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  1. Fire and Violent Death After the Moot, Wæcla held a feast and invited the Hrothgarsons to the High Table to discuss why they had come to Verulamacæster. Dunstan told the story of the Bannucmann in the hope that he would distract Wæcla’s attention but got himself tongue-tied and the listeners lost interest in his telling of the tale. Dunstan was upset with himself but most of the warriors were so drunk that Wulfhere said to him that he did not think it would affect their standing in the Hall. Wulfhere noticed that Wæcla did not drink much and he thought it might be a good idea to copy the King. Uthric had been brooding throughout the meal and did not say much. He had said to Dunstan that he was worried that Dunric had suddenly appeared again and had a feeling that this did not bode well for anyone. Dunstan explained to Wæcla that Uthric’s poor mood was because he had been worried that Dunric had come to his Kingdom and he did not see it as a coincidence that Wæcla had then been poisoned. He told Wæcla of their past dealings with Dunric and how he took great interest in death and killing innocent people by causing extreme suffering and pain. Wæcla said he was unsure what Dunstan wanted him to do. He said he was aware that leæches often sacrificed people to further their aims and while he did not agree with it, he accepted that it might be necessary for others to live. He thought priests and leæches were often inscrutable in their actions and he had found that trying to judge their motives as good or evil was essentially difficult and, in his experience, never successful. Wæcla thought Dunric may be evil and act evilly, as Dunstan had said, but he was, without doubt, being prompted by the gods or spirits. Wæcla did not see that he was therefore in a position to judge him or act against him without more evidence. Wæcla said he was more interested in their relationship with Hrof, Aelle and Cerdic. He said that they had by now heard that he had imprisoned Ealhwyn and he wanted to know if they could tell him how Hrof might respond. Wulfhere said that he could not claim to know Hrof well but they had met him a few times. He had found him to be a generous man to his friends but he was implacable as an enemy. He did know that he was fond of his daughter and that he could only guess that Hrof was still unaware of Ealhwyn’s imprisonment. Wæcla said he had been thinking how he should respond to Hrof and had not yet decided what to do with Ealhwyn. Uthric wanted to know if that was because he thought Ealhwyn was not guilty of poisoning him. Wæcla said he was still not sure but the evidence pointed to the fact that she was the only one who could have put the poison in his cup and the bottle of poison had been found in her sleeping chambers. Uthric said that the King must be aware that he had many enemies and not all of them identified themselves openly. Wæcla agreed with Uthric and said he thought this was a consequence of trying to be fair to everyone. Some mistook his justice as weakness. He asked if they knew of Aelle's intentions. Wulfhere said that Aelle's motivation was unknown to him but that he had found Aelle, in general, to be more open than Cerdic. One could always tell what Aelle was thinking as he tended to be hot-headed and emotional. Cerdic, on the other hand, did not let emotions rule his actions. Wulfhere said that, as he was the most northerly of Cerdic's Ealdorman, what he could tell Wæcla was that Cerdic had currently no thoughts of invasion of Mierce. His goal appeared to be to thwart Aelle's attempt to take land north of the Tamyse. There was peace at present between the two Kings but Wulfhere said that he could not see it lasting. He said both were too ambitious. Wæcla thought that if they fought each other then they would be likely to leave Mierce alone but it was clear to him that he could not really trust either King. They talked of other things that were more immediate and Uthric admitted that he had come north to find his wife, Meire. Wæcla was keen to hear the story and Uthric was able to keep the King’s interest with the tale. Wulfhere asked if he could have Wæcla’s opinion on Brithwen’s relationship with Iænbeorht as he had observed it to be overfamiliar. Wæcla thought Wulfhere's comment amusing. He said he would forgive the remark as Wulfhere was more than likely unaware that Iænbeorht was Brithwen's mother's brother. Wulfhere was surprised and apologised for his insinuation although he had found the interaction strange. Wæcla said that his wife, the Cyninge, was beyond reproof. He asked if they would be leaving in the morning but Uthric said that Meire was unwilling to leave without ensuring that Ealhwyn was declared innocent. Wæcla said that he thought this would be a good thing and when Dunstan asked if they could visit Ealhwyn in her rooms, Wæcla said he could think of no reason why that could not happen. When they were alone, the Hrothgarsons discussed the information that they had and what they needed still to do. Wulfhere said he still had suspicions about the Christians but that Cissa, Aelle’s son and Northern Warleader, had most to gain from Wæcla’s death. Dunstan said he was still confused by what was happening and said that it would be a lot simpler to take over the Kingdom rather than all of the plotting and poisoning. Wulfhere said that it would surely be sufficient to have someone in charge who is well disposed or willing to become a vassal of another Kingdom. Uthric said he was confused too but his confusion was about Ealhwyn’s motivation. He reminded his brothers that Ealhwyn was Hrof's daughter and married to Wlencig, Aelle's son. He wondered if the she had been acting on Aelle's behalf. Wulfhere said that they all agreed that Aelle and Cissa would benefit most from Wæcla's death. They could then absorb the lands of the Wæclingas and expand their territory further east but to do so they would need a compliant or inexperienced King. He wondered who might succeed Wæcla if he had died. There was no guarantee Wæcla's son, Scænwulf, would be the next Wæclingascyning as the Moot would need to vote for him and from what they had seen of him they were not sure he was capable of ruling a Kingdom. None of them had any idea of the power distribution in the land and what would happen at the Moot. Uthric had drunk too much the night before and felt very unwell the next morning. Dunstan on the other hand, was moving around noisily and whistling which caused Uthric to complain about inconsiderate people. Dunstan decided to leave Uthric sleeping and avoid an argument. He went into the main Hall and sat at one of the benches calling one of the serving women over to ask if he could have something to eat to break his night fast. He paid the serving woman, Mildburh, compliments and asked her opinions on the food. Mildburh was flattered by his attention and was happy to spend time talking to him. However, she said that she had to make it clear that if he was trying to get her to sleep with him then he would be wasting his time. She did suggest that if that was what he was interested in, then he should seek out Edoma, the kitchen maid, and that giving her some silver would get him what he wanted. Dunstan said that he had only been making conversation and settled down into eat his food. He did keep talking to Mildburh as she went about her chores and she returned his comments with equal enthusiasm. When Wulfhere joined Dunstan, he noted that Dunstan seemed to have attracted the attention of another woman and wondered why he needed to be surrounded by women and thought perhaps that he was not satisfied with only one. Dunstan said his mind was fully on Æthlind and that she was in every way beautiful, intelligent and hard-working and therefore all he needed. She had also given him a new son, Alhstan, who he believed would be a famous warrior one day. Wulfhere laughed as he noticed that Mildburh was paying close attention to Dunstan's plate and seemed to always be nearby by despite the number of other men in the hall looking for food. Wulfhere asked Mildburh if the king had a Beorsceale1 and who ran the household, particularly at feasts. Mildburh said that Brithwen, as the Cyninge, was in charge of the household but Haneald was the Boldweard2 and assisted the Queen. The boy, Oswui was the Beorsceale and it was he that sometimes served ale to the King. Wulfhere thanked her and when she was out of earshot said that once again Dunstan had got an attractive woman interested in him. Dunstan said that Wulfhere had misjudged him and if Wulfhere was interested in sleeping with Mildburh, he might find himself disappointed. He thought that Wulfhere would be more successful if he sought out Edoma, the kitchen maid, and gave her some silver. Wulfhere looked quizzically at Dunstan and said he was obviously still drunk as he was still not making sense. Dunstan shrugged his shoulders and said he was only trying to be helpful. Uthric eventually joined them in the main Hall and as he ate, Wulfhere discussed what they must do. He thought primarily they should see and speak with Ealhwyn but it might be also useful to talk to Haneald and Oswui. Dunstan said that he would like to talk to Bairre the Priest as he did not trust Christians to not cause trouble wherever they went and he thought it best to find out what his motives were for being in Verulamacæster. Uthric mumbled something about Blacksmiths and cauldrons but neither of his brothers were sure what he meant for he spoke so low and haltingly, frequently stopping midsentence to hold his head. While they were waiting for Wæcla to come into the Hall to gain permission to speak to Ealhwyn, Wulfhere talked to Haneald the Boldweard. Wulfhere thought Haneald was guarded in his responses but he was not sure who he was protecting. Haneald said that during feasts it was his duty to ensure that the Hall had enough food and drink, making sure that the servants were continually filling the drinking horns and trenchers. He said it was always the Cyninge's duty to ensure the guests at the High Table had enough to eat and drink but, on that particular night, Brithwen had not served the High Table became she did not want to embarrass the Cyning, who sat alone with Ealhwyn. Haneald said it was not up to him to comment on the actions of the King but he left Wulfhere with no doubt that he disapproved of Wæcla's behaviour. He said that Oswui, the Beorsceale, had served Wæcla and Ealhwyn that night. Wulfhere said he would like to talk to Oswui if that was possible. Oswui was brought into the Hall at Wulfhere’s request. He was a young boy of about eleven summers and Wulfhere thought he was likely to be the son of some favoured Þegn. Oswui was nervous and as he spoke he constantly played with an amulet of silver and gold that hung around his neck. Oswui said that he had given the Cyning and the Lady Ealhwyn drinks all night. He said that late into the night, Wæcla had suddenly stood up, had fallen over and had then begun to shake. Oswui said that despite what people were saying he did not believe Ealhwyn could have poisoned the Cyning because she was too nice. Wulfhere said that just because someone seems nice does not mean that they sometimes do things that are wrong. Oswui became flustered and upset by Wulfhere's words and held more tightly onto his amulet. Wulfhere asked who had given Oswui the drinking horns to give to the Cyning and was told that it had been the Cyninge. Oswui was startled by Wulfhere's question and possible consequences and said he did not think that Brithwen would have poisoned her husband. Wulfhere thanked him for the talk and went back to the bench where he had left Uthric and Dunstan. Dunstan had despaired of Uthric recovering from too much ale the night before and had left him to seek out Bairre, the Christian Priest. He asked directions from the guards on the Hall door and was told that Christians were not allowed to live within the city walls. They believed that he lived at a shrine to the Christian god to the east of the City. Dunstan eventually found the Priest, Bairre mac Guilla where the guards had told him. He was a small, round man with thinning hair and a stained robe. Bairre was excited to see Dunstan and told him he was welcome and glad he had sought him out to hear the message of the gospel. Dunstan said he was unsure what that might be but said he was always open to discussion. Dunstan acknowledged that he was not overly familiar with Christians and his previous experience of them had not endeared them. Bairre said that he thought that this may have been an unfortunate experience as he believed that most Christians were good people. He likened them to fishermen except that they were interested in saving souls. Dunstan frowned so heavily, Bairre took a backward step. Dunstan said that neither idea filled him with joy. He disliked fishermen because they had given him unending trouble. He was also not happy about any discussions about souls having lost and then found his own recently. Bairre said that he would like to hear the tale sometime but Dunstan said that he was not keen to tell it at the moment and it would need to be told at a later date, if Bairre was still interested. Dunstan decided he needed to change the subject and said he was keen to hear why the Priest had come to Verulamacæster because he was certain there were no other Christians in the area. Bairre reluctantly admitted this was true. His own people who were left in the area had taken up worshipping demons and idols. He had come with two junior priests to tend the shrine of Alban, a Christian martyr, who had been beheaded by the Romans for hiding a Priest. Dunstan said that he thought that the Priest must have been a criminal or else he would not need to have hidden. He therefore should have been given over to the Romans but Bairre disagreed and said Alban had been a good man. Dunstan said he was not sure he would ever understand Britons or Romans. They seemed to have an ability to cause unending harm to each other. Bairre said that he thought that characterisation of Christians was unfair and he reached to touch Dunstan’s arm to guide him towards the shrine. In doing so he revealed his hands that had been concealed by his robe. Dunstan noticed that his fingers were stained black and he asked Bairre why this was so. Bairre said that he spent his spare time copying out sections of his God’s Holy words in a book. The black stains were ink. Dunstan said he had never heard the word ink before and he pressed Bairre for an explanation. Bairre showed him the book and Dunstan said that he would call the marks in the book Runes and if this was the case then Bairre could rightly be described as a sorcerer. Bairre was upset by Dunstan’s words and repudiated that he would ever be involved in sorcery. Dunstan remained unconvinced and said he thought he should return to his brothers. Bairre asked him to come back again. Uthric had eventually gathered himself and had gone to the street where the īsernsmiþas3 worked. He asked around about small cauldrons but none of the īsernsmiþas said that they would do such a job unless specifically commissioned. They said that no-one would want such small cauldrons to cook with. Uthric noticed that most of the īsernsmiþas had black hands and when he asked them about the colour they explained that working with hot metal always caused burns where slivers of the metal and charcoal mixed to turn their hands black. One of them said that it was considered lucky and he had found that the women liked it. Uthric said that he thought he could manage woman’s interest without burning his hands black. Wulfhere was waiting for Wæcla to come into the Hall but when he arrived he was having an ongoing argument with his son, Scænwulf. Wulfhere was not close enough to hear what the argument was about before Scænwulf left in anger. Wulfhere decided that he would wait for Wæcla to calm down before asking to see Ealhwyn who might be another source of anger for Wæcla. He decided he might await the return of his brothers and continued to watch and wait but Wæcla did not seem to concerned about Scænwulf’s behaviour. Wulfhere concluded that it must be a regular occurrence. Wæcla continued with his daily tasks and was ensuring that his judgements from the Moot had been carried out. He brought Hwætmund the Merchant to see him and reminded him that he had made an agreement to charge a fixed price for cloth and yet he had heard that he was still overcharging. Hwætmund tried to claim it had been an accident but Wæcla said he was not interested in excuses. When his brother’s returned Wulfhere was still sitting listening to Wæcla. He said to them that it was easy to see why Wæcla was a popular King. He was very focused on protecting his people from those that would exploit them but Wulfhere said he also thought that he had many enemies because of that. Dunstan said that Kings are likely to have enemies. Uthric agreed and pointed out that Dunstan continually complains about Cerdic to anyone who will listen and even to those that tell him they are not interested in his views. Wulfhere told them he had witnessed Scænwulf argue with his father and Dunstan wondered if he could have attempted to poison Wæcla. While they were discussing this, Sceirhead the Chief Huscarl, came over and asked them if they needed some exercise. He said he was planning a trip to the Chiltern Hills and thought he could use more people that knew how to handle themselves. He thought the Hrothgarsons’ reputation was sufficient for them to have a prominent place in his Warband. Wulfhere respectfully declined the offer and said that if their time was their own there was nothing he would like better than exercising with Sceirhead. Sceirhead said he was disappointed and maybe their fame was only made up by Lēoþwyrhtan4. Wulfhere chose to ignore Sceirhead’s provocation. Wulfhere said that he would continue to watch the Hall and Uthric and Dunstan should go and meet Ealhwyn. He thought he might learn information by watching the interaction and the added bonus was that he could also continue to drink Wæcla’s excellent ale while he did so. Uthric and Dunstan went to see Ealhwyn. Outside the door, one of Meire’s brothers stood guard. He did not respond nor hinder Uthric or Dunstan when Uthric said that they were here to visit Ealhwyn. Uthric explained why they had come to see her and Ealhwyn’s initial hostility was replaced by a warm welcome. Ealhwyn was grateful that Meire had not deserted her and that the Hrothgarsons were searching for evidence to allow her to be freed. She was adamant that she had nothing to do with Wæcla’s poisoning. Ealhwyn could tell them little that they already did not know about the night Wæcla was poisoned. She was initially reluctant to tell them her business with Wæcla but when Dunstan said that it would be difficult to help her if they were not aware of everything she was doing. After some thought Ealhwyn agreed to their request but she made them swear an oath of silence before she told them. Ealhwyn told them that she had agreed a plan with Saeberht, her cousin to create a Miercian confederacy to defend themselves against the three most powerful Kings, Guercha One-eye, Aelle and Cerdic. It was Sæberht’s opinion that all three had shown intent to invade Mierce to further their aims to be Brytenwealda. The Miercians, on the other hand, only wanted to be ruled by their own elected Kings. Uthric said that he found this strange and could not quite work out why she was doing this. He said she was, after all, Hrof’s daughter and Wlencig’s husband and both had strong loyalty to Aelle. Ealhwyn acknowledged what both had said but she said she believed that people needed to choose their own destinies and Aelle, Cerdic and Guercha would not allow that. After a moment she added that despite his love for her, her father would also not allow people to seek their own wyrd. As for her husband, Wlencig, she had no real feelings for him. It had been a marriage to cement the alliance of their respective fathers. Uthric asked about her relationship with Wæcla and, after a moment of silence, Ealhwyn admitted they were lovers. Dunstan said that