter people who possess knowledge about their destination. Don't make every single encounter about combat - make them memorable by having the players engage with sentient beings as people. Many times, the unconscious mind will help by conjuring up the people your characters encounter. Throw the stereotypes out of the window. Your orc encounter in the wilderness - they're going home laden with fish and birds from a successful bit of foraging, and they are singing a victory song to let their husbands know that tonight, they dine like kings. That wandering beast is following a trail left by a wounded animal: it has no interest in the characters. That sorcerer is heading for the players' town, with their retinue of male and female acolytes. They recently cast an enchantment to permanently become non-binary, and they are going into town to avail themselves of their spells to the townsfolk who need them - Enhance CHA, Sculpt Flesh, and Shapechange (to non-binary). Make the encounters into stories. The unconscious informs the conscious mind through stories. Stories are about conveying meaning - and your unconscious can grasp your intent as Games Master, and actually help you to carry out your job of delivering an engaging and rewarding game. Their unconscious minds can manifest these encounters, and the players will perceive them with their mind's eye. This is engaging their imagination hypnotically, and if you exercise your imagination and leave the combat section of the core rulebook to gather a little dust, you'll be able to engage the players' imagination and keep them immersed until the moment you bring them back in the room to hand out the Experience Rolls.
  7. This week, and for the next few weeks, you're going to take a little side step. You're going to be presented with the voices of the different cultures of Mythras. I know, you've already got The Primitive Voice, The Nomad Voice, and so on, from the Core Rulebooks. But these Voices are different. A Connected World These voices assume two things: one, that fantasy worlds are connected places, where that which affects one person, one place, affects other people, other places; and two, that the world is not always out to get you. Unlike most roleplaying books, if you reach out your hand to help, they're not going to cut it off at the wrist. The worlds of roleplaying games have become bitter and cynical since 1991's Vampire: the Masquerade attempted to make it cool to be an edgelord. Spoiler: it's never been cool to be an edgelord. In these fantasy worlds, if you meet beings with pointy ears, or fur and tusks, they're not sent there to try and kill you, nor are you expected to have to try and kill them. There is no automatic assumption that encounters are solely combat encounters. Roleplaying has evolved away from wargaming. We're not beholden to the lineage of That Guy Who Invented Roleplaying In The Seventies to continue to play the games their way, when we can honour Greg Stafford's memory and play a much more shamanic, connected, mysterious, and often magical game, where mysteries are to be explored, secrets revealed, and the characters belong to peoples and cultures who are just living their lives. Primitive Cultures Ask any anthropologist, and they'll tell you that primitive cultures are anything but "bang two rocks together, wear animal skins, ugh, everybody afraid of sky." That's a racist holdout from colonial days, when Westerners would descend upon isolated villages and immediately denounce the locals as "savages" ripe to be converted to Christianity. "Primitive" meant "lacking in brain power, unlike us," and primitive peoples were depicted in the popular media as clumsy, filthy, crouching, beastly people, little better than animals. Converted natives would be branded "the Noble Savage," and depicted as clean-shaven, tall men, standing straight, wearing very civilised loin cloths to hide their modesty - modern fig leaves, echoing the Biblical Adam after he had eaten of the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and thus, somehow, lost all their innocence. They were painted as wise men, cunning men, in tune with "savage Nature," with their ear to the ground - this being the literal origin of that "ear to the ground" trope. These wise men could literally put their ear to the ground and somehow discern the movements of all living things within a few miles by the sound their feet and hooves made in the ground. Often, civilised people would be depicted in comics as slumming it. Robinson Crusoe roped in Man Friday; Lord Greystoke became Tarzan, and Sheena became Queen of the Jungle. Somehow, all it took was a bit of civilised nous, and Westerners could fancy themselves as lords of the savage land, always charming, perfect teeth, not one hair out of place or speck of dirt on their oiled-up, flawless supermodel bodies. The Primitive Tech Level Lest you imagine otherwise, primitive cultures continue to surprise us Westerners. They have art, musical instruments, knowledge of how to make jewellery, and trade. Modern anthropologists maintain that the marks of emerging sentience include evidence of first aid and attempts to heal injuries through surgery, including trepannation, and tattoos on ancient bodies which seem to be road maps similar to acupuncture meridians (as well as tattoos placed on modern bodies to tell radiotherapists where to focus their beams). Others cite the invention of bags as a mark of emergence of civilisation, rather than weapons. Bags allow people to carry tools with them, in anticipation of their future use. Bags allowed primitive workers to carry the tools of their trade along with them - awls, scrapers, drills. Bags could be used to carry a variety of items - medicinal herbs, firemaking kits, knives for cutting, bows and arrows to hunt food. Other technologies have made it through the centuries. Leather burnishers are traditionally made from bone; there is no other material, natural or synthetic, which comes close to what bone can do when used to burnish leather and seal in the pores. People still use bits of flint to create fires, even though those flints are now found in Zippo lighters. Sure, tools such as knives could be used as weapons against other people; but primitive people also carried trade goods, which meant that they travelled between communities, sometimes looking for work, sometimes looking to trade. Ores of tin from Cornwall and malachite from North Wales were dug up, and there was a brisk market in those ores, essential in the making of bronze. Those people who knew the secret of smelting were close to magicians. And they were impressive artists. The Mold Cape is a garment of solid gold, some 3600 years old. Nobody knows how it could have been made using the technology of the day, or even the technology of today; but make it, they did. The Beaker People, also, showed remarkable sophistication. So-called because of the containers (beakers, jugs, jars) found with their bodies, the Beaker People showed a highly sophisticated knowledge of medicinal preparations, clay working and pottery and, going by the mead and ale residues in the bottom of some of these beakers, brewing. Mead infers beekeeping, and beer infers agriculture; which means that primitive cultures had developed a symbiotic relationship with the land. The ability to anticipate the regularity of winters shows that early humans had learned about the seasons, and could count the days and moon cycles, and perhaps came up with primitive reasoning such as "three moons full, hot days go away and leaves turn brown; three moons full after that, days are short and snow starts to fall." The Oral Tradition Until