he thought this might be a motive for the poisoning. Uthric agreed and wondered if Ealhwyn had been blamed to stop her relationship with Wæcla. Ealhwyn said that while this was possible it was likely to be a more political act. Uthric and Dunstan went back to talk to Wulfhere. Dunstan thought there were too many layers to Wæcla’s poisoning. There were many people who could have had a motive but he thought by focusing on those that would benefit most they might be able to find out what had happened. Wulfhere said that in his view it must be one of the Kings who has paid someone to get rid of Wæcla. He thought that Wæcla was possibly the only one that could hold a Miercian Confederation together. Wulfhere said that no-one would pretend to know Cerdic’s mind but he seemed to be focused on lands to the west. Aelle, through Cissa, was the most active north of the Tamyse and no-one knew what Guercha’s plans were. Uthric thought Aelle or Cissa could have bought one of Wæcla’s people and that person was responsible for the poisoning. Dunstan thought that they needed to free Ealhwyn and leave. He thought they might blame Bairre mac Guilla or ask him to preach against adultery to infuriate the King. Neither Uthric nor Wulfhere thought of Dunstan’s plans as useful. As they were leaving the Hall, Mildburh came over to Dunstan. She reminded him of the questions he had asked her that morning and said that he might be interested that Brithwen had a disagreement with Sceirhead this morning in the herb garden and directly afterwards she had another argument with a man she did not know. She thought he was likely a craftsperson from his clothing. Dunstan thanked her and gave her a broach which she was delighted with. He asked her to continue to listen for any other useful bits of information. She moved closer to him and whispered that the Cyninge’s maid, Estrith, had told her that Brithwen was angry at Wæcla because of his relationship with Ealhwyn. Brithwen had told Estrith that she feared that she and her eldest son, Scænwulf, will be discarded and Wæcla will have children with Ealhwyn. Wulfhere gathered his brothers to talk about what they now knew. He started by saying he had been thinking that they were basing their premise on Meire’s word that Ealhwyn was not guilty of poisoning Wæcla. He wondered if they should also consider that she could have poisoned him. Uthric said that if Wulfhere doubted Meire, he might want to take it up with her brothers. Wulfhere ignored his comment and reviewed some other points. If Brithwen was divorced by Wæcla would that mean Iænbeorht would be dismissed as the Hlafweard5. Would the threat of losing his position be enough for Iænbeorht to consider killing Wæcla to keep his role and to uphold the honour of his sister’s daughter. Dunstan said they had forgotten about the leæches and in particular Dunric. He reminded them that any situation involving Dunric is likely to involve a significant amount of deaths. Wulfhere said he did not get the sense the leæches were involved. He thought they would not need to poison someone to commit murder and were unlikely to be so secretive about it. They preferred to be ostentatious and very public in their killings. Bairre the Priest could be involved because Christian’s like to sow discord as they had all seen in Dumnonia. Dunstan said that Bairre had been writing runes in a book and was clearly a powerful sorcerer. Uthric asked what they thought about Mildburh’s information and wondered if the craftsperson that Brithwen met could have been an Īsernsmiþ. Wulfhere said that he could not tell for sure but the one thing he did know was that, the more information they got, the more complexities and more possibilities arose. He said his head hurt with overthinking. When Dunstan left the Hall, he noticed Bairre standing and staring at Meire. She was teaching her children the names of flowers and herbs that she had placed on a table. Bairre was making magical symbols with his hand and muttering under his breathe. When he noticed Dunstan, he said that he had been unaware that the Sais had sunk so far into evil as to allow a brùnaidh6 to live amongst them and in doing so they would imperil his and others’ souls. He said that this woman was obviously a fae, and she needed to be exercised. He thought it had likely been her that had murdered his comrade, Iola, and taken his blood for her foul and idolatrous sacrifices. Dunstan said that Meire was his brother’s wife and she had not been known to sacrifice people. He thought, if young Hrothgar was to be believed, that it was better not to mention that she seemed to have a propensity to burst into flames because that might annoy Bairre more. Dunstan said that he was dismayed by Bairre’s news and asked what had happened. Bairre said that they had found Iola this morning and he had had his throat slit and every drop of blood had been drained from him. He had then been pinned to a tree with a spear point. He blamed the fae woman and was going to speak to Wæcla about Iola’s death to demand justice. Wulfhere and Uthric were sitting together talking but listening to what was happening in the Hall. Both thought that there was a connection between Aelle and his desire to become more influential in Mierce. They were eavesdropping on Wæcla’s discussion with Iænbeorht while trying to look like they were minding their own business. There were two interesting pieces of information overheard. Wæcla and Iænbeorht discussed a possible treaty with Aelle to preserve the peace. Iænbeorht was keen for a deal to maintain the peace and allow the people to recover from ruinous wars, poor harvests and illness. However, they could not agree and Wæcla thought that they needed to negotiate from a position of power with Kings like Aelle. Wæcla brought up that he was also worried about Sceirhead’s recent attitude and his continual questioning of his authority. Iænbeorht said that they both knew Sceirhead was a hothead and his diplomacy was usually carried out with a spear. Wæcla said that he hoped Sceirhead would develop some sense of composure that did not involve always killing people. Wulfhere was worried about Wæcla’s proposal for an alliance with Aelle. He felt this was how Aelle spread his influence by using intimidation and a threat of violence and he was certain that Cerdic would not be pleased with this development. Uthric thought Cerdic’s anger would be because he hadn’t thought of it first but he was thinking that taking Sceirhead down a notch would not be a bad thing for Wæcla’s authority. They were both surprised and amused when the Priest, Bairre made an appearance to complain about the murder of Iola, his comrade, who he claimed had been sacrificed by a devil. Uthric was not so amused that Bairre accused Meire of being a demon and that Wæcla needed to do something about her. Wulfhere had to restrain him from threatening violence in the Hall and breaking Wæcla’s peace. Bairre said that he was going to sit outside Wæcla’s Hall and go on hunger strike to shame Wæcla until the murderer was punished. Wæcla tried to appease Bairre but he was not in the mood to be placated. Wulfhere suggested to Uthric that to take his mind off Bairre he might want to talk to the Īsernsmiþan about the person Brithwen had met in the herb garden. Uthric thought he might benefit from time away from the atmosphere in the Hall. He spoke with Tancred, one of the Īsernsmiþan, who was unusually talkative. The news on Īsernsmiþanstræt was that Mercheld, one of their number, had the day before decided to leave and go to Lundenwic. Tancred was under the impression that Mercheld had not planned the move and it was a quick decision. There had been a lot of speculation as to the cause and some gossip about falling out with Brithwen. Tancred dismissed the gossip as he thought it unlikely Mercheld would know the Cyninge other than by sight. He did say that Mercheld had been at odds with Wæcla because last year his son had been killed by Scænwulf, Wæcla’s eldest son, over an argument about a horse. Mercheld had thought that the wergild was not enough and had made his thoughts known to anyone who would listen. Uthric thanked Tancred for the information and left to see Meire and to make sure that her brother was still guarding her. He was not pleased about Bairre’s threats against her. The Hrothgarson’s mood was subdued that night as they ate their evening meal in Wæcla’s Hall. Their mood seemed to infect the nearby benches and spread to the other people present as the night wore on. People spoke in low voices and there was not much laughter. The door was opened suddenly and a blast of cold night air silenced the Hall. Sceirhead came into the Hall with about ten of the Huscarls. He was still in armour and armed. Gold shone at his throat and wrist. Wæcla asked why he had come dressed for war and had broken the peace of his Hall. Sceirhead threw a sack on the King’s table which fell open and said to Wæcla that he had solved his problem with the miners. Inside the sack were severed heads. Wæcla was furious and said that he had not had a problem with any miners and Sceirhead would need to pay wergild for the dead with his new gold jewellery. Sceirhead drew his sword and would have moved toward the King if some of the warriors who, although unarmed, pushed Sceirhead and his men away from the King. Uthric drew his seax and taking a shield from the wall moved in between Sceirhead and the King. Sceirhead did not hesitate but attacked Uthric. The fight was unequal and Uthric could not land a significant blow or when he did Sceirhead’s armour turned his seax. Sceirhead wounded Uthric in the arm and leg which convinced Uthric that this was not going to end well. Sceirhead was a skilful and capable warrior and even fully armoured Uthric would have struggled against him. Dunstan had taken a shield from the wall of the Hall and Wulfhere had picked up a shield from a wounded warrior. Both ran to help Uthric. Uthric had jumped backwards but was bleeding from his wounds. Others were now running to engage the rebel warriors and although Sceirhead himself was keen to land a killing blow on Uthric, they began to withdraw in case they were overwhelmed. Someone threw a javelin at Wæcla when he was organising the defence and he did not see its flight until too late. It caught him in the chest and the force knocked him backwards. There was a momentary lull in the battle as the enormity of what had just happened sank in. Dunstan and several others reacted first and went to see if Wæcla was still alive, shielding him from further thrown weapons. Wulfhere picked himself off the floor. He had tried to parry a spear thrust, slipped on a discarded bowl and collided with a Hall post, hurting his ribs. When he got to Uthric, Uthric was bandaging his own wounds and lamenting that his good tunic was now ripped and covered in blood, not all of it his own. Wæcla was still alive but gravely wounded. Someone had staunched the wound but the pool of blood beneath him suggested that he had lost a lot of blood. He was barely conscious and his men were calling for a leæch. Uthric volunteered to look at Wæcla because he had some experience with battlefield wounds. The loyal Huscarls were reluctant and voiced their concerns that Uthric could be in league with Sceirhead and seek to kill the King. They were over-ruled by Heremann, one of the senior Huscarls who pointed out, without attention, Wæcla was likely to die anyway and Uthric was the only one with some level of skill. Uthric packed the wound with herbs he asked the Kitchen maids to bring from the herb garden and the bleeding was stopped by tight badages. Wæcla was still unconscious but Uthric said he could do no more and Wæcla now had to battle to stay in Miðgarðr or go on his journey to Neorxanwang. Some of Sceirhead’s warriors had been wounded and had been left behind when Sceirhead made his escape. They were keen to avoid death by hanging and willing to talk to Heremann. They told him that Cissa had given Sceirhead gold to kill Wæcla but they were certain that he had not poisoned him. They said that Sceirhead would rather stick a spear in someone while looking him in the eyes and he thought the use of poison beneath him. Heremann thought there was truth in their words and ordered that the captured warriors were executed by beheading rather than being hanged as criminals. The information helped Heremann understand why Sceirhead had turned on his King but did not help in the mystery about Wæcla’s poisoning. Iænbeorht and Heremann discussed what they needed to do to secure the Kingdom. Iænbeorht asked for scouts and warriors to be sent after Sceirhead but it was clear he had left the city. A search of his sleeping quarters found gold buried in the earth floor and the suspicion was that this was some of the gold he had been given to kill Wæcla. The Aethling, Scænwulf wanted to take over from his father but both Iænbeorht and Heremann told him that while he was still alive, Wæcla was still the Wæclingascyning. If Wæcla died then the next King would be a decision for the Moot. Iænbeorht reminded Scænwulf that the Wæclingas had no tradition of passing on Kingship from father to son. The only thing that was decided was that Heremann was elected by the loyal Huscarls to be the new Chief Huscarl. The Huscarls would not willingly follow Iænbeorht and Scænwulf, while liked by the Huscarls, was too young and unproven in such an emergency. Uthric asked Heremann if he could see Ealhwyn to make sure she was not hurt. Uthric hoped to persuade her to leave in the confusion of Wæcla’s wounding but she declined. She thought the Miercian Confederation more important than her own safety and that she might be better to take her chances when Wæcla recovered. Uthric said he wondered what might have happened to her if Wæcla had died or perhaps if he now died of his wounds. She said she would not think of such things. Dunstan and Wulfhere were trying to make sense of what happened. The suddenness of the violence had been unexpected and the potential difficulties for the kingdom were huge should Wæcla die. Dunstan said that he would be keen to leave and get back to the relative safety of their own Halls. He was disappointed with Ealhwyn’s answer when Uthric returned to his brothers to tell them of her response. Uthric said that the thing he could not get out of his mind was that he still wondered how Dunric was involved in events. The violence and death were his trademarks particularly when friends fight each other. They sat in the Hall and tried to work out what had happened and what they should do about it but only tied themselves in knots going over old ground and old theories. Uthric said that he found it interesting that Brithwen had not been prominent in the Hall and he wondered what she was doing. The answer came when Mildburh brought them some ale. She told them that Brithwen was with Wæcla making sure that he had everything he needed. Mildburh also told Dunstan that she had reconsidered her earlier words, and if he still wanted to sleep with her that would be a good thing. Dunstan said that he was honoured by her offer but would have to gently refuse. He told a tearful Mildburh that he was always faithful to his wife. Uthric smiled when Dunstan told him what had passed between the two and said that Dunstan needed to behave himself with women in future. He thought it was not a good thing to upset the serving women as they might die of thirst if they refused to serve any more ale. In the morning there was no further news. Some said that Wæcla had died during the night because they had heard the wails of mourning women. The rumour spread to the point where Heremann had to tell the Hall that Wæcla, while still unable to talk, was still alive and that his fever had broken overnight, which was a good sign. A messenger came from the warriors who had been sent after Sceirhead saying that they had tracked him to close to Aeglesburgh but had not dared to go any further as they were in Cissa’s lands. They would watch and hope to catch Sceirhead if he left the safety of the city. The Hall was still in a sombre mood and men mostly ate or drank in silence. The quiet was interrupted by shouting from outside. The noise made the men in the Hall look for weapons. The doors burst open and six men in armour strode in. Uthric recognised Wlencig, Atheling of the Cantaware and thought that the Atheling’s entrance might get interesting. Wlencig demanded to know of Iænbeorht where his wife was being kept and, when he did not answer, threatened him with violence. The warriors in the Hall were silent despite this being the second time in as many days that Wæcla’s peace had been broken, even though Dunstan noted that they were drawing their seaxs but keeping them hidden under the benches. Heremann tried to restore some semblance of propriety by asking Wlencig to formally introduce himself and state his business. Wlencig’s response was to threaten to take out Heremann’s eyes with hot needles if he did not keep quiet. The situation might have got out of hand as Wulfhere noticed several of Heremann’s warriors go to get their weapons, but Brithwen, who had been standing in the shadows, asked Wlencig to refrain from violence and she would tell him where to find his wife. Wulfhere thought that Wlencig was still considering violence when he suddenly bowed to the Cyninge and asked her pardon for the interruption. He said he had been abrupt because he had heard that his wife had been imprisoned and that he was keen to find out the truth of the matter. Brithwen graciously accepted his apology and said that she believed the Lady Ealhwyn was in a side room. Wlencig took his men down the side passage and Uthric thought he might go after them to see what would happen but sounds of fighting and yells of pain discouraged his idea. It was only a few heartbeats later when Wlencig reappeared in the main Hall. He was followed by only two of his men and both were wounded probably fatally judging by the way they staggered. Dunstan was sure that Wlencig did not seem to be injured but he had lost his helmet and Wulfhere thought there was a look of terror on his face. He remarked to Dunstan that something horrible must have happened because he had seen Wlencig in Shieldwalls and he was always calm. Uthric said he suspected that one of his wife’s brothers might be the cause of his terror but the passageway was silent. No-one could say for sure where the three hooded figures had come from. Afterwards there was much debate if they had been in the Hall all along as none of the guards had seen them pass the door. Wulfhere said that they might have come in because nobody’s attention had been on the door from the moment Wlencig and his men had gone down the passage. Two of the hooded men threw backed their hoods, lifted their heads to the roof and howled. Uthric recognised the leæches, Snyring and Nægel. Their cries were answered by half seen spirit shapes that looked like giant wolves and that had begun to circle the Hall. Where they touched human flesh, they left a chill like that of the grave. The crowd in the Hall moved as far back against the wall as possible trying to make themselves small and unseen. Some of the wolf shapes had enough material form to rip the sturdy benches and toss them aside. The central figure was still hooded and he stared at Wlencig who was on his knees at the feet of the figure. The cloaked figure threw back his hood and light gleamed off his single eye while blackness gaped from the other. The figure screamed. It was an unearthly pitch that jarred everyone who heard it and at the same time he raised his hands and flame jumped from the central fire pit to his hands. He slowly lowered his hands and fire engulfed Wlencig’s head which burst into flames. The Aethling of Cantaware died horribly and painfully while the one-eyed man howled at a pitch that hurt human ears. Snyring continued howling and pointed at the door of the Hall. Spirit wolves gathered in a pack around him and bounded toward the door which burst its hinges outwards. Screams and ripping sounds were heard and people would not go to investigate for fear that they might meet a grisly fate too. As suddenly as the leæches appeared they left. Dunstan recognised the one-eyed leæch as Dunric and said afterwards that he was sure Dunric grinned at him as he left. Uthric said that he had not particularly liked Wlencig but he did not deserve a death like that. Wulfhere said that deserved or not he was not keen to be in Verulamacæster as there would be consequences to Dunric’s actions and he for one was not keen to see them. Heremann restored some semblance of order and threw a cloak over Wlencig’s body. Uthric said that now might be a good time to see if Ealhwyn was still alive and said he would make it his business to find out. He went down the side passage, stepping over the bodies of three of Wlencig’s guard and nodded to Meire’s brother, who did not respond. Ealhwyn was against the back wall of the room guarding herself with a meat knife. She visibly relaxed when she saw Uthric and said that she thought the fighting outside had been men sent to kill her by Wæcla. Uthric said that he thought that was unlikely as Wæcla could presently not issue any orders as he was either dying or possibly dead already. He told her that she was also a widow and her husband’s body lay in the main Hall. Ealhwyn said that she needed to understand this in detail and followed Uthric to the main Hall. No-one tried to stop her and no-one said anything about her release as she asked questions about the events. She ordered the serving women to take Wlencig’s body and wash it in preparation to be sent to his father. She then went to find Wæcla. Wulfhere wondered if the ease at which she had left her prison and none had challenged her was because Meire’s brother had been standing one pace behind her with a drawn and bloody sword. Uthric said that he believed Wulfhere to be correct as he would not be keen to challenge his wife’s brother. Dunstan had ventured outside and had found a body, who he assumed was Bairre mac Guilla, torn asunder by the spirt wolves. Dunstan said that he thought Christianity would have to wait a while to gain a foothold in Mierce. The mission to Verulamacæster and the shrine on the Hill outside the city appeared to have ended abruptly and bloodily. By the morning Heremann with the help of Wulfhere, as a ranking Ealdorman, had organised the cleaning of the Hall and removed the dead. Heremann had sent for Iænbeorht who had not been seen since the night before. The messenger returned with the news that, in all the confusion, Iænbeorht had left during the night with his guard and a pack horse. Heremann sent warriors to search Iænbeorht’s hall in the hope of understanding his disappearance. Snyring the leæch also came to the Hall. He stood silently for a long time looking at the destruction as people moved away from him. He then told Heremann that he had completed a sacrifice and the Lady Ealhwyn was to remain free as she was not guilty of the poisoning. Heremann asked if Ealhwyn was not guilty could the leæce tell him who he should blame but Snyring did not respond. Wulfhere advised Heremann that he should let the matter drop for the moment. With Ealhwyn’s release from her captivity, Uthric sought to convince Meire that they should go before the weather became too difficult to travel. In truth, Uthric had discussed with his brothers that the situation was becoming very dangerous and Wulfhere was concerned that their continued presence might upset the balance of power in Aelle’s eyes, particularly since his son had just been killed. Meire was reluctant to leave but said that she would go with Uthric as their time together would be short. Uthric asked her what she meant by short and wanted to know if she had some premonition about his death. Meire said she had not had a premonition but a summoning. She told him that she had spent seven years as his wife and their time would soon be over. She would return with him for a short while to Pontes to see that the children were safe, that much had been granted. Uthric said he was confused and wanted to know who had summoned her. Meire said it was her father, Tannatar, also known as the Lord of the Hollows and it was a summons she could not refuse. She told him the summons had been the real reason her brothers, Horith and Ardreth, had come to her. Uthric said that he did not like this news but Meire kissed him and said that all things must end. Dunstan had gone out of the Hall and his attention was attracted by a crowd of people gathered around a building. He pushed his way to the front of the crowd to where Nægel was standing with a smile on his face. Bairre’s remaining scribe had been nailed to a wall of the building. Nægel asked Dunstan if he approved. Dunstan did not answer Nægel’s question but instead asked what the leæches were hoping for with all this death and killing. Nægel told Dunstan that events in the Spirit world were more important than in Miðgarðr. Leæches were always trying to overcome and destroy the spirits left behind by the Britons and as Dunstan no doubt recognised this was not an easy task. Death was just a transition for leæches and Dunstan should not concern himself with the deaths. Those that died still lived in the spirit world. However, the killing released power for those that could use it to overcome powerful enemy spirits. Nægel said that the death of a King’s son caused a formidable release of power. Nægel asked Dunstan about Meire’s children and if the halflings would be going to Pontus or with Meire. Dunstan said that he was not aware that the two were different. He said that he did not like Nægel’s question but the leæch just smiled at him. The Hrothgarsons left Verulamacæster that afternoon. Uthric would not stay when Dunstan told him what Nægel had said. He discussed letting Orin ap Brinn foster the children as a way of keeping them away from the leæches. Dunstan said he thought that Orin should be warned of the danger and see if he could get a Druid to help protect the boys. Meire said that they would be safe as she would ensure they were hidden. Uthric said he could be satisfied with that. When they got home, Wulfhere travelled to Wincen Cæster to meet with Cerdic and told him of the news of their travels. Cerdic said that they had done well and that if Wæcla survived his injury, he was unlikely to side with Aelle in the future. He thought Cissa had gambled on the throwboard and lost. Cerdic said that it was plain for all to see there were dangers in gambling. He told Wulfhere that if Wæcla needed support he was to give it to him, but help should always be covert rather than given openly. He did not want to provoke the peace treaty yet. (1) Beorsceale is a cupbearer (2) Boldweard is a household steward (3) Īsernsmiþ is an ironsmith (4) Lēoþwyrhta is a poet (5) Hlafweard is a Reeve or Steward (6) Brùnaidh is Scottish Gallic for one of the Fae
  2. The Disappointing Meeting The Hrothgarsons returned to Hambladensted and set the lands in order. Dunstan’s steward, Aldfrid, had done a good job in collecting the rents and administering justice but he had been unable to convince the farmers to work on the fortifications. Dunstan said that he was concerned that the building of the stockade at Pontes was not going as quickly as he would have liked. He discussed it further with his farmers who said they would do what they could. Dunstan thought that he might have convinced them but said to Wulfhere that it might take an extended period when they were both present to get full co-operation. Wulfhere said that they needed to leave soon before winter to find their families. He did agree to speak to the farmers himself. Uthric showed the Iscans the land and asked them to choose where they wanted to live as a reward for their part in the Battle of Dunum. As a Dumnonian, Idwal was not keen to live near the Artrebates as they had a long history of conflict and despite Uthric’s encouragement to do so, Idwal and his men chose to settle near the southern bank ruins at Pontes. They started to build their farms and Uthric thought they would be content. There was disagreement among the Hrothgarsons about the best way to travel to Anderida. Uthric thought the quickest way was to go to Lundenwic and then south. Wulfhere thought while that would definitely be quicker, they should really go to Cissa Cæster and see Hildegard and Beorthric. He thought that Beorthric might have found more information, which would be useful in their search for their families. On the trip south, they stopped overnight in Glawmæd and were guested by the Þegn Wictred. Dunstan said he felt a bit depressed as he thought of the many good memories associated with Cædering and Glawmæd. When he discussed it with his brothers, they advised him to think of the future rather than the past. Uthric told him to remember that nothing lasts forever. On the journey to Hamafunta, Dunstan again became angry saying, and not for the first time, that he still believed Cerdic was partly responsible for the destruction of the three villages and capture of their families. Uthric and Wulfhere said that Dunstan must remember that Cerdic was their King and holder of their oaths but they let Dunstan continue to complain. They decided to skirt Hamafunta and took the forest road from Cælctun. Wulfhere thought it was best not to look for trouble and he thought the people of Hamafunta would not particularly be happy about their presence due to their very active part they had taken in the downfall of the Ealdorman Cœlfrith. At Cissa Cæster they met with Hildegard and Beorthric. Uthric and Wulfhere said that they needed to resolve the conflict with Beorthric and put the blood feud behind them. They acknowledged what he had done for their mother and the gifts he had given them. Wulfhere thought a small symbolic gesture would close the issue. Uthric said that he had looked forward to this day when they could work together. Hildegard hugged her sons and said that she thought at last they could be a family again. Beorthric presented each of the brothers with a new set of clothes. Wulfhere thanked him and Uthric was delighted with the quality of the clothes. He said they would look very splendid when they went to Anderida. Wulfhere said that he thought it was best if they did not go to Anderida looking prosperous. If they had to buy back their wives then they would be better not to look too wealthy. Beorthric was pleased that they liked his gifts. Hildegard said that they were made from their own weaving rooms. She said that she would be keen to re-unite the family and had wondered what their sons thought if she and Beorthric came north to live. Wulfhere and Uthric said they would both be welcome. Dunstan had not said anything throughout the exchange as he still did not trust Beorthric but both for his brothers’ and mother's sake he said nothing. Beorthric gave them information and told them to contact Wayard the Merchant in Anderida. He told them he had a lot of dealings with Wayard in the past and he would be helpful. They left Cissa Cæster and travelled on to Anderida. On the way to Anderida Uthric and Dunstan nearly came to blows. Dunstan had been telling Uthric that Gwenyth was the most beautiful woman he had met. Uthric said that Dunstan had been hit on the head too many times and in reality Gwenyth was rather plain if you compared her to Meire or even Bronwyn. Dunstan was not amused by Uthric’s point of view and had to be restrained by Wulfhere. When the Hrothgarsons arrived in Anderida they went to visit the Ealdorman Ælfrith. Ælfrith had been indebted to the Hrothgarsons for bringing his daughter back to him after Þegn Garm’s death. Ælfrith had also been helpful and had supported them at the Cyningmoot when they had accused Cœlfrith of acting illegally against Osberht. Ælfrith bade them welcome and listened intently to their tale of searching for their families. Ælfrith said that he would help them whatever way he could. He offered them rooms in his house but Wulfhere said he was unsure how Aelle would view their stay if he came to hear of it. He thought it best to stay in one of the taverns by the quayside. He asked Ælfrith if he knew Wayard the Merchant but Ælfrith said that he could add nothing to what they already knew of him. While they were talking, his daughter Æthlind came in to the room. She welcomed them and asked for their news. She paid particular attention to Dunstan but he tried not to encourage her. He said afterwards to Uthric that he needed to find Gwyneth before he dallied with other women. Uthric thought his younger brother might regret not returning Æthlind’s advances. Uthric reminded Dunstan that he had already ignored her obvious interest when they had previously travelled to Anderida. Dunstan said that he would rather get drunk than try to think of the intricacies of another relationship. Uthric reminded Dunstan that she was also the only child of a rich and powerful Ealdorman and that it would improve his standing. They stayed overnight in a tavern and agreed that in the morning they would meet with Wayard the Merchant to see if he had any news. Dunstan said that he found himself in a reflective mood and that the best ale in Anderida helped him recall all the bad things that had happened. He still blamed Cerdic for most of the events and neither Wulfhere nor Uthric tried to stop him from talking too loudly. Dunstan wondered if had been a mistake to put trust in anyone other than his brothers. He grew so melancholy that he almost got into a fight with a man called Osbryght. It was fortunate that Wulfhere was not as drunk as either Dunstan or Uthric and he managed to calm everyone down before getting Dunstan to bed. In the morning Wulfhere woke Dunstan and told him that they had previously agreed not to draw attention to themselves but Dunstan had nearly started a fight which would not have ended well. Dunstan could only mumble apologies. He told them that there was a high possibility that a whole gang of dwarven smiths were using the inside of his head as a smithy. Uthric by comparison was feeling good about the world and when he told Dunstan he needed to eat, his brother could only vomit in the empty hearth. Wulfhere told them he had found where he could find Wayard the Merchant from the Taverner. Wayard owned a shop near the Saehinwearf where he also had his storehouse. They went through the streets of Anderida and were amazed by the old Roman buildings that still stood. Some of the houses were three or four stories high and most were still occupied by families or businesses. Uthric tried to get Dunstan interested but Dunstan was still suffering from hammering dwarves inside his skull and had little capacity to listen and barely opened his eyes beyond a squint. Wayard welcomed the Hrothgar sons and told them that their father had told him that they would be looking for information from him. Wulfhere wondered how Hrothgar had been communicating as he had been dead for ten summers but managed to refrain from asking what might have been difficult questions when he realised Wayard was talking about Beorthric, their step-father. Uthric removed Dunstan before he said anything about Beorthric by making an excuse that Dunstan had the need for air. Wayard said that he had spoken with his friend Deorling Siredson who was married to Rhedyn. Rhedyn had originally come from Glawmæd and had been aware that Cenbeorht Earnwulfson had originally bought Bronwyn. Cenbeorht had given Bronwyn to his tenant Æwulf the Tanner and Æwulf had made Bronwyn his wife. Wulfhere thanked Wayard and offered him a gift but Wayard declined. He said he was happy to help since their father, Beorthric, had always been helpful to him. Wulfhere got directions from Wayard to Leðerwyrhtan Lanen and he said they should then ask for Æwulf by name when they got there. Wulfhere joined his brothers who were in the middle of a heated argument. Dunstan's dwarf smiths had calmed down for him to be able to raise his voice above a whisper. He was furious that Wayard had referred to Beorthric as their father. He reminded his brothers that Hrothgar was their father and that no-one else could take his place. Wulfhere said that they needed to be more pragmatic and sometimes being known as the Beorthricsons might be useful. Dunstan would have responded but the Dwarves started hammering again inside his head and he started retching. Wulfhere took them in the direction of Leðerwyrhtan Lanen where the tanners worked. They smelt the stink before they got there and reckoned that they would not have to ask for directions. The smell was overpowering and Dunstan thought that it would be impossible for him to live somewhere like this. Dunstan said that he disliked the fact that he could taste it in the air. Uthric said he thought that if Bronwyn lived here she would be only too glad to come back with Wulfhere. Wulfhere said that that remained to be seen and asked someone where he could find Æwulf. The man pointed to a yard that had one gate off its hinges. The courtyard was built of Roman walls but the house was a typical Saxon building. They could see a boy of about ten summers stir a pool of murky water with a pole twice his size. They stood watching at the gateway unsure what to do. Uthric said he thought that the smell would not get any better the longer they waited. Wulfhere went in through the gates and saw a man shovelling manure into another pool. He had been hidden by the walls of the yard. The man asked if he could be of help and Wulfhere introduced himself but stopped in mid-sentence when a heavily pregnant woman came out of the house. She was scolding some of the children who ran around her but stopped when she saw Wulfhere. She screamed and crumpled to the ground and both Wulfhere and the man ran toward her. The man reacted slightly before Wulfhere and he cradled the woman's head. Wulfhere was unsure what to do so he patted her hand. The two men stared at each other while the woman opened her eyes and said that as usual Wulfhere had come back too late before clutching her side in pain. The man cradling her head asked if the baby was coming early but the woman shook her head. The man and Wulfhere both helped her to her feet and the boy who had been stirring the tanning pit brought out a bench for her to sit on. Uthric was trying not to notice the awkward scene and when he had examined the tanning pits for some minutes, he went over to a crowd of grubby children that were clustered around the door of the house. He thought two of them might be young Wulfhere and Offa. He spoke in Brythonic and introduced himself as their father's brother, Uncle Uthric. The boys looked at him curiously but showed no sign of understanding him. The smaller child asked in Saxon if Uthric really was a warrior and that if so he might have been a bit bigger. Uthric said he thought size did not matter if you could use a spear properly and showed his skill by skewering the thatch. The boys did not seem very impressed. Dunstan noisily vomited in the corner of the yard drawing the attention of two dogs. Uthric said afterwards that Dunstan had obviously been sick because of the open affection Wulfhere was trying to convey to Bronwyn. Dunstan denied Uthric's assertion and said it was a combination of skull-hammering dwarves, the smell of the tannery and too much of Wiglac's best ale. Wulfhere was trying to talk to Bronwyn but she was not prepared to listen. She told him that as ever he was late in returning. She should have listened to Hildegard in this matter. Wulfhere told her that he had spent almost a year searching for her and had only just learnt where she was. He had come straight away and would like to have her back. Bronwyn said that while she would think over the matter he should not hold out too much hope. She told him that she was tired having to stay at home while he went off to wars. She was never sure if he would come home at all, whether she would be a destitute widow and never knowing what had happened to him. Bronwyn said that dealing with that uncertainty was not easy. She reminded him that he had told her when they married that he would be there with her. She said that they were lucky to spend more than one moon together throughout all of their marriage. Wulfhere said that he had now put things in order and they now had rich lands where she would be a KingsÞegn's