the written word obliterated the need to retain long memories, there was always the oral tradition. Modern people cannot imagine what it was like to carry the equivalent of several books around in a person's head, nor how much time and effort was needed to train people to recite the sacred knowledge, word for word, intonation for intonation, until they could sing the same songs as their ancestors did, even after generations. Primitive, barbarian, and nomadic cultures specialise in having long memories. Traditions such as memory palaces are nothing compared to the mnemonic techniques which were developed by ancient cultures - techniques which we have, quite literally, forgotten. Oh, yes - let's also not forget that thing with the big stone monoliths. We atill can't figure out how they got those big sarsens of bluestone from the Brecons all the way to Wiltshire to build an observatory at Stonehenge. It's not exactly like they carried those stones around with them in their pockets. So there is much more to primitive cultures than Clan of The Cave Bear or The Flintstones, or even Stig of The Dump. Bearing that in mind, I am closing this little rant with ... The Primitive Voice The days and nights are endless. We have much to learn. Once, my Mother said, My birth was announced By the spirits of the storm. The storm brought with it Wind and rain, Thunder and lightning. The spirits howled to us "Among us is born A Great Spirit." I give no credence to that. I only recount What Mother says. I do know That when I came of age, I underwent The Rite of Ad'aan. The Elders took me Deep into Orna's Forest, To the darkest place, And forced me to survive there, With nothing but woad on my body And a knife of obsidian. The food was good. I built a fire. I found honey in an old tree, And the bees fell asleep With the smoke from the fire. When I was weak, I dug up talla roots And ate small eggs from a nest High up in a tree. I left most of the hive, the biggest root, And the largest eggs, Because I knew That the world only gave me What I needed, And that if I took it all, Mother would not feed me again. When the spirits came for me, I was ready. When the elders came for me, To see if I had passed the Rite Or perished, They were surprised to see That I had built a shelter, And the Spirits had provided Medicines from the Forest Medicines for the sick For the women with child. "So young," they said. "Truly, the spirits were right." And they left me there, In the darkest part Of the Forest. But it is no longer Orna's Forest. It is the Forest of the Healer. It is the Forest of the Child of the Storm. And they say of me "Listen to her, The Child of the Storm. Take her medicines. Listen to her If she comes to the village." The days and nights are endless. We are not afraid of what they have to teach us.
  8. What makes a player character a great character to play? All too often, I see people asking the most toxic questions in numerous online venues, along the lines of "What if orcs stumbled across Xenomorphs?" or "What if a sorcerer were assimilated by the Borg?" - and I realised something awful recently. What made those questions toxic was that those questions were about nothing but combat. At least, within the confines of roleplaying games and popular entertainment. The unspoken questions were clear. "Would there be Xenomorph / orc hybrids with acid for blood, and what would they be like in a fight?" "would the Borg have all of their technology, plus magic, and what would they be like in a fight?" You might as well ask "what if cops became hybridised with sea lions, and what would they be like in a fight?" The Assumption of Combat Roleplaying is an offshoot of wargaming; and the assumption came down from wargaming that all encounters - literally all encounters - had to involve combat to the death. Players would spend hours poring over the rules minutiae in order to minmax their characters specifically to optimise their hit points and the damage they could inflict. The only measure of success in old school roleplaying was a character's brute strength, damage, and hit points, and one's body count: you could only gain XP through killing, and every class of monster had an attached XP value. Needless to say, this was not the most realistic of takes on life. New Kinds of Character Runequest, and all of its offshoots from Call of Cthulhu through to the modern BRP and Mythras, challenged players from that original old school fantasy roleplaying game, by having a character generation engine which allowed players to create characters who used different skill sets: skills which were not themed around combat at all. Standard Skills now included skills such as Dance and Sing; Professional Skills included Commerce, Courtesy. Oratory, and even Seduction. Track and Survival, Musicianship, Art, Craft, Lore, and Language spoke volumes about the expectations of player characters with actual down time lives, as artists, musicians, wilderness hunters, even trellis-climbing seducers a la Ninon de l'Enclos, one of history's forgotten seducers. Systems like Mythras allowed for sandbox play. A character could be dropped into the heart of a community such as, say, Fioracitta, and the player could choose their own adventure. A newcomer with a pretty strong Athletics skill could make their way to Prosoche or Little Fourche or Peligran and apply for a job in a Banevio fighting studio, training up in field and track sports, or developing Ride and becoming a jockey, or learning Swim and Boating and join a small ship's crew on Lake Lascha as a deckhand. New Assumptions Other games emerged such as Traveller, designed to reject this simplistic old school philosophy. Travellers' Hit Points do not bloat up as they progress, no matter how much their skills and bank balances improve. A master of firearms in Traveller is just as physically vulnerable as a one-term raw recruit fresh out of boot. This physical frailty forces players to think not only tactically, but to look for solutions other than combat. This is a philosophy which is present in BRP games systems, including Mythras. Call of Cthulhu is a game of cosmic horror, where entities are simply too powerful to kill. They very sight of them is enough to break player characters - now called Investigators, to reflect their new non-murderous role. CoC is a game where characters grow and develop as human beings, sometimes combat able and combat ready such as cops, soldiers and criminals, but despite the players' insistence on stocking up with weapons, very often the monsters win just by turning up and wafting a facial tentacle vaguely in their direction. Not long after the first roleplaying games arrived, games systems began to emerge whose assumptions were based around achievements other than murder, where players had to develop characters whose lives focused on non-combat activities, and where players had to develop tactics for social play or investigative play, rather than on brute force and ignorance. Admittedly, many modern roleplaying sourcebooks' combat chapters are still the biggest chapters in their books - but they do have sections on non-combat encounters, so that is encouraging. Social Conflict in Mythras Companion One of the most recent developments in Mythras was the Social Conflict chapter of Mythras Companion. This was a whole chapter devoted to the tactical application of social skills in a conflict, using the same kind of cut-and-thrust found in the Mythras Core Rulebook, but allowing characters and opponents to choose the skills they wanted to bring to bear in the conflict, not just Combat Styles. In the case of Social Conflict rules, Deceit versus