wife. Bronwyn said that she was not interested in status but would rather have stability and someone that would be there for her. Æwulf might not have high status but he was a good man and didn't run off to wars every time his Lord said so. Æwulf was a little awestruck by three Lords and warriors in his yard. The mightiest seemed to know his wife well and he wondered what was going to happen. He thought it might not end well for him. One of the warriors was scaring the children and the other was amusing the dogs by vomiting on the wall. He asked the Lord if they wanted some ale and some of the stew his wife had prepared however no-one paid him any attention. Bronwyn was deep in conversation with one of the Lords. He was going to tell her to be less shrill but the man looked forlorn rather than angry, so he held his tongue. Wulfhere was pleading with Bronwyn to come with him but she put her hands over her ears and said that it might be best if he left as she did not want to hear his arguments anymore. Wulfhere said that he was heartbroken and had hoped that together they might have made a dynasty. Bronwyn said that this talk was now in the past and she thought it better that he should talk of dynasties with someone else as she had no interest in going to the north and she would remain with Æwulf. Wulfhere said that he was disappointed in her response and would have preferred a different outcome. He did think if that was her final decision that they should then discuss their sons’ future. He said he would prefer if his sons came with him. Bronwyn said that this would not be her choice but agreed that they might have better prospects as the sons of a KingsÞegn rather than the sons of a tanner. Uthric came to stand beside Wulfhere as he thought Wulfhere had run out of words and he wanted to know if Bronwyn had any other information on either Meire or Gwenyth. Bronwyn said that both Lucnot and Gwenyth had been taken to Contaburgh but she had no message from them since they were separated. Uthric thanked her for the news and wished her well. Wulfhere said that he would come back in the morning for the boys and he left. Uthric thought he should help Dunstan who seemed to be resting with his eyes closed in the shade of the yard wall. One of the two dogs was playing with his cloak and the other was chewing his shoe but Dunstan did not seem to notice. Uthric took Wulfhere to a tavern as he seemed unable to make decisions himself. He forbade Dunstan to order ale and made him drink beer instead. Dunstan tried to cheer Wulfhere by telling him that if any woman chose urine pits and a tanner to a KingsÞegn then perhaps he had not chosen so well in the first place and she lacked ambition. It might be better to think of a different future. The conversation became rather morose even though Dunstan felt better after they ate some food. He thought that perhaps it was a mistake looking for their families and that they should move on with their lives. Uthric said that he needed to know about Meire before moving on. Dunstan thought that it wasn't worth it. He thought that he might go and talk to Æthlind as he really had no hope that Gwenyth had still any interest in him. Wulfhere said very little and the brothers hoped that he would get back to his usual self soon. They talked to him about horses but Wulfhere's demeanour did not improve. Uthric and Dunstan thought that maybe they should go back to the Ealdorman Ælfrith's house as it would be safer and they worried that Wulfhere would pick a fight in the tavern. When they arrived at Ælfrith 's house they were told by the servants that he was out at the Wittan but Æthlind was in the house and she welcomed them. She arranged food and made them feel welcome. When Æthlind sat close to Dunstan he responded to her overtures. After they had finished eating and it grew dark she took him to her chamber. In the morning Wulfhere told Uthric that he had made a decision. They would travel to Contaburgh and seek out Gwenyth and Lucnot. If they travelled to Lundenwic they could take the east road through Hrofnacæster and ask Hrof if he had news of Ealhwyn and Meire. They would leave Wulfhere's children with Bronwyn for the time while they tried to find out what happened to the others. Dunstan was late to arrive for the morning food and he looked as if he had not slept. He said that while Wulfhere arranged things with Bronwyn he would be asking Ælfrith for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Uthric laughed and said it looked like dwarves hammering in the skull had at last made Dunstan see some sense. Wulfhere was surprised but offered his congratulations. Dunstan said that he had come to the point where he could take no more. This had not been his plan but he thought it was now time to face reality and that it was highly unlikely that Gwenyth would want him back. Too much time had now passed and he felt it better to make new arrangements. He said that he had had time to think about his situation and that he should have married Æthlind when they first came to Anderida. After the arrangements were made with Ælfrith and Bronwyn the Hrothgarsons left to go to Hrofnacæster.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The Shadow of Death. The Hrothgarsons returned to home to find growing tensions across all three villages. The war had been won and the peace was now being fought over. In Glawmæd the native Britons were resentful of the occupying Saxon forces. Their population had been decimated and their Chieftain killed, admittedly by other Britons, but they were now ruled by a Saxon Thane. There was grumbling that Lucnot was not made Thane. Wulfhere, who was presently in charge until Cerdic decided otherwise, had been away on an embassy to Kernow. There had been bickering in his absence and he had not been there to put a stop to it so it had continued to fester. Wulfhere had decided that he must do something in Glawmæd to bring the warring factions together. He talked with Lucnot and they agreed that they should use the feast of Beltaine to bring two sides together. Wulfhere had also noted that there were many widowed women in the village and many newly arrived warriors. He thought the difficulty might be limited communication and that both factions tended to remain within their own groups. He and Lucnot thought that celebrating Beltaine, the Festival of Fire, with a lot of alcohol might encourage both groups to come together. He thought the Festival of Eostre or Lughnasa would have been better as they both were fertility festivals and that would definitely encourage more mingling. Wulfhere said that he was prepared to spend some of his silver to make sure the celebration was successful. Wulfhere left Dunstan and Lucnot to make withy booths which he hoped would be useful for the celebration and said he would travel to Cædering with Uthric to discuss buying Ale and Mead from Eadstan, the most prominent merchant in the area. Dunstan had been thinking about Cwen and a possible marriage contract. He was however worried that she might be pregnant from her time with King Mark of Kernow. He was not keen for his life to become more complicated and if she was carrying Mark's bastard this could eventually involve him in dynastic struggles in Kernow. He was more than convinced that Kernow was one place to which he never wanted to return. Therefore, he bided his time and left Cwen in his mother’s household. Wulfhere and Uthric left the preparations in Lucnot’s capable hands and travelled to Cædering. They arrived to find the place in uproar. In Cælctun most of the population had moved to Cædering, the village that was once their rival and with whom they had recently fought a war. Modrig had been put in charge of Cælctun by Taethle while she spent time in Cædering because Oshehrt was still too ill still to dispense laws and justice. Modrig was a good War Leader and an excellent warrior but his skills did not extend to administration. The remaining Cælctun population were bitter and annoyed and their village was becoming less important. Moreover, the promised restoration had not happened. In Cædering there had been a murder of one of Taethle's men called Bredoc. He was one of her best Carls and he had been found dead with his own axe lodged in his head. Taethle blamed the warriors of Cædering. Bredoc was half British and she suspected that that had been the reason for his murder. Taethle was in a white fury. She was demanding blood feud and justice for Bredoc. Osberht was still too ill to attend to his duties and Eadstan was arguing with Taethle when they entered the Hall. Eadstan was the most prominent person in Cædering after the Thanes and certainly the richest. He had been a key person in Osberht’s idea of creating a trading network of the three villages and selling surpluses to the bigger towns in the South. His other advantage was that he was from Cædering and he had the ear of the Carls in Osberht’s absence whereas Taethle, despite her prowess, was still viewed as an outsider. Eadstan loudly expounded the idea that one of Taethle's own men killed Bredoc, a suggestion Taethle vehemently repudiated. Eadstan had the support of the local Carls and they murmured their agreement during Eadstan’s speech. They disliked Taethle's accusations and there was growing tension between the two groups of Carls. Wulfhere and Uthric were surprised by the argument. They had come to see Eadstan about buying mead and ale, not to get involved in an argument. Taethle barely acknowledged either brother as she left the Hall with a face that looked like thunder. Eadstan, on the other hand, looked pleased with himself as Taethle left and Wulfhere asked him for details of what had happened. Eadstan told them that Bredoc and another Carl, Sigebeorht had been on watch the previous night. Bredoc had been attacked by someone and even more strange had been killed with his own axe. Eadstan said that Sigebeorht had claimed to be asleep and reported that he had not witnessed anything. Eadstan said that in his opinion Sigebeorht had to be the prime suspect and Taethle needed to apologise to Cædering’s Carls for such blatant untruths. Wulfhere said he thought it was unlike Taethle to make groundless allegations. He had always found her to be calm and controlled. Wulfhere thought that the truth was likely to come out soon. He said that he had come to see Eadstan about some help in organising a celebration of Beltaine. Eadstan said he was unfamiliar with Beltaine but would do whatever he could to help. Wulfhere told him what he needed and they agreed a price and shook hands on the contract. Eadstan said that it was good things were returning to normal and planning celebrations after all the recent troubles. Uthric remarked that he was not that sure that normal had yet returned but he would like to be proved wrong. Uthric thought that it might be better to return to Glawmæd and stay out of the arguments in Cædering. He did not think it would serve any purpose to take sides in this argument. Wulfhere disagreed and reminded him they were still Huscarls of Cædering but they also had a debt of gratitude to Taethle. Moreover, he said she had been a good friend and a staunch ally. Uthric said he had to reluctantly agree but he worried that they would become involved in something they might ultimately regret. They found Taethle in the Hall she had been using for her warriors. She was brooding on events and not overly welcoming to Uthric and Wulfhere. She said she was considering going back to Cælctun but first she wanted justice for her man. Wulfhere suggested that as both sides would see him and Uthric as neutral, he thought it might be helpful if they tried to get the truth of the matter. Taethle reluctantly agreed. She said she needed justice both for her and her men and that would likely mean a blood feud. Uthric sent for Dunstan. He thought all three of the brothers needed to be in Cædering and in the meantime, they spoke with Sigebeorht. He repeated what he had already told others. He said that he had been drinking before going on watch and had fallen asleep almost immediately and could add nothing new as to how Bredoc met his death. Neither Uthric nor Wulfhere had believed Sigebeorht but they chose not to confront him at that time. When Dunstan arrived, they met him in the main Hall and told him of how things stood. They discussed what people were thinking. Wulfhere pointed out that it came down to not what people think, but more what the three brothers were going to do. They thought that they should talk to Winfrith the Smith who had been a good friend of Bredoc. Winfrith was saddened by the loss of his closest friend. They had often spent time together talking about the best way to forge a blade. Winfrith said that even as a friend he could see that Bredoc had strengths and flaws. Bredoc was brave, loyal and above all he had honour. But in his opinion people had found Bredoc too direct. He said that Bredoc was forever causing offence by being too quick to point out errors in others actions or behaviour. It was clear that not everyone took that well and Winfrith wondered if Bredoc had said something that might have led to his death. He was aware warriors could be very sensitive and react with violence to the smallest slight. Winfrith also recalled that Bredoc had recently argued several times with Sigebeorht about drinking too much and falling asleep on watch. While the Brothers mulled this over information, they were approached by Sunngyth. Sunngyth was a Shieldmaiden and was known for her ferocity in battle. Equally she was known to be extremely superstitious. She was known at times to not be able to stir herself became the omens were wrong. She told the Brothers that two mice had told her that Bredoc had not been murdered by anyone in Cædering. She had watched the skies and the flight of a heron flying north had suggested that a spirit from a cursed hill had been responsible. Uthric thanked her for her observations and they returned to talking about what to do next. Dunstan thought that as they were at a loss for a solution that it might be useful to investigate what Sunngyth had said. Wulfhere said he had no time for superstitions and could not believe Dunstan was even contemplating listening to what she said. He said that Sunngyth talks to mice and they really do not need to take any advice from vermin. He asked Dunstan if that maybe they should talk to spiders next and seek their views. Dunstan said that talking to spiders could maybe wait until they were really stuck. The Brothers thought it would be useful to go back to Sigebeorht and ask some more questions. They thought he was looking more like the suspect in the case and they thought it best to confront him. Uthric wondered if they should ask Taethle first and that perhaps she should join them. Sigebeorht after all was one of her men and she had been annoyed that any had been accused of the murder. Wulfhere thought this an excellent idea. When they found Taethle, she was busy arranging supplies for Cælctun but gave the Hrothgarsons permission to talk to Sigebeorht. They confronted Sigebeorht and told him that they did not believe his account of the death of Bredoc and he eventually and reluctantly revealed what he witnessed. He apologised for not telling the truth of the matter but what he had seen was unbelievable and he feared that people would think he had made it up. Sigebeorht described a shadow of roughly human shape but very much larger that was attempting to get into the Hall where the warriors were sleeping. Bredoc challenged Monster and both he and Sigebeorht attacked it but their axes but did little damage. When they hit the monster, it showed no injuries. The monster had focused attacks on Bredoc but even though it hit him, Sigebeorht had not seen any injuries on Bredoc even when he fell over. The monster then took Bredoc’s axe from his hand and killed him with it. The brothers went to Taethle and told her what Sigebeorht had said. Taethle said she found it hard to believe that a monster was attacking her men and she reminded them that Sigebeorht would often drink too much and he might have had a nightmare. Uthric said that it would be impossible to find the truth without more evidence and he would stand guard that night. He might then be able to help them find the information to help them decide on what had happened. That night Uthric helped Sigebeorht and Aldric with the watch. They saw nothing until just after midnight when a dark shape climbed over the palisade. Sigebeorht challenged it and when it turned on him and attacked, the others joined in. None of their weapons seem to cause any damage to the shadowy monster but its claws caused Sigebeorht to stumble after every hit, but neither Aldric nor Uthric could see any hurt on him. The creature took Sigebeorht’s axe from his limp hand having knocked him to the ground then killed him with a blow to the chest with his own axe. The shadow creature then leapt over the palisade and went off in a northly direction. Uthric threw his javelin at it but could not tell if he had done any damage. The noise of the fight brought other warriors from the Hall and they gathered around Sigebeorht’s body. Uthric described his experience of the shadow creature. He said that it was 1 ½ times the size of a tall man with huge claws and a gaping maw. Uthric said the worst thing was that it seemed to be surrounded by darkness. After all the warriors had heard Uthric’s tale they agreed to light torches and placed them around the palisade and put 20 men on guard in case the shadow monster returned but the night passed peacefully following the murder of Sigebeorht. In the morning the Brothers discussed with Taethle what they should do. They all felt that they needed help from a leæch because this was clearly a supernatural shadow creature, a Déaþscufa. If they were to defeat it they would need someone who understood these things better than they did. Taethle sent a man to Portus Cæster to ask for a help from a leæch as quickly as possible. She did not want more deaths while they just waited. For something to do they all went outside the palisade to see if they could find any tracks and at least understand where the creature went. Although they searched thoroughly there was nothing to be found. They returned to the Hall to try and think of a plan to defend Cædering. Eadstan and Taethle were still not on the best terms. Eadstan still insisted the Taethle apologise for believing the carls of Cædering had murdered one of her men. She still felt she was justified to make the accusations. The tension affected the discussion and Eadstan was not being helpful by making demands about what should be done. Dunstan wondered if they should go north and search for the Déaþscufa. He reminded them that Sunngyth had said that there was a darkness in the north on a hill but the only hill that he knew was Old Win Cæster Hill. He thought it might be useful to check with Osbeorn at Seaxeneat, a village at the foot of the hill, to see if he had noticed anything unusual. Wulfhere reminded them that last time they had tried to talk with Osbeorn it had not been a success and he had not been very forthcoming. Dunstan also recalled stories told by Hildegard that there was supposed to be in magic sword buried in one of the old peoples graves in the north. Everyone thought relying on Sunngyth and old stories would not solve their problem of a Déaþscufa that was killing their friends. While they were waiting for the leæch to arrive they agreed how they would defend Cædering by setting fires around the walls and posting more guards. But it didn’t help. The Déaþscufa climbed over the walls and killed Glædwine, one of the Cædering Carls, and no one who was there was able to prevent it. In the morning, they discussed why a Déaþscufa might have suddenly appeared and begun to kill people. They wondered if they had inadvertently annoyed something but no-one could remember anything out of the ordinary happening. Eadstan said that it would be his view that it must have been raised by wiććecræft and he recalled that a week ago he had been travelling from the north and had heard there was a leæch call Dunric had been seen by other travellers. Dunstan