Willpower became a thing, with a cunning deceiver's fast talk being bounced off the opponent's mistrust, or an Ellakan pitting Influence against a Fiorese citizen's Passion of Fear (Non-Itarrans). The Social Conflict rules allow for less physical kinds of conflict: battles of words and passions, of deceit pitted against angry rebuttals, of brute threats against scintillating wit, of seduction against Willpower. They allow for more dramatic interpersonal conflicts to unfold, where a character can be crushed without a single weapon being drawn, or wars declared, or won, or lost, with a careless tongue. The Social Conflict rules have opened up Mythras to scenarios based on social dramas as gripping as any found in TV shows, movies, or plays, the more traditional forms of mainstream entertainment. If Mythras Companion is not available, it is even possible to run scenarios based on social conflict or investigation using the rules found in the Mythras Core Rulebook on page 287. It is possible to run scenarios in Mythras without a single combat scene appearing anywhere, based entirely on the Core Rulebook's social conflict rules found in the Games Mastery chapter, and come away from the table feeling a sense of tension and anticipation of what could come in the next session. It is possible to develop a scenario where the players come to care about their characters, and the non-player characters who surround them in their daily lives. Deep Characters Mythras is a modern RPG product. As such, the character generation rules allow for the generation of some very deep kinds of characters. Their cultural backgrounds, careers, skill sets, family, connections, and background events all combine to produce characters who are more than just the sum of their Combat Styles, weapon stats, and Locational Hit Points. Characters can be generated who can handle themselves in an investigation (Perception, Insight, Influence, Deceit, Acting, Disguise, Stealth, Track, Seduction), a social situation which can range from political conflict as two representatives stand for election against one another, to a Battle of the Bands, pitting Musicianship against Sing, or even a dance-off, pitting Dance against Endurance. Mythras characters can be designed to handle any kinds of situations, from foot chases to competition horse races, to rescues at sea, to stealth infiltration of an enemy stronghold by water in the dead of night. There is so much variety available, that player characters can specialise - become master sorcerers, dedicated artists, and yes - even career soldiers, climbing the ladder of their martial Order, one battlefield promotion at a time. Note how martial promotions are not based on random combat encounters, but on such aspects of a character's makeup as valour and bravery in battle, quick thinking (e.g. taking over from a fallen General, and using Oratory to rally the panicking troops together to push for a decisive victory in the face of defeat) and leadership. Intangible qualities which aren't so much measured by numbers on a character sheet as which can come from the player behind the character. So, to answer the question, what makes a great player character? The answer can only be "the player," but the player has to learn to come to the game table with higher expectations than to run their character as a bunch of numbers on a sheet and lists of powers, with how those powers are used to kill and murder mooks like some video game. Players have got to learn that there is more to their characters than being murderhobos any more. Characters are, within the context of their game settings, people. They are a part of their communities, with loves and hates and fears and ambitions and aspirations; with allies and contacts to help them out, family and pets to take care of and care for,;and even rivals and enemies to keep them on their toes - and not in the sense of getting into a random rooftop fight with them like the Spandex crowd in a four-colour comic book. Great player characters are, above all, sentient beings (whether they are human, Bestia, Longane, Pelacur, or Bandaluk). And they become great when their players realise their characters' true potential (to be extensions of their personas) and play them accordingly.
  9. No character exists in a vacuum. One of the most important, yet overlooked, aspects of Mythras gaming is connections - Allies, Contacts, even Rivals and Enemies. Much old school gaming tends to focus on player characters being self-contained agents of their lives, yet life doesn't work that way. Connections are part of every Session Zero. Every character should go through the process of creating a possible family, background events, and their Connections. This might seem like a waste of time to some players who might be champing at the bit for the chance to get into that dungeon and start slaughtering - but in fact, Connections can make the difference between a page full of empty, meaningless statistics, and a person whose achievements and accomplishments in adventures have meaning. Catalysts Connections can galvanise the player characters into action - problems arising in their lives can lead the characters into an adventure. Examples: - An old military buddy usually meets the characters every Monday afternoon to go bowling. On this Monday, he's not at his usual rendezvous, and the characters find that he is in the hospital with a stab wound in the back, and his home has been ransacked. The assailant was after something. There is one clue - their friend gave good fight, and landed a few telling blows, so they're looking for some guy who's as badly injured as their buddy is. - A younger family member has gone missing, and the characters have to track down her skeevy new associate, an older man. They track them down to a martial arts studio, where the older man discloses that she has been training under him to take on some college bullies. Now she, and the bullies, have gone dark. Nobody knows where they are, and the trainer hopes she won't get too much in trouble because she has been training with illegal kubotan melee weapons. - An old friend's father is dying, and his last words to the friend turn out to be a cryptic clue to a literally haunted treasure. Anchors Connections can keep the adventurers grounded. No matter how wild their adventures are, or where they go, the characters need someone to come home to, to share their lives and weird exploits. Apart from the characters themselves, their Connections might be the only people who are willing to entertain their wild war stories. - Some ex-service buddies hang around in a bar near the barracks, swapping war stories with some of the raw recruits who are allowed off base during furlough. - Former Banevio fighting school mystics gather around a fountain in a piazza in Semmi West and reminisce about the bouts they fought, and their old mentor, gone but not forgotten. - University alumni meet up once a month in one another's homes and talk about their urbex exploits in reputedly haunted houses, including an abandoned hospital where at least one of them can confirm that there is a definite presence, and it isn't some crook on the run, wearing a rubber monster mask to scare away the casuals. Networks Connections extend the characters' reach into places where the adventurers themselves cannot go. - A character with an Ally in one of the Familiar in Fioracitta could find a lead on a case which could drag the adventurer into a world of Fiorese organised crims or the Shadow Society. - An informant working for the Department could slip an agent a note under the door of the hotel she is staying in, with a warning that her cover's been blown and mercenaries are on their way to get her. - An associate of a notorious sorcery cabal can ask a Connection to deliver an invitation to haul them halfway across town to the cabal's chantry to talk about a possible job offer. - A friend of a friend of one of the Curators of The Occhiadero in Lascha District has obtained a copy of one of their tomes, teaching some vital Folk Magic the characters need. Backup Sometimes, the characters get into something they cannot handle. The Games Master can either have some of their Connections turn up (or pull strings and have some heavies go in to haul them out), or they can get the players to roleplay their Connections themselves, investigating the disappearance of the main characters. - That old buddy with the Family ties can call on the services of some friendly enforcers to back the characters' play if they are up against an overwhelming antagonist force. - The Banevio gym can send their finest students to help the characters to win a sporting contest for the honour of Little Fourche District against those Gioconda snobs. - That nice lady with the poison garden in Outer Gioconda can send spirits aplenty to help one of her Maledittara sisters on the spirit plane. Found Family Connections provide the adventurers with a found family, a place to belong, and a sense of involvement in a community. - The Department's teams are often closer than friends; closer than family. - Family is the place where nobody keep score or counts the favours owed. - 'ohana means family ... - Your mission, should you choose to accept it ... - It's time! Suit up, boot up and mask up! Brigadier Bay needs us! In The End The Connections forged during Session Zero should not be an afterthought. Whether they are the initial hook, the steadying influence, the backup, the found family, or the extension of the characters' reach, the Connections represent the ordinary people around whom the characters' lives revolve. As non-player characters controlled by the Games Master, the presence of Connections gives the Adventurers opportunities to communicate with the Games Master in character, in a way which avoids breaking the fourth wall and allows the players to remain in character. The Games Master can use the characters' Connections to help steer them towards answers when they are clueless; to warn them if they are about to try out something dangerous and stupid; and to give them roots into the background community they belong to. It's all about making the characters' stories meaningful and memorable, and giving the players something to really talk about at gaming conventions.
  10. Intuition is a great guide for players in a scenario. Reason and logic are good, useful, solid tools for unlocking puzzles - but a player's intuition, the ability to induce rather than deduce, allows the characters to unlock understanding of what is going on in a story. An example: The city of Fioracitta. The Adventurers are sitting around a fountain in Piazza Centimani in Carbo District, carousing with soldiers and civilians, when they hear a loud boom in the distance - specifically, Old Town, where the Senate, Parliament, Hall of the Arti, San Tamaggia Temple and government bureaux are housed. A column of smoke rises into the air. They begin to hear the sound of many people screaming. The screams get closer, and louder. The soldiers, of course, run back to their units and get ready to receive deployment orders. What do the Adventurers do? Hopefully, your Adventurers' first reactiom should be to jump in and help; and then let their curiosity kick in. After all, it'll be they who solve the mystery and bring a miscreant and saboteur to justice. The Six Big Questions Every adventure scenario should have some element of investigation to it. Even if the adventure is not a whodunnit, there must be clues left around for the players to piece together a picture of what exactly is going on. Activity is what differentiates a mere dungeon crawl from an actual adventure. In a dungeon crawl session, your characters have little to do but to destroy the static, nameless, faceless opposition and carve their way through the ranks until they get to the boss fight - after which, the session ends with little else to do but to divvy up the treasure and hand out the Experience Rolls. In an adventure, the characters are not faced with static random monsters to fight to the death, an endless Hit Points grindhouse where the monsters and boss level beasts have no other purpose but to stand there and wait for the party to turn up. The adventurers are faced with beings who have something to do, and are often doing their jobs right in front of the player characters. In an adventure, the player characters might stumble across an orcish kitchen and hear the chef cussing out their subordinates - the adventurers can lend a hand and fetch more vegetables from the pantry, or become part of the meal if they displease the head chef too much. Out in the corridor, they might see orcs and assorted creatures scurrying along to and from the pantry, carrying heavy sacks. Again, they can try and figure out what it going on - sniffing the raucous riot of clashing spices coming from that noise-filled room at the end of the corridor, and perhaps deducing that it must be chow time for the orc barracks. It is the adventurers' job to ask loads of questions, if they are to make heads and tails of what is going on all around them. The questions are: What, Who, Where, When, How, and Why. To go back to the opening scenario:- What just exploded? What building was the target? What floor? What room? Who is injured? Who is missing? Who is dead? Who is responsible? Where is the source of the detonation? Where are the survivors? Where is the miscreant? When did they manage to sneak an explosive into the building? How did the miscreant sneak an explosive device into the building? How did they make their escape? Why did the miscreant target this building? To what end? As a Games Master, your job should be to be able to supply those answers to your players' satisfaction at any time. Whether they are asking all the right, mundane, questions, or they are using magic, they have got to know the answers, in order that they can come up with some sort of a cool idea of their own. Players' Intuition The best player character tool is their intuition - the characters'. and the players'. The more savvy the players, the better able they will be to come up with a half-decent plan, whatever that plan might be. Games Masters, if you are running sessions of longer than an hour - I recommend at least two hours, if not three or four - make sure to arrange for pauses in the action, particularly in the runup towards combat scenes. Five minute or ten minute breaks, at least one per hour, and a five minute break at the end of Session Zero, and another one between the last scene and the session or scenario wrap. At least one ten-minute break. These are, theoretically, for comfort breaks. But most players will likely wander off and huddle in a corner somewhere, or drop into a breakout room, and hatch a plan. This isn't cheating. In fact, it's the opposite. The players will want to plan something. Let them carry out their plan and let them win at it, with a few nailbiting setbacks of course. The objective of the breaks is to give them time to think of something they can do, to achieve the scenario's objective. If they feel they can pull it off, go for it. Cheating You might wonder if this is cheating, or that you might be giving the players an undue advantage. It isn't. They are supposed to enjoy the adventure, which means letting them work things