wanted to know if this could be the same leæch that served Coelfrith and what did it mean if it was. He had thought the troubles with Ealdorman Coelfrith were over but this was a clear sign that Coelfrith had not finished his revenge on Caedering. Just after mid-morning Hereweard, a leæch from Portus Cæster, arrived. He had come after a request from Taethle and he was interested in the details of the Déaþscufa. When he had been told the details he told them he was in no doubt that it had been summoned and when he was told it might have been Dunric he laughed and said that he would have guessed that anyway. Dunric was known among the other leæches to be overly interested in the darker areas of the spirit world. Taethle assigned ten warriors to the task of finding and destroying the Déaþscufa and they would accompany the Hrothgarsons and Hereweard to the north in search of an answer. Taethle told them that they needed to hurry or there might be no-one left when they returned. The group went up the old people’s road but saw nothing of significance until they approached Seaxeneat. They smelt blood and death on the wind before they saw anything and Hereweard began to shake as if he had a fever. He told them it was nothing and they should continue but Dunstan was not sure this was the best idea. They found that the village of Seaxeneat had met with horror. Everyone had been killed, even the animals had been slaughtered. Thirteen bodies hung from trees and the others lay where they had been killed. One of the younger Warriors vomited and two others refused to enter the village because they saw the deaths as omens of their own death. When Wulfhere tried to persuade them that they would be safe, they told him that they would happily face enemies in a Shield-wall but they did not want to have their souls destroyed by a Déaþscufa. Wulfhere said that if they would not enter the village then they could be of use and take the bodies down from the trees and guard the gates. He ordered the rest of the men to search the village thoroughly and they found a young girl who was alive hidden in the cellar of a house. She was terrified and when Wulfhere tried to talk with her she grew hysterical. Wulfhere spoke soothing words and managed to calm her down. She was able to tell them her name was Idris but for the moment she would say no more. In the meantime, Wulfhere told the men to collect the bodies and build pyres. It was a gruesome job as many of the bodies had been dismembered and some seemed to have been flayed alive. In the end they counted 29 people who had been killed. By the time they had completed the work it was getting towards dark and they needed to find a place to stay for the night. No one wanted to stay in Seaxeneat. They agreed they would not light the pyres until tomorrow when there was daylight. Uthric led them to the west where they found a dell in which a fire would not be seen from a distance. Dunstan was extremely uneasy. He was concerned that Dunric had directed an attack at Cædering and he felt they were all under threat. Uthric pointed out that they are no longer lived in Cædering but had moved to Glawmæd so if the curse was on Cædering then they were safe. Wulfhere and Hereweald were not too sure and both felt that they should not take chances. They set a fire and four men were told to be on watch at any one time. Despite their fear the night passed peacefully but they thought that it was likely that in Cædering another warrior had died at the hands of the Déaþscufa during the night. In the morning they returned to Seaxeneat and they lit the pyres that had begun yesterday putting the bodies on when the flames were hot enough. Wulfhere continued to try and talk to Idris who had become much calmer. Idris told them that a man with a sneer who wore dark robes and had a wolfs teeth necklace had come to the village three days ago. He had some warriors with him and they had killed Osbeorn, the Thane, and any who tried to resist them. The rest they sacrificed to a creature of darkness who drank the life from the people. She saw the man with the necklace laugh and when they had finished killing everyone they left. She thought they went north but she thought she might be wrong because she was sure no-one lived in the north in the ruins on the hill. Dunstan said he thought that Dunric was like a lot of people who annoy the Hrothgarsons in that afterwards they all run away and hide. Uthric was not sure Dunric was actually hiding, it was more likely that he was up to something else and they had just not found out what it was yet. Wulfhere asked Hereweald for his opinion because they wondered if Dunric had summoned the Déaþscufa by sacrificing all the people of the village. Hereweald said that sacrificing 29 people would make a very powerful summoning and it might be difficult to counter. They asked Hereweald how you might offset such a spell. Hereweald said a sure way would be to sacrifice a further 29 people. Dunstan was not keen on that idea. The others discussed possible ways of finding enough people to sacrifice but no one could think of where to find suitable sacrifices and they were not keen to sacrifice people to the dark spirits anyway. Hereweald said that it was possible that they might only need thirteen people for sacrifice and they might find that easier. Wulfhere said they needed to find another way other than sacrifice. He wondered why leæches were always so keen to kill people. Hereweald said that human sacrifice always meant that the magic was much more powerful and effective. The burning of the bodies took a good part of the day but Wulfhere was keen to try and find out how to counter the spell. He was also aware that another warrior would die tonight if something was not done. He left his men to finish the task of cremating the dead and took Dunstan, Uthric and Hereweald north. They thought that while they still had light they should investigate Old Wincen Cæster Hill. Dunstan said that it was always mystery to him how Osbeorn had survived in Seaxeneat so close to so many dangerous enemies and he was disappointed that now with his death they would never know. He worried that they had been cursed by Dunric and the curse would cause the deaths of all the people of the three villages. They made their way to north to the abandoned village on Win Cæster Hill. Nearly all of the buildings had been destroyed and only a few walls remained upright. They searched round the entire circumference of the hill and eventually found a place that could possibly be one of old peoples’ graves. It was too late to start digging into the grave so they returned to Seaxeneat to get food, rest and tools for digging. Dunstan took two Carls and Idris back to Glawmæd. He gave Idris to their mother to look after and she asked if they were collecting all the waifs and strays in the world on their wanderings. Dunstan did not reply to her provocation but gently told Idris that Hildegard was her new mother and would feed her honey cakes if she was good. Dunstan then went to see Taethle and told her what they had discovered. She felt the leæch with the sneer and the wolf’s teeth necklace could be none other than Dunric and she intended to send a messenger to Cerdic to tell him what had happened. She also told Dunstan that they needed to find a solution to the Déaþscufa as quickly as possible. She was losing a warrior every night and was contemplating leaving Cædering deserted until they either stopped Dunric or the Déaþscufa. Dunstan also found time to talk to Eadstan and discuss buying a present for Cwen, should he decide that he wanted to marry her. They agreed on an exquisite cloak broach which had garnets and a gold dragon of British workmanship. Dunstan took it to Glawmæd and hid it in his possessions. He then went back north but did not arrive until after dark. His appearance scared Leofdæg and Pæga who were on guard duty and they nearly threw their javelins at him. In the morning the Hrothgarsons and Hereweald took tools and went to dig up the old people’s grave. It took several hours of digging and Uthric wondered if they were digging in the right place because the earth here had not been disturbed. They eventually found the entrance passage still blocked by a large stone. When they removed it the darkness was almost solid. The torches they used to try and see into the passage guttered and went out. Hereweald was certain that there was drýcræft causing the torches to go out. They discussed what to do. Dunstan agreed that he would go in and see what was there. He thought he could get out quickly if there was something dangerous and was relying on his brothers to pull him out if he could not move or was injured by whatever lay in the darkness. He slowly made his way down the passage and unable to see, he used his spear to feel ahead. After crawling along the passage for a short bit he felt more than saw that the passage opened up into a larger space and heard a chink which he thought might be coins. He tried to see what he was doing but the darkness was absolute despite the fact he did not feel he had gone far enough for the light at the entrance to fade. He heard something stir in the darkness and tried to look to see what it was. Dunstan thought perhaps he was seeing things but slowly coalescing out of the darkness was a gigantic dragon like creature. Dunstan could not swear it was a dragon but it certainly looked like one and he backed out quickly and suddenly came into the morning light which momentarily blinded him. He told the others what he thought he had seen but could not tell if it was real or some kind of spirit. Hereweald thought it might be a spirit because of the darkness but perhaps one that looked like a dragon. He was uncertain how to deal with it. He said it was likely that Dunric was more powerful than him and had more experience in dealing with the dark spirits. He said that he was worried that they may not be able to overcome either the dragon or the Déaþscufa. Uthric wondered if the Dragon and the Déaþscufa might not be one in the same. Hereweald said he was uncertain if that was the case but what he was sure of was that most spirits could be bargained with. The difficulty was that the bargain generally was one that a living person would not want to make. They agreed that they would try and bargain with the spirit and see if they could gain an advantage that would help them defeat the Déaþscufa. They all thought that they should travel with the leæch into the spirit world and Hereweald said that they would therefore need to individually gather certain plants at midnight. The good news he said was that the moon was in the right phase but it would take until tomorrow to prepare the spirit tent and prepare the roots for the spirit journey which would mean another warrior would die that night. Hereweald said that it might have been quicker to sacrifice the warriors that had been killed but he thought there might be no volunteers. At midnight Hereweald showed them the plants and told them how to creep up on them safely and harvest them without harming the roots. It was a long and tedious job to harvest the plants and they were exhausted by morning but the leæch pushed them onwards with encouraging words. He set about preparing the leaves and roots while the Hrothgarsons built a spirit tent. Dunstan considered himself the leading expert in withies and he was critical of Uthric and Wulfhere’s choice of and placement of withies. They were becoming irritated by Dunstan’s constant directions and offered to let him build it by himself. They realised that they were tired and becoming difficult with each other and thought they should rest rather than argue. Dunstan agreed that they should not argue and said he would finish the spirit tent in order to make it right. He said he was keen to strike a bargain with the spirit and destroy the Déaþscufa before there was no one left alive in Cædering. By midmorning Dunstan and Hereweald had completed their preparations and were ready to start the journey to the spirit world. Hereweald made them all drink a foul-tasting liquid and threw herbs and leaves on the fire. The smoke produced by the fire was suffocating and the surroundings became vague. Hereweald beckoned them forward and they left the tent with him. The darkness in the grave was not quite so complete as before and they all followed Hereweald through the passageway. The dragon spirit welcomed them to its home and named itself Ætremód, the keeper of secrets. Hereweald named himself Spirit-traveller and Ætremód nodded in welcome. Hereweald told it they were seeking knowledge of the Déaþscufa and how to send it back to Neorxanwang. He asked Ætremód if it had the secret they were looking for and how they could bargain for the knowledge. Ætremód stretched its wings and settled on a hoard of treasure. The movement caused a brief landslide of treasure and revealed an old sword. Ætremód told them it would be a simple matter and the sword in the treasure would achieve what they wanted but the price would be the spirit of one of the ælfar. Hereweald said they would retire to consider Ætremód’s offer and would return shortly. Uthric said that he was adamant about not giving Meire to Ætremód and anyway he said she denied being an ælfar and he believed her. Dunstan pointed out she had that odd greenish tinge in her skin and Ætremód was likely to think she was an ælfar. Uthric was unmoved by Dunstan’s argument. Hereweald said they did not know where they could find an ælfar so they were at an impasse. Uthric asked Hereweald if they could defeat Ætremód in a spirit fight. He had no experience of how to fight the creature but thought that they might get the better of it if they all attacked. Hereweald said that he thought it was possible but that they were risking their spirit bodies. Dunstan said he was willing to do that for the sake of defeating the Déaþscufa. Hereweald was unsure and said that while he had no issue meeting his death he was not sure he wanted his spirit eaten by a darkness spirit. Wulfhere asked him what would persuade him to take the risk and he offered half the treasure in the mound. Hereweald still looked doubtful and Uthric increased the offer to include all of the treasure. Hereweald still said he thought this might turn out badly for all of them but finally agreed. Dunstan said he was not happy with this agreement. He thought they were all taking equal risks and the treasure should be split evenly. To settle it, he said he would act as bait for Ætremód by going into the passage first. Wulfhere thought that maybe bait was the wrong word and Dunstan should consider distraction as the appropriate endeavour. Dunstan thanked his brother for his advice and prepared himself for combat with Ætremód. Dunstan moved slowly up the passage and when he saw Ætremód raise its head from the bed of treasure he struck it with his spear and then turned and ran. Ætremód had not been expected the blow from the spear and fortunately for Dunstan it took a moment for it to realise what had happened. Dunstan was almost out of the passage way when Ætremód breathed a blackness that raced along the passage and engulfed the fleeing Dunstan. His body and mind felt numbed but he managed to stumble out of the passage. Ætremód flowed after him and with its presence the area outside the grave became as dark as it had been in the grave. Their spirit bodies could see better in the darkness and they saw Ætremód’s vast size as it reared up and prepared to bite Dunstan. He was saved by Hereweald who put himself in between Ætremód and Dunstan and then struck Ætremód on the head with his staff. There was a loud percussion that deafened everyone. Ætremód switched its attack to Hereweald and struck him on his leg with a claw. Hereweald fell heavily but was able to crawl backwards. Wulfhere and Uthric moved forward to attack, protecting the prone leæch and struck the creature with their spears. Ætremód retaliated by raking Wulfhere with a claw which he blocked with his shield but still caused bruising to his arm. Uthric thought his spear struck the soft underbelly of Ætremód but he could not see much damage. Dunstan had scrambled to his feet. He had blisters as if he had been burnt all over his body but he ignored the pain and picked up his warspear to attack. Hereweald again pointed his staff at Ætremód and the creature recoiled in obvious pain. However, it slashed with its claws at Wulfhere whose shield was almost broken and the claws raked his leg. Both Wulfhere and Uthric again hit it with their spears and Uthric parried the claw attack with his shield. Ætremód ignored Wulfhere and Uthric and tried to bite Hereweald. Hereweald shoved his staff into the open jaws and there was a loud explosion as his staff burst apart. Bits of wood hit both Uthric and Wulfhere but Ætremód recoiled allowing all three of the Hrothgarsons to attack with their spears. Ætremód again clawed at Wulfhere and split his shield and injured his chest. Dunstan attacked from behind which attracted the attention of Ætremód who tried to bite him. Dunstan managed to get his shield in the way but the force of the bite snapped his shield in two and injured his shield arm. Ætremód towered over Dunstan and prepared to bite him again but it allowed Wulfhere and Uthric to attack again and both spears went deep into its body. Ætremód let out a high-pitched cry and lashed Wulfhere with its tail breaking the shield and causing damage to his hip. Uthric stuck his spear into the creature’s head and suddenly the darkness was gone. The sudden increase in light left them all blinded and they felt themselves getting drawn back to their physical bodies that still lay in the spirit tent. Uthric was the only one unharmed. Dunstan had been hit by Ætremód’s breath and had suffered serious hurt all over his body. Wulfhere would likely limp for weeks and Hereweald would need help to walk even short distances. Uthric did what he could to make everyone comfortable and went to examine outside and the grave mound. Now that the darkness had gone he could use a torch to explore the inside of the mound. There was a vast array of silver and even some gold but the real prize was the sword that lay half buried in the mound of treasure. Uthric was disappointed when he looked closer at it, for the sword looked old and covered with verdigris. He thought that all their effort to kill the Ætremód had been for an old sword that in his opiniont would not cut soft butter. He lifted it up and was surprised when the mould and verdigris fell off and he was left with a shiny bronze sword. Uthric reported what he had found and showed the sword. Wulfhere said that only Uthric was in any state to take on the Déaþscufa but he was aware that Uthric was also not familiar in fighting with a sword. Uthric acknowledged that this was a problem but thought that unless Wulfhere had a better idea he would have to take his chances and fight the Déaþscufa. They took some treasure in their cloaks and sealed the mound again hoping to disguise its entrance. The others waited while Uthric went and got the rest of their men from Seaxeneat. They all carried Hereweald, Wulfhere and Dunstan back to Cædering as none of them could walk well. They met with Taethle in the hall and told her of events and how they believed they could defeat the Déaþscufa. She said that it was her duty as a Thane to fight the Déaþscufa and exact revenge for the death of so many of her men. She thanked Uthric for his offer to fight but she also pointed out that she had had training in the use of a sword and could at least use it competently. That night Taethle stood alone on the palisade awaiting the arrival of the Déaþscufa. The fight was long and dreadful but eventually she triumphed and dispelled the Déaþscufa but she had taken numerous grievous wounds. Her shout of victory brought others from the Hall and they saw her fall unconscious as they approached. Taethle was carried back to the Hall by her Carls but they were uncertain if she would live. Her armour was torn and ripped but there were no marks on her skin or indication where the wounds were. Hereweald was brought in on a stretcher from his sick bed and he was able to give direction as to where the healers should bandage. It took several weeks before the wounded had healed sufficiently and they are able to return to Old Wincen Cæster Hill to get the rest of the treasure. There was no longer any hope of dividing the treasure five ways. So many people had been injured or killed by the Déaþscufa that they needed to use the treasure to ease the suffering caused. Even Hereweald thought that this was the best idea. They gave Osberht a golden torque as he was their Thane and the rest they split between those that had suffered injury. Wulfhere kept enough silver so that he would be able to add extra provisions for the Feast of Beltaine and Lughnasa. He thought that there had been so much sorrow, death and destruction over the last number of years that everyone needed some distraction. Dunstan married Gwenith, a British woman who had been widowed by Anyon’s attack on Glawmæd. She brought three children with her from her previous marriage. Uthric thought that Dunstan had done well to marry at last and he wished him every success. Wulfhere and Lucnot took the credit for helping to heal the divisions in Glawmæd. For the rest of the year the Hrothgarsons helped to rebuild Glawmæd and to bring in the harvest. They made sure that they attended to both British and Saxon festivals and considered each of equal importance which brought the two peoples together. It also helped that many of the Saxon warriors had married British women. The Hrothgarsons spent their odd quiet moment plotting the downfall of Ealdorman Coelfrith, the fugitives Beorthric and Wilfrith and they also added Dunric to the list. They were unsure how they would deal with Dunric as he was a leæch and killing a leæch was likely to consign the killer’s soul to Neorxanwang and have it gnawed by the dragons, who live in the roots of the One tree, until the end of the world. Word arrived from Cerdic that he had complained to Coelfrith about his leæch’s actions and threatening war if there was no compensation and wergild for the men who died or were injured. Coelfrith had denied any involvement but acknowledged that it was likely to be Dunric who had caused the hurt. He had disowned the leæch and told Cerdic’s messengers that the leæch had gone too far and that he regretted any involvement with him. Coelfrith said that he was unaware where Dunric had gone. He had left with some followers and he believed him to be in Mierce. He did not offer to pay any wergild.
  6. The Cleansing of the North Osberht's wound was healing slowly. It pleased him that he now managed to walk to his high seat most days without much pain. He sat with the Taethle and Brothers to hear of their travels to Anderida. He has interested in what had happened at Aelle's Assembly and had asked them several times to go over the story about things he wanted more details on. It was clear that some part of the story concerned him but he would not talk about it. Now that he was a KingsThane, Osberht told them he needed to make arrangements for the provisioning and defence of the three settlements of Caedering, Caelctun and Glawmaed. They had agreed the twenty warriors sent by Cerdic would go to Glawmaed to protect it from attack. Taethle also agreed she would be Thane of Caelctun and she and her warriors would go there. Osberht would remain in Caedering which would become the centre of an area that would co-operate and support each other. Osberht thought it was a good idea to ask Connal to join them in a ruling council to cooperate in growing crops and raising animals for trade. Cissa Cæster and Pontus Cæster had big populations which demanded constant food and they could all grow wealthy on trading food and raw materials. The Brothers listened to Osbert's plans but pointed out that the major obstacle to this happening would be the British Burgh in the Forest of Moen. They needed to think about how to deal with that. Wulfhere was also keen to visit Bronwyn and discuss a marriage contract with Connal. He wasn't sure if Connal would agree to it but he wanted to ask as soon as possible. He had the fine enamelled cloak broach that he had bought at great expense in Anderida. Osberht gave them permission to go since they were now his Huscarls and he wished Wulfhere luck with his discussions. It was almost harvest time so they felt that they should hurry to get to Glawmaed. No-one has any time to discuss anything while the harvest is being brought in. Uthric suggested to Osberht the need to build more homes in Caedering. He was particularly keen to have a home for Meire and Hrothgar away from his mother. Osberht agreed that the building would go ahead when they returned from Glawmaed. The population of Caedering had increased and it was likely the Caelctun might only become a fortified outpost so that people from there might come to Caedering. The Brothers travelled to Glawmaed and were greeted by Connal. He had heard from some of the merchants how they had dealt with Garm and was pleased that the threat was now over. He still was concerned that Anyon had not been dealt with and no-one was clear what his intentions were. The Brothers were of the same opinion and had discussed it with Cerdic when they had met. Wulfhere said that he had asked that Glawmaed be protected and was keen that any warriors sent north by Cerdic would be stationed here. Connal thanked him. He was certain that Anyon was aware he had sworn allegiance to Cerdic and he was equally sure that Anyon would see him as a traitor. Connal said that he worried about his people who would suffer if Anyon attacked. They discussed various options over a meal and agreed they would press Osberht and Taethle to take action after the harvest. Wulfhere said that he had come on other business too. Uthric and Dunstan had never really seen Wulfhere tongue-tied and they were amused at his reticence to speak. Uthric offered to help but Wulfhere said that as he still had a tongue, he could speak for himself. He told Connal that he would be keen to make a marriage contract with Bronwyn. Connal said that in his opinion this was the worst kept secret in Glawmaed. All of the village appeared to know about his interest but as Connal had not yet discussed it with Bronwyn and she would still need to agree. Connal said he was aware of Wulfhere's qualities and he would be happy to have him as a son-in-law. However, Wulfhere needed to be aware that although Bronwyn was intelligent, good at household management and rather beautiful he often found she had a sharp tongue when things did not go her way. Connal wanted to be sure Wulfhere was aware of her deficits as well as the strengths of his daughter. Wulfhere said he was of the opinion that the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages. Bronwyn was brought in and asked her opinion. She was agreeable to the match and Wulfhere gave her the enamelled Broach he had bought in Anderida. They agreed the marriage contract and would meet again to arrange the dowry with the wedding feast to be held in Spring. The Brothers promised to come back soon to discuss the dowry. Harvest is a difficult time for all the villages and it requires backbreaking work from dawn until dusk. Everyone in the village is involved in bringing in the harvest except those too young to walk or too old to work. Afterwards the village comes together to hold the Harvest feast. The last bit of grain harvested is beaten to kill or chase away the evil spirits and then it is planted where the next years grain will grow to ensure a good harvest. The feast is always a joyful affair and despite all the uncertainty over the last year the harvest was good. The Brothers were asked to tell the tale of their fight with the Bannucmann and their most recent dealings with the Bretwalda Aelle and how they humbled Ealdorman Coelfrith. It was noted that in Dunstan's telling of the tale of the Bannucmann, Offa now played a less prominent part than before. No-one seemed to mind and the Brothers’ reputation in Caedering increased. In the days following the Harvest feast, 0sberht, Taethle and the Brothers discussed the British threat. They were aware that Cerdic was expecting them to attack and they laid plans for the battle now that Caelctun was at peace. Their discussions were interrupted by Drefon the Smith from Glawmaed. He was bloodied and wearied. He told that he had escaped the attack by the British Warband on Glawmaed. Connal had asked him to come to get help from Osberht. When he left the villagers were still defending the wall and he hoped that somehow, they had managed to hold off the attackers. He feared that Glawmaed would be sacked and destroyed. Osberht ordered an immediate gathering of the warriors and the call up of the Fyrd. To get some information he asked the Brothers if they would scout out the situation and meet the army in the woods to the east of Glawmaed where they could plan the attack. They could smell the burning long before they could see anything. They lay in the undergrowth and watched as the victorious British Warband were putting severed heads on top of stakes which they had arranged in a semi-circle facing the path to Caedering. Dunstan thought they were making a ghost fence and he was worried that it might cause some difficulty to their army because they didn't have a leæce to counteract the hagorún. Wulfhere and Uthric said that they thought Dunstan was being over-dramatic and it was only to scare them. However, when they saw the British Drýicge putting the heads on stakes and Wulfhere acknowledged that perhaps Dunstan was right. The Drýicge was tall and dark haired. She wore a long loose robe embroidered with hares and gibbous moons. Even from a distance they could tell she had power in the way she walked and gestured. They met Taethle and Osberht in the forest that shielded them from hostile eyes and told what they had seen. They agreed that they needed to attack and make the best of things in the hope that they could save their friends in Glawmaed. Dunstan and Uthric were pessimistic about Connal’s chance of survival. They expected that he might be among the heads on the stakes. Wulfhere was concerned about Bronwyn. He was worried that if she was still alive she was likely to be caught up in the new fighting if they had to assault the palisade. They moved out of the trees and advanced in two shield walls. Taethle had her seasoned warriors and Osberht took charge of the Fyrd. The Fyrd were nervous but Osberht steadied them with encouraging words. They advanced toward two British Shield walls which had formed up to counter their advance. When Dunstan counted the enemy both Shield Walls had many more men. He thought that this might turn into a difficult fight. The Shield Walls stopped 50 paces apart and two men walked out from the British line, they were followed by the dark-haired Drýicge. Osberht and Taethle went forward and Osberht asked Uthric to come as a translator. The tall man introduced himself as Anyon the War Leader of the Britons. Osberht introduced himself as the KingsThane of Caedering and asked Anyon to withdraw. He told Anyon that Glawmaed was under the protection of Cerdic and Osberht and that he would resist any attempt by the Britons to remain here. Anyon replied that all this land had belonged to his ancestors and therefore he had no intention of leaving. Osberht said that he had hoped to resolve this dispute reasonably but if Anyon would not agree then the matter would be settled by fighting. Osberht said he thought this was a pity because too many more good men would have to die on both sides. However, he felt sure that the Saxons would prevail. Anyon just laughed and said that when they told the tale of his victory, Osberht would be remembered for his sense of humour. Uthric noticed that Anyon's translator was wearing the enamelled cloak broach that Wulfhere had given to Bronwyn on the day of their wedding contract. He worried that something untoward had happened to Bronwyn but decided that now was not the time to tell Wulfhere. Both parties returned to their men and both gave encouragement to prepare their warriors for the upcoming battle. The Drýicge began hoping around on one leg, leaning on her staff for balance, making faces at the Saxon war bands and screaming how the demons of the underworld would feast on their souls. Some of the men of the Fyrd asked Uthric what she said but he refused to translate. After a while she stopped and brought out two young Saxon prisoners. Wulfhere thought they were some of the men that Cerdic had sent to Glawmaed. The Drýicge held a black stone knife and in a quick motion slit one man’s throat along the blood to pool on the ground. She then used a hazel branch to sprinkle the blood on the British warriors. Dunstan did not like this hagorún. Two warriors lifted the body of the young Saxon and tossed it into one of the burning outbuildings and Drýicge danced around the blaze. The other prisoner had been left alone by his guards and although hobbled by ropes that secured his hands and legs, he took the opportunity to try and run to the safety of his own friends. The Drýicge stopped dancing and screamed. A long spout of fire from the bonfire shot upwards into the air and arced towards the escaping prisoner engulfing him in flame. He writhed briefly before lying still, flames still burning him. Osberht could see the terror on the faces of the Fyrd and they began to move backwards. He left the front rank and beseeched them to stand and fight. He had his back to the Britons and did not see the arc of fire that shot towards him, engulfing him in bright flame. The Fyrd turned and ran. For the Fyrd, facing a Shield wall was difficult enough, they were mostly farmers or hunters but facing scinncræft was too much and they fled. The Brothers were with the Fyrd and although terrified ran to Osberht and tried to put out the fires. They wrapped him in a cloak and rolled him on the ground. Taethle made the decision to retreat too. She was now outnumbered at least three to one and although her warriors would probably have fought and died for her, she thought living to fight another day was a better option at this point. She ordered the warriors to retreat slowly to provide cover for the Hrothgarsons as they carried Osberht wrapped in a cloak towards the trees. The British moved forward but Anyon could not convince them to charge and they were content to hurl javelins and abuse at their retreating foes. Fortunately, no further flame engulfed Taethle or her men but the advancing Britons were getting closer. Eventually when she saw the Brothers had made it to the trees, Taethle gave the order to run and the Shield Wall broke. The Britons followed. Some of the Saxons were caught but most escaped into the forest to regroup at Caedering. Taethle knew that she did not have much time before the Britons arrived. She sent scouts into the woods in all directions. She ordered the woman and children to go to the safety of Caelctun and sent a guard of ten men of the Fyrd. The rest she organised to defend Caedering. Osberht still lived but he was badly burnt over his body. She sent him to Caelctun with Eadgyd to look after him. Eadgyd gathered as much butter and animal fat as she could and covered the burns. Meire helped her and gave Osberht a sleeping draught that allowed him some peace. His groans were causing the children to cry. Meire also prepared some water that she had in a crystal phial collected from her pool far in the north and gave it to him as he slept. It was not long before the scouts returned and hard on their heels were the British warriors. The Britons formed up in four Shield walls and Anyon could be seen exhorting them to attack. Taethle had her warriors behind the palisade on the fighting platform and encouraged them to defend their village. The British attacked along the length of the wall hoping that the defenders had not enough warriors to defend it and would be disheartened by the burning of their Thane. Their first attack was easily repulsed with some loss on both sides. The Britons took some time to regroup and Anyon led them in another charge. Taethle had learnt from the first attack and had stiffened the Fyrd with her own warriors where the fighting was fiercest. The Britons suffered severe losses and the Saxons held firm. The Britons regrouped and contented themselves with burning and looting the buildings outside the palisade. Dunstan was annoyed that their new house had been burnt but consoled himself that things could have been worse. Wulfhere noticed that 20-30 Britons left the main group and went through the forest to Caelctun. He told Taethle and they were concerned that although they could hold against the enemy in Caedering, Caelctun only had ten of the Fyrd and all their women and children. Taethle reckoned they were still outnumbered at least three to one, but she admitted it was hard to count through the smoke of burning buildings. She knew that they were trapped. They could hold here for weeks as they had enough food and water but they could not get out. She discussed what needed to be done with the Brothers. Caedering was likely to hold, however Caelctun was weak and could easily be overwhelmed. It was agreed that Wulfhere would lead three men and try to get to Caelctun to help organise the defence. Taethle thought only 20-30 lightly armed troops had gone towards Caelctun and they were likely to be the British Fyrd. The Fyrd were good to make up numbers but could not be relied upon to attack fortified positions. Uthric volunteered to try and get to Cerdic in Portus Caester and get reinforcements. He was the best woodsman in Caedering and thought he could get past the enemy or outrun them if he was seen. Now that Garm was dead he thought he was the fastest runner in the three villages. Wulfhere was worried about getting into Caelctun. His plan was to climb the cliff face that did not have a pallisade and he expected that one or two of them would fall to their deaths but thought the risk was worth it. Dunstan agreed that he would stay in Caedering and help lead the Warriors. With Osberht badly injured it would allow Taethle to provide a steadying influence for the Fyrd and to organise them into defensive groups. Uthric used the second attack as cover to slip over the walls and into the forest. He was seen by some scouts but used his knowledge of the game trails to outdistance them. He went south hoping to get to the old people’s road to the east of the north-south junction. If the road was clear he hoped to run to Pontus Caester and arrive after nightfall. If the road was blocked by British warriors, he could go through the southern forest. It would be safer but longer. When he got to the road he travelled west but near the junction he saw 30-50 British warriors over 1000 paces away. He ran south and disappeared into the forest. They saw him but only made a half-hearted attempt to chase him. Wulfhere used the same attack to slip out through the woods. Fortunately, the scouts didn't chase him but followed Uthric. He and his three companions made their way north going down the rock face near Caedering by an old and twisting path and turning east to follow the cliff face towards Caelctun. There was smoke rising above them when they got to Caelctun but they could not see what was happening above. They cautiously climbed the cliff face. The defenders heard them climbing but recognised them and threw down ropes to help climbing over the more difficult parts. The British outside had not attempted to attack. Taethle had probably been right, they were lightly armed Fyrd. Most lacked a helmet or armour and some had no shield. There were even one or two who had scythes or mattocks instead of spears. They had contented themselves with burning buildings outside the palisade and watching the defenders. Wulfhere decided that he would arm everyone in Caelctun to pretend they had more warriors than they had. He asked the women to put on helmets and to wear men’s clothing. He told them the idea would be to fool the enemy until help came. He hoped that they would not need to defend the walls as he doubted they could resist an attack. Wulfhere found that his situation was more complicated by the fact his mother had gone into labour and was