out, letting them come up with a plan, and letting them earn their victories. The only time they can truly fail is for them to do nothing. Even Leeroy Jenkins' doom is better than doing nothing. You don't have to let them have their own way 100% of the time, mind you. That's why you need to have a few aces up your sleeve, to drop a few surprise roadblocks along their road to victory. The unexpected moments when things did not run smooth will make their victories taste all the sweeeter, and they'll be telling the stories to newbies for years. Games Master's Intuition Players are not the only ones to need intuition. As Games Master, you are responsible for the adventure to run smooth, even if the players' perception of the adventure is the opposite. Remember, you can also ask the Big Six Questions at any time, such as:- What would be the worst thing to happen to the adventurers right now? Who would be the least welcome non-player character to drop in on the characters unannounced (pick a Rival or bitter Enemy) Where are their exits? When would be a good time to drop in inconvenient reinforcements? How can the bad guy escape from a hail of arrows touched by Bypass Armour? Why is there a need to have the boss monster just stand there, when they can use their superior knowledge of nhe ins and outs of this place to set up traps to incapacitate the adventurers? How can I bring this battle scene to a swift close? What can I do to incapacitate them rather than kill them? As Games Master, you need your intuition to help you make the best decisions at any given time to keep the narrative and immersion going smoothly, even if all your plans and theirs just fell to bits through a few lousy die rolls on both sides. You must be able to go from Plan A to winging it, in such a way that the players can never see the join. Conclusion Both the players and the Games Master must make good friends with intuition - the players, to figure out what's happening and to work out plans; and the Games Master, to make decisions intended to keep the game running smoothly and remain entertaining for both the players and themselves as Games Masters. Don't be afraid to let the players work out plans and not include you. See, the thing is, if they're coming up with a scheme, whether it's whip-smart or dumb as rocks ... they are doing most of the heavy work for you. If they have a plan, be prepared to ditch yours in favour of theirs, because they will be entertaining themselves - and you. And who can find fault in that?
  11. What rewards are you handing out to your player characters? Have you given a thought that maybe "gold coins, drop treasure, and magic items" might not be enough for your player characters? Rewards are an incentive for players to continue playing, to see the session, scenario, or campaign through to its end. Games Masters have to balance the quantity of the rewards with their quality, and also their variety and suitability for the players as much as for the characters. Short scenarios can be rewarded with small, immediately-gratifying rewards such as coins and drop treasure; but Games Masters may seek out more ephemeral, yet more lasting, rewards for longer stories, as well as interim rewards throughout a campaign to keep the players' interest, or to offset temporary losses sustained in the course of play. Here are some of the kinds of rewards which Games Masters can offer to player characters. These all have positive effects and drawbacks. Money Coin is the most obvious - but give a thought to the nature of cash in your setting. Metal coins are not the only form of currency - currency can take the form of anything from compressed salt coins to cages full of chickens, to sacks of grain or salt, to promissory notes. Give at least some thought to the local economy and what the locals consider to be a fungible currency. Art Artworks are a larger and bulkier reward than bags of coins. Some art can be worth millions of coins: others can be virtually worthless. A gold ring and a massive marble statue might both be worth the exact same price on their respective markets - but one cannot exactly slip the statue into one's pocket (unless the setting has access to the Shrink sorcery spell). Other than the knowledge that artworks are a lot more of a risky sell than bullion coins, the process of gaining wealth apply to artworks from jewellery to paintings to statuary. Connections A new Connection can be a marvellous tool for the Games Master. Connections can be the catalyst that sends the characters into an adventure. Connections can also become a reward when they become a part of the characters' lives during the course of a campaign - whether as a healer, a majordomo of the characters' home, a savvy Contact with her ear to the streets, or "the guy who knows a guy" who provides the inrroductions to rich patrons, Connections are a valuable asset to everybody. Property Like cash and art, but this is more solid and much more expensive. Having real estate changes a character. For one thing, the character now belongs to the "landed classes," and people pay them more respects. For another, ad owners of a deed to some property, that household can provide a steady source of income if properly managed. An estate run by a majordomo is much more likely to be a source of positive profits, particularly if that majordomo is as competent as they are loyal. Pets Having a pet also changes a character, whether they are a Besti who acquires a hunting hound as a puppy and has to train it to hunt with him, or a magician who acquires an animal familiar. The character has an animal companion to look after. Company Sometimes, a significant other turns up in a character's life - a friend, a family member, a lover, a loved one. They may not be Allies or Contacts - but, like pets, they give the character reason to want to come home. Mundane Treasures Coin can only go so far. Artworks are bulky. Sometimes, a character can be allowed to receive material treasures such as books, new weapons, armour that fits, decent shoes, and so on. Magical Treasures Mythras is geared more towards personal ability than magic items. Actual magic items are rare in Mythras. The Enchant sorcery spell is designed to create magic items which are temporary: the enchanter creates it to serve some purpose, usually to allow them to cast a powerful sorcery spell very quickly, and items tend to be unwoven after their purpose is served just to allow the enchanter to get their Magic Points capacity back. This makes magical treasures the most ephemeral and fleeting of all the reward types, because inevitably they are only a part of the reward - a tool by which means the character can complete a task and gain access to more tangible rewards, such as the rewards above. Answers Some characters are brought into the game world asking questions: Who murdered my father? Why did my mother leave when I was nine? Where is my brother, missing for two years? What destroyed my entire village while I was away up in magic school in the mountains? Who is the out-of-towner who visits my mother every year on my birthday? Their game's story can be centered around them answering those deep-seated questions. Either they can receive full answers, in which case they'd better come up with new questions, or their campaign story arc can be brought to an end if all of their questions are answered, allowing the player to retire them out of the game. Achievements Some characters can bring with them, not so much unresolved questions, but unresolved aspirations - to topple the king, to rise to the top of a criminal empire, to become the world's greatest artist / scientist / mage / general, or whatever. They want something. Their character has a definite goal. Well, give it to them, even if it takes them out of the game. And sometimes, remember Seneca's advice - "You can't always get what you want; but if you try, sometimes you'll find you get what you need." Resolution Some characters have unresolved issues - to seek revenge on their parents' killer, or to stop an Enemy from ruining everybody's lives, including their own. The reward here is that the character does get to do something which makes a difference - justice for one's parents (so they don't have to go out at night and fight criminals in their pyjamas any more), or stopping a runaway enemy before they inflict irreparable damage. Again, if they can achieve resolution, they can either develop new unresolved issues to resolve or, for one-shots or short single adventures, they can drop out of the game at that point. Status / Recognition / Reputation Status can mean so much in campaign play. Characters' status may or may not be listed as a number, but the character can accomplish a lot more than before. Their earned status can open doors for them, including bringing in a better (read: wealthier) class of Patron. A campaign can revolve around the characters trying to get as much pull as possible back home. Reputations can also be made, including bad reputations cleared, through one's actions during the adventure. Advancement Similar to status, if a character is involved in a brotherhood, guild, church, or order, their reward can take the form of advancement in rank, particularly if the adventure they just completed involved them defeating an enemy of the group which gives them shelter and an identity. Evolution Magic-oriented characters can receive a magical reward. More than just learnin new spells, a magician's evolution takes the form of improvement in their magical skills, and the increasing power and responsibilities which come from increasing their Folk Magic, or Invocation and Shaping, or Meditation and Mysticism, or Binding and Trance. Apotheosis Theists and animists can, likewise, develop their relationship with their favourite spirits or deities, through increases in Devotion and Exhort, or through divine Gifts. Tragic Ending The ultimate reward, literally, is for the character not to make it back home alive at all. There can be something ennobling and uplifting, even in a bittersweet way, for a character to give their absolute all, and to lay down their lives to save others and to complete the task with a resounding success. Everybody else's happily ever after, bought and paid for by the character whose ever after is in PC heaven. To go back to Apotheosis, this would be the ultimate in Apotheosis for a theist or animist character, as their soul ascends to its final reward in a blaze of light, or the ghostly figure of the animist appears before the rest of the party, thanking them before they open a portal and walk through it into a visible portion of the spirit realm. In the end, there are many different ways to bring characters decent rewards for their efforts. Some of these are more suited for short game play, others better suited for campaign play and story arcs - but in the end, the most important reward is to the players. A Memorable Game This reward does not benefit the characters in the least bit. The reward is to the players. A Games Master can think long and hard about the best way to reward each character - but the final reward is to the players, who can take home cherished memories of memorable settings, memorable challenges, memorable colleagues, memorable team play, memorable events, and stories about what their characters did, as well as praise for the Games Master whose games can be unforgettable.
  12. In the world of 2021, between the lure of video games and the rise of solo roleplaying where game engines have been developed to emulate the Games Master's role, the role of the Games Master can sometimes feel precarious. A tabletop game dies if the players desert - but even a single player can enjoy a solo game if they have a solo engine / GM-in-a-box book to automate the GM's role. Games Masters need to up their game, nowadays, more than ever. This is where the fine art of storytelling comes in. In he earliest days of tabletop roleplaying, where all the Games Master (who used to be called the Dungeon Master before DM assumed a different meaning nowadays) had to do was just randomly create a dungeon and moderate technical queries about what a player could or could not do, their job was relatively simple and involved consultation of the Dungeon Master's Guide for what could, and could not, be done. However, you can now consult all sorts of online resources yourself for answers, meaning that the Games Master's role of provider of technical feedback is now redundant. That leaves them with the role of story creator / adventure creator, and the market demands a lot more effort nowadays. Fortunately, the Games Master has access to storytelling tools, which have existed for a long time, unnoticed and generally unused. One of those storytelling tools is hypnosis. Hypnosis You may be feeling a little disconcerted right now. Hypnosis is a scary topic for some of you here. Your characters probably suffered at the hands (or the gaze) of some vampire or sorcerer whose commands were laced with a sorcery spell such as Dominate - or even worse, Enslave - forcing Hard Willpower checks to resist the glare of their dread hypnotic eyes. However, it is not so bad. Every person has the capacity to go into a trance. Everybody can be hypnotised. In fact, you are likely to have experienced hypnosis personally, every time you picked up a game core rulebook or supplement, and found your mind going through an adventure or just taking in the scenery if it's a compelling sandbox environment you end up in. Have you ever been interrupted while you've been totally immersed in a thing, and had to experience waking up from reading such a book in depth, and blinking, and staring in a state of shock trying to work out what the person who interrupted you is saying? Congrats. What you got woken up from was a trance, and the person who interrupted you was an insensitive clod. Hypnosis is like that, and it is so easy to learn storytelling tools to keep the players engrossed and immersed in the setting, and make Gamesmasters relevant. Immersion When you are creating a setting for an adventure or a campaign, or establishing a setting for sandbox play, you are setting up something for the players to immerse themselves into. Each player has an unconscious mind working behid the scenes; and it is when the unconscious mind is engaged that the players become immersed in the world, the scene unfolds about them, and they become their characters. Your job, as Games Master, is to learn to do this consistently. And yes, it is a skill. Fortunately, it's a skill you can learn really quickly. Put your granddad's fob watch away. You won't need it. Unconscious Mind It is not the "subconscious mind," no matter what you heard or read from whatever sources. It's the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious is what you're probably using right now to argue with me. The unconscious is the bit you use all the time, but are unaware of - that's why it's called the unconscious. The term subconscious implies that it is somehow beneath the conscious mind, perhaps even subservient to it. It is nothing of the sort. Modern psychology uses the model of the iceberg to describe how the conscious and the unconscious work. You remember the old myth that humans only use 10% of their brains? Any medical surgeon could tell