likely to give birth soon. He therefore ordered every woman who was not giving birth unto the walls and the men he organised into a small mobile group to go to wherever there was an attack. He tried to count the enemy but was not sure of the numbers because of the smoke. He had to be content to wait and see what happened. He thought that as a last resort if the walls were breached he should try to get as many as possible to escape down the cliff face. He ordered ropes to be found and attached to allow women and children to escape while he and the warriors made a last stand. Meanwhile in Caedering, Dunstan was discussing if they should try to make a sally if the conditions were right. In three attacks on the wall the defenders had killed or injured over 30 enemy for the loss of three injured on their side. Dunstan and Taethle thought the odds might be more even now. They hoped that if they could keep the majority of the enemy here then Caelctun would be safe. Dunstan worried what would happen if Anyon attacked Caelctun and captured the woman and children. and how that might impact on the husbands and fathers in Caedering. At sundown a tired Uthric approached the guards at Stuf's Hall and demanded urgent admittance. The guards refused him but fortunately Stuf heard the commotion and come out, sword in hand, to find out what was happening. Uthric named himself and said that he had travelled from Caedering in the north for most of the day and had important information to give. Stuf recognised him and told the guards to let him through. Uthric told him of the events in Glawmaed and the retreat to Caedering and Caelctun. Stuf was quick to assess the situation. He agreed that Uthric could take forty warriors north to help at Caedering. He asked about the location of the British Burgh and its defences. He said that he would move against that as it was likely to be denuded of troops if so many were in Glawmaed, Caedering and Caelctun. Uthric tried to explain were the British Burgh was but became confused about distances and locations. In the end Stuf grew impatient and said he would follow the Moen and he was sure that he would eventually come across it. At Caelctun Wulfhere saw that the Britons were massing for an attack. He brought forward the men of the Fyrd and placed them opposite the British forces. The War Leader was marshalling his troops, talking, cajoling and intimidating the men to get them to attack. It looked to Wulfhere that the Britons were reluctant and he thought that a good thing. He knew that the defenders could be easily overwhelmed if the enemy attacked at different points. If they managed to get over the palisade it was likely that all the defenders would die. Fortunately, their general reluctance to fight meant he knew where they would attack and could reinforce that with his Fyrd. After several hours of cajoling the Britons moved forward to attack. It was a rather half-hearted attempt and they were easily repulsed after a few were killed or injured for no loss to the defenders. Wulfhere was heartened by the defence and was of the opinion the War Leader was unlikely to get his men to attack again. Uthric was travelling north and was occupied by the thought of how he might deal with the troops at the road junction. He was concerned that even with his forty Warriors he knew that he was likely to be outnumbered. Therefore, his plan was that they should attack with surprise. Unfortunately, there was no way he could sneak up on the enemy without being seen therefore he thought that he needed to set an ambush in the forest and get the Britons to come to him. He arranged his warriors inside the forest and together with two volunteers went towards the road junction but could find no trace of the enemy. Uthric wondered if they had gone to Hamafunta and he thought it might be a good thing to keep Coelfrith on his toes. He thought briefly about going up the road to Glawmaed but decided that it would be best to go to Caedering to help with the defence. In Caedering, Dunstan found his opportunity to counter-attack. Some of the enemy troops had left and there seemed to be less outside the palisade. He agreed with Taethle that he would take the warriors outside and form a Shield wall. Taethle would use the Fyrd to guard the gate and act as a rear-guard should Dunstan’s troops be forced to retreat or be defeated. The enemy formed an opposing Shield Wall and to stall for time Dunstan left the front rank and offered a challenge of individual combat to anyone who would accept it. He was not disappointed when Anyon stepped out to take up the challenge. Dunstan watched him approach and wondered if he had done the right thing. Anyon seemed confident and capable. He handled his weapons well and wore better armour than Dunstan. He thought if he received a death blow here he would miss out on a lot of things he planned to do. He was somewhat discouraged by his thoughts. No words passed between them as they traded blows. Anyon was quickest and he hit Dunstan twice as often as Dunstan hit him. Dunstan knew he was in trouble. Anyon’s blows came in faster and although Dunstan parried his shield was slowly falling apart. Anyon thrust hard with his spear at Dunstan's head. Anyon had used the same killing stroke hundreds of times but to his astonishment his spear missed. Dunstan had stumbled on a tussock and the stumble had saved his life. Anyon had put all his strength behind the thrust expecting the resistance as the spear entered Dunstan's eye and into the brain but instead he overextended and pulled a muscle in his arm. Dunstan's riposte should have been parried but Anyon was blinded by his helmet and the spear tip cut open his arm to the elbow. Anyon fell and the chin strap of his helmet broke blinding him. Dunstan accepting his luck speared Anyon in the chest. He had barely time to celebrate his victory. Rather than be dismayed the Britons were incensed by Anyon's death and charged forward to protect the body of their fallen leader. Dunstan's comrades pulled him back to the safety of the Shield Wall and the Saxons counter-changed the British. Both Shield-Walls met with a sickening clash. Dunstan thought later that the British had not kept their discipline as they charged. Their shields must not have been overlapping for the Saxons penetrated deeply into the British formation causing twice as many casualties. The British held but were pushed back and the Saxons moved forward. There was a wall of dead and dying men and the ground was slippery with blood which made it treacherous to maintain balance and fight. Almost by mutual consent both walls drew apart. Dunstan took the pause in fighting as an opportunity to move back towards the gate thinking that he had achieved his aim. The British leader was dead and they had made the Britons less confident of victory by pushing their Shield-Wall back. Dunstan noticed the Drýicge was beginning to light a fire and he remembered what had happened to Osberht at Glawmaed. He feared that the battle would be lost through scinncræft. He shouted at Taethle that she should charge the Britons with the Fyrd as he exhorted his own warriors to change formation into the Swine's head. Dunstan said later that he was glad that the warriors had not seen the Drýicge at her work or else they may not have charged. Dunstan’s Swineshead smashed into the British Shield wall seconds before Taethle’s Fyrd hit them in the flank. The Britons disintegrated under the impact and their cohesion feel apart. Most turned and fled while screaming Saxons hunted and killed them as they ran through the forest. When Dunstan had time to look for the Drýicge, she had disappeared. He let his men hunt the scattered Britons through the forest before recalling them with a horn blast. They had been frustrated at hiding behind the palisade and vented their anger on the panicking Britons. Taethle congratulated Dunstan. He had won a famous victory by quick thinking and resolute action. She said she doubted if she could have done better herself. She thought that Dunstan was on his way to be a great War Leader despite being so young. She did think however that he might need to work on encouraging his men to attack the enemy Shield-wall. Dunstan had attempted to give a rousing speech to inspire the men. He admitted that perhaps he had been trying too hard and it had been over the heads of most of the men. Taethle suggested that simple messages are often best as the men can repeat them. She suggested that something like ‘killing the enemy’ or perhaps ‘defending your families’ are generally good. She thought that invoking the need to protect the cows was generally not a moral boosting topic and the average warrior did not care if the withies would be destroyed. But she felt it was important to try these things out and she had no doubt with more practice he would improve. The warriors were tired after their fight and glad to be alive. They were dismayed when another War Band appeared out of the forest. Dunstan rallied the men and pushed them into the Shield-wall to face their new foe. They relaxed when they realised the new Warband were Saxons led by Uthric. Dunstan went to greet his brother, who he thought did not look pleased about something. Uthric said that he thought it would have been polite of Dunstan to wait until he arrived and let him join in the fun of the battle. He complained that he had run all the way to Portus Caester and had come back only to find out he wasn't needed. He had encouraged the warriors to move faster with stories of silver and fame to be won. He now had to tell them the fight was over and he was not sure he could find the right words to be able to help them with their disappointment. Dunstan said that they were unlikely to be disappointed for long because they could soon have another opportunity to fight. He told Uthric of the War band that he believed to be at Caelctun and noted that smoke was now rising ominously from the direction of the village. He said he had a bad feeling about events there which might mar their victory in Caedering. Uthric was concerned that Meire, his son and mother were all in Caelctun and he hoped he would not be too late. He told his men to wait under the trees and went forward alone to see what lay ahead. The scene that met him was one of devastation. Buildings were burning and there was a line of dead men set out in a row. Uthric was relieved to see defenders still on the walls and was surprised to see so many having been told by Dunstan that there were less than ten of the Fyrd defending Caelctun. He estimated that he was facing a Warband of about 50 men but only some were formed up in a line facing Caelctun. Over half were sitting on the grass resting. He suspected that he could bring his own warriors through the forest under the cover of the smoke and charge the enemy, catching them before they had a chance to react. Uthric had the Warband form up in a rough shield wall on the edge of the forest. He knew that in charging over the intervening ground to engage the enemy, they would not hold their shape but he was banking that he could catch the enemy by surprise. He was helped by the fact that the defenders started banging their spears on their shields which distracted the enemy. The enemy had still not seen Uthric's War band but they were beginning to form a Shield wall in reaction to the noise from the palisade and whatever threat the defenders of Caelctun were planning. Uthric drove his warriors forward only screaming their war cries in the final seconds before the War bands crashed together. Uthric had told the men nearest him to target the big man who was organising the enemy War band. He thought that if they could kill the leader the rest would lose heart and flee. The Britons barely reacted to the charging Saxons and those that turned only saw death. Uthric’s men howled as they killed and they cut down the War Leader. The British lines disintegrated and the Saxons killed those that were too slow to run away. Uther and Wulfhere greeted when the battle had finished. Wulfhere told of the defence of Caelctun and how he had been unsure if they would survive. Uthric embraced Meire and their son Hrothgar. He discovered that Hildegard had given him another new brother who she had named Beorthric. Wulfhere thought that Dunstan might have something to say about this situation. Wulfhere appointed Modig War leader and returned with Uthric and his Warband to Caedering. They met with Taethle and she informed them that she was keen that they keep the momentum and press their advantage with an attack on Glawmaed. None of them were sure how many of the British force remained. They thought they could account for over 120 men dead or defeated and they still worried that the Drýicge had not been found. She could yet turn a victory into a horrible defeat. Uthric thought that now they were safe from attack he should tell Wulfhere that he had seen a man wearing the enamelled broach Wulfhere had bought for Bronwyn. Wulfhere was silent and admitted he was worried that Bronwyn may have met her death. He thought that a second such loss of a woman he was betrothed to did not bode well. He wondered if the gods were perhaps trying to tell him something. Uthric said that she was probably well and had just been imprisoned. The Britons did not generally kill women and children. Wulfhere reminded him that Anyon would have been perfectly aware that she was Connal's daughter and he might have made an exception for her. He also pointed out that the Drýicge had no such compunction about killing people. He hoped that Bronwyn's head was not on a stake. Uthric said he hoped that it would be the same for Connal and Lucnot but he had little hope for either of them. Taethle gathered all the warriors and the Fyrd together and told them they had one more battle to defeat the Britons and free Glawmaed. She promised that after that they would have peace for a while and their families would be safe. The warriors cheered and even the Fyrd seemed to be keen to go into battle. Dunstan thought that he could learn for Taethle's speech. Taethle divided the men into three separate groups. Uthric kept the men Stuf had lent him. Dunstan and Wulfhere commanded Taethle's warriors and Taethle commanded the Fyrd. She told the brothers that she would keep the Fyrd as a back-up should either Warband get in trouble and need reinforcements. They approached Glawmaed as quickly as possible. They were concerned that if their approach was too slow it would give time for the Drýicge to use her magic on them. They had remembered how devastating it had been for Osberht and were not at all keen that one of them would be her next target. Taethle had difficulty in getting the Fyrd to advance as they also remembered the Drýicge’s fire magic and they lagged behind the two Warbands of warriors. In the event it did not matter. Although there were over 50 Britons present at Glawmaed they ran as soon as they saw the Saxon Warbands. They liberated the Glawmaed captives who had been held in the Chieftain's Hall. Bronwyn was among the released prisoners and she was glad to see Wulfhere. Her father had been killed by Anyon along with other village leaders. She was not sure where Lucnot was. He had escaped the original assault and she hoped that he was in the forest with some of the other men. After a brief conference, Taethle sent the Brothers and 50 warriors towards the Burgh on the Moen River. She suspected that Stuf may have already attacked it but she thought that he may need help. As was usual for strangers in the forest of Moen, the Warband quickly became lost and after a quarter of a day’s march they found themselves at the strange pool with the wildflowers and butterflies. Dunstan suggested that they all put some hack silver in the pond and be careful not to trample the flowers. He warned the warriors that they should not attempt to take any of the treasure from the pool. He and Uthric stood guard to make sure no-one attempted it. After they gave the silver, the way became easier and they made good time. They began to come across bodies of dead Britons as they got closer to the Burgh. Eventually they ran into some of Stuf’s warriors who took them to him. Stuf was glad to see them and asked for their news. They told him of the battles they had fought, the death of Anyon and the escape of the Drýicge. Stuf told them he had found the Burgh which the Britons had called Llys to be lightly guarded. He was of the opinion that Anyon had too high a view of his own abilities and little tactical or strategic sense. He had risked everything in an all-out attack and had failed. Stuf said that they now had now an opportunity to expand to the north which they would accept with open arms. First though they needed to deal with Dumnonia They all looked across the Moen. Dumnonia was a rich, plump land and they were all keen to re-distribute those riches to the poor Saxons who were not so fortunate. Stuf told them that he would leave warriors at Llys under the command of a Thane called Arnod and that they were to send the warriors he had lent Uthric to Arnod as soon as possible. Wulfhere said that there was still a considerable threat from the Britons and perhaps it would be useful to keep 20 in case of further raids. Stuf agreed. He said that Wulfhere could act as Thane of Glawmaed until Cerdic made a decision. The Brothers should come to see him for Yule feast.
  7. A Violent Death and The Bretwaldamoot There was a silence in Caedering as the villagers waited to see if Osberht would die from his wounds. He was still wracked by a fever and Taethle had sent to Portus Caester for a leæce as she believed that curing Osberht was now beyond Eadgyd’s skills. Taethle sat with the Brothers in the Thanes Hall. They discussed their current problems. To the west lay a British Warband which they had already estimated to be over 100 warriors. They were in agreement that this force would be difficult to defeat with their current strength of. To the east was Caelctun and Thane Garm. They thought it probable that Garm had around 40 warriors if Coelfrith had already sent the promised reinforcements. Caedering had Taethle's 36 seasoned warriors and 46 men of the Fyrd who could fight but might not do well against seasoned warriors. All four considered Garm the biggest threat. They would be unable to deal with the Britons if Garm remained active for fear that he would take advantage of the situation if they left few people to defend Caedering. Cerdic had more or less told them to deal with Garm and then sort out the legal and political issues with Aelle afterwards. Wulfhere thought that Garm's men might not be too interested in fighting for him. Garm had shown himself to be a coward and had not joined in fights with his men, running away and leaving his men to die. Uthric said that it might also be useful to remind his men about the rumours Garm had killed his brother and blamed another Carl. They agreed that they could not leave Caedering undefended but needed to send a big enough force to look like they were serious about attacking Caelctun and force Garm’s hand. Taethle wanted to keep 20 warriors in Caedering which meant they had 61 to try and intimidate Caelctun. Wulfhere hoped they would not have to fight. He was keen to solve the problem of Garm but not create long-term enemies of the people of Caelctun by killing the warriors unnecessarily. They thought that there was no use in delaying things and gathered the warriors to allow Taethle to tell them what was expected. She told them they needed to look intimidating and as be ready to fight if required. She hoped that it would not come to fighting as they needed every man to deal with the Britons. The warriors led by the Brothers arrayed themselves in a Shield wall outside Caelctun and waited for a reaction. Garm’s men did not respond but continued to watch from the fighting platform. The gates remained firmly shut. Wulfhere set fire to a barn and watched it spread to another dwelling outside the walls. Dunstan and Uthric discussed setting a fire in the forest in the hope that it would provoke a response. However, they decided against it as they worried they might not be able to control any resulting blaze and it might be more dangerous to them than Caelctun. Eventually a man came out of the gate holding his shield upside down. Taethle and the Brothers went to meet him and he introduced himself as Modig, a Carl of Caelctun. He asked why they had come armed as for war, why they had burned buildings and were threatening the peace of Caelctun. Wulfhere replied that their mission was peaceful as far as the people of Caelctun were concerned. But it was his opinion that neither Caelctun nor Caedering would have peace if Garm was allowed to continue to prosper. He said that Garm had needlessly provoked an illegal fight with Thane Osberht, gave him a wound that was likely to bring about his death and then tried to kill both him and his brothers on several occasions. Unfortunately for Garm, both Osberht and the Hrothgarsons had proved harder to kill than Garm had imagined and that was why he was now standing before the gates of Caelctun armed and ready for war. But his war was only with Thane Garm and Wulfhere said he would be grateful if Modig would ask the Thane to come and fight him now. Wulfhere said that Modig should consider how badly Garm led his men and on several occasions had left them to fight while he saved his own life. It therefore seemed to him that Garm was only good at two things. Firstly, he seemed good at allowing his own men to be killed and secondly, he appeared to be good at running away. Uthric told Modig that amongst other things he considered himself an expert in running and that up to this point he had met very few men that could outrun him. He said he had been amazed that Garm had been able to outdistance him so easily and wondered if this was a skill that Garm frequently practised. Wulfhere asked Modig why Garm, as a Thane, was not conducting his own negotiations. Modig had not responded to the accusations and Dunstan thought that he might be seeing the truth in Wulfhere’s words. Modig said that Garm was in his Hall with his Huscarls and he said he would only be too happy to tell him the Hrothgarsons had come to discuss resolving their current conflict. Modig left and the gate closed again. Both sets of warriors watched each other and Dunstan felt the tension rise but nothing of importance happened. Just after midday Modig came out of the gate again. He said that Garm had not been seen since going into his Hall and had not given any instructions when he banged on the Hall door. The men had decided that they were no longer willing to fight for Garm. There had been, he said, a few dissenting voices but they had been won over by argument or else they were no longer in a position to help Garm. The Brothers waved their followers forward and entered through the gates behind Modig. Two men lay dead near the gate. The rest of Garm’s men watched sullenly as the Brothers ran to the Thane's Hall. The Hall was barred or locked from the inside and Taethle called for Halig who had a Great Axe. Halig was known for his strength and made short work of the door and the warriors went into the Hall. There was no one visible in the main hall and they thought Garm may be hiding in his private chambers at the back. When they tried to open the door, it was again barred but Halig broke through it with one stroke of his axe. Dunstan belatedly wondered if there was a rear door in the Hall and sent three men racing around the back to prevent or delay any escape. They searched the two bedchambers. In the first was a woman and two young children who they ignored. In the second, the room was empty but they discovered that a hole had been cut through the wall. Torht’s head suddenly appeared through the hole from the outside. He was one of the Caedering farmers and reported that they had found the hole in the back of the hall and had decided they should investigate it. They had so far not located Garm. Uthric advised Torht that in future he should consider where he put his head because he had only just stopped himself from putting a spear in his eye. Torht said that he considered himself lucky because he had seen what Uthric could do with a spear. Dunstan asked the woman where Garm had gone and she replied that she did not care. Dunstan found this reply strange but continued to press her for an answer. She eventually told him she believed Garm and six Huscarls had cut their way out of the Hall but she was unaware where they had gone. Taethle ordered a search of the village and Odel, one of the Carls, found a rope going down the cliff face. Taethle and the Brothers thought Garm would be trying to get to Coelfrith in Hamafunta and they agreed the Brothers would follow Garm while Taethle and 20 warriors would go south on the forest path to Hamafunta. They hoped to trap Garm between them and kill him before he reached safety with Coelfrith. Uthric, Dunstan and Wulfhere went down the rope. They took along another 10 warriors. Uthric found tracks heading north which surprised them but they suspected that Garm was very familiar with the woods and knew some quicker route to Hamafunta. They estimated that Garm had a good head start but all thought they would still catch him, despite his expertise in running. The tracks continued to go north and after a time they came into a glade. They found Garm lying against a tree trunk bleeding from a wound in his side. He was still alive and attempting to grasp the sword that just lay just beyond his reach. Uthric kicked the sword out of the way and all three brothers regarded him. They thought it was likely Garm would die if they left him but equally he might live if they gave him aid. Garm opened his eyes and asked for his sword to hold before he died. Dunstan laughed and Uthric was unmoved. He bent down and looked into Garm’s face and told him he was not worthy to go to Neorxanwang. His place of death would be in Hellewíte with the other damned souls. Uthric worked himself into a rage that Garm could even consider that he should go to Neorxanwang after all his treachery and was determined to make sure he died dishonourably. He attached a rope to Garm and hung him from an ash tree. They all watched in silence until Garm died leaving the body for the crows and wild animals. They sent a runner to Taethle to tell her the news and get her to return to Caelctun. They were worried that if Garm did not come as expected she might go nearer to Hamafunta and come into conflict with Coelfrith’s men. They returned to Caelctun and Uthric announced what had happened as proscribed by the Law and that he had killed Garm. The Caelctun warriors were unhappy and asked Wulfhere what would happen now. Wulfhere said that he would discuss it with Taethle when she returned but that he was certain that they would be left in peace now that Garm was dead. The woman they had found in the bedchamber was Garm's wife, Aethelind. She and her children were unaware of what had happened and were waiting in the Thane’s Hall for news. She was obviously a woman of high birth and she held herself well while she waited only responding to and comforting her children. Wulfhere agreed that he would tell her of Garm's death and all three Brothers went to the Hall. Wulfhere started to tell Aethelind gently but Dunstan grew impatient and told her she was now a widow. For the first time Aethelind looked scared and asked what they intended to do with her children. She said that she was worried that they might take revenge on the children because of Garm’s injuries to Osberht. Wulfhere said that none of the Brothers made war on children and she too would be free to go wherever she wished. She thanked him and said that she would consider the matter and inform him of her decision later. When Taethle returned they appointed Modig as temporary leader in Caelctun until Coelfrith appointed a new Thane. With that all the warriors returned to Caedering. Aethelind came with them. She said that she did not want to spend another day in Caelctun if at all necessary. They agreed that they should hold a feast to celebrate the end of the conflict and decided to also ask the Caelctun warriors to join the feast. They were keen to make amends with the warriors so there would be peace between Caelctun and Caedering and they sent a runner to Modig. Modig was a pragmatic man and saw sense in the proposal and agreed that he would come with as many warriors as wanted to go. The Brothers thought that they should declare Garm’s death to Coelfrith as he was Garm’s Ealdorman but Taethle thought they should seek Cerdic's counsel first. She did not feel that Coelfrith would take Garm's death lightly and that such a venture might be dangerous. And so, two days after the feast they stood before Cerdic at Portus Cæster and explained their actions. Cerdic counselled against seeing Coelfrith, who he said would have them murdered without compunction. He said that men like Coelfrith were small-minded and petty. His advice was to present the case to Aelle at the Kings Assembly at the next full moon. Cerdic said he would support them in whatever way he could but could not acknowledge that they were acting on his advice. The Brothers were unhappy when they returned to Caedering They complained to Taethle that Cerdic had asked them to go to Aelle's Assembly at the next moon to present their case and ask for forgiveness. It was their opinion that the death of Garm was necessary for the safety of both Caedering and Glawmaed and they had acted in a way that preserved lives and kept the peace in all three villages. Taethle sympathised with them but acknowledged the Law must be followed. Aelle would listen and make judgement which was the only way to proceed to end the bloodletting. Besides she had another task for them if they were going to Anderida. They could escort Aethelind and her children as she had expressed a wish to return to her father's home in Aelle's capital. Dunstan worried that they might spend their lives apologising to Lords for things that weren’t their fault and he wondered that they might get a reputation for it. The Brothers spent the next half a moon preparing for the journey. Osberht was slowly recovering and while still weak he could now sit up and eat by himself. Wulfhere spoke with Taethle and Osberht discussing how he should argue the case in front of Aelle. They were of the opinion that the major difficulty was that no-one knew the King other than by reputation so were unsure how to proceed. Dunstan spoke with Aethelind on the journey to Anderida. The brothers had thought that Aethelind would have been angry with them for the death of Garm. However, she seemed almost relieved to be free of him. Dunstan discussed her life with Garm and Wulfhere decided that her insights might be useful in the upcoming case. They had a week of travel and Wulfhere used it well to glean useful information. When they arrived in Anderida they took Aethelind to her father, Aelfnoth’s house. Aelfnoth was one of Aelle's counsellors and an Ealdorman. He was grateful that the Brothers had brought his daughter home. He had told them he had never liked Garm and had only agreed to the marriage because Coelfrith had recommended it. Coelfrith said that Garm would be playing a prominent part in the Saxon expansion into British lands. He offered the Brothers rooms to stay while in Anderida because he was aware that accommodation was scarce. It would also be a way to thank them for their kindness to his daughter. Dunstan was only too happy to accept as he did not have to pay for any accommodation. Anderida is a fortress built by the old people. It was said that it was originally built to prevent Saxon raids but no-one knew for sure. It had an excellent harbour and the air was good despite being surrounded by marshes. The Brothers were amazed by the market. There were traders from all the Saxon kingdoms of Briton and others from Frankonia, Friesland, Jutland with any type of goods available. Both Uthric and Wulfhere bought gifts for Meire and Bronwyn. Wulfhere and Uthric asked Dunstan if he did not have a good opinion of Aethelind because both felt it might be a good match and Aelfnoth seemed well disposed to the Brothers. She was not only beautiful and rich but she was intelligent and had a good temperament. She never once complained about the journey from Caedering to Anderida. Dunstan said that while he found her attractive and interesting company, he was waiting for someone special. The Brothers laughed and said that he might be too fussy and that he could do much worse than Aethelind. During the week of the Assembly, Aelle held lavish feasts. The Brothers thought about attending but did not want to let Coelfrith know they were in Anderida. They remembered Cerdic's words that he was likely to be the real enemy whereas Garm was only the outward face of the conflict. They had already annoyed Coelfrith once at his own Assembly last moon and they knew that no matter what the outcome of the Kings Assembly he was likely to be even more annoyed. The food at Aelfnoth's house was both rich and good and went some way to make up for missing the King’s feasts. They also had an opportunity to explore the town to their great amusement. Aelle's Hall was massive. The Hall was a new construction and unlike many other of the Saxon Lords who lived in British cities, it was built in the traditional Saxon way. Aelle was reputed to be the richest of the Saxon kings and the decoration of the Hall showed it. On the second day of the Assembly after the midday meal, Coelfrith stood up and announced his Lawsuit against Osberht and Caedering. He demanded Osberht’s death and the destruction of Caedering for the death of Thane Garm. Aelle called for Osberht to come forward and defend himself but Cerdic rose and said that Osberht was currently indisposed. Thane Garm had presented him with a spear in his chest and he was too ill to travel. Aelle asked Cerdic if he was defending the case but Cerdic advised that while he was aware there was a dispute between the Thanes he had not been aware of the escalation of violence and death. He said he had therefore no knowledge of events but would of course take responsibility for his Thane's and Carls' actions, as he was their Ealdorman. Aelle said that he was disappointed and had hoped for an interesting story and a good argument. Cerdic said that he might not remain disappointed as he understood the Hrothgarsons were at the Assembly to provide both legal argument and tell an interesting tale. Aelle said he disliked being disappointed and others had often noted that people suffered if he was dissatisfied with things. He sat down to listen and called for his horn of ale to be refilled. He said he would be interested to find out why these events occurred. In his haste to present the case, Coelfrith made two serious errors. His first mistake was to forget to refer to Aelle as Bretwalda, a point which was duly noted by Wulfhere. Secondly, he attempted to paint Osberht as a deranged and maddened man who inexplicably decided to launch an attack on Thane Garm, his neighbour. Most people in the Hall found this incredulous. They knew Osberht as a calm and placid man who only ever got excited about breeding cows and sheep. Coelfrith spoke of Garm as an ideal of a Saxon lord, loyal and trustworthy, fierce in battle and a leader who led his men from the front. He had been set upon by the miscreant Osberht and hounded to death by his equally deranged Carls. He asked that not only should Osberht suffer death but the Hrothgarsons should also be killed because they had caused the death of Garm. Wulfhere stood up to respond to Coelfrith’s accusations. He told of the Feast in Caedering where Garm had provoked Osberht. He spoke of the men who were sent to kill the Hrothgarsons to prevent them from reporting on the strength and location of the British forces who had been raiding Saxon steadings. He insinuated that Garm may have had an understanding with the Britons. He told of the illegal declaration of a Blood feud and the ambush in which Osberht had got a spear in his chest. He then told how they had tried to calm the situation by attending Coelfrith’s Assembly which despite making good arguments and asking for a settlement, Coelfrith had ignored. He spoke of the treacherous attack by Garm’s Carls as they went home. He painted a picture of Caedering faced by two hostile forces, the Britons in the west and Garm in the east. Both he said had been intent on the destruction of Caedering. He asked the Assembly if they too would not want to defend both their Lord and their family. He said that all had agreed that their actions had been just and proportionate. He pointed out that although Caedering had sent a force to attack Caelctun, they had had no intention of fighting the Carls or the Fyrd. Their dispute had been solely with Garm. They had discussed it with his warriors before the walls of Caelctun and the Carls had agreed that Garm was not the sort of Thane that anyone would willingly follow and to prove it they had opened the gates of Caelctun and had stood aside. The Brothers had then sought out Garm but he had again run away with some of his Huscarls leaving his warriors leaderless and at the mercy of a potentially hostile force. He had even left his wife and children behind. They had tracked him into the woods and found him with a knife wound in his belly, presumably caused by his own Huscarls who had abandoned him. Wulfhere said that they had been overcome by youthful exuberance and they had acted without thinking. He said he was aware that this was a shortcoming in the Brothers character and they were working hard to rectify their impetuous behaviours. When Wulfhere finished, the people in the Assembly said he had spoken well. Aelle seemed pleased with the tale but asked if there were any witnesses to either argument. Neither Wulfhere nor Coelfrith had any witnesses which rather disappointed the Assembly as everyone had been enjoying the tale. However, Aelfnoth stood and addressing Aelle told that his daughter, Garm’s widow, could be called as a witness. She had confirmed Wulfhere's version of events and was ashamed that she had been married to such a man. Aelle thanked Aelfnoth for his opinion and said he did not think it necessary for his daughter to attend. Aelle then made his judgment. Aelle is unique in the Saxon lands. It would be normal for the Thanes, Carls and Ealdormen to vote on legal matters by clashing their swords or spears on shields to signal approval to cases. Thus, judgement is given by the people. Aelle, however, would always give his judgement and then expected the Assembly to ratify it. He said that this was because he was the Bretwalda and not a mere king. And of course, the Assembly always ratified his judgment. Aelle admonished Coelfrith. He said that Garm was the instigator of his own downfall. He not only provoked Osberht, he illegally tried to have him killed, a fact Coelfrith ignored in his own Assembly. Garm was a coward and refused to lead his own men, allowing them to die. He fled rather than face combat with a champion of Caedering, leaving his wife and children behind. He therefore deserved a dishonourable death. If Garm had been at this Assembly, Aelle said he would have had him hung without delay. Aelle said that his judgement would be the following. As punishment the village of Caelctun would become part of the Thane of Caedering’s lands and Osberht, if he lived, would now become a Kingsthane. Coelfrith was forbidden to act against Caedering or Osberht or the Hrothgarsons. With that he sat down and called for more ale. Aelle later spoke to the Brothers privately and thanked them for their actions. As befits a Bretwalda he gave them each a costly arm ring and a sword. Cerdic also rewarded the Brothers by giving arm rings. He was pleased that now he was in a position to expand northwards. He told the Hrothgarsons to return to Caedering and prepare for war against the Britons.
  8. A few weeks ago, while reading through various books, I thought I saw a one page scenario for PKs to help pacify the Saxons after Badon, with a random table of the various defenders and defenses the PKs may meet. But now I cannot find it. Does anyone know if the scenario exists, and what book it might be in?
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