you that humans use 100% of their brains - but any competent psychologist will tell you that they use only 10% of their minds for conscious thought. The other 90% is the unconscious mind. The unconscious is where your imagination comes from. Literally. It builds up images and crafts sensations from your memories, and then runs them in your mind, creating from scratch things which only exist because you have remembered something similar in the past. Example: Imagine you're walking up towards your front door. All the familiar sounds, sensations, sights from memory are running in your mind. Describe what you see to yourself. Now when you open the door and step inside, you're not in your home any more - you're inside a glowing palace of stained glass windows and ceiling, a cathedral with a vast floor, a flat plain dappled with a million colours of light filtered by the glass, a light which comes from the sun far above you. There are scents: incense, burning orange blossoms, wine ... Now come back here, and remember what you just experienced. The unconscious constructed that for you. Your job, as Games Master, is to work with the unconscious mind to create such scenes for them. The players' unconscious mind ... and your own. The Conscious Censor and The Power of Perversity Some of you might have just asked "But what if I don't like the smell of orange blossoms?" or "What if I've never smelled orange blossoms?" Fear not. That's the conscious mind talking. The conscious is, literally, a shield against all the data impacting on the unconscious mind. If the unconscious had to process everything all at once, it would break down. Nothing would get done. The conscious mind, the bit that responds when someone says "you" to them, the bit that thinks it is the main part of the mind: that's just a buffer, capable of holding no more than between 5 and 9 things in short term memory at one time. When someone mansplains, or when they are being an insufferable smart alec - they're dwelling in their conscious mind. That is not "the highest expression of human or civilised thought" that rationalists think it is. In fact, it is a staggeringly illogical mindset, because it can hold so few facts, like having a supercomputer which you can only access through an interface whose core is a Raspberry Pi. The conscious' main job is literally to censor and delete the imagination. You cannot live in an imaginary world all the time, and sooner or later you have to disengage from that and focus on the boring day to day minutiae of the here and now, such as washing the dishes and filling out the tax forms. Or arguing over inerpretations about a trivial ruling in the back pages of some core rulebook. Continued next week
  13. The word "adventure" comes from Middle English: from Old French aventure (noun), aventurer (verb), based on Latin adventurus ‘about to happen’, from advenire ‘arrive’. It concerns things happening. Drama. Conflict. As any great screenwriter, playwright and storyteller will tell you, there are a lot of ways to stage and set a drama - many different sources of conflict. Let's look at some sources of drama. 90% of all drama and conflict is going to come from persons. The rest is environmental drama - floods, fires, wars, diseases, rioting, earthquakes, volcanoes, molasses tsunamis, and on and on. In other words, disasters. So the drama and conflicts which come from a person can be powerful things to overcome. Let's look at a few core elements which drive bad guys. Vanity: Arrogance; haughtiness; overconfidence; ambition; murder to prove a point; killing for oneupmanship; brinksmanship; and karening - calling in the law to harass innocents. Greed: Avarice; miserliness; corruption; offering bribes; accepting bribes; loss of touch with reality; Marie Antoinette "Let them eat cake" (even though she never said it, the image is still used as a valid lesson); valuing things over people; social inequality. Envy: Betrayal, after becoming a friend; murder; inferiority complex; poisoning the well; gossiping and smearing. Hatred: Bigotry; self-denial; mass murder; nationalism. Desire: An emotion almost never covered in roleplaying games. Lust; longing; stalking; obsession; crossing lines; ignoring boundaries. Fear: The enemy fears the protagonists, and will do everything in their power to detroy them. If the antagonist is powerful, this cam be a problem for the characters - but remember that the enemy fears them? This means that the enemy is aware of their vulnerability - and fears that the characters can exploit that vulnerability, or flat-out destroy the antagonist ... if the protagonists can work out what that vulnerability is, in time. Adventures begin when the player characters recognise the drama unfolding - the greedy tycoon sliding his grossly incompetent nephew into a position of authority with power over the player characters, or the group's "best friend" turning out to be someone who hates them after all, and has been feeding crucial intel to the bad guys all along - and do something about it. Their plans can go awry - their plan of directly assaulting the stronghold of the bad guy who's been smearing their name is thwarted by a bunch of laws, and a whole lot of guards - and they may be forced to adopt new plans, reject them, and come up with even more plans; but it's the act of trying to figure things out, and trying to come up with solutions, and thinking up strategies other than combat, which make an adventure. Moreover, the act of thinking on their feet, the uncertainty that they might fail and face worse than being reduced to zero hit points, is what makes adventures memorable. Opinion: I don't think you can ever find anything memorable about hack'n'slash dungeoneering without having a broader context for it. It's like eating mashed potato without salt or butter.
  14. Let's talk more about the payoff. What's the payoff? It's the feelings you get from gaming. It's the pleasure, or other feelings, you get once a session's over, and the Experience Rolls and material awards are handed out. In gaming, as in many activities, there are goals - achievements, and the feelings associated with those achievements. Goals can be divided into true goals (also known as clean goals) and dirty goals. The aim of gaming is to reach a true goal - earning a victory in an adventure and claiming the players' rewards such as wealth, experience, and so on. When your players' characters succeed in their adventure, or score a critical success at a critical time, or come up with a beautiful scheme or plan which succeeds despite things not running smooth - tell me about such an event that happened to you. Can youi describe how you felt? Did you feel that your characters should be proud of their accomplishment, or do you feel accomplished? What is your payoff like? Tell me about when you come home from a game session, or sign out of Zoom, and sit back. What is it like for you if your character wins? What if they've just lost in the session, or even died? Experienced gamers ... what do you feel now from claiming a victory, that you didn't feel when you enjoyed your first few victories? Same goes for losses - do you feel that your younger self felt it more intensely if your character got stuck in a cliffhanger, or came home without the prize, or didn't come home at all? Do you shrug off misfortunes more nowadays, or are the roles reversed - your character having had so much invested in them that you cannot bear to have such a sophisticated, multi-layered character fall to some random encounter monster's blade in a dark, anonymous corridor? Tell me more about your payoff, and the reason why you love gaming.
  15. This blog is about settings. And immersion, and getting a sense of belonging. And rejection of the hack'n'slash mentality of gaming. It is also about hypnosis, and hypnotic language, and high weirdness, and the ocarina. Everybody here got into gaming for their own reasons. Give me five minutes, and I bet I could draw out your reason for playing d100 games, or for playing tabletop games at all. What do you get out of your favourite d100 game / setting? What's the payoff for you, that brings you back to this specific game, world, or setting, or even makes this your go-to place for adventures? This blog will explore that payoff. In my case, those payoffs plural. By exploring the things that bring others to the table, you might find the things within you which motivate you to game. And I'll reveal my payoffs, the reasons why I do what I do - writing game material, playing the ocarina, and hypnosis.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. Started a new campaign set in Ashfar using Classic Fantasy Story of first session here https://chrisbrann.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/the-stories-of-errath-the-bard-chapter-1/
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. Hello, I would like to dedicate this topic to a more-or-less classic BRP solution related to Toughness and Readiness present in Revolution D100. That is, the usage of unified Hit Points (or Hit Locations Hit Points for those preferring the localised damage), as well as Action Points in general. I have been considering tweaking Action Points into my own game, as I am currently running on Mythras and seeing a lot of interesting things in Revolution D100. Perhaps it is the slight unfamiliarity of mine on how the Readiness (SR) functions in general as I didn't get to try it just yet. I would probably assign a unified 2 (or 3) Action Point value per round for every Player Character regardless of their species. Basic movement would be a free action if used to engage an opponent within the non-running/non-sprinting range. Every Action and Reaction would cost a single Action Point, meanwhile various Spells would have Action Point (and Effort, also known as Exertion Points) cost relative to their casting time. What about the rest of you, have you devised your own alternative of the rules, or perhaps the author himself has some alternative rules in store for us? I'd be very curious to read your input on this matter!
  22. I've placed a very abridged version of this review on Lulu, where I recently purchased the hard-back book, and Aeon Games website. Monster Island is a stand-alone, setting agnostic, campaign guide and bestiary for the Mythras roleplaying game. A jungle and mist-wreathed island, the setting is distinctly sword and sorcery, with clear and welcome inspiration from the weirdness of Clark Ashton Smith, a hint of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fritz Leiber and other classic lost-world adventure stories, and the films of Ray Harryhausen. Monster Island was originally published for RuneQuest 6 by the Design Mechanism, and now for its descendent, the Mythras D100 role play system. Because it is a D100 system, Monster Island is easily adaptable to similar games. The richness of this supplement cannot be over-exaggerated, it offers years of game play, and a bounteous source of inspiration from every paragraph. It inspired me to write the first adventure module for Monster Island, a Bird in the Hand. The book comprises eight chapters, of which the last, on flora and fauna takes up roughly a third of the page count. This delivers on its first, core purpose: a bestiary of strange and deadly creatures from world-myth, the ancient past and, I suspect, the author’s evil imagination! None of the creatures or plants are ‘generic’, it is a rich and weirdly diverse range. However, Monster Island offers much more than a simple ‘monster manual’. Monster Island is a sandbox setting for campaign play, with ready-made materials for the Games Master. Three distinct cultures are offered, of which human colonists are intended as the main playable culture, but nothing restricts playing either of the two native, non-human, cultures. The cultures themselves are distinct, with unique customs, goals and magic; and supported by a sample settlement for each culture, including Port Grimsand, a Leiber-inspired town with a hint of piratical charm, but hints of Lovecraftian darkness! Magic in Monster Island draws on the core Mythras rules, but offers a master-class in how to customise magic to suit a particular setting. This alone is worth the price of admission! Given the Mythras is a toolkit-based game system, Monster Island provides an ‘ready to play’ set-up for culture and magic. As a sandbox for sword and sorcery, Monster Island provides a chapter on campaigns, with advice for running Mythras to fit the genre, and a chapter of strange items and substances to be found on the Island, including a range of nasty diseases and poisons, as well as treasures and magic items. For me, the richest, most creative, and inspiring chapter is on places of interest, detailing 13 adventure locations, with 15 further locations in summary paragraph. Each location touch on different aspects of the sword and sorcery genre with lost temples, tombs, imprisoned demons and strange magics, and hints of science-fantasy. The detailed location provides a springboard for further adventure ideas, and campaign play. Monster Island also lends itself very well to a more pulp-inspired game, suiting two-fisted adventurers from the 1930s, as much as swaggering sword-wielders or roguish thieves. So, what can be improved, or what doesn’t quite work? There is nothing in Monster Island that is poorly designed or developed. The writing, and setting, offers just the ‘right’ level of detail, enough to inspire but not constrain the imagination; whilst giving enough to kick-off a game with relatively little preparation. Almost errata free, some very slight adjustments to animism are needed to properly update from RuneQuest 6 to Mythras. As a complete campaign setting, it is nevertheless easy to pick apart, selectively adopting parts of the supplement for use in any other Mythras game; but Monster Island comes into its own if run as a whole, it is the setting that keeps on giving! Monster Island can, and should, be developed further! Additional guidance on character creation to fit Monster Island would be helpful, albeit the setting is purposefully agnostic to fit any Games Master’s campaign world. More art, floor plans and maps would also be very welcome. My main, and only, gripe is the hex-map, with needs a grid-reference or numbered hexes: it would be wonderful to see a map with richer detail, showing the geography and climatic zones of the jungle. Monster Island is a beast of a book, buy it. Now!
  23